A Cambridge video games developer has shot a new blockbuster in the same LA studios and using many of the same crew that James Cameron used for Avatar – the highest grossing movie of all time.Ninja Theory Ltd, which is producing the new game in the Devil May Cry series for Japanese giant Capcom, is confident some of Avatar’s stardust will rub off on the new DmC production.
And the Cambridge UK company reckons its cutting edge performance capture technology will become the gold standard for video game production well into the future.
The technique enables Ninja Theory to capture actors’ face movements, body movements and voice all at the same time – which is unique within video games.
“We do this to ensure that we’re bringing the true performances of our actors through into the game,” said Ninja’s Dominic Matthews.
“It’s not so much about realism but believability. Real actors – real people – move their hands and their body when they speak. We track the exact movement of our actors. We have 60 markers on their faces alone – on their eyes, their eyebrows, their mouths, their noses, their lips and so on.
“We are fortunate to have developed our own facial solver technology in house that allows us to track these movements and map them onto our models. Our technology is unique and something that we’ve been working on for several years, so we are ahead of the market in this regard.
“A hallmark of our games is the story-telling element. We want our users to become engrossed in a story; so we are not simply using the technology for technology’s sake. It really enriches the user experience and they become fully engaged.
“It was invigorating to shoot the scenes for the game in the same place as the Avatar shoot, using the same studios and much of the same crew.”
James Cameron saw the potential of performance capture when, following a visit to Ninja Theory shooting scenes for the visually stunning Heavenly Sword on location in New Zealand, Peter Jackson, director of the Lord of the Rings, showed him some of Ninja Theory’s tracking technology. Matthews, however, is swift to point out: “I don’t think we can claim any credit for inspiring Avatar.
“What is true is that on projects like these you get to work with people who really know what they are doing. It’s a great buzz to have people who worked on Avatar work on DmC. They bring a cinematic perspective to what you are trying to do.”
The new Devil May Cry will come out later this year. The first four games in the series were all produced by Capcom, headquartered in Osaka but globally influential. Ninja Theory has been hired to produce the new game for the global market.
The last version sold three million units. Nina Theory has gone right back to the start and refreshed several elements of the game.
Matthews said Ninja Theory had grown staff in Cambridge to over the 100 mark and was proud to be part of a globally influential video games development hub in Cambridge UK.
“The US is now the biggest market for video games, having overtaken Japan. Also, the video games sector in Cambridge has grown almost unnoticed. Everyone acknowledges Cambridge’s University, its wireless, BioMedTech and other tech-related clusters but remain largely unaware that Cambridge has become globally influential in the video games sector.
“The Cambridge hub is involved in producing some pretty cool stuff. Jagex and others are doing well from here and hiring big. A lot of people think Ninja Theory is Japanese but we are proud to be part of an exciting and growing technology cluster in Cambridge UK.”
Ninja Theory was formed in Cambridge in November 2004 by Nina Kristensen, Mike Ball, Tameem Antoniades and Jez San.
It was formerly known as Just Add Monsters Ltd and is the team behind the ground-breaking Heavenly Sword, critically acclaimed Enslaved: Odyssey to the West and the forthcoming Devil May Cry title DmC.
Ninja Theory also created Kung Fu Chaos, an Xbox exclusive game published in 2003 by Microsoft Games Studios.
Matthews said Ninja Theory really believed that the ever-evolving techniques and technologies of video game development offered an opportunity to elevate the games experience into one that could rival film and literature.
Ninja Theory pioneered the use of performance capture in video games and was one of the first studios to commit exclusively to the next-generation consoles.