Realism and Motion Capture in Video Games

Technology keeps updating and innovating in the realm of video games. It’s become an expectation for graphics to improve, but do better graphics mean more realism? Since the transition to more powerful processors and graphics cards, consoles and computers alike have encouraged projects to pay more attention to the aesthetics. Is this pursuit for “better graphics” worthwhile? Or has the industry hit a rut?

Though the game L.A. Noire was released in 2011, a recent video showcasing its “blooper reel” has since surfaced around various websites and outlets. The reel shows what the game characters looked like when their actors messed up a line:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3FIviB90Ih8&feature=player_embedded]

The game uses MotionScan, a motion capture technology. It uses thirty-two high definition cameras, each surrounding the actor, capturing the actor’s expressions and tics without them having to wear a specially-built suit. Below is a video explaining how the process works.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZY7RYCsE9KQ]

Despite L.A. Noire’s critical and commercial success, Team Bondi, the developer of the game, went defunct months after their title launched. However, the sister company that was made in order to develop MotionScan, Depth Analysis, continues today. Even though the promising motion capture technology was a novel and exciting addition to games, it isn’t going to be put to use in future Rockstar titles. The publisher cites its expensive cost as a leading reason.

Companies have to consider major factors when utilizing this kind of technology—hiring good actors so the facial scanning is taken advantage of, building sets the actors can move around, and so forth. Not to mention that after all the filming is done for the characters, a video game needs to be built around that. Gameplay would ultimately suffer if an already-tight budget was used mostly toward using the motion capture, like it did for L.A. Noire.

But what about companies that seem to portray realistic (at least, graphics-wise) characters and settings without having to go to such expensive lengths? David Cage of Quantic Dream, the developer behind Heavy Rain, used motion capture in the game but claimed it took up fewer resources, approaching the issue in a more traditional manner. Instead of using cameras around an actor to generate a model, Cage’s team added a facial scan onto a base model. The cost-effectiveness of the latter method is very clear.

Take a look at Quantic Dream’s upcoming trailer for Beyond: Two Souls, utilizing the traditional method.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TnUltxjNaDo]

Both approaches to realism are unique and have their own merits. But why do we, as consumers, demand better graphics? Surely we’re aware by now that realism doesn’t always mean a great game, so why do we consistently push for aesthetically realistic values in our entertainment? With budgets and increasing production costs, it’s not likely that new technology would be used for upcoming titles, which is a shame. However, we should question why it is necessary at all for new technology to be the selling point.