NBA·Game Face

NBA 2K15: Gamers put own face on star players

NBA 2K15 has created the option for gamers to digitally graft lifelike renditions of their own faces onto virtual star players in the latest version due in stores for Oct. 7.

Face-mapping technology creates wannabe Kobe Bryants and Kevin Durants

NBA 2K15 is angling for a slam dunk with an innovative new way to put players in the game.

The developers of the interactive basketball franchise are adding the option for gamers to digitally graft lifelike 3-D renditions of their faces onto virtual players in the series' latest installment, set for Oct. 7. The process uses the camera for either the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One game consoles to create faces for wannabe Kobe Bryants and Kevin Durants.

"It's all done using the processing power of the next-gen systems," said Jeff Thomas, vice president of sports development at NBA 2K developer Visual Concepts.

"We've been talking about doing this for a number of years, but it really wasn't possible until we knew the processing power of the next-gen machines. It took some time to get it right."

It's so much more engaging to actually look at yourself when you're playing a video game compared to some random character.- Jeff Thomas of Visual Concepts 

The technology utilizes the stereoscopic cameras for Sony's PS4 and Microsoft's Xbox One consoles to amass several angles of gamers' faces. It then renders photorealistic 3-D models on screen that can be tweaked and placed onto the bodies of virtual players in the game's career and online modes. The process requires a well-lit room and takes about three minutes.

"That doesn't sound like a lot of time," said Thomas. "But if you think of things in milliseconds like you do when you make games, with the computer processing power inside that box, three minutes is like an eternity.

"That just shows how much math and things are required to compute these points in 3-D space, then construct a model that looks like you."


The face mapping marks the latest effort by a game creator to add virtual representations of players in a game, following similar endeavors, like EA Sports crafting virtual athletes based on still images of players' faces, and developer Rare harnessing Microsoft's Kinect camera to fashion cartoony avatars for its motion-detecting title, Kinect Sports Rivals.

When demonstrated for The Associated Press with a PS4 camera and console, the process required two attempts to generate an accurate hairless model, which was then further detailed with skin textures, hair and eye colour. The available modifications are based on Visual Concept's own library of facial features of actual NBA and Euroleague players.

"That means there can't be any more alien players," said Thomas. "You used to be able to pull and tug players' faces and create crazy noses and stuff.

"Because we're referencing real people, it only allows you to create human-looking players. I think that's a big deal.

"The combination of these techniques will give you a really solid-looking image of yourself."

'Tip of the iceberg'

For privacy-minded players who don't want their console capturing a map of their face or those without a PS4 or Kinect camera, Thomas said they'll still be able to create players from scratch using the game's customization system, as in past editions of the series. He also noted that while the system can scan female faces, the game — like the basketball league — doesn't include female bodies.

Thomas expects the proprietary technology to be evolve in the future and is hopeful it will be implemented in other games from 2K Games, which also publishes NHL 2K and WWE 2K as well as the BioShock and Borderlands first-person shooter franchises.

"This is just the tip of the iceberg," said Thomas. "I think in the future that every triple-A title is going to want to have some sort of tech like this.

"It's so much more engaging to actually look at yourself when you're playing a video game compared to some random character."

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