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Graphics baseline for a good-looking PC game?

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I was thinking about a variety of games that I've played. It can be hard (for me) to tell which graphical techniques they use. I would never aim to write a AAA killer (due to the effort/reward ratio), but what sort of techniques are expected for a game not to look dated? A few examples:

  • Textures - simple, with normals, relief-mapped, procedurally generated, sub-surface scattering?
  • Geometry - number of polys, tessellation?
  • Lighting/shadows - forward, deferred, soft shadows, SSAO, global illumination?
  • Effects - HDR, bloom, FSAA, volumetric fog, god rays?
  • Sky - skybox, animated, day/night, weather, seasons?

What would be your baseline must-have for a FPS that won't turn off paying consumers?

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Textures - the detail texture should be of at least size 1024x1024 except for small objects. Although something like 1368x768 is the average or most common screen resolution right now, count on most of your players for a FPS having at least 1680x1050 and being able to see every detail.

 

Geometry - a human character should have at least 10k polys. Less is accepted with normal-mapping, or using tessellation to boost things up.

 

What I can't stress enough is the importance of shaders these days. A good shader writer can potentially turn a dull, drab game into an exciting one, I think.

Edited by Shane C

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Although something like 1368x768 is the average or most common screen resolution right now

 

My intuition would have been 1920x1080, and that is confirmed by Steam's hardware survey. More than a third of Steam users have a 1080p (or better) display. My guess is that the majority of the people with less than that fall into the category of casual gamers and are less likely to playing the "good-looking PC games". 1080p monitors are so cheap and ubiquitous today that if you were going to buy or build a computer with the intention of playing video games, there would be no sense in getting anything less.

Edited by Chris_F

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One huge difference I've noticed between really old games and new ones is the lack of repetitive textures. Some games seem to have an impossible texture budget. Do you think this is due to bigger textures, lots of textures plus splat mapping, fancy shaders, procedural textures, something else?

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One huge difference I've noticed between really old games and new ones is the lack of repetitive textures. Some games seem to have an impossible texture budget. Do you think this is due to bigger textures, lots of textures plus splat mapping, fancy shaders, procedural textures, something else?

 

Just to take a guess, old games used impossibly small texture sizes, like 256x256. New games probably use an average closer to 2048x2048, which gives 64 times the detail of a 256x256 texture like you might see in the GameCube/original Xbox/PS2 days and shortly after. Texture detail has shot up like crazy over the years, and only a few developers haven't really taken advantage of it (Sonic 2006, I'm looking at you).

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Actually to semi-answer my own question re textures, I was trying to find some good example screenshots, and I think that a huge factor is (a) increased poly/art budget therefore fewer huge flat chunks of land and (b) masking agents such as plants and volumetric grass which prevent seeing huge chunks of bare ground at a time.

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