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Marinka Brussel

How far are we from component detailed games?

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Imagine a game where the characters are not defined by body regions, but rather, each body region consists of thousands of components, which would kind of replicate the real world where we consist of molecules, atoms - that would open up many, many new possibilities for creative gameplay. Can this be done on any scale with today's technology, or would the games simply require too powerful of a computer to even be playable? Are there any theoretical limits to this? Thanks

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The nearest thing to what you're talking about is 'voxels', where larger things are built up out of (typically) cubic blocks. Occasionally some of these blocks might have some sort of mechanical capability so that it's possible to construct more complex machinery from them . For example, there's the Minecraft 'computer':

Minecraft is the most well-known game of this type but there are other voxel engines that work at lower granularity and are able to represent more complex objects effectively. VoxelFarm is one example: https://www.voxelfarm.com/index.html

As for more complex mechanics - that is a bit harder to do, but basic physics systems already exist and can be used to some degree in games like this. The Last Leviathan is one game where you build a boat and how it acts in the world depends on what exactly you built. An earlier game is Besiege (warning: shouty streamer) which lets you construct a variety of machines.

 

However, the general idea of being able to work on the molecular level is not applicable to games right now and probably will never be. There are something like 3 * 10^25 trillions of molecules in just 1 litre of water and only something like 16 * 10^12 bytes of storage in a typical desktop computer so we would need to be able to represent a trillion molecules in each byte of data - this would create serious boundaries to how accurately these molecules could be modelled.

 

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I'd look away from games and more at medical academia for an answer to this. Google things like bio-dynamics or kinematics. I don't know about these things but would speculate they would identify systems like rigid and soft parts and joints and how they interact then represent them with smaller components, not start with particles and work backwards.

I have my own voxel engine for terrain generation and work with 512 x 512 x 512 'chunks' that represent 500 billion total voxels for an 'area/instance' in the generation phase. The game ready mesh is non voxelated so it doesnt meet your end goal. If my chunks were bigger the render time would slow performance too much for practical use. Also terrain doesnt need to be represented with that level of detail, there needs to be a reason to expend resources on something. For perspective 5 years ago I worked with chunks of 256 x 256 x 256 for similar constraints of performance.

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21 hours ago, Marinka Brussel said:

Can this be done on any scale with today's technology, or would the games simply require too powerful of a computer to even be playable? Are there any theoretical limits to this?

Depends on what you are making and what level you're trying to simulate.

It also depends on what you are trying to make.

I mean, if you want to build a protein-folding simulator you can build at that level, but even those aren't interactive pace. There are supercomputers that slowly churn through those data.


As for theoretical limits, look at your processors.  In this current era you get about 4x 4GHz, more or less. If you want to keep a solid 60 frames you get about 200 million cycles per frame if you're careful about it, or 50 million cycles per frame if you're stuck in a single thread. Then look at time you'll realistically need to spend waiting for data to load, for cache misses, and that sort of thing.  In theory you can process a few hundred million data elements every graphics frame. Few programs ever hit those limits, but it can be done. 

I'd recommend those computed elements be the fun parts of the game, rather than the minutia of individual cells, but that's up to you.

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21 hours ago, Marinka Brussel said:

Can this be done on any scale with today's technology, or would the games simply require too powerful of a computer to even be playable?

If you scale it yes. Instead of thousands you only use hundreds, then you will be fine.

Game engines today can emulate 1 000 000 - 8 000 000 objects on screen at once if they are kept very-very simple. Unreal can for example emulate 4 000 000 bouncing balls with full physics and materials if they are instances of each other.

This should mean +/- 500 000 body parts to use. If it is all you focus your resources on.

 

To emulate a universe you need to use a universe.

Voxel systems and the like uses octrees and fake emulating particles, the problem is that the smallest piece of data we can use is a byte a 0 or a 1.

A byte is either a small piece of metal or a capacitor or some kind of physical object. Each of these small objects we use for bytes are actually made of trillions of atoms. To be clear, we are using a 1,000,000,000,000 : 1 scale when we try to represent atoms in games.

So instead we use much larger objects to fake simulations of smaller objects: 

The video shows how millions of balls are used to create a water like effect. This takes the same power as most games to do.

You can use bigger "atoms" so needing less per emulation and still get convincing results and games use this all the time. It's all about scale.

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An important question to ask yourself when you're considering doing something in a radically new way for a game (Or for anything in life really) is: What advantage am I gaining from this?

Back in university I had worked for a time on a compressible volume based character design and animation system. The technology was eventually abandoned due to not being able to mature it fast enough to be really usable for anything, but the concept was to essentially estimate all the bones and major muscles in a human body with a light approximate physics and volume system, and then apply a ray-tracing layer over top of it. If a character was to pick something up with its hand, then the arm muscles would contract and change shape while a force was applied to the hand. This in turn would automatically give a 'natural' shape and motion to the animation, without requiring complex animation work. 

Since that time traditional animation tools and the access to them had matured more, and that raised the bar of usefulness of my project beyond what I was willing to invest in it. My project was slow, computationally expensive on run-time, and needed far more investment into the 'shell layer' for it to be useful. In theory the project would have had the advantage of far more natural and less blocky looking animation for characters with a reduced animation design cost, but those issues were solved in a far more sensible and cost effective manner by other parts of the industry. 

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