The Uncanny Valley

I found a video this week describing how the LA Noire team are using advanced technology to make their characters as realistic as they can. You can watch it here.

However, when you see the demo scenes, it feels just plain weird. They can spend millions on the latest technology, I will never confuse their characters for real human beings! Why is that? It’ s a principle called the Uncanny Valley.

The uncanny valley is a theory coming from robotic engineers, that basically states that a character (or a robot) has more chance to be liked if it has some human features. However, the more the character is made to be realistic (a fake human being), the more our brain identifies every details that is wrong about this character and makes us feel uncomfortable.

The same is true with any media trying to replicate human beings. Video games are not an exception. This theory explains why we are so quick to feel familiarity to characters with exaggerate features, like cartoon characters. When a character is stylized, our brain is happy, because it understands perfectly the patterns shown and will fill the “holes” that makes that character unrealistic. Think of the Gestalt psychology theory, for instance.  However, when the character is close to be photo realistic, the brains becomes really picky about the details that make this character a fake. This is truer when the character is in motion.

Movies, on the other hand, don’t have these problems. Actors are real human being and they are captured perfectly by the camera. Animated movies often use really stylized characters to avoid the uncanny valley.

Tangled (Pixar)

What Rockstar Games team is trying to do is scanning the face of real actors and transposing them on artificial bodies that moves thanks to motion captures made separately. The idea seems good, but unfortunately, it looks exactly as it is: a face glued on a rigid fake body. And no matters how hard they will work on it, it’s just almost impossible to get through  the uncanny valley. Unless they find a technology that will scan perfectly the actors in 3d and makes 3d models out of them. I’m sure this technology will exist eventually, but we’re not quite there yet. So until then, why not letting some space for imagination?

La-Noire character

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What Have They Done to Dante?

Capcom has announced a reboot of Devil May Cry franchise at the last Tokyo Game Show. Ninja Theory, the developing studio behind this coming game, has remade entirely the character design of Dante. They said they were inspired by Daniel Craig’s James Bound to do so.

Ok, wait… What? What is the link between Dante, the bad-ass half-demon killing monsters from Hell and an international spy?

The new Dante stills have attitude, but he’s a ugly, his black hairs are cut in a emo style and he looks more like a young douchbag than an actual anti-hero. What have they done to this iconic character?

Even worst, there is a strange similitude between Dante physical features and the ones of Tameem Antoniades, the Creative Director on this game. Is it a simple coincidence? I sincerely hope so. A designer that is so full of himself that he puts his own face on a iconic game character is a shame to the entire industry. Of course, Mr. Antoniades says that this new look is “all about cool“. He can finally play himself as a badass hero! What he doesn’t understand is that the rest of the world wants to play the original Dante, not him…

They could have made this reboot with another character. At least, Dante would be intact in our memories.

Please, Capcom and Ninja Theory, give us back our good old Dante!

New Dante’s look

Tameem Antoniades

The Secret World

I’m totally excited by Funcom’s next MMO, The Secret World (TSW). For those who don’t know the details of that future game: it’s a consistent universe rooted into modern days fantasy and based on conspiracy theories. Think of X-Files or Call of Cthulhu and you get the general idea behind that game.

What seems innovative in that game, besides its unique setting, is that there will be no levels or class. The designers didn’t reveal yet what it will look like, but we can expect a point-buy skill system or something in the kind of Oblivion, in which more your character uses a skill, more he/she is trained in it.

The only thing I’m not sure to like yet is their trailer on one of the game’s location, Kingsmouth. It’s a town totally based on H.P. Lovecraft’s universe in a way that is almost stealing. Don’t get me wrong here. I adore Call of Cthulhu universe and appreciate references to it. But that much? I’m not sure.

Let me explain: the town’s name is a fusion of two other towns’ names famous in Lovecraft’s novels (Kingsport and Insmouth). In the video, we can clearly see a street sign with “Lovecraft Lane” and “Arkham Ave” on it. Arkham is another city famous in Lovecraft’s novels. In addition, Funcom made a fake web site about Kingsmouth, in the exact same way some Lovecraft’s fans made one for Arkham. Finally, there is a reference of a strange fog, town people going crazy (zombies?) and things coming from the sea. All those elements are recurring themes in Lovecraft universe.

Probably Funcom will make the best of it. Maybe they just put all those things in the trailer to hook Lovecraft’s fans. I just hope they will find their own original twist to it, because Lovecraft and zombies are nothing new in the video games industry.

I will certainly apply for the Beta Test, though. What is more awesome about this game is that Funcom’s new Montreal studio (where I’m actually living) will work on it. To work on project like that would be too good to be true, but it seems like a possibility to me! I will certainly try my best to be recruited by Funcom.

To get more details about the game, check this interview with Ragnar Tornquist, creative director on TSW. He says at the end of the article that he’s a big fan of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comics. I’m happy we share something like this and it gives me a lot of hope that I will love his game!<

The “Bivouac Urbain”: five months later

Ok, I know, I’m a terrible blogger. Remember when I said that I was accepted in a game design certificate? Well, it’s awesome, but I have no life because of it. Anyways, now I have a little time (lucky me!) and I want to make a retrospective of my experience at the local game jam I did last summer with three other students. Better late than never… and now I’m nostalgic, so I guess it’s a good time to write about it.

First, I am proud to announce that we won the first place in student category. But what matters the most was not the end, but the journey.

We were four students who never worked together before and we had really little skills of making games. We were in an alien city, with people we met for the first time and we had no idea of how it would be. We had poor equipment compared to other teams (one of us worked on a net book!) and I was the only artist of our team (I’m no artist; I’m a game designer…). My teammates were studying in software engineering, but they had barely touched to the engine we used for the contest (XNA) and it was a first game making experience for two of them. We had really little hope to win a prize, but we knew we would win experience and it was the only thing important to us.

What I can say? It was one of the most intense and wonderful experience of my life. First, the event was perfectly organized so we had all we needed (except warm, but hey! It was an extreme survival game development contest in a tent! The temperature was part of the experience). The managers and volunteers made a masterful job to help us all the way through and I thank them a million times for that. We slept maybe seven hours in three days, but it totally worth it.

Now, let’s write some words on the creation process of our prototype. First, the brainstorming was a really good learning process. As a designer, I knew some techniques to bring ideas together, but we only use them at first. Then, we try to isolate ourselves of all the noises made by the other teams and we went to a coffee shop to brainstorm. After maybe half-an-hour of discussion, we got an “aha moment”. We knew we had found our idea and all team members agreed to make something great out of it.

We prototyped our idea early and we didn’t sleep that night. The guys made a rough model of our level, with boxes instead of platforms and a picture of MacGyver as our main character. While they were working on implementing the mechanics, I made all the content, graphics, texts and sounds. We worked from Friday night to Saturday night, barely sleeping in the process (I think I slept half-an-hour). Then we took a break and we slept 6 hours to be top shape Sunday morning to finish our job. Fortunately, we finished Enter the Sponge Factory on time (5 minutes before the end). We present the product to the judges and we knew we made a great job, even if our game didn’t look as good as the ones of our competitors.

One member of our team had to return early to Montreal. Another one could stay until the party where the judges would announce the winners. I and Francis, my last teammate, were supposed to leave before the party. We went to the bus station. Just before the bus gates, we took the decision to go to the party anyway and to take the first bus next morning instead. We didn’t regret that choice at all!

We had a great weekend. We learned a lot about teamwork and crunch time and the result was pretty satisfactory. We were already in a good mood when we joined the other participants to a small lounge bar. We didn’t even care if we would win or not. Well, the cherry on the cake was when they announced our game as the winner of the student category. I totally jump in the air. It was a blast! We took a “drink of victory” (whatever it was) and we celebrate until we were too tired to stand.

The entire weekend was a damned fairy tale. It could not get more over my expectations. I will certainly remember it as “the good old time” in a few years. I am really proud that I had the chance to be there. It was certainly one of the happiest moments of my life and it’s why I share it with you today!

No doubt that I’ll be there next year.

Live from the Bivouac Urbain

Hey!

It’s 5 in the morning and I’m working on a game for a 36 hours game dev contest at Quebec City (Canada)…

The theme is ”Antithesis”. How original! Anyway, we will make something of that, not too bad I hope.

All my coworkers are sleeping now. I did a little nap earlier, but the place isn’t the best to sleep.To much light and noises (we are in a tent). And freaking cold (10 Celsius and we are in August!).

Here are some pictures we took until now:

Installation

Installation

Sam and me at Ste-Foy Bus Terminal

Sam and me at Ste-Foy Bus Terminal

Frank and an Electronic Wall

Frank and an Electronic Wall

Life Supply

Life Supply

The Stage

The Stage

Grafitis Artists

Grafitis Artists

8 bit Band

8 bit Band

Some food before the contest begins

Some food before the contest begins

Brainstorming Time

Brainstorming Time

Working

Working

Mac Gyver, our Hero

MacGyver, our Hero

SO COLD!

SO COLD!

Something wrong about Bethesda

Something wrong about Bethesda

Since last January, I’m playing to Fallout 3, from Bethesda Softeworks.

This game is impressive on many levels. The map is huge, there is an endless number of side quests and the realism of the graphics is awesome. However, there are some aspects of the games I don’t like when I make the comparison with the previous titles of Fallout.

First, Bethesda transformed a RPG turn based into a Survival Horror FPS. The result is not so bad, but it doesn’t appeal to the same players. Personally, I love horror games, as long as I can watch them, not play them. I’m kind of easily scared in a game session, because of the immersive aspect of it. So when I played to Fallout 3, even if it’s not the scariest game ever, I’m always afraid to encounter one big disgusting centaur or radscorpion… not the same experience I had with Fallout 1 and 2.

Second, the lack of humour is really annoying in Fallout 3. The previous titles were flavourful because of those funny quotes, characters and situations you encountered all the time. Where are they? I guess they cut them out to keep the horror aspect credible

Finally, Npcs are not interesting characters. They lack of substance and they don’t really help to get immerse in the universe. But that was also a problem in Oblivion, so I guess Bethesda did not hire better character designers since.

In brief, I was first really excited on playing this game, but it doesn’t fit right with my expectations. It’s not a bad game, it is just not as flavourful as the previous ones.

I’m back (in black)!

Hey! I know I didn’t post for a long time, but I was busy this winter at making my portfolio for applying to a game design program in Montreal. Good news, I’m accepted! From now, I’ll blog more often, so I hope you’ll enjoy.

Dream Movie

One of my favorite English authors is Neil Gaiman. I love his imagination and his universe. He is a pretty good storyteller and his talent is more and more esteemed since some good movies based on his books came up those last few years (Stardust, Coralie, MirrorMask).

One of my favorite novels he wrote is Neverwhere, the story of a bored guy living in London, UK, who saw his life changed the day he saved the life of a homeless girl. He then entered against his will in an alternate universe under the city. To get his life back, he had to make an epic quest in a strange and magic world, full of odd creatures and people. The mix of real and fictional elements is flavorful and the story by itself is a delight. It’s also a kind of tribute to Alice in Wonderland. If you like twisted and fantastic fairy tales, similar to Tim Burton’s movies and the like, I recommend this novel, it worth it!

Well, where am I going with this? I watched Hellboy 2 movie, from Guillermo Del Torro and I was impressed by the originality of his creatures and the artistic quality in this movie. I liked Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth for the same reasons. Frankly, I have a lot of admiration for this kind of movie creator.

In Hellboy 2, there’s a moment where the characters are lost in some kind of magic market. When I saw this, I tought: “wow! It’s so similar to the magic moving market in Neverwhere! I love it!”

Those two creators have a similar imagination… the same essence of creation…. I would love to see a movie on Neverwhere novel directed by Del Toro. This would be my dream movie. Those two are a great source of inspiration to me.

Gaming Vacations!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

What did you do for your Holidays vacations?

Me, I went to an extended weekend (4 days) of gaming with a bunch of my friend to one of them country house!

Pure fun!! If you have the chance to go for a couple of days with some friends in an isolated place to make gaming all the time, I highly recommend it! Of course, if you don’t like playing games, it’s another story…

We did all kind of gaming, from Rockband 2, to card games like Magic or Munchkin, to board games like Arkham Horror and Last night on Earth, to table-top RPGs like 4th edition D&D!

Here some pictures:

Christ, sleeping with Cthulhu!! How Cute!

Christ, sleeping with Cthulhu!! How Cute!

D&D 4th edition game

D&D 4th edition game

Last night on Earth

Board game: Last night on Earth

D&D 4th Ed campaign

D&D 4th Ed campaign

Munchkin!!

Munchkin!!

Rock Band 2!!

Rock Band 2!!

New media fund annihilated by Canadian government!

Lately, Canadian conservative government made major cuts in Culture budget. In October, they’ve decided to cut the Telefilm Canada’s fund to the New Media for 2009. This means that Independent interactive media developers will have to survive without financial support from federal government. It’s a shame! Indy french companies will disappear, as well as a part of Canadian heritage. IMO, this is a disaster for the gaming industry in Montreal. And it’s not for economic reasons. New media as other culture-related fields generates a lot of money. That and all other measures that the government took lately will lead us to an economical suicide.  I sincerely hope that Harper and all those conservative bastards will be kicked out from Ottawa as soon as possible. He’s a wannabe Bush and the entire world is suffering from Bush’ policies at the moment.

Sorry for this post… attacking culture is crime against humanity for me.

For more information on this (in French, sorry): http://www.ledevoir.com/2008/10/01/208468.html

http://www.rpm-qc.com/pdf/080902.pdf

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