Hello, my name is Alejandro Gorgal (everybody calls me Alex or Linfo though); Im the character modeler and animator of "Depth", making divers so you can tear them apart.
Posted by linfosoma on Feb 12th, 2012
Lately I've been playing a few games I got on Steam sales that have tried doing things differently than everybody else, I got them mostly out of curiosity and after playing them I cant but wonder if the risk was worth it (spoiler alert: it wasn't!).
I guess you could consider this game an adventure game with an open world and some questionable action thrown in for good measure from time to time.
LA Noire got its hype from the facial animation technology used in it, being a character modeler/animator myself I felt compelled to get it to figure out what the fuzz was all about.
As you can see in the picture above the actor's face is capture by several cameras surrounding him, then these images are merged (my guess) into a single video file and projected on the 3D model's head creating a very lifelike effect provided that you dont look the model too close (the video has a limited resolution, so you can forget about making close up shot of the character's face).
These "animations" also seem to interact with the game's lighting which makes me believe that they somehow transformed the video into a normal map as well (my guess is that it was converted from the base video, but there's always the possibility that the depth information was extracted using infrared cameras, that would be kinda rad actually).
The final result is convincing faces pasted onto bodies that sometimes fail to match this expressiveness. You also get to see some hilarious things such as the character's hair flickering due to video compression and whatnot (the hilarious part being the thought of a completely static body part using needless video/texture memory due to the engine's way of doing things).
On a final note, the character's face is mostly flat and motionless. The eyes for example dont have 3D eyelids, they are just a curved shape with the video of real eyes projected above. The only part that appears (surprisingly well) animated on 3D is the mouth (though you can sometimes see the character's tongue and teeth, which are also a 2D video projected on a flat surface, so it seems that only part of the lips and the jaw are animated).
As for the game itself, it's ok I guess. It's mostly entertaining, even though it features the most incredibly unlikeable main character ever featured in a video game and the game's plot and so called "pacing" are mostly terrible. But meh, some characters look pretty cool sometimes!
Veredict: If you think that the idea of filming thousands of videos, each for every one of your character's performances and for every single NPC in the world, and then jamming it into the game considering the resolution limitations and the amount of disk space used is a good idea then well, this horribly impractical technology is for you!
Oh boy, are you ready to take the cake on the "horribly impractical technologies" competition? Rage uses the latest form of the Megatexture technology and it's quite possibly the most puzzling thing I've seen in a while.
The latest iteration of id's proprietary engine manages to be even more absurd than the previous one (id Tech 4, the one used in Doom 3, the game that made every single light dynamic and had it cast stencil shadows in a world where indirect lighting is nonexistent). The idea is "simple", make an incredibly detailed scene, and then bake everything (and I mean everything) into a single, giant texture. The result is that all the lights, specular highlights and even normal maps are baked into the texture (and therefore completely static).
The good: sometimes the game looks awesome provided that you look at it from a safe distance. Since the lighting is baked you often get fancy indirect or even bouncy lighting on the maps, it's pretty.
The bad: every single object has a unique texture, if you see the same asset used twice each one has a different texture file even if they look the same, resulting in a game that is 20 GB large yet has the overall texture quality of a game made in 2000 (Im mostly certain that the textures in Deus Ex looked way better than this, at least that game supported detail texture maps).
But it gets worst, as I said previously everything is baked, which is another way of saying that nothing is interactive. The light is completely static, this results in some things like rocks looking ok provided you dont get near and other things such as anything made of metal looking hilariously bad (baked specular highlights, in a game made in 2011, who thought this was a good idea?).
If there's one thing I have to praise, is that as usual id's art direction is fantastic. The characters are very interesting, levels have lots of style and scenes often look very cool from a design standpoint.
But after all the hype I cant help but feel cheated by a game that's technically no more advanced than the PC port of Resident Evil 4.
But hey, at least it's pretty fun to play. Simple mechanics and plenty to do. Ironic to think that an id title finally managed to have better gameplay than graphics but there you go, the world is full of surprises.
Veredict: Oh god, I hope they never use this engine again.