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Natal – the next Machinima tool

September 8th, 2009 · No Comments · Gaming, Production

I literally minutes ago was thinking of Machinima production – I’ve been trying to plot out some sort of Sims3 series for a while now. My problem with Sims3 though is that it has a lot of restrictions when it comes to filming. Sims3 is a very closed environment, although it’s a lot better now than it was in Sims2 since you can travel about the neighborhood in real time. It’s still rather small tho (the new expansion pack with fix that a little). It’s also very hard to get the characters to act the way you would like them to, as demonstrated by The Strangerhood.

Then I started thinking about maybe purchasing Grand Theft Auto 4 for the PC, even though I have the PS3 version, since it comes with a full suite of filming and editing tools. However while the world is much more open and flexible than Sims3, there are still restrictions involving character movement and voicing. There are more ways in GTA4 through creative camera angles however to solve this problem, but it’s still there.

Next we move on to Uncharted 2, which was recently revealed to have a very powerful set of machinima tools. The most awesome would be the fact that you can hook a headset up to your PS3 and as you talk into the game, the character’s mouth with lip-sync with you in real time. It’s not as good as hand-made animation of course but it’s extremely passable – just think of the singer’s mouth movements in games like Guitar Hero. Also you won’t get accurate facial expressions to go with your lip-syncing (or will you? That’s still unclear) but still, this will be a very powerful tool. The downside is that Uncharted 2 is also a very restricted environment, however several tools (like the green screen ability) will greatly ease this.

So what’s the next step? You have open environments, you have expressive characters – what’s missing? Body movement. This is where Microsoft’s Natal could be a boon for machinima producers. With the cooperation of game developers, the tech could be used to map your movements onto a game actor just as motion capture is collected in pre-production. Natal is in itself already an advanced mocap device, assigning points to the player’s body that the camera then tracks to determine movement. While I won’t say that mapping this to a game character would be simple, in essence the data is already there.

Whether or not Sony’s motion controller software could accomplish the same feat is another open question. It most likely couldn’t replicate Natal without a person still attaching glowing dots to themselves in certain locations.

All I can say is a game like GTA4, with the voice syncing tools of Uncharted 2, combined with the mocap from Natal, would be a machinima producers dream sandbox. I’d even say wet dream sandbox (messy, I know).

Please let it be, someday!!

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