Well, I’ve been going on and on about this New Star Wars Videogame — and this Vanity Fair piece is like catnip for my hype receptors. Hype it more…I want to play so bad…really, this is having just the desired effect on me!
As the consoles have become faster and better, the software developers have risen to the challenge of designing a better game experience, and one of the reasons I have come to San Francisco is to see two demonstrations of software that LucasArts is excited about incorporating into its next marquee game. The first program is called Euphoria, and was developed by NaturalMotion, a tech company based in San Francisco and Oxford, England. On a projection screen in a darkened auditorium, I watch as a digitally animated Imperial stormtrooper, the comically doomed cannon fodder of Lucas’s Star Wars universe, is lifted by an invisible force and dropped in various ways—on his head, on his back—and over various objects such as steel and wooden crates. Each time he is lifted, he struggles mightily, and then, every time he drops, he reacts differently. Dropped on his head, he grabs it with his hands before going still. And after being dropped on his back, on a metal box, he arches it in a way that suggests he is in agonizing pain.
His reactions are eerily lifelike, and I am told that what I am seeing is not animation but a kind of artificial intelligence generated by Euphoria, which enables the stormtrooper to react with an almost human uniqueness—in real time, no less—to obstacles and attacks. Dropped 100 times, the Euphoria-imbued stormtrooper will react differently 100 times, unless he is dropped in exactly the same way twice. When he is placed at the top of a sloping roof, he struggles furiously to gain purchase as he slides down, and actually grabs and hangs on to its edge for a few moments before falling to his inevitable fate. But the real pièce de résistance of the demonstration is when the stormtrooper is placed on an unsteady surface and actually begins to shift his weight and pedal his feet in order to maintain his equilibrium. “That’s not animated at all,” says Steve Dykes, the LucasArts senior engineer running the presentation. “That is actually a character trying to maintain his balance, physically simulated.”
If such things as the putative future of games is of interest to you, then you will surely be interested in the rest of it.