Making Faces - A Bioware Story

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Bioware face here bother me less than they did in Mass Effect for some reason.

Maybe I got used to them, or maybe Bioware face looks like the most beautiful of animation after playing Bethesda games..
Or Stockholm syndrome, might very well be that.

I love the environments in DAI, but I don't like the character models. They're too photorealistic, they fall right into the uncanny valley. Their hair look plastic, and I really don't need to see the veins running through Solas' bald head. I much preferred the more stylized character designs from DA2. It made the things Yahtzee criticizes in this column easier to ignore.

Personally I think Bioware has evolved their face technology to the point that I don't notice it on NPCs anymore, player characters can still get some wonky results thanks to user input during creation, some of them can be quite... special, like this smashing specimen

Character design seems better this time around as well, the NPCs, especially the women look far better than before, the design of Cassandra and Sera being far superior to the doll faces of Miranda and Ashley

It has never bothered me to tell you the truth, possibly that is because i always used tali and garus in mass effect who have 1. Hidden 2. Alien face. but in dragon age it never bothered me and my character ( usually elf) has a human face.

I can totally see why it may bother some but for me it was never an issue , sorry. Personally i think its worse in games like oblivion and fallout where it zooms right in on the face.

EDIT

RE : Dragon age 3

Its a good game and i enjoy it , the environments are stunning but it just does not feel like a Dragon age to me.

3 things i don't like

shiny lips, all the eyebrow options are terrible and the tactical view is unusable ( it works just fine in 1 and 2 so how can you mess something up you have done just fine 2 times before !)

alj:

things i don't like

shiny lips

Apparently this is something you turn off in character creation, but most people don't notice until after they're done, and for some reason they didn't keep the ability from Dragon Age 2 to alter your character mid game, at least it wasn't too bad on my female inquisitor, but it was noticeable that my character seems to be the only one who coats her mouth in lip gloss

SNCommand:

alj:

things i don't like

shiny lips

Apparently this is something you turn off in character creation, but most people don't notice until after they're done, and for some reason they didn't keep the ability from Dragon Age 2 to alter your character mid game, at least it wasn't too bad on my female inquisitor, but it was noticeable that my character seems to be the only one who coats her mouth in lip gloss

i did that its one mark off the bottom as i wanted a little shine, but it looks like they have been buffed to a mirror shine like someone who spends all say polishing the chrome on his car.

it does not bother me as much as the eyebrows thats ether none , monobrow or bushy man brow

I actually think that, beyond being low-hanging fruit, it's not entire fair or accurate.
Especially since games like Skyrim and Fallout have a far more serious case of "Bethesda-face" than Bioware games.
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(yes, just stand ramrod stiff and stare right through my soul)

Bioware's approach isn't perfect, but between more varied animations and dynamic camera angles, along with including multiple characters in the dialogue, I actually felt it was such an improvement compared to the competition, I couldn't go back to the static, blank-face, single-camera conversations of other games.
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To Bioware's credit, they have a habit of creating dialogue in dynamic ways. Sure, not everyone will get an interesting conversation with animation, but I was learning about Vega in Mass Effect 3 while having a fist-fight with him. I was finding out about Tallis in Dragon Age 2 while she ran around covered in animal blood and doing "got your nose" gags on me. I could be talking to Thane in Mass Effect 2 and he'd get random memory flashbacks suddenly and alarmingly.

The games are staggering in size and scale, and for the most part many of the best character moments are told in dynamic settings with dynamic actions and dialogue to go with them. Whether it's Hawke doing his best drama queen impression at a party of nobles, Grunt being interrogated by Citadel police about his wild night of the town, or having a stand-off with the Illusive Man for the fate of the universe, the conversations are so far removed from what others were doing, they remain leaps and bounds more engaging and interesting, even if there is clear room for improvement.

SNCommand:
Personally I think Bioware has evolved their face technology to the point that I don't notice it on NPCs anymore, player characters can still get some wonky results thanks to user input during creation, some of them can be quite... special, like this smashing specimen

Character design seems better this time around as well, the NPCs, especially the women look far better than before, the design of Cassandra and Sera being far superior to the doll faces of Miranda and Ashley

Definitely, especially in the case of Miranda, she always looked like a plastic sex doll to me. While I haven't played inquisition yet, I must admit the character models look a lot better this time around (kinda miss DA 2's art style though).
Also I'm saving that Nigel Thornberry Inquisitor image.

But why is every character's hair wrapped in cling-film? You did not address this distressing issue, Yahtzee.

Personally, wonky animations and rape-face conversations i can cope with as long as the voice acting is decent enough. I tend to be in state of half daydream most of the time anyway...so believable audio is priority.
Didnt Mass Effect 3 have better convo animation, or is it just me?

It's a reasonable point to make, but there's not a lot that can be done that Bioware isn't already working on. Unless they work on a mo-cap library of a thousand different variations, and use those as a basis for their designs, we're going to have to do it the slow and painful route.

I have to say, I really didn't have particular issues with the character expressions and motions in DA:I, yes there is some amount of awkwardness due to all the reasons listed in the article, but I guess that for me they get filtered out bu suspension of disbelief.

A game where dialogues were IMO painfully awkward was Deus Ex Human Revolution, those were animations which shattered my SoD with a big hammer.

Eventually we're going to reach the point where instead of mocapping faces, cleaning up the keyframes, and tossing it into games, we use mocap merely as a base from which to automatically generate entirely new animation on-the-fly. We've got this in a fairly simple form, blending from walking animations to running animations, or from a left run to a right run, but it's sure be something if (when) we can use an in-game scripting engine to say "animate this guy's face as yelling, with angry and sad emotions, using these phonemes and this timing". It might take another several decades, but I'm sure this is where we're heading, programmable visual delivery to match a voice actor, and this won't be a problem anymore.

P.S. Thanks

You're right, that Is pretty low hanging fruit.

Trishbot:
I actually think that, beyond being low-hanging fruit, it's not entire fair or accurate.
Especially since games like Skyrim and Fallout have a far more serious case of "Bethesda-face" than Bioware games.
image
(yes, just stand ramrod stiff and stare right through my soul)

Bioware's approach isn't perfect, but between more varied animations and dynamic camera angles, along with including multiple characters in the dialogue, I actually felt it was such an improvement compared to the competition, I couldn't go back to the static, blank-face, single-camera conversations of other games.

Yeah, I agree with you.

The moment Yahtzee brought up the "Bioware face", my reaction was: at least it is not the Bethesda face, or the Amalur face"

I think this is mostly the result of having player customization options. After all, it is hard to count on face mocap when the face can vary greatly from person to person, from having different sexes to different number of horns.

Falseprophet:
I love the environments in DAI, but I don't like the character models. They're too photorealistic, they fall right into the uncanny valley. Their hair look plastic, and I really don't need to see the veins running through Solas' bald head. I much preferred the more stylized character designs from DA2. It made the things Yahtzee criticizes in this column easier to ignore.

I think they are both shit compared to DA:O :|

Stuff is WAY too shiny and overdesigned. Its like a japanese rpg invasion.

Trishbot:
I actually think that, beyond being low-hanging fruit, it's not entire fair or accurate.
Especially since games like Skyrim and Fallout have a far more serious case of "Bethesda-face" than Bioware games.
image
(yes, just stand ramrod stiff and stare right through my soul)

Bioware's approach isn't perfect, but between more varied animations and dynamic camera angles, along with including multiple characters in the dialogue, I actually felt it was such an improvement compared to the competition, I couldn't go back to the static, blank-face, single-camera conversations of other games.

To Bioware's credit, they have a habit of creating dialogue in dynamic ways. Sure, not everyone will get an interesting conversation with animation, but I was learning about Vega in Mass Effect 3 while having a fist-fight with him. I was finding out about Tallis in Dragon Age 2 while she ran around covered in animal blood and doing "got your nose" gags on me. I could be talking to Thane in Mass Effect 2 and he'd get random memory flashbacks suddenly and alarmingly.

The games are staggering in size and scale, and for the most part many of the best character moments are told in dynamic settings with dynamic actions and dialogue to go with them. Whether it's Hawke doing his best drama queen impression at a party of nobles, Grunt being interrogated by Citadel police about his wild night of the town, or having a stand-off with the Illusive Man for the fate of the universe, the conversations are so far removed from what others were doing, they remain leaps and bounds more engaging and interesting, even if there is clear room for improvement.

I've been there. I played the first Mass Effect right after finishing Skyrim. Thanks to my familiarity with Bethesda face, the characters in Mass Effect looked pretty lively.

I don't mind it in RPGs like that. It's not just Bioware. It's Bethesda, Obsidian, CD Projekt RED etc. In every RPG with conversations that occurs. I really don't care.

I personally don't have a problem with the way Bioware does cutscenes to be honest, they are flexible and all are within engine so they do a great job even with their shortcomings. Sure other developers have great cutscenes but I will always take what Bioware does over the stuff that Blizzard and Ubisoft do which is clearly pre-rendered and offers no room for variation. I think what Bioware needs to do with DA:I at this point (for PC at least) is to make the cutscenes 60fps instead of stuck at 30 and that would go a long way to help making the cutscenes far less problematic.

I do agree that they really should look into taking that technology further though (im sure they feel the same) because its a solid foundation it just needs to take that next step to make it less mechanical looking.

a

I think the likes of TES/FO kinda get away with it on account of those games being nowhere near as dedicated to the story and characterisation as the Bioware games. I think it's hilarious that the jaw just goes in circles in Oblivion, but those NPCs are just exposition dumps for the most part anyway. It only really gets grating when they actually try to put a story in.

Facial animations are a forgivable sin if the voice acting is good, the characters are likable, and character designs are well-done.

The problem is that all three of these fell short of the bar set in previous games. Even though she eventually grew on me, Sera's accent is still pretty quick to get on my nerves, Vivienne is a stone-cold bitch throughout the whole game for no good reason, and they would've been better off making Cassandra look more like her incarnation in DA II, instead of just making her look dour and severe all of the time. I know she's supposed to look that way, but they could've done it without making her so...ugly.

(Also, I don't care for bald women, at least give Vivienne some hair.)

There's simply not a character in this game that I really, really like. In the first game, it was Shale. In the second game, it was Merill. But there simply isn't a comparable character in Inquisition, and with Bioware's efforts falling short of past successes, I started noticing things like the facial animations a lot more than I would otherwise. It's never truly bothered me before now, and I think it's because I'm seeing more of poorly or lazily-designed characters that I don't like.

Making good, interesting, likable characters will make up for a lot of shortcomings.

Their methods are much better suited to a more comic-book aesthetic like the one in Telltale's The Walking Dead or The Wolf Among Us. I recently played TWD Season 2 and I've never been as immersed in dialogue as I've been in this game. I think that it would be better than switching to mo-cap, which would probably result in cutting funds to more important stuff.

I have also not really ever seen animators make a good animation of someone rolling their eyes, which is a crucially needed animation, especially when you can *hear* the voice actor doing it.

There's a lot of goofy animation shit in DAI.

When I was first talking to Dorian, a lady walked in front of the camera and walked back and forth (occasionally clipping into a barrel) shamelessly as I went through a good five minutes of dialogue. This was pretty egregious, but similar things happen all the time. When Josephine introduced me to her sister at the ball, I didn't even see the girl.

But there's a big thing in western RPGs that goes unaddressed: Long hair.

No matter how much anti-aliasing a game has, you never have a game that doesn't have long hair clip through the model's body. And that's why you never get anything beyond shoulder length hair in almost any RPG with character customization. And it happens to beards too! How many Dwarf players in these games have seen their beards clip into their chests, regardless of what you do to the AA settings? We're living in a world where this supposedly next gen cutting edge game had about 4 flavours of baldness and no option to have long hair.

How many damn next-next-gens and fancy processors is it going to take to get us long hair? I remember complaining about this on the Bioware board back in Dragon Age Origins. I want to give my Elf Sorcerer long Sephiroth hair, damn it. Is that so much to ask?

I remember the "BioWare face" from playing KOTOR, and that one body animation they do when they say something that troubles them. And maybe some dramatic finger-pointing, and definitely slowly sweeping their head back and forth. I thought the voice acting was excellent.

"For example, a lot of visual novels, or games with visual-novel like dialogue, will just accompany each line with a still image of whoever's speaking, with a number of variants for different emotions. Somehow, that manages to be a hell of a lot less wooden."

I've even come to prefer this. Static portraits seem to portray far more of the emotional state of characters than fully 3D models. Grandia is always my go-to example. Even without voice acting all the little different face icons that they use in dialogue have a huge range of emotional states and work just fine.

Also, without voice acting, having a character go "........" can mean a bunch of things. With voice acting and 3D models and facial expressions, it's just massively awkward to have characters stare at each other in silence.

I just can't keep myself from noticing how everybody in DAI are awkwardly wringing their hands all the time, without cause; Nor the good old nod, which, like in every previous title it has densly frequented, seems altogether disconnected from anything any character is ever saying at the time -- it kind of looks like they are quietly affirming to themselves that: "Yes; Words are coming out of my mouth *nods*". :7

(EDIT: I have yet to spot the old squirming animation that, like clockwork, used to follow flattery in dialogue, but I'm not that far into the game. :P)

I can't help feeling they'd have been better off keeping everyone's faces rock solid and claiming that they're just feeling really stoic

You heard it here folks, Yahtzee's idea for the next Bioware game is an Elcor spin-off.

I never know what the hell he's talking about when he brings this topic up. The only game I can think of, off the top of my head, that has mocap voice acting is The Force Unleashed, and honestly, I usually didn't even fucking notice. I don't know what kind of sci-fi future games Yahtzee has been playing, but I sure as hell have yet to find a game with facial animations leaps and bounds ahead of Bioware.

In fact, I think that Bioware manage to get emotions out of characters like Wrex, Garrus, and Tali is pretty impressive, considering that their faces are totally concealed or completely inhuman.

Didn't they have motion-capture voice acting in LA Noire? For like the entire game, pretty much? I'm sure it can be done, at least with all major characters in the game. Minor/nameless NPC's can be relegated to a generic animation.

The last game I remember to get hyper relistic mocap animations was L.A.Noire and - though we got a brilliant game out of it - got Team Bondi liquidated! It is a way too expensive and time consuming process, specially if applied to a Bioware RPG with so many NPC's.

Now with regards to the criticism about the music continuing while the player waits to select an answer, I actually feel like Bioware should use the same system as Alpha Protocol and have a time limit to select a reply on in-game conversations.

It would make the role-playing more tense and interesting.

Stuff is WAY too shiny and overdesigned. Its like a japanese rpg invasion.

Bioware IS a JRPG studio: their games are more centered on telling a tale than on making a sandbox, the interactions between the protagonist's entourage are central to the experience, the player-customized protagonist often have a personality and history of their own which does not come from the player, gameplay-wise they tend to be very linear with only lip service given to freedom of movement (sure, you can try to start with Orzammar, but you'll end doing the Tower-Redcliffe-Forest-Dwarves routine anyway)

***

I think it may also have something to do with the fact that almost all Bioware conversations are presented in shot-reverse-shot, a method of shooting conversations where you just cut back and forth between static over-the-shoulder shots of each person from the other's POV

Indeed, and the best thing to do is to avoid using closeups as much as possible: when Cullen wave his sword shouting panicked orders at his men in Haven, you don't notice his wooden face nor his plastic blond (formerly red, formerly brown) hair because millions of years of evolution and millennia of cultures wire your brain to focus on the "Authority figure openly displays febrility therefore Huge Shit Incoming" aspect of the scene; When Solas talks about giving the Inquisition a new home, his speech flows much more easily during the cutscene showing the survivors traveling that while the camera is fixed on his playmobil's face and Cassandra's anger at the world sounds a lot more credible when she's show throwing furniture at Varric than when the camera zoom on her lipstick-scarface combo.

Of course, the less over-the-shoulder shots you use, the more effort must be put in scripting the scenes, and you eventually reach a point where even the largest and more ambitious studios don't have the time, resources and manpower to make every conversation dynamic.

***

Yahtzee's idea for the next Bioware game is an Elcor spin-off.

Insincere endorsement: You have not really experienced a Bioware RPG until you've spent 90 hours playing Dragon Age: Tranquil.

NaelokQ:
There's a lot of goofy animation shit in DAI.

When I was first talking to Dorian, a lady walked in front of the camera and walked back and forth (occasionally clipping into a barrel) shamelessly as I went through a good five minutes of dialogue. This was pretty egregious, but similar things happen all the time. When Josephine introduced me to her sister at the ball, I didn't even see the girl.

But there's a big thing in western RPGs that goes unaddressed: Long hair.

No matter how much anti-aliasing a game has, you never have a game that doesn't have long hair clip through the model's body. And that's why you never get anything beyond shoulder length hair in almost any RPG with character customization. And it happens to beards too! How many Dwarf players in these games have seen their beards clip into their chests, regardless of what you do to the AA settings? We're living in a world where this supposedly next gen cutting edge game had about 4 flavours of baldness and no option to have long hair.

How many damn next-next-gens and fancy processors is it going to take to get us long hair? I remember complaining about this on the Bioware board back in Dragon Age Origins. I want to give my Elf Sorcerer long Sephiroth hair, damn it. Is that so much to ask?

We are no where near seeing realistic hair in many RPGs this generation, hair physics can bring a higher end PC to its knees with far simpler games. Without dedicated physics processors and with those weak CPUs the current gen consoles will never handle it, so outside of the few developers that do it for PCs "just because" it isn't happening.

Have you accidentally been playing DA:O?

This seems complete nonsense to me, granted the lip synching sucks but characters in cutscenes actually do move around and gesture according to what they're saying. There's no standard repertoire of gestures like in KOTOR.

I don't really get this column.

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