Teased during the pre-E3 Sony press conference, I was given a screening of the twelve-minute long real-time short film developed by Quantic Dream for the PlayStation 4.
The tech demo itself is very impressive. The plot revolves around an actor trying to do his best to act within a video game and each take getting ruined by glitches and faux pas. The entire thing was done in real-time. Real-time graphics are all produced by the game engine, not as pre-rendered cutscenes. For people who might not understand what that means, think of it as the difference between seeing a performance live, versus a movie version. To prove that the demo was actually in real-time, we were shown a live demonstration of the tech, with a free camera moving around the set seen in the short film as the goblin moved around and lighting and other settings were changed on the fly.
The character models in the demo were created using the same techniques that Hollywood uses for big budget special effects characters. The actors in the short film even performed on a stage together to get the most realistic and believable interactions possible. The team even went so far as to include details that you never see in the trailer. Zooming in close to one of the sorcerer’s eyes, the presenter pointed out that they had included blood vessels, eyelashes, and even a waterline between the eye and the eyelid. This amount of detailing is now possible, and even if you have no need of that minutia, this means you only need to create one character model during development instead of several for varying distances. If a game director wants to have the camera go right up to the eyeball, he can have that shot without creating drastically more work for the team. All this work on the character models occurs so that emotion can be conveyed in subtle ways, through facial expressions and body language instead of using words. Quantic dream has worked hard to eliminate imperfections and achieve what they call “true HD.” This means no jagged lines that appear upon close inspection of most current generation titles.
The presenter told us that despite how good The Dark Sorcerer looks, there is still a lot of room for improvement. He stated that on top of using unoptimized hardware, they were only making use of about half of the PS4’s memory capacity, using the same engine from Beyond: Two Souls, and were just using hi-res character models that they plugged into the system to see what would happen. In the future they will have optimized hardware, make full use of the internal memory, a new game engine specifically for PS4, and models made for those ideal hardware limits. Quantic Dream took only six months to create The Dark Sorcerer from scratch and it is exciting to imagine what they might come up with in a full production cycle with a dedicated team.
Much like Kara, which eventually became Beyond: Two Souls, The Dark Sorcerer is meant to show off the capabilities of the new hardware, not to be taken as a trailer for an actual game. That isn’t to say The Dark Sorcerer might not become something more in the future, but for now the developers assured me that they don’t have anything in the works for The Dark Sorcerer beyond the tech demo.