Thanks go out to Chris Doran, founder of entertainment technology company Geomerics, for his thoughts on the next generation of graphics.
2013 is the year of the new console and the battle lines are being drawn. We have new devices attempting to usurp the big three from the living room, with Ouya, Gamestick and Steambox the front runners. We are seeing increasingly bold statements from the mobile community on the power of the latest tablets and handhelds. But for many, the real interest is in the next generation of consoles, and in particular what the potential of the PlayStation 4 means for 3D artists working on game graphics.
The PlayStation 4 represents possibly the single biggest leap seen in a console generation. In terms of the two things graphics programmers care most about – memory and GPU performance – the jump is vast. So what will this mean? As a middleware provider that works with game artists regularly, here are our thoughts on some immediate consequences:
The basic building block of games graphics is the texture-mapped triangle, and this is unlikely to change dramatically. Graphics hardware is designed to process huge numbers of triangles and that will continue to be the way to drive the best performance and quality. But this reliance on triangulated geometry has formed a long-standing barrier between games and animated film, with the latter preferring geometry standards that are inherently smooth. We will see more film technologies adopted, and I’m sure some developers will even make entire games that do away with triangles altogether. With so much power, you can sacrifice some performance if it makes the authoring process simpler and more intuitive.
Artists love to author extremely high-resolution textures. However, these are routinely compressed to fit inside memory constraints. What we will see with the next-gen consoles will be a major improvement in texture resolution on characters, textures and more, and that will make a significant difference in the immersive power of the game.
Lighting has long been a story-telling mechanism for filmmakers, and with more powerful hardware, we expect to see that practice adopted across the gaming world. Some of the best-looking games on this current generation still suffer from artefacts, and dynamic shadowing is often viewed as an expensive luxury. On next generation consoles, dynamic lighting and shadowing will be expected. Game developers will be able to deploy all of the techniques of film cinematography in games, with dynamic lighting integral to design.
Many of the techniques that give film its final look are achieved in ‘post’, where multiple effects are layered on top of each other to compose the final image. The next generation will bring these techniques into the interactive realm, with local, dynamic control over each pass.
As we reach the end of a console cycle we know how to achieve great graphics, or physics, or AI, or gameplay. But we know we cannot do all of these simultaneously. All design choices become a series of compromises. A new generation puts an end to these debates as, in the early days, the new resources remove any constraints. This lasts until we really get to work on the hardware pushing each area to its new limits!
This is what next generation means for games graphics – raising the quality bar across the board, and opening up new ways for artists to achieve even better results. Better graphics, increased immersion and greater dynamism; these are the keys to the next generation. And when people see this in action, they will not want to turn back!
Chris Doran is the founder and COO of Geomerics. Geomerics delivers cutting-edge graphics technology to customers in the games and entertainment industries, with its Geomerics’ Enlighten technology powering best-selling titles such as Battlefield 3, Need for Speed: The Run, Eve Online and Quantum Conundrum.