122: Face Job

Face Job

"'The actors are our vehicles for emotion. We need to make sure that we capture every last bit of their performance and translate the emotion into the game. You know, getting 80 percent of that is quite easy. But after that every additional percent takes a lot of effort,' Cage says. 'Right now, we're working on lips and the revealing of teeth. It's incredibly complex, a matter of fractions of a millimeter, and if it's not right you'll immediately notice. We're also working on the tongue. You may not think you see my tongue moving while I'm talking, but believe me, if it stopped you would be horrified.'"

Sam Sundberg speaks to Quantic Dream's David Cage about Heavy Rain and the power of the face.

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If they can make scenes from daily life interesting to play, they'll be wizards, not animators. That sort of thing isn't even interesting to *live*.

True, but I think actually hearing a believable conversation could really feel like a big change from the normal. Games have always tried to establish moody characters that have inside jokes with each other, but I've noticed recurring problems.
1. Only one person is always talking. This is a problem with many school plays too; often, a conversation consists of a lot of interruptions, or even someone making a remark in the middle of someone else's statement.
2. People are too audible. I realize this sounds ironic, but the thing is, not many things that typical people say are going to be said slowly and clearly. Games should try to establish which lines are more important for the player to hear (we're in an ammo cache, so WATCH your SHOTS), say those clearly, but leave other lines like "not that Biggs here is even listening..." in a slightly more slurred way.
3. It's always in the context of combat. Compare the level of interest of these lines...
"Ryan, you're ALWAYS the first to run out of ammo!" "It's called suppressing fire, moron!"

"Hamlet, act 2 scene 3, line 42." "Memorization like that means you know shakespeare to look smart, not just to like it." "Nah, I was just spouting random numbers anyway."

It's good to see another studio making a strong attempt at facial emotions, but I really feel like their methods are a bit too overpowered; motion capture is what you'd use to show a guy getting knocked to the ground. I sort of think that Half-Life 2's muscle system (having used it myself) is capable of doing just as much, much more easily. I could make something similar to that Heavy rain demo given a month of time, WITHOUT a team backing me up. (not to say that it's not still impressive!)

My problem is his "I'm not here to make video games, I'm here to make art" statement in the beginning. From reading that, his definition of art, then, is quite narrow-minded. Yes, it's highly skillfull to make people feel for other characters with facial emotions, but that's simply part of acting and drama. I know it isn't what he meant to say, but it just gives me the feeling that video games can only be art by copying other art forms.

I've always found game design itself an incredible form of art that you can't experience elsewhere, even if all you are making is a shooter. After all, one of the things Half-Life 1 & 2 has going for it is the level design. The beginning of HL2 takes you into this large, open city, and while you are actually following a linear path, they do a fantastic job of making you think you're being clever and finding hidden passages to outsmart the enemy. The first time I played it I wondered if there were any other options open, because it certainly seemed that way and I was merely taking the best one. To me, that's art. Same with the first Half-Life, where encounters with bosses were the entire level. Take the giant blind and green three headed monster. You never directly fought it, but instead traveled the whole level setting up its demise. Things like this I consider art, despite being in a shooter.

Obviously not all games are going to break the boundaries of art, but not all pieces of art do in the first place. Art is not just for the high brow, after all. Besides, if he's so reliant on things like facial expressions to bring out emotion and make a game recognized as art, then he'll never create as amazing a piece of art as, say, EarthBound, which got by without facial expressions.

I always thought about making an account, but never did until now.

A few weeks ago there seemed to be a surge of threads (ok, about two that kept popping up on the first page) about female gamers upset with the way women are portrayed in games or how they're treated socially. It felt like they couldn't decide on any one thing that they'd like changed, and anything they requested was already available on the market, and living on an art college campus I guess I'm blessed in that there are as many female gamers here as there are males and they seem to lavish in playing the skimpy characters. But, I'm not a female gamer so I can't possibly understand what it'd be like to be in their shoes, and maybe where they're from there are no other female gamers, and nothing but those ignorant sexist high schoolers who all are in the same WoW guild and are afraid of tampons or something... So I kept my peace.

And then Yahtzee posted another game review completely lambasting americans like he normally does, and I wanted to hop on the forums and poke some fun back at him. Like how he's another generic mindless euro-prick with bad teeth who's upset with America (England's bastard child) and so he feels he can criticize a culture he knows nothing about from his little bungalow in Australia (England's other, slightly dirty and retarded bastard child) while snorting vegimite from a kangaroo's hind-quarters and sipping tea... But I just kept my mouth shut.

But this article makes me want to fly over to Quantic Dream and sit Mr. Cage down for a little lesson in art and games.

Ok, first of all, the man has an arrogance about him. Again, the opening line: "Why make videogames when you can make art?" Then giving us other nuggets of information like "Videogames today are about primitive emotions. We need to bring it to the next level, closer to theatre, literature and cinema." Primitive emotions? It feels like he's bashing games for not reaching some higher echelon of art. This coming from the man who made a game about the unholy child of Neo and Goku thrown into New York with a disjointed middle and terrible ending.

And that, the only way games can achieve this mystical higher status is to not be games, but movies that you push a button for every now and then. That the storyline should grip the player because obviously no one was affected by the storylines written in videogames for the past decade. Aeris became an anime shis-kabob but nobody cared. No one cared about the Wanderer and his quest to save a dead women by killing a bunch of giant muppet-looking things. The betrayal scene in Jade Empire? *yawn* Jack's clever plot to remove the Antideluvian in Bloodlines? meh. Beyond Good and Evil? The Longest Journey? The NeverhoOd? He just shirks off millions of game storylines far better than his and done with little facial animations if any at all (or in some cases done in a better way.)

So instead of letting games do what they do best he has to try and make a film (which I swear, if games have a downfall it'll be because of that stupid notion that if you throw enough pixels at it it'll magically give everyone in the room a stiffy.) That the only reason Half-Life 2 was any good was because Alyx could squish her eyebrows together. Has anyone sent this man a copy of Facade yet? They get away with great drama using only vectors.

Games are defined by having rules and a goal. Making an artistic statement through games isn't by throwing some drama-queen crybaby on the screen to try and bullshit yourself into believing it's deep! It's through creating a goal and a set of rules which causes the player to think about a certain subject in a new light. And until Cage, Mr. Ebert and millions of other pixel pushers and games aren't art naysayers realize this we'll just be traipsing through anemic games with faux tacked on storylines written by people who can't even write in the first place.

Gah!! Just wanna kick him in his stubbly-french head!!

I still have hard times to adhere to his vision, a dedication to drive video games onto a path that is always presented as a trail of what other art forms or medias already are, or do.

His interview in EDGE, way more than one year ago, was already sweating with such ideas, and I already had issues with his claims.

I understand the point of having expressions that do generate emotions, applied to synthetized characters, helps to channel emotions.
A FMV featuring characters with shallow gestures or expressions would fail, as even the moves would not provide a message. They would not "talk" to us.

But do you really need ultra realism? Maybe it could help, but I don't think it's the objective #1.

I think the death of Aerith by the hands of Sephiroth, years ago, made that point fairly clear.

There is a problem with motion capture. I know it's pre-recorded data. Lots of it. Video games should not be about past information. It should be about present and future events.

Otherwise, what you're asking for is nothing more than an evolved FMV, and you want this mixed to that, with some interactivity.

Mocap only gets interesting when you make it dynamic, as it would answer a wide range of stimuli (pain, joy, concentration, leisure, effort, etc.), or sounds make the by characters or avatars.

The unease caused by artificial humans that are close to, but not entirely, realistic, is often called "the uncanny valley," a term coined by Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori in 1970. According to Mori's theory, a replica of a human will elicit more empathy the more realistic it is, up until a point where the simulacrum becomes so lifelike that small faults pop out and make it seem uncanny. The "valley" is a dip in a graph that describes the level of familiarity one feels with the simulacrum.

Makes me think that the closer you'd get to the perfect reproduction of the human body and soul, the higher the chances would be you'd get crazy.

But I think the uncanny valley applies to the AI, not the enveloppe.

Does she looks uncanny?

What would rebut more would be how bad people could react to machines. It's not that I'm particularily a pro-android guy, but that scene in Animatrix were a bunch of mobs smacked down a robot for just being a robot in human appearance, that was gross. Or grotesque.

Really, I'm not convinced that the uncanny valley applies to visuals. No matter how realistic looking your virtual human will be, it will be nothing more than a fake.
I don't think that if that gal started smiling or crying in real time, I'd be moved, not if the actions that led to those emulated emotions were meaningless. The context would play much more than the content.

Now, put a near human intelligence in that bag of pixels, and then I say you'd get something uncanny. In fact, you may not even need a realistic looking body for that. The mere idea of talking to an AI that could reply to you and keep the discussion going on, would probably unsettle you a thousand times more than a mass of polys that can "cry".

"If we can make simple scenes from daily life interesting to play, like two people just talking, then we have a whole new world in front of us," he says. "Then we can do anything."

Possibly, but I don't think he's putting the emphasis on the right objective.
There's an important part that makes the difference between an interesting discussion and a boring one: the sentient and intellectual bond that exists between individuals.
This has hardly anything to do with what they look like. What he wants is a humanoid AI, not an empty shell that looks human.

No amount of motion capture would have saved Indigo Prophecy's travesty of a storyline. If David Cage wants to make art, that's where he should concentrate.

He should concentrate on getting that damn sequel to Nomad Soul out.

He's got a huge studio, and doesn't release that many titles. QD is 10 years old, and only has two titles in its catalogue. There's been more than 5 years between both of them.
Besides, they're all flawed to several extents.

I'm afraid he still has the mentality that led many French studios to their downfall, "art blah blah", with the difference that for some reason, he's got a lot of bucks coming from god knows where, maybe his mocap studio he rents to various other studios, which helps him keep his pompous pretense without loosing face.

Fact is, no matter how acclaimed his two games were - or not - they're hardly cited as references.

Facial animation can be very expressive when it comes to conveying a character's emotions and personality, but concentrating so hard on one minuet aspect of video game presentation means that some aspects of the game are pretty much doomed. So your female lead seems to give off a warm feeling with her smile like a mother welcoming in her child from his snowy escapade, too bad her dialog sounds like it was written by a 13 year old Valley Girl.

Before you start getting high and mighty about how your characters express themselves through the way they look, you have to make sure they have something to express first. Otherwise, it's the speech that seems jilted and unrealistic instead of their face.

 

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