So in the series: “fleinn reviews ps3 games that no one played” (I promise it will be back to more normal reviews next time), we've finally come all the way back to the first ps3 launch-title.
Technically the title does two very interesting things. The first is to show that 1080p gaming is possible without making visual compromises. In fact, Lair raises the bar several levels when it comes to view distances, animation and model complexity - above titles with lower resolution. And this shouldn't be possible, according to experts.
The root of the problem essentially is the following: the techniques we typically use to depict approaching objects in 3d worlds currently involves switching objects mid-way (or mid-flight, as it were). This means that the model you see at any time is always stretched in some way or other, and when the model comes close enough, it's switched to another with higher detail. Until it comes in for a close flyby in the cutscene, which is where the model is actually viewed in the detail it was made. What this means, apart from the fact that the technique requires a lot of memory, is that anti-aliasing (read: edge-smoothing) is a very valuable technique that makes the game look much better than it really is, even if the faces deflate and break in the distance.
Now, of course if you could, you would want to use unscaled assets as much as possible. Which would typically mean more texture switching, and therefore more needed memory. As well as restricted camera-angles and limited wandering of the object in the camera. Now, improving on this would seem a bit difficult.
So how did they do it in Lair? The technique is essentially this:
1. Reduce the object mesh in high level language dependent on position in the camera.
2. Send the reduced model to the graphics array for rendering.
The difference here is that now the model will always be generated at the maximum polygon count, rather than scaled. Essentially, it would be the same as having a near infinite amount of texture switch operations. And suddenly the need for anti-aliasing techniques are lessened, while it is possible to make use of so far impossible flexibility in the camera angles and camera-movement. Since the anti-aliasing demand is less, the resolution for the rendering context can also be doubled without requiring four times as much processing time.
And this is the secret to how Lair can go from close-up zoom of veins in the leathery dragon wings, and then zip along off the tip of the wing and into a cinematic flyby of the Asylian capital. Before, still in game-engine, seamlessly zoom in on the Dragon's eye and flame.
Not only that, the frame-by frame calculation of the model allows for animation spline changes to respond to events in the world. A quick turn could cause a particular way the dragon will flap it's wings before twisting towards the direction you want. The actual trajectory and speed of a dive can determine the animation playback, rather than being just a triggered effect that follows the controller direction. Coupled with the dynamic and fluid motion-controls, this is of course a marvelous fit that allows gradual and natural dragon-flight.
As the reader can obviously understand, there were real and very important advances made with this title. And it does, in fact, prove that 1080p gaming is possible without the game looking like crap. As well as that animation playback can be controlled in real time, to improve the visual flow.
The question of why this failed to make an impact on twitter-quoting games-journalists - and that I do not have a good answer for.
Instead I'll leave you with this neat little video on how the controls work, and leave you to your burning annoyance for missing out on this gem of a title. A title that was to be Factor 5's last.
(controls - howto)
edit: also, screenshot on ICgamers, 1920x1080. This is actually how the game looks in motion.
No, really. That's how the game looks on your screen, in twice the resolution compared to normal anti-aliased "HD" in 720p.
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|fleinn - July 19, 2011 (11:22 AM)
|JoeTheDestroyer - August 01, 2011 (09:45 AM)
I really need to start playing Lair again. I bought it for a mere $5 and only tinkered with it once.
|fleinn - August 03, 2011 (03:00 AM)
lol. $5? That's ridiculous! Around here gamestop tries to shuffle it into your bag when you don't look. And they still can't get rid of the two discs they got at launch.