EVE Spotlight: An interview with Kyoko Sakoda

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EVE Spotlight: An interview with Kyoko Sakoda
EVE Spotlight is a biweekly feature in which we interview prominent members of EVE Online's player community or development team. Twice each month, we'll be shining the spotlight on a player or developer who has a significant impact on EVE to highlight the efforts of EVE's most influential people.

Whether you love EVE Online or hate it, there's no doubting that the game's community has produced some great works of art. From wallpapers and papercraft ships to music parodies and incredible cinematic videos, EVE has seen more than its fair share of creative efforts over the years. In EVE's colossal social sandbox, players often use their real-life talents to make a name for themselves in the community, and this spotlight's interviewee is no exception. Film-maker Kyoko Sakoda has popped up on our radar several times, impressing players with his awesome contributions to EVE's cinematic film scene.

Kyoko debuted with the well-composed 2008 video Push Eject (The Angel Cartel). Hoping to showcase the pirate way of life, he produced this video to celebrate the future release of faction warfare and the role piracy would play in it. Kyoko went on to produce War Has Come and worked with Kale Ryoko on the incredible cinematic work Future Proof. The holographic UI components Kyoko produced in Future Proof mirror those used in CCP's own Butterfly Effect trailer, and the success of those videos may even be pushing CCP to develop similar 3-D user interface elements for EVE.

In this edition of EVE Spotlight, we interview film-maker Kyoko Sakoda to ask about his previous videos and get the low-down on his next big project.

With the help of his friends in pirate corporation Veto, Kyoko Sakoda completed the fantastic video War Has Come in early 2009 and released it to an awestruck community. War Has Come is Kyoko's own attempt at an EVE trailer, designed to tell the story of the ongoing wars between the factions of EVE in a similar manner to the Empyrean Age trailers. The level of professional polish and awesome direction make this a film that wouldn't look out of place as an advertisement on the big screen. Set to Bear McCreary's cover of Bob Dylan's classic All Along the Watchtower, this is one of the few EVE videos that still gives me goosebumps every time I watch it. For those who have never seen War Has Come, we've embedded it below in HD:

Massively: You're probably best known for your work with Kale Ryoko on the amazing video Future Proof. Could you tell us a bit about your contributions to the video?

Kyoko Sakoda: The production of Future Proof started not long after I returned home from England, where I studied with my good friend Shobhan (better known in-game and on the EVE forums as Kale Ryoko) for a little under a year. He was working on the major project for his master's degree and needed assistance. For his project, he wanted to create a proof-of-concept short film using the Unreal Development Kit, and because we are both avid fans of the EVE Online IP, it was pretty obvious from the beginning that it would become the setting for his script.

My job on Future Proof was two-fold. First, I acted underneath Shobhan as an advisor, giving him feedback on his script revisions, the blocking of shots, the film's sequence progression, and so on. Second, I created all the mock UI elements in the film. Since we didn't have the time or know-how to integrate live characters, it was a way to communicate information to the viewer that wouldn't be obvious through the voiceovers or visuals. I took inspiration for these from CCP's work, but I also looked at cyberpunk as well as real-life trends in Web 2.0 and mobile development. I tried to consider how a capsuleer would actually "see" information fed directly to his brain. I have done web design for a long time, so it was important to me that the UI elements looked like they could plausibly exist in the universe.

The initial production lasted a couple of months, at which point the rough deliverable was sent to Shobhan's university. After that we spent another two months refining and polishing, and it ended up on the EVE Online forums.

If you were working on Future Proof again, what would you change? What lessons were learned from it that you can apply to your future works?

I'm obsessive-compulsive, so there are definitely things I would have changed with Future Proof. But I think most people in the creative industries are never fully satisfied with their work anyway. There comes a point late in development when you have to force yourself to say "it's done." Sometimes this is because of a deadline; other times it is because you've exhausted yourself and need to move on to other projects.

There are quite a few things I would have reiterated on in Future Proof. I found Shobhan's high-contrast, vibrant color palette hard to work with, and so often times I resorted to using only several colors -- the most prominent of which was white -- in order to make the mock UI pop out enough. Most of the mock UI elements were imported directly into UDK for motion tracking purposes, and this had the effect of blurring the UI because it was displayed in the U3 engine on planes at an angle to the camera. At the time it was a good solution, but if we had done more of this motion tracking in After Effects or Mocha, I think I could have added more color and movement. I would have also spent some more time on the graphic fluff and 3-D elements.

Oddly enough, the thing that most annoys me when reviewing my work after it has been submitted to the world's hyper-critical eyes is a typo. I won't tell you where the typos are in Future Proof, but not being able to scratch that itch can be frustrating!

Push Eject showcased piracy and the Angel Cartel pirate faction. Are you still involved in piracy, and can we expect to see more about that way of life in future videos?

For a brief time I was CEO of Ghost Festival, which was my first real experience with piracy. A lot of what we did in-game was ad-hoc, learning as we went along. I would say that the video was as well, because it was an experiment on the technical side of production. I was also looking to thematically synthesize piracy with pirate agent missions, boosters, contraband, etc. instead of just considering these separate features of the game. The inspirations for this were the Coreli Corporation videos Dire Lauthris made.

Future videos of mine will feature piracy, but they will not feature any specific corporations. Right now I roll with VETO Corp., so that is one of the lenses through which I look at the world of EVE.

War Has Come made dramatic use of the awesome and violent cynosural field and jump drive effects that are no longer in the game. Are they something you'd like to see return?

If they were upgraded, absolutely. It is my understanding from the 2011 Fanfest that CCP has allocated artists to redesign all of the effects. I don't want to see the old effects return specifically. For example, I absolutely love what CCP did with wormholes and jumping through stargates, because real (well, theoretical) wormholes are 3-D objects. The problem is that the current jump effect looks sparse on kilometers-long vessels because it does not scale well. Capital ships are the meanest vessels in all of EVE, and I think they need to look much more menacing when entering the field. Right now they don't give you that "ohshi--" feeling they did in the old days.

How do you get your in-game footage? Do players or corpmates get together in-game to be part of particular scenes?

Push Eject was simply a montage of footage lying around on my desktop from PvP and PvE with Ghost Festival. For War Has Come, I gathered my corpmates together on the test server in whatever ships they could fly and simply had them attack each other. I then flew around with the UI disabled and got the best shots I could, so nothing was really planned at the filming stage. I can't give the VETO guys enough props for sitting around, though. Filming took about 10-12 hours of their time, all told.

One thing I sometimes do is make use of a method called "panning and scanning," which is what home video distributors used to do much more often when TV screens were still sold in the 4:3 aspect ratio. This is a big no-no when it comes to filming characters, but in the EVE engine right now we're just filming spaceships, so cropping an image to take only the bits I want is very useful. I usually record my footage at a resolution larger than the final video so that I can do this if the need arises.

CCP's UI department has been developing holographic UI elements similar to those in Future Proof. Based on your experience of working it into the video, what elements do you think would work well with a holographic UI and what elements wouldn't work so well?

For Future Proof I thought of the UI purely in terms of displaying information, because for the viewer, that's all I needed to do. CCP's job is much more challenging because the devs must also think about human-computer interaction: usability, functionality, iconography, and overall intuitiveness. The problem with EVE with regard to the UI is that there are so many complex actions that need to be accessible along with a mass of information that needs to be called up by a user at any given time. I think that EVE will always have a "spreadsheets in space" stigma because the gameplay has both breadth and depth. As I remember one of the CCP devs saying at Fanfest, much of the UI redesign will need to be about re-categorizing actions rather than hiding them just to de-clutter the screen.

The kinds of elements best suited to a full revision are the ones used for flying in space. One might consider adding the functionality of the Selected Item window under the same selected object in space, for example. The less mouse movement needed to perform an action, the better.

Can you talk us roughly through the production process for a video and the challenges involved?

The first thing that must be done is to distill the ideas you initially have and trim away the fat. I always have a large pool of ideas to start with, but they can't all be used in a single video, no matter how long it is. The next step is to write a set of objectives -- or maybe just one objective -- that encapsulate the message or theme you want to get across. If these objectives seem technically feasible with the software, assets, and time that is available, it's time to get writing and drawing.

I personally start with a short storyboard on notebook paper. This can be as few as four or five frames, so long as all of the most important moments of the video are represented. After that, I progressively add new frames between the old ones as needed, usually for blocking important shots. The script contains all the gritty narrative details (because I draw with stick figures), and it needs to go through revision after revision. Peer evaluation is definitely helpful there.

I start shooting after that, though the method used is different for each production. For Future Proof, I only worked on the mock UI elements, and so some of the work started before the 3-D environment was finished. Sometimes I need new footage and sometimes I can salvage old footage I haven't used before. I edit the footage in Premiere Pro, import the sequence into After Effects, and add any necessary visual fluff. When all the visuals are complete, I work on a finalized audio mixdown, including any effects and voiceovers. The final encode is delivered after a thorough review.

What other EVE videos have really inspired or impressed you?

I'm most inspired by Ian Chisholm's Clear Skies series. His tireless work showed everyone the possibilities of where EVE storytelling could go. The IP is about people, not about the giant machines that in part make up the setting, although those are really cool. It is far easier to sympathize with a human face than it is to sympathize with a talking spaceship. With Incarna launching soon, I can't wait to see what EVE's video community will look like five years from now!

I have hundreds of videos from the community on my desktop, so it would be impossible to give a shoutout to everyone. Dire Lauthris's Day of Darkness was the number one video that inspired me to take my own work much more seriously. I am also a fan of Dash Ripcock's work (where did he go!?) and loved the old Mercenary Coalition videos circa 2004 that told the epic stories behind their campaigns. Needless to say I'm also extremely inspired by CCP's in-house work.

Players have been eagrely awaiting the next Kyoko Sakoda production. Can you tell us a bit about your next project?

Not long ago, I announced that I am working on a new video via the TweetFleet. It is a trailer, or more specifically, it is formatted similarly to the way the Causality and Butterfly Effect videos were by CCP. It will have a slower burn throughout than any of my previous works and is meant to encourage newer players to take risks. Because I'm still a university student with academic and financial concerns, I don't have as much time on my hands as I used to. So unfortunately production has been quite delayed. If all goes well, expect it late this summer!

Thanks for interviewing with us!

Thanks for watching!
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