VIDEO Video Game With Characters So Real They Can Lie

Video games aren't known for their emotional depth. In recent years, games have gotten bigger, the graphics have gotten sharper, stories have gotten fancier and Hollywood actors have begun lending their voices to leading characters. But there has always been something missing -- despite all the recent technological advances, the average game character's face is plastic-looking and devoid of emotion.

That may have just changed. A new facial-scanning technology being used in the upcoming game "L.A. Noire" has made a big promise to the gaming community: the ability to deliver realistic, nuanced and human performances for the first time in a video game.

When he was working on his previous game, "The Getaway," "L.A. Noire" Director Brendan McNamara knew he wanted to make the story a big part of the experience, but he felt himself hamstrung by the technology he was working with.

"Now matter how much hard work we put into it, it was always that the voices were great but the faces never really seemed believable," he told AOL News. "It was holding us back from getting humanity into the game."

When McNamara came across MotionScan technology, he thought he had finally found the tool that would allow him to break through that barrier. The system works by putting an actor in a room with 32 cameras trained on his or her face, capturing every possible angle to create a complete three-dimensional image of the performance that can be projected onto an in-game avatar.

To play with their new toy, McNamara and Team Bondi got to work on "L.A. Noire," which will be published by Rockstar Games, the team behind the "Grand Theft Auto" series. A detective thriller set in 1940s Los Angeles, the player controls Detective Cole Phelps (Aaron Staton of "Mad Men") as he unravels a series of mysteries against the backdrop of a corrupt and dangerous Hollywood.

The device of a detective story gave the developers the ultimate test for their new technology: the interrogation. The goal was to show a digital version of an actor's face with so much detail that the player would be able to read his emotions and catch him in lies.

The faces of the in-game models are every bit as fluid as the actors they represent. Shifty eyes, a little break in the voice, a glance toward the floor or a trembling upper lip could all betray that a character might be hiding something. Some characters touch the back of their necks -- everyone knows that one.

The unconventional setup for MotionScan looks like it might be a bit disorienting for an actor, but professionals adapt.

"We had everyone from 7-year-old kids through to an 80-year-old woman," says McNamara. "It was definitely more intimidating for actors in their first session, but once they'd been in more than once they'd get comfortable."

One major drawback, however, is that the engineers have to capture the actors' body movements separate from their faces, and the result is occasionally awkward. The star of the game, Staton, seems to have learned to manage it well, but some more minor characters feature some mismatched performances.

"L.A. Noire" will be released in May, and the gaming community is waiting to see whether the final product delivers on the lofty ambitions it promises. But whatever happens, it seems there will be a revolution coming in the amount of emotional depth players can expect to see in a game.

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