Tencent experiments with high-fidelity facial animation to power up Unreal Engine

At the latest Gamecom, Tencent showcased PVPVE shooter with RTS elements called SYNCED: Off-Planet. The game features robo-zombies that you can eliminate or take control of to attack other players. The pre-alpha build offers a still clunky and rather generic experience that brings to mind titles like Hunt: Showdown, Division, and Fortnite.

What makes the game stand out is the cutscenes that use the face rendering tech called Project Siren, as spotted by Abacus.

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Siren, initially revealed at GDC 2018, creates models using images taken by multiple cameras, according to the games’ producer Clark Jiayang Yang. “We have a photogrammetry lab in the studio. Every character – all the faces, all the models – is done through this photogrammetry lab,” Yang said.

The Siren tech was developed by several companies including Tencent and Epic Games that is 40% owned by Tencent. Among other contributors are Cubic Motion and 3Lateral. It goes without saying that Siren uses Epic’s Unreal Engine.

A year before the same group of companies built a “digital human” VR program called MEETMIKE.

And right now they are working on a system dubbed “Anyface,” according to Yang. It will take advantage of a database of different facial features to build lifelike animations for games.

While the gameplay of Tencent’s SYNCED might not be revolutionary, the company’s focus on high-fidelity facial animation might give Epic Games’ egine an edge over its competitors.

15 years ago, Half-Life 2 made Valve’s Source Engine popular among developers. One of the reasons was the game’s facial animations. It looks like Tencent is using a similar strategy to woo the developers with Unreal Engine face rendering capabilities.

P.S. A fun bit of trivia. There is no gore in SYNCED: Off-Planet because the tech zombies have some purple liquid instead of blood. That means, of course, that the title will easily fly under the radar of the Chinese regulators. So that’s hitting lots of birds with one stone for Tencent.

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