According to Games Industry, Square Enix’s worldwide technology director Julien Mercerson sees the next generation consoles more believable character in games and more responsive AI’s. Tim Sweeney from epic games responded recently by saying that in about a decade we should be seeing video game graphics that are “indistinguishable from reality.” Julien Mercerson went on to talk about the next generation consoles such as the PlayStation 4, Xbox One and other future consoles.
Next Generation Gaming & Square Enix
“I still believe it’s going to be a long journey before we can sit together and you can show me a game that has nailed it,” he said. “It’s our duty to make progress on this front in this generation.” PS4 and XBOX One will certainly help steer in the right direction when it comes to graphics and realism, but initially the next generation leap may be somewhat slow. Mercerson went on to add, “If improved graphics aren’t combined with better animation, all these games are going to dive into the uncanny valley. So it’s possible around the launch time frame that we won’t actually see huge improvements in graphics because the developers still have to sort out how they will approach animation. That generally takes more time than upgrading your rendering engine,”
He continued, “I think the human eye is capable of seeing a lot of subtleties… Static characters will look good very soon, animated non-interactive characters a bit later, and fully interactive characters could take time, especially for some types of games. That’s the thing with the uncanny valley – you have to think not only about emotions and facial movements, but at some point we need to have deeper AI. We need to be able to interact with the characters and then there’s a new dimension of complexity,”
“If you look at pure AAA gaming on consoles, working on PS3 hasn’t been a walk in the park. The architecture was quite complex and when you spend a lot of resources on fixing things that you probably wouldn’t have to focus on if the architecture had been simpler, well then you have lost some opportunities. The more resources you put on trying to understand the architecture, the less you have for other aspects,” Merceron acknowledged.
With both the XBOX One and PS4 offering more of similar PC like architectures, Mercerson believes some of the complications and annoyances with AI’s will be removed and heavily progressed in this next generation of consoles.
“Definitely the fact that the architectures of the consoles are simpler is probably going to make it easier, along with the fact that we’ll have additional resources from a CPU perspective and memory perspective that we can use to present more interesting AI. So I think there’s a greater chance that we’ll see more focus on AI from developers, and better achievements,” he said.
“AI tends to be something that is very game specific in general, like our AI mechanisms in Final Fantasy are very different from Thief and Tomb Raider and Hitman. I still believe that moving forward there are a lot of aspects of AI that need to stay game specific. But what we would like to do is to actually create solid bases for designing NPCs, and it means graphically, from an animation perspective, physics, procedural elements like cloth, hair, and also from a behavior perspective. How can we interact as naturally as possible with virtual characters in a game?” he asked.
“What I’m very interested in these days is the change in expectations from gamers… It used to be really weird to see someone speaking alone in the street with a mobile phone. Now it’s completely accepted. With Google Glass, would I really walk down the street with something like this on my head? I don’t know. But in a few years from now, that will probably be totally accepted. The evolution of what’s socially acceptable is very interesting – having a camera in your living room that watches you and lets you start your console, speaking to your TV – there are tons of things right now that still feel a bit weird. We have to look at our community of players and see what their habits are. What are the things that they would like to do? What are the things that they would not?”
Merceron continued, “So coming back to characters, there are probably some interactions with NPCs that people will not be open to today, but we have to think about the type of experience that players want to have with NPCs. So when we think about AI, maybe today people are not ready to speak through the TV to a character in the game and have the character engaging the player in a conversation, but there are technologies that are starting to support this. Internally, we are setting up milestones of how we want our NPCs to evolve over time and we’re carefully watching the evolution around us to see when people will be ready for new interactions.”
Advancements in AI will not progress if studios don’t manage their resources properly,
“We’ve seen the size of the teams growing over time on HD titles and I think the industry needs to continue improving workflows and tools. Now we have real-time editing and live editing in our engine, so we have teams that can work very fast, but as you grow the size of the teams you get more complex operations happening simultaneously, so concurrent editing management eventually starts to need additional enhancements to allow everyone to work comfortably without messing up the work of other people. Enabling studios to have very distributed teams around the world is going to be key,” Merceron said.
“You need to be able to work with experts wherever they are. You might have a guy in Boston that doesn’t want to leave Boston and he needs to be able to have access to the same resources as the others around the world so he can collaborate on content. That’s a challenge we want to tackle because we strongly believe in the fact that in order to move toward designing the best products you need the best people, wherever they are.”
Next Generation consoles are improving with each system and Mercerson believes that it will progress over to the point where we start to see the realism in video games.