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Rockstar's Uncanny Valley
By Aloysius Low - on 07 Mar 2011, 1:17pm

I recently had the chance to attend a hands on demo of Rockstar's upcoming sandbox mystery investigation game L.A. Noire and I must say that it's quite a looker. Using MotionScan technology (and there's a video you should check out), Rockstar has captured the facial expressions accurately enough for almost anyone that's capable of simple basic facial recognition to easily guess whether the person is lying or telling the truth (or half a truth).

Of course, this requires you to be somewhat familiar with western facial movements and behaviours, though I'm guessing copious amounts of watching CSI and other police dramas on TV should be sufficient even for us Asians. If you do want to find out more about the game play, feel free to hop over to GameAxis.com, where Shadowfiend has a very lengthy write-up on what you can expect in the game.

While I quite liked the gameplay (it reminded me of the crime mysteries I used to read as a kid), it's the technology behind the MotionScan that's quite impressive. By placing cameras all around an actor and capturing all his facial expressions, down to the number of blinks, Rockstar is able to make a face actually look realistic enough to fool the uncanny valley checkpoint, but only if you focus on the face. Somehow, the body motions look a little too awkward in the demo, and seem not to match the faces when they are moving around.

We're guessing this is due the scenes being filmed separately, then with the actor having to remember the scene and then trying to recreate the scene while being seated. That said, the MotionScan technology really pays off when the interrogation scenes take place, they feel extremely real, better than what you might find in movies like Tron Legacy or Beowulf.

If you compare this to Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, where the very realistic looking characters ended up looking just a little too fake due to the uncanny valley effect, L.A. Noire represents quite a substantial leap in technology. Once they iron out the movement effects we may see even more realistic looking games, but whether we can have realistic characters animated without any actor assistance, is something that still needs to be worked out.

Final note: Beowulf (the movie) uses a motion capture technique, but we can argue that it's still slightly creepy as far as the uncanny valley is concerned. Let's not even talk about the Polar Express. Tron Legacy, well, that was fine at the start, then things started feeling really weird once you start trying to figure out why Clu looks so odd.


Aloysius Low

Aloysius Low / Former Tech Writer

Tech writer, gadget nerd, cat owner and social media junkie, Aloysius loves exploring the wacky side of tech, while tackling his notebook reviews.