Next gen engines and the search for a better… what?

Maybe you heard the news about Unreal Engine 4 and how it promises Avatar-quality graphics. I know that’s just another engine trying to deliver better and better and better graphics (better graphics is the selling point of Frostbite, CryENGINE and id’s Tech… and pretty much any 3d engine out there).

I have to say it made me wonder if graphics is the only thing that matters when designing a new engine. Coming from a pre-rendered graphics background I have to say I find that somewhat dumb. Just a disclaimer here: First of all, I love Epic, and I love the Unreal Engine. I even use UDK for my games, so obviously I won’t be bashing the technology I use for games. Second, you are free to disagree with anything I say, but keep in mind that me wondering why graphics matter so much doesn’t have anything to do with me not being able to producer visual extravaganzas that can be compared to the latest Crysis game.

Anyway, as I was saying, we all know that, in a game, the first thing you see are the graphics. I have nothing against graphics, because I like good graphics as much as the next guy. However, if I’ve learned something from being software reviewer for nearly 10 years, is that it’s not just about how great your renderer is, but also how well the software lets you do your work. For this reason, I don’t care about the latest and greatest photorealistic rendering techniques (or how many polygons the engine can render in realtime) as much as I care about how the workflow will improve.

Simply put, next gen systems will have more horsepower, but ditch the mentality that horsepower is only good for photorealistic graphics. So, how about I share what I’d like to see in a nextgen engine?

One of the areas I’d love game engines to improve is character animation/deformation. Sometimes it’s frustrating how much working with realtime characters feels like going back in time 10 years or so. By the time I got into game development, I was using dynamic skin deformation for my characters.

But game engines usually don’t allow more than 4 influences per vertex… What is this? 1999? I know muscle deformations take a lot of resources, but it’s not like modern GPGPUs are not up to the task…

I’m aware that video only shows a “simple” fluid simulation (and believe me, there’s nothing simple about that), but I ‘m also aware that video is from 2009, and GPUs now are way more advanced than what they had back then (4 years is a long time in GPU world…). After all, we’re talking about graphic cards that can playback a freaking 4K RED video clip in freaking real time:

I also used to make “real” hair and clothing…

How about we could make real hair in whatever engine we use, and not limit ourselves to “hair-cap” meshes or “bunch-of-planes-stuck-together-so-they-look-like-hair” models with transparency maps on them? I know this also touches the “better graphics” thing, but I’m not talking about brighter blooms here, I’m talking about something that can yield good results.

After all, it’s not like realistic dynamic hair is impossible to make in real time…

Cloth simulation is also “on its way” but it’s not there yet IMO.

Let’s just change the subject a little. What about dynamic particles? Personally I’d love to have a system that would let me interact with particles like I do in Maya (you know, with dynamic fields, colliders and all that).

If I was a programmer I could also say you can use that extra horsepower to make a better AI, and even to add some sort of “stupidity” to the AI, like having an AI that makes mistakes from time to time (human-like mistakes like dropping the weapon when reloading, or going the wrong way when in pursuit). Off the top of my head, I can also think of speech synthesis stuff, so NPCs can feel more “unique,” since they would deliver their lines in some sort of “improvised” way every time you play.

A system like this could be amazing for those games where outcomes are based on your actions.

So, the point is, I’m glad all you people out there are working on your new tech. However, don’t act like graphics are all that matter. Horsepower is good for many things other than displaying gazillions of polygons with 4K textures, SSS, and very strong bloom.

What good are photorealistic graphics if much of the technology used in those same engines (I’m looking at you, lousy 4-joints influence limit!!!) is like 20 years old?

~ by nemirc on May 27, 2012.

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