Unveiled on stage at the 2021 Game Awards, the Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II gameplay-reveal features shots of Senua, Hellblade’s main protagonist, fighting a giant troll that emerges from the water. To bring this critical scene to life, Ninja Theory, a part of XBOX Game Studios, turned to Ziva Dynamics for the most high-performance, real-time character.
The larger-than-life troll is over 40ft tall, missing a leg, and has large flaps of skin and fat hanging from its chest and gut. According to the Ninja Theory team, this complicated asset needed to hit the highest fidelity possible, in real-time, as its massive size would magnify the details of the body and exist as a benchmark for the character quality to be expected in the full title release. To achieve such results, Ziva Dynamics would leverage a combination of their soft tissue simulation tools and advanced realtime technology.
“This deadline for the troll was really right,” exclaimed Simon Clutterbuck, VP of Creative at Ziva Dynamics. “We had 3 artists working on it and only one month to get it all done. Building out a realistic body utilizing our existing datasets as a starting point saved us a lot of time. The tech is really changing the way our partners tackle character work.”
The Ziva Dynamics artists began by building the troll in Ziva VFX, the soft tissue simulation software. This process was expedited by a combination of Ziva’s Anatomy Transfer tools and their proprietary generic male anatomy simulation. Ziva then added the troll’s torn, hanging skin flaps to the simulation as a coupled skin pass. At this point, the asset was complete with excitable muscles, jiggling fat, and wrinkling skin, all while being over 40ft tall in world-space so accurate gravity would influence on all of those anatomy layers.
The tradeoff for the gigantic film-quality results, however, was a render speed of 6 hours per 50 frames, leading to hundreds of hours of baking on a 15 machine AWS cluster. So, to transform this large film asset into a real-time game character, Ziva fed over 12GB of performance capture data along with the high-quality Ziva VFX simulation into their Ziva Real-Time Trainer. This technology used machine learning to train the troll asset to perform all of the animations along with novel poses in real-time while maintaining the rich dynamics of the original simulation. As a result, the final ML troll body performed at a fully-interactive frame rate of under 3 milliseconds per frame in Unreal Engine 4.26 and was ready to be handed back to the innovation-loving Ninja Theory team.
“By utilizing their latest runtime technology Ziva helped Ninja Theory bring the full fleshy horror of the Troll to life in a way conventional workflows just can’t do.” says Andrew Vidler, Technical Director at Ninja Theory. Since its inception, Ninja Theory has been devoted to pushing the envelope for interactive digital content. They have continued to work with new, paradigm-shifting technology teams to uncover and create the bleeding-edge of gameplay experiences, and the partnership between Ziva Dynamics and Ninja Theory is set to generate even more best-in-class character results into 2022.
Hellblade II: Senua’s Sacrifice will be released on Xbox Series X/S and PC. It will also be available through Xbox’s Game Pass subscription service. No release date was given.