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Software Toolkit for Virtual Cinematography

Computer games rely on the notion of a virtual camera that provides the player with a view of the action that is taking place within the game. Since the player is directly participating in, and to some extent controlling, the action, it is necessary to employ this camera in a manner that assists, rather than impedes, the activity of the player. Consequently the camera is typically used in one of a number of well-defined ways, each of which is designed to facilitate effective game-play. The two commonest approaches are to employ a third-person over the shoulder camera or to fix the camera's view directly to that of the player. The latter approach is that taken by the well-known First Person Shooter (FPS) genre of games. With some notable exceptions game developers have not found it worthwhile to explore the use of camera-work that strays far outside these conventions. It is also uncommon for the camera-work in computer games to be informed by, or directly influenced by, how real-world cameras are employed in film.

Virtual cameras however share many of the characteristics of their real-world counterparts, and hence virtually anything that can be done with a real-world camera can also be done with a virtual one. The craft of cinematography outlines principles and techniques pertaining to the effective use of cameras to film live action. The correct application of these principles and techniques produces filmed content that is more engaging, compelling and absorbing for the viewer. There are therefore clear advantages to successfully applying cinematography to camera-work in computer games. The purpose of this project was to explore the use of cinematography in the context of computer games.

In particular we worked on enhancing the camera-work in the interactive sections of shooter games by replacing the standard first-person camera with a virtual cinematography system. This system frees the camera from its fixed position at the avatar's viewpoint and instead employs a number of possible camera modes. As play progresses, the system monitors events occurring within the game-play, and chooses camera modes accordingly. The camera modes, and the rules which govern their employment, are informed by both cinematographic principles, and by practical considerations pertaining to the facilitation of the player's game-play. The result is a camera system that is capable of interactively cutting between different views in real time as game-play progresses. We maintain that such an approach can result in a more dynamic and engaging experience. The system was implemented as a modification of the Quake 2 game engine. The details of its design, implementation, and testing, as well as other issues pertaining to the project can be found in the listed publications below

Researcher: James Kneafsey
Project Leader: Hugh McCabe
Funding Agency: Postgraduate R&D Skills Programme
Duration: 2003-2005


Relevant Publications

McCabe, H. and Kneafsey, J. A Virtual Cinematography System for First Person Shooter Games, in Proceedings of iDig - International Digital Games Conference, Portalegre, Portugal, September 27th-29th 2006, ISBN 989-95186-0-3, ps. 25-35

Kneafsey, J.Virtual Cinematography for Computer Games, M.Sc. thesis, 2006

Kneafsey, J. and McCabe,H., CameraBots: Cinematography for Games with Non-Player Characters as Camera Operators DIGRA 2005 Conference: Changing Views - Worlds in Play, June 2005, Vancouver, Canada

Kneafsey, J. and McCabe,H., Camera Control through Cinematography for Virtual Environments: A State of the Art Report, in Proceedings of Eurographics Ireland Chapter Workshop 2004, University College Cork, September 2004.

Kneafsey, J. and McCabe,H., Camera Control through Cinematography in 3D Computer Games, ITB Research Conference 2004, 22/23 April 2004.

Cinematic Quake Camera
(4.2 MB, DIVX Envoded AVI File, 45 seconds)

This video shows a replay of a Quake player moving through a game level using the cinematic camera being developed for this project. The camera switches between a number of different types of shots (first person, third person, establishing shot) as play progresses. These camera switches are carried out automatically by the system in response to events occuring within the game. For example, an establishing shot is used when the camera system detects that the player has entered a new room.