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Valve Does Sign Lanuage for HL2: E3?

By - Source: Tom's Hardware US | B 12 comments
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Joystiq is reporting that Valve Software is researching sign language for the next episode (3) of Half-Life 2 by conducting a focus group with deaf individuals. The company is looking to understand the language and how it can be used in games. Valve's first use of the new sign language technology will be implemented into the backstory of Alyx as explained in this YouTube video with Gabe Newell.

"[Alyx] had a crush on someone who was hearing impaired, so she taught Dog how to sign so she could practice," Newell said. "Something happened, maybe, the person is off fighting the Combine someplace else, but that's why she and Dog would start signing with each other when they wanted to communicate without making noise, or communicate without other people knowing."

The largest aspect of virtualizing the use of sign language is not only the unique hand movements, but the facial expressions as well. While Valve Software has been one of the more prominent developers in regards to character facial movements, taking on sign language and its nuances is a huge--but ultimately a beneficial--project. Ultimately Valve wants to create a believable, authentic experience, a believable backstory for the heroine.

"It gave us the excuse to build the technology for signing," he said.

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  • 0 Hide
    LePhuronn , 11 August 2009 09:27
    That's all well and good, but I'd rather Valve got it in for Half Life 3 so we weren't waiting for another thousand years for HL2E3 to arrive!

    If you want Alyx and Dog to communicate silently then use military or ninja finger signals ffs signing will not add ANYTHING to the game at this stage.
  • 1 Hide
    Dangerous Beans , 11 August 2009 10:04
    "signing will not add ANYTHING to the game at this stage."
    Unless you're hearing impaired and /or know sign language, it which case it might be a nice touch. It's nice when the medium you are engaged with acknowledges that people like you exist, and that everyone isn't a fully functional, straight, white American.

    Look on it as primary research; it may not add much to the game, and it may not be used in future, but they are going to have to do some nifty animation to implement it which will get used somewhere else.
  • -1 Hide
    LePhuronn , 11 August 2009 17:10
    @dangerous beans:

    Don't get me wrong I fully welcome the inclusion of technologies that improve the gaming experience for those with impairments, but I guess I'm increasingly frustrated with Valve's age-long development cycles and right this minute, this sign-language thing strikes me as an unnecessary hold-up in the development of Episode 3, and another "wow that'll be cool, let's stick it in our next game that's already a year overdue and hold it up even more".

    However nice the HDR lighting effects are in Episode 1, they didn't need to be there. By all means continue to develop Source to keep up with rival engines, but considering how short Episode 1 was, especially having no new content other than the Zombine, it seemed like "we've delayed this by an extra year just to get some nice blooms and iris effects in".

    The Lost Coast tech demo would've sufficed to show it off prior to its inclusion in the Orange Box games, and even with the extensive reworking of the Source to cope with expansive environments as we saw with White Forest, Episode 2 I feel would have shipped sooner because development started sooner.

    I guess it just bugs me that it feels the ENTIRE Valve staff only ever work on one project at a time: Source needs to be updated so everything else is on hold. We want to do a zombie game and sign language so Episode 3 is on hold.
  • Display all 12 comments.
  • 0 Hide
    LePhuronn , 11 August 2009 17:14
    However much fun Left 4 Dead and Team Fortress may be, I'd say that the Half Life user base is much larger yet our game takes forever to show up, especially annoying given that Team Fortress gets new achievements, new weapons and new content all the time (which many TF2 players see as just meddling in an already-balanced game) and Left 4 Dead has even had a sequel announced!
  • -1 Hide
    waxdart , 11 August 2009 18:18
    In the future all computers are supposed to be fantastic. This is a step to make that happen.

    It is extremely sad that you selfish gits are crying about a bit of a delay. I’m not deaf but given the choice of getting a game 10months late or being deaf for life and not be able join in with a game. I’ll pick the delay. I want others to enjoy it as much as possible too.

    Other things I’d like to see would be subtitles on all video / speech. Visual clues for sounds and their direction.

    I do not know how you'd make games like this accessible to visually impaired gamers.
    I assume the test modes used to debug would help. Simple flat polygon high contrast modes. Scaling fonts so they can be made huge and high contrast.
    There must be loads of things we can add in to help.
  • 0 Hide
    etak , 11 August 2009 20:42
    "It gave us the excuse to build the technology for signing," It's not just gaming anymore since this might turn out to be so much more beneficial in rl application. I for once am very excited about such delays :) 
  • 0 Hide
    devilxc , 11 August 2009 23:15
    @waxdart

    There is a limit to how much should be done in games though. Subtitles allow the deaf to enjoy games. I don't think that people will get a better experience because of sign language.

    It's a great idea for the future of games and I'm all for promoting sign language but i think it is not anything that people will say improves the gameplay.
  • 0 Hide
    waxdart , 11 August 2009 23:33
    @devilxc

    If a person can hear I wouldn't expect them to use the option. And with a wide screen monitor the CGI fellow would be in the bottom right. You’d tune them out after a while I’m sure. But if you can hear why turn it on?

    As for your point about game play. I don't think there is anything one thing they can bolt on to improve that.
    Words like innovation and fun spring to mind.
    Not dumbing down for consoles would be nice!!!!

    As an aside: I’ve been playing rocket ranger on an Amiga emulator a few days ago and I had a go with future wars with dosbox just recently.
    Rocket Ranger was just daft fun and Future Wars was sooo hard I could cry. Neither needed sign. Both were better than some dross demos I played.
  • 1 Hide
    mdale13 , 11 August 2009 23:59
    dangerous beans"signing will not add ANYTHING to the game at this stage."Unless you're hearing impaired and /or know sign language, it which case it might be a nice touch. It's nice when the medium you are engaged with acknowledges that people like you exist, and that everyone isn't a fully functional, straight, white American.Look on it as primary research; it may not add much to the game, and it may not be used in future, but they are going to have to do some nifty animation to implement it which will get used somewhere else.


    valve isnt using the sign language to help the inpaired play the game, they are putting it in as a gameplay mechanic
  • 0 Hide
    LePhuronn , 12 August 2009 03:27
    mdale13valve isnt using the sign language to help the inpaired play the game, they are putting it in as a gameplay mechanic


    And this is my grip.

    Please let me clarify that I am not in any way complaining about developing the technology to incorporate signing into games. As somebody who develops a lot of e-learning I am fully aware of accessibility requirements and how shocking the support is for those who need it. So yes, a triple thumbs-up to Valve for researching and developing this.

    But, as it stands this is going to be nothing more than Alyx and Dog signing to each other prior to a big attack on the Combine. It may have an in-joke or two for signers but that's all it's going to be, but I guarantee you it'll hold up development of an already delayed game and for what? Re-read what Gabe Newell said - the backstory gave them an excuse to develop the tech. That to me sounds like a thin justification for more Ep3 delays.

    By all means go ahead and produce tech demos like Lost Coast did for HDR - if any game engine can do it Source can - but I think, for now, it's best left out of current game development cycles.
  • 0 Hide
    mdale13 , 12 August 2009 03:45
    LePhuronnAnd this is my grip.Please let me clarify that I am not in any way complaining about developing the technology to incorporate signing into games. As somebody who develops a lot of e-learning I am fully aware of accessibility requirements and how shocking the support is for those who need it. So yes, a triple thumbs-up to Valve for researching and developing this.But, as it stands this is going to be nothing more than Alyx and Dog signing to each other prior to a big attack on the Combine. It may have an in-joke or two for signers but that's all it's going to be, but I guarantee you it'll hold up development of an already delayed game and for what? Re-read what Gabe Newell said - the backstory gave them an excuse to develop the tech. That to me sounds like a thin justification for more Ep3 delays.By all means go ahead and produce tech demos like Lost Coast did for HDR - if any game engine can do it Source can - but I think, for now, it's best left out of current game development cycles.


    im fairly sure that it wont hold up development THAT much. generic hand animations and the corresponding code isnt that much work.
  • 0 Hide
    LePhuronn , 12 August 2009 03:50
    mdale13im fairly sure that it wont hold up development THAT much. generic hand animations and the corresponding code isnt that much work.


    I guess it depends on how far they're going with it. If they're developing the full technology for inclusion in Ep3 then it will take time. If they get the ball rolling with a "lite" version between Alyx and Dog then I agree it shouldn't take too long.

    But knowing Valve's attention to detail, I fear it'll be the whole hog just for a segment of the game (the arctic wastes have sound-sensitive creatures or something so it's hand signals, crossbows and silenced SMGs)