The development of in-game characters and props is significantly more difficult than how it is often perceived. Although virtual models can be created with ideas or concepts sketched on a piece of paper as 2D references, for high quality and standard games such as Uncharted, which sold 8.7 million copies worldwide in 2016, the development of in-game characters and props becomes increasingly complex and sophisticated. Because users expect the smallest details such as facial components to demonstrate life-like characters, developers and graphic designers tend to rely on 3D scanning software.
With the Uncharted series for instance, Gary Barth, the senior manager of the Fabrication Arts and Design group at PlayStation, 3D printed models of characters based on the concepts and ideas provided by the game’s designer. Essentially, Barth’s task is to materialize rather abstract concepts into physical models, which then can be rendered into the game as digital data.
Starting in 2016, Barth utilized the desktop stereolithography (SLA) 3D printing method to create models of characters such as the 20-inch statue of Nathan Drake seen at left. Drake is the protagonist in the Uncharted video game series, which Barth was tasked to do. One of his major accomplishments in the development phase of the game was the accurate and precise depiction of Drake’s facial features and components.
Although desktop-based SLA is not recommended for large-scale 3D printing projects that require extreme precision, for prototype development, it is considered the most efficient and viable method of 3D printing due to its low costs and high speeds. Barth utilizes the SLA 3D printing method for other operations such as the manufacturing of collectibles.
“Game designers are extremely particular about their characters and how they’re displayed, so the accuracy is really important,” said Barth. He continued to explain how 3D printing technology is utilized within Sony and PlayStation’s game development department.
“We were at the point where we wanted to start bringing set pieces and props into our behind-the-scenes videos. Then people starting asking for other things for trade shows, contests, promotional items–it sort of blossomed into what I do now. Someone will come to me with an idea—sometimes a clear vision and other times more abstract–and it’s my job to help bring the project to life in a way that accurately represents the in-game characters and items.”
Before manufacturing or creating a prototype of an in-game character such as Drake, a 3D scan must be developed and designed with 3D imaging software. Using the software, developers and designers such as Barth can gain access to accurately depicted virtual renditions of in-game characters. However, Barth explained that there exists a major difference between a virtual and physical model of a character.
“There’s something that happens between looking at a likeness on screen and looking at a 3D print. Sometimes it just doesn’t translate as well as you would think, which is why some collectible statues look nothing like their on-screen character. Having the ability to 3D print on-site is awesome because it allows me to easily provide that visual.”
With both the virtual and physical rendition of a character, Barth can then easily create extremely detailed versions of characters which game developers may require. With the 3D printed prototype in place, designers like Barth can then begin to embed emotions, micro facial structures and components.
Throughout the Uncharted series, Barth revealed that he utilized the Form 2 Desktop SLA 3D printer developed by Formlabs, which the company describes as “the most advanced desktop 3D printer ever created.” The Form 2 3D printer is particularly easy for game designers to use due to its high-resolution 3D printing and clean surface finish. With the Form 2 3D printer, small details like emotions and facial components that are difficult to observe when digital can be analyzed.
Although Barth did attempt to utilize other types of 3D printers, he noted that desktop SLA 3D printers were the most efficient for game development and character prototyping. He said:
“Because my work area is in the center of a corporate building, I couldn’t get a water source and drain near the PolyJet printer, so a WaterJet option was out. I would have to clean the prints by soaking them overnight, and then spend hours with steel wool and sandpaper trying to get the support material and build lines off of them. If you’re making collectible statues, the minute you start sanding, you’re softening detail. With the Form 2, you snap the support material off pretty cleanly and with a little light sanding, you’re ready to primer.”
Over the past few years, 3D printing technology has become a main component of game development and design. Large-scale conglomerates such as Sony have already begun to utilize 3D printing technology on a regular basis.[Source/Images: Formlabs]
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