One of the nicest things to come out of this year’s E3 so far has been the kiss that begins (and ends) the new Last of Us 2 trailer. In fact I’m going to go so far as to say it’s the best video game kiss I’ve ever seen.
Naughty Dog’s own Uncharted games made some decent progress, and as Stephen pointed out a few years back, Assassin’s Creed could at one point be regarded as the premiere lip-locking blockbuster video game series, reaching new heights last year with Bayek and Aya’s passionate embraces.
They all suffered the same Achilles Heel, though, in that there have been limits to the believability of animation in video games. Making it look like a dude can slide over a car and fire a gun is (relatively) easy, because those are huge sweeping movements of the human body.
But kissing is delicate. It’s a slow, soft and gentle process, where the most important movements are tiny, and subtle. Throw in the fact that most important kiss scenes are zoomed right in on the character’s faces and you’ve got another problem: animating those faces, something games have been traditionally poor at.
The end result of most video game kisses, then, is not an immersive look at two people in love, but a short sequence where two mailboxes clang against each other for a few seconds.
With all that in mind, watch this kiss again, uninterrupted by ultraviolence courtesy of this combined video put together by Dorkly’s Tristan Cooper:
Look how their lips actually touch in multiple places. How Ellie’s nose bends once it makes contact. How there are tiny little plucking and slurping noises. I swear you can even see Ellie’s cheeks turn red at the end.
They’re all tiny, almost imperceptible details in isolation, but they all add up to represent one hell of a kiss. There are no mailboxes here. This is two people locking lips in a very real way, and it helps get some very physical emotions across that we don’t encounter in video games very often.
It’s easy to say, well, technology has just got better, but a kiss like this isn’t just the result of advances in motion capture and animation. Those advances have been made in this case expressly for scenes like this, and wouldn’t have come about without Naughty Dog expressly wanting to pull off a scene as captivating as this.
As video games get bigger, louder and more expensive in their never-ending pursuit towards “realism”, it’s worth remembering that not every improvement we see has to be about resolution, or lighting, or explosive effect. Sometimes the most important touches in a video game can be the most delicate ones.