Julien Merceron, Square Enix’s worldwide technology director, is striving to create visuals which aren’t mired in the uncanny valley, and to Merceron, this can be accomplished with natural animation and more responsive AI.
Speaking with GI International, Merceron feels it will be long while before a game “nails it” though.
“It’s our duty to make progress on this front in this generation,” he said. “If improved graphics aren’t combined with better animation, all these games are going to dive into the uncanny valley. So it’s possible around the launch timeframe that we won’t actually see huge improvements in graphics because the developers still have to sort out how they will approach animation.
“That generally takes more time than upgrading your rendering engine. I think the human eye is capable of seeing a lot of subtleties…static characters will look good very soon, animated non-interactive characters a bit later, and fully interactive characters could take time, especially for some types of games.
“That’s the thing with the uncanny valley – you have to think not only about emotions and facial movements, but at some point we need to have deeper AI. We need to be able to interact with the characters and then there’s a new dimension of complexity.”
Merceron feels the next generation of hardware will make this easier thanks to the architectures of the consoles and additional resources from a CPU and memory perspective; however, teams need to create “solid bases for designing NPCs,” from an animation perspective.
“[This includes] physics, procedural elements like cloth, hair, and also from a behavior perspective,” he said. “How can we interact as naturally as possible with virtual characters in a game?
“There are probably some interactions with NPCs that people will not be open to today, but we have to think about the type of experience that players want to have with NPCs. So when we think about AI, maybe today people are not ready to speak through the TV to a character in the game and have the character engaging the player in a conversation, but there are technologies that are starting to support this.
“Internally, we are setting up milestones of how we want our NPCs to evolve over time and we’re carefully watching the evolution around us to see when people will be ready for new interactions.”
It is an interesting read from a tech standpoint, and you can read more on it through the link.