Issue: Volume: 24 Issue: 3 (March 2001)

Art of games

Developers reach new levels in computer gaming realism and intelligence

Less than a decade ago, gamers were awed when id Software released the fast-paced, first-person 3D shooter game Wolfenstein 3D for the PC. Today those graphics would hardly generate a second glance, thanks to an evolution in game imagery spurred by recent hardware advances.

The advent of 3D graphics cards as standard equipment in PCs has made such anticipated titles as Black & White, Warcraft III, and Myst III: Exile possible. In the console arena, an even larger hardware evolution has occurred. Sega led the advance a year and a half ago with Dreamcast, a 128-bit architecture with Internet capability that was far more powerful than other platforms at the time. Then last fall, Sony turned the tide on Sega by releasing the PlayStation 2, which flew off store shelves. With sales of the PS2 already reportedly topping 1.2 million, and the Dreamcast lagging behind, Sega has announced that it will market the Dreamcast console for the next year but restructure to concentrate on content development.

Perhaps the best is yet to come. After a year of delays, Nintendo plans to unveil its GameCube in October, the same time Microsoft plans to release its eagerly anticipated Xbox. Both machines promise even higher quality graphics for gamers than current consoles.

These newfound hardware capabilities, coupled with recent advances in 3D software by vendors targeting gaming's content creators, are helping developers break through previous graphics boundaries in games. We're beginning to see intelligent, lifelike characters moving with unprecedented realism in finely detailed virtual worlds, and physically based action games that rival real simulators.

While many titles extend the limits of graphics, we've selected a cleverly crafted game from each of four platforms to illustrate ways developers are using graphics to change the look and feel of games.

For the Dreamcast, Sega's crown jewel, Shenmue, uses 3D imagery to create realistic actors in a fictional story. For the PC, the long-awaited Black & White subtly morphs characters and landscapes to reflect a player's moral choices. For the Xbox, Munch's Oddysee employs richly textured images to create a simulated life experience. And for the PS2, broadcast-style replays and a motion-captured 22-man pit crew help create a realistic racing experience for F1 Championship Season 2000.

-Karen Moltenbrey & Barbara Robertson