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

The Last of Them

In the article Get Real: Narrative and Gameplay in The Last of Us, author Scott Hughes makes an analysis of the impact of gameplay mechanics in narrative driven games using The Last of Us as a case study. Hughes acknowledges the success and critical acclaim of the game stating that it is in many respects an entertaining game with many great features (Hughes 150). He claims that the immersion of the game is broken in two distinct ways. The first being that clunky gameplay systems such as an unrealistic inventory system and having superhuman abilities detract from the immersion to the point of ruining the story (Hughes 151). While I disagree with Hughes on this point, my disagreementlargely stems from a difference of opinion on what is worth nitpicking in games. The main point I wanted to address would be in his discussion of the players vulnerability in comparison between narrative points/cutscenes and gameplay. Hughes argues that throughout the game Ellie is portrayed in narrative scenes as a young girl in need of constant protection from the dangers of the post apocalyptic world. Meanwhile during gameplay she is for the most part able to hold her own without the constant protection of the player (Hughes 153). He states that this confliction undercuts the dangerous feeling of the world and breaks the immersion for the player. I would argue against this and that throughout the narrative of the game there are several scenes where Ellie seems experienced beyond her years. Whenever Joel is either incapacitated or weakened in some way and Ellie always steps up to defend him. I feel that moments of vulnerability described by Hughes are actually more of a contrast to Ellie’s character instead of defining them. These moments serve to foster a bond between Joel and Ellie instead of demonstrating the differences in their ability. With that in mind it makes sense that the developers had intentions beyond convenience for the player when they made Ellie something other than a helpless escort mission. The goal of the developers was to provide a companion that, while needing help from the player, was not a mindless drone incapable of either defending herself or making simple logical decisions. I felt that by making Ellie more capable in the actual gameplay of the game, they lended even more agency to a character that was already established as a useful protagonist in the narrative.

Gazzard, Alison. “Unlocking the Gameworld: The Rewards of Space and Time in Videogames.” Game Studies: the International Journal of Computer Game Research, vol. 11, no. 1, Feb. 2011.

http://compaso.eu/wpd/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Compaso2015-61-Hughes.pdf

Source: The Last of Them

Can you hear me now?

In my continued play through of The Last of Us I have realized one thing. I forgot just how much I loved this game, and how I wish I was truly experiencing it for the first time on this play through. This time around on the game blogs I decided to narrow my scope of focus slightly and tried to explore more into the impact of the game’s audio.

In The Last of Us the player’s willingness to stop and listen throughout the game is a very important given how the player character Joel, has supersonic hearing and the ability to echolocate enemies through multiple walls. However, regardless of that particular game mechanic, the in-game audio serves several functions that the player may take for granted without specifically looking for them. Many stealth games use sound to provide a sense of foreshadowing to the player and warn them of when they are about to be discovered (Collins 130). The audio during combat/stealth sequences is very useful in filling out the peripheral senses of the player. For example, whenever the player is out of cover and within the line of sight of an enemy, the game will play a loud white noise that feels very out of place, thus giving the player a jolt to realize that they need to move or they will be discovered. While playing I decided to make a comparison in playing with and without this game audio. I found that playing without the sound forces the player to be much more active in scanning their surroundings and using Joel’s echolocation ability, turning what were usually fairly simple levels into a more disorienting and difficult experience.

Along with its direct impact on gameplay and mechanics, the audio of The Last of Us was very effective in creating a sense of different environments and phases throughout the game. This game is a combination a handful of intensely stressful combat/stealth sequences followed by long stretches of either narrative development or simply scavenging for supplies in every nook and cranny you can find. However, The Last of Us plays through like a cinematic experience in many ways, in that there are no breaks for loading screens and few breaks for cut scenes. Therefore, in most instances, the best way to tell if you are bridging from one sequence to the next would be if there was a change in the background audio (Collins 132). As you approached a combat scene the music would gradually rise until it is eventually playing a very dramatic symphony as you engage in a fight for your life against a horde of zombies. Then provided you either kill everything that moves in the area or you sneak past them, the music will quickly fade out and return to the ambient noise of your environment, letting you know the time of danger has passed. Relying on this did result in me falling for several jump scares, but it holds true for the large majority of the game. In conclusion, given that audio is one of the only two senses you utilize in a game, I am amazed at how often I underappreciated and took for granted the in-game audio, especially in stealth games such as the Last of Us.

Works Cited

Karen Collins, “Gameplay, Genre, and the Functions of Game Audio” from        Game Sound (2008), pp. 123-137

 

Source: Can you hear me now?

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