As the technology of games continues to develop, we're crossing into the Uncanny Valley more easily and with greater frequency than ever before. We've progressed beyond simply making something lifelike into the realm of photorealism, and it's getting harder all the time to discern what's an actual person and what's not. At the front of the pack for such advances is a Santa Monica company called Image Metrics. Their contribution to the upcoming Grand Theft Auto IV, according to Rockstar's Dan Houser, ripples out past simply capturing and animating lifelike facial expressions and into expanding the scope of the storytelling. Houser explains:
"In terms of the characters, as we were bringing up the quality of the graphics and the physics and the animation, the quality of the writing and story structure were always balanced to reflect those [things]...the reasons we could pull that off and make the cutscenes slightly longer is because we've got such good facial animation that you can afford to be a little bit more slow-paced in them and a little more intimate with some of them. They've got to look beautiful, some of the cut scenes, and they hold the game together nicely."
At the center of Image Metrics' magic is the ability to capture facial metrics directly from video, without all the muss and fuss and mini-marshmallows-glued-to-the-face of motion capture. Now, actors can perform unhindered for the cameras, and even their tiniest cringes and nasal flares are translated to their virtual counterpart. When applied to a character model with a facial polygon count of over 3000, the effect is simply amazing, as seen in the video demo on their homepage. Most notable is the detail with which the process captures the positions of teeth, lips, tongue and jaw. When audio is captured along with the video, lip syncing is perfectly accurate and loses nothing in translation to the virtual domain.
IM's work has been seen in games like Devil May Cry 4, Call Of Duty 2, and the recently released Unreal Tournament 3, as well as various commercials and movies. Come April 29, they'll be putting a new face on our beloved Liberty City too.
Their work will surely not go unappreciated, when I experiment with these new levels of expression and realism as I use the exquisitely detailed and realistic faces as sniper targets. BLAM! "Ooh! Did you see how unhappy that guy was?"
Another blow was struck against violence today, as a report published by the Canadian Milk Council has squarely put the blame for video games on violence. According to the report, there's a direct, undeniable connection between violence and the later development of PC games and their console counterparts. The excitement and visceral rush of violent acts, which the report estimates first occurred over 9000 years ago, is said by these experts to have inspired the invention, development and popularity of practcally all video games developed since the 1980s. The report did name some notable exceptions, including Barbie Horse Adventure, Imagine Dogz (but specifically NOT Imagine Babiez), and Bio Force Ape. Researcher Luna Dee of the Scarborough Institute for Cultural Studies gave us an example by telephone: "Our research indicates that the games we know today, if they had been invented at all without the dangerous precedent set by the advent of violence, would be so different as to be unplayable. For instance, we[ve determined that games like Battletoads, Gears of War, and NHL Hockey, without the influence of violence, would have ended up as Appletoads, Gears of Sleep and NHL Hockey 94." She added that, strangely, the Virtua Fighter series would have remained unchanged, as the game contained no measurable levels of excitement or violence in the first place.
Proponents of violence have already responded with understandable outrage on Milk Council forums. Xenu666 writes "What, now violence is responsible for video games? Sure, okay. Then someone explain to me why most gamers couldn't kick a puppy's ass. THE BEST THE BEST THE BEST THE BEST THE BEST THE BEST THE BEST THE BEST THE BEST THE BEST THE BEST THE BEST THE BEST THE BEST THE BEST THE BEST THE BEST THE BEST THE BEST THE BEST THE BEST THE BEST THE BEST in b4 Chris Hansen." Strong words from an understandably angry fan of violence. Clearly, people wish to enjoy violence without a constant onslaught of blame for things like video games.
The report didn't stop at video games, going on to blame violence for the fall of Rome, Jeff Gerstmann's firing, Ben Stein and the rising popularity of punching.