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Mo-Cap: Bringing Games to Life

"That was a little twisted. Let's try it again."

A voice hidden behind a large black bank of controls says, "Ready," and after a moment, "Action!" Then-

Whack! Crack! Stomp! Swoosh!

I enter the large, rectangular room. It's a rather drab, gray and black place. Several dingy blue mats lay heaped against the left wall. Han Solo stands back there with the mats, blaster drawn. Boba Fett guards this door, just to the left, arms crossed. They're both made out of cardboard. Who knew Boba Fett was so short?

This is the motion capture studio on the campus of Sony Computer Entertainment America, located in San Diego. Right now, a group of Star Wars Galaxies designers and artists is in the process of capturing all the emotes, actions, and reactions a player character will make in the game.

Joe Shoopack, the character team lead, is here, stationed at a long folding-legged table, tapping the keys of a laptop. He wears his BYU ballcap and scrolls through a list of nearly 750 different animations. Over the next three days, he plans to get motion capture data for every single one of them.

"Next is parry high right," says Joe. His list is full of names like this: parry_high_left, parry_high_center. Many are much longer; the precise naming system is key to keeping everything clear and understandable. It also helps to ensure they cover all the animations they want to record.

Jake Rodgers, the art director, is here, perched in a tall director's chair, swinging a cane in front of him as he intently watches the moves of the figure at the center of the room.

"Idle one is breathing normally," he says. "Just standing. Really, don't do anything. You're calm. Then we'll do a version where you're kind of-" Jake begins panting, breathing heavily in an exaggerated fashion-"worn out from combat. We'll be able to blend between the two depending on how tired the character is."

The figure in the center of the room is Hiro Koda, a martial arts expert and stunt man with Action Specialists. Hiro is wearing a skintight flexible black body suit, and a snug stocking cap. Positioned all over his body, head, and shoes are marble-sized reflective balls. He nods.

"Action!" is yelled again, and he stands calmly until the take is complete.

"Same thing for idle two, only exhaustion from combat," says Jake.

Hiro doubles over, his hands on his knees, gasping for air.

"Not like you're going to throw up. But very winded. So you're breathing like-" Jake pants again.

Hiro gets it, and starts breathing like he's just completed a marathon. I get winded just watching.

Jake laughs. "Don't hyperventilate."

This process will be repeated for each animation in Joe's list over the next few days. Some animations will be cut, but many new ones will be added. Despite the immense number of motion capture animations-the most in any single online game ever made thus far-the artists and technicians will move quickly through them thanks to their experience, and that of the talent hired to swing the lightsabers, dance seductively, use Force powers, breathe heavily, and execute the amazing multi-move combat combos.

I notice the last of these combos in Joe's list and my jaw drops. The staggering five-move combo is scheduled for later today.


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Mo-Cap: Bringing Games to Life
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