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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 February 2007, 09:05 GMT
Real game characters 'next year'
Neverwinter Nights
Neverwinter Nights was a commercial and critical hit
Super-realistic computer games which will feature human faces as they actually look are at most two years away, developers have told the BBC.

At present, developers have not been able to create games characters with photo-realistic faces and expressions.

David Kunkler producer for Obsidian Entertainment and makers of Neverwinter Nights 2, said games are currently in an "uncanny valley."

"They look strange - they're too close to real, but not quite real," he added.

"Give us another year or two, and we'll be able to completely get across that uncanny valley," he told BBC World Service's Digital Planet programme.

Getting emotional

This super-realism, where human characters look completely convincing, has been seen as an elusive next step forward for game programmers for a few years now.

But with motion-capture methods - where computers read sensors which monitor the movements of an actor - rapidly being perfected, it will not be long before it becomes part of the gaming world.

Tomb Raider
Elements of Hollywood have been drawn into making the next generation of consoles
Ian Livingstone, Eidos

"People are doing motion capture very well, getting the 'exactly right' facial expressions - eyes moving correctly, every little crease, wrinkle and nod - really coming across," Mr Kunkler said.

"That's when we're going to be able to fool the player into thinking, 'this is a real actor' - and that's when we're going to move to emotional content in games."

This ability to capture human emotions will be particularly important for serious games designed to help train people for real-life situations.

Using these developments, it is hoped that these games will help demonstrate the subtleties of human body language in complex, dangerous situations.

"There are many simulation approaches which train soldiers, for example, for when they have to communicate with people in Iraq," said Professor Alexander Nareyek, from Games Lab at the National University of Singapore.

"They have to understand the emotions displayed by these virtual actors, and train to cope with emotional and challenging situations."

For developers, this trend towards super-real characters - together with a growing feeling that better writing and acting within games is essential - will bring together a new dimension of emotion to gaming.

"We will be able to play with people's emotions - we can make them laugh, we can make them cry, we can make them sad," said Ian Livingstone of Eidos, which made the highly-successful Tomb Raider series of games.

"Therefore, elements of Hollywood have been drawn into making the next generation of consoles."

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