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Jason Morris interview - Stargate SG-1: The Alliance
Date of publishing: 11th January 2006

Stargate SG-1: The Alliance - interview Stargate Jason Morris is the lead artist on the video game Stargate SG-1: The Alliance. Since the recent events between Jowood (the publisher) and Perception (the developper), no big news have come to us. So, we came to them. In collaboration with Stargate-Game.com, we asked Jason Morris to give us some new information on the work he is doing at Perception.

Update 21 January 2006:
We are sorry to announce that the game has just been cancelled. We support all the team at Perception on this sad day.

Gilles Nuytens: First thank you for allowing us to ask you some questions! How did you came into the design of video games? What is your professional background and studies?
Jason Morris: Hi, no problem :). I suppose I came into design of video games as an interest at a fairly young age, around 12 when after playing too many video games and sketching too many weird characters, my brother and I went out and bought a book for our commodore 64 full of the raw code for a bunch of games so we could make our own. We sat down and typed out hundreds of pages of code for a game called "Terra Cognita". Many years after that I was doing more painting and sketching with comic ideas etc, I then got into level design with Unreal, and then more heavily with Half-Life using the worldcraft editor making multiplayer maps, models and skins for characters. I then moved to doing work on Mods for Unreal Tournament and Half-Life working on Player Characters, Level Building, Music and SoundFX, all this gave me some great opportunities for learning and improving. At school I studied Art and Film.
Next was working as a fulltime texture artist on the MMOG Citizen Zero for Micro Forte and Published by Microsoft, working on environments, characters, weapons and vehicles, after around 8 months I was promoted to Lead Artist for the game and continued work on the title for around another year and a half, touching on all aspects of the game in terms of art. After this I joined Perception as Lead Artist and have been working on Stargate to the current day.

Gilles Nuytens: You are the lead artist on "Stargate SG-1: The Alliance", Can you describe the work you are doing?
Jason Morris: The best way that I can sum this up in terms of the artwork for the game is that I always wanted the style of the artwork in the game to be as close as possible to the show itself, so this meant using a more photorealistic look for everything, as compared to where some games would develop and use a very stylised look for the settings/characters and so on. This helps the artists to take direct reference from the scenes we see in the show where possible and translate them to the video game with little trouble. We basicaly wanted to capture the show in the form of a videogame. I think in terms of the artwork we have really managed to do this very well, right down to some very minor details that we know the fans would want to see / string us up for getting wrong :).
In terms of the day to day work we are doing, it involves the art team working on mission based environments including interior and exteriors, weapons, vehicles, special effects, animation and characters for all three platforms at the same time (PC, Xbox and PS2), so that in some cases the artists may reproduce the same asset with alot of variation in technical specification up to three times. We are working on the artwork in stages of polish and are currently approaching a stage where we will begin to finalise lighting and particle effects for the environments.

Gilles Nuytens: Can you describe the different steps from the sketch drawings of a ship/environment to the final model used in the game?
Jason Morris: Early on in the project we have a few different ways of looking at things as we have some missions that were direct settings that allready exist in the show, and we had others that were completely new and original settings that should still "fit" with the Stargate setting. Missions were approached differently due to this in each case.
For some missions that were more of our original creation, our concept artist would discuss ideas, we would sit down and collect "idea" reference images from all over, based on what the function and gameplay of the mission was... and he would then sketch these ideas into existance. The artists and level designers would then take these images as reference to begin work. On the majority of missions however we would use direct reference that we had from set blueprints from the show etc etc.

Gilles Nuytens: Can you describe the process of getting the actors faces into digital format?
Jason Morris: Using a very advanced new method we mailed each of the actors a small tub of butter along with some flour, we asked them to them smear the butter all over their face the lightly dust themselves with the flour, wait for 40 minutes then peel off and mail back to us, that was just for fun :)
Then the actors were all put into a digital scanning device and scanned for their facial features and skin texture etc. This was all sent to us and we began reconstructing them for the game placing them on the lower body sections that we had allready created.

Gilles Nuytens: Did the poly count have to be lowered in order to make the faces viable for a game, while still being recognisable? Can you say what the poly count for an average character is?
Jason Morris: The original digital facial scans were a little too highpolygon for use directly in the game, mainly for the playstation version that required a tighter budget in terms of facial bones and polygons. After getting the digital scans we began to lower the polycount slightly for the specifications of each platform and to work as best as possible with the requirements for facial animation. It is interesting that the main features that seem to give a character it's true to life form ingame come more from the texture that is "wrapped" around the face than the amount of polygons overall, so with this in mind we were able to replicate the characters no matter what the polygon range. We will be working on the final look for the main characters right up until the last minute, including different outfits such as the desert uniform and so on, as they are the real heart of the game. The average polycount for our characters is between 2500 to 3500 polygons.

Gilles Nuytens: How much creative license were you able to take with the design of in-game environments and characters?
Jason Morris: For environments and characters that are directly from the show we took very little if any creative licence, we started with a mission to replicate the show exactly. There are however areas where we felt some repetition of the same style needed some blending of new ideas based on the same theme just to give the players and fans some interesting variations on the stargate settings they know so well. One of these includes a slightly industrial looking jaffa styled base on a distant planet. We have created over 16 unique sets of environment assets that work very well on their own but could also easily fit together to create some very interesting combinations. I can't wait for the game to be released to see what artists and level designers do with these combinations of assets, I can imagine pyramids set in the snow, high tech forest bases etc, it will be very interesting.
For the environenments that were unique to the game, we used the established style for the game and implemented our own creativity to create some interesting settings that I think still fit well within the stargate universe.

Gilles Nuytens: What is your favourite map - from an artistic point of view?
Jason Morris: It is hard to choose, I think with all the very talented artists I work with, each of whom have their own missions to complete, they all have their own great sections, so from an artistic point of view my favourite map is a mission based in a traditional Egyptian style (mission 07), mainly because I love the theme and it gives us so many cool options to work with. It is set on a desert planet in the middle of a large dust storm with underground tombs etc, it's great to work on.

Gilles Nuytens: What was the biggest challenge you came across for designing characters, scenes etc, in terms of game playability while still maintaining the SG-1 look and feel?
Jason Morris: The biggest challenge overall has been managing multiple versions of assets, with three different sets of rules they must adhere to, across three different platforms at the same time. We are basically making three games at once in terms of art assets, so this was at first a challenge when creating a system for file structures and so on, then once we were into full production maintaining all of these standards to not only have the highest quality of artwork across all platforms but to also fit in with some of the more decorative style of art contained in the show. A good example of this is the Tel'Tak ship, as it has almost completely rounded shapes all over, this means more polygons are needed to create this form, so we simply need to balance this against other items in the particular mission as best as possible to still keep the unique SG-1 look and feel.

Gilles Nuytens: Who is your favoured character/scene/vessel in the game - artistically speaking?
Jason Morris: At the moment my favourite scene is contained in the mission where you first meet the Haaken on a very lush an mysterious planet formerly inhabited by the Extrenites, it has a great feel. My favourite character is Thor because he just looks pretty funny running around with a huge gun in multiplayer.

Gilles Nuytens: Did the recent events with Jowood had some impact on your work? How do you feel about that?
Jason Morris: The recent events with JoWood had no real impact on our day to day work as it was pretty much business as usual. The one thing that did have a small impact on the great group of programmers, level designers, artists, animators, sound guys and testers within the company were some of the untrue statements JoWood had made in the press. Within the company and in terms of the game itself we all thought it was quite funny, because we knew they were untrue, but it is hard to read things like this about something you are close to on a daily basis. It all seems like a long time ago now.. and we have been pressing ahead without any change at all really.

Gilles Nuytens: When you build the ships/weapons and other items that already existed in the TV show, what kind of help did you receive from MGM, did you receive maps, sketches, drawings, models, etc. from them to make the game closer to the show? If not, what did you do to get the look of the game as close as possible to the show?
Jason Morris: We have a mountain of blueprints and set designs from almost every season of the show directly from MGM. These include exact measurements and we use them to create items that exists in the show, they have been invaluable. We have photographs from the set, costumes etc. We have all of the episodes on DVD and use them to recreate certain scenes and effects for weapons and particles. Basically we have so much reference and with the amount we have studied, we have found that even similar sets vary within the show itself from season to season that we have been able to replicate areas from the show as close as we feel is possible due to the slight changes in sets from each season. In many cases we have recreated exact consoles shown on computer screens and so on based on still images from a certain episode.

Gilles Nuytens: If you designed the Haakens, what was your inspiration to create them? Or if you didn't do it yourself, what was asked/required to be included into the charachter?
Jason Morris: The Haaken were designed based on what was called for them to behave/look like in the script for the game. They needed to be scary, fast and intelligent looking, and that is something that is not an easy combination to visualise. There were quite a few people involved in the design of the look for the haaken as well as their ships and interior spaces, from the producer to CEO as well as myself and the concept artists as well as environment artists. The main character concepts came from many versions of the character design from our character concept artist, she would collect reference ideas and then begin to sketch up her own ideas and present them, gradually she refined to add the more and more "intelligent" aspects of the character and then finalised over a period of around two months. There are still some earlier versions of these character ideas that I really like and would like to see them also included in any future addition to this game if it is possible.

Gilles Nuytens: What do the extrenites look like?
Jason Morris: They are short and not very good at fighting :) ... thats about all I can say about them.

Gilles Nuytens: Thank you very much for your time!
Jason Morris: Thankyou, I hope the stargate fans will enjoy the world we have created.

Interview by Gilles Nuytens for:
The Scifi World / Stargate Ultimate / Stargate Game


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