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Ninja Theory revisits Hellblade heroine Senua's face

Expressions and complexity "an order of magnitude higher" than anything studio has done before.

I had concerns about Hellblade after playing it at Gamescom. As an action game it was well short of what Ninja Theory did with DMC Devil May Cry or Enslaved or Heavenly Sword, and its portrayal of severe mental health issues was basic, however sincere - and applaudable - its intentions.

At around the same time, Ninja Theory took to Twitter to announce that the Gamescom demo - a vertical slice, or "testbed of ideas" - had "been retired and we have started Hellblade production afresh". A tweet an hour later added: "Retiring a vertical slice and moving on into full production is good news. It is not starting again, it is moving forward as expected."

The studio reiterated: "We are not starting the game development again. Production is a phase of dev that we are just moving into. Now we build the game."

It's against that backdrop Ninja Theory released a recent development diary documenting the process of revisiting the face of main character Senua. The message is that the boat has been pushed out: Senua's face will be the most expressive and complex of any Ninja Theory game - a feat that took travelling to Serbia and employing the talent of a specialist face-scanning company to achieve. Not bad for a self-published and self-funded game with a production a fraction of the size of Ninja Theory's other games.

"We wanted to get back to the very first concept of Senua that we created," said studio leader Tameem Antoniades in the development diary. "We are just starting to see the results of the process, and the facial expressions and complexity of the expressions is an order of magnitude higher than anything we've done in Heavenly Sword or DMC or Enslaved."

The process involved a day of scanning Ninja Theory video editor Melina Juergens - whose face is Senua's face - performing more than 100 facial expressions. The scanned results can be glimpsed in the video and are impressive, particularly in the cracks of makeup and when her nose wrinkles. How this will look in the final game, however, remains to be seen.

The underlying message here is that Hellblade development is in full swing and that Ninja Theory is going to significant lengths to make it work. Hellblade is due out in 2016 on PC and PS4.

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