Live action

Destructiod ‘writer’ Reverend Anthony has a piece up today pining the use of live actors in video games. Live actors are able to convey a greater range of emotion than traditional animated characters can, and as far as we’ve come in representing characters, they’re still plainly virtual. Throwing in live actors, if done right, can make the game seem more ‘real’.

Human performances, by their very nature, have the potential for a greater, more realistic range of expression than any virtual performers can or will have for at least the next ten years (Alyx Vance, and all other female protagonists who resemble her notwithstanding).

Of the innumerable games that I’ve played, I can only think of two that I spent any significant time with that had full motion sequences with actual live actors: The Dame Was Loaded and Don’t Quit Your Day Job, both of which I’ve written about in the past. Those two games are just about as far from each other on the spectrum as you can get.

Don’t Quit Your Day Job it easily one of the worst games I’ve ever played. For a game about comedy, it somehow managed to be almost completely unfunny. The full-motion bits consisted of various comedians telling a couple of jokes to the hucksters just off camera, who would throw out a few chuckles. To be fair, I haven’t played the game in several years, so the only joke I really remember was some comedian that I’ve not heard of before or since remarking about how much space was on the CD (like he was actually in the computer!) and that he was going to take a leak inside my computer.

Gold. (Get it? It’s a double entendre that I’m not going to bother explaining. Almost as funny as this game.)

Taking a completely different approach is The Dame Was Loaded. This game used full-screen photographs intertwined with full screen video footage to tell a surprisingly compelling detective story. The screenshots of the game hardly do it justice. The game ran in 256 colors and the individual frames look pretty atrocious. Animated, though, they look acceptable. The entire game is a point-and-click adventure seen through the eyes of the main character. The actors were a bit overdramatic and the solutions to some of the issues gravitated toward the obtuse more often than not, but the game did an admirable job of drawing the player in.

The obvious question, then, becomes ‘Were these games enhanced by the inclusion of video, and would the absence of the video diminish them in any way?’

In the case of Don’t Quit Your Day Job, humor aside, the game is certainly enhanced by having the actors in it. In a game about stand-up comedy starring stand-up comics, having the actual comics make appearances in the game made it feel more authentic. In The Dame Was Loaded, I couldn’t see the game realized in any other way.

Why is that? Is it that when CD-ROM technology was brand new that we just needed ways to fill up the disk? Is it perhaps that games, even now, are still woefully unable to render an actor with photo-realism in real time? I’d say it’s probably due to both of those factors. No matter how good an artist or animator is, usually scenes in games just look slightly wrong. Though this can be mitigated somewhat with better in-game physics.

Done well, games with live actors can be quite good, and it’s quite a shame that they’ve fallen from favor in recent years. They tended to be limited in scope, and typically quite short, but their quirkiness cannot be doubted. And I’m a sucker for quirky.

Link! (Destructoid)