The Watchtower of Destruction: The Ferrett's Journal - The Uncanny Valley
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The Uncanny Valley|
Back when videogames were just little 8-bit sprites on a 256-color screen, the unreality didn't bother me too much. It was stylized, and if I couldn't smash open the blocky group of pixels that represented a treasure chest with the blocky group of pixels that represented my Mace +2, that was fine because it wasn't really a treasure chest. It was symbolic of something that contained treasure, but it was so clearly artificial that I didn't need it to act in real ways.
But now that we have the good graphics of Elder Scrolls: Oblivion, it's so much closer to real that the ways it's clearly a stupid computer game drives me nuts.
For example, Oblivion has the feature - stolen from Ultima - that characters do things at specific times, depending on what their needs are and what time of day it is. This is sorta cool, especially since an early quest involves you shadowing someone for a day and discovering that left to their own devices, they get up, go to work, eat at around noon, talk to their neighbor, chase away a pickpocket, and go to bed. Okay, maybe their daily work involves tilling a cobblestone pathway with a rake, apparently in a futile effort to make pebbles grow into shady rock-trees.... But it's the thought that counts.
But the Sims-like nature of the NPCs only highlights the silliness when you start to investigate some of the quests.
For example: one of the shops sells items for ridiculously low rates, and you are tasked by a rival merchant to find out where this guy is getting his supplies from. After figuring out that he won't give you any information directly, the quest log says that you should tail him after he gets off work. You have no idea when the store closes - and you can't ask him, since he has no conversational tree for that - so you spend eight hours hanging around his store, standing in the corner. This doesn't strike him as unusual, not even when you get bored and start sneaking around the room, crouching down below a table and scuttling behind the counter like a crab. "I'm sneaking!" you cry, but he does not ask you to leave the store.
So you follow him to the bar where he goes after work... And he sits down for two hours, during which you have to wait and watch him do nothing. You talk to him, but he has three things to say and he's said them all. The bartender also has three things to say, none of which change, so you get bored. You start dancing around the room, doing ballet jumps off the staircase to try to crank Athletics score up a few notches while you're waiting. Nobody notices anything unusual about the fruit boinging about the room like a hyperactive pogo stick, so you jump up on the bar between your target and the bartender and start kicking bottles off the table, stomping on the tray of ham, doing a merry Riverdance and scattering mugs and glassware all over the floor. Not a man notices nor cares. In fact, the NPCs carry on conversations about local gossip while you're Keith Mooning the room to flinders, which is somehow insulting; the people here are talking about the spate of local burglaries as if it's of high importance, but your gorilla-style poo-flinging antics aren't worthy of comment.
Your target leaves. You shadow him, casting a Starlight spell so you don't lose track of him. He is not concerned at all that he is going off to visit his secret supplier while the guy who just trashed the bar to a Stepford Wives-style calm is trailing three steps behind him, glowing like a radioactive rod. He arrives at the meeting place at eleven while you hang around him, radiating a bright neon; you even accidentally bump into him and start up a conversation, and he finds nothing unusual about your presence. You are standing right in front of him when his supplier sidles up at 12:00 on the dot and whispers, "Is anyone here?"
His response is not, "Um, you see Mister Here Comes The Sun to your left, asshole? Of course we're not alone!" Instead, he whispers a carefully-scripted "No. No one's followed me."
If he was a block of sixteen pixels, I wouldn't even think twice about this ludicrous behavior. But he's a shaded mass of polygons, with a scripted personality and a facial structure designed to grin and frown, and he looks oddly waxy and stiff, like a Realdoll given the personality of a retarded Pinnocchio. The fact that someone's taken the time to animate the waddling walk of a portly short man makes me expect that he'll at least express a mild surprise when I mash the sole of my boot into his dinner just before I spring off the table to balance myself precipitously upon the bartender's head.
Yet he does not. So close, and yet so far.
Tags: elder scrolls: oblivion, metaquoted, videogames
|Date:||March 28th, 2006 04:03 am (UTC)|| |
I remember playing Morrowind back in the day and thinking it was pretty damn cool that that guy in one of the earlier missions wouldn't visit his hiding spot for gold unless you observed him from the lighthouse. I thought it was brilliant that he would know that someone wwas observing him and thus keep his distance.
Until I had to wait 45 real-time minutes waiting for him to go to that fucking stump. That was shit.
Yeah, and I don't want total realism, either. Having to wait all day sucked, even if it was realistic. (Kinda.) But I want a balance between realism and gameplay, and that ain't it.
Oh dear god, I just broke my body laughing that hard.
May I metaquotes
Go nuts, though I don't see anything particularly quotable about it...
|Date:||March 28th, 2006 04:28 am (UTC)|| |
I'm reminded of my immediate response to the bit in Max Payne 2 (I think, could've been 1), where your apartment building is on fire and the front door has been locked from the outside by the bad guys.
I'm standing there in front of the door, with the bad guys behind it, giggling about how I'm going to burn, and all I'm thinking is "I have 3 pistols, 2 different shotguns, a pair of uzis, an MP5 and a collection of grenades. Why on earth is a couple of inches of wood any kind of barrier to my passage?"
It's only made worse by the fact that you can blow open select locks in that series.
Perhaps... perhaps they were just too polite to say anything?
|Date:||March 28th, 2006 05:23 am (UTC)|| |
Perhaps a related topic.
|Date:||March 28th, 2006 05:45 am (UTC)|| |
Re: Perhaps a related topic.
I think that's a good point.
I'd say more, but people should go over and read it. Personally, I don't think what you're saying will really have an effect, since videogames are different... But maybe as time goes on, I'll be proven wrong.
|Date:||March 28th, 2006 06:14 am (UTC)|| |
today's comic seems relevant...
|Date:||March 28th, 2006 08:09 am (UTC)|| |
Re: today's comic seems relevant...
I've always felt that special effects worked better in films when they didn't try to do things that were clearly beyond them, and this kind of thing in computer games is the same. If they can't handle something well then they shouldn't do it at all.
|Date:||March 28th, 2006 08:19 am (UTC)|| |
In 'Bulletproof Monk', they felt Chow Yun Fat doing a backflip onto the roof of a car and pulling some guns. Like he couldn't handle that himself?
|Date:||March 28th, 2006 08:17 am (UTC)|| |
One of the highlights of the N64 line was when guards started reacting to sniping. Like in Perfect Dark 64. In many spots, if you drop someone, his buddy will run up and moan in anguish over the man's death.
I like to interupt the second man with a bullet to the throat because I am mentally ill.
In the Geneforge
games, the graphics are pretty basic, but NPC's can and will get peeved at you for breaking into their home or something, and I thought that was goddamned brilliant
in an RPG. Maybe I'm just used to the old stuff where you can wander into any house and rifle through people's belongings while they're standing right there, and maybe things have changed in recent games, but it's still pretty cool when NPC's actually make an attempt at acting like real people.
|Date:||March 28th, 2006 09:48 am (UTC)|| |
In 'Quest 64', they got around that by having the townspeople know that the hero is there to kick ass and take names. They react just like anyone would when a guy willing to save your village comes in and sits down.
In one of the Zelda games, a pot filled bonus room has a guard who says that he smashes pots to relieve stress when no one is looking.
|Date:||March 28th, 2006 09:23 am (UTC)|| |
I think the realism issues is among the reasons why everyone went "Wow" about Half Life 2 - you still can't blow open doors, but you interact a lot more with your environment than in most games.
please tell me you'r exagerating about the time?
that would make it impossible to complete for many!
|Date:||March 28th, 2006 01:29 pm (UTC)|| |
I think my complaint would be more along the lines of "god damn it, I have to sit in a corner for eight fucking hours? This is bullshit!"
Yeah, I know it's not really 8 hours, but it is the principle. Reminds me of one of the Infocom games...I forget which it was now...something about solving a murder. I had to "sit" in the same room and keep submitting a "look" command until the person I needed to wait for arrived.
Engaging game play! Then again, I did sit there and type look over and over again.
Reading that plus this
(warning - kaka humor and quite gross actually, but hysterical) in the same day just wasn't fair...now people are going to look at me funny as I chortle under my breath all day long.
|Date:||March 28th, 2006 01:59 pm (UTC)|| |
This entry had me laughing my ass off, Ferrett, and after years of surfing the 'Net (I'm sure everyone can sympathize), that's gotten to be a pretty damned unusual occurrence. Very entertaining, and you really did make some valid and insightful points concerning the "suspension of disbelief" in video games.
- Old Scratch ("Not Quite Satan, But Hum a Few Bars and I'll Fake It!")
I haven't laughed that hard in days...
|Date:||March 28th, 2006 03:06 pm (UTC)|| |
And how thankful I am this morning that I had the foresight *not* to have a mouthful of coffee while reading this...
Because even lukewarm coffee hurts when snorked due to excessive laughter.
|Date:||March 28th, 2006 03:14 pm (UTC)|| |
here via metaquotes
Damn straight, preach it brother.
Y'know, that's just not fair.
I was reading this to try and stay awake during a particularly dull conference call, and, having no mute button on my phone, I had to hold it at arms length and hold my breath to avoid sounding like I was laughing at the poor guy hosting the conference call.
I do think that game designers need to make sure the interactivity of the world is more realistic than the graphics, otherwise there's a severe disconnect. The reverse of that turned me off the entire Myst series of games. Ok, that and not liking pure puzzle games all that much.
Ah, well, back to the codemines.
I do think that game designers need to make sure the interactivity of the world is more realistic than the graphics, otherwise there's a severe disconnect.
Do they? So something can't look neat unless it's also completely real-world realistic? I don't think that's quite fair.
While it takes many, many hours to make a game character look the way they do now days, it will take many more times that time to make them act like a real life person. If your guidline was followed, Half-Life 2 would have had to ship with only slightly better graphics than Doom 2...
In from Metaquotes...
You know, as ridiculous as that sounds, lazy gamers the likes of myself would almost prefer it to the necessity of actual stealth... I mean, I'd hate to sit around ten minutes, only to wind up accidentally blowing my cover. If I wanted to risk being caught, I'd spy on someone in real life.
Anyhow, this was a brilliantly written post... I appreciate the laughs.
Remember Atari's Adventure game? You were a block, a square! And if you screwed up, you ended up in the poorly pixeled dragon's tummy. ALso, remember this? "bonk"....."bonk" (Breakout) or the electronic sounds of many aliens marching in Space Invaders. Bllleeeeee!!!!!!
|Date:||March 29th, 2006 12:37 am (UTC)|| |
Angrybird sez: Press T to pass a variable amount of time!
Thrill to nobody at all noticing you standing there like a motionless statue while they go about their daily business!
Two great posts dismantling gamey goofiness in a mere three days. My heart; it flutters.
It would be fun if they created an AI so clever that no-one could beat it.
Sorry. Did I say fun?