What do two of the major video game releases of this summer have in common with IBC2023? Well, both confirm the convergence of gaming and the world of film, and IBC has a full day about… games!
As the International Broadcasting Convention – IBC2023 – returns to Amsterdam, it does so right after the release of two key video games, Starfield, a space-opera epic from Bethesda presented through cinematic trailers that confirm how video games and movies have so much in common, and Baldur’s Gate 3, from Larian Studios, which sets new records, with its 174 hours of cinematic video capture – more than the whole Game of Thrones TV series – and the use of 248 human actors, that not only recorded the voices for the game but also put on a mocap suit for their movements to be recorded for Baldur’s Gate 3 cut-scenes.
Starfield’s path to release was filled with trailers that explored the epic of the science-fiction universe created by Bethesda Softworks during the last six to eight years, and the game itself is a representation of the stars, planets and the universe that would be welcome in any science-fiction production. Starfield is a fantastic feat, as it tries to transfer the playability of Bethesda’s classic Skyrim to new worlds away from Earth, but the real surprise this year is Baldur’s Gate 3, which is not only the clear winner of any “Game of the Year” award, but is also a game that explores the use of cinematic cut-scenes in ways never tried before, with a clear result: the NPCs (Non-Playable Characters) feel “alive”, enhancing a story that is already the reason why even those who are not used to play games based on the Dungeons & Dragons ruleset are playing Baldur’s Gate 3.
NPCs are any characters in a game that are not controlled by a player. The term has its origins in traditional tabletop role-playing games, where it applies to characters controlled by the gamesmaster. Baldur’s Gate 3, which invites the player to gather a party and explore the phantasy world, has lots of NPCs, and to voice their dialogues Larian Studios decided to hire actors, a total of 248. Questioned about how “lively” the characters in the game felt, Aliona Baranova, Performance Director on Baldur’s Gate 3, wrote in Twitter (now X) that “ALL the NPCs and not just the companions put on a mocap suit and their movements, gestures and physical choices were recorded & sent along with the audio files for the animators to use in game. Which is why the performances feel so *alive*”.
What it’s like acting in a virtual fantasy world?
Baranova also wrote that: “but imo the beauty of the performances in this game are in part because the actors weren’t simply speaking the lines, they were feeling the emotions & meaning of what they were communicating with their entire bodies” and added “essentially, our role was to ensure that choices actors were making vocally, matched what they were doing physically and that this was clear when looking at the mocap.”
As a result of all the work – Baldur’s Gate 3 has been in production for more than seven years – when you watch the in game dialogue, you’re not only hearing the actors’ voices but you’re also seeing their physical performances, and that is part of the appeal of the game. Although I’ve not played BG3, I’ve seen my younger son (30…) play it since launch, and sometimes I just sit and enjoy the cinematic scenes, not sure if I am watching a game or a film. Guess I will play it next…
BBC has an interesting interview with two BG3 actors, under the title “Baldur’s Gate 3: What it’s like acting in a virtual fantasy world”. The article – which you should check – reveals that “acting for video games presents challenges you wouldn’t find on a traditional TV or film set” because actors recording motion capture have to picture their surroundings in their heads before they’re added on a computer later on. To make things even more difficult, Baldur’s Gate 3 has branching storylines, with 17,000 ending variations, meaning the actors need to record multiple versions of a scene with small tweaks to the script each time.
AI can not replicate the “live” humans in BG3
While all this means creating the narrative for Baldur’s Gate 3 was a complex work, it also means, as the BBC interview reveals, that “it leads to a lot of work and studio time, which means stable employment.” The author of the article writes that “For most actors, getting a long-running, steady gig can be difficult, but soaps can provide one” to add that the two actors interviewed – Jennifer English and Devora Wilde – felt that working on fantasy role-playing game Baldur’s Gate 3 gave them the same sort of stability.
The “lively” characters in Baldur’s Gate 3 raised a question that has been raised repeatedly recently: will AI take the place of human actors in video games? On the BBC interview Jennifer English says that she “isn’t convinced AI will be coming for her job any time soon – despite concerns about the technology.”
Actor Dave Jones who played the character Halsin in the game, also commented about the use of human actors in BG3, on a tweet, that “Two things about this: Firstly, the human voice is a supreme storytelling device. Second, and mainly, you can shove AI up your arse x”. In fact, one just has to watch the BTS videos to see how the voices from different human actors give a unique feeling to the story. There is an interesting article about the concerns AI raises in The Gamer, under the title “Baldur’s Gate 3 Proves That AI Has No Place In Voice Acting”, if you want to know more about the subject. Here is a quote from the article: “Artificial intelligence cannot put this level of nuance and skill into a performance, nor can it commit to the long process of developing a character over the years.”
One thing is clear: Baldur’s Gate 3 and Larian Studios have set the bar so high for video games, that it will be hard for other developing teams to follow. It’s not just about how fun BG3’s narrative and story are, it’s also about the way it was created, how it invested in actors and practices that will set a new landscape for upcoming titles. Even Starfield, which launches on September 6 but was available to play from September 1 for those who purchased the Premium edition – yours truly included – pales in comparison to the dimension BG3 attains. Those static NPCs and their dialogues are not very convincing, after BG3…
A full day about video games at IBC2023
What does all this have to do with the film industry, you may have asked by now. Well, this year’s edition of the International Broadcasting Convention has a full day dedicated to gaming, with an extensive gaming and esports programme, a dedicated zone on the showfloor and focused tech tours, as the worlds of film, TV and gaming continue to converge.
On September 18, a full day of sessions on the Showcase Theatre, will cover subjects as:
- Today’s top gaming trends with Liam Deane, Principal Analyst for Gaming Tech, Omdia.
- From Gaming to On-screen: The hiccups and highlights – Fireside chat with Helene Juguet, Managing Director, Ubisoft Film & Television Paris.
- How Unreal Engine technology is enabling filmmakers and game developers to blur the lines between gaming and film tec, HaZ Dulull, Producer at HaZAnimation.
- Opportunities for in-game advertising and how the industry’s key players are leveraging streaming services to reach gamers and promote their products, and how advertisers, brands and publishers are partnering with streamers and content creators to reach new demographics. Omdia’s Liam Deane will moderate the discussion, which also features Funs Jacobs, Senior Director of Innovation, Media Monks.
According to the organizers of the IBC2023 show, speakers from Omdia, HaZAnimation, Ubisoft and more will be exploring the exciting developments at the intersection of gaming and media and debating what the future might hold. IBC2023 also includes a dedicated space of almost 500sqm to demonstrate the very latest in esports production workflows and technology via three distinct production set ups, a partner zone and a networking area. The zone is an interactive, immersive experience, using state-of-the-art racing simulators as the basis of the content generation, and offering the chance to meet esports experts Unlocked.
Taking place across the show, IBC will launch 2 dedicated tours of the showfloor to highlight the broad range of esports based technology from across the supply chain. Produced by an industry specialist, the tours will take attendees on a journey through IBC’s Exhibition Floor to discover the latest tech trends and products enabling the continued phenomenal growth of esports.
When it comes to conferences, besides many other panels, there is a series that takes us back right to the questions of AI and its use in the entertainment industry. Here are some suggestions of conferences you may want to watch if you’re going to IBC2023:
How AI is advancing media production – September 15
The media world is focusing huge concern on the capabilities and potential implications of AI which threatens to outperform humans, not only in laborious production tasks but also in the creative arts. This session examines three aspects of the power of AI to influence the future of media creation.
The Frontier of AI in Media and Entertainment – September 15
The media and entertainment industry is rapidly changing, with new technologies and platforms constantly emerging. AI is one such technology that has the potential to revolutionize the industry. In this session, we will explore how AI can be used to improve content production, personalize audience experiences, and optimize monetization. We will discuss real-world examples of how generative AI is already being used in the media industry, and we will look at the future of this technology.
The AI Moment for Smart TV – September 15
AI has the capability to transform traditional smart TV experiences into personalised and intuitive journeys for users. Driven by machine learning algorithms and data-driven insights, AI can understand viewers’ preferences, habits, and interests. This invaluable knowledge enables the creation of tailored content recommendations, enhancing user engagement and satisfaction.
Tech for Good: Digital ethics and responsible AI – September 17
As AI takes centre-stage in the Media and Entertainment world, how do we ensure unbiased usage and ethical adoption? This power panel – with guests proposed by GALSNGEAR, Women in Streaming Media and Women in Immersive Technologies – will look at the opportunities and limitations of AI and discuss solutions to potential flaws.
With film festivals as Venice opening the doors to Virtual Reality productions at its Venice Immersive, a stage where both experiences and games are showcased, and IBC dedicating a whole day to video games, the entertainment industry is embracing what has been known since the first movie was turned into a videogame: the bridge as always been there, for more than four decades now.
Although there were other titles before, Raiders of the Lost Ark, from 1982, was the first ever movie licensed video game. The game is based on the Indiana Jones action film of the same name. Video games were also used as the base for movies, with the first game-to-screen movie being Super Mario Bros., from 1993. The experience may not have been the most exciting, but one thing the industry has learned: both industries share many technical aspects, even more so as digital tools became essential elements of the toolbox; one example being Unreal Engine, which started as a video games engine and is now a key asset for filmmakers. Artificial Intelligence being another, now under consideration…