Casual Photos: Zhadnost: The People's Party (1995) for the 3DO and Thoughts on FMV Gaming

Bill Loguidice's picture

Today's casual photos are of Zhadnost: The People's Party (1995) from Studio 3DO for the 3DO, taken with the iPhone 3G. Zhadnost is a late-life 3DO title in the spirit of one my favorite videogame game shows, Twisted: The Game Show (Electronic Arts, 1993), also for the 3DO platform. Both titles use lots of wacky, high quality full-motion video (FMV) segments featuring a combination of live actors and stock footage. Twisted errs more on the trivia side of things, while Zhadnost errs more on the mini-game side of things, and features a very specific type of humor. Both titles are highlights on the 3DO platform, making excellent use of the platform's capabilities to overlay quality full motion video over pre-rendered backgrounds. The production values of both are also high, with just the right amount of wit. In short, they're great multiplayer party games and in a format where the use of oft-maligned FMV makes perfect sense, and something more modern day games should consider over often low quality and robotic 3D models. Thinking of these FMV video game shows made me think of the Philips CD-i platform, which was home to several such games, including a favorite of my family's, 3rd Degree (PF Magic, 1992), which had the unique feature of containing a database of pre-recorded (pre-spoken) names, so unless you had an unusual name, the game would actually refer to you by name in the game host's voice (not synthesized). If your name wasn't in the database, they had a selection of cutesy and nickname type of monikers to choose from as well. Definitely another feature that should be incorporated in more modern games. Anyway, here are the images of Zhadnost:

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Comments

Rob Daviau
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You know, I never minded FMV

You know, I never minded FMV games. I know some people hated them but I find them to be an interesting area of gaming evolution, at least that is how I see it. I wasn't into the PC platform back when FMV games were big. My first FMV games were probably on Sega CD, yeah it was choppy, grainy and small will a lousy colour palette but damn, it was real video and I loved it! Hell I even loved the pack in game Sewer Shark! Recently I have enjoyed it even more on my 3D0 with much better video quality. In fact I am really enjoying different FMV titles on my 3D0. It was interesting that with the extra storage capacity of the CD that companies figured the best way to utilize the format was by using video. To me there is something about playing a gun game and shooting real live (although admittedly BAD LOL!) actors compared to shooting at graphics. An interesting moment in gaming history that will likely never see any type of popularity again, although once we have true HOLO DECKS wont that be kind of like Ultimate HI DEF FMV?

As always Bill a great article that reminded me of some more interesting times in gaming history!

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Bill Loguidice
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I agree 100% with you, that

I agree 100% with you, that FMV as it was will likely never make a comeback. It will all be synthesized actors, even in the holodeck scenario. Of course by then the synthesized actors will be indistinguishable from real actors, save for what will most likely be better acting.

You mention the Sega CD. Ironically, even though it had a limited color pallete (though had a mostly unused higher color mode) and relatively slow CD-ROM drive, it was able to pull off better quality on FMV than most PC's of the day, which were often saddled with postage stamp sized video. The Sega CD could often pull off full screen video. Tomcat Alley was one of my favorites, one of the few FMV real-time action games.

I have Battle Heat for the NEC PC-FX, a Japanese-only game and system, which specialized in FMV. It's a real-time FMV fighting game that puts any of the Digital Leisure attempts (Prize Fighter, etc.) to shame. I'll have to break it out and do a feature on it at some point, as I've been meaning to explore that. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0fZvwEs-reM

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Matt Barton
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Hi, Bill. Thanks for the

Hi, Bill. Thanks for the post and links to that interesting rolcats site. :)

I disagree about the future of FMV. I am almost certain that it will not only make a comeback, but will eventually be the standard for many types of games. I think it is only dumb prejudice that keeps it out of the mainstream now.

Consider how far the technology has come since the days of 7th Guest and Sewer Shark. Now we have much higher resolutions, exponentially more storage space, and, perhaps most importantly, high-speed internet. I think these factors could be combined to make, say, a first-person shooter that was just like playing a televisions how. All of the footage would be FMV, though fully interactive. It seems unthinkable today, but it's now possible to, say, record over ten thousand hours of combat in full motion video and have them available in a game. I don't know how many hours of dialog you could record. The only real barrier that I can see is the expense of filming so much footage, but I'm sure it will be done.

I see the current state of graphics as the transition between prints (woodcuts, engravings, etc.) and photography that took place last century. The only reason woodcuts and the like were so popular for so long is economic and technological. Once it became relatively inexpensive to put real photographs in books, there was no longer any need to "synthesize" images with drawings--unless, of course, the book in question called for it. Why settle for a drawing of a person, no matter how detailed, when a photograph is much closer to reality?

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Bill Loguidice
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I have to disagree, Matt.

I have to disagree, Matt. In my opinion, the future is in better and better 3D models. You can move the camera anywhere, you can target anywhere on the model, etc. There's no benefit to recording real footage as, as you correctly point out, volume is prohibitive even with relatively unlimited storage space and processing power. We already have photorealistic models, so we're not that far away from truly synthesized reality. Why film actors doing what has to by definition be a finite set of motions, when you can have a digital actor perform an infinite set of motions.

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Matt Barton
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FMV
Bill Loguidice wrote:

I have to disagree, Matt. In my opinion, the future is in better and better 3D models. You can move the camera anywhere, you can target anywhere on the model, etc. There's no benefit to recording real footage as, as you correctly point out, volume is prohibitive even with relatively unlimited storage space and processing power. We already have photorealistic models, so we're not that far away from truly synthesized reality. Why film actors doing what has to by definition be a finite set of motions, when you can have a digital actor perform an infinite set of motions.

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Bill Loguidice, Managing Director | Armchair Arcade, Inc.

I thought about this, and it is a key limitation. However, I can see some possible solutions. One is not to simulate reality at all, but just mount a camera of some sort and have it stream video to the gamer. These mobile cameras could be on location on a battlefield. Individual players could control the cameras, zooming in and moving around the field. There could be live actors there as well to "shoot" at, who would be aware if they were shot and could lie down (maybe even use stage techniques such as fake blood and what not). Or, the computer could simulate the bodies of other players, but the scenery would be real.

You could also go back to the Dragon's Lair model but just use the expansive storage space to double, triple, or even quadruple the amount of footage. Eventually you might get to a point where you could have a range of actions in a game like Myst, but the whole thing would be as realistic looking as the cinema. I think you could take shortcuts here, obviously, looping some of the footage and not allowing viewers to zoom in on everything or move anywhere. Kinda like how a theme park limits the environment.

Just throwing some stuff out there. I realize it's not practicable at this stage, but seems possible.

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Rowdy Rob
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I gotta agree with Bill on this one.

We may very well see more FMV in videogames, since the technology to display it and interact with it is much better today than it was when FMV was first being pushed. That having been said, you're still dealing with video clips, which are inherently non-interactive, and thus not conducive to highly interactive videogaming. We see some hints of FMV being used to embellish otherwise fully-3D games, such as crowd scenes in sports games, but I can't imagine any FMV technology that wouldn't essentially be fancy "choose-your-own-adventure" type games.

On the other hand, 3D graphics are getting better and better in videogames, and I can easily see the day when photorealistic 3D characters in videogames become the norm, with actors digitally scanned in and replicated as a 3D models. Heck, they've been doing this for years in movie special effects, so I suspect that photoreal 3D characters will probably arrive in the next generation or two of videogame technology.

It's arguably possible NOW, since 3D graphics chips are capable of displaying millions of polygons a second as well as several layers of shaders, but if they did the character justice, there wouldn't be enough polygons to do much else (explosions, scenery, other characters, etc.). We're getting closer and closer, though, as evidenced by "Fight Night Round 4."

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Matt Barton
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Yes, we're probably still

Yes, we're probably still waiting for the breakthrough that will make this easier and more economical. What you basically need is a way to take 3D video footage on-the-fly.

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Mark Vergeer
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Synthetic look on 3D synth actors

I must add that I actually prefer live actors in FMV scenes - like the acting in the Red Altert games. The 3D synth-actors have a fake look - no matter how advanced the pixel shading, textures and polygons used - and they will have a tougher job of drawing you into the story.

It's like the more photo-realism is approached the less attractive it feels, perhaps even scary. On a technological level it probably is amazing - just like the Milo demo on the 360. But in the end it may just be friggin' horrifying to most people. Motion pictures featuring synthetic actors will be very economical to make but hopefully will not be the substitute for real actors - and the ones made are not very successful unless they are purposefully cartoony in nature.

I am not sure where this all will go. But I will probably not like to watch synthetic actors all the time. I will be craving real human faces - flawed, slightly asymmetrical and everything else... I am not sure where this all will go.

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Matt Barton
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There have been many

There have been many articles on Gamasutra exploring human emotions and so on. The industry seems to share Bill's opinion that the future is synthetics and better simulations.

The thing that gets me is that people used to think the same thing about voice acting in games. There were so many efforts to synthesize speech and use that, since theoretically it would save tons of storage space. Once CD-ROM and DVD-ROM was widely available (as well as bigger hard drives and sound compression), many games began featuring full voice acting and little to no text. Synthesized speech in modern games is unheard of as far as I know.

My theory is that one day people will look back on these days of simulations and 3D animation the way we look back at speech synthesis today. Definitely worthwhile and interesting, but just not a viable substitute for real voice acting.

You really notice something like this when you're playing Oblivion. Everything looks so realistic until you start dealing with people. They move unrealistically and the facial close-ups look downright cheesy. And this is an AAA title where all the stops were pulled. I think it'd be so much better if they had just gone with FMV as in some of the late 90s RPGs.

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Bill Loguidice
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Disagree again
Matt Barton wrote:

There have been many articles on Gamasutra exploring human emotions and so on. The industry seems to share Bill's opinion that the future is synthetics and better simulations.

The thing that gets me is that people used to think the same thing about voice acting in games. There were so many efforts to synthesize speech and use that, since theoretically it would save tons of storage space. Once CD-ROM and DVD-ROM was widely available (as well as bigger hard drives and sound compression), many games began featuring full voice acting and little to no text. Synthesized speech in modern games is unheard of as far as I know.

Apples and oranges. Synthesized speech is still not to the point of a good voice actor, though someday it may be. It's very, very easy and relatively efficient to utilize real speech in games these days. The reason why synthesized speech was used in the past was simply because it was cost prohibitive to digitize speech both from a financial standpoint (sometimes thousands of dollars a word!) and from a storage standpoint, when you were talking K rather than MB.

It's all a matter of improvements. All the fuss about Amazon's Kindle being able to read books was for a reason - these people are afraid it will destroy the audio book industry. Of course if you actually LISTEN to how the Kindle reads book in its synthesized voice, you really at this point it's no match for a quality audio book production, particularly one with well-placed music and sound effects. Of course there's also nothing stopping from a future Kindle synthesizer having the ability to understand basic context and attempt some emotion, and also for book authors to put in certain cues for sound effects and music that the Kindle might be able to play from a basic database. It's not that far fetched. Anyway, the point is, just like with the versatile synthetic actors (unlimited actions/camera work) replacing limited FMV actors in games today, there's no reason why there can't be dynamic audio in games some day, meaning there is no pre-written, pre-recorded script. The software just uses some clever AI to speak on the fly, generating its own speech from clever algorithms.

Matt Barton wrote:

My theory is that one day people will look back on these days of simulations and 3D animation the way we look back at speech synthesis today. Definitely worthwhile and interesting, but just not a viable substitute for real voice acting.

Quaint, but I see no evidence supporting that idea whatsoever.

Matt Barton wrote:

You really notice something like this when you're playing Oblivion. Everything looks so realistic until you start dealing with people. They move unrealistically and the facial close-ups look downright cheesy. And this is an AAA title where all the stops were pulled. I think it'd be so much better if they had just gone with FMV as in some of the late 90s RPGs.

Oblivion couldn't be done with real actors. It would be a very different game. While it has flaws, by the very size of the game world, you need synthetic actors. They look good, but are certainly not perfect, but they WILL get better in the future. Just look at the leap in quality from 2002's Morrowind to 2006's Oblivion. That was just a single generation of hardware and a one game difference. What will the Elder Scrolls V be like in 2010 or 2011? Who knows? (though it may only be a "polish" leap, as it's still going to be for the same Xbox 360, PS3 and PC platforms)

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Bill Loguidice, Managing Director | Armchair Arcade, Inc.

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