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I have seen the future of videogame graphics, and it is this plant

Unreal goes real

I'm in the midst of an existential crisis about videogame graphics. For so many years, I've nodded and bought into new technology, swallowing the line that because it looks prettier, it must be better. Why do I need, say, HDR now, when I was floored by 256 colours in 1993? Is there anything at all to support the idea that better graphics mean more contented players?

I came so close to revelation, to freedom from a gnawing techno-hunger that can never be satiated.

But then I saw this ivy.*

Obviously, I've spoiled it for you. If only I could have headlined this post "here is a video of some real ivy*, just for fun and because ivy is quite nice, and it's definitely not computer graphics even though this is a site about videogames." But you already know that it's graphics. Bah!

Even so: wow. Wow wow wow wow wow. I'd have mistaken that for real ivy* any day.

As yon tweet says, it's made in the Unreal engine, plus assorted tools including Speedtree. It's actually a VR project, part of Zoan's Virtual Helsinki initiative, which is "designed to be the digital twin of the Helsinki City centre."

A big part of the magic here comes from the camerawork, the jerky movements giving it that filmed on a smartphone vibe, and I wonder if that less filmic movement is part of what tricks our brains into thinking this is reality. The shakycam effect was actually achieved by turning a Vive controller into "a virtual handheld camera," which I find rather exciting. Let's have in-game cameras do less aping of cinema and more aping of someone staggering back from a big night out at Yate's wine lodge.

But also, clearly: the leaves and lighting are amazing. And the canny details, the chips on the pots, the grime along the edge of the wall...

I'm sure having a static and faceless subject helps - you probably couldn't create a perfectly photoreal and animated Ainsley Harriot with this tech, for instance - but I would be so, so down with a walking simulator made by these folks and with this tech. (I'll keep an eye on Virtual Helsinki, of course, but the resolution of my standard-issue Vive is hardly going to do this).

I highly recommend browsing the feed of Brazilian artist Guilherme Rabello, the chap behind this, for more eye-popping wonders. Look at this, rendered in 30 FPS real-time at 1440p on a GTX 1070, for instance:

So yeah, maybe, maybe now is not the time for me to have a Damascan epiphany about graphics after all. Gods, don't make my buy one of those new GeForces with all that raytracing jazz...

*The artist who made it refers to it as 'ivy', but there is some significant disagreement in the RPS treehouse as to whether this is correct. Alice O believes it to be Pothos - which is also known as Devil's Ivy, the likely source of confusion here. Clearly this is a matter of utmost urgency - can any botanists settle it one way or another?

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Alec Meer avatar

Alec Meer


Ancient co-founder of RPS. Long gone. Now mostly writes for rather than about video games.