Friday, February 26, 2010

Radiator 1-3 trailer up + thoughts on NPCs

I hate the "media release" practice endemic to the mod community -- periodic spurts of weapon renders and half-baked concept art. Yes, it's what the big professionals do, with ShackNews copy-and-pasting press releases and screenshots. But a mod has more important things to worry about -- like releasing something playable. That said, I guess I'm somewhat of a hypocrite, because here's a trailer for the upcoming episode of Radiator:

My intention with the trailer was three-fold: to show that this is a Different Kind of Mod, yet also to warn people that if they didn't like the trailer then they probably won't like the mod. And lastly, to introduce and emphasize the two main characters -- James and Dylan.

The style is derived (almost directly) from the technical limitations of recording movies in Source on my computer: the sound almost always de-syncs drastically when I record, so I never use the in-game sound. Instead, I fool around with the FOV and record short clips in the maps. It's interesting what happens when you just let the camera film an NPC for a minute, they do things you wouldn't really expect. For instance, the brief shot of the therapists' office when they're both looking out the window and then they look at each other? Totally unscripted and weird. I wonder if the AI is programmed to do that in its idle routines? Or was it just a happy coincidence?

People will always cite the robustness of the physics implementation as Half-Life 2's main strength and innovation, but I think it's actually the dramatic capacity of the NPCs. We treat them less as blocks with guns and a health value, but rather as an actual actor: where they look, we look. Much like how we assume in most FPS games that shooting at the ground won't deform it, we expect NPCs not to react to our playing. But Alyx covers her eyes as you shine the flashlight at her -- that makes so much sense, yet I don't think any other FPS game (with a flashlight) did that at the time.

What if shooting a gun near Alyx makes her cover her ears? What if Alyx avoids walking through puddles? There's an entire universe of human expression, untapped right there. Okay, we might bridge the visual uncanny valley in our lifetime, yes -- but what about the uncanny valley of behavior? It's about 5.98 billion miles wide.