EA Danger Close Games reboots Medal of Honor franchise with help from Autodesk software.
Created by legendary filmmaker Steven Spielberg, the Medal of Honor video-game franchise has become something of a legend itself since it was first released in 1999. Set during World War II, the iconic first-person shooter (FPS) game would spawn a slew of different PC, console, and portable versions over the next decade, with names like Allied Assault, Rising Sun, Vanguard, and Airborne, to name only a few. The series has been so successful, in fact, that Guinness World Records Gamers Edition awarded Medal of Honor a world record as “Best Selling FPS Franchise” in 2008.
For 2010, however, the team at Electronic Arts Danger Close Games (EA DCG) decided a whole new challenge, and a whole new war, was in order. The latest Medal of Honor release is a complete reboot of the franchise, shifting the setting from the battlefields of Europe to the windswept deserts of Afghanistan. The EA DCG team based the game in part on real-life events surrounding “Operation Anaconda,” the first full-scale battle involving the U.S. military in Afghanistan, in 2002.
Striving for even greater accuracy and realism than previous versions, the EA DCG team used a combination of Autodesk® Maya® software, and Autodesk® Kynapse® and Autodesk® Beast™ middleware to help create the realistic environments, terrain, and action that make the latest version the best yet.
Plans to move the franchise to a new battlefront⎯and the new millennium⎯were already in the works in 2007, when EA was finishing up Medal of Honor: Airborne. Content development for the new game began in early 2008, and it quickly became clear to the team that the size and scope of the new Medal of Honor would go well beyond where the game had gone before.
“The new game has an astronomical amount of content in all its levels,” says Dave Kintner, lead lighting artist at EA DCG. “Technology has become so much more powerful, even just in the last few years that the quality bar has risen dramatically, especially when it comes to lighting. The massive amounts of information that we deal with now are a big reason behind our decision to use Autodesk Beast middleware. Unlike previous games, where our artists would have to place hundreds of individual lights, the global illumination tools in Beast enabled us to do the lighting right away, and right out of the box.”
“Global illumination is absolutely huge on a game like this,” says Henrik Halén, software engineer at EA DCG. “As more precise levels of detail and textures have come into new games, it has made realistic lighting more important than ever. If the lighting is inadequate, players are going to sense that something is off. When it comes to global illumination, Autodesk Beast just eats anything we throw at it, and operates with a really low memory footprint. It is a phenomenal tool and a vital asset for us.”
The EA DCG team also made extensive use of the artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities in Autodesk Kynapse middleware to help create the near-instinctual realism of the soldiers portrayed in the game. “We placed Kynapse map builder volumes within the scene to automatically generate a move graph,” explains Don Lawton, software engineer at EA DCG. “We were then able to extend the move graph and run transversals to find the best destinations for nonplayer characters. We used the dynamic avoidance system in Kynapse to keep our characters from running into each other, and for things like enemy, cover, and point selection, as well as visible and audible awareness. We were very glad to have Kynapse on such a complex project.”
For the rugged, unforgiving landscape of Afghanistan, the EA DCG team turned to Autodesk Maya software. “We used Maya for almost all of the core background work,” says Gerardo Enzo Sprigg, lead environment artist on the game. “Maya helped us sculpt realistic rocks, foliage, and tree elements, and also to create organic locations and terrain. Using Maya made a tricky part of our workflow much faster and easier to accomplish. Our designers would quickly design a level, and then export the raw terrain data into Maya once core game play was in place. We could then rebuild our mesh using the transfer attributes function. Once the mesh was rebuilt, we used Maya to help clean things up nicely and create a seamless look. It was great to have Maya on our side.”