Torsten Riel, the CEO and co-founder of NaturalMotion, delivered the Casual Connect keynote this morning and discussed the development of his company’s Euphoria Motion Synthesis Engine.
In illustrating the development of NaturalMotion’s technology, Torsten showed video of a biped learning to walk. As the creature moved from first generation through to twentieth generation, the improvements were remarkable. Following the twentieth generation, the biped was able to move with a very natural gait.
Torsten then altered the biped’s environment by introducing a barrier. As expected, the biped’s movement was impeded. What was most interesting, however, was the manner in which the biped’s response changed when the barrier was repositioned.
The implications for game application are intriguing. Rather than characters being created in a way as to create random behavior, the environment can be the catalyst for such random interaction. In essence, the characters respond to the environment rather than the characters forcing behavior on the environment.
Euphoria is currently being used in commercial ventures by Pepsi and Guinness. In the gaming space, Rockstar Games and LucasArts have integrated Euphoria into Grand Theft Auto IV, Red Dead Redemption, and Star Wars: The Force Unleashed.
Based on the crowd response, the highlight of the presentation came when Torsten showed a video of two test characters who inadvertently entered each others ‘personal space’. Much like two small children, the characters jostled for control over the space. Not surprising, the pushing and shoving was characteristic of typical adolescent behavior.
Torsten went on to discuss the implications of digital entertainment moving closer to photo realism. In doing so he pointed to the classic ‘uncanny valley’ graph and expressed his views on the depth of the valley being even greater for the mainstream casual gaming audience as they have no point of reference with which to gauge progress.
Torsten summed up his presentation by strongly arguing that mainstream audiences want to be wowed and urged developers to make deliberate investments in production, technology, and differentiated, high-quality content now.
For those who are interested, the slide deck from the keynote can be found here.
Also, Torsten gave a very similar presentation at the 2003 TED. See it here.