Wednesday, March 14, 2012

It's Uncanny

Video gamers are a fickle, dissatisfied bunch. If our favourite developers don't have a new title every 18 months or so, we go a little batty. So, developers tease and appease us by releasing in-game footage, screen shots, or developer's diaries of their latest titles to keep us calm until the big day. They also like to release tech demos to show us all the shiny new features of their fabulous new graphics engines. They're usually impressive, but I've never been more impressed by a tech demo than I have by Heavy Rain developer Quantic Dream's Kara.

The demo begins with this disclaimer: "The following footage is a prototype running in real-time on PlayStation 3. It is a concept only and is not taken from any software title currently in development." It would be a shame, though, if Quantic Dream did not pursue it further because it is stunning, not only because of the obvious technical aspects of it, but also because of its emotional characteristics.

The lighting, the texture detail, the subtle shadowing, and the sound are all amazing. But what really struck me were Kara's eyes and facial animations. Video game characters --- and their cut-scene counterparts --- usually have those lifeless, motionless doll-eyes, but Kara's have that sparkle and depth that we all have. Her facial animations, too, indicate that she is more than just a machine. The first time I watched the video, I was transfixed by her when she said, "My name is Kara". It's a wonderful moment of self-awareness that gets me everytime I watch it. It was at that moment that I began to feel a connection with her and, I have to admit, I got a little choked up as she begged for her life with the operator (and I still do). It's rare for a computer-animated character to make me react this way, and it may seem odd to you while reading this, but once you watch the video, you'll understand what I'm talking about.

There are so many wonderful things in this video that I could go on and on about it. There's the excellent voice acting by Valorie Curry, after whom Kara is modelled, and the themes of Man as Creator, the relationship between Men and Women, and the relationship between Creator and that which is created. But I'll just let you watch the video. Pay close attention to it.

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