Expressions are everything in L.A. Noire

This spring, Australian developer Team Bondi brings L.A. Noire, a thrilling crime drama that takes place in Los Angeles in the 1940s. The game's biggest feature is the lifelike human expressions created with MotionScan technology.

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Rockstar Games has earned an elite reputation for developing and publishing innovative and iconic video game software, most recently displayed by the success of the in-house developed Red Dead Redemption (which is also our pick for 2010's game of the year ).

This spring, Rockstar Games is teaming up with Australian developer Team Bondi to bring us L.A. Noire, a thrilling crime drama that takes place in Los Angeles in the 1940s. Only since this past November has the gaming community been exposed to L.A. Noire's artistic styling, seen through a series of Hollywood-grade cinematic trailers.

Though the acting and performances appear top notch, the real star of the game has to be MotionScan technology. For the first time during in-game action, MotionScan gives characters shockingly realistic facial expressions, which in this case features Aaron Staton ("Mad Men"), John Nobile ("Fringe"), and many more. We spoke with Brendan McNamara, founder of Team Bondi, about how L.A. Noire's critical-thinking gameplay relies on this technology, and how implementing it went far beyond traditional motion capture. Little has been disclosed about how exactly L.A. Noire will play, and McNamara was able to provide some insight as to what gamers can expect.

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McNamara explained that L.A. Noire's gameplay revolves around investigating crime scenes, finding clues, but most importantly, interviewing witnesses and suspects. The player must read these interactions and decide whether the subject is being truthful. These interrogations dictate the individual path one takes in L.A. Noire, meaning there are plenty of alternate story lines and experiences.

This type of ambitious gameplay could not be achieved with standard motion capture technologies, as they are limited to what they can capture. Since mo-cap strictly sees bone movement and facial expressions are tethered to muscles, MotionScan needed to be brought in.

MotionScan works by utilizing dozens of cameras pointed at the subject from many angles. During a performance, the cameras grab the 2D feed, which is then meshed into a 3D model. Sure, it sounds simple enough, but McNamara explained that the 1GB-per-second capturing that goes on during a MotionScan session must eventually be compressed to something like 30KBps for the game to play correctly on an Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3.

The final product--as we've seen from the trailers--is nothing short of breathtaking. To see for yourself, check out the videos above. Will the MotionScan in L.A. Noire set a precedent? Can gamers go back to traditional clunky facial animations after being spoiled by Team Bondi? We'll have more on L.A. Noire when it hits stores shelves May 17 for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.

 

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