With the recent announcement about Counter Strike Global Offensive from Valve this past month, it has come to my realization that THERE HASN’T BEEN ANYTHING NEW IN YEARS!!! Okay, not new as in new games or concepts but new as in major graphical advances.
I remember the hay day in graphical gaming when the PC was ruler of the gaming world with new release always pushing the edge of home graphical technology. It was in this time that the main players, Nvidia and ATI, were at each other’s throat fighting for market share. In this past era, game announcements were more focused on graphical power rather than on their story or new game mechanics.
Let’s take a brief history into first-person shooter game engines to see how it all lead up to today. The first real engine came with the visually stunning game Doom and its self-entitled Doom Engine. The Doom was the first attempt at a fully modifiable 3D game engine, spawning other games like Heretic and Chex Quest.
Next, in 1996 the Quake Engine introduced the use of polygons into the mix, giving players a more realistic environment to roam around in. Multiple revisions of the Quake Engine have been introduced into the market and is still one of the leading graphical engines out there.
Closely related to the Quake Engine is the Unreal Engine that debuted in 1998. It had the ability to integrate rendering, collision detection, AI, visibility, networking and file system management into one complete engine. Known for its ability to be modified without going deep into the engine internals, Unreal has become the other main player in the market today.
It wasn’t until 2004 where the next biggest leap came with Valve and their coveted Source Engine, reinvigorated the Half Life series. The game, originally released in 1998, took a six year hiatus to premier with the engine. Currently, the Source Engine is the staple for Valve in producing their other games like Team Fortress 2, Counter Strike Source, and their newest fist-person shooter aforementioned in this article.
Along with the Source Engine, a new competitor emerged with the CryENGINE introduced through the Far Cry Series. Since 2004, other engines have been produced to introduce different enhanced visuals for gaming like the RAGE Engine and the newest Unreal Engine. As it stands, the main players in the market are Valve’s Source Engine, CryENGINE, Unreal and Id Tech 5.
It may appear at first that the industry is on the up in terms of graphical advances, but the reality is that none of the engines really required huge hardware upgrades. A seven year break is too long! Why has the industry taken a back seat to innovation in the graphical realm and where have they gone?
Many have speculated that the PC is no longer becoming the primary video game console anymore due to the high maintenance cost required to keep up with those hardware advance prior to 2004. In addition, consoles have become more mainstream offering new games at a constant price for many years without the need for yearly upgrades.
The cost of producing technology breaking games have also increased with the introduction of devices like smart phones and the iOS devices. Gamers are now focusing on smaller, less hardware intensive games produced by independent companies. The whole industry is changing leaving graphics and game engines to the way side.
I guess the focus on gameplay and creativity is a good thing for games, but seven years is enough of a break. Games are starting to blend together with no real visual differences between them. Every Call of Duty game looks the same as its predecessor. Certain companies are creating games in their own style like Rockstar’s RAGE Enginewhich only exemplifies this fact. The market is stagnant and everything looks the same.
Why has television technology improved greatly while the consoles are lacking behind? PC games were playing at high-definition before that term was ever coined in the television market. Pixels were being crunched onto larger data storage devices which drove for better technology like SATA hard drive systems. PC enthusiasts had a smörgåsbord of toys to play with like liquid cooling systems, CPUs meant to be overclocked and rigs that, at one time, only NASA could dream of owning.
Despite this bleak outlook, the Id Tech 5 engine is proving to be the break we needed. First demonstrated at WWDC 2007, the engine is primed to be released with the game Rage and Doom 4. The engine has featured 20GB of texture data which supports resolutions up to 128,000 x 128,000 pixels. Textures can be streamed automatically into memory as needed which gets rid of any memory or texture limits experienced in previous engines. Shadows should also have softer edges featuring various other graphical advances.
The Id Tech 5 engine is the starting point for a reinvigorating of the industry. The current generation of consoles is showing their age and hints at the next is emerging with every month passing. The "Xbox 720" or the "PS4" may provide the needed kick in the pants for graphics. The next generation is forcing companies to revise or create new engines. We are going to see a big leap soon and I for on am on the edge of my seat waiting eagerly in anticipation.