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01 March, 2008

Next-gen, realism and detail.

Is next-gen about realism? In most cases, yes it is. Is realism about detail? In my opinion, no. Or at least, not about fine-scale details. It's strange but I see in many games that to be "nextgen" a lot of effort has been placed on such details, completelly overlooking other, more important things. Nailing the exact shape of grass blades is completelly irrelevant, if you don't nail the exact colors of the grass.

Do this test. Take a good photo and blur it. It's still good. You lost details, but the general apparence is the same (*). Do the same with games, and see how many pass this test. Assassin Creed? Gears of War? What about Gran Turismo HD? Crysis? Nba Street Homecourt? Half Life 2? Some titles have a quality that trascend fine detail, some others are so detailed that they are almost noise, when you filter them, you'll see how flat they really are.

Again, painter's technique is a great ispiration. Nail the general volumes, colors, apparence first. Then add details. Gran Turismo HD/5 has a lot of errors in the details. Missing transitions, obviously tiled textures, you can even see trees that are still made with two textured, alpha-keyed planes. But it is incredibly realistic. And the previous titles, on the Playstation 2, had the same extraordinary level of quality.

Color, shadows, light, those are the details that matter, and they are hard to get right too. Gather referece, use referece a LOT.

In-game visual quality checking systems also help. It's really nice to have the ability to load and display reference side-by-side with the rendered frame for example. Or to be able to turn off textures, and check only the lighting, diffuse only or with specular, with specularmaps, with normalmaps etc. A surface blurring shader could be nice too, maybe just biasing the mipmap lookups to get a very blurred mipmap level.

And this is not only true for realistic games. It's the key for achieving any kind of look.

(*) That's also why technical details in expensive photo equipment matter only for huge prints, mostly in commercial photography, and in most cases are useless, the only thing that matter is your view, the situation, and how comfortable you are with your equipment (tools!).

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