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25 August 2017

Super-cool game tech will copy your facial expressions in real time

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Humanity will soon take another giant step toward relegating all human contact to virtual spaces.

Cloud Imperium Games’ forever-in-progress Star Citizen is set to level up in-game facial expressions with a new feature that reads and translates your IRL expressions in real time. The intent is to bring an added layer of realism to player-to-player interactions.

The technology side of the new feature owes its existence to Faceware Technologies, a facial animation and motion capture firm whose work is present in games like Grand Theft Auto V and Destiny. You can use a standard webcam to take advantage of the feature, but Faceware will also be releasing a facial motion sensor of its own that should provide a sturdier performance.

We were curious to know more about the differences between a standard webcam and the sensor, so we put the question to Faceware. Peter Busch, the company’s VP of business development, said the benefits of the custom tech are mainly felt in three ways.

“First is frame rate. In order to achieve believable lip sync animation, a frame rate of 45-60 frames per second is desired; most built-in cameras are limited to 30.”

Faceware’s sensor is also built to account for low light conditions. Lighting can affect the camera’s ability to read your expressions, so it’s important to have something that can perform even when a monitor is the only source of light in a room.

The final edge you get with Faceware’s sensor as opposed to a standard webcam? The right kind of lens.

“Most built-in cameras have wide angle lenses — which is great for larger rooms — but they are not focused on the particular user, making the users’ face much smaller (less pixels) in the image.”

Fewer pixels means less detail, and that’s no good for capturing facial expressions. 

All that said, standard webcams will still work. According to Busch, anyone using a less-than-optimal camera can expect to see facial animations crack in a couple of different ways — though he also readily admits that such impressions can be very subjective.

“Most users would notice different results from the two types of cameras … in a subtle way, [such as] loss of good lip sync in their characters, variable quality of motion in low light settings, and generally ‘less motion’ due to lower frame rate.”

Faceware hasn’t yet released the price or specs for its sensor, but that — along with the in-game update, which should arrive sometime after Star Citizen‘s looming 3.0 mega-patch — should be released together at around the same time.

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