Now you know how important body language and facial expressions are to making game characters more captivating. But turning analog facial tics into digital emotions is no easy task. There are about 19 muscles in the human face, and duplicating all of their emotional acrobatics takes innovative programming and a complicated, cutting-edge group of technologies like MotionScan.
Other developers are eager to embrace MotionScan's goals -- and to achieve them better than Depth Analysis. A company called Remedy is working on facial expression technology that records about 64 facial poses; from this base set, animators can create expressions in real time and without additional actor performances. The technology is even said to account for facial blood flow and minute changes in skin color that happen as skin creases during muscle movement.
If they're successful, Remedy and Depth Analysis will both produce the kind of hyper-realistic animated characters that can make for very engrossing games. These humanlike characters are one of many efforts to bridge the so-called "uncanny valley," a theory originally associated with robotics.
When game designers mention the uncanny valley, they're referring to the gap between our perceptions of real people and their animated representations. The more realistic our digital doppelgangers are, the more probable it is that we'll find them disturbing. People are willing to accept cartoony caricatures of human beings -- and even pretty realistic ones -- but overly realistic renderings tend to be perceived as eerie and unsettling.
So, as human characters become more and more lifelike, the uncanny valley effect takes hold and begins to ruin the fun. It seems counterintuitive, but for this reason, those intricately detailed animations might actually detract from a game's ability to grab and hypnotize its players.
Animators and game makers are very much aware of the uncanny valley phenomenon, so they're striving to make their animations ever better. But some critics say game developers should reverse direction, focusing less on producing exact duplications of human movement and putting more effort into maintaining mesmerizing game play. Only then, they insist, do games really become more addictive, more fun and more profitable for the companies that make them.
No matter how MotionScan fares, it seems that animators are bent on making the most humanlike characters ever digitally created. These new developments in animation technology will likely make games more arresting visually, but they could also take gaming to a whole new level, resulting in a higher art form that's more exciting than ever before.