How the best new video games turn real life into digital form

Next time you pick up a video game controller, think about this interesting fact.

The developers who work on games spend countless hours researching and investigating ways to make their digital representations seem more like reality. In some cases they travel to the locations they are recreating, they hire voice actors who speak like the characters in the game should, and they even don full-body motion capture suits to mimic human behavior.

For the latest top games, developers pushed even farther to make sure the gameplay and visual match reality.

1. Assassin's Creed Unity

This third-person action game takes place mostly in Paris around 1790. It follows the exploits of an assassin named Arno Dorian. Ubisoft’s Montreal studio pored over about 150 historic maps and watched multiple period documentaries. One of the biggest challenges was recreating the twisting roads and inscrutable city layout. Residents in the game sometimes joke about the “village” of Paris, a sentiment that still holds true in modern Paris, which has a population of 2.2 million people.

Most of the architecture is much more advanced than previous games in the series - an artist on the team took 2 years just to create the Notre Dame de Paris cathedral. (Be sure to go inside - it consists of 2 million polygons.) Another tidbit: If you play, watch for the distinct crowd animations, like people stretching and yawning. There are 500 animations in all.

2. GRID: Autosport

Developed by Codemasters, the latest entry in this F1 racing game focuses on more realistic vehicle dynamics than previous outings. Lee Mather, the principal game designer, told that his team used actual specs for the chassis of the cars, then added real-life properties such as center of mass, weight, suspension, and aerodynamics. The raceways were recreated by having a photographer take full 360-degree photos every 30 feet around the track, right down to the rain gulleys and sponsor banners.

Mather explained that the cars now also model turbocharging to give you the feeling of a quick push to overtake a competitor (without adding the unrealistic “nitro” push from an arcade game). “The turbochargers require greater throttle control than before and you’ll hear it as last year’s high-pitched engine sounds are replaced with a deeper growl,” he said.

3. Alien: Isolation

You might think it would be hard to create a “realistic” sci-fi shooter like “Alien: Isolation.” Most of us don’t crawl through a space station on a routine basis. Interestingly, creating the game required looking back 35 years to the original movie, yet also involved a futuristic tone. Developed by The Creative Assembly, the game borrows ideas from the cult-classic movie, like push-buttons for opening doors, as opposed to more modern touchscreens. The designers even used the same “pen and marker” style as production designer Ron Cobb did in 1979. To create a “realistic” alien creature, the designers studied how cats and lizards move in the real world. The alien’s tail even has 38 different virtual “bones” to make it look more realistic.

Other details hit you right away - when you first meet the main character, she has sweat on her face and neck after working with a blowtorch. On the ship, she first walks barefoot with a wet, slopping sound. When she speaks, her mouth moves correctly.

“We also took the unusual step of recording all our user interface graphics onto VHS tape, then playing them back through a standard definition CRT television, filming the screen whilst crushing the cables and applying magnets to the TV,” the game’s Creative Lead Alistair Hope told “This gave us a really unique look and feel and made the presentation feel just more authentic and believable. It also killed a number of TVs and VCR machines.”

4. Far Cry 4

The latest video games can’t rely on the simple mechanics of first-person shooters (run, jump, and shoot). The genre has matured and become more about realistic locations and giving the characters in the game more to do. “Far Cry 4” is another step forward. The shooter takes place in a fictional country called Kyrat that’s based on the Himalaya mountains near Nepal.  Two developers from Ubisoft went to the region and studied the scenery and local culture.

“We discovered that in different parts of the Himalayas, people build their houses in very different ways due to resource availability,” Level Designer Vincent Ouellet told “In the bottom of the valleys, homes are largely large wooden structures (where timber is abundant) compared to higher altitude villages where wood is very scarce.”

The team used tools that add erosion over time to the scenery they’ve created. Buildings are also not randomly recreated - they are based on actual road networks in Nepal and stay true to the vegetation and forested areas that often dictate where you can build.

The most unusual act of hyperrealism? One of the characters came to life through “digital acting” techniques. Janina Gavankar from the show “True Blood” wore a motion capture suit and provided dialogue for one of the characters in the game named Amita. “Motion capture technology and animation has advanced so much, that as an actor, the experience is invigorating,” she told “I can range from grand physical moves to subtle emotional moments, and know that the performance I’m intending will be caught.”