The lights are on
One hundred and fifty years into the future, there are no wars. Not because we stopped fighting – there are no longer enough people left to fight wars. With humanity nearly extinct, once-great cities teeming with people now lay empty and overrun by nature. Giant mechanical airships troll across the countryside, snatching up the remaining inhabitants and carting them out west. You lived a lonely life, always on the run, always one step ahead of the machines – until she came along. She inserted herself into your life and disrupted everything. Now she wants you to be her protector. She wants you to travel beside her and safeguard her on a long journey back to her village. You are going to do as she asks. Not because you want to. Not because you like her. But because if you don’t, the small headband strapped to your skin will shatter your skull. You must obey. You are enslaved.
There is a belief among psychologists called the 7%-38%-55% Rule. This principle breaks down how human beings understand information during an emotional exchange. Simply put, the theory postulates that when somebody is speaking only seven percent of their emotions are displayed in the words they say, while roughly 38 percent of their emotional intent can be derived from the tone of a their voice, and a surprising 55 percent comes from physical cues such as body language and facial expressions. What we say isn’t what we’re saying; it’s how we’re saying it that states our true meaning.
Storytellers understand the importance of an expression, because 55 percent is a lot of information to lose. If the rule is applied to gaming, it means that video game stories have never maximized their emotional impact. Voice actors do their best to bring pathos to a role, but there is only so much sentiment one can give a cardboard cutout. Until the current console generation, video games just didn’t have the technical muscle to allow their characters a full range of human expression. The ability to animate a digital face has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years, introducing emotionally vibrant stories for the first time.
One developer leading the charge to bring more humanity into its digital creations is Ninja Theory. The studio’s 2007 release, Heavenly Sword, remains a brilliant showcase for humanlike physicality in the digital realm. The impressive cutscenes and stylish combat wowed many critics, and even today, its characters’ facial animations hold up as some of the best in the business. Since the release of Heavenly Sword, Ninja Theory has been hard at work on its next IP, Enslaved. But more important to the studio than just making another highly polished action title is telling the meaningful story that happens between the action.
[This story first appeared in issue 198 of Game Informer Magazine -Ed.]
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