This week, graphics professionals and enthusiasts flocked to SIGGRAPH to share and discuss the latest technologies and techniques for making gorgeous computer graphics. The focus of the convention is mainly offline rendering (the stuff that we see in print, movies, and television that's too complex to be rendered in real time), but as computers and game consoles become more powerful, many of these methods and effects make their way into the realm of realtime rendering. Ten years ago, the opening cutscene for Super Mario Galaxy would have needed to be rendered by a cluster of computers and converted into full motion video.
Even though the Wii is not pushing graphical fidelity the way this generation's HD consoles are, we've still come a long way and there's much to be appreciated. There are all sorts of graphical effects that, over the years, have been added to the game artist's palette, and in this edition of Revolutionary, I'd like to draw your attention to a few of them.
When games like Super Mario Galaxy come along, we find ourselves questioning how it's possible for them to look so good, while most other Wii wares have the appearance of games designed for a much weaker platform. It's easy to forget that the Wii's hardware comes from the strong pedigree of Gamecube when much of what we're looking at reeks of Playstation number two.
With multi-platform shovelware, and even a few high profile titles that didn't get any special consideration on the Wii (Guitar Hero 3 and Rock Band, I'm lookin' at you!), developers often drop assets and effects to a lowest common denominator. In the class which Wii is placed, the Playstation 2 has the lowest and most common specs, so our Wii graphics are brought down to its level. The PS2 has had its share of beautiful games, but the methods for making them so beautiful are uncommon enough that they're largely ignored when making games that will have to be replicated on another console in the same class.It's often the first and second party games or that rare, exclusive third-party effort that is given the budget and time to explore the depths of the Wii's fixed-function graphics hardware and pull off something it wasn't expressly designed for. And considering that the core technologies in the Wii were designed nearly a decade ago, there's a lot of "new tricks" that artists and programmers have had to teach the "old dog."