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Reality Check: 3D Graphics Take On Hollywood

Using Nature As The Template

Gamers usually see a marked improvement in 3D graphics every two or three years. When Microsoft ties a new version of DirectX into Windows, or when AMD/Nvidia announce an exciting new feature in their graphics chips (one that developers are excited about, that is), you can look forward to new effects coming along for the ride.

Milestone titles like Morrowind, Doom 3, and Far Cry were made famous by reflections in the water, nerve-wracking lighting effects, and believable island worlds. The greatest improvement was the development of the pixel shader, which now ensures natural water movements, lighting effects on surfaces, and film-style special effects like motion blur. Today, the most advanced effects are enabled by DirectX 10.1 and Shader 4; DirectX 11 and Shader Model 5 have already been announced and will pave the way for another level of added realism.

High Dynamic Range Rendering (HDR-R) is responsible for bright shining effects, artificial 3D light sources creating true reflections on surfaces, and the disorientation of staring straight at the sun. Users with a graphics card using Shader Model 3 were astounded by the shimmering silver swords and sunlit temples of white stone blocks in Oblivion. Today, HDR-R with DirectX 10 generates long rays of light as seen in Crysis or Stalker: Clear Sky, breaking through the branches and leaves and creating wonderful shadow play.

Hollywood has been making use of this potential for much longer, often employing special cameras that better capture the intensity of the light in order to get closer to the receptivity of the brain and eyes. The following pages will portray many optical comparisons between 3D graphics, and nature’s own special effects, all of which will help to impressively demonstrate the development and current state of PC games.

This article is made up of two parts. The first discusses the development of games and characters, and gives an overview of current lighting effects and the depth effect of surfaces. The second section concentrates more on the elements of fire and water, draws comparisons with Hollywood monsters and special effects, adds a little physics, and a couple of images foretelling the next generation.

  • jimmysmitty
    Of course it can always get better. it just depends on how much of the power available to them the game designers want to use. For PC its harder though since they want the most sales and want to go from low to high end.

    Introducing MT in games would boost FPS allowing more and better eye candy.

    A good example is L4D from VALVe. Source is a 4 year old engine but some of the graphics in that game are close to Crysis which is amazing to be honest since Crysis was made with a much newer engine.

    It is also rumored to include MT capabilities. Will have to see.

    Once game designers stop worrying as much they will finalyl make better looking games. As you can see from Far Cry 2 though the PC looks to have much superior graphics for it. The 360 version looks a bit bland where as the PC version looks nice and gritty.
    Reply
  • cangelini
    Well, hopefully DirectX 11 helps in that regard, right?
    Reply
  • V3NOM
    yaya dx 11... cant wait to spend another $100 on another OS and $500 for a new graphics setup which will then be incompatible with something therefore resulting in a whole new $1000+ system. who wouldn't want to?
    Reply
  • safcmanfr
    V3NOMyaya dx 11... cant wait to spend another $100 on another OS and $500 for a new graphics setup which will then be incompatible with something therefore resulting in a whole new $1000+ system. who wouldn't want to?
    Shows how much you read up about DX11. It will be compatible on Vista and Windows 7 - so no need to update your OS. Unless you still use XP, which is your choice and you just need to live with the consequences.

    Yes you will need a new GPU - but if you are a serious gamer you probably buy one of those every 9-12 months anyway. and $500? for the very top end perhaps - but why not go for the equivalent of the 4870 when dx11 comes out - which is $250?
    Reply
  • enewmen
    Thanks for the article.
    I hope to see realistic/possible samples of future(1-4 years) screenshots in another article.
    Reply
  • As a researcher in the field of computer graphics, I can safely say that we haven't seen the end of it. Yes, a lot of hope has to be put on faster hardware. And lets face it - light is a tricky business...you do not think about it, but the complexity of the processes involved that enable you your eyesight is enormous.

    Yet, every now and then a new algorithm is developed, which introduces more accuracy and less approximations, which runs faster and more optimal. It is not yet sure which idea will prevale (ray tracing or raster or something else), but it is sure that visible pixelization, coarse models, unrealistic lighting etc are going to be pretty much the past. When? Nobody can honestly answer this question...lets wait and see.
    Reply
  • dobby
    safcmanfr
    actually it get better still, acording to all currently known info, direct3D 11 will be perfectly backward compatible with both vista and win7, but also the infrastructure of DX10 and DX10.1 GPU's will be able to support directX 11.

    see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DirectX#Direct3D_11
    ^and yes i do know that wiki isnt the great source, but it is as good as any.

    although the way the article is worded, it is made to sound as though some of the more subtle effect would require an upgrade. however the import part is GPGPU support accross both nvidia and ATi, and multithreading which will be supported.
    Reply
  • caamsa
    As a researcher in the field of computer graphics, I can safely say that we haven't seen the end of it. Yes, a lot of hope has to be put on faster hardware. And lets face it - light is a tricky business...you do not think about it, but the complexity of the processes involved that enable you your eyesight is enormous.

    Well it took evolution billions of years to perfect the human eye so I think we can cut you programmers a break ;-) so far most of the new games look great.

    I enjoy good looking games but the games need to have some substance to them as well. No one wants to play a crappy game no matter how good it looks.

    Reply
  • WyomingKnott
    Either most of the illustrations also include a real photograph, or there is some incredible quality out there. In the illustration "Targeted use of light sources lighting up a grid structure," is the upper-right image, an outside view of a window with bars, a real photo? If not, let me know what game it is from and I will buy it.
    Reply
  • neiroatopelcc
    Even with all those effects I'm still marvelled by the lack of realistic structures. I do have a gaming rig with sufficient power to play crysis and what not, but still I can't find a game where walls don't look unnaturally sharp edged.
    No matter how much soft shadow, af or aa is applied, it still manages to look like a building is simply 4 completely straight walls. Even when you blow something up in the newest crysis game you'll notice that a building is made up of incredibly straight sheets of wood or metal. Sure they've come a long way with foilage and stuff, but hollywood knows a great deal more about realistic structures than game developers seem to do.
    Reply