More that 2,000 graphics industry professionals yesterday attended SIGGRAPH's first keynote, a talk from EA's Glenn Entis which looked at the challenges facing the game graphics industry.
It was the fist time in over ten years that a games industry exec has delivered the opening talk of the show - previous speakers have included the likes of George Lucas.
Entis set the scene in his talk, Thrill Seeking In Interactive Real Time Graphics, by demonstrating to the attendees, most of whom were dedicated to making CG elements for film and TV, the power and challenge games consoles represent. EA aims to make sure its games at 60 frames per second, he said, which meant 3600 frames a minute and 216,000 frames per hour - film rendering is much slower, making one frame in 20 minutes and three frames per hour, which meant a huge 72,000 times difference between the two medium with perceptibly few differences in graphics quality.
"The differences between live action, CG films and videogames are getting perceptibly smaller, almost indistinguishable," he explained. "Graphics in film are nearing the plateau but the best thrill moments are yet to come in gaming.
"Real time graphics will never be as polished as non-real time graphics -it's not possible. But the distinguishing factors will be so close that it will be a lot harder to tell for an average consumer when they are viewing them as entertainment."
This meant that, with the power of machines and what they can do under control, he added, the games industry faced three key challenges, in terms of characters, environments and tools.
For characters, much of his point revolved around a point he has discussed before - and covered last year in Develop - that of the Zombie Line, a point in the design of a character where it crosses a boundary that means it looks good static, but disappoints in motion.
"It's when a character's visual appearance suggests a certain experience of life, but when their movement falls short of that expectation, the character feels like the undead," he said, pointing out that puppets like Ernie from Sesame Street were more believable than some of the well-modelled characters from Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within.
"Just adding polygons makes it worse," he explained, saying that "we must be able to believe what characters do, think and feel, but we must also believe how they response to unpredictable input."
When it came to environments and world building, Entis scored cheers from the attendant CG community by pointing out 'we won in film', but said games were ”just scratching the surface of interactive film-like effects. The challenge for gaming is creating real time dynamic effects in worlds and placing interactive environments at the control of the gamer. Gamers demand natural forces at their control and environments that respond.”
A key example was Crytek's upcoming shooter Crysis, developed for EA, he said, which places many of its game design elements around the DX10-rendered foliage and jungle environments and in-game weather systems.
The biggest change he predicted, however, was that of in-game graphics tools and user-generated content.
He said: “Do not underestimate peoples desire for self expression and self creativity. Social networking and self content sites like You Tube, MySpace, Facebook are leading the way. This is the rebirth of creativity in the hands of the many.”
He pointed out that this has been a boom in The Sims community - where more than half the players of the game spend more than half their time making items for the game rather than playing it. EA has been looking further into the area with Will Wright's other game Spore, and the VirtualMe concept (pictured above) being developed for Endemol in Europe.
"The real attraction of Spore is powerful tools, letting people go creation-crazy. Editing tools that are simple and fun to use engage the player to create characters, families and new worlds," he said of the former.
VirtualMe, meanwhile has been to create what is in essence a 3D asset creation tool - the character creation tool - and make it "simple and fun enough that a casual audience would use it - and pay to use it".
In fact, he said the creation of a user-generated item can be as much fun as playing an actual game as it involves "All the principles of what makes game design fun - risk and reward and the pacing of the experience."
He added: "There's a great dialogue the games comunity can have with the tools community."