posted in: Editorial | 5

On Wednesday, Quantic Dream (of Heavy Rain/”Jason, Jason” fame) released new tech demo, Kara, in the same vein as the “Casting” demo they showed before developing Heavy Rain.

I won’t rehash the contents of the demo, so here it is if you haven’t seen it already:

Maybe I’m a jerk, but it didn’t do much for me.

This is due largely to the fact that it is presented as a short film, possibly the most pretentious format of media, and a pet peeve of mine. In addition to annoying me personally, it set the bar impossibly high, because I felt obligated to evaluate it as a short film rather than purely from technical perspective.

As a short film, a lot was wrong: the story was trite; a rehashing of the “robot with emotions” sci-fi trope. The writing (“Of course you’re merchandise, baby”) and voice acting for the “operator” were duh-readful. There was no sort of resolution to the “story”, implied or explicit. There was a bright spot in the writing and voice acting for Kara.

Judging it entirely as a showcase for the combination of facial animation and voice acting, however, it was fairly impressive. “Microexpressions” like Kara’s glances and twitching eyelids were believable, and leaps and bounds above facial animation I’ve seen in games. I’d go so far as to say they were on par with that seen in pre-rendered videos; quite an accomplishment for being rendered in real time on a game console. Unfortunately, a few things detracted from the technical side of things, too. The only video I saw was 720p and *very* poorly compressed. There were occasions where the dialog and animation weren’t synched well (some of it likely related to the video compression). Handicapping the tech was that the scene it was happening in was very simple (very few light sources, one character model, etc.). If the only way this type of “emotional animation” is possible is in sterile environments with one actor, what’s the point?

The worst part was that I *almost* cared about Kara. The crescendo of Kara pleading for survival occurring literally seconds after a poorly delivered line like “Of course you’re merchandise, baby” had completely taken me out of any sort of suspension of disbelief just made the whole thing fall apart. The moral of the story is that the technology is at a treacherous point right now. When animation isn’t this good, it’s easier for the player to fill in the blanks and/or for developers to not rely on that animation to carry the burden of a story. By creating such a pure platform for acting, and presenting that platform as a short film, the effectiveness of the whole production is only as good as the story, writing, and performances. That’s why Kara failed.

Long story short, the video didn’t affect me the way I think it was intended to. The video is of technology a year old, but I’m skeptical that it’s advanced enough in that time to make up for most of my complaining. What we’re likely to get in the format of an actual game is something almost this good, but with more complex scenes and multiple actors. This will be a welcome improvement for games, but suggests we’re at least a generation away from convincing real time actors on consoles. Don’t get me wrong, I’m *glad* that Quantic Dream is pursuing these sorts of projects, and I wish other developers were doing the same. Stories, writing, acting, and facial animation in games are in drastic need of improvement.

What about you? DID you “Kara” about her? AM I a jerk?