The DeanBeat: Gaming technology is still blowing my mind

Until Dawn character
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It has taken me a while to review all of the cool things I saw at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), the big game trade show in Los Angeles last month. But I would be remiss if I didn’t point out the cool tech gear that I saw at the show. I look at gaming from a tech point of view every year, and it always makes me feel good about the forward progress of both gadgetry and gameplay.

The consoles are certainly looking outstanding. The 3D animations of the newest blockbusters look spectacular. I’m particularly impressed with the realism of the human faces and bodies in upcoming games such as Sony’s Until Dawn, which is a horror game that debuts on the PlayStation 4 in August.

In Until Dawn, video game artists have created faces that look like the real thing. Supermassive Games uses motion capture and face capture technology that takes the acting performance of a real person and then overlays an animation on top of it.

Uncharted 4 E3 2015 - Drake surprised
The result is incredibly lifelike. The same goes for Naughty Dog’s depictions of characters like Nathan Drake, Sully, and Elena in Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. Those high-quality animations are just so much more compelling than the previous generation of video games.

Michael Mumbauer, director of visual arts at Sony’s North American game division, and Mark Sagar, director of the Laboratory for Animate Technologies at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, gave an excellent talk on the subject at the most recent Game Developers Conference. They showed the first 15 minutes or so of Sony’s outstanding 2013 of video game, The Last of Us. That title was one of my favorite of all time, in part because that beginning scene was so compelling and emotional. But Mumbauer and Sagar underscored the importance of the realistic human animation by converting the scene to an 8-bit rendition with text-based dialogue. It just wasn’t compelling anymore. And that shows just how important the best visual and voice quality are to a scene.

Four U.S. soccer stars do motion capture for FIFA 16 game.

The awesome visuals in the upcoming games are going to set the bar very high for believability. The games I saw at E3 have reached a pinnacle of visual quality that I believe will keep gamers delighted during this generation of consoles. And it wasn’t just Sony that showed this powerful imagery off. So did Epic Games (Gears of War 4), Activision (Call of Duty: Black Ops III), Square Enix (Rise of the Tomb Raider), and others. I was even impressed with the graphics work that Electronic Arts did in creating realistic female bodies so that it could include women’s national team players in its upcoming FIFA 16 title.

Of course, there’s always a trade-off for realism. Sometimes, game makers use so much processing power to create a realistic face that they fail to create speedy movement to go with it. Bethesda’s Doom remake reminded me of this, as the first-person shooter was super fast, but it didn’t even try to render human faces in a realistic way.

The continuous improvement of human faces and body animations is why I keep coming back to new generations of existing franchises, even though they could otherwise be easily dismissed as unoriginal sequels. We have not yet reached the point of diminishing returns on 3D graphics for human faces.

But graphics technology isn’t the only thing that will keep the gears of gaming turning.

The Rift headset with the Touch controllers.