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Why next-gen graphics matter for Infamous: Second Son

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Sony's new PlayStation 4 affords developer Sucker Punch the opportunity to make its Infamous games better looking than ever. But the vast visual upgrade coming with Infamous: Second Son is more than just about throwing better looking particle effects and cool reflections onscreen, says producer Brian Fleming; it's equally meaningful to gameplay.

In a gameplay demo in New York City today, Fleming told Polygon that Infamous: Second Son's big "generational leap" features include "spectacularly improved" particle effects, a jump in the fidelity of characters' faces in-game — thanks to new facial motion capture techniques — and beautiful atmospherics, like reflections that lend a realistic wetness to the game's version of rainy Seattle.

"The whole goal of this is that we're making a genre piece," Fleming said. "This is a special effects[-driven] action-adventure, but part of it is: How do we make those characters seem believable? How do we make it seem like they're having legitimate emotional reactions to things? That's part of making this game meaningful to players."

Part of that is solved through facial motion capture, Fleming said, which uses a multi-camera, day-long study of an actor's face, which is then applied to "super hi-res models" designed to transmit emotion.

"The ability to capture [protagonist Delsin's] facial reaction when he's like 'Oh, shit,' but doesn't say 'Oh shit,' that's a big deal," Fleming said, "but not because people go 'Wow, look at the graphics', it's because you understand how he feels ... what it feels like to get [super powers] and be worried that people are going to hate you."

The reflections of Second Son's Seattle are really just about making the game look better, from a cosmetic standpoint, Fleming admits. The game's particles effects, used in Delsin's smoke and neon-based abilities, aren't just for show, however.

"The special effects system is sort of like one of the stars of the show," Fleming said. "This is a game about super powers, so for us, the way the effects look tells you a lot about how you're playing the game. It tells you about how much you've upgraded. It's a really meaningful part of the play experience that the effects are immersive and spectacular... it's as important as the AI."

Fleming said Second Son will run "solidly at 30 frames per second" on PS4, even when the action gets frantic.

Infamous: Second Son is coming to PS4 in February 2014. You can read more about the development of the game's realistic Seattle from our visit to Sucker Punch's studio and learn more in our in-depth E3 feature.