Casual Photos: Zhadnost: The People's Party (1995) for the 3DO and Thoughts on FMV Gaming

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Today's casual photos are of Zhadnost: The People's Party (1995) from Studio 3DO for the 3DO, taken with the iPhone 3G. Zhadnost is a late-life 3DO title in the spirit of one my favorite videogame game shows, Twisted: The Game Show (Electronic Arts, 1993), also for the 3DO platform. Both titles use lots of wacky, high quality full-motion video (FMV) segments featuring a combination of live actors and stock footage. Twisted errs more on the trivia side of things, while Zhadnost errs more on the mini-game side of things, and features a very specific type of humor. Both titles are highlights on the 3DO platform, making excellent use of the platform's capabilities to overlay quality full motion video over pre-rendered backgrounds. The production values of both are also high, with just the right amount of wit. In short, they're great multiplayer party games and in a format where the use of oft-maligned FMV makes perfect sense, and something more modern day games should consider over often low quality and robotic 3D models. Thinking of these FMV video game shows made me think of the Philips CD-i platform, which was home to several such games, including a favorite of my family's, 3rd Degree (PF Magic, 1992), which had the unique feature of containing a database of pre-recorded (pre-spoken) names, so unless you had an unusual name, the game would actually refer to you by name in the game host's voice (not synthesized). If your name wasn't in the database, they had a selection of cutesy and nickname type of monikers to choose from as well. Definitely another feature that should be incorporated in more modern games. Anyway, here are the images of Zhadnost:

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Mark Vergeer
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Humanlike robots / digital vs human acting

Replacing human actors all together?
Well human psychology may get in the way. Humans don't particularly respond favorably to 'real lifelike' robots and or avatars because there is 'something' missing. And the 'missing' part is cohesive body language. With synthetic actors it is 'emotional body language' that is askew or missing. The final fantasy movie was great but the body language and the integration of emotions was horrible despite the photographic realism that was achieved. Thus people didn't like it as much as the creators thought people would - and the public stayed away.

If such things are done properly - human psychology will NOT get in the way as much. With interactive avatars/robots increased acceptance can not be achieved by only focusing on language skills and AI.
With copying human body language it is possible to have humans respond more favorably to the lifelike avatars/robots. A nice trick for increased acceptance of interactive robots/avatars is to have the lifelike avatar/robot make the same body movements (head movements - are researched quite thoroughly) as the human opponent made but then with a 2 minute time lapse. For some reason the human short term memory will pick up on the movements - recognize the pattern subconsciously and the 'mirror neurons' (empathy neurons) in the brain will kick in and make the human feel more empathy toward the avatar and thus accept this robot more readily and even feel some sort of emotional connection with it.

In real life situations you can use this 'trick' of mimicking body language and posture to make your 'opponent' feel more at ease and respond favorably to you. But be careful - by overdoing it or timing it wrong you can achieve the opposite. People mimic postures all the time - it's the mirror neurons accountable for empathy that are at work here. It is a delicately fine-tuned system that is very very hard to fool though.

Synthetic actors will have to use captured human body language and facial expressions in order to display cohesive body language otherwise they just 'will not fly' and the movies will BOMB. Mind you - body language is very subtle and people respond to each other in a subtle way. So simply recording human movement and emotions in a library and using these 'stored' cohesive movement patterns and mapping them on the synthetic actors won't work as they need to respond to each other appropriately in order to have the public 'feel' the interaction. Each person is different in these subtleties. So even if you manage to capture and catalog all the movements of a single actor systematically and map them to some sort of emotional states so you can re-use those movements and expressions to create new scenes with a digital avatar - it will be very hard to make these avatars interact appropriately in a way that feels right.
Say you did something like this for Meg Ryan and Billy Christal - it will be virtually impossible the create the same sizzling scenes from the 'When Harry met Sally' just because the interaction will be askew as intricate interaction, timing and responses of the mirror-neurons typically for both actors just won't be there and it won't feel right.

It will take a long time to get this right - good (method) actors are better at it! So perhaps digital isn't better than analog actors. Method acting is in my opinion superior to any other form of acting as the actors are actually using the parts of their brains that would normally be used in the same 'real' situation.

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Matt Barton
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Fascinating but what about cartoons
Mark Vergeer wrote:

It will take a long time to get this right - good (method) actors are better at it! So perhaps digital isn't better than analog actors. Method acting is in my opinion superior to any other form of acting as the actors are actually using the parts of their brains that would normally be used in the same 'real' situation.

Fascinating insights, Mark. I know it's all too tempting to adopt the knee-jerk response "FMV = bad" that so many of our fellow gamers will perhaps take to their graves, but I know exactly what you're talking about!

Again, I would point anyone truly interested in the nuances of this subject to read Prints and Visual Communication by William J. Ivins. It is almost eerie how similar the problems faced and overcome by print developers mirror those of today's game makers. For instance, there is a discussion of how the print houses became masters of certain aspects of representing reality, such as a shimmering surface that looked more like real water than some other print house. I equate this to certain problems in modern games, which may indeed have realistic looking water or flowing grass that gets a lot of publicity, but then you look at how awkwardly the characters move or how a certain line of dialog is repeated over and over and everyone just sort of accepts that as a limitation of the medium. If you look closely at the old prints of paintings, for instance, you will notice a certain abstraction for things like shading--perhaps a cross-hatching or some other technique that certainly wasn't in the original.

Until photography came along, hardly anyone could actually claim to have seen a famous painting, building, or the like. They were only seeing artistic representations, and often crude ones at that. I equate this to modern 3D graphics. No matter how many polygons or whatever you have, that's not the point. The point is that they are artistic representations. Indeed, a whole team of artists is standing between you and the object, and you are only seeing their combined efforts at a representation. Try to imagine what it would be like if you had never seen a sky filled with clouds, but only drawings of it. That's basically what we're dealing with in modern 3D animation. Until we can develop some type of technology to actually show us the clouds (with no artistic intervention), then we've made the next great leap in visual communication--not just in games but in human communication itself. For whereas movies can depict precisely that, they are static and discrete, whereas a game is dynamic.

Where is the future? I see it in something like Microsoft's photosynth. I quote a bit here from the description:

You can share or relive a vacation destination or explore a distant museum or landmark. With nothing more than a digital camera and some inspiration, you can use Photosynth to transform regular digital photos into a three-dimensional, 360-degree experience. Anybody who sees your synth is put right in your shoes, sharing in your experience, with detail, clarity and scope impossible to achieve in conventional photos or videos.

Again, I know most of us have the knee-jerk response to stuff like this, but I see great potential here for what I'm talking about. Just imagine, though, if instead of talking about photos we were talking about videos here. It's almost hard to grasp what this would be like, even, but a "videosynth" might be the way to go.

However, one factor missing from the discussion is cartoon animation. I recently went to see Up, one of Pixar's many computer-generated cartoons. There were plenty of people crying in the audience during that production. I personally had a strong reaction to watching The Secret of Nihm back when I was a kid.

Paradoxically, I think one reason these sorts of things work is that they are so abstract. They're not trying to show you something that looks indistinguishable from everyday life. Somehow, cartoon mice or a CGI boyscout can make us feel things that we just wouldn't feel if they were too distracted by how the artists had striven so hard to make them look realistic. I think that's because when someone tries that, you end up distracted because you are constantly searching for the cracks; the tell-tale indications of its fakeness. You are invited to look too hard. With a cartoon, though, (whether drawn or CGI), you aren't doing that because you know it's not trying to be realistic. A talking ogre or donkey can be "human" because we can let our imaginations run unhindered by that "hey--wait a minute" type response you get from something like the Final Fantasy movie you describe (and which I haven't seen).

Probably the best examples I can think of to illustrate this is Gollum in the Rings movies. As soon as that CGI character was on screen, I "dropped" out of the film and went into "hey--wait a minute" mode. Even though they had tried their best to make him look realistic, I could tell it was CGI and was unable to sustain my disbelief. On the other hand, a full CGI movie like Shrek never gave me that problem.

So, one possible solution might be to abandon realism and embrace cartoons--in my opinion, not enough games have taken this route. The Dig is one of my favorites that did--and that game definitely has cut scenes that can potentially make you cry. Of course, there is still much work to be done making cartoon-type animation flow fluidly and naturally in games, but it might be a viable approach. I definitely see progress being made in such projects like Facade, which do precisely what I'm talking about here--sacrifice realism, embrace a certain level of abstraction, and do a much better job depicting human feeling and emotion.

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Bill Loguidice
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The biggest argument against

The biggest argument against FMV - real people or cartoons - is one of cost. Games cost enough as it is, and to try and get Hollywood-level video production into games is probably asking too much. We only have to look at the awkward acting and the cardboard sets in the vast majority of FMV games to see how anything less can look as ludicrous as the worst 3D models. There's a reason why all mainstream animated movies for instance are all computer generated - besides the public showing a strong preference for the format - the associated costs are far less and the quality far greater than anything that could be achieved by hand. That's my point about synthesized everything being the future of gaming versus a return to some type of FMV. The key is to drive down costs and the only way to do that is to have as much done by the technology as possible.

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Matt Barton
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Costs/Economies of Scale
Bill Loguidice wrote:

The biggest argument against FMV - real people or cartoons - is one of cost. Games cost enough as it is, and to try and get Hollywood-level video production into games is probably asking too much. We only have to look at the awkward acting and the cardboard sets in the vast majority of FMV games to see how anything less can look as ludicrous as the worst 3D models. There's a reason why all mainstream animated movies for instance are all computer generated - besides the public showing a strong preference for the format - the associated costs are far less and the quality far greater than anything that could be achieved by hand. That's my point about synthesized everything being the future of gaming versus a return to some type of FMV. The key is to drive down costs and the only way to do that is to have as much done by the technology as possible..

I think you've identified the key obstacle. I think I've thought of a good analogy here:

Making a good FMV game is not like making a movie. It's like making an entire season of a TV show.

Thus, instead of 2 or even 3 hours worth of footage, you need 24-26 hours for a game. Of course, just like a TV show, a lot of that footage will be stock footage, recycled stuff, etc. There will be other cost cutting measures, too, such as filming on a set schedule and planning ahead so that a lot can get done. Also, I don't think it is necessary to have blu-ray quality here. Even if it were only the quality level of something like the Simpsons (before HD) or Star Trek: TNG, I think most people would be happy with it. In short, even though you can play through the game in, say, 4-6 hours, you probably need something like 3-5X that amount of footage to ensure lots of different choices can be made. Also, it is vital that we take the type of game and gameplay into consideration, and you could also "cheat" with CGI just like in real movies for special effects and what-not.

There is a point where the technology to simulate something might be more expensive than the actual thing. We definitely see that with photographs. Why hire a painter to meticulously render a scene, which might very well take days, weeks, or even months, when you can just snap a photo that will be more accurate and detailed than anything she could ever do? I get your point, though; if something can be automated, that is a cost-cutting measure.

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Bill Loguidice
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I think the key with

I think the key with simulated environments/people/whatever is that once you create it, it's in the database and can be reused to infinity. That's where the cost savings come in. With video footage, you need to take it again and again, because there's only so much stock footage you can use, and matching it up is an issue.

And I *don't* think getting away with low resolution or low quality video is an option, as even handheld devices have high resolution screens.

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Bill Loguidice, Managing Director | Armchair Arcade, Inc.

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