Here we go again

October 27th, 2012

Some years ago I wrote comparing two movies: Shrek and Final Fantasy. My basic point was that the two movies relied on different strategies regarding the use of computer graphics. Shrek sacrificed photorealism for emotional expression, while Final Fantasy took the opposite course. Shrek outsold Final Fantasy ten to one. The moral of the story is clear: emotional expression beats photorealism every time.

It seems, however, the games industry still hasn’t learned this simple lesson. I present for your entertainment a collection of images taken from the Pixar movie
Brave; for each image, I have provided a label describing the emotion in play:

“Yuck!” the game designer cries. “Look how primitive the graphics are! The skin texture is all wrong, her nose is too small, her eyes are too large, and her mouth is impossibly small!” So let’s look at the kind of thing that games people admire. Here are some images taken from Mass Effect 3; again, I have provided labels for what I think was the underlying emotion:

These images remind me of an experiment carried out by a Russian fellow early in the Twentieth century. He took a photograph of an actor looking impassive. Then he showed the photo to different people, telling them that the actor was displaying some emotion: sadness, elation, desire, and so on. The respondents were impressed with the subtlety of the actor’s facial expressions. These images are similar; these faces are impassive, devoid of emotional content. Game designers still haven’t figured out that the reason to show people’s faces is to show some emotion.

How long do you think it will take them to figure it out? Ten years? Twenty? Never?