Emotion is a hard thing to get right in video games. One problem is that there are just so many different ways about it. If you look at any of Thatgamecompany‘s releases, they all convey emotion through the experience of the game; the mere act of playing will stir something within you. Limbo makes you feel through its setting and stark, minimalist visuals. Heavy Rain tried (and some would say succeeded) at getting you to relate to its characters through realism of portrayal.
Heavy Rain’s developers Quantic Dream has been attempting to attain this goal for years now and if studio head David Cage is anything to go by, they’ve done good, but they can do better. Starting from the tech demo “The Casting” they gave in 2006 that really gave impetus to Heavy Rain—a video about a virtual actor at a casting call—they’ve now arrived at Kara.
If you can, I would suggest watching this first without sound and then again with sound. Experiencing this rather heartbreaking, Kurzweil-inspired tale of a robot becoming a sentient anomaly in complete silence really sells the tech for me. Even without hearing her voice break or her wild, impassioned plea for life, you can get everything you need to know from the emotion you see in her digitized face. It’s rather remarkable.
This was shown during an hour-long talk by Cage called “Technologies to Support Emotion” at this year’s Game Developers Conference. He went through the history of Quantic Dream‘s journey to this point of performance capture, going from 1999’s Omikron: The Nomad Soul to 2005’s Indigo Prophecy, both of which used relatively rudimentary techniques. They’ve since moved on to capturing the face and body separately and stitching it together later (much like what you see in L.A. Noire but with better body animation) and now full performance capture, a technique that records an actor’s face, body, and voice all at the same time.
This particular version of the Kara demo also happens to be roughly a year old and only shows off around half of the features Cage says they want to employ in their next venture. They now employ the use of 65 cameras that are capable of capture several actors at once in a process similar to how the films Avatar and Tintin were created.
And if Kara looks and sounds familiar, then it’s probably because you watched Veronica Mars; actress Valorie Curry played Jane Kuhne in the cult hit show. If you recognize her from being cast in the upcoming Twilight series’ Breaking Dawn Part 2, then god help you. For Cage, though, she was an easy pick (out of hundreds) for the role of Kara. “When Valorie entered the room—well, she looked like an android already.” I’m not sure if that’s flattering or not, but I think Curry is a step up in terms of acting prowess when compared to anything I saw in Heavy Rain.
You should also note that Cage said everything in the Kara demo was running in real time on a PS3, nothing was pre-rendered, and that it is not their next project. You should also note that I would watch a whole movie about Kara. Someone make that happen. Spielberg, I know you’re reading this!