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The makers of Heavy Rain show off their stunning new technology

Kara by Quantic Dream
Kara by Quantic Dream

Heavy Rain started as a tech demo that blew gamers away in 2006. Today developer Quantic Dream showed off its new demo, the results of a new PlayStation 3 game engine and new capture technology not yet tied to a specific game.

It is not, Quantic Dream's David Cage promises, the developer's new game. But it's obvious that the tech will most certainly show up in the next thing the studio makes for the PS3.

The video came during Cage's "Technologies to Support Emotion" GDC talk which centered around how virtual actors and performance capture can trigger emotions in games.

Cage is the head of game studio Quantic Dream which is responsible for a number of narratively deep video games including Fahrenheit and 2010's Heavy Rain for the PlayStation 3.

Heavy Rain is a sort of interactive crime noire thriller that has players exploring the mystery of the Origami Killer through four different protagonists. Heavy Rain made quite a splash when a tech demo hit in 2006 called The Casting. The Casting featured amazingly detailed, life-like virtual actor going through a fictional casting call. The tech showed a surprising level of emotive detail in the actor's movements and expressions.

Heavy Rain - The Casting (via schnettker)

In the hour-long talk, Cage walked a packed room through the history and benefits of doing full performance capture in games. By full performance capture, Cage means that you capture an actor's body, face and voice all at the same time.

At Quantic Dream, Cage said, the studio went through a variety of techniques, each new game bringing with it new, more advanced technology and better results. In 1999's Omikron, the studio captured just shapes used to make an actor speak. In 2005's Indigo Prophecy they added the ability to capture some facial expressions and used a digital puppeteer to manipulate their virtual actors. Everything changed with The Casting in 2006, he said.

The studio started capturing face and then body separately and putting it together.

During today's talk, Cage showed off a new prototype using their new technology and a new engine. The idea was to improve emotion in the game. The end result was a modern day take on The Casting.

"What you are going to see is this prototype I told you about," he said. "It's running in real time on a PS3. It's not CG, it's not pre-rendered. It is displayed by our new engine we created after Heavy Rain. The capture is almost raw."

It is not, he added, the team's next project.

The five-minute Kara tech demo tells the story of an artificial life born in a robot assembly plant. The touching story of a robot named Kara that discovers emotion and autonomous thought was made all the more evocative by a surprising level of realism and facial detail. It was the result of working with performance capture that captures the voice, the face, the body movements of an actor all at once, Cage said.

"What we are witnessing is the birth, death, and resurrection of a human being," he said.

What we saw today, that amazing digital performance and the resulting performance, was created using the original version of their new tech, Cage said. They are now, a year after that video was created, on version three.

"Kara has fifty percent of the features we have now," Cage said.

What we are witnessing with the likes of Omikron, of Heavy Rain, of Hollywood's Avatar, of Kara is a steady walk out of the Uncanny Valley.

"We are passionate about what we are doing," Cage said. "We want to explore, discover, invent."

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