Gaming on a Timer

Thoughts – Expressions and Immersion

In my (gaming) conversations, I’ll often carry on about immersion for hours, usually lamenting the lack thereof in modern games; in their quest for absolute visual fidelity, designers often rush past this small, but crucial part of game creation. Ultimately, this leads to a product that is visually pleasing, but will hurl the player out of the experience at every turn.

Stock-still characters with nary
expression nor emotion…

As an example, the recent Mass Effect games are a very good indicator of the priorities studios often set for themselves: in particular, Mass Effect 2 and the dialogue system. For the most part, the protagonist has one-on-one conversations with the various characters that populate the game worlds. This is where the first immersion rule is broken: the characters stand stock-still, never breaking eye contact with the player’s avatar, droning their lines nearly devoid of emotion or (even worse) with voice inflections barely-or-not-at-all matching their animation.

…in quite a few places, as it turns out!

This is becoming increasingly common, as production studios grow and various aspects of development grow apart and more distanced from one another (in this case, voice acting and character animations). Worse, budget restraints often force artists to produce a few stock animations (calm face, angry face, happy face and a few variants thereof), so as to cut down on production time and, therefore, costs. This most often results in the aforementioned problem, with in-game avatars not quite matching their spoken dialogue.

L.A. Noire might be one of the first
games to “do it right”…

However, there are some conversations where Mass Effect 2 does make an effort to liven up; dialogue with Aria T’Loak at Omega’s Afterlife Club springs to mind – here both characters converse in a more animated manner, often with gestures and subtle camera angles changing on a line-for-line basis. It is in parts like these that the game manages to convey a feeling of immersion, by fleshing out characters so they behave in a more believable manner, thus helping the audience (the player, in this case) suspend their disbelief and immerse themselves into the experience.

…if the PR releases are to be believed.

While there are no easy remedies to this problem, some companies have begun to invest in technologies that will, eventually, overcome the issue by giving far more advanced animation options to studios; Team Bondi/ Rockstar Games’ L.A. Noire is such an example, using DepthAnalysis’ MotionScan technique to more accurately convey character emotions via their in-game animations. It only remains to see how accurate this new technology is, though judging by PR material released, it’s shaping up to be quite impressive.

Resources
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Aria T’Loak Conversation (YouTube Clip – Might contain spoilers)

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