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volume 1, issue 30

Today in loonygames:

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Thinking Outside the Box:
Character Studio (part 2)




By Paul "Villam" Steed

Anything I say comes from me and represents my personal opinions, views and subtle plans for influencing society. Read, ruminate over and remember at your own risk. If I teach you something and it helps, teach someone else.

ame Developer’s Conference this year was pretty cool. I got to hang out with those whack-ass Miller Freeman folk and especially my buddy, Alan Yu. I even got some work done with my hot little laptop: a Toshiba Portégé CT7010. It weighs 4 lbs., is about ¾ of an inch thick, is the relative size of a couple magazines, has 160 megs of RAM, P2 300 with 4 gigs of hard drive. It won’t run Q3:A but it runs Max like a champ. It rawks, Dood! But I digress.

GDC was great this year but the vendors continue to nudge their way into the event and make their presence felt even more. I’m not really complaining about that because as we all know, more vendors on the show floor mean, you guessed it: more…Booth Babes! Whooohoooo! (Yo, Marcia…). Speaking of vendors I want to award Mel, Marc and Howie of Virtual Search the ‘Cool Booth’ award since they were handing out free beer (really quick way to a man’s heart).

My only problem with the show this year was the number of people speaking. Seemed a bit diluted. As in lots of people with plenty of zeal but not much in the way of speaking skills or presentation preparation. I’m not bagging on the show (Alan), I just think that there should have been less classes to choose from and more of a screening process for content (no one fills out those damn review forms…)

Anyways, I think my talk went great and I went over my allotted time by almost an hour since I was the last speaker on Thursday. I even learned a few things myself (which is really why I give those kinds of talks). Hopefully the people in my audience picked up a couple useful tips as well.

So the event, the parties, the talks, the beer and the BB’s made the trip to San Jose worth it. It’s always interesting to meet other industry types to find out if they’re still at company ‘X’ or have moved on to company ‘Y’. There’s one guy in particular named Scott Russo that I could start a trading card game with his business cards throughout the years. Although I guess he must be doing something right. All the cards read CEO or something like that. Ah well, enuff wif dat. Let’s get on with the INFORMATIVE part of this thing…


[After proofing this tutorial it occurs to me that it seems like I’m talking to myself in the narrative. Not true. I’m just assuming you’re following along with a model you’ve created with similar attributes. If not then it might be a good idea. If not then just indulge my narrative technique ;]

Okay. Last time we scratched the surface of one aspect of Character Studio for Max 2.5 by bringing in a model and scaling a Biped skeleton to fit the model’s geometry. Now we need to attach the Biped to our mesh, delving into the other half of Character Studio: Physique.

Now again, this is not the only way to animate your characters and the only tools to use. I definitely don’t want to sound like a poster child for Kinetix or Max. This just happens to be the method by which I’m animating characters for our current project - Quake3: Arena. The information I’m sharing about the animation process is meant to make it easier for you to get your own player characters into the game (once it’s released of course). I recommend the Character Studio plugin for Max because it’s affordable and has some great features in it, and really is a good character animation tool. (Geez, I really do sound like a salesman don’t I…)

So let’s get to it.


Physique is the portion of the program that allows the mesh to deform based on vertex assignment to your underlying skeleton or in this case your Biped. Physique can be applied to normal bones that come with Max, but I haven’t found the need to do it that way yet. My strongest compulsion for using Physique with Biped is the ‘.bip’ file format that gives me some powerful file sharing ability (I’ll be covering that in later tutorial).

All kinds of properties are tweakable in Physique and given a sufficient number of polygons in your mesh you can simulate kinesiological phenomena like muscle bulging and tendon flexion. However, with low-poly character animation these advanced attributes aren’t very noticeable or practical. Don’t let that discourage you from messing around with those settings, though. I’m telling you, this tool ain’t no Maya, but it does have depth!

First thing we need to do to attach Physique to our character is to unfreeze our model and select our biped.

Now if we go to ‘Smooth and Highlight’ view mode we see something like this…

Since materials are pre-assigned to your biped (to save you the trouble) it tends to make seeing the model it’s attached to a bit difficult. One solution to seeing your model would be to scale the bones so they nest inside the mesh. That becomes problematic, however, since initial vertex assignment depends on the volume of the bones in relation to the volume of the mesh. The best solution for the bones/mesh visibility conflict is to simply…make the biped invisible!

Bring up your material editor and make a special material called ‘invis’. Knock ‘Shininess’, ‘Shin. Strength’, ‘Self-Illumination’ and ‘Opacity’ all down to ‘0’.

Assign the material to the biped and our scene now looks something like this…

Notice the little blue dummy objects that are attached to various points on the biped. I have no clue why they’re there and I’ve never used them for anything. I suppose they’re guides of some kind and serve as attachment points for other objects. Maybe I’ll try it sometime. Also notice that the biped is no longer a solid object and appears stippled in non-wireframe mode. The model and its texture is perfectly visible. Of course you’re probably not lucky enough to have a gorgeous Kenneth Scott skin like I do, but hey. You get the point. Assigning a matte, non-opaque material to your biped is optional but I highly recommend it.

(Continued on next page)

Credits: Thinking Outside the Box logo illustrated and is © 1999 Dan Zalkus. Thinking Outside the Box is © 1999 Paul Steed. All other content is © 1999 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is strictly prohibited, so don't even try it. We've got really big guns, and we're ripped, baby.