From the big screen to console games

Gaming companies are not only using big-name actors for their voices, their faces are appearing on screen too

Ellen Page in Beyond: Two Souls

Games have been big business for some time now, with blockbuster titles such as Call of Duty, Battlefield and Fifa shifting millions of units and notching up revenues for their publishers.

While not exactly a recession-proof business, big-name games can always be counted on to pull in the fans.

So it’s no surprise then that an increasing amount of time, effort and investment is going into today’s titles, as developers and publishers strive for greater performance and realism, pushing the limits of what the current crop of consoles can do.

Man and dog in Call of Duty: Ghosts

One such title is the upcoming PlayStation 3 game Beyond: Two Souls.


Developed by French games company Quantic Dream, the game follows the story of Jodie Holmes over 15 years, and features a mysterious presence, known only as Aiden, that helps Jodie out from time to time.

Taking the lead role is actress Ellen Page, with Willem Dafoe also playing a major part in the game. But not only are the pair lending their voices and acting skills to the game, their faces are appearing too.

It’s been a long road to get to this point for Quantic. Several years ago, the company had a meeting with Leonardo di Caprio with a view to him starring in one of their upcoming games.

“He told us what we had to do to be able to work with named actors,” says Quantic’s co-chief Guillaume de Fondaumiere.

“It was being able to replicate them in 3D realistically because, for them, their image is extremely important. The other thing, and most importantly, is being able to capture the entire performance.”

Di Caprio told Quantic he wasn’t interested in lending only his image to a game. If he was going to be involved with such a project, developers would need to find a way to get him into the game.

“It took us nine years to get to the technological level necessary to able to create the actors, and to be able to capture the performance and give it back into the game faithfully.”

It's a strategy that has paid off. Early reaction to Beyond: Two Souls, which goes on sale in October, has been positive. De Fondaumiere said the experience of working with big-name actors was a positive one.

“They brought the same level of preparation they brought to a play or a movie, and that was very important to us. We wanted them to really perform,” he says.

"On set, as David [Cage, writer and director] says, it's a bit like driving a Ferrari when you work with these actors. They can change their performance extremely precisely. They can adapt to it. For him it was fantastic to see how they would react to his directions."

This isn't Quantic's first attempt to create a game such as this; previous effort Heavy Rain came in for much praise for its interactive storyline and highly realistic graphics.

LA Noir, a cross-platform title developed by Team Bondi and published by Rockstar Games, has also tried out some innovative ways to wow gamers.

The film-noir influenced game used MotionScan technology, developed by Depth Analysis, that recorded the actors with 32 cameras to capture each facial expression. With interrogation an integral part of the game-play, every expression counted.

The end result was a game that was almost universally praised by critics and gamers alike, achieving levels of realism in both graphics and game-play that had previously not been attempted.

The move towards such realism is only going to increase as the next generation of consoles hits the market.

With added power under the hood, developers can – and are – taking advantage of the added muscle to make games look, and more importantly play, even better than before.

The Microsoft Xbox One launch in Seattle last month made much of this point, spending an inordinate amount of time extolling the virtues of Call of Duty: Ghosts, including the high polygon count, the frame rate – 60 frames per second, if you're interested – and, of course, the dog. The Call of Duty dog, while also serving its use in the game, came in handy for developer Infinity Ward to demonstrate exactly what was possible on the new platform. Motion capture was used to mimic the movements of a real dog, while the level of graphical detail included scratches on the dog's nose. Developers were equally keen to demonstrate the tiny details, such as the arm hair on a player.

It may sound like too little to get excited about, but it’s the small details that contribute to the realism of a game, creating a more immersive experience for players and edging things ever closer to photorealistic graphics that remain interactive.

Quantic was also involved in producing a showcase item for its next generation console that was screened at the E3 games exhibition, the 12-minute Dark Sorcerer tech demo that not only showed what the console was capable of but also managed to inject a bit of humour into the whole thing.

And racing games Project Gotham Racing and Gran Turismo are pushing the boundaries even further on the Xbox One and PS4 respectively, blurring the line between games and real life even as you're racing around the track.

One Xbox exclusive title, Quantum Break, is trying to go even further, breaking down more barriers with a crossover TV show and game, where your decisions in the game can influence the live action TV show, and the TV show will impact on how you play the game. It's an interesting concept that will hit the console in 2014.

So it’s fitting, perhaps, that the days of the games console as a standalone item are all but gone.

Microsoft has made it clear that its ambition lies far beyond simple gaming; it wants the Xbox one to be the entertainment hub for the entire family.

And while Sony is concentrating more on gamers with the PS4, it is also planning link ups with its content divisions to provide players with some entertainment tailored for their interests. All the consoles – Wii U included – offer video streaming, even through third parties such as Netflix.

How far the new consoles can advance the in-game graphics will be seen as the next generation of games devices really get going in 2014 and beyond.