Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Computer Graphics: Graphics in Games Week 2 - Marvel vs Capcom 3

What is Marvel vs Capcom 3?

It is the latest entry into the “vs series” by Capcom, pitting fighters from various different series into a fighting game that rarely ceases to impress. It’s predecessor Marvel vs Capcom 2 was released in 2000, and since then fans have been clamouring for the release for a sequel to the game. Due to various factors, this was delayed for a long time since Capcom was not able to obtain the license for Marvel Comics. However in 2008 they finally regained the license, though it was not announced till april 2010. The game was released in Febuary 2011, with various builds of the game sent to the top fighting game competitors in the world prior to it’s release for balance testing (See my article about Competitive Gaming for more details on these folks).

My run through arcade mode in Marvel vs Capcom 3

Marvel vs Capcom 3 uses the standard that most fighting games today use but with various twists. Normally you fight against an opponent with one character versus another, using various attacks to deplete their “vitality gauge”. Like it’s predecessor, Marvel vs Capcom 3 instead of using one character versus another, uses teams of 3 from a large roster of characters. You must defeat the entire team of the opponent in order to claim victory. Every character has various special moves and “hyper moves” that take “hyper bar” in order to use, which deal devastating damage. You may call upon other characters in your roster of 3 at any time to assist you in battle. These are the basics of the game, but needless to say it’s been very popular with the fighting game community. But we aren’t here to talk about them, nor the gameplay (at least not all of it). We are here to talk about the graphical style that the game uses!

The Engine

Marvel vs. Capcom 2's old sprite based engine

Marvel vs Capcom 2 used sprites along with 3D rendered backgrounds back in 2000. Some newer fighting games have opted to use the same thing, paying homage to the sprites of old. Games like Blazblue use HD sprites along with 3D backgrounds to prove that sprites aren’t an ancient relic and can still keep up with new graphics of today but we aren’t here to discuss sprites. Marvel vs Capcom 3 did not try to opt for using sprites once more, instead like Capcom’s previous Fighting Game, Street Fighter 4, they have moved to 3D models, though heavily stylized.

The MT Framework Engine in Reisdent Evil 5

Capcom uses the MT Framework for this game, an engine developed by Capcom specifically for use in their gams. The “MT” stands for “Multi-Thread”, “Meta Tools” and “Multi-Target”, meaning the engine could be modified in any way they needed to suit the specific needs of their game. Other games that have used this engine include Dead Rising, Lost Planet and Reisdent Evil 5. This engine was first used in Dead Rising, and upgraded with enhanced capabilities for better visuals with a “version 2.0” upgrade that was released with Lost Planet 2. Marvel vs Capcom 3 uses a tweaked version of 2.0. If you take a look at any of these games, you can see almost none of them look the same graphically. This shows the versatility of the engine, it was meant to power all of their next generation games. Marvel vs Capcom 3 was built up from the ground up with the MT Framework engine, using no other base code from other games. It was tailored specifically for the needs of the game.

A Living Comic book?

The concept art of the entire cast in Marvel vs Capcom 3

What Capcom has done to make Marvel Vs Capcom 3 different is the types of shaders and the style they used for their models and graphics. Marvel vs Capcom 3 was designed to look like a comic book, every asset has been fine tuned in various ways to ressemble that of a living, breathing comic book. Not only the graphics but the entire style of the game is centered on the appearance that you are playing a comic book. The concept art itself shows what they were going for. Black inked edges, dark colouring, specific coloured palettes used to make the characters pop out in typical comic book fashion. From the ground up they were planning to make this faithful to comics.

Cinematic Trailers: Is my Comic book moving right now?

Marvel vs Capcom 3 Episode 1 Cinematic trailer

Capcom released cinematic trailers leading up to the release of the game as well. These trailers helped reinforce the comic book feel. The shadows are as dark as the inked shadows in comic books get, the character’s color palettes pop out, high dynamic lighting helps to reinforce that “pop” to make the characters look very interesting. Each and every trailer has “Cell-Shading” to simplify the lighting in the scene but still managing to make it look very dynamic and including a wide array of different levels of brightness to make the scene still look very crisp and detailed. Small details like the dark shadows having several quick lines dashed across (A comic book technique to help add shape to the characters to make them seem to pop out of the comic) being updated in real time through the trailer help even more. The amount of detail they went into making it faithful is astounding and the cinematic trailers are the best example of this. The in-game engine is a little different however.

In game: Colors and Shaders

In-Game still retains the style of the cinematics but a bit more subdued and suitable for gameplay.

Whilst the trailers contain much more contrast in the lighting and colors, the gameplay itself does not, thankfully. I will explain why I say thankfully a bit later. It uses a much more subdued version of the style that the trailers showed. The color palette itself is still very bright and dynamic like many comics are, and still has the dark shadows (though not quite as dark as the trailers). The gameplay focuses more on using shaders to create bright colors so that characters still pop out. Cell-Shading still applies to the in game engine, though the shades are not as defined as in the trailer. The shadows appear more realistic and less like a comic (Since they aren’t solid colors), as they use dynamic lighting based on the environment the characters are in. Now the reason I said it was good that they didn't use the exact same style as the trailers, is that the characters almost appear too dark in some instances. Combined with dark backgrounds in some stages, some characters blend into the background too much, which is not feasible for the gameplay. Some characters with dark clothes can already have this problem so using the style of the trailers would only make this problem worse.

An example of "The Taskmaster's" hyper attack on Amaterasu. You can see the pink glow coming from the arrows to enhance the lighting and color palette.

Environments include not only the stage but the bright, crazy hyper attacks that the characters perform. Take Ryu (everyone has to known Ryu), using his Shinku Hadouken hyper attack, he lights up the entire scene in a bright blue glow that is very flashy, and fits completely with the style of the game and comics. Various other hyper attacks are typically very bright and equally flashy as this attack, which help to fit with the high dynamic color the game shows throughout.

Bump Mapping

A closer look at Wolverine's model

The models themselves don’t show too high a poly count, looking closely at the in-game model viewer, you can see the lines along the models. The amount of bump mapping they actually do is minimal compared to other games. Due to the style of trying to keep like a comic, many characters have areas where there isn’t so much texture, as there is color. If you take a look at the Wolverine, you can see on his leg how simple the colors appear to be, there is hardly any texture there to be seen. The bump mapping mostly applies shape so that the legs appear muscled and well formed. His arm hairs also appear to be rather simple, and very obviously flat, not even sticking out from his arm as it might do so in other games with bump mapping. 

Bump mapping is balanced to give the look of leather while still maintaining cell-shading and comic book style.

There are of course exceptions to this such as Wesker and his trench coat who has a larger amount of bump mapping to make up the leathery look of the coat. Some characters seem to feature more bump mapping such as him and others less, depending on what the material of the outfit the character wearings is supposed to look like. Overall though, the amount of bump mapping is still not significant. This can both be a gift and a curse as it allows the game to stick with its comic book style but I have heard a few criticisms that it looks almost too simple from various people.

Particle Effects

The game features a variety of particle effects all over, even in the form of basic attacks. Where hitting other characters you can usually see a small “spark” that looks very vivid and bright. This looks much like the “KAPOW” sparks that you see when comic book characters hit other people with. The color of these change based on which characters are doing the attacks due to them having different weapons and such which have different properties like metal for swords, or just a character attacking with their fists. 

The "Spark" effect as previously mentioned

Other things such as the Hyper Attacks, contain a variety of particle effects from a flames, to distortion effects from Iron Man’s Proton Cannon, to lighting particle effects from Storm’s lighting bolts. When you even start a hyper attack the background is a moving particle effect. There are simply too many particle effects to even count in the game, but it makes full use of them all pretty much all the time. Just take a look at any match in the game and you could easily count well over 100 particle effects happening in the match. The best thing is that all the particle effects not only look great, flashy and spectacular to keep the action up in the game, but they all entirely fit with the style the game was going for.

In this combo video, watch all the particle effects that happen all over.

Details, details, details...

Comic book style font

Besides all that I’ve mentioned, from cell-shading, to color palette choice, to particle effects, every aspect of the game has been tailed to appear like a comic. When you select your characters, you will be able to see them positioned on a comic book. When you start a fight, “Ready, FIGHT!” appears, but completely in comic book style font. In battle, messages that inform you how large your combo is, or if you defeated a character appear in similar style font. When you achieve victory against your opponent, the characters will be split up into comic book panels, and a quote will be said by your character, complete with a comic book text bubble. The character endings you watch when beating the game are essentially comic books you are reading through. Even when going to the next round to fight, the game flips a page like a comic book.

Character select screen, note the comic books on both sides of the screen

The Victory Screen, in comic book panels

The comic book-like character endings

As for the animations of each character, all of them fit how the actual character would move. Ryu moves with the same vigor and stance as he would normally fight with, Hulk moves with slow, lumbering but powerful looking movements, Doctor doom resumes a very serious and proud pose in almost all of his moves. Capcom has kept true to the characteristics of all the characters, from both Marvel and Capcom's side. When performing combos, animations can vary. Most of the animations smoothly interpolate from one blow to the next, allowing the game to flow very fluidly and look very smooth. Others move to the start of the next animation a bit rigidly but due to the pace of the game you won't usually notice it. 

If you look at the animations of the characters, they are very smooth and fit the personality of each character.

Overall the animations are near perfect. the game also plays at a rate of 60 frames per second which allows this fluidity. This allows the game to look constantly smooth and this frame rate is the target for all fighting games. It's a standard that all Fighting games, no matter how pretty they look, must strive for. It certainly helps to make the game more vibrant in any case.

Capcom didn’t pull any punches on trying to make this game look like it’s source material, they did everything they could to really draw you in. Though they didn’t go for the most complex, ground breaking realistic looking graphics, they went with a style that was very faithful to the source material they had. They brought the world of marvel comics to life and brought their own creations into that world seamlessly. Never has a game appeared to look more like a comic book before. Like I mentioned in the previous week about Windwaker and Skyward sword being able to stand the test of time in terms of graphics, I believe full-heartedly that this game will also be able to do so.

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