Saturday 5 March 2016

The Photography of Virtual Worlds

I'm assuming most people reading this are already aware of the various virtual photography communities. Dead End Thrills is probably the biggest.

This is something we've done forever on PC and now even consoles have dedicated space on the controller for a capture button (on top of the few games, often driving titles, that have put in an offline-render photo mode to really show off the art assets without the real-time rendering constraints). Hell, Firewatch even ties their virtual camera into a printing service, letting far more people realise they can print out their virtual photography because some of this stuff really does look good.

With VR about to arrive, people are about to really feel like they're present in the virtual environments we've been rendering for decades. The desire to take snapshots of places you're stood is only going to get stronger. Games built around photography are likely to bloom in the next decade, especially if they link the captures to a decent offline render pass so the files exported are the best quality the assets can be shown in. And not just games that add a camera as a proxy for a gun (for kids), adding jumps (for the more adult, horror games) or time constraints: those can also be fun games but I'm talking about photography as the act of having all the time you want to get the shot just right. The process of getting everything to be just how you want it at the instant of capture, moving to find the location that lines every elements just where you want it in the frame. I can even see a healthy market for big publishers reusing their AAA assets (every open world so far) in photography games.

An interesting things I noted while in the beta for The Division: even on tweaked medium settings picked to get to 60fps (because PvP promotes reaction times over nicer looking 30fps), even with a GPU I'm getting tired of waiting to replace (which is literally on the list as a minimum requirement for running the game), games with a decent anti-aliasing and lighting techniques can look pretty amazing. With only a few hours, a limited section of the map unlocked, and the constraint of primarily being there to shoot a gun (or be shot at), I still managed to get a few nice shots and can't wait to go back and take more. I just wish there was a button to hide my UI (and maybe even the protagonist) to do it.

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