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Better graphics means more problems, says EA exec

Glenn Entis, senior VP and chief visual and technical officer for EA games, has warned that improved graphics on next-gen consoles can mean bigger challenges in other areas of game development.

Glenn Entis, senior VP and chief visual and technical officer for EA games, has warned that improved graphics on next-gen consoles can mean bigger challenges in other areas of game development.

Speaking at the Montrîal Games Summit, Entis said, "As the graphics are getting better, it introduces a lot of new problems that the games industry is just starting to come to grips with.

"And in some cases, although the graphics are great - it certainly grows the market and draws people in - the graphics are creating some problems that as an industry we need to deal with very rapidly."

One of these problems, Entis explained, is that it's hard to believe in a character that looks extremely lifelike if they don't move and behave in realistic ways.

"In Final Fantasy, the modelling fidelity was really better than the motion fidelity," he argued. "In other words, when you looked at the models, they signalled an expectation to the audience that the motion couldn't deliver upon."

When this situation occurs, Entis believes, "You basically expect a level of life that isn't there and the character, in relative terms, feels dead."

According to Entis, there's a temptation to simply add more polygons to characters when new technology becomes available. "But probably the worst thing you can do to make characters more believable is increase their visual fidelity - unless you're able to have an equal or even higher degree of increase in their motion fidelity.

"All characters don't have to be photo-realistic," he continued. "We can go down on the modelling curve and make animation that makes characters very entertaining and believable, but aren't necessarily trying to look just like live action."

However, EA is hard at work creating lifelike characters for games such as Tiger Woods PGA Tour. In fact, Entis revealed, the CGI version of Woods is so believable that the man himself didn't realise what he was looking at the first time he saw it.

"We really got no response. He just said, 'Yeah?', and it's like, 'Well, did you like it?'. His response was telling; he said, 'Well, when are you going to show me the computer graphics?'

"We figured if you can fool a guy who sees that face in the mirror every day, it's got to be working."

But during the Q&A session at the end of Entis's speech, one brave audience member stepped up to say, "I certainly don't mean any offence to Tiger Woods by asking this, but how are you going to solve the problem of Tiger Woods not being a very good actor?"

"It's a great question and it gets to the heart of some of the behaviour problems," Entis replied.

"This is one place where we may find that the interactivity of games helps us rather than hurts us... We're not all high-end actors, but everyone of us has relationships that are believable, where people understand what we're saying and believe we're sincere.

"I believe characters in games, as long as they're responding well interactively to what the player is doing, probably don't have to be at the absolute high end of acting."

However, according to Entis, it's a different story when it comes to cutscenes where the player is watching CGI characters interact with each other. In those cases, he said, ""I suspect that the threshold goes up again.

"The answer is it's going to be extremely difficult and it's going to take higher level work, but I do think there's at least some opportunities we have in games for that," Entis concluded.

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Ellie Gibson

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Ellie spent nearly a decade working at Eurogamer, specialising in hard-hitting executive interviews and nob jokes. These days she does a comedy show and podcast. She pops back now and again to write the odd article and steal our biscuits.

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