[Games] Facing Yourself with EA

Generating a gameface

Generating a gameface

Back in my review of FIFA 11, I promised I would eventually get to grips with EA’s Gameface system – a means of adding a digitised version of your mug into various EA Sports titles…

We’ve all done it. Chugging away through a season of FIFA or NHL or just any about any sports game, we’ve decided to liven things up by creating a digital version of ourselves to drop into the team. It used to be that EA’s titles offered a relatively simple player creation facility. You could render a rough digital version of yourself, or just about anyone else. Pick a hairstyle, a name and some broad facial details, tweak the stats and drop him into your team. It was part avatar-based narcisism, part cheating. After all,  in many earlier EA Sports games you could instantly make your player the greatest on earth, by maxing all his stats to 99.

Then FIFA 08 went and introduced “Be A Pro”. Not only could you know create a tiny polygonal version of yourself, you could now play entire matches from his point of view. No longer the god-like ability to switch at will between your avatar’s team mates to make sure he always got the best chances. Now you had to hold your position and beg for the ball from your fellow players. All very realistic. Even better was the stat progression system. Introducing almost RPG-like levelling, your player started off as a below-average lump of potential, ready to be moulded into a future Messi. But only through hard work. Skills were improved by using them on the pitch. Score a volley and your volleying stat got a boost. Skin a couple of defenders and your ball control and sprint speed numbers headed north. It was a brilliant innovation that encouraged players to use their new “virtual pros” and gave a genuine sense of progression. No longer the slight guilt at dropping in a fully-maxed, perfect version of yourself into your struggling team. Now, by the time your pro was nutmegging Rio Ferdinand and lobbing Petr Cech from forty yards you knew it was all down to your skill and talent.

And so the system progressed through FIFAs 09 and 10 and onto 11, where it’s at its most refined. The Virtual Pro is an ever-present option in almost all game modes – and the basis of the two most satisfying offline chapters, Career Manager and Player-Manager. What better way to perfect your carefully hewn avatar then, than by replacing his generic EA-provided face with a your own ugly visage?

Introduced in 2009 for EA Sports titles like Fight Night Round 4 and Fifa 10, Gameface is a web-based app that allows users to upload a couple of digital mugshots, point to their major features, and watch as the software takes their snap and plasters it all over a 3D head. It’s a neat idea, and one that – at least in my experience – was utterly, utterly broken until now.

I’d tried to use Gameface several times with FIFA 10. Every time I did it failed. The website was a confusing mess of sign-ins, registrations and extension downloads. I once got as far as uploading my pictures, but then somehow got trapped in an awful online shop that wanted me to buy new shirts and shorts for a horrendously bland looking 3D avatar that I couldn’t then use in-game. Not very satisfying.

So it was with some trepidation that I approached the system this year. The website is still clunky. You need to sign in, then download a file to install. This forces you to shut your browser manually before it nestles on your hard drive. Then, you’re left staring at your desktop, before you (hopefully) realise that you need to restart your browser, head back to the same website and sign in again to resume the process. It’s annoying, and nowhere near as streamlined as it could be with just a little forethought. Not a great start.

Once in, though, things take a turn for the better. You’re given the option to choose one of several generic faces. Ignore this and choose to upload your own photos and you’re off and running. You’ll be asked for a front-on photo of your face. I managed to snap myself (through trial and error), though others might want to get a friend to help. You’re also given the option of adding a profile view, which helps the overall effect, and is really worth doing. The shots themselves don’t need to be perfect. I took mine in my kitchen under artifical light with normal shelves and cupboards behind me. The software crops everything but your face out, so it doesn’t matter what’s over your shoulder.

Once uploaded, you’re asked to rotate, pan and resize the shots until your face fits roughly into a template. Then it’s a case of moving some green cursors on to various, labelled, parts of your face, so the software knows where your eyes, ears, nose, mouth and chin are. This is really simple and takes just a couple of minutes.

That done, you’re presented with a warning that rendering your gameface can take as long as ten minutes. On my laptop (a regular quad-core i7 with 4GB of RAM) it took about 20 seconds. Though forum posts suggest it can take longer.

The result is impressive. The photo maps well to the 3D head you see on screen and the effect is convincing. Chances are, though, that the bald figure in front of you only bears a passing resemblance to your fine self. The next part of the process involves adding various hairstyles and tweaking sliders to adjust everything from nose protrusion to eyebrow angle. It’s just like creating a character on the console itself, and given enough time, you can get things pretty much spot on. I had trouble with my eyes looking too bright, and had to choose the darkest eye colour to compensate (not the lovely blue I have in real life), but other than that I ended up with a passable version of me. In fact it’s so realistic that you can have a bit of fun testing out various outlandish hairstyles on your new digital self if you’re so inclined.

Once all that mouse based unpleasantness is over with, fire up your console and FIFA 11, head over to the “Edit Virtual Pro” section and choose “Download Gameface”. If your EA accounts are already set up and signed in on your Xbox (if you play online they probably will be) you’ll be in business straight away. You might want to make a few other tweaks to your character as things like hair colour can render slightly differently on your 360 than on the PC, but you’ll pretty much be off and running straight away.

The effect is convincing, and the process relatively painful. If you’ve been careful with the sliders then the character you see on screen should bear as passing a resemblance to you as John Terry’s digital version does to the real Chelsea defender. Not bad for about fifteen minutes work, and a fun way for regular players to get more out of their Virtual Pro. If EA can streamline the process, and use new hardware like Kinnect to keep it automated and in-console, then it could really take off.

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