The Last of Us #3

As a deaf person who wears hearing aids, my primary form of communication since I was three years old has been through vocal speech. While hearing aids help me distinguish what is being said, I don’t really rely on my hearing all that much. Instead, I depend on my ability to read lips. When it comes to video games however, it’s impossible to even try to read the characters’ lips in the game. I’ve had to rely on subtitles/close-captioning to fill in the blanks. The reason I pointed this out, is because subtle facial reactions and cues are huge when trying to get a read on someone’s emotion. It’s an extension of the game for me personally and the face is such an important and complex communication channel.

Facial animation was first introduced in 1982 and focused solely on the mouth and eyebrows. In 1991, it was proposed that animation systems consider the link between intonation and the emotion to drive their system. Pretty much all video games are lacking in the ability to effectively communicate the emotions of the characters. In my opinion, it is essential that people realize that literally every single aspect of your face is used to communicate with people. Video games have never really focused on the following during dialogues between characters: cheek muscles, eyebrows, forehead creases, nostrils, position of chin, the clenching of your jawline, pupil dilation/constriction, eyelashes, tongue, and how much teeth is being shown. Video games that depict humans also never seem to produce the desired emotion of what is happening in the game. If you look at Grand Theft Auto V, the facial animations are decent, but they don’t really capture the essence of what’s happening in the game. It exudes laziness. The Last of Us is unique in that Naughty Dog, Inc. put a serious effort to exhibit the emotions completely.

In a game like The Last of Us, the emotional whirlwind that the characters and gamers themselves are exposed to is what really sells separates the game from its peers. When I try to read lips of the characters in other video games, it’s unnatural. It immediately reminds me that I’m playing a video game. I understand that it’s a computer animation and rendering of what we see in the real world, but for me, it’s a huge dealbreaker when it comes to how immersed I can get within the game. Simply put, The Last of Us contains the best facial animation I have seen in a video game thus far. It’s not perfect, but it’s close. They were able to capture the intonation of how the characters meant to say the word, which is how words are said in its pitch as well as its delivery speed.

The main characters in The Last of Us, Joel and Ellie, were able to show shock, fear, irony, sarcasm, despair, anger, sadness, disgust, and surprise, among other emotions. Joel and Ellie weren’t just computer rendered characters. They were their own people with their own moods and their own distinct personalities. They weren’t solely outward projections. They were also able to project inwards, which is difficult for video games to accomplish. And that’s what I believe is necessary to help people bond with characters. If you look at the video above, The Last of Us 2, which is due later this year or next, is looking more and more impressive. I mean, I think the video speaks for itself from my perspective. It’s uncanny how natural it looks and I’m excited to play it. When Ellie says, “I’m going to kill every last one of them,” at the end of the video, one can’t help but get goosebumps. The bar has been set by Naughty Dog, LLC and everyone else is playing catch up.

 

 

Sources:

Pelachaud, Catherine, Mark Steedman, and Norman I. Badler. “Linguistic Issues in Facial Animation.” Computer Animation. University of Pennsylvania. 1991. Pages 15-30.  https://repository.upenn.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1076&context=hms

Schaap, Robert, and Rafael Bidarra. “Towards Emotional Characters in Computer Games.” Entertainment Computing. The Netherlands: Delft University of Technology, 2008. Pages 167-172. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Rafael_Bidarra/publication/220851417_Towards_Emotional_Characters_in_Computer_Games/links/004635311e999b6343000000/Towards-Emotional-Characters-in-Computer-Games.pdf

 

 



 

Source: The Last of Us #3

Tearjerker

The gaming console I grew up on was the PS2. It’s fitting then that two of the best video games of all time in Uncharted 2: Among Thieves and The Last of Us were released exclusively on the Playstation. I loved the Uncharted series, but was never able to make the time investment during high school to play The Last Of Us, which was released on the PS3 and remastered on the PS4.

The Last of Us is a post-apocalyptic horror game and unlike the trend of the last 10 years, The Last of Us does what other games couldn’t through it’s visual and sound components, as well as its in-depth character development. I felt the visual graphics are insanely well-made. The attention to detail gives the impression of how if the developers and creators were heavily invested, then the people playing were going to be heavily invested as well, albeit emotionally speaking.

From the start, you’re emotionally invested in the characters and the game doesn’t hesitate to rip your heart out. As Henry Jenkins said, “The tone of voice and body language can powerfully express specific emotional states.” When Joel’s daughter who is around 8-12 years old is killed, the graphics were able to depict the anguish and despair on Joel’s face. You could feel some sort of empathy with the character even though is all made up and taking place in a virtual world. So I think that factor of emotional attachment is something that we haven’t really discussed in class that much.  The emotional atmosphere of The Last of Us was not really existent in the Uncharted series until the fourth game, A Thief’s End was released in 2016, more than three years after The Last of Us came out.

The musical component of the game is pretty melancholy and suspenseful and keeps you on your toes, which is fitting especially when I couldn’t hear the clickers until they already killed me from behind. You know stuff is about to go down, but you don’t know exactly what is going to happen. That suspense keeps the player engaged.

The environment and setting in the game were illustrated as overrun and dilapidated, giving you a sense of ill foreboding about what was going to occur next. You want to get through the game as quick as possible, but the cutscenes succeed in making you stick around. Regardless, while most games are meant to entertain the gamers for brief periods of time, The Last of Us combines the perfect blend of cinematic cut scenes with open-world exploration in combination with a linear storyline.

Source: Tearjerker