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Making Lightsabers Look Good in The Old Republic

| 19 Sep 2011 18:53
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Animators and designers from BioWare explain how lightsabers sizzle.

A significant problem in allowing players to wield lightsabers in an MMO is the animation lag that can occur. When a player presses a key, the avatar of the Jedi onscreen needs to move correspondingly. Any perceived discrepancy will immediately ruin the illusion. The effect is easier to achieve with simple hits and strikes like you might see in WoW, but with the the elegant parries and iconic swordplay of the Star Wars franchise, the challenge for designers increases. Luckily, Mark How the Lead Animator at BioWare on The Old Republic has been iterating the combination of animation, sound design and visual effects for a long time.

"Making the Lightsaber come to life in The Old Republic requires a collection of all the correct elements falling into place at the same time," Mark How said in a developer's diary on ToR. "A key aspect we learned early in development was that players do not enjoy having character control taken away from them because of an action or animation. Similarly, we realized that any action a player takes in the game needs to be visually represented in a way that is consistent with the player's expectations.

"It was particularly challenging to develop animations that allowed for visually appealing combat while still allowing the players complete control over their characters," he said.

How did they achieve the desired effect of Luke Skywalker battling the Stormtroopers and eventually Darth Vader in Cloud City? "The programmers and animators were able to create a Lightsaber clashing system that could predict the volleys of weapons fire and other attacks being thrown at the player from all directions, and have the player dynamically react to 'block' these attacks."

According to How, players controlling Jedis in ToR will actually be able to the lightsaber to bounce blaster shots back at enemies. "Not only that, but we were able to keep this system active while players were deflecting directed attacks, engaged in melee combat or even running. Players may not even realize all the factors that are coming into play to visually represent the combat experience," he said.

"Even in a battle scene with multiple players and multiple targets, each Lightsaber wielder can be seen attacking opponents with varied tactics while deflecting, parrying or dodging the attacks of the other enemies."

I've been watching the development of The Old Republic with a morbid interest. George Lucas is dead to me, and I wasn't impressed with BioWare's demonstration of ToR gameplay a few years ago. Still, these lightsaber fights sounds like a technical achievement that needs to be experienced before I pass ultimate judgment on the game.

Source: The Old Republic

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