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Default General News - Popular Science on 10 Greatest Challenges in Making Realistic Games

September 21st, 2007, 22:41
Joystiq points the way to this technical article on the physical side of game developement up at Popular Science's website. The article deals with how some of the latest advancements in computer technology are employed in game effects.
On human faces:
3. Human Faces
Like trying to impersonate a living person using a finger puppet

Problem: Decoding and re-creating the subtlest and most familiar aspect of human expression has dogged artists and scientists for centuries, and now game makers, seeking to make believable human characters, are stuck trying to improve on those efforts. If a character’s face is too close to human, players will reject it, a psychological phenomenon known as the “uncanny valley”: Objects more familiar to the human eye are inspected with greater scrutiny, leading to a drop-off in acceptance as the simulated object nears the point of being lifelike. “Things look creepy as they get too real,” explains Bill Van Buren, a producer for Valve’s Half-Life 2. “You really notice each little detail that’s off.”

Status: To generate rules for the endless combinations of expression and emotion that game characters need to show, the Valve developers relied on a taxonomy of 60 basic facial actions defined by psychologists Paul Ekman and Wallace V. Friesen to study anatomy and human communication. The proper gaze, it turns out, is important for a natural-looking face. “If the eyes are wrong, the characters look dead,” says Valve senior software engineer Ken Birdwell. He spent a year studying the anatomy of the eyeball, learning things like how the corneal bulge affects light reflection and how characters appear cross-eyed if their pupils aren’t set four degrees off-center.

What’s next: Crossing the uncanny valley is hard work. Programmers are working to code variety into human expression and to add the sheen of skin stretched across facial muscles. Of course, as game makers delve deeper into recognition psychology and computer-human robotics, processor speed will have to catch up to what they learn.—Doug Cantor

Image: The faces in Bioware's Mass Effect are so realistic, they skirt the "uncanny valley."
On portraying water:
Like painting the sea—while it’s moving

Problem: Whole careers in mathematics have been built on calculating the tiniest movements of less than a square millimeter of fluid. Videogames have to show an entire raging ocean’s worth of the stuff. “Less than a year ago, there wasn’t enough processing power to dynamically generate the movement of water in games,” says Lee Bamber, a programmer for 20 years and founder of The Game Creators, Ltd.

Status: “Viscosity is the difficulty,” says Ron Fedkiw, an associate professor of computer science at Stanford University who worked on the effects for movies like Star Wars: Episode III—Revenge of the Sith and Transformers and now works with Industrial Light & Magic. “High viscosity”—as with solid objects—“is easy to do. Clay, with a slightly lower viscosity, is harder, and water is harder still.” The math is there, Fedkiw says, but it takes supercomputers to pull it off
More information.

Where there's smoke, there's mirrors.
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September 21st, 2007, 22:41
Nice read Magerette! I was particularly impressed by the upcoming developments on AI, which go a long way towards a believable gameworld. It also shows that graphics improvements are not but a part of the equation.

It seems like the art of videogame making (if we can call it an art) has just started and has a long way to go.

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September 21st, 2007, 23:51
Water.

Gawd I'm sick of the hand-wringing about water. I wish everyone would shut up about water and work on stuff that really matters in games … like lens flare and bloom and self-shadowing.

— Mike
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September 22nd, 2007, 00:12
Is it just me or did anyone else read that and say "no kidding, it all boils down to computer power". Because that's pretty much the limitation on almost all of that stuff.
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September 22nd, 2007, 03:56
"Of course, as game makers delve deeper into recognition psychology and computer-human robotics, processor speed will have to catch up to what they learn."

Well, THAT'S a load of my mind. For a minute there I was wondering if there was some theoretical limit to the realism possible in computer game graphics. My dream of looking across a room and mistaking my monitor for a box holding a living human head is intact! Without perfect, photo-realistic graphics, computer games will never reach their real potential. I hope all the slaves at EA read this.
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