OPINION: Look before you leap into PS4, Killzone, and the uncanny valley
- Posted February 27th, 2013 at 18:52 EDT by Zachary Brictson
- 27 Comments
There was something deftly unimpressive about Guerrilla Games' showing of Killzone: Shadow Fall last week. It may only have been a small demo, and certainly a work-in-progress, but I wonder if it had the audience at Sony’s conference cringing as much as I did. Maybe my expectations were too lofty - examining each frame of every explosion, measuring draw distance, mapping the amount of moving objects, charting the way light glints off the weapons. Perhaps that would make anyone pessimistic. Yet, through such a lens, how could anyone expect to be satisfied? Looking for a next-generation leap is, at this point, a bit delusional. Graphical advancements met a steep series of diminishing returns long ago, but to its credit, Guerrilla is clearly managing to display some new technical possibilities on PlayStation 4 . . . just with more subtlety than some may have hoped.
But what’s got me jaded about Shadow Fall and (in general) the upcoming generation isn’t that the visual jump is too small, but that maybe it’s already too large: a pursuit of photorealism that’s becoming all too reckless. Developers might be jumping these distances before judging them, giving us production values that don’t have any reason to be as high as they are. When this happens, games come up short of their intended visual impact and prove unable to land on solid footing. Instead, they fall short, into a ravine, down the cliffside and into what’s commonly dubbed the ‘uncanny valley.' This pit widens with each generation and represents the ever-increasing disconnect between what looks real and what we all know is very unreal.
This is hardly a new criticism; the problem was even more apparent in 2005 when PlayStation 3 tech was first demoed at E3. Indeed, last week’s reveal comes off as decidedly modest when looking back at that fiasco, where Guerrilla was literally showcasing a CGI interpretation of a first-person-shooter that had yet to be. Killzone 2’s footage was so outlandish, so beyond modern capabilities, that it simply couldn't be believed. A game couldn’t be that seamless, couldn’t be that human; it just couldn’t. To this day, it remains a perfect example of the kind of realism we want to believe is possible, but that we know is not. As lovely as new textures and particle effects get, as surreal as screenshots become, when actually sitting down with games that tout realism, I will find that they are just that - games. They will feel like games, they will control like games, and the better they look, the more they will have to try and fool me that they aren’t, in fact, games.
Consider the original Assassin’s Creed: one of the most well-marketed projects of the past decade, talked up and shrewdly exhibited by the very talented Ubisoft. It advertised cities that breathed, reacting to the player's every move. Dynamic A.I. would immerse you in the role of Altair, an assassin in the era of England's crusades. The game’s producer, Jade Raymond, would demonstrate for us how Altair could approach a target from several different angles, and every time she played a small portion, it seemed too wonderful to be true. In the months leading up to release, Assassin’s Creed was defining the term ‘next-generation’ more than any other game of the time; I told myself I could die happy after getting my hands on it. But upon its release, what did I find? Medieval cities, yes, but astoundingly medieval game design, as well.
Instead of ‘real’ sword combat, I was merely treated to a primitive counter system with pre-rendered takedowns. Instead of human intelligence, the city guards had a behavioral trigger firing every time you broke into a slight jog. And instead of enabling actual espionage, angles of approach would be completely arbitrary, with the entire game acting as a very fragile illusion. It felt silly precisely because it appeared to be so real. Only when perched above it all, looking down at the marvelous architecture and the bustling movement of people below, could you imagine yourself as part of an actual, living environment. Visually, Assassin’s Creed had what it takes to make that environment believable. But when interacting with the streets below, the game tumbled down from lofty, theoretical heights to a carnival of ... (continued on next page)
Dantology | Dantology65
- 7:20pm EST - February 27th, 2013
Aliens:Colonial Marines is a wonderful example of what you see and what you actually get with the finished product.
- 7:51pm EST - February 27th, 2013
Very good article.
Games can have such impressive dialogue options, yet why can the AI not have as many variables? Why is it that there is a need to impress by using system resources for visuals, instead of applying some of them to the meat of the game (AI, character movement, control, etc)?
Visuals have gotten far better over the years, yet character movement (to name one element) has simply been ignored and still plays like a game from the early 90's. And no..Im not talking about animations....Im talking about character movement & control.
If anything this single element has regressed (removal of lean/peek & beign replaced with static cover-systems), only for the animations (again visuals) to progress.
- 7:58pm EST - February 27th, 2013
Regardless of what anyone's opinion is on graphics, the truth is that a giant leap on that area is the first thing we expect from every new generation of consoles.
The fact that this new generation is being centered around SOCIAL gaming and functions (something most hardcore gamers seem to not want to take the scene, myself included) left the tech specs aside, at least during the presentation. Let's hope that when the console is released, it's true tech power -if it has it- will be used.
- 8:42pm EST - February 27th, 2013
These current AI systems are really complex. I'm sure if the developers haven't known if they'd get more than 2GB of RAM what they were going to try to do. That would have either given them same graphics or better AI or Better Graphics and the same AI. With 8GB of RAM, an HYPERFAST RAM AT THAT, hah. I don't know what these programmers are going to do other than feel spoilt.
I'd imagine that what's nice is that it will help AAA and even AA studios get the ball rolling on Episodic content where the focus is on delivering new gameplay and levels to a favored storyline and continuing the story. I so need to see something like Grim Fandango or Monkey Island on here.
Liesure Suit Larry anyone? this is awesome stuff.
- 8:58pm EST - February 27th, 2013
I think graphics will for the most part remain unchanged, they will just be crisper and that. For the most part what I want to see is heavily improved AI, lighting, shadows, etc.
baffledduck | baffledduck
- 9:32pm EST - February 27th, 2013
Totally disagree about the leap in visuals it exceeded my expectations it looks better than any game ive ever seen and yeah that includes crysis 3 pc, you come across as a bit jaded maybe its time for a new hobby.
- 9:35pm EST - February 27th, 2013
I wasn't at all impressed with the looks of killzone and certainly wasn't even slightly impressed with "THE WITNESS"
OsborneLV | Eric_Osborne
- 9:42pm EST - February 27th, 2013
@6 agreed. games have made huge progress regarding story, AI as well as graphics. What did you expect? your article was hard to read and think to myself that you are a gamer by choice. to me, this generation has made huge leaps in story telling and AI, I started gaming back in 89 when duckhunt and mario was as good as it gets. now we have games like heavy rain which blur the lines between movies and games - it was a true masterpiece of gaming if you asked me, not for the game itself, but the fact that the story and interactions and emotion meant something to me. 10 years ago I would of never felt sorry or evil or dropped tears in a game, now I find myself more able to connect to the sotry and characters in games like never before.
baffledduck | baffledduck
- 9:59pm EST - February 27th, 2013
@7 the witness is an indie dev their not about graphics, i was surprised today when i found out you can preorder the witness at gamestop i thought it was psn only.
- 10:10pm EST - February 27th, 2013
Some of you are just nitpicking these PS4 demos for no reason really. It's kinda perplexing to me actually. I just don't get how you can be underwhelmed by ANY of the demos shown unless your expectations weren't realistic to begin with. Lofty, indeed. Secondly, how are you generalizing the progress of AI or gameplay innovation by the very limited demos you have seen? Isn't that jumping the gun a bit, wait, a whole lot? Way to generalize a not-yet-existing generation by a couple of demos and there's a plethora of gaming history to prove that game mechanics, visual leaps, AI improvement, physics, are SURE TO BE IMPROVED upon for the next-gen.
baffledduck | baffledduck
- 10:23pm EST - February 27th, 2013
@10 good point its only a demo and hes already making broad assumptions about AI and so on, go figure.
- 10:35pm EST - February 27th, 2013
It's simply fatigue.. After playing so many iterations of AC or KZ or CoD, without a compelling narrative, one begins to become jaded.
The author is merely worried about a passion, a hobby, a medium that is not evolving enough.
Articulates exactly what I'm worried about for the next-next-gen
- 10:51pm EST - February 27th, 2013
We have seen generation upon generation where visuals take a massive leap, yet generation upon generation the AI, gameplay, character movements & interaction fail to keep up with the leap in visuals (animation). Thats is the basis of the topic, and the all too familiar scenario seems to be repeating itself.
What do the demo's demonstrate? Yes...visuals. Surely if there was more to the games, then might they not demonstrate that?
- 10:52pm EST - February 27th, 2013
I think some are misunderstanding the article. The author isn't arguing that Killzone doesn't look phenomenal by any current standard of gaming, he's arguing that in pursuit of "reality," developers lose sight of advances in gameplay and--the reason we play games--FUN. Ultimately, a single-minded attempt to make the most realistic game in the world is somewhat fruitless because, as developers inch closer and closer to "reality," we will become more aware of all the ways in which it's not.
I'll admit, I spend far more time nitpicking and examining the graphics of, say, Crysis 3, than I do with something like Journey. If this derails one's enjoyment of a game, or if the pursuit of photorealism hurts the game in general (like his example with Assassin's Creed), then what's the point? Isn't it a negative?
- 11:11pm EST - February 27th, 2013
These current AI systems are really complex. I'm sure if the developers haven't known if they'd get more than 2GB of RAM what they were going to try to do. That would have either given them same graphics or better AI or Better Grap
- 11:39pm EST - February 27th, 2013
Am I the only one who thinks Killzone: SF was incredible as a technology demo? All those buildings with volumetric lighting and reflection? The amount of high quality characters moving around? The blured reflections on many surfaces? This looks amazing plain and simple!
- 12:15am EST - February 28th, 2013
It's the article that's unrealistic. No matter what you do to make a system more powerful it's still up to the artists that were hired to make the world look realistic. Depending on how they use the tools offered they can make a game look exactly like the target render for Killzone or make it look like a japanese anime. Quality visuals are a difficult job, it takes time and effort, it doesnt just happen because you slap a few lights and shiny textures on things.
And you know something even if they were able to perfectly minic the test render the problem isnt the graphics, it's whether or not the subtlties of the situational gaming could eqtuate to decent gameplay. If a dude hands me a rocket launcher to blow up a tank and I dont get a visual cue to look at him when he does it or that I now have it (the target renderder barely ackowleges when the "player" is actually in control of the action) you will never know what you're being asked to do. It'd be labled as bad, unintuative gameplay regardless of how good it looked.
shadowjin | shadowjin
- 12:38am EST - February 28th, 2013
I think people expect to much this up-coming Gen.
The days of blocked pixels to movie cut scenes and spoken dialog has ended. There is no wow factor anymore. If you go on the PC side and see a game run with a good graphics card you can get an idea of how some games might look, but to be honest its not by much. Even after seeing battlefield 3, crysis 3 running on ULTRA settings i wasnt blown away.
Before i was blown away at seeing movie theather like graphics and spoken dialog in full sentences along with watching my DTS , DOLBY DIGITAL and THX logo pop up on my amplifier in a game. Now its become standerd. I know they can add Master audio and random other codecs but the WOW effect has ended untill another big jump in technology happends. What ever that might be.
I enjoyed everything show because i have seen what newer pcs can do and the PS4 did satisfy me. Its much closer to the PC gaming graphics wise but the wild card is the games Sony first party has.
- 12:45am EST - February 28th, 2013
This article seems a bit early to be talking about gameplay and how graphics effect that, when talking about the PS4, none have even played. So far what have we seen? 10 min demo of a game running on unfinished hardware using 1/4 the RAM that will be used in the final build, for a console we have yet to even see.
I understand is an opinion, but its really based on the OP own speculation about stuff that he couldnt possibley know about at this point in time. Deal in facts PSU, or at the very least base your arguements on something more solid then " I am scared the gameplay won't match the grapics" which is basicly what the OP is saying.
Truely disappointing article....
- 1:00am EST - February 28th, 2013
@19 I agree.
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