Facial movement in video games

As I watched the seven-minute Final Fantasy XIII trailer, it occurred to me that despite how gorgeous the graphics looked, the mouth movements were missing...something.

Don't take me wrong - they've gone far with rendering people in video games, but similar to Japanese animated shows, their mouth movements just don't sync with the words being said. Cartoons are more forgiving because at times you can get away with the "Muppet effect", where you signify speech with the alternation of open and closed movements of the mouth, without regard to the shape.

But with the level of detail that Japanese studios are integrating with their graphics, I'd like to see the next generation of games actually render the appropriate muscle movements with the spoken words. Because right now, the words just "line up" (i.e. the whole premise of dubbing), yet you hardly see the lips press together (rather, they just lightly grace one another). Without insulting their greater efforts, it reminds me of the simple movements that babies make when they go, "wa-wa-wa".

At the same time, I understand that investing considerably more time, effort, and money into animating that detail of muscle movements probably isn't worth it. It really would require two separate groups specializing in linguistics and computer animation for each language. So for now, they probably just let us deal with that, since the player should care more about the gameplay. And I suppose I'd rather have a game with a polished engine in which people where masks than a beautifully animated movie that, well, sucks.

And, in the end, I suppose Square-Enix has proven themselves with The Spirits Within, which, despite being a flop, did properly (and oftentimes realistically) render humans and emotions.

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