Geralt of Rivia, the grizzled, silver-haired hero of The Witcher 3, was in front of me, sitting atop his trusty steed. Around me, the remnants of a bloody battle. Trees dotted the clearing I was standing in. I looked to the sun and squinted out of habit. I wasn't just playing The Witcher 3; I was inside it, thanks to the HTC Vive headset I was wearing and a 360-degree screenshot taken by NVIDIA's Ansel in-game camera. I was looking at the game like never before, which is notable, since I'd already spent more than 50 hours playing it.
Gallery: NVIDIA Ansel | 6 Photos
Gallery: NVIDIA Ansel | 6 Photos
Ansel was a small part of NVIDIA's massive GTX 1080 launch event, but it has the potential to impact far more people than the company's shiny new GPUs (in part because it'll also work on its older cards, too). It's an in-game camera that developers can easily plug into their titles. Ansel lets you move the camera around independently of the player character, change the color intensity, add a vignette and make other tweaks to get your screenshot looking just right.
On top of taking typical 2D screencaps, you can also capture the entire 360-degree view of the game world, which can be viewed on the Vive as well as in upcoming Ansel mobile apps. That's what let me step into The Witcher 3. While it's not exactly VR, it was mind-blowing to see a world I know so well magnified to near realistic proportions.
You can also create "super" resolution photos, which basically turn the screencaps into highly detailed image files. At its media event, NVIDIA used a 2.5 gigapixel The Witcher 3 photo taken by Ansel, which clocked in at 1.5GB, to print out a giant 38' x 8' poster. It's a huge step up from fighting with your position in a game and hoping you hit "print screen" at the right moment.
Game photography has been a vibrant scene for several years, but it's now going mainstream in big ways. Uncharted 4, one of the PlayStation 4's biggest titles this year, has an in-game Photo Mode with a load of customization options. (Check out an in-depth look on that feature by Engadget's Timothy J. Seppala.) Of course, both the Xbox One and PS4 have had image (and video) capture and sharing capabilities for years. But what's interesting now is that gamers are finally getting the tools to do more than just take quick and dirty screenshots.
At the moment, Ansel's interface is fairly spartan. It's mostly relegated to the left side of the screen, which lets you sort through its many editing options. On top of those I mentioned above, you can also roll the camera in either direction and expand the camera's point of view. In The Witness, Ansel let me move the camera below water (which just revealed graphical glitches) as well as hundreds of feet above the island (which gave me a bird's-eye view of all of its puzzles). Since having a free-roaming camera could be used to cheat in certain games, developers can also lock it down to the perspective of the player.
I wasn't able to save any of the images I took with Ansel, but NVIDIA says you'll be able to save them at up to 4.5 gigapixel resolutions. You can also export your pics as OpenEXR files, which lets you open them in Photoshop and other apps for professional editing.
There's no set release date for Ansel yet, but NVIDIA says it's coming soon with support for new titles like The Division, No Man's Sky, Paragon and LawBreakers at launch. NVIDIA also stressed that it doesn't take much code to implement Ansel, so I'd expect plenty of additional games to support it eventually.
I could easily see myself spending hours in Ansel, which is surely what NVIDIA wants. Obviously it's a great way for the company to convince people to buy its cards over AMD's. But Ansel is also a smart community-oriented move by NVIDIA that shows its appreciation of games as artistic creations.