Yoostar 2 maker Blitz Games Studios has unveiled ambitious new technology it hopes will help create more emotionally engaging characters in video games.
The Kitsu Emotional Avatar, part of BlitzTech, is currently in the research and development stage, but was shown to Eurogamer behind closed doors at E3 last week.
A young, anime-style girl called Kitsu reacts to player actions in a realistic fashion.
Emotion sliders – a four-way emotional graph that works underneath the system - enables users to apply four distinct emotional states: happy, sad, frightened and angry.
These are displayed not through canned animations, but procedurally-generated combinations of facial animation, full-body key-framed postural animation, state-specific surface textures (such as dimples, flushed cheeks, red eyes and tears) and other independent procedural systems such as eye movement and blink rate, all blended for variation. Screenshots are below.
Kitsu smiles, cries and adjusts posture depending on her emotional state. She learns, too, and becomes familiar with friendly faces.
A butterfly, for example, causes her to smile. A bat, however, makes her shiver with fear and wave her arms. The time of day is also a factor – she is less afraid when the sun is out, more afraid at night.
Kitsu works with motion-sensing tech such as Kinect in a way that rekindles memories of Peter Molyneux's cancelled relationship simulation Project Milo. Head-tracking enables her to hold the player's gaze, and she will look for you if you move off-screen.
Blitz hopes Kitsu will enable developers to build realistic non-player characters into their games without the huge costs associated with tech such as L.A. Noire's MotionScan facial animation.
"The underlying goal with the Kitsu work was to create a procedurally-driven system to allow us to display a range of realistic and believable emotions on an in-game character without the need for expensive performance capture or pre-scripted scenarios," R&D art director Jolyon Webb told Eurogamer.
"We wanted something that was platform, genre and end-use-agnostic; not every game will have a tens-of-millions budget to play with so we have created technology that will allow even smaller, low-budget titles to raise their levels of immersion by including varied and convincing characters.
"It can also be applied to other projects, such as serious games work; the level of detail and emotional engagement it could bring to something like a medical training simulator, for instance, would be unparalleled.
"While there's obviously space in the market for high-budget technological solutions on some games, a system like this enables many more games to benefit from similar levels of fidelity and believability - that can only be a good thing for games across the board.
"As graphical power has improved vastly in recent years, it's not often been matched by similarly convincing behavioural systems but now there's the potential to make that happen and we're really excited about the possibilities this will open up."