Uncanny valley “will always be a problem”, says Square tech boss

By Brenna Hillier
10 July 2012 05:41 GMT

Square Enix has produced some of the most respected graphics tech in the industry, but worldwide technology director Julien Merceron says game characters will probably never look photo-realistic.

In an interview with GamesIndustry, Merceron said the recent Agni’s Philosophy Luminous demo showed what next-gen graphics can bring to a game, but that developers can’t get too hung up on graphics alone.

“Focusing on graphics only would be a huge mistake. You start to have super great graphics, characters look really good and you end up in the uncanny valley, but you don’t have animation at the same quality level,” Merceron said, referring to a widely-held hypothesis that too-realistic non-human figures are disturbing.

“Same thing with behavior and AI; it animates well and looks good, but it is making stupid decisions. It simply won’t be immersive. So focusing on graphics only is a big mistake. People will need to focus on animation, and I believe our Philosophy demo is highlighting that, but also on the AI and physics too.”

Merceron said impressive graphical feats are quickly surpassed, but animation fails to keep up, leading to an unnecessary lag in realistic appearances and behaviour.

“The problem I am talking about is, as soon as we ramp up the quality on graphics, this level of quality on facial animations won’t be good enough. Some games succeed to be at the limit of the uncanny valley, but the problem is that as rendering quality will go up, new problems will surface,” he said.

“The quality of the facial and body animations and the acting won’t be good enough. So that is why as you evolve, you have to upgrade your physics, rendering and animations. It will always be a problem. As you push something, you have to recalibrate and rebalance these out. You can’t have these stunning graphics while characters are acting funny on the screen.”

Merceron’s solution is to focus on immersion rather than pushing for photo-realistic graphics.

“The gameplay needs to be involving, the environment needs to be immersive, and the characters need to be full of emotions so you are totally sucked into the experience. This is why we have this role of balancing all these things so we end up with something that is consistent and works well,” he said.

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