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Why EA Is Lazy: a technical view

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Old 08-24-2004, 07:46 PM   #1
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Red face Why EA Is Lazy: a technical view

so you guys don't think i'm just a fanboy, here's some really technical things i see about Madden. some of you may understand the tech terms. i had a stint at a videogame studio (not around anymore), so thats where the lingo comes from.

EA is LAZY.
they don't want to mess with Normal Mapping like in ESPN. Normal Mapping is a better version of Bump Mapping (3D textures) that does realtime light effects on a surface. if anyone has seen Chronicles of Riddick on Xbox than you know what Normal Mapping is all about. i'm impressed Sega got this to work on PS2 for ESPN (its alot less taxing since its just on the players in ESPN, not the environment like in Riddick). in football game terms, Normal Mapping is the vast difference in shading and 3D effect you see on the player's pants, arms and jerseys in ESPN. look at the thigh pads and you'll see the difference right away.

Normal Mapping means having to create the normal maps along with the textures. seems like EA didn't want to do that, and instead focused on old school higher quality bitmap textures. this is wonderful for the field textures (that awesome artificial turf texture in St. Louis this year), but looks like CRAP on the players. compare those painted-on 'muscles' the players have this year, with the shimmering veins of ESPN and even the FIRST Nfl Fever! you can only see them when the light is right, and look ultra realistic. on the down side, ESPN's field textures can't have as much bitmap detail because it's shading the players. bitmap textures on the other hand is Playstation ONE technology.

the other reason EA is lazy is because they WILL NOT revisit the player models and animation. Madden's animations are keyframed, BASED on MoCap but not all together mocapped like ESPN's (Motion Capture, when Faulk 'fumbled' in the suit with ping pong balls all over it). what this means is they capture the motion then retouched by hand, and for that reason are usually short, and at times robotic looking, especially compared to ESPN.

when Madden came out in '01 ('00?) on PS2 they had an exaggerated player model, the squat 'T' everyone recognizes. they based everything on this unrealistic 3D model, including the first round of animations. when animators make animations they have to 'rig' the model's joints for the animation, THATS why Madden's animations have to be hand touched everytime, because they aren't based on realistic human scale and have to be 'corrected' to fit the model. for EVERY ANIM. SO, basically, if they ever wanted to improve the animations OR the player model, they'd have to do them BOTH ALL OVER AGAIN. this is what prevents them from just dropping 100s of new animations a year (hand doing each), or ever getting the player models out of puberty and into full adulthood (they'd have to redo every animation they already had).

since the first NFL 2K on the Dreamcast, the series has had realistic models and thats why they can just dump what seems like 100s more each year, w/o the need to rig each to an unrealistic model.

the 'ragdoll' physics in ESPN's tackling is another nextgen technology that EA won't even touch. this is when a player wraps his arms around a ball carriers body, the mocap animation script STOPS and the computer applies the physics of what happens next to both the models. the tackler's arms are stuck to the ballcarrier, and whatever forces are involved (momentum, player weights) are calculated into bringing them both to the ground. the fact that you don't NOTICE this as realtime computation and think it's just another animated tackle is whats so impressive. the computer calculates it SO WELL that you think it was motion captured. why is this even cool if it looks like something you can just motion capture? because it allows for MULTIPLE TACKLERS. if you wrap somebody up, then your friend wraps BOTH you AND the ballcarrier up, then ALL THREE of you go down grabbing each other and having all your momentums and weight represented. it's sick (i've saved replays). i've seen as many as four tacklers get in on the action, and they each grab hold of whoever and go down. the ballcarrier twists, turns and buckles according to real physics and tacklers get caught underneath. then the ballplayer rolls off whoever they're on top of. no one bounces off or goes through anybody, its really top notch technology that most won't even notice. big shame too.

ESPN needs to desperately fix the 'rotating in place' issue on runners with a lean in, its not visually hard, we did it to our player in our game, but i imagine its based on some legacy algorithm that calculates AI angles. they did add in extreme versions of direction changes with, you guessed it, excellent animations and associated time penalties (the FIRST NFL Fever had this too!), but the small radius rotating turns is ESPN's glaring weakness.

for EA, it's MUCH easier (and cheaper) to add things like Owner modes, better stat producing algorithms, draft and franchise options and little AI and gameplay tweaks like HitStick and PlayMaker than to revisit the actual stuff on the field. especially when it takes its customers for granted and know they'll buy the game at full price every year anyway.

Sega has its fair share of extras and add-ons like Cribs and the whole ESPN presentation and highlight recording technology, but they haven't neglected the onfield stuff as much as EA. ultimately, adding several new animations then requiring a control to access them (HitStick) is a STOPGAP. not even meeting ESPN's light mapping technology and resorting to bitmap textures on the players is a STEP BACK. keeping legacy animations, flawed models and not even dipping into ragdoll physics technology for the past 5 years is just plain....well....LAZY
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Old 08-24-2004, 07:55 PM   #2
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didn't understand half of that, but still it was cool to read. nice post
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Old 08-24-2004, 08:02 PM   #3
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christ thats complicated and long
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Old 08-24-2004, 08:03 PM   #4
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i dont think any game normal maps anything BESIDES characters... it involves taking higher detail models and making lower detail ones from them, and last i read, games like farcry and riddick used them on characters... terrain is still too costly, and even UT2004 had preset (pre-built/rendered) lighting for most areas of the maps... doom 3 is the first game with real time unified lighting and shadowing from what i can tell...

unreal 3 will have true 3-d bump mapped terrain (brick walls etc), but there's no point to normal map flat surfaces...

but the idea that the gaming industry is moving away from pre-scripted sequences to the use of engines is right (ie all those .bik movies being replaced by in game sequences), and in that respect EA is behind...

btw, ragdoll physics would mean they'd need to move from vertex animations to rigging and bone animations systems, so they'd have to remake their tool chains (in all likelyhood) in addition to models/rigging/animations/uvw maps/skins (textures have to be remapped and laid too), so why bother doing all that when they move more and more units every year??? heh...
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Old 08-24-2004, 08:12 PM   #5
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shimmering veins btw is most probably specularity mapping, NOT normal mapping... that's much older tech (its a grayscale image with whiter shades in different areas for which angles it should shimmer at... it can be animated and triggered as well)...

the thing is, normal mapping affects gameplay zero, and thats the king for me... i still find doom2 worthwhile, cause its fun, regardless of how it looks. For others its different, i know.
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Old 08-24-2004, 08:18 PM   #6
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<-------- I understand what these guys are saying more
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Old 08-24-2004, 08:23 PM   #7
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yeah graphics are important to me, thats why i bought an Xbox. i couldn't even look at the first 2k on Xbox, it was gross. you're right, Fever used specularity mapping (Fever's player's arms were said to look like well oiled wrestlers'). ESPN's don't actually shimmer (but their neoprene sleeves do on cold days, have you seen that?? looks GREAT), they use normal mapping for the shadows not the highlights.

the physics thing adds a TON to the gameplay. makes every first down a nail biter. just like in real NFL, you can't just tackle the guy, you have to STOP them from getting the first. Smoot is holding on to Jamal Lewis just long enough for Barrow and Arrington to come over and push him AND Lewis sideways and back from the first down marker he was just about to reach. great constant and realistic use of modern technology.
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Old 08-24-2004, 08:32 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by beg8878
<-------- I understand what these guys are saying more
Sorry Beg8. tried to warn ya.

seriously though, ESPN's flux capacitor has the technical edge over Madden's 5 year old warp coils....
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Old 08-24-2004, 08:32 PM   #9
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i agree, the physics is better for gameplay, the normal mapping and stuff are just eye candy for me... its a nice extra, but not important.

but for real graphics you can't beat a top flight PC... TV resolutions are awfull low (though analog, so it blends well)... not saying you need a 8way opteron with dual SLI x16 pci gfx cards or the ibm 16way cluster to pump info through 8 cat5 cables to a single high (HIGH) res monitor... sorry... btw, they're making monitors now with higher contrast (30% brighter to 10% darker than normal CRTs), i bet that'd help realism too (when they program for it)
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Old 08-24-2004, 08:38 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by That Guy
i agree, the physics is better for gameplay, the normal mapping and stuff are just eye candy for me... its a nice extra, but not important.

but for real graphics you can't beat a top flight PC...
i want my game to LOOK as much as the real thing as it feels to play. sound too. and while no match for a PC resolution wise, Xbox does allows for near HiDef 480p to TVs bigger than any PC monitor, usually connected to real non-computer surround sound set-ups. hearing MY favorite songs and the custom Hail to the Redskins in surround stadium sound is AMAZING.
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Old 08-24-2004, 08:39 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by illdefined
Sorry Beg8. tried to warn ya.

seriously though, ESPN's flux capacitor has the technical edge over Madden's 5 year old warp coils....
flux capacitor? wait a minute I get it now. So if we put Madden in a car and hit 88 MPH we can go back in time and right their wrongs!...1.21 Jigowatts...Hello McFly!!
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Old 08-24-2004, 08:40 PM   #12
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:o
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Old 08-24-2004, 09:57 PM   #13
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if I ever need to be shown how little I know about software and whatnot I can always read this little debate again.
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Old 08-25-2004, 07:27 AM   #14
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Quote:
i want my game to LOOK as much as the real thing as it feels to play. sound too. and while no match for a PC resolution wise, Xbox does allows for near HiDef 480p to TVs bigger than any PC monitor, usually connected to real non-computer surround sound set-ups. hearing MY favorite songs and the custom Hail to the Redskins in surround stadium sound is AMAZING.
again, depends how extreme you want to go... they make 60"+ plasma TVs now with resolutions up to 1920x1280 (or 1440, forget how wide screen it is), and you can buy mackie HR824 studio monitors and their matching sub for surround sound... my friend uses event 6s cause they're cheaper... but they'll sound WAY better than any home stereo setup

<-- subwoofer, 3 feet tall, 1500watts peak... if you really want lifelike sound (my band owns it as part of our sound reinforcement setup for live shows... in the off time all this crap gets used as TV/computer audio)
its a bit much for just tv/computer audio, but at least its not 900,000$ home stereo (with no other use) extreme...

at some point a 200$ xbox starts looking like a deal though
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Old 08-25-2004, 08:24 AM   #15
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wow, I just stumbled upon "geek central"

LOL

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