Friday, December 4, 2009

Dance in New Media: Sony Playstation's "BBoy: The Game"

Our final feature on dance in new media this week is on the Sony Playstation video game BBoy: The Game. It was sold for the Playstation 2 and PSP platforms in the mid 2000s. While it wasn't a mainstream video game success, many bboys and bgirls were aware of its creation since elite international bboys were hired to be motion capture references for characters in the game. It's this use of motion capture within the video game animation field that offers a compelling new field for street dancers to explore. (Photo above is from a Google Images search for the game.)

You can see the official website for BBoy: The Game here:

Motion capture can be defined as the recording of movement and the subsequent translation of these moves to a digital model. For BBoy: The Game, we see elite breakers being recorded in a digital studio with motion tracker modules on their bodies. As they perform their moves, multiple cameras record the movement and orientation of these modules and then apply it to a digital human model inside a computer system. Animators can later adjust and tweak the movements with digital manipulation tools. The end result is a more realistically moving dance character for the video game. We've seen similar techniques used for films like Robert Zemeckis' Beowulf and A Christmas Carol. But it's a controversial approach in the film and TV animation fields. Traditional animators may not like the feel and performance quality of characters created by motion capture. It's been debated that motion capture lacks the subtlety and stylized approach that traditional animation, as seen in Disney films, can bring. But despite this debate, motion capture is an emerging field that doesn't show signs of slowing. It has increasingly been used in high profile video games, including the Final Fantasy series, or other titles where tighter budgets may necessitate motion capture to be used instead of traditional tools.

For street dancers, BBoy: The Game represents new possibilities for seeing how our dance is portrayed in future video game formats. Will we see motion capture advanced to a stage where we can perform dance moves in our living room without tapping a floor controller like Dance Dance Revolution? We're already seeing more advanced motion control in games for the Nintendo Wii. And Microsoft's Xbox is pushing the envelope on motion controllers with its Project Natal venture. Imagine if a new generation of street dancers were introduced to bboying, popping, and locking via a video game. In the past, the usual way of being exposed to these styles is either in person, in class, in film and television, or now via Youtube videos. Video games would be a new format and possibly even more interactive than film or television. If video games introduce a new generation to street dance, how would that affect the nature of our culture? There are current debates about how Youtube exposure has negative effects in terms of not providing the fully informed context for these dance styles. Someone might see a Youtube video and copy the moves without understanding the approach or history of the dance. Would a high end video game be better if the game developers provided all that info and perhaps video instructionals from established bboys, poppers, and lockers as part of the game? Maybe that would be a new career opportunity for our generation as well as a novel means of exposure.

The more our dance styles enter the digital realm, the more opportunities there are for enhancing the actual movements. There's good and bad, of course. Just as traditional animators might scoff at motion capture being enhanced in films and television, would we also criticize how dance is portrayed in these games? A motion capture digital model might approximate the moves of a dancer, but can it really capture the soul of the performer? We're venturing into realms of artificial intelligence here. We'll need qualified street dancers to participate in the creation of these video games so that there can be an acceptable degree of authenticity. Opening up street dance into the digital manipulation realm also means that new styles of movement could emerge. Will we see life imitating art? Will future street dancers be inspired by moves that they see in a game and then experiment with them in real life? There are many possibilities that could arise from this motion capture field of dance in video games. All it will take are passionate, saavy creative minds to set us in the right direction.

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