The new technology Electronic Arts has developed to make game characters look more lifelike is so good that Tiger Woods failed to realise he was looking at a CGI version of himself.
That's according to Glenn Entis, EA's chief visual and technical officer. Speaking at the Montréal Games Summit, Entis recounted the tale of the first time Woods was shown his new animated character, saying, "We really got no response. He just said, 'Yeah?', and it's like, 'Well, did you like it?'. His response was telling; he said, 'Well, when are you going to show me the computer graphics?'
"We figured if you can fool a guy who sees that face in the mirror every day, it's got to be working."
But during the Q&A session at the end of Entis's speech (during which clips were shown of the CGI Woods saying things like "Aw, sweet!" and "That was on the screws!", whatever that means), one brave audience member stepped up to say, "I certainly don't mean any offence to Tiger Woods by asking this, but how are you going to solve the problem of Tiger Woods not being a very good actor?"
"It's a great question and it gets to the heart of some of the behaviour problems," Entis replied.
"This is one place where we may find that the interactivity of games helps us rather than hurts us... We're not all high-end actors, but every one of us has relationships that are believable, where people understand what we're saying and believe we're sincere.
"I believe characters in games, as long as they're responding well interactively to what the player is doing, probably don't have to be at the absolute high end of acting."
However, according to Entis, it's a different story when it comes to cut-scenes where the player is watching CGI characters interact with each other. In those cases, he said, 'I suspect that the threshold goes up again.'
"The answer is it's going to be extremely difficult and it's going to take higher level work, but I do think there's at least some opportunities we have in games for that."
Earlier on in his speech, Entis warned that improved graphics on next-gen consoles can mean bigger challenges for developers.
"As the graphics are getting better, it introduces a lot of new problems that the games industry is just starting to come to grips with.
"And in some cases, although the graphics are great - it certainly grows the market and draws people in - the graphics are creating some problems that as an industry we need to deal with very rapidly."
One of these problems, Entis explained, is that it's hard to believe in a character that looks extremely lifelike if they don't also move and behave in realistic ways.
"In Final Fantasy, the modelling fidelity was really better than the motion fidelity," he argued. "In other words, when you looked at the models, they signalled an expectation to the audience that the motion couldn't deliver upon."
When this situation occurs, Entis believes, "You basically expect a level of life that isn't there and the character, in relative terms, feels dead."
According to Entis, there's a temptation to simply add more polygons to characters when new technology becomes available. "But probably the worst thing you can do to make characters more believable is increase their visual fidelity - unless you're able to have an equal or even higher degree of increase in their motion fidelity."