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December 18, 2010 10:24 AM   Subscribe

Videogames reach the uncanny valley with the facial animations (yt video) in Rockstar's L.A. Noir, their 1940s Los Angeles set detective game.
posted by Artw (77 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
I saw this and was pretty blown away, if they're making the facial animation part of the game play mechanics then bully for them.
posted by The Whelk at 10:26 AM on December 18, 2010


I don't think it's uncanny valley at all -- are you disturbed by them?
posted by empath at 10:26 AM on December 18, 2010 [5 favorites]


I wasn't at all interested -- I'm sick of graphics ruining gameplay, Hollywood has better, and the skin is totally waxy anyway -- but my friends convinced me that in a game that's entirely around whether you can detect deception, having great acting might actually be interesting.
posted by effugas at 10:27 AM on December 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Mr. Cosgrove, describe for me, using only good terms, how you feel about your mother.
posted by The Whelk at 10:27 AM on December 18, 2010 [13 favorites]


Also anyone else go to a Diamond Age- Reactive Actor place?
posted by The Whelk at 10:32 AM on December 18, 2010 [5 favorites]


For me, the most uncanny thing about that video was Cosgrove wearing a t-shirt with a bear on it.
posted by Copronymus at 10:33 AM on December 18, 2010


Well, it does slide down the uncanny slope occasionally, but they're not done yet and it seems to be pretty much out of the valley most of the time. It's amazing anyway.

Rockstar hit it out of the park with the storytelling and characterization in Red Dead Redemption, so if they're going all out to improve on that, then I'll definitely be there to see how this one turns out.
posted by cmoj at 10:35 AM on December 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


Now if only they found some way to make mocap look half as realistic!
posted by cthuljew at 10:36 AM on December 18, 2010


I welcome this change. Mostly because Rockstar's characters always move so stiffly. I, hereby, coin the phrase 'face actor' to describe the job these actors are doing.
posted by TwelveTwo at 10:39 AM on December 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Forget it, boss.
posted by clarknova at 10:40 AM on December 18, 2010


Dialogue games based games are always boring to me because you pretty much have to choose all the available options in every single dialogue tree. There's no reason not to, really. But a lot of the time you just hear the same things repeated to you over and over again from different characters.

Mass Effect 1 was so terrible at this that I just quit the game a few hours into it.

If your conversation tree is basically just variations of 'tell me what you know about X' 5000 times, you're doing it wrong. Real people just don't talk that way.
posted by empath at 10:40 AM on December 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


If your conversation tree is basically just variations of 'tell me what you know about X' 5000 times, you're doing it wrong. Real people just don't talk that way.

Tell me what you think about dialogue tree based games.
posted by TwelveTwo at 10:41 AM on December 18, 2010 [27 favorites]


Computer animation's getting better and better, but it's all still fairly wooden. The impression I got was that they were focusing so hard on the facial expressions (some of which were admittedly pretty impressive), they ignored other little things like the fact that people's clothes move independently of the bodies they cover -- when you bend down to pick something up, your suit should shift over your limbs and stretch a little here and there, or your lapels will ride up and gap, for example. Or when you pick something up off the ground, your fingers don't usually all stay together like a mitten, but would curl separately around the object. Small, subtle things like that are still enough to keep these animations on the "clearly a cartoon" side of the valley.
posted by Gator at 10:42 AM on December 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'd say it's pretty far from the uncanny valley. They still look like Rockstar characters, but they have more facial animation. It's nothing like the patent falseness of young Jeff Bridges in Tron.

This looks pretty funny, but we're seeing the interstitial animation. I am curious about the actual gameplay.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:42 AM on December 18, 2010


a game that's entirely around whether you can detect deception

There are seventeen different things a guy can do when he lies to give himself away. A guy's got seventeen pantomimes. A woman's got twenty, a guy's got seventeen, but if you know them, like you know your own face, they beat lie detectors all to hell.
posted by clearly at 10:42 AM on December 18, 2010 [5 favorites]


If I'm not going to do this, someone else will:

L.A. Noire.
posted by griphus at 10:45 AM on December 18, 2010


The faces are quite good, but I'm getting a real uncanny hat valley from a lot of the finished scenes. It's like the fedoras are moving independently of their heads.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 10:47 AM on December 18, 2010


L.A. Noire.

Yeah, but that's stupid and pretentious.

Also:
noir
noire
posted by Artw at 10:47 AM on December 18, 2010


I think one of the key problems with young Bridges is that the Jeff Bridges of today enunciates his sibilants differently -- due, I think, to dental work. Those didn't seem to map right.
posted by lumensimus at 10:49 AM on December 18, 2010


Yeah, I noticed even the unanimated Jeff Bridges seemed a little -- weird. It seems appropriate for an older man, like he's been gumming his dentures, but darn strange on a young man.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:51 AM on December 18, 2010


Yeah, but that's stupid and pretentious.

It may be, but it's also the actual title of the game.
posted by Ortho at 10:52 AM on December 18, 2010


But it's stupid and pretentioius....

/SLAP

But it's the real title...

/SLAP

IT'S THE REAL TITLE *AND* IT'S STUPID AND PRETENTIOUS!
posted by Artw at 10:54 AM on December 18, 2010 [20 favorites]


The facial animations here actually look better than the ones in TRON, if with much worse texturing. When I get home I'll hunt down some REALLY cool facial animation videos I've seen.
posted by cthuljew at 10:54 AM on December 18, 2010


Also, well, being unimpressed by the creepy fidelity of the the facial features because the in game models aren't rendered to a real doll sheen seems like a weird standard of impressedness.
posted by Artw at 10:54 AM on December 18, 2010


The city, she's a tough dame -- tough as nails. That's why she insisted that everyone modify French adjectives to clearly indicate her femininity. Those that didn't, well...accidents happen.
posted by lumensimus at 10:58 AM on December 18, 2010 [9 favorites]


It may be pretentious, but noire is an actual spelling -- it's the feminine form of noir, if I'm not mistaken, as in bete noire. And LA is my lady.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:01 AM on December 18, 2010


I'm duly impressed.
posted by Navelgazer at 11:01 AM on December 18, 2010


You can see a lot more of the facial animations here

The cartoon like body motions and the more realistic faces works for me. I don't really play big console games, so I dip in like every 3 years going WHAT WONDERS HATH YOU WROUGHT IN YOUR FUTURE DOME OH BEINGS? And everyone else is all "dude Fallout 3 was a billion years ago man."
posted by The Whelk at 11:03 AM on December 18, 2010 [9 favorites]


I'm still waiting for the Buckaroo Banzai game. I guess I'll have to make it myself.
posted by hellojed at 11:05 AM on December 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


It may be pretentious, but noire is an actual spelling -- it's the feminine form of noir, if I'm not mistaken, as in bete noire. And LA is my lady.

Fine, fine, you can leave your sawn-in-half hookers on my lawn.
posted by Artw at 11:05 AM on December 18, 2010


Another game for me to buy and never finish.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:07 AM on December 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeh, that bald Aussie character is really creepy. It's amazing how far Aussie emulation algorithms have come though.
posted by Not Supplied at 11:08 AM on December 18, 2010 [4 favorites]



Another game for me to buy and never finish.


Big spender.

I'll just read the walkthrough while watching youtube clips of the best cut scenes.
posted by TwelveTwo at 11:13 AM on December 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


That was totally John Noble.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 11:16 AM on December 18, 2010


The reflections in the eyes and the eyeblinks are a bit off. For the former, I think the light souce appearing in the eyes' reflections should be accurate, e.g. if it's a dark room the eyes shouldn't reflect a brightly lit mo-cap studio's lights. For the latter, not every eyeblink is the same in duration (as fast as possible). I hope they vary the duration based on the situation.... eye cues are critical to remaining out of that uncanny valley.
posted by Jubal Kessler at 11:24 AM on December 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Half Life 2 did this programmatically. Example video, sadly without commentary. They hired Paul Eckman (the person Cal Lightman from Lie to Me is based on) to design the engine. Pixar also disparages motion capture: Ratatouille's credits included "100% Pure Animation -- No Motion Capture!"

Both methods can produce stunning results. Nice to see competition in the uncanny valley.
posted by easyasy3k at 11:25 AM on December 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'll just read the walkthrough while watching youtube clips of the best cut scenes.

I'll have to try that. Takes all the drudgery out of playing the game and I'll save a couple bucks.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:26 AM on December 18, 2010


I am going to say that this went past the uncanny valley for me. Polar Express is uncanny valley. This was good enough to make me see the real people being interviewed in the trailer and being momentarily confused because it felt like another scene in the game. Especially the stocky bald guy in the black t-shirt. Something about the way he carries himself and moves; my brain kept trying to parse him as a video game character.
posted by PercussivePaul at 11:33 AM on December 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


This looks to be on the uphill side of the valley. Not bad at all.
posted by P.o.B. at 11:33 AM on December 18, 2010


Looks interesting; similar to Hard Rain, which I played a bit of and thought was decent.
posted by NoraReed at 11:35 AM on December 18, 2010


Now, if they can only get flesh to look like flesh, and not a colorized b/w image.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:44 AM on December 18, 2010


I prefer the facial animations in Minecraft. You can really feel the sorrow of the creepers.
posted by komara at 11:49 AM on December 18, 2010 [5 favorites]


I was hoping for more realistic and expressive eyebrows.
posted by zippy at 11:52 AM on December 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is the video I was talking about: http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/paul_debevec_animates_a_photo_real_digital_face.html

All this concentration on improved 3D modelling and animation, and everyone forgets that better textures can oh-so-vastly improve graphics far faster than more polygons can. Oh well. I'd love to see someone develop hardware that does for 2D graphics what modern GPUs do for 3D graphics.
posted by cthuljew at 11:55 AM on December 18, 2010


That is the same hardware.
posted by Artw at 11:58 AM on December 18, 2010


OK. Cool. Decent facial animation. And we've already got decent environments, decent physics, decent camera movement, and decent controls. Great.

Now that we're over the most significant and expensive technological hurdles, now maybe game makers will consider hiring decent writers.

**RED DEAD REDEMPTION SPOILER ALERT**

(Which is not to say Rockstar doesn't do story better than just about everyone else out there. They do. Red Dead Redemption was great, despite being littered with illogical fetch quests designed to pad gameplay. The ending was affecting in a way that only a videogame could be: there was the back-of-the-mind desperate hope that you'd have enough Dead-Eye to take the mob out, followed by the surge of despair at realizing that you're hopelessly outgunned, and then the grim determination to take down as many of the bastards as you can while they riddle you with bullets.)

*END SPOILER*

I'm intrigued to see what Rockstar will do with a "mystery" game. As genre fiction goes, the crime novel sits atop the heap, IMO. You can get away with cardboard characters and sparklewonder broadbrush in fantasy. You can fudge the plot and rig the game in SF. But good mysteries are tightly interlocked mechanisms. Characterization, plot, setting, and pacing all have to come together for a mystery story to really work. I'm looking forward to playing LA Noire, though my gut tells me it'll be another innovative but somehow incomplete experience like Bully (a game that was better than reviews would lead you to believe, but not nearly as good as it could have been).

tl;dr: Games need better writers. Rockstar games are better than most. I will play LA Noire.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 12:05 PM on December 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is interesting to look at, because it is a step beyond what came before it, but to what end? The perfect version of this technology will be indistinguishable from video. What I don't see happening yet is the next step; when what appears to be video can transform in ways the real world doesn't. I thought of an example many years ago that I am still waiting to see. What if you could interactively open a drawer out of someone's face? Once we have real time 3d versions anything is possible. This is not much more than a movie.
Now this clip doesn't show how the gamer interacts with the characters, but I would guess it's probably something like an option menu pops up with a tree of choices. If that's all it is then all the animation work is wasted, it should just be video. They are already filming everything twice? Seems a bit silly to me.
posted by bitslayer at 12:06 PM on December 18, 2010


Hello, I am a Tron apologist.

It seemed to me that the initial 80's bedroom scene with Bridges seemed to be a lot tighter realistic animation than the scenes with CLU. I was wondering if they put extra effort into the bedroom scene than they did with the latter to emphasize an artificiality to CLU?
posted by pashdown at 12:10 PM on December 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Dunno. but thanks for the link. This explains (far better than I could on the way home from the movie) what they were doing with CLU for my dad's benefit than I could.
posted by Samizdata at 12:23 PM on December 18, 2010


Why on earth would anyone want to make a *fake* John Noble? The real thing is a fucking treasure.
posted by notsnot at 12:29 PM on December 18, 2010


Fake?
Or
Decoy?

posted by TwelveTwo at 12:36 PM on December 18, 2010


I'm intrigued to see what Rockstar will do with a "mystery" game...
I'll go out on a limb and predict it will have lots of gunfire and beatings.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:36 PM on December 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


oh, carp. in my last comment the link should start with www. and not an m.

like so.

Youtube does annying things with mobile links when you hit them from a desktop browser

posted by zippy at 12:50 PM on December 18, 2010


I'll go out on a limb and predict it will have lots of gunfire and beatings.

Safe bet. And if so, I'll be kind of disappointed. I know shooty shooty sells games and Rockstar is in the business of selling games by the truckload, but it would be pleasing if there were a solution, an endgame, reachable through a slog of processing clues, attention to detail, and making good administrative decisions without ever unholstering a weapon. Yeah, that'd be too boring for most, I guess. What do I know? I played Oblivion and thought, gee, it'd be cool if I could just start a little farm here on the outskirts of Anvil and make a quiet living selling alchemy ingredients in town instead of trying to save the world....
posted by BitterOldPunk at 12:51 PM on December 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


It seemed to me that the initial 80's bedroom scene with Bridges seemed to be a lot tighter realistic animation than the scenes with CLU. I was wondering if they put extra effort into the bedroom scene than they did with the latter to emphasize an artificiality to CLU?

I was actually talking to my friend about this last night post-movie. He said the Uncanny Valley actually worked in CLU's favor as he is supposed to be a too perfect copy of Kevin Flynn, that he is what happens when you take a reflection of a human consciousness, but make it too static to develop like a human can.

I was sad that we didn't get a TRON'ed up Bruce Boxleitner though.

I fight . . . for the USERS!
posted by Lord Chancellor at 12:55 PM on December 18, 2010


I was sad that we didn't get a TRON'ed up Bruce Boxleitner though.

Actually, I saw an interview with Boxleitner just a couple of days ago where the interviewer said something to this exact effect, and Boxleitner responded with a big hint that the next movie may feature this as a plot point. "But you didn't hear it from me."
posted by hippybear at 1:10 PM on December 18, 2010


Hasn't this game been years in the making? I saw a trailer about 4 years ago, didn't I? And as a big part of the game is figuring out who's lying to you, the facial stuff is very important.
posted by Ideefixe at 1:36 PM on December 18, 2010


Red Dead Redemption was great .... The ending was affecting in a way that only a videogame could be

I don't think that feeling is reserved for video games. Have you ever seen Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid?
posted by clearly at 1:37 PM on December 18, 2010


I don't think that feeling is reserved for video games. Have you ever seen Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid?

Sure, and I see your point. But I'd argue that there is a fundamental difference. RDR's ending subverts the sense of agency and competence that the player has spent hours and hours honing. The the ending is set, immutable, inescapable. Every crisis in the game I've survived so far has been because the game allowed me to be better than my enemies: faster on the draw, more accurate, with access to more powerful weapons. You spend the last few hours of that game as a badass killing machine. There is no situation presented to the player that the player cannot surmount. It lures you into a certain complacency, an over-assurance of competence, and then at the end you die like just another outlaw gunslinger, gunned down in his prime. The ending of RDR is as fixed and unchanging as that of Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid, sure. But the way that fixed ending works to subvert the player's expectations of agency makes for an unexpectedly powerful climax.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 1:55 PM on December 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


I don't think that feeling is reserved for video games. Have you ever seen Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid?

I was going to suggest the end of Blake's 7, and then thought 'wait a minute, that's the same ending.' Sure enough. (Warning - TV Tropes).
posted by Space Coyote at 1:55 PM on December 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


This looks really slick, but isn't it basically just rotoscoping? One step removed from using live action video. Granted a bit cooler since there are enough cameras to create a 3D rotoscope, but still.

It would be more impressive if they could get this level of facial movement definition without having to shoot actors for every line first.
posted by p3t3 at 3:03 PM on December 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


It would be more impressive if they could get this level of facial movement definition without having to shoot actors for every line first.

I wondered about that, too. Could you use this technology to build some sort of micro-expression library or database that could then be applied to wholly CGI constructs? Or would that prove to be more costly than simply hiring an actor for facial mo-cap?
posted by BitterOldPunk at 3:11 PM on December 18, 2010


Why not just make a movie?
posted by destro at 3:25 PM on December 18, 2010


As long as I can drive around '40s Los Angeles listening to jazz and running over pedestrians, I'm in.
posted by box at 4:40 PM on December 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Why not just make a movie?

Yeah! They should just make it in a medium with more inherent worth!

I say they should just make a hand bound journal with noir-ish notes in the corners.
posted by cmoj at 4:52 PM on December 18, 2010


Why not just make a movie?

Well, for one, they are a video game production company and such businesses rarely cross over into the film industry successfully.
posted by TwelveTwo at 4:59 PM on December 18, 2010


Rockstar games are always known for their violence and sandbox structure, but it's this attention to detail that keeps me coming back. For example, I've always liked the music in Red Dead Redemption, but it was interesting to see in this video how the music was dynamically composed by the player's actions. Getting on a horse = bassline, chase scene = tympani, etc.
posted by marco_nj at 5:07 PM on December 18, 2010


As long as I can drive around '40s Los Angeles listening to jazz and running over pedestrians, I'm in.

I thought the same thing and then I played Mafia II and then I was sad.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 7:02 PM on December 18, 2010


It looks good, but if the main skill you need for this game is to read people, it can't be all that hard, since everyone's ACTING AWFULLY HARD all the time.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 7:22 PM on December 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


Meh. the face animations are better, but the movements are still too stiff, slow and exaggerated, and still don't give a proper feeling of gravity It's a weird thing, but if you want more realistic feeling action, then the project needs to be more cartoony.
posted by happyroach at 2:09 AM on December 19, 2010


I asked elsewhere why they don't just make a movie (what with reality already being real) and was told it's a game. Except it isn't, it's a bunch of cutscenes linked with some gameplay, which is what a lot of games have been for so long.

I don't see the nobility in making the amazing look mundane. We've been given an amazing tool with infinite potential and we've decided the best use of it is to ape what is not only already there, but what is utterly simple if you just use a different tool.

tl,dr: pull up your pants
posted by Legomancer at 7:05 AM on December 19, 2010


It's a work in progress, like all things. I mean, the goal here is somewhere in the far future, we'll have a holodeck where we can be Detective Dix looking at cases. As much as people would want holodecks to see things that cannot be seen or climb impossible structures, most would just love to be part of the novels that they love.

And that's what aspiration this game is part of.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 9:40 AM on December 19, 2010


Those were pretty impressive, but was it just me who thought that the heads were too big in relation to the bodies?
posted by beerbajay at 2:46 PM on December 19, 2010


Yeah, I thought the proportions were a little off (maybe because, again, they're focusing so much on the facial expressions separately from the body movements), and also? The hats were ludicrously too big for the heads.
posted by Gator at 4:35 PM on December 19, 2010


What, you don't like Big Head Mode?
posted by box at 5:47 PM on December 19, 2010


I asked elsewhere why they don't just make a movie (what with reality already being real) and was told it's a game. Except it isn't, it's a bunch of cutscenes linked with some gameplay

Ah. What did you think of the controls?
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 7:57 PM on December 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


The characters in the finished game scenes look like talking oil paintings, which is actually kind of neat, if Hogswartian. So this is still in the uncanny valley for me.

I just saw the original Tron for the first time last week (after rolling my eyes at it in the 80s as some lame Disney flick) and I actually really loved the stylized semi-retro, semi-OMGTheFuture! look of the actors. Even the clingy velour of the costumes, a fabric I normally hate with the fire of a thousand burning nuns in loungewear, worked with the silent-film faces and CGIed backgrounds to give an odd, dreamlike, inconsistent and effective look to these meatworld intruders in the computer interior scenes.

I've only seen the previews for the new Tron, and while it's much more glossy and technically adept, it just seems like another 21st century movie with expensive CGI. I miss those tinted silent-film faces.
posted by maudlin at 8:26 PM on December 19, 2010


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