A quick glance at the image below is all that it takes to confirm just how far computer graphics have come during the last few years. This shot captures a high resolution, 4K screenshot of Watch Dogs’ protagonist Aiden Pearce, while presenting incredible levels of details and the type of facial clarity that is now standard among console games.
Despite this and the incredible levels of power boasted by today’s multi-core processors, video games have yet to capture the true majesty of photorealistic graphics. Even if we take the aforementioned Watch Dogs title and highly-evolved games such as Far Cry 4 into consideration, there remain motion and facial discrepancies which create a clear distinction between computer graphics and real-world imagery.
The Challenging Facing Gaming Developers
This gap is something that even modern technology can bridge at present, as game developers are still faced with considerable restrictions in the virtual world. After all, games strive to create premises that are simulated and largely based in fantasy, while they must also achieve this within a stipulated budget. This makes it prohibitive to showcase the actual impact of an explosion, for example, or evolve graphics in real-time to suit a specific narrative or reflect the way in which characters interact with their surrounding environment.
While we have seen significant movements towards the creation of interactive and real-time gaming environments in titles like Red Faction, however, there are still limitations and in-built controls that prevent graphics from achieving true realism. This will evolve further in time, of course, but for now it represents a clear challenge that developers must overcome to create real-time and photo-realistic gaming experiences.
There are other challenges too, some of which make it entirely impossible for today’s catalogue of games to capture the essence of photorealism. One of the most serious pertains to lighting, which creates issues both in terms of simulating authentic environments (and light sources) and replicating the way in which the human eye interacts with artificial illumination and sunlight. While modern games perfectly simulate some realistic light sources and the nature of interaction between rays and physical interaction, however, developers are still looking to develop graphics that can mirror the internal reflections that take place in the human eye.
The Last Word: Why Photo-realism in Gaming Remains Years Away
In some respects, these challenges represent the final frontier for developers who aim to create photorealistic gaming experiences. Once overcome, we will see concepts such as global illumination and real-time environment shifts become commonplace in games, while systems will be developed to replicate the various ways in which eyes interact with light. This will add an incredible dimension to the typical gaming experience, as players will able to emotionally connect with characters that have suddenly (and authentically) been humanised.
We must also take heart from the advancements that have been made of the last decade, which means that it is more a case of if, not when, photorealistic gaming will become a reality.
On the downside, such technological advances may still be years away, particularly when you consider that we are still not even close to accurately replicating rendered human eyes and skin. So while photorealism may now be at the point where developers can capture still, three-dimensional images, the technology must be developed further if it is to be applied to real-time rendering processes and animation.
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