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Electronic Arts hasn't been pushing too much into the VR space as some other publishers and technology companies, but that's because they're focusing more on creating a very serious foundation for some impressive sounding technologies within the VR space.
According to an article over on Game Informer, EA's vice president, Patrick Söderlund, revealed that a small team of engineers are working on certain evolutionary VR prototypes that will be implemented into the Frostbite design space as a potential middleware suite to help with procedural algorithms and white box concepts.
In simple terms, EA isn't just concerned with taking a first-person game and slapping HTC Vive or Oculus Rift support on it; they want to evolve the experience so that they can get the most out of user engagement when they put on a headset and dive deep into a Frostbite-made game.
A skunkworks team known as Frostbite Labs has been composed of 30 to 40 different people working out of the Stockholm and Vancouver offices. The group is currently looking to bring “virtual humans” to life with believable reactions and interactions while in VR. I assume they want to avoid the way NPCs were depicted in the movie eXistenZ, which had NPCs repeating the same lines over and over again on a loop as if they came out of World of Warcraft or any other typical MMO, despite the fact that they looked like real humans.
Creating believable characters in VR will be a real challenge because it'll require a lot of processing and a lot of memory to store variables that don't just rinse and repeat the same lines over and over again with stilted or pre-canned facial animations. I always imagined a procedural facial animation system that utilized a varied range of emotions and expressions like in the game L.A. Noire would seem like the next logical step to making VR seem more immersive. Of course, the MotionScan tech that Team Bondi and Rockstar used in that game was very resource expensive, if not well ahead of its time.
Maybe with the next generation of consoles (or the current generation of PCs) we'll see a company like EA take that next step and implement a procedural animation system like L.A. Noire into the Frostbite pipeline?
According to the Game Informer article the Frostbite Labs group will be looking into the “neural networks” and “deep learning” of VR technologies and real life human interaction with those technologies to bring some interesting projects or design tools to life.
EA's VP, Patrick Söderlund, explained that they want to use the Frostbite Labs VR technology for the purpose of “economies of scale”. If this means what I think it means, then maybe they will be designing mechanical methods to inject into the project the way designers can implement Blueprints into an Unreal Engine 4 project? If that's the case, then it could mean that EA and the developers under their wing could be developing some really fascinating projects for the near future.
Game Informer expects the new Frostbite tech to be showcased at this year's E3 during the EA Play conference.