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How have 3D graphics changed since Quake?

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Hi, I've been playing Doom 3 and it occurrs to me that graphics aren't fundametally different than they were in the mid 90s. So what has changed? - More polygons - Higher resolution textures - Real time lighting and shadows - Bump mapping Is there anything else? Cheers, BD

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In my opinion, the biggest significant changes are:

1) Programmable Render Pipelines (Shaders)
2) Speed

That second one, though obvious, has an impact on many more things than you may realize. In the early days of 3D, every single polygon drawn to the screen was expensive, and graphics programmers went through a lot of pain and suffering to make sure not a single one was wasted. This is where we got things like BSP trees and the like, and why traditionally most games follow the "small room/hallway/small room" pattern: Programmers trying to conserve every bit of programming power possible.

We also ended up with a bunch of "cheats", or graphical hacks. Billboarding would be a good simple example, but Lightmapping is probably the best example of this type of thinking. I the absense of the power to actually compute lighting "correctly" in realtime, lightmapping was devised as a way to fake it. Now, this particular hack is one that has gotten us a long way (Half Life 2 is probably the last hurrah for the technique), but it still remains nothing more than a "cheat".

Doom 3, on the other hand, despite it's flaws, is a good indication of where graphics are at the moment and where they're going. Every light in the game is completely dynamic and, to a certain extent, "correct". You place a light in the scene, move it around a bit, and everything responds exactly as you would expect it to. I think this is the way that programmers have always wanted to do it, straightforward and mathmatically, and for the first time we have the power to do it "right".

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Quote:

Colors other than brown?

[lol]
Too true


Well, how much have 2D graphics changed since 1970? It's still just a number of pixels in different colors. There are just more colors to choose from, and more pixels.

[lol]

But no, 3D graphics have changed quite a lot, and they are fundamentally different. Programmable shaders are a huge change from what was possible before. Now you can do virtually anytihng with your graphics. You can write a shader that renders your game through a raytracer, if you like. Suddenly the programmer can control the entire graphics pipeline. (That encompasses most of the additions mentioned above)

In the Quake days, you had a fixed function pipeline, and you were damn happy to get it, because the norm was still software rendering.

But yes, it still renders 3d models, only with greater detail levels, so if that's your argument, you're right, nothing has changed since the mid 90's.
In the same way that 2D graphics are the same as 30 years ago. And in the same way that gameplay is the same as always, because we use the same controllers/keyboards. Sound is also the same, because, well, it's still just sound effects or music coming out of your speakers. It just sounds a bit better.

Apart from this, the pure increase in speed has made countless new game types possible. Today, huge outdoors envirionments are possible, or maps with tens of thousands of soldiers, or...
Or, since you mention Doom 3, having monsters suddenly jump out at you and actually scare you to death. That was hard to do in the mid 90's. Remember the original Doom?

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I agree with the above posts. The principles behind 3D-graphics haven´t changed that much... after all we´re still connecting vertices in three-dimensional space to form polygons and transform these to display them on a 2D plane, which is the screen. But as was mentioned the programmable pipeline is quite a powerful tool to make those polygons look more beautiful than was possible before. And of course the GPUs and CPUs have become more powerful, which allows for more polygons... depending on what you´re about to do with them in the shaders of course.
These two factors (combined with good programmers) make up for some quite beautiful graphics. You´re saying real time lighting and shadows isn´t a fundamental change to graphics? They even affect the gameplay quite drastically, so I would consider that a fundamental change in graphics.
After all FPS games and the like are all about immersion (and of course a good story)... and immersion IMHO comes with good graphics (including believable animations), good sounds and of course a good story... so I´d say most of these effects like bump-maps, specular highlights, refraction and reflection and so on, are eye-candy, but they add greatly to the experience of a game and I wouldn´t take them for granted. Real-time lighting is even more than just eye-candy IMHO and can be a quite nice game element, I´d say.
But if you put it as "negative" as you do, all of that doesn´t sound that amazing, and nothing has changed fundamentally ;)

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Thanks for the great response.

I am being a bit negative and sorry but personally, I don't think the graphical advances made in the last 10 years have quite yet taken games to the next level beyond Quake and that time.

As Toji says...

Quote:
Doom 3, on the other hand, despite it's flaws, is a good indication of where graphics are at the moment and where they're going.



<off topic>
Quote:
Remember the original Doom?


Yes, I actually prefer it but not for the graphics. I think it had more imaginative level design and the characters had more character and were funnier.
</off topic>

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I don't think the graphical advances made in the last 10 years have quite yet taken games to the next level beyond Quake and that time.


Hm... I think there's a bit of confusion here. You seem to be looking for changes that graphics have made to gameplay, rather than anything that has changed with the graphical techniques themselves.

Going from 2D - 3D games was a huge leap because of the fundamental differences between the play area's that you were provided with. In this way, yes, this was a graphical change that made a huge influence on gameplay. The same could be said for the ability to scroll the screen in a 2D game though. And when you get to thinking about it, where else would you go from here? 4D?

In my opinion, the abilities of a graphics engine stopped having an effect on the gameplay you could create with it some time around Quake 3. Yes, graphics will continue to improve to the point where a game today that can show 100 creatures on screen will be able to do 10X that many. We'll be able to create landscapes that literally go on for miles (and already can, for that matter), but will any of that directly influence the TYPE of games we're enabled to make with it? Not really. About the only REAL diffrence that could be made is if we all got holographic displays. (W00tage!)

Think of it this way: Graphics used to be the bottleneck. You could only do so much, and as a result the creativity of a game was limited (to a degree) by the scenes you could display. At this point, though, graphics are no longer the bottleneck. We can reasonably represent anything we want within reason, so at this point the barrier to new gameplay types is the creativity of the creator, not the speed of the rasterizer. (Or a lot of people would argue that the Publishers are now the bottleneck, but that's a whole different can of worms.)

As for things that COULD make a difference? Well, Nintendo's new controller jumps to mind. Novel ideas like that are going to be the driving force behind innovation in gaming from this point on. Graphics will continue to get prettier and prettier, but if you're looking for somthing to fundementally change the way you play, you're looking in the wrong place.

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There's been a lot of advance, but not much of it is showing up in games because - surprise surprise - things that look strange and new and different aren't believed to sell as well as things that look exactly the same as the things that sold really well. Though then again, the thing that's really advanced has been the hardware and thus our ability to do this stuff in realtime - 3D rendering techniques have been around since long before the 2D->3D leap.

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Good graphics, especially photorealistic, can pull new gamers. I'm sure the racing genre gained new players with GT3 - people who aren't gamers, who like cars, and who would think about racing pink low-poly cars as gaming (not for them), but racing a true-to-life replica of a pimped up Honda Civic, complete with spoilers, bumpers and stickers, as part of their "car" hobby. I know personally somebody like that, therefore my generalization must be corerct! :-)

I expect more of this, with the PGR trailers I've been watching... I guess it will hold true for sports games too.

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Original post by superpig
There's been a lot of advance, but not much of it is showing up in games because - surprise surprise - things that look strange and new and different aren't believed to sell as well as things that look exactly the same as the things that sold really well.
And to make this thread loop back on itself, NPRQuake.

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One thing I think has changed is the way more and more things get dynamic. Dynamic shadows, dynamic geometry, physics.. this gives a better feeling of immersion.

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Graphics will continue to get prettier and prettier, but if you're looking for somthing to fundementally change the way you play, you're looking in the wrong place.


No let me make myself clear. I'm looking for total realism.

Will texture mapped polygons ever even be capable of this?

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What defines total realism, in your opinion?

It can't be defined, really. So if that's the case, how can it ever be attained?

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I think maybe the question at hand is whether or not it is possible to represent mathematically three dimensional objects in any way other than polygonal models. Like, for instance, could you represent objects as a mixture of polygonal models and literal (not apparent) curved surfaces? It would be more accurate to portray curved surfaces as actual curves rather than progressively smaller segments of tangent lines to the curve itself, which is, I think, kind of what is being done in graphics today to approximate curves.

However, I think with techniques like normal mapping, where models with less polygons can be mapped with the detail of a super high polygon version of the same model, we're kind of stepping into the future. We haven't yet reached a point where mid-range gaming PCs are capable of efficiently rendering, in real time, scenes with millions upon millions of polygons.. but we HAVE reached a point where we can make it LOOK like the computer is doing just that. So, does it really matter which way it's done? The end result is the same thing. When computers can represent true curves without the use of polygons, it will probably be more efficient in terms of development time to program graphics that way rather than using "cheating" techniques like normal mapping in order to achieve the same result.

Now this should stir up something. :P

*Note*

If anyone isn't sure what normal mapping is (I'm just kind of learning about it myself), check out http://www.unrealtechnology.com/html/technology/ue30.shtml and scroll down to "Distributed Computing Normal Map Generation Tool." That is a great example of what normal mapping is and how it works. It's pretty cool. I have no idea how to do it, but it makes sense. :)

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No let me make myself clear. I'm looking for total realism.


I suggest you bring along a couple of changes of clothes and something to eat. You're going to be looking for a long, long time.

Quote:
Will texture mapped polygons ever even be capable of this?


No.

Look at the two images below:
Girl 1
Girl 2

Now it's obvious that both of those have had digital touch-ups (that's why I chose them), but I now challenge you to tell me which one is real, and which is a computer model...

Go ahead. I'll wait.

Hm, back so soon? Wasn't that hard was it. Now, I doubt that anyone would say that the model was bad, or that the person that made it was lacking in skill, but we can still easily and immediately pick out the real from the fake.

In the case of a human face, this is due to the fact that unless you were raised by wolves you have spent your entire life staring at other humans faces. We're trained from childhood to recognize the slightest change in expression. We have honed our senses so much that we can pick out a single, well known person from a crowd of hundreds. We're experts. As such, if there is anything (and I mean ANYTHING) that looks "off" about an image of another human, we know it almost instictively. The problem becomes more obvious when you add motion into the picture. Do all the motion capture you want, but a computer has yet to truely capture the nuances of human movement in a believable manner.

Of course, humans aren't the only thing that would need to be simulated for a truely realistic environment. Vegitation, animals, water, hair of all types, dirt, weather. All of these prove to be extremely difficult to generate convincingly within a computer. In many cases Multimillion dollar hollywood movies can't pull it off, why in the world would we expect it of a game?

And on top of all of this, we still need to simulate light. I was talking about how lightmapping was a cheat earlier, but even your realtime Doom3 lighting is only an approximation (and a pretty weak one at that) of how real light works. In order to truely simulate light within a computer you're looking at tracing the path of every single photon as it bounces around the world. Good luck with that. You could do it, we know most all the mathmatics behind it, but you'll end up running at a cool 60 HPF (hours per frame).

The question isn't really "Will computers ever achieve total realism in rendering", it's "will they ever get close enough to fool us." Maybe, but I doubt it.

Now for a quick soapbox moment: Do we even WANT them to? There was a good article that slashdot posted a while back about Realism vs. style in Zelda. A lot of people are much more enticed by the idea of a more realistic version of link than his cell-shaded counterpart, but most gamers that actually sat down and played the game will tell you it was one of the best they ever played.

Does realism nessicarily make the game "better?" I have both Call of Duty and Unreal Tournament 2004 installed on my PC at home, but UT2k4 has gotten 10x the playtime of CoD, despite the latter being arguably more realistic. Why? Well because I LIKE to be able to double jump off a cliff, spin around, launch a couple of rockets into my opponents face, and then teleport back to safety, realism be damned! It's fun, and that's all that really matters in a game. (that's why they're called "games", right?) Even you yourself (Barn Door) admitted that you prefer the original Doom to Doom3, but which of those is the more realistic?

We shouldn't be striving to make games as realistic as possible. Sure, it definately has it's place. I certainly enjoyed Call of Duty, despite what I said earlier, but the primary focus of any game should be providing enjoyment to the guy who's holding the controller. Everything else is secondary.

[/soapbox]

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Ok, how about... when I look at the screen its as if I'm looking out of a window into the street - I can't tell the difference.

So like the Turing test for AI.

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I agree, Toji. Photorealism is cool and all, and of course every graphics programmer is going to do his or her best to achieve it, but really, it just comes down to making things look really sweet. If it doesn't look real, who cares? It looks sweet!

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Right now we have direct lighting and I can't wait for indirect, realtime global illumination technique like radiosity/photon mapping to become feasible. I'm not into raytracing in games. However, what I think has happened is that devs are using static lighting/shadowing with the new hw to push many polys to create detail worlds. That in fact is a good tradeoff because scene dynamicity isn't all that necessary to enjoy the game. I've noticed we're adding more foliage into the games to spice things up. All this hw horespower also gives us different gameplay opportunities like ability to go pretty much anywhere not being constrained by invisible walls, etc. Or take a train ride thru a detailed city like in gta3. It opens up the size of the gameworld which is a new venue to explore instead of gfx.

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No let me make myself clear. I'm looking for total realism.

Will texture mapped polygons ever even be capable of this?


theoretically if you had a fast enough computer, and enough money to put into detailed artwork, you could make things look as real as you'd like. the science behind computer graphics is actually quite sound(based on radiometry, a branch of physics) the problem is the more complex the lighting, the longer it takes to compute. another aspect is animation, compared to rendreing it's a baby science, making someone walk in a very natural way without motion capture is actually quite a daunting task, it is not exact science, but one day it may be. ever seen the total cgi scene of the animatrix? it's crazy tight and you can use it as a measure of gaming in the future, offline techniques of the past will become realtime if you wait long enough. you'll notice that while the graphics is close to perfect in this movie, you'll notice the thing that makes it look fake is more the animation then the graphics, in particular, the skin doesn't act as if it's got a skeleton under it, ie it's to stiff, but it's still very nicely done.

Quote:

I don't think the graphical advances made in the last 10 years have quite yet taken games to the next level beyond Quake and that time.


one thing you could look at the advances in photorealistic rendering over the past 10 years, this gives us an indication of what games might be capable of one day. personally I see a lot of advancement in videogames over the past 10 years, namely more accurate physics like rigid bodies, more accurate lighting, detailed surfaces, etc, etc. what more do you want? if your lighting/surfaces/physics get more and more accurate how is that not advance? you have only to repeat this trend over and over again and eventually you're gonna have games that look like movies.

Tim

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Quake really represented a new paradigm for computer games. It was among the first widely popular polygon based games, certainly its the first I remember. Until now, advancements in 3D games and in particular FPSs have larely been by bolting new technologies(ie shaders) onto what is essentially a quake style engine. Today, we are coming into the next era of 3D graphics where next generation engines such as Unreal 3 will be the first to truly be designed around GPU programmability. In conjunction with the radical increase in GPU pawer we've seen over the past 3-4 years these new engines will leave many of the old "faked" methods used in the past. Finally we have the power for true per-pixel lighting, real shadows, HDR and the like. These new engines will take advantage of it all and I think will look distinctly different.

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