According to Activision‘s Bobby Kotick, the title characters in Call of Duty: Black Ops will look like characters you would, “see in a pre-rendered film.” Kotick claims that now, for the first time, the mouth movement, facial animation, and eye contact is so real that the overall facial animation, “looks like a real person.” He also implies — perhaps taking a page out of Peter Molyneux‘s book — that this could help players have an emotional connection with the characters, characters that can make the player laugh or cry, or serve as some other catalyst for an emotional reaction.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am all for games with great graphics. And from what I have seen, the graphics in Black Ops look pretty spectacular. But I am not sure if Activision and Treyarch have finally crossed the “uncanny valley” once and for all. And I also think Black Ops might be a game where I wouldn’t really notice anyway. I mean, I will spend most of my time looking down the barrel or scope of a gun and blasting enemies from a distance.
I also, however, question whether facial animations, etc. have ever really kept players from having an emotional connection with characters. I felt a connection in Shadow of the Colossus. I also felt one in Flower. Moreover, I do not think pre-rendered films have managed to cross that line and look truly “real” yet. But again, I also do not think it is needed in order for viewers to have an emotional connection with characters. Go watch Up, or Wall-E (or really any Pixar movie) and try to tell me you don’t have an emotional connection with those characters.
But I get it. Call of Duty: Black Ops is going to be a blockbuster game for Activision, a game Kotick describes as “[t]he best video game that Activision has ever made. . . .” It is going to be huge, it is going to be a spectacle, and the graphics are going to look great. I do not really fault Kotick for doing his part to hype the game and hype the tech behind it, especially when Treyarch is now the go-to Call of Duty team left at Activision.
So yeah, I am sure Black Ops will be awesome and I am sure I will have fun with the game. I am just not so sure I will have an emotional connection with any of the characters in the game no matter how good the facial animation may be — I am also not sure how much of one I would want to have — a game where you are killing tons of people and often dying and respawning yourself.
What do you Ranters think? Do you expect to have an emotional connection with characters in Black Ops? Do you want one? Does it matter?
Call of Duty: Black Ops looks to make that emotional connection with gamers everywhere on the Xbox 360, PS3, and PC on November 9.