When I play a game, I always enjoy little touches the designers put into the game’s environment. Sleeping Dogs is one of my favourite games for doing things that helped make the game feel alive. When it rains, the ground looks wet and lights shimmer and reflect off the ground. Driving at night is also a treat as the neon and bright lights hit off your car and light up the roof as you drive on through Honk Kong at night. Check out this video below that perfectly illustrates how gorgeous Sleeping Dogs looks when you combine bright lights, fast cars and heavy downpours.
Sleeping Dogs is a great example of how the environment affects the game but it’s more on a superficial level. The game looks more realistic but it doesn’t necessarily mean it feels more realistic to play. I believe that next-gen is the push forward for using the environment to make the player feel like they are actually in the world. Simulations are all the rage these days so if creators can combine the simulation of something like real life weather into games, it will feel even more realistic to play. Ubisoft’s upcoming hacker open-world Watch_Dogs realises this and puts momentous effort into using particle, water and wind physics. Waves barrage your boat during stormy weather, your character’s clothes will move with the wind and you can see particles when you shoot a bullet. Watch_Dogs’ Creative Director, Jonathan Morin, has stated that these features will feel like an illusion on current-gen consoles but the next-gen will be an expanded and magnified version of the reality. Next-gen will make it harder to see the strings behind these “illusions”. It seems as though simulated water and wind is very popular over at Ubisoft as we can see below in the Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag trailer that showcases the random weather that whips up unpredictable waves and thunderstorms. Like Watch_Dogs, the realism of the game will be much more enhanced on next-gen consoles.
Ubisoft are not the only ones who are interested in using wind and water-physics for next-gen. DICE showed off their Frostbite 3 engine in a trailer that boasted “dynamic environments” last month. From using wind to shake trees from explosions, using destruction to take down an entire skyscraper and using waves to show debris floating after a massive explosion, DICE has made something revolutionary for next-gen with Frostbite 3.
The Playstion 3/Xbox 360 generation has produced some amazing looking environments and moments where you do battle against the elements. A particular favourite of mine is Uncharted 3’s cruise ship section. Without going too deep into spoiler territory, Nathan Drake has found himself travelling through the capsizing ship he stowed away on. That moment was absolutely perfect as the game’s engine had to replicate an ocean’s physics which almost broke the whole game’s development speed. With Playstation 4, the Uncharted developers could do something fantastic with a lot more power to work with. With Grand Theft Auto V set to produce an open-world the size of Red Dead Redemption, Grand Theft Auto IV and San Andreas combined, as well as including an underwater landscape to explore, GTAV is the last current-gen console game that will push the limits of what our consoles can do with realistic environments.
What happens next with next-gen environments is looking very promising as the focus of many games is to help make the game world feel like it is living and breathing. As a gamer who enjoys the fact that ground gets shiny when it rains in Sleeping Dogs, I can’t wait to see how next-gen makes game environment bigger, brighter and bolder. It’s very exciting.