Rockstar's 1940s crime thriller LA Noire may change how actors are captured and recreated in games for ever.
Developer Team Bondi is using groundbreaking technology developed by sister company Depth Analysis to capture all aspects of a performance at once - audio, visual and movement - and recreate them quickly and en-masse to characters in-game.
"Traditionally, one minute of facial animation could take a couple of animators a month. The idea is that we can mass-produce. We can produce about 20 minutes of final footage a day, and it's seamless - I don't even have character artists or animators working with me," Depth Analysis' Oliver Bao told Game Informer (via VG247).
Getaway creator and Team Bondi boss Brendan McNamara said even games like Uncharted 2 and Mass Effect 2 have characters that look like "goldfish" in comparison. And lip-synching is a problem no longer.
This time-consuming method has allowed McNamara to realise a 2000-page script that calls for performances by over 300 actors. When you consider that an average film is between 95 and 125 pages long, the scope of this game is staggering. Hollywood director Michael Uppendahl is on hand to help, and will direct stars like Aaron Staton.
And for LA Noire, this technology represents far more than bragging rights.
"It's obviously cool technology, but the key thing for us is that when you're interrogating someone, you can read their faces and tell if they're lying," said McNamara. "That is a key component of the gameplay."
Interrogation is a cornerstone of LA Noire. Evidence can be gathered at crime scenes and witnesses interrogated. Anything of interest will be recorded automatically in a notebook. Eventually, lead character Cole Phelps can sit down with suspects and challenge their statements, choosing between coax, accuse and force responses - like in Mass Effect 2, these options represent the general tone of your dialogue choice, not the words themselves.
The game of LA Noire follows Phelps through the ranks of the LAPD, where he'll progress from beat cop to the desks of traffic, vice, burglary and arson. Eventually he'll make it to homicide detective.
Along the way he'll have to work with different partners, and he'll come to realise that the force itself is filled with people that have far less than saintly dispositions.
"Who he is at the beginning is completely different from who he is at the end. There's a journey. In most games - even my old games - who someone is at the beginning is who they are at the end. You don't get that in movies or literature - people change. We want you to go on a journey with him. We're trying to pull that off," McNamara explained.
LA Noire's painstakingly recreated world of 1947 Los Angeles is another talking point. It's the biggest and most detailed areas Rockstar has ever made - and Rockstar makes some big and detailed worlds (GTAIV). Over 180,000 photographs of post-war Los Angeles were sourced and scanned, producing a city as accurately recreated as is humanly possible.
What's more, 90 per cent of the crimes in the game are based on real capers of the time. And they're far from slapstick romps.
"Some of them were too wild to use," realised McNamara. "One was about a preacher walking down Broadway with a bullwhip, whipping non-believers. [Laughs] We thought that was a great story, but we didn't know how to work it in.
"There was a guy in Santa Monica who was driving a four-engine plane down the street at midnight. He had an accident because he didn't have lights on the plane - if you came up with that in a design meeting, people would throw you out!"
LA Noire is in development for PS3 and Xbox 360 and will be released this autumn. That's the plan.
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