A consortium of UK-based VR developers are coming together to solve one of VR’s most important sticking points: believable virtual characters.
VR brings virtual worlds to life. We can explore alien planets and become superheroes. But creating authentic, realistic virtual characters is another matter. Top studios can create models near indistinguishable from real life and even fuel them with thousands of lines of dialogue. But we’re far from bridging the gap between scripted characters and dynamic beings that react to our every action. UK studios Maze Theory is looking to bring us much closer.
Maze Theory was one of a group of studios to be inducted into the UK government’s Audience of the Future programme, which is sharing out £4 million to a range of immersive teams across the country. As we reported earlier this week, the company is working on a Peaky Blinders VR game that will be the first to leverage this technology.
The team wants to create an experience where characters don’t just react to pre-determined dialogue options but your every gesture and movement as well as voices and sounds. To that end, it’s also enlisted the help of Arca’s Path developer Dream Reality Interactive and Goldsmiths College.
“Our ambition for the system is to allow the VR actor to respond directly to the player, but to also be aware of the micro interactions taking place between them, for example gestures, movements, body language etc,” Russ Harding, Executive Producer at Maze Theory tells me over email.
“We’re fascinated and hugely excited to see how these micro interactions may change the VR actor performance. So, we’re looking towards the subtleties of the player’s position, how they may face an actor, their proximity and mimicking of behaviours.”
Technically, you could spend a long time in a performance studio to capture a long list of reactions to different types of player actions. Harding says the team wants to “go beyond” that route, though. “Our ambition is far greater than just switching between lines of dialogue, it’s to explore the performance of the character and empower players to be able to persuade and influence the characters’ beliefs and intent,” he says.
“For example, players might need to bring an object of desire or more subtly show empathy to encourage an actor to carry out an action.”
Harding won’t give away specifics as to how you might actually do that, adding that the group is still in the prototyping stage. The company does plan to make its work available to other developers and universities, though.
For now, Harding says the Peaky Blinders universe gives Maze Theory the chance to explore a wide range of possibilities. The game’s due to release next year but, hopefully, we’ll have some idea of how its AI works in the nearer future. If Maze Theory and co crack the code, this could be an important new step for the entire VR industry.