Facial animations: An often overlooked feature | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, July 19, 2018 / LAST MODIFIED: 04:10 AM, July 19, 2018

Facial animations: An often overlooked feature

It's no secret that games are better in terms of graphical detail. Along the way we've had games which have almost perfectly rendered the human face, and others which had faces that looked like badly smudged finger-paintings. As things get even better, you can't help but wonder how far the level of detail can go.

Back in the day, facial expressions were nonexistent. Characters were given a couple of different emotional states ranging from happy to angry; sometimes even sad, if the animators were giving the character extra depth. With time, games had more facial detail in cutscenes. The Uncharted series did a lot to make Nathan Drake feel like a real person, and through cutscenes they reinforced his personality. You know you're doing a good job when your character can pull off a coy smile while delivering one-liners. One common theme between older games with good facial expressions is that the main advances were limited to cutscenes. Even though some cutscenes required you to interact, like the ones in Resident Evil 4, they were still separate portions from the main gameplay.

This is also somewhat true for more recent titles featuring gorgeous expression tracking. Games like Hellblade, MGS:V and even Injustice 2 have cutscenes so realistic they're borderline creepy. Of course, they are just cutscenes.

Thankfully, many other developers have incorporated the use of hi-res facial expressions into the gameplay, and very organically too. The Mass Effect trilogy is a great example of this. Being an RPG, it had much more to gain from having realistic expressions during dialogue. Even better was L.A. Noire, where you play as a detective. As such, it makes perfect sense for you to pay attention to character's expressions during questioning. Some of those expressions were incredible because of how the characters could emote with only slight changes in facial expression. Maybe it would be a slight grimace for half a second. Or the perps' eyes would follow the camera nervously in a way that bespoke of guilt. This game made the perfect blend of action gameplay and cinematic detail. It wasn't perfect, but it was a huge step forward.

Fast forward to today, and some developers have taken this even further. They have maintained such a high level of accuracy in transposing realistic movements to games, the end result is practically a movie. Games like Detroit: Become Human, Until Dawn, The Walking Dead, Life is Strange and Quantum Break have pioneered this genre of cinematic games.

These studios paint extremely detailed worlds, filled with real people who have real emotion and depth. Characters in these games are not just well animated, but they are also well acted. Yes, most of these games have real actors in motion capture suits to get the animations just right. Because of this, all of these games play out like an entire cutscene from start to finish. To realise we've reached a point in time when we have the technology to maintain that level of detail in 20-hour-plus games is ridiculous. However, many people are discontent with these games, saying that they're for “casuals”. Since they play out like a movie, they argue that there's very little gameplay for the player. In that sense, it isn't even a game but a glorified movie.

While elitists may feel slightly threatened by this change, there is no doubt that such high levels of facial detail have pushed the boundaries. Who knows, maybe the next big development will be to have that much detail in every AAA game. Only time will tell, and for now the best we can do is enjoy the ride.


With a heart of ash and a PC of potato, Wasique Hasan could use some help. Send help: fb.com/hasique.wasan

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