Why Next-Gen Isn't Just A Time For Better Graphics And Better Games

I figured you guys might appreciate something I wrote for another site today, put a lot of work into it :D

Enjoy...

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I believe, or I hope, that next-gen isn't just a time for just better graphics. Sure there are expected things like better lighting, smoother and more shadows, among other things. And games not just looking more realistic, but smoother and cleaner. Obviously any game can look better.

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But I see next-gen as being an opportunity for so much more than just better visuals. Current-gen showed us that a video games can, to an extent, reach the cinematic quality of a movie in terms of visuals and camera work. But next-gen should show us that video games or game engines in particular can match the likes of a Pixar movie. In terms of animation quality, physics, and overall impression.

Now I can guess what you might be thinking, 'He wants games to be MORE like movies?'. And my answer is both yes and no.

Games are games and should stay that way, but there's no denying some games aim to be 'Interactive experiences' more than just games. But in that past one game aimed to movie, just a movie, and the day I learned this made me extremely happy.

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Enslaved, released in October 2010 by Ninja Theory, aimed to be a movie first. Yet it was sadly shot down by Hollywood in general.

"They have no idea of what real-time means," he explains. "They just care about how good it looks."
"Then, the fact that you say you can do this for cheap has no interest to studios whatsoever because they don't want to do it for cheap. They want Pixar and the other higher end [studios] to do it for 100 million dollars or 60 million dollars."

Basically the idea of unreal engine for a movie as was so foreign, the movie industry had no idea what to think! But I think that is way past due to change.

Now we have companies like NVIDIA who are a major part of the movie industry using their technology to render frames in movies like Avatar (though each frame still took two days to render).

And now amazing technology like Real-time Ray-tracing, Real-time indirect lighting, Real-time Subsurface Scattering, and even Real-time Strand hair has made an appearance. And so amazing Tech Demo's like Agni's Philosophy running the Luminous Engine have been released to show at least some of this technology in action.

Video game engines are capable of making amazing CG movies, and the demo above is confirmed to be capable of running real-time on the PS4. That means what might be a $450 device (according to some UK pre-order sites) is capable of running a CG movie perhaps comparable to or exceeding the visual eye candy of Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children at at-least 30 frames-per-second.

Better Animation, Better Physics, Better Technology, Better Software

Ok so great we have these great graphics, a higher poly count, everything can look sexy, but whats holding all this back from taking over movie CG?

So far its animation quality, physics, and the challenges with the engines that's made for making games first, and movies second. These factors need to improve greatly, and we've made some strides in some areas but it's certainly not enough.

Animation is greatly lacking to start, and its so bad even the promotional images suck.

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There's no reason promotional images should have this problem, I originally saw this image in a blog some time ago illustrating this point. Sadly I can't find it but he made it clear that current game engines have a big problem with things like this, and game developers have to work really hard to make a character holding an object look right in current engines.

I'm sure you've seen this exact issue in TONS of games, where a character is holding and object, and it just snaps somewhere when they pickup or up it down, or simply doesn't seem to fit in the characters hand. Its odd and takes you out of the experience every time even in cut-scenes where a manual delicate task is often hidden or just seems unnatural.

Then facial animation simply hasn't reached its potential either, sure a face can look good, but even the best animation often comes out flat in terms of expression. The problem certainly isn't that the animation is bad, some of these animators are REALLY good, it's just limited. Current software can only handle so many key-frames in a single animation. So objects slip out of hands or snap, fingers don't move like they need to, objects casually pass through each other, and facial animations can't have the subtleties and detail it needs.

So what happens is that fantastic animators with years and years of experience have to create a character animation that's not even on par with what a student in a two-year class can create. This is because the current software and hardware limitations simply don't give them that creative freedom.

Physics is another weak area but we have seen improvements here. Like for instance the cloth in Assassin's Creed 3 was the first thing I noticed in the initial game-play walk through, something so small as the cloth on his coat made a great impression on me. But it's not enough.

Cloth could be so much more, CG characters in movies have base models with clothes on top to make a better impression. But now we have static clothing, I greatly appreciate some efforts like ruffling said static clothing but sometimes the effect makes the clothes seem alive in the wrong way ("What is that thing consuming his neck!"). Clothing doesn't have to be full on like in the movies, but it is something that needs to be applied to characters and objects alike where it counts.

A great example of proper physics is the movie The Adventures of Tintin, a movie that's much like a European Uncharted, and to me a perfect candidate for a movie that could have been rendered in real-time. Its movie with fantastic animation, a great use of cloth simulation, and TONS of particle effects. Things I can't see possible in the current gen, but next-gen certainly needs and seems capable of.

So the big thing here is that there needs to be a change in the technology that's used, a re-vamp. And the PS4 and next-gen Xbox seem to be the driving force for new technology. Thanks to their adaption of a more PC like architecture(x86), we can see this tech spread around. But so far it seems like it's mostly visual.

But one demo seems show all these in place, and comes the closest to Tintin I've seen. There's physics and particles where it counts, every character has cloth simulation, but the best part is the animation. The elder in the demo actually has legitimate face wrinkles and full on facial animation. There's subtleties there you won't find in current gen. Sure its a visual masterpiece, but their technology is a perfect example of what animation needs to be in games.

On top of this their tech demos show that this technology is something easy to use, it seems fully capable of not just games but movies too. To be honest, I wouldn't be surprised if Square-Enix's efforts in movies went to their own game engines like this too. They've proven it's a quality product, capable of the big screen. A more powerful computer could add even more resources for them to take advantage of.

And it's not just square either, Unreal Engine 4 has certainly made strides in this kind presentation, and the engine powering the 'Second Son' trailer proved that too.

So to conclude, I believe next-gen will be a time for more than just games, but movies too. There's a lot to be gained here, and video game companies have already proven they have the potential and will to make a movie. I don't expect the movie industry to take advantage of this yet, but a movie made with a game engine like this is low-budget and easily accessible. It could even one day be the standard for CG short films and TV shows.

And this effort into movies comes back to games too, if video games companies open a new venue than just games, we could see a surge in quality and content. More effort into improving technology, and anyone who works in the game industry could also take part in the movie industry too.

Next-gen has the potential to change the industry in my eyes. What do you think?

Originally Posted on Takuchat.com

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