At the EA booth, we checked out a demonstration on the technology their Sports sect is working on, and we were honestly blown away by some of the strides they have made because, although the primary focus was on realism in their sports titles, the technology can (and likely will) affect all game development. Here are some of the next-generation features the developers showed us:
- Momentum Shift: The developers demonstrated how a character's body is altered by the speed. They compared current-generation jogging, with players back upright, to the new technology where the athlete lean forward.
- Procedural Awareness: For this demo, the developer created a ball for the character to observe. as he moved the ball in space, the character constantly kept his eyes on the object, even at moments requiring that his head tilt to reach the field of vision -- when multiple important objects are on screen, the character wil "cycle" through observation, constantly checking up on the objects. Later, we saw changes in facial contortions to demonstrate the character's change in mood ("his reaction to the object") and how different emotions can be attached to multiple objects, the character's mood reflecting whichever object currently catches his attention.
- Foot Planting: This is an issue we have still seen in many high-profile titles (e.g. Oblivion): a character will run, but his legs move slower and faster than the actual pace of the character, given the impression that these characters are somehow gliding across the map; this technology aims to fix that.
- Responsiveness: The idea behind this feature is that every animation can be stopped at any moment and shift fluidly to another motion (current generation technology, according to EA, requires that a character must finish each animation before shifting to another). For example, say a football is running to the left and then wants to juke right, changes his mind, and does a full on sprint straight down the field. In what the developer found (and demonstrated), characters using this model actually responded and accomplished their task up to 25% faster.
- Accurate Positioning: Current-generation points characters in only 8 directions; the demonstration shows that your character can turn in any degree of rotation.
The technology is subtle, but the effect is dramatic. The developers are hoping it will be utilized in all next-generation (clarified as PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and "probably PC") titles. We inquired about Nintendo Wii's capacity to use these tricks; the EA representative explained that, due to the constraints of the Wii's hardware, select features will be used "when appropriate."