Body Language In Games

Videogames have come a long way, a very long way. Both in technology terms and their very foundation in the art world. Our foundation is building, rapidly, soon enough we may be given the chance to go legit. To be respected. No more “videogames cause cancer” or all of those little stories that jibe and poke at our fleshy brilliance. One step towards building our foundation, in my opinion, is becoming less uncanny and more lifelike. Not photorealistic graphics but something more simple and capable; human. We’ve often braved a valley of inconsistency within videogames, not all of them share the same tech and for good reason. A developer can choose which paints to use to paint his image of the world, and all those lovely jubbile characters.

We can’t all share the same engines, it should never be like that. What I want us to do is share the same ideals; a small ideal. A good little ideal. Make games less about being the super space walker is a step we’ll have to take later, baby steps for now is all fair and good. I can dictate ALL GAMES SHOULD BE THIS because there’s obvious exceptions in every damn category. I can’t argue that all games have to be less based around the protagonists, because some games just do that so goddamn well. I’ve been blabbering on for a while about games games games, let’s cut to the chase. Videogame characters are, often, just downright awkward.

Their characters can change, their personalities and whatnot but their actions need to be improved. I propose the simplest change of all; better use of body language. When Andrew Ryan gives his speech in Bioshock he gives it with such charisma and conviction, he opens up his hand movements and body expression. You become more involved in the scene not just because of his character but the way he goes about prodding and poking the narrative you’ve experience. Take another scene for example, in Metro 2033, where Artyom has to move through a derelict bunker with his pals. Their voice acting is all fine and good but the animations are so off that you just can’t bond or believe what they’re doing.

Another prime example is Arkham Asylum. Batman moves around convincingly like… Batman, the Joker strides around like the comical clown he is. Rocksteady Studios have a motion capture studio, so all of their animations are very lifelike and real. I guess that would be the obvious step forward and to be quite honest, I have no idea what we can do to make game characters perform better. The whole ‘character’ part is work in progress for videogames but the animation part is wibbly-wobbly. Motion-capture may be the way forward but I’m not even sure Bioshock had the like.

Maybe we just need to employ better animators, maybe we’re just not pushing the technology. What I’m thinking right now is that we’re not using the technology put in place. Ever heard of a little game called Mass Effect? Brilliantly done RPG, the new Star Wars. Great storytelling, get little niches of character, just downright a brilliant game. One problem it suffers from is something that Ben ‘Yahtzee’ Crowshaw touched on, the’ Bioware face’.

Don’t get me wrong, I bloody love the ‘Bioware face’ but it has to go. The ‘Bioware face’ is when everything seems massively scripted. You’ll go up to a character, ask them what’s going on and they’ll do the following.

“Hello Commander Shepard.”

Wave hand, smile.

“Those pesky aliens have taken over the district.”

Shake head, scowl face

“Humanity is supposed to be so much better than this, bloody aliens. They should all die!”

Shake fist, scrunch face, racist undertone.

Of course, this isn’t exactly how Bioware does their brilliant storytelling. To be quite honest it’s been such a staple of their games I’ve hardly ignored it, but it is starting to get on my nerves. Maybe make the system less scripted and more fluid. It’s said there’s over 500 of these ‘Bioware face’ animations, which is all fine and dandy given the absolute mass of exposition they have to cram into the game. How about limit it to much less animations, but have many variations. Depending on the player’s actions and his/her influence over the character, the variation of (for example) wave hand, smile could be shake face, scowl look if the player let the aliens escape.

I’m not sure whether the ‘Bioware face’ applies to other games. I think there might definitely be some but generally, all animations are tailored to the scene in question rather than all animations are tailored to be used throughout the game. It’s not a problem with the RPGs, I think it’s something wonderful that can be expanded and possibly used in entirely other genres. For the scenes between Andrew Ryan and you, in Bioshock, I doubt you could pull off a ‘Bioware face’ given the impact of Ryan’s casual body language and the juxtaposition between what he’s saying and doing.

I’ve been blabbering on about one little bit of body language and it’s hard to blabber on about the main picture. What I’m trying to say is that if we make little changes to diverse systems then we’d make characters more relative and become enthralled in their very basis of character more. Obviously, the ‘Bioware face’ does nicely but if we go one step beyond that with massive number of variables then I do believe the experience will improve. Motion capture isn’t the way forward but just one of the many ways we can translate real actions ever so easily.

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  • Borrowind

    Two observations. You can’t easily convincingly motion-capture a fantasy /sci-fi creature that doesn’t exist in real-life, short of putting two blokes in a big rubber skin. And there will inevitably be maths created which interweaves itself with motion capture data-on-the-fly, to subtly “dirty up” the motions, making them more believable and subtly differentiated (perhaps it already exists).