The new Hollywood?

Remember back when the games industry was seen as the awkward cousin of the film industry, equivalent to the geeky nerd who no-one wanted to dance with at the school disco?

Fast forward to today, and how things have changed. Returning from the Siggraph Convention in San Diego, (the world’s leading gathering of computer graphics execs), the film industry was visibly impressed with just how far gaming has come in 25 years.

We can’t forget our roots in the extremely playable but visually simple Pac-Man; but look at games like Crysis and you can see that the games industry’s advancement is stunning.

But interestingly, film CG and VFX are plateauing. The visual difference between live action, CG films and video games is getting perceptibly smaller. The ocean gulf there once was is now but a pond. The wow moments in film are lessening and marginal as people are now used to the wizards and trickery of the effects houses. Moving forward, it is gaming that has the biggest wow moments still to come.

So what are the exciting challenges that gaming brings to film industry professionals? Firstly, bringing their knowledge and experience into tapping into people’s emotions. Can a game make you cry? Not yet, but it’s coming. Gaming’s big challenge is to create emotionally believable characters – it’s easy in film as viewers immerse themselves in a linear experience and the director can play with emotions at whim. Gaming in real-time, in open worlds with the audience in control, has more challenges.

Game characters need to be emotionally believable but many are becoming increasingly anthropomorphic, leading developers into the barren land of ‘Uncanny Valley’ – where characters look real, without the matching subtleties of behaviour. But photo-realism does not mean believabilty. Where would you see a talking car or fish in real life?

But Pixar with Cars and Finding Nemo have created emotionally compelling cartoon characters. Gaming mustn’t fall into the ‘more polygons’ trap and create great-looking characters which move like zombies without intelligence or a perception of reality. Motion fidelity has to be better than modelling. Universal Motion Capture has helped the industry achieve both motion and modelling fidelity but video games now face new problems unique to interactive real-time graphics.

Video games have to create the illusion of interactive life. To connect with a character, audiences must believe what characters do, think, and feel. This takes gaming beyond ‘uncanny valley’. Awareness, animation plus AI are critical to the suspension of disbelief.

The first CG worlds, seen in movies such as Star Trek 2 and Tron, were awe-inspiring. Today, gaming successfully creates visually stunning worlds but it is no longer enough for environments just to look stunning – they must behave realistically, and be fully responsive to character and user input. Gaming is just scratching the surface of interactive film-like effects.

Tools have been seen in the past as being the restricted preserve of content-makers. This is no longer the case. Tools are now content. Games like The Sims see players spend copious time in the editor’s suite, which has shown that so-called content-creation tools can in fact be as entertaining as the results of their use. People get sheer joy in creating. The next stage of entertainment is letting people create their own content.

There has never been a better time to work in gaming. With the advent of next generation technology, the widening of the market with the Nintendo Wii and the rise of casual gaming, no longer can gaming be called the awkward cousin of film.

The golden age of gaming is here, and we are leading the way in the entertainment market. Gaming is now the centre of attraction on the disco dancefloor. Move over film. Gaming is where it’s at.

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