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Chinese Gaming Giant NetEase Leverages AI to Create 3D Game Characters from Selfies



In role-playing games (RPGs) such as the modern crime classic Grand Theft Auto, many players create their in-game characters based on their own appearance. Although today’s built-in character customization systems are becoming increasingly sophisticated, they can involve tedious manual adjustments across dozens or even hundreds of parameters, which can take up to several hours to complete.

A team of researchers from the Chinese gaming giant NetEase have developed a method to automatically create players’ in-game characters from a standard portrait photo. They break down the details of their method the paper Face-to-Parameter Translation for Game Character Auto-Creation.

The character generation process starts by aligning the human player’s portrait photo, which is used as the training input for a deep learning-based framework comprising an imitator module and a feature extractor.

The imitator is designed to simulate the behavior of the game engine to automatically create a character in a style consistent with the ground truth (generated by game engine). Taking account of user-customized facial parameters such as hairstyle, eyebrow style, beard style, and lipstick style, the deep generative network-based imitator eventually produces a rendered facial image. In the paper the researchers explain that the gradient can smoothly backpropagate to the input, enabling the facial parameters to be updated by gradient descent.

Once the imitator is trained, the feature extractor exploits the feature space and performed facial similarity measurement under a neural style transfer framework to optimize the facial parameters using gradient descent.

But how to ensure the accuracy of the global appearance and local details during the cross-domain transition? Essentially, this is a cross-domain (from real-world human photo to anime-like 3D characters) image similarity measurement problem. Researchers used a deep convolutional neural network and multi-task learning to tackle the issue. Their solution was to leverage two carefully designed loss functions: discriminative loss and facial content loss. For example, the shape of a person’s face and the overall facial impression are included in the global appearance, while more specific traits such as shadows within a given local region can also be analyzed.

A standout feature in this paper is its 3D face reconstruction approach, which creates a bone-driven model, unlike other 3D face reconstruction approaches which produce 3D face mesh grids. Thus, the model predicts a set of facial parameters with a clearer physical significance.

The automatic generation process is not limited to photographs, it can also work well with artistic portrait inputs such as sketches and caricatures. Researchers believe the 3D characters generated in this way have a high degree of similarity to the input 2D pictures because the approach relies on facial semantics rather than raw pixels.

Although the new method can generate an in-game character automatically, players can also use it as a supplementary tool in their own DIY character creation process. Researchers point out the approach also enables tweaking details and making further general changes according to a user’s needs.

The face translation method has already been used over one million times by Chinese gamers.

The paper Face-to-Parameter Translation for Game Character Auto-Creation is on arXiv.

Journalist: Fangyu Cai | Editor: Michael Sarazen

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The Gaming Industry Is Booming




Gaming industry

The gaming industry is booming, and it will continue to bring in more revenue for several countries throughout the next few years. In fact, the United States just overcame China as the world’s number one consumer of online games, and it’s generating billions of dollars for the gaming industry. However, one form of gaming has lost its popularity in recent years.

In this post, we’re going to talk about the decline in one particular type of game’s popularity, and we’ll see how it stacks up against the newer and more popular forms of gaming.

What Are HTML5 Games?

We’ve mentioned that one particular type of game is declining in popularity. We were talking about HTML5 games. If you grew up in the early 2000’s, you know exactly what these browser-based games are. You don’t have to download them, and they’re available to anyone who owns a computer with an internet connection. In essence, they’re perfect for people who don’t own powerful computers or gaming consoles.

Here are a few examples of browser games that impacted the gaming industry over the last two decades.

How Do They Stack Up With Other Online Games?

While some browser games continue to thrive, that segment of the overall gaming industry has been losing steam over the last decade. Runescape and a few other titles still generate a lot of buzz, and people still flock to them on a daily basis, but the browser-based gaming community only makes up two-percent of the gaming industry now, and they only generate 12-percent of the revenue that is brought in by the gaming industry.

There are several factors that have caused this decline in popularity.

  • Console Popularity: Consoles have enough power nowadays to handle extremely elaborate and complex games with ease. They’re not as cheap as browser games are, but they’re not as expensive as gaming computers. Since the majority of people can afford at least one console, they typically opt to play more robust games.
  • Game Quality: While some of the genre’s mainstays are exceptionally high-quality games, many browser-based games are simply training exercises for budding game developers. They’re cheap to make, and developers can try out new ideas without developing expensive titles that might not sell well. Sometimes, they come up with a great idea, and the game generates tons of revenue.
  • Indie Gaming: During their peak, browser-based games were free to play without many micro-transactions. Now, a large indie gaming community exists that offers cheap or free games without micro-transactions, and the games are usually more robust than what browsers can handle.

Now, let’s go over how the other types of games are doing.

Mobile games

Surprisingly, mobile games are currently generating most of the gaming industry’s revenue. Only 33-percent of games are developed for mobile platforms, but they are usually filled with different features that constantly generate more revenue for game developers, and people often spend much more than the price of a AAA console game on a single mobile game to enjoy those features. 36-percent of the gaming industry’s revenue comes from mobile games.

The massive growth of the mobile gaming industry is expected to decrease slightly within the next few years, though. There is a new wave of consoles on the horizon, and the hype surrounding those new consoles will temporarily drag some people away from mobile games for a short time. However, it is expected to remain the industry’s biggest cash cow.

Console games

Console games make up roughly 30-percent of the gaming market. Statistics for each console vary slightly, but they typically average out to 30-percent of the market. In comparison, console games bring in about 32-percent of the gaming industry’s revenue.

This is largely due to the popularity of console games. Exclusive titles, ease of use, and several other factors that have made console games grow in popularity since the 90’s.

PC games

Browser-based games are typically only found on PC and Mac computers, but this section isn’t dedicated to those. This section is dedicated to the other games that you can find on PC. These titles are usually as expensive as console games, and many of them are ports of console games. You can also find indie games that are cheap or free, and there are tons of games that are only developed for PC and Mac computers. Overall, PC games make up 60-percent of the gaming market.

That’s because they’re very easy to develop. Just about anyone can buy some Unity assets, throw together a basic game, and then market it for free on PC. Development costs are minimal, and since there are several free development tools on the market, developers don’t have to have a lot of coding and animating experience to create PC games. HTML5 games are a big upcoming market, especially now that the Flash browser plugin it in its end of life.

When it comes to AAA titles, game developers get the same benefits out of PC development. It’s easier to create functional networks on PC, and it’s typically easier to make the games themselves due to how powerful and intuitive modern computers are. Surprisingly, that hasn’t made PC games more financially fruitful than mobile games. While PC games make up 60-percent of the market, they only generate roughly 25-percent of the revenue that the gaming industry generates.

VR games

VR games are pretty new to the gaming industry. As such, they don’t make up a large portion of the industry, and they haven’t generated much of the revenue that other games have. With that being said, they are rising in popularity, and only time will tell if they will become a major part of the gaming industry as a whole.

At the moment, VR games are more popular than browser-based games, but they still only make up 17-percent of the market. A lot of the games are available through Steam, and only a fraction of a percentage of Steam users actually own a VR headset. That is expected to change over the next decade.

Final Thoughts

So, where does this leave browser-based games? Well, their declining popularity and low amount of revenue isn’t a good thing, but it’s not all bad news. Several browser-based titles are popular around the globe, and developers are still developing high-quality games such as Runescape and Quake Live. The browser-based gaming market may be dwindling, but it will continue to stick around for quite some time, and developers who offer unique and engaging experiences will easily find a reliable audience.

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