Kara, a disturbing short film about a self-aware robot, was made by games studio Quantic Dream to demonstrate the "expressive power" of the PS3's graphics. In order to sidestep the limitations of animating human characters (the so-called, contentious "uncanny valley"), the creators made a story about a newborn, intelligent robot -- a character that is supposed to be subtly unconvincing in its humanity.
"Our goal at the time with The Casting was to use the game engine to see how we could convey different emotions," Cage tells us prior to the GDC talk where he's unveiling a slice of what Quantic Dream has been up to since 2010. "We wanted to see what it would take in terms of the technology but also with the acting, and working with the actor on-stage to have this performance coming across in the game engine. We learned so much doing it for Heavy Rain, from the good things that worked very well but also from the mistakes that we made, and things we could have done differently. 'Introducing Quantic Dream's Kara' Screenshot 1
"When Heavy Rain was over, we thought why not do exactly the same thing and do a short sequence in real-time, in the game engine to see how our next game is going to benefit from what we're going to learn?"
"In Kara, you can't imagine the same scene having the same impact as someone who's not a talented actor. Technology becomes more precise and detailed and gives you more subtleties, so you need talent now. I'm not talking about getting a name in your game - I'm talking about getting talent in your game to improve the experience and get emotion in your game."
Welcome to Kara, the product of Quantic Dream's recent work on the PlayStation 3, and of its investment in new motion capture facilities. Again it's a one-woman show built around a slow tonal shift, again channelled through a strong and actorly central performance - but the distance between Kara and The Casting is as good a measure as any of the technical progress we've seen this generation, and of a shift in ambition and capability within Quantic Dream.
As interesting as this is as a technology demo, I think its real value is in the questions raised by the story and the storytelling choices. The unsettling poignancy of this clip arises from the gender and form of the robot. It would be interesting to re-render this with the "robot" as a kind of arachnoid assembly-line robot with a gender-neutral voice and see what happens to the film's affect.
I write books. My latest is a YA science fiction novel called Homeland (it's the sequel to Little Brother). More books: Rapture of the Nerds (a novel, with Charlie Stross); With a Little Help (short stories); and The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow (novella and nonfic). I speak all over the place and I tweet and tumble, too.