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Graphics Games Technology

Game Developers' Quest To Cross the Uncanny Valley 134

Posted by Soulskill
from the photorealism-is-a-surrogate-for-gameplay dept.
Nerval's Lobster writes "Nearly 30 years after Super Mario Bros., video game graphics have advanced to heights that once seemed impossible. Modern sports games are fueled by motion capture of actual athletes, and narrative-driven adventures can seem more like interactive movies than games. But gaming's increasing realism brings a side effect — a game can now fall into the 'uncanny valley,' a term coined by robotics professor Masahiro Mori of the Tokyo Institute of Technology in 1970. Jon Brodkin talked to game developers, engineers, motion scientists and a variety of other folks about the 'uncanny valley problem,' in which (some) people feel revolted when confronted by a robot or digital character that doesn't quite look real. In games where human-like characters are necessary, the uncanny valley can be an even bigger problem than in animated movies; gamers control characters rather than just watching them, creating more opportunities for the illusion of realism to falter. New and better tools can help developers and animators deal with some of these issues, but crossing the 'valley' successfully still remains a challenge. Or is crossing it even possible at all?"
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Game Developers' Quest To Cross the Uncanny Valley

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  • Aki Ross (Score:5, Funny)

    by TWX (665546) on Friday February 14, 2014 @11:55AM (#46246343)
    I still have a bunch of posters from when Aki Ross made the Hot 100, in Maxim all those years ago.

    Some day I'll be able to sell them for tens of dollars!
  • Fool's Quest (Score:3, Insightful)

    by binarylarry (1338699) on Friday February 14, 2014 @12:00PM (#46246437)

    Games are not meant to be merely a simulation of reality.

    Is music an attempt to accurately recreate the sounds we hear in nature? No, that would be moronic.

    And then there's this guy.

    • by CastrTroy (595695)
      Exactly. With a few exceptions he games that I get the most enjoyment out of are the ones that don't look like real life. Games don't have to look real to be fun. Some games may benefit, like sports games, but even in those kinds of games it's not that important after you reach a certain level.
    • by Nemyst (1383049)

      Games are not meant to be merely a simulation of reality.

      By whose definition, exactly? If the game designer/developer desires to make something that looks closer to reality, they're more than welcome to. That's the thing about art: you do what you want, not what some random Slashdot commenter says you should be doing.

      Is music an attempt to accurately recreate the sounds we hear in nature? No, that would be moronic.

      Wrong comparison. A better comparison would be synthesizers, which have evolved ever closer to reproducing actual instruments. Many people have lauded them as being heralds of a new age, where people could produce music without requiring expensive re

      • I think you've confused "Games" with "GPU / Graphics Rendering."

        • by Nemyst (1383049)
          Not really. A lot of techniques first done in movies trickle down in games as graphics horsepower increases. Games are inextricably tied to graphics rendering.
          • Games are inextricably tied to graphics rendering. <- FAIL

          • by Anonymous Coward

            Yeah, because the graphics in "Colossal Cave" were fantastic!

    • Well it depends on your games style and medium.

      Not all games would be simulation of reality, cartoons, or other odd characters really help get the point across.

      However there are other games that would prefer more realism, and they want you to believe that you are in the game, as opposed to watching it. So you would want far more realism and break the Uncanny Valley.
      Right now for more realistic stuff, it is usually in the form of cut scenes with live action actors, however that doesn't really help the game

  • by johnrpenner (40054) on Friday February 14, 2014 @12:01PM (#46246451) Homepage

    in the hyper quest for realism — we forget that all those perfect pixels doesnt improve the story nor the gameplay.

    pac man was a hit without all the fancy graphics

    • by Anonymous Coward

      pac man was a hit without all the fancy graphics

      Pacman? That had fancy graphics!

      Rogue was a hit without all the fancy graphics.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Absolutely. I challenge anyone to find a more compelling story in modern games than pac man.
      The guy's just minding his own business eating a nice dinner of pellets & fruit when he's senselessly attacked by a gang of ghosts.

      • Isn't he supposed to be in the sewers, collecting the discarded balls from the pong players above. The ghosts are their guards, because even though they don't care about the balls they can't stand the thought of lower classes taking their stuff.

    • by QuasiSteve (2042606) on Friday February 14, 2014 @01:08PM (#46247297)

      pac man was a hit without all the fancy graphics

      So is flappy bird. But to compare it to, say, The Last of Us would be bordering on the ridiculous; they are completely different types of games.

      we forget that all those perfect pixels doesnt improve the story nor the gameplay

      While they might not improve story or gameplay, they may improve the experience. Take any reasonably modern game with 'perfect pixels', and force it to be completely lighting and texture-less - I doubt it would be quite as good. That isn't to say that those 'perfect pixels' are the game's only saving grace - or that there aren't titles produced that are complete turds despite all the graphical polish they receive - but the fact that those 'perfect pixels' can be used does allow game designers to make these games in ways they otherwise could not. They would have to make 'the next pac man' instead.

      • no slight against beautiful graphics — but to quote george bernard shaw — 'The quality of a play is the quality of its ideas'

        i'd say the same is true for games — the quality of the game is in the quality of its ideas.

        also there's also a certain rhythmic tempo which is pleasant to attain which makes gameplay satisfying.

        the graphics can be great and everything, buts without a good gameplay, they fall flat.

        when the ideas are good, and the gameplay is good — then the graphics just add to

    • by Twinbee (767046)
      There's also the case where the graphics can be incredible, but where we still don't imitate reality. And even if they have perfectly formed 3D objects, and global illumination, the landscape and beings could be totally alien.
    • it does increase immersion...which makes different demands on our cognition than pac man or super mario.

  • by decipher_saint (72686) on Friday February 14, 2014 @12:10PM (#46246595) Homepage

    So imagine you have super-realistic characters, then you have them do something impossible like ride a dragon or glitch out on the physics engine... no matter how many hours you put in making them look really Real all it takes is one fuckup and you find yourself staring up from the Uncanny Valley wondering what happened.

    • by akozakie (633875) on Friday February 14, 2014 @03:06PM (#46248641)

      Ride a dragon? That's not at all what uncanny valley is about. This is strictly about things almost perfectly resembling humans. Riding a dragon will not cause this problem. Glitches in the physics engine... Maybe, depends. Something like a not-quite-anatomical pose. Or maybe timing glitches in movement sequence (Crispin Glover's character in Alice in Wonderland - intentional application of this).

      In other words, this is a very strong but purely emotional reaction. It gets stronger as you get closer to reality. "Humans" from Shrek? No problem. Aki Ross, at least in motion? Definitely a problem. When it's at its strongest, you might actually have problems pointing out the imperfections that cause it. That's because they are not spotted by conscious reason.

      Why is this distinction important? Most deviations from reality in entertainment are spotted by reason and easily covered by willing suspension of disbelief. If the entertainment is good, we will tolerate almost anything, if not, the deviations from reality will add to the list of critical comments. In short: "Yeah, it's BS, but it's fun!"

      However, uncanny valley is a subconscious emotional reaction and willing suspension of disbelief does not make it subside. You may consider the movie/game/whatever really fun, but you still simply feel bad looking at it.

      That's why it's a big problem for creators of "realistic" games. With simple models this feeling was not there. As models get better, consciously they seem more realistic, but "the body" starts telling us that something's wrong. So, only three solutions - stay away (keep human models imperfect enough), get it perfectly right (is it possible?) or... find a way to eliminate this problem.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 14, 2014 @12:30PM (#46246799)

    I'm not a big pc gamer myself, but when I do play on my computers, usually I play 4X strategy games. My biggest complaint about the genre is by far the difficulty. Civ5, for example is either too easy(anything bellow immortal) or just artificially difficulty(immortal and deity difficulties). When I play at those difficulties, I don't really play a game, I just follow an algorithm(build order, research focus, etc), and if I don't do that I will lose. And it's not only me. Let's Play videos on youtube are pretty much all the same as well. For me it's simply not fun anymore. Better AI is simply mandatory. I don't need photorealism, I don't need 3D, I don't need 4K, I don't need VR. Immersion comes from the gameplay. If the gameplay is flawed, no amount of eyecandy is gonna fix it.

    • by ildon (413912)

      When I play at those difficulties, I don't really play a game, I just follow an algorithm(build order, research focus, etc), and if I don't do that I will lose.

      That is a game. It might not be the game you're looking for, but it's still a game. I'm not going to, e.g. tell professional StarCraft 2 players or speed runners for various games that they are not playing a game. They're just not playing a game I want to play, even if they're playing it in the exact same game engine with the same tools I am. Optimiz

      • professional StarCraft 2 players

        I still don't understand why those exist. It just feels so wrong.

        (Yes, the literal answer is "marketing" I suppose)

  • by Andrio (2580551) on Friday February 14, 2014 @12:32PM (#46246823)

    CGI humans in movies--pre-rendered by giant server farms for as long as it takes--still fall into the uncanny valley.

    It'll be a long, long time before graphics can be rendered in real time with no uncanny valley. Although, with that said, humans still look fake enough to me in games that there is no uncanny valley. So I don't think it's a problem yet.

    I don't think graphics really matter anymore, though. They're far from perfect, but 3D graphics have been "good enough" for a while now. There was a time that 3D graphics meant that hands had to be mittens with no individual fingers, and faces were just drawn on textures. Not anymore.

    • by neo-mkrey (948389)
      Look no further than young Flynn / Clu from TRON legacy as proof that the Uncanny Valley is alive and well.
      • by Anonymous Coward

        And Neo in The Matrix. Looked so lifelike in stills, but the lack of any facial movement killed all belief that he wasn't CG.

        • by tomlouie (264519)

          > And Keanu Reeves in The Matrix. Looked so lifelike in stills, but lack of any facial movement killed all belief that he wasn't CG.

          FTFY

          • > And Keanu Reeves in The Matrix. Looked so lifelike in stills, but lack of any facial movement killed all belief that he wasn't CG.

            FTFY

            That was the joke

    • by PJ6 (1151747)

      CGI humans in movies--pre-rendered by giant server farms for as long as it takes--still fall into the uncanny valley.

      It'll be a long, long time before graphics can be rendered in real time with no uncanny valley.

      The uncanny valley has nothing to do with rendering any more, but modelling.

      They've gotten better, but kinematic models are still crap. This will be fixed when someone bothers to spend the money to actually make a facial model based on data collected from fast fMRI, instead of by the hand of an "artist", or a clumsy inverse kinematics algorithm.

      • by dbIII (701233)
        So how do you accurately model things bouncing and swaying without being accused of making porn? Even if you do is Hollywood going to use it or run away screaming? Until we've put in the things that let us tell the difference between a man and a woman at 100 paces we're going to have that uncanny valley.
  • In the same way that they have a bitmap (image) for the color of the surface, why don't they do a map for reflectivity? Real people and other things aren't uniformly reflective over the whole surface. That is why even raytraced stuff looks like plastic. Maybe someone has done it, but I've never seen it, even in movies where they have as much time as they need for raytracing.

  • by Nyder (754090) on Friday February 14, 2014 @12:54PM (#46247121) Journal

    Being a male gamer, I can not get enough of uncanny valleys. The deeper the better, lots of bounce doesn't hurt. I remember my first glimpse of uncanny valleys in Custer's Revenge, but now with realistic graphics, I can finally enjoy uncanny valleys how they were meant to.

    • by Algae_94 (2017070)
      Custer's Revenge. You lucky dog you.
    • by ultranova (717540)

      Being a male gamer, I can not get enough of uncanny valleys. The deeper the better, lots of bounce doesn't hurt.

      Funny, but simulating how a bunch of flexible tissues of varying density connecting to each other in complex ways move is actually extremely difficult. Especially since, if you truly want to get it perfect, you have to simulate the motion cortex - basically, you need the character to be a robot in a physics simulation. And at that point we're starting to look at computing power comparable to a hu

  • by Dan East (318230) on Friday February 14, 2014 @12:59PM (#46247213) Homepage Journal

    In games where human-like characters are necessary, the uncanny valley can be an even bigger problem

    I disagree. The very fact that you have control over a character that you are watching is unnatural, and for me disconnects from "reality". That pretty much goes for anything else interactive as well. We know already know the actor in the game cannot be human because it behaves arbitrarily as commanded by the controls we are operating with our hand. Our brain can't be fooled by pure visuals, because we already have a far deeper realization of the truth (that it is not a real human) because it is interactive.

    When it comes to movies we are total observers, and the uncanny valley kicks in when we recognize that something is intended to look perfectly human, but our incredibly acute perception in identifying humans isn't fooled.

    We have now become so used to seeing CGI humans that it's more of a boolean flag when they are recognized as such - I simply have an awareness that what I'm seeing isn't an actual human. When that happens it is a distraction and reduces how immersed I am in the movie. I don't think of it as "spooky" or that I want to kill the fake human or something, but it is simply a realization - I get a glimpse of the man hiding behind the curtain pulling the strings. A perfect example: The big Matrix Reloaded fight scene. Some little switch in my brain kept going: Real. CGI. Real. CGI. Real. CGI. Kind of makes it hard to enjoy a movie.

    • I'd just add that the degree to which our brains can be fooled depends on the emotion we have invested in it. For years I haven't played any games after Half Life, and once I watched the gameplay of some to me uninteresting western game, "Red Dead Redemption", some poker playing character made some joke about his wife, and I had a clear realization that the computer is playing a WAV file on cue. I was a completely separate, objective observer of an audiovisual rendering machine. But then I watched Portal, w

      • by sysrammer (446839)
        Interesting points. Fwiw, I enjoy both games, and my "immersion observations" are the reverse. I can immerse myself in the western, while Portal I find to be an interesting puzzle game with robots.
  • From the article:
    Ira isn’t an actual human being—he’s just a computer model—but you’d be forgiven for not being able to tell the difference.

    Well...I wouldn't forgive me. You can tell by:
    - The crazy amount of unnatural (colored) lighting used to hide low detail and/or too-uniform shading. Show me the same head model in a field on a cloudy day at 2pm in March
    - The limited polygon count; look at the edges of his ear (which is a bit weird looking in itself btw)

    Much more impressed

  • Games already have ultra-realistic-looking characters that aren't creepy...Crysis series, Far Cry 3, DMC4/5...in fact I can't think of any games with Uncanny Valley characters. It's like they leapt straight across the valley at some point rather than trudging through...which kind of makes sense. We had motion capture tech before we had machines powerful enough to render ultra-realistic characters.

    • by Andrio (2580551)

      They don't cause uncanny valley because--while they may look pretty realistic--they're actually not realistic enough yet to cause it. Your brain can still tell they're totally fake, even though it may simultaneously be thinking "Wow it looks so real!"

  • by westlake (615356) on Friday February 14, 2014 @01:25PM (#46247485)

    In games where human-like characters are necessary, the uncanny valley can be an even bigger problem than in animated movies

    In 3.38 seconds watch Disney bring a character to life. Disney's Frozen "Let It Go" Sequence Performed by Idina Menzel [youtube.com]

    This is how it's done and you don't need photo realism to do it.

    • by QilessQi (2044624)

      This. In Scott McCloud's "Understanding Comics" and "Making Comics" books, he talks about how human beings tend to identify more with a character when that character is less realistic in appearance. I can't remember the specifics, but IIRC this may be because the figure we see is overtly representational, so our unconscious is freed up from dealing with fine details and we can project ourselves into the character more easily.

      The ultimate examples of this are stick figures and emoticons. We're fine-tuned

      • by sysrammer (446839)
        +1, excellent post, thx
      • by volmtech (769154)
        It's not just humans. My daughter is a hair dresser. She brought home a mannequin head with a full head of hair to practice on. Her husband mounted it on a pedestal so she could reach it easy. Later their miniature dachshund came in the room. When she saw it she went bat-shit insane attacking this disembodied head.
  • The Uncanny Valley wikipedia page [wikipedia.org] lists very, very little research (one "study" was based on five monkeys; because n=5 is totally statistically significant). Perhaps we should determine in the uncanny valley is actually a thing before we start speculating about how to cross it.
    • by akozakie (633875)

      Wow... Just wow.

      It doesn't exist because the Wikipedia page lists little research and that research is not statistically significant.

      Is it just me, or is using scientific big words like "statistical significance" in an argument based solely on the contents of a Wikipedia pega is so wrong it's just funny?

      Not implying that this is not true - I have no idea how much research was done on the subject. Google scholar seems to know about thousands of articles about this (about the same number as e.g. "Hawking radi

  • That left paddle was hot!

  • http://www.shamusyoung.com/twe... [shamusyoung.com]

    Just today Twenty Sided blogged about the "Uncanny Valley" in games when better AI makes the game feel more stupid.

    • by sysrammer (446839)
      To save Slashdotter's time, here's the "blogged about" part.

      "
      This reminds me of the Uncanny Valley. Up to a certain point making the AI better and better makes the NPC seem more real, until they become too convincing and then their shortcomings suddenly become glaring and overshadow everything else.
      "

      The words "Uncanny Valley" are linked to the Wikipedia page. The blog is all about Skyrim, so all you 'Rimmers out there might like to check it out.
  • Most of the problem is artistic, not technological. We have more than enough horsepower to get photo-realistic rendering. At least as long as everything stays still - it's when things start to move that it all breaks down.

    Particularly faces, but there are some games that look breathtaking in screenshots that look absolutely horrible once characters do anything beyond an idle animation (I'm looking at you, Skyrim). And plenty of games that manage to do good move animations and good facial animations don't do

    • (look at how feet clip through small ground obstacles)

      It's far worse when they don't. http://www.youtube.com/watch?f... [youtube.com]

    • by Alejux (2800513)

      "Most of the problem is artistic, not technological."

      That's the whole problem, and what people are trying to fix.

      As long as games need to rely on expensive and talented artists or expensive motion capture to do human character animation, the production costs of games will continue to go up and up as games get more realistic, not to mention the all the limitations imposed by such methods. It's only when algorithms and software are fully able to imitate in a realistic the way humans look and move, that we

  • I don't believe there is any video game that comes anywhere near the "uncanny valley".

    It might happen some day, and I hope it does, but we're not even close yet.

    In regard to the comments suggesting that games don't need to be realistic to be fun, I absolutely agree. But I've noticed lately that I really appreciate games that have realistic portrayal of light. So many games get this wrong. The world seems flat and claustrophobic instead of giving the feeling of space. I don't know why I'm noticing this m

  • Look at movies, they're still not bridging the gap. Watch any animated movie, even the ones going for hyperrealism and you still can tell they're not human. And they have tons of processing and rendering power and a predefined movement filmed at a predefined angle. Game developers have none of that, they have to do it in real time, often as a response to user input (like if you're fighting a swordsman, he must turn to face you) in a free camera angle. They'll be at least 20 years behind the movies, if they

    • A lot of recent anime (eg. Coppellion - looks good visually but a million plot holes) has photorealistic backgrounds but people like like simple 2D cell animation figures. That avoids the uncanny valley problem entirely.
  • It's supposed to be fantasy. I honestly enjoy cartoonish characters much more.
  • This is an old idea. Tom Baker Doctor Who covered it well. Something just grate on our instincts Faces are really important. Somethings just feel wrong.

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