Archive for the ‘Comparisons’ Category

Lynch & Lynch

September 8, 2010

I find Kane & Lynch –franchise extremely interesting for various reasons, not the least of which is the well-carved and unique characters. As we all know, gaming industry suffers of so-called Matt Damon –syndrome, which means most of the (male) characters simply look too clean, generic, and healthy.

That been said, it came as a surprise how much the characters’ appearances had changed from Kane & Lynch: Dead Men (2008) to Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days (2010), especially the Lynch –character. One would think that the developer would focus on the recognizable characters, considering how much the Kane & Lynch -franchise relays on them. And I’m not talking about only the shape of sunglasses, the clothes, or the facial hair, but the whole underlying facial features and bone-structure.

First Lynch looks unmistakably like a real bad ass, even without the beard and accessories. In contrast, the second Lynch from the sequel looks a little wimpy to such extent that it’s almost comical. Naturally, you don’t see Lynch stripped down like that in any point of the game, but still, the dissimilarity affects the overall look and feel of the character, there’s no question about it. And what makes it even weirder is that there’s no technical reason for not using the same geometry in both games, since they basically belong to the same generation, meaning the polycount is consequently similar in both models. In fact, geometry found in back of the heads including the ears are identical, so obviously the first Lynch -model has functioned as a basis for the second one, after all. Or they both just share the same proto-model.

Ok, there are franchises, such as James Bond, in which the actor, and thus the protagonist’s appearance, has changed multiple times over time, but there’s always been good reasons for it, say, aging, for one. But those issues are non-existent in the realm of real-time imagery, since geometry stays the same no matter how much time goes by.

Interestingly, another character-centric series Max Payne did use completely different characters in the first and second installments, which I really wondered at, back then. However, I recall writer Sam Lake saying that he just didn’t want to provide his face anymore, and wanted to give a change to a professional actor to do that. I really liked the original Sam Lake-Max, though.

So, choose a character and stick with it.

Let’s Take This Outside

May 19, 2010

The most straightforward (but rarely the best) way of solving everyday conflicts is good ol’ street fight. While the real thing isn’t much to look at in aesthetic sense, the same definitely doesn’t apply to Capcom’s Street Fighter IV. SF IV can be considered as remake of the year 1991 Street Fighter II – World Warrior, since the cast of characters of SF II can be found entirely from SF IV and the overall feel is very much alike.

SF IV is a true visual masterpiece and a benchmark for its kind. It’s like looking at living, ever-changing oil painting which is updating 60 times per second – in real-time! The interesting thing is, that because SF IVlike its predecessors – is presented as a stage of a theatre, it’s been possible to target all the resources into relatively compact space. So, the resources-per-inch -ratio has to be record high on this one, which becomes evident just by looking at it. SF IV is absolutely gorgeous.

It’s also interesting how both SF IV and SF II adhere to the same visual principles (side-view, camera pans etc) even though the techniques that have been employed are completely different. This similarity provides the basis for the following comparison of the characters realized 17 years apart.

Above illustrates the rise of pixel count found in the characters as they appear on the screen. It would be, by the way, rather frustrating (if impossible) task to animate by hand a sprite of SF IV’s size, with reasonable frame-rate and proper shading.

Notice how the polygons used in SF IV are often a fracture of the size of the pixels found in SF II, which is pretty amazing and revealing how far we have come.

The 2D – 3D dichotomy is one of the most fundamental and profound concepts found in real-time graphics and it was intriguing to see how 3D, i.e. polygon-based graphics finally surpassed the hand-drawn 2D imagery visually. It was a long time when 3D was nothing but simple geometrical shapes with poor frame-rate, but now 3D can be, as said, on a par with a sophisticated oil painting.

So, when did this happen exactly?

So Different, So Alike

April 26, 2010

As I said earlier inSaleen S7 -case, as long as there is a certain budget for geometry, every object has to be designed for the context of use. In Saleen S7 comparison, the car models played practically the same role in each game, so the year of release was the most relevant variable in that equation. In my following F-15(C) –comparison, the situation is a little more complex, as we see later. The games are Eagle Dynamic’s Lock-On: Modern Air Combat (2003), Infinity Ward’s Modern Warfare 2 (2009) and Ubisoft Romania’s Tom Clancy’s HAWX. (2009).

So, what makes this particular comparison interesting is, that the models are taken from such different places: first is from a 7-year-old hardcore simulation, second is just a background piece in a first-person shooter and third is from a modern arcade simulation. And still, the polycount is strikingly similar so let’s contemplate that a little.

If we look at Lock-On, the polycount of its F-15 was actually fairly high, considering the year of release. Lock-On is a hardcore simulation, so the focus is on the plane itself and especially on its uncompromised interior (which is a whole another model).

In HAWX the focus is definitely on the amazing terrain, so majority of the polygons have been obviously poured on there. So, even though Lock-On and HAWX are games 6 years apart, the polycount of the planes are similar because of the different focuses: one is focused on the plane and the other one is on the environment. Confusing?

Respectively in MW 2, the F-15s are just set pieces, visiting player briefly on the screen, so focus is not entirely on them but on the scenery at large. Still, what amazes me is the level of treatment they nevertheless have had in the development process: those F-15s look pretty damn spectacular when they glide slowly by your helicopter you’re sitting on.

Interestingly, when comparing the models to the actual F-15, the geometry found in HAWX’s plane was the most inaccurate. What makes the situation funny is that HAWX is a game about jet fighters, in contrast to MW 2 which is definitely not. Furthermore, HAWX is ironically the only game officially endorsed by F-15’s manufacturer, Boeing. Okay, MW 2 fighter’s blocky air intakesare little weird but overall it’s surprisingly accurate, and so is (less surprisingly) Lock-On’s model.

Curious Case of Saleen S7

April 22, 2010

I happened to have installed three different games with basically the same car Saleen S7 modeled in them, so it was an opportunity not to miss to compare the models to each other. The games are SimBin’s GTR 2 (2006), Eden Games’ Test Drive Unlimited (2007) and Codemasters’ Race Driver: GRID (2008). It’s interesting to notice, how in span of three years polycount has dramatically increased, but also how different approaches developers have on modeling basically identical shapes. Polycount doesn’t include interior so that models would be more comparable in that way.

All this got me thinking if in the future, where there are no performance issues related to polygons any more, there will be a culture of sharing art assets used in games between the developers. In that way, developers could co-operate by licensing the same basic shapes (like S7 for instance) and there wouldn’t be a need to start every model from scratch. Understandably 3D models have to be currently designed from ground up into every particular context of use in order to optimize the performance. Obviously there are subcontractors easing developers’ workload already, but I’m talking about universal sharing and licensing system which isn’t, at least to my knowledge, there yet.

Notice the evolution of the tail lights, and different kind of trianglization  in the GTR 2 model.

Shadow of The Assassin

April 20, 2010

Ubisoft Montreal’s Assassin’s Creed got its sequel a few months back and now that the dust has settled, it’s intriguing to compare it to its predecessor. Overall they look much alike and the biggest thing must be the dynamic time-of-day system incorporated in the sequel, which technically speaking works pretty well. However, there’s usually a trade-off going from static to dynamic and Assassin’s Creed 2 is no exception on that matter.

If you look at above screenshot from AC and then the other one below (although it’s been purposefully chosen to demonstrate AC 2‘s weaknesses), overall lighting and look in AC 2 is just less interesting and flat in comparison to AC and that’s the problem which comes with the dynamic time-of-day lighting. Developer just cannot realize aesthetically pleasing visual look to every possible lighting condition and the real-time lighting technologies for that task, like global illumination or radiocity, aren’t simply there yet.

Real-time shadows overall look also better in AC. In AC 2, there is this flickering effect, which is especially apparent in the distant shadows due to their low resolution, but it’s noticeable in near ones too. The shadow system as a whole feels pretty unstable in AC 2 and the problems clearly stem from the dynamic nature of the shadows, since the same problems are absent in AC.

Dynamic time-of-day sounds great on paper and it’s a nice bullet-point in the feature list. I occasionally even longed for it while playing AC but I’m now starting to lean towards fixed or dynamic-but-developer-controlled lighting, like in Crysis. Or at least I’m on the fence about that. It feels funny to say so, since I’m all for simulating the dynamic systems – that’s what video games are all about! Dynamic time-of-day just adds surprisingly little to overall experience, considering all the visual problems it creates.

Nice little touch is the new “shadow-sandals ” like in Grand Theft Auto IV in which the effect is actually  far more sophisticated. Anyway, the effect provides an important connection to the ground, especially in fully shadowed areas. It’s like a poor man’s ambient occlusion, emphasis on poor.