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Graphics Games Technology

Game Developers' Quest To Cross the Uncanny Valley 134

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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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 14, 2014 @12:04PM (#46246505)

    "I don't think Super Mario ever had aspirations to be anything approaching realism."

    Indeed. Nobody in his right mind would employ an Italian as plumber.

  • 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.

"Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there." -- Will Rogers