Why the GeForce 3 Worries MeJohn Carmack and the Doom team (file photo).
As you're undoubtedly already aware of, the MacWorld expo has come by and thrust nuggets of glowing news items into the laps of gaming sites across the world. I've always been amazed at how some of the greatest gaming news announcements arrive during an Apple expo. It's like every year Steve Jobs gets up to a platform, praises the Mac and promises infinite gaming support for it, and then the next week decides that he despises all 3D graphics and instead wants to concentrate on engineering a new type of translucent plastic that will make the Mac look more like an alien masturbation device. Regardless, id Software and John Carmack seem to be very close buddies with Steve Jobs, as each year Carmack is invited to proclaim the glories of the Mac and whatever new graphics card is currently powering it. The recent MacWorld expo was no exception, as John Carmack aka The Carmack AKA Professor John Frink unveiled some footage of the upcoming hit title, Doom 3, which has blown away audiences from across the globe. I downloaded the footage of the Doom 3's demo, and the phrase that immediately leaped into my mind was "space rectum."
Now don't get me wrong here; I think Doom 3 is probably one of my most eagerly anticipated games ever. Short of employing the coding and art design team from ValuSoft, who are all currently in AA rehab facilities, I don't think there's any way id Software can screw it up. Even if it's revealed that Doom 3 will revolve around a feline assisting a malcontent teen and a hapless FBI agent in solving a kidnapping, I'll still buy it. Why? Because it's Doom 3, dammit.
However, I would simply kill myself if I didn't admit that the footage from the Doom 3 unveiling greatly disturbs me. I expect that a good portion of action in the game will take place in a space station. I also expect that a good portion of the game will take place in the dark. However, I was never prepared for the sheer amount of "dark space station" that I saw in the Doom 3 demo. Yes, I know the "demo" isn't really much of a demo and was merely showing off the GeForce 3's incredible power and ability to make the Macintosh look like a viable gaming platform (tee hee), but the Doom 3 / GeForce 3 revelation unearthed a very horrifying question: what will happen with the advanced transform and lighting features?
Remember when the first colored-lighting supported video cards came out? This was back during the days when two meg cards cost about $300 and 3DFX was better at producing technology than lame excuses. You know, back when 3D Realms actually released games and Gamespy believed in providing things people might be interested in. Colored lighting was the big fad at that time, as seeing light sources the color of the Goatse.cx man's inner anal cavity (please don't click this link) was simply the world's most enthralling idea. Every single 3D game instantly jumped into action so they too could add a few hundred thousand pounds of colored lights to their latest creations, thereby giving it "instant atmosphere." As a result, games began to look like they were dipped in an Easter egg dye kit and run through Levelord's latest LSD-induced nightmare involving florescent pink pigeons attempting to molest the nine-foot long living hairs growing from his nose. Hot and dangerous areas were lighted with red and irritating glows. Alien stations were pulsating with neon green. Computers inexplicably throbbed with blue and magenta. If there was any remote reason to add an orange spotlight to a room, it would be added, even if it was inside a church or igloo. Colored lighting was just the absolute neatest thing since polygon-based bread, and developers would be damned if they couldn't show off every possible variation from 1 to 255 of the color purple. The "Glory Age of Colored Lighting" is responsible for my piss-poor eyesight now, and for the fact that I can no longer discern any color of the pallette except "Leprechaun-fucking bright green."
With this out of the way, I'm sure you'll understand why I'm intensely worried about the new lighting techniques that the GeForce 3 supports. One of the predominant effects that Mr. Carmack showed off at MacWorld was the ability of the GeForce 3 to create much more dynamic lighting and shading (that is the ability for lights to create realtime shadows and reflections on other objects). For all you non-computer folk, shadows are currently implemented by usually having an ungodly mess of flat black polygons under the character, or a round, blurry circle of shadow. Shading flat out SUCKS these days, and computers just don't have the raw power to process realistic shadows in real time. As a result, most characters in games look like they are either floating around the place (no shadows) or stepping on top of a police chalk outline filled with fiberglass shards of black ink (polygon shadows). Either way it just looks like ass on a platter. The GeForce 3 has the power to pump out tons of realistic shading and light effects, promising a new and more stimulating level of realism that has never been seen before. It sounds just like a fantastic thing, doesn't it?
Simply put, NO. It initially WON'T be. Developers are going to latch onto the shadow thing just like they did with the colored lighting phase and go nuts with it. We, the innocent gaming public, are going to be exposed to nonstop shading horrors. First off, everything will be as dark as the bottom of the ocean. And no, I'm not talking about the bottom of the ocean where a UFO has crashed and Sharon Stone has to fight mutant alien jellyfish from hell. Maps are going to be roughly five hundred million times darker than they normally are so developers can add a few "strategically" placed lights shining at 7 million intensity and creating shadows longer than the entire New York Marathon course. We're going to see lights placed behind fans. We're going to see lights placed behind swinging metal grates. We're going to see lights swinging behind swinging metal grates swinging behind swinging fans. Lights are going to be moving around the place so much that half of the population will have uncomfortable flashbacks to the time they were abducted by aliens and had bizarre foreign kitchen utensils inserted into their various orifices. Between the pitch black surroundings and the intensely lighted dynamic spotlights, optometrists across the globe are going to see a remarkable raise in prescription eyeglass orders. I can only hope and pray that developers aren't able to figure out how to make green lights swing around, or the entire human race will be done for.
As a wise man once said, "don't let the fog get into your house or else pirate ghosts might appear and kill you with swords." However, this has little or nothing to do with the GeForce 3. Luckily for me, a different wise man once said, "with new technology comes new responsibilities." I hope game developers pay heed to this warning and make careful not to go so over the top with this incredible new advancement in graphics processing. There's no doubt that the GeForce 3 will bring amazingly realistic graphics to the gaming scene. I'm 100% sure that titles will look more impressive than ever. However, after living through the "colored lighting nightmare" that we witnessed during the mid-1990's, I have some well-grounded fears that this technology might bring pain... and lots of it. If any of you game developers out there are reading this page (which I assume means you're currently unemployed), please exhibit caution when utilizing this new technology. Keep in mind that as your target audience, we'll be unable to buy your games if we lack the ability to distinguish their boxes from the surrounding shelves and Power Puff Girls merchandise. Good luck and may God have mercy upon your souls.
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