Games in "dark ages" for performance capture, says Castlevania dev

Konami producer Dave Cox says "it's like we're in the '30s in terms of moviemaking" for games because industry is young and has much to learn.

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The game industry is in the "dark ages" when it comes to performance capture practices, according to Castlevania producer Dave Cox. Speaking during a Comic-Con roundtable interview, Cox discussed the challenges of believable performance capture and was optimistic about the process going forward, due in part to the power of next-generation consoles.

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"It's a difficult process. It's like we're in the '30s in terms of moviemaking in video games. We really are in the dark ages. But we're moving quickly. You see in next-gen, that motion capture--full-body motion capture, facial capture, having actors in the studio, like the stuff that Andy Serkis has done with [special effects studio Weta Workshop]--that's coming through to the games industry," Cox said.

Serkis provided the voice and actions for computer-generated film characters Gollum (Lord of the Rings), King Kong (King Kong), and Caesar (Rise of the Planet of the Apes). The actor also has a history in games, providing performance capture for Enslaved: Odyssey to the West and Heavenly Sword.

"So we are catching up, and I think that's when you're going to start getting really strong performances; emotion and everything else, when actors are able to actually be part of the scene," Cox added.

Upcoming PlayStation 3 game Beyond: Two Souls has already employed this performance capture strategy, with actors like Ellen Page (Juno, Inception) and Willem Dafoe (Spider-Man, The Boondock Saints) acting scenes out in physical space to bring their characters to life.

Actor Robert Carlyle (28 Weeks Later, Trainspotting), who plays Dracula in the Lords of Shadow series, commented during the discussion that he had almost nothing in front of him for reference on the 2010 original Lords of Shadow. "It was basically just black, squiggly lines," Carlyle said, referencing storyboards.

"So I think it's not anything that we're doing wrong. I think it's just a learning process for us."

Explaining why the game industry is lagging behind other mediums when it comes to producing authentic and believable performances, Cox said it's because games are young, relative to other entertainment experiences.

"I think it's because we're young and I think it's because we're learning. I think the movie industry has been through that evolution, the TV industry has been through that evolution; I think the games industry is playing catch-up right now," Cox said. "So I think it's not anything that we're doing wrong, I think it's just a learning process for us. We learn from mistakes we made on Lords of Shadow 1 and we thought, 'We can't do that again; we're going to have to…make sure that Robert has got more material to work with so we can have a better performance, we can have a better, more emotional game."

Carlyle said he noticed this improvement in technology moving from the original Lords of Shadow to its sequel, saying it was "mind-boggling" to see the advancements. Cox added that creating emotion is "really important" to the game-making process and a point that has been challenging thus far.

"We have to really plan differently and do things differently. And we've made mistakes on this one, as well, which we're going to hopefully improve for the next one. I think it's a learning process and I think game developers are learning every day how to do things better," he said.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 launches this winter for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC. Developer Mercury Steam is moving on to an all-new project following its release, though Konami has teased the Lords of Shadow series may continue with a new studio.

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