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When I’ve seen video game trailers with over-the-top action, I’ve often wondered who among the game developers creates these things. It turns out that Electronic Arts has a full game capture division whose job it is to capture images that will get gamers excited about an upcoming title.
In the most recent trailers for EA’s Battlefield 2042, you can see some astounding scenes of what you can do in the game, like have a firefight with people in tornado or get some amazing kills while in the air. Most of these scenes aren’t cinematics that are created by animators. That’s still possible, but players are discerning and they appreciate when those stunts are really generated in-game, simply by having players carry out maneuvers while playing the game. That means that players would really be able to re-create those scenes, and the feeds of many YouTubers are filled with such feats that could only be done by the best of players.
This is where the EA Marcom Game Capture division comes in. They are in charge of making sure that gamers believe these will be “only in Battlefield” moments that they can only experience if they play Battlefield 2042 when it comes out on November 19 on the consoles and the PC.
The capture teams both record eye-catching gameplay and they script out scenes to highlight jaw-dropping action. For instance, one creator flew an F-14 fighter straight up in the air, bailed out, pulled out a rocket launcher, and blew up a pursuing aircraft, and then got back in the jet. For the Battlefield 2042 trailer, the game capture team staged a similar maneuver in homage to the creator.
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I thought the introductory trailer for the Hazard Mode portion of Battlefield 2042 was particularly well done. You see satellites falling like orange missiles to the earth across a huge 2D landscape, but then you realize it’s a 3D landscape as those missiles start coming toward the screen in your direction. It’s a small but nice effect, and it takes a lot of work, said Jeff Aho, game capture lead at EA, in an interview with GamesBeat.
I said I didn’t know such a job existed.
Aho replied, “You sound like my Dad.”
In fact, it’s a role that has been around for a while. Around 35 or so people are doing this work at EA alone.
An avid gamer his entire life, Aho answered an ad in the paper in 2002 and landed a job as a game tester at EA Tiburon in Orlando, Florida. He started on the Madden QV (quality verification) team and his first big project was a promo spot for Monday Night Football. He and his then-boss Jorge Urban got a call on a Saturday afternoon describing what Madden wanted to show on Monday Night Football – a play one team would use to exploit the other team’s weakness.
“We did whatever we could to create content,” Aho said. “That’s where it started.”
They spent as long as it took to get the play and captured it from numerous angles to tell the proper story. After seeing the content he helped capture on TV for an audience of millions, Aho was hooked. He joined EA full time, initially working for the Madden NFL marketing department.
Aho spent the next 15 years at EA editing and compositing for Madden NFL — along with NCAA Football, Tiger Woods PGA Tour, NFL Street and many others – and eventually became the main editor for EA Tiburon’s marketing department. He segued to senior game capture artist and soon after became game capture lead, working across even more titles such as Battlefield, Lost In Random, It Takes Two, Knockout City, Need For Speed, and more.
Along the way, these videos became more and more popular as marketing migrated to the internet. Now lots of people are making a living with such jobs at EA alone. They have skills in cinematography, graphic design, compositing, editing, and coding.
You can see their work in high-profile trailers such as the NHL 22 reveal trailer, FIFA 22 HyperMotion, Madden Land and the Battlefield Hazard Zone trailer for the highly anticipated debut of Battlefield 2042 coming on November 19 for the consoles and the PC. Rivals such as Activision have such teams as well, as evidenced by the competing trailers they’ve been posting for Call of Duty: Vanguard. And Activision invited some actual war photographers into the game to capture the scenes in the game the same way they capture war footage.
On high-profile EA Game titles including the new trailer for Battlefield 2042: Hazard Zone, the game capture works hand in hand with EA’s cinematics artists, who create the scripted scenes in between gameplay. They collaborate to make sure the two different worlds of in-game capture and cinematics intersect seamlessly, Aho said.
On the scenes where Aho needs the teams to replicate a particular kind of scene, like the one with the fighter jet in Battlefield, the game capture leads are more like movie directors. Sometimes, EA Sports game capture artists watch real-world sports for inspiration and try to replicate real-world plays in the game world. They can position cameras to capture the proper angles, framing, and compositing, just as a sports photographer or cinematographer would in the real world.
The goal is visceral authenticity. I love it because it’s one more expression of the Leisure Economy, where people find new jobs and new careers where they make a living playing games. EA has game capture hubs in Vancouver, Canada, and Orlando, Florida, but the artists are spread throughout the world.
EA’s Game Capture team played a key role creating the visceral Hazard Zone trailer which closely follows the movements of six squad members and drives home the raw intensity of playing the game. They were also instrumental in creating EA Sports’ NHL 22 Official Gameplay Trailer which launched this summer.
Nvidia has created its Ansel tool that enables game players to capture screens at key moments, just the way that photographers do in the wild. And with high-quality 4K or even 8K monitors, the scenes that they capture inside game worlds can be truly stunning. I would love to be a photographer inside a game, or even someone like a war correspondent, capturing history as it happens.
Game Capture artists also work closely with EA’s Game Screenshot team, led by senior screenshot artist Petri Levälahti, screenshot artist Ben Barber and capture artist sports Simon McAuliffe, who create marketing screenshots by building and composing scenes in FrostEd software, using the game assets created by the game development team.
These assets are generated daily. The screenshot team scouts locations within the game levels and uses character animations from the game and the cinematic trailers to pose the characters, give them weapons and weapon mods, and add VFX like smoke and explosions. The screenshot team captures the game and the art that the game developers have created. The job requires the skills of a location scout, stylist, prop master, cinematographer, director and special effects artist.
Aho has a degree in film and television production from Baylor University. But no college degree covers game capture. Aho eventually gravitated toward post-production and editorial. About four years ago he became the lead on the game capture team. Now he works in Vancouver.
Now the game has tools like a replay system, which can replay a scene in an instant replay that you can review. You can control the lens of the camera at that point and move it around and focus on particular things.
“It’s more like you’re shooting a movie,” Aho said. “In that AR camera, what you normally see in a first person shooter with the gun in your hands — that’s how we do most of our game capture. It is just straight through the game. But we set up our shots and everything like a movie because we have to give do it live.”
The teams have to play what each playing controlling a character is going to do so that the right shot gets captured.
“Everyone is aware of where our path is going to be and then how they’re going to interact with that path. And then we run through takes and you just run take after take until you get what that looks good,” Aho said. “If you do the cut right, and there is a transition from cinematic to gameplay, the user won’t even notice that what they’re seeing is real gameplay.”
limited to what the best types of shots are. We, we don’t let everybody record because, again, depending on what their action is, or what they’re doing, where their characters looking, they may, you know, we may be looking at a certain part of the map, and everything behind camera is ready to be shown yet, or textures are fully done just yet, so we’re focusing in one area. And we keep our Hero cameras focused in on that area. So we may have like, two guys recording at one, two, maybe three, but it’s solely depends on the shot and what we’re trying to accomplish. A lot of times it will be to start hero Hero camera moments that is recording that one action. But there are times where you know, you have an enormous set piece that you want to explode. And you’ve got to get the timing right. So we will have like our main four internal team members all on our recording devices recording their angles, just to make sure we get coverage of it to ensure that you know, okay, well we know, to reset that set piece, it’s going to take us a half an hour to get everything set back up. Right. So we don’t want to burn through all that time for just one camera angle. So we will set up guys to record multiple cameras for a certain set pieces like that.
It may sound like the easiest job in the world to play games.
“There’s a technical aspect to it because you’re not only just sitting there playing,” he said. “Everyone thinks what we do is just sitting there playing the game. And while part of it is, we’re not just playing for fun. Everything we do is planned out.”