I think the main attraction with voxels (setting the Minecraft hype apart for now) is the simplicity of generating procedural content with them rather than with triangles
No. There's always simplicity in procedurally affecting content, where the nature of its containment always has particular advantages. Both triangle mesh and voxel based substances have exclusive advantages. Skeletal animation is an equivalent for triangle meshes, just as the simplicity you've noted in voxels. But with voxels, the basis of content has always (in practice) been generated by atomic functions (random noise functions etc). Later in the pipeline, after the basis of content is generated, reiterated operations can be applied to enhance the existing content (which certainly is a procedural process, but not procedural generation). Voxels only have a single, static basis of content (the homogeneous volume), which manifests them to be problematic for the purposes of procedural generation, contrasted to polygons. "Procedural generation" isn't generic for "generation," and neither is "generation" generic for "procedural."
Obviously it's difficult to generate a highly structured object procedurally, like a sculpture or something
Yes it would be difficult. I can imagine using triangles to make something such as a seashell, a pillar, a simple water fountain, a pot, or a rock that doesn't look like a blob (like with voxels
). But if you actually wanted to craft a procedure for generating a human statue (I'm assuming a human statue), you could either go by a roughly user defined procedure (i.e. replicating the steps an artist uses to model a human), or you would require an insanely sophisticated mechanism for encapsulating the nature of a human's shape, to an extent. We can begin to imagine how this would work, and how it might determine the final surface's triangulation (if using triangles), but its not worth discussing here (lets stay on topic).
This means programmers from all over the world no longer have to painstakingly hire artists to design high quality terrain meshes and textures
The original Marching Cubes algorithm had a patent
(but it has expired), and there's an ever growing crap load of new patents regarding voxel techniques. Users still need high quality textures, unless they generate them (But voxels aren't for that anyway). I don't think very many (non-voxel) algorithms which can apply to generating terrain meshes (e.g. height-map) have been patented. And since when was voxel terrain higher quality than any other generative technique? I've marked "low-resolution" in bold:
Obviously if you are going to render raw voxels, no level of resolution will fix the blocky look. But if you interpolate voxels (e.g. marching cubes) you can get away with a surprisingly low-resolution mesh thanks to normal/parallax mapping.
As far as I can tell, normal/parallax mapping hardly relates to interpolating voxels. This interpolation can often, also, be too blobby.
You can't do that with precomputed terrain.
Plenty of games don't use either "precomputed" terrain or voxel terrain. Take BF3 for example.
Edited by Reflexus, 25 June 2012 - 02:27 PM.