Blog: The future of gaming ‘looks’ real
I think I am ready for next gen engines, and the consoles.
Millions of years ago or so it seems, I distinctly remember sitting deeply reclined in my chair, hands firmly tightened on the armrest, eyes wide open and the jaw almost hitting desk. I was awestruck. My 12 year old self had just popped in Final Fantasy 7, his first RPG (he didn’t know what that was then), and the opening CGI was running.
“Wow”. I was blown away. I was mesmerized. Sqaure Enix’s computer generated movie had me deeply enchanted. Where they actual graphics, I thought? Of course not, as I later found out. For a moment, the game had me confused when it actually began. Why does the game look like that now? That was my first thrust with in-game cinematic as I slowly took baby steps into the world of gaming. I understood the concept of CGI, how it was made, and how painstakingly hard it would be to have all of that running in real-time. Although CGI is pretty rarely used these days, with most developers now preferring to use in-game engine to keep the “immersion value”, games of the yesteryear depended heavily on them to set the tone for their game. King’s Quest 8, Final Fantasy VIII and IX, Diablo 2, Starcraft – left me ogling at the sheer brilliance of their opening cinematics and cut scenes. In fact, I also remember playing through the avg. FF8 only to watch the CGIs Square Enix had so beautifully crafted (YouTube was yet to exist).
Like most of us, I am sure, I secretly hoped that such graphics would actually be playable sometime in the future. I did not just wanted to look at it, I wanted to interact with it, I wanted to manipulate the world it created, I wanted to feel it, I wanted to destroy it. As time passed, the graphical capabilities of games did increase many folds but it is, still, nowhere near to what developers can do when they do not have to build real-time environments. When Crysis came out, it offered me the first glimpse into that future I always hoped for. It raised my expectations from the industry. We were finally moving forward to the right direction. Of course, Crysis was far away from anything Pixar could muscle up in an hour, but some of the environments looked so photorealistic, I knew we were almost there. However, I still did not believe photorealistic environments would be possible for another twenty years. I didn’t think the hardware was ready yet. I didn’t think games were ready for it yet. Were we ready for it?
At GDC this year, Epic Games proved me how terribly, terribly wrong I was. The hopes that I had harbored for all these years were finally realizing. And it was coming soon. Much, much sooner than I expected. If Epic had just shown the trailer without saying what it was, we would have brushed it off as yet another CGI-for-game-announcement. But they had dropped the bomb – the ‘Samaritian’ video they had showcased was real-time. Real time.
What was even startling was the fact that you could play that on current hardware. If Epic would be kind enough lend you a code, you could literally go to a retail shop, grab an i9 (when it releases), three GTX580s, 8GB of RAM and have the Unreal Engine 3.975 experience right in your home. Of course, such a setup would be insanely expensive but we have to consider the fact – the visual scale shown in the video was achievable with current generation of hardware. We do not have to wait for years to get this playable in our homes.
This brings me to another point: consoles. Just a few days back, like most of the discussion board mongers over the internet, I was of the opinion that current generation of consoles would easily suffice for another 3-4 years. With the on-going recession, it would be hard for consumers and manufacturers to adapt to a whole new system. Why upgrade when the present hardware can produce enough juice? Look at Killzone 3, look at Heavy Rain, they all look pretty darn amazing.
That was until I came across this video: an Xbox 360 vs. PC comparison of Crysis 2. The difference between the two versions is startling huge. This is not a DX11 vs DX9 comparison, but a DX9 vs. DX9 comparison scaled on different hardware. The cuts that Crytek had to make to deliver Crysis on the consoles are now exposed. The PS3 version looks even worse.
I now realize we have to get things rolling again. The current generation of consoles are just stagnating the technology that could be unleashed. Microsoft and Sony needs to come out with better hardware and quickly. Epic had quite clearly said that its new engine will not be able to run on present console hardware. It’s just not possible. The much rumored refresh cycle of 2012-2013 sounds just about right.
So, bring on 8 core CPUs, bring on the quad core GPUs, bring on the gazillion amounts of RAM and bring on those tempting little SSDs. I think we are ready for the new generation of visual engines and are certainly ready for the new set of consoles. At least, I know I am!