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Sponsored Feature: Looks Aren't Everything: Making Games Act Real
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Sponsored Feature: Looks Aren't Everything: Making Games Act Real

July 16, 2008 Article Start Page 1 of 2 Next

[In this Intel-sponsored thought piece, company veteran Roger Chandler looks at why trudging through the Uncanny Valley to create realistic interactions with virtual creatures may lead to upsides in AI, special effects, physics, and more.]

One night several months ago, my buddies and I logged on to play a newly released, online role-playing game. The environments were lush, the details were rich, and the monsters were stunningly rendered. I was quickly sucked into it all...until I ran into a small log lying in front of me. It literally stopped me in my tracks.

I know a lot of great game developers and designers, and I understand the difficult design decisions they must make when bringing a title to market, but this log really surprised me. It was richly textured and accurately modeled, which was nice, but it "behaved" like a brick wall.

Despite being a powerful warrior who had just slain three ogres single-handedly, I could not raise my in-game foot 18 virtual inches to pass over this small log. So I walked around it and we continued on. But that experience stuck with me.

In 1970 roboticist Masahiro Mori introduced the Uncanny Valley hypothesis: as robots and other representations of humans begin to look and act almost, but not entirely, like actual humans, it causes a response of revulsion among human observers.

The "valley" refers to a precipitous drop in the viewers' positive response to the near-human entity as it gets closer to realism, due to the dramatically increased expectations around behavior and other subtle human-like details.

The Uncanny Valley has drawn much attention from the gaming industry in recent years, and while it definitely applies to human-like characters, I think the effect extends to the environment as a whole.

As a first-hand witness to our industry's ongoing graphics arms race, I believe it takes more than beautiful scenery to engage a gamer. We live in a world where every object has distinct physical properties and every creature has unique behavioral characteristics.

As developers continue to improve how these objects and creatures look in-game, they must also meet the players' heightened expectations regarding how these objects and creatures will act.

For example, I do not expect a blocky, pixelated tree to sway in the wind or splinter realistically when I blow it to bits with a rocket launcher. But if that tree looks nearly identical to the one in my front yard, then it will be a noticeable distraction if it does not act like the real thing.

One of the things I love about my job is hearing developers' thoughts on how they can create new levels of interactive realism with the increasingly powerful and programmable multi-core processors Intel has on its roadmap.

Certainly developers are doing great things with today's generation of multi-core processors to ensure games look and act more real. Here are a few of their efforts:

  • Threading to improve overall framerate
  • Accelerating asset loading to make scene transitions more seamless
  • Utilizing procedural content generation to ease the burden on the artists and to dynamically populate vast worlds with rich environments
  • Applying particle effects for more realistic smoke, fire, and weather systems
  • Enhancing artificial intelligence for in-game characters
  • Improving game physics to ensure objects interact with each other and, more importantly, blow up more realistically

Article Start Page 1 of 2 Next

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