July 24, 2018 10:53 AM   Subscribe

The evolution of water rendering in video games [Gamasutra] “Water levels in video games may get a lot of flak, but the technology behind how H2O is rendered has only improved over time. A recent video published by Digital Foundry [YouTube] dives into the evolution of video game water from 8-bit all the way to 3D.”

• Rendering Realistic Water Is Still Game Development's Moby Dick [Motherboard]
“When video games want to dazzle you, they don't use dragons or giant bugs, because fantastical creatures don't need to prove themselves. Rather, realism is the spectacle—our oceans, rivers, puddles and swimming pools shimmering in real time. Water comes up so often in graphical discussion it's practically cliché. It's probably no coincidence then that Nintendo's splashy jet ski series Wave Race 64 came out only a month after the Nintendo 64 launched, and it's sequel Blue Storm on the same day as the GameCube. It's also not surprising that Crytek's first gaes, Far Cry and Crysis, took place on tropical islands with bright blue beaches. Water is the unlikely element that games have always used as a measure of performance because it's so hard to get it right.”
• Why Developers Struggle To Get Water Levels Right In Video Games [Cultured Vultures]
“Things have become somewhat better over the last couple of years. There are a handful of examples that have done water well such as Shovel Knight and Rayman Legends where they play more or less like any other stage, the nimble quick movement of Call of Duty or Uncharted 3/4. However, it has become apparent that a lot of games are not featuring water either heavily or at all any more. Whether this is due to the difficulty developers experience while trying to utilise this element or because they consider It more of a passing fad that should have gone away with fire or ice levels isn’t clear. What is clear, though, is that these levels have been done well previously and it would be a shame if gamers were deprived of well-made water levels. Tools such as directional arrows, signposting, or an ability to speed up a character’s movement would make these levels either more bearable or potentially enjoyable. ”
posted by Fizz (23 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
iirc, they used a huge wave tank for the movie A Perfect Storm (2000), because rendered water looked fake. I think it's an inherently hard thing to get right.
posted by thelonius at 10:55 AM on July 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

Pippin Barr's v r 3
posted by RobotHero at 11:02 AM on July 24, 2018 [3 favorites]

I've been playing a lot of Subnautica recently and the fact that I'm just now thinking about it's water rendering means that I think it did a great job at making it convincing. Sure a lot of the time you're under it, which I imagine is a lot easier, but I at least surface a bunch to get my bearings and I haven't ever been distracted by it.
posted by Carillon at 11:09 AM on July 24, 2018 [2 favorites]

A fascinating breakdown of the water effects in Super Mario Sunshine
posted by J.K. Seazer at 11:21 AM on July 24, 2018 [8 favorites]

If you haven't checked out Sea of Thieves, the water is breathtaking.
posted by Sphinx at 11:22 AM on July 24, 2018

I've always been hyper aware of the physics/rendering/water in Subnautica because it's so beautiful and calming. I mean it's not once you get beneath the surface (that's a whole other beast), but at least for those few moments when you're up above, it's fairly calm and enjoyable.
posted by Fizz at 11:26 AM on July 24, 2018 [2 favorites]

Also what is this URL sorcery
posted by J.K. Seazer at 11:27 AM on July 24, 2018 [2 favorites]

Water, hair, marble and milk always seemed to be the worst things to render.
posted by BrotherCaine at 11:35 AM on July 24, 2018

Was watching this earlier. It's fun. And of course I really do remember Wave Race 64 as being fantastic and massively ahead of the game, which it clearly is. But had to stop watching around there. Looking forward to seeing how we've advanced/not advanced in the succeeding two decades!
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 11:56 AM on July 24, 2018

I’m on a lunch break at work so I haven’t the time to watch the video, but I’m surprised none of the articles mention Bioshock. I know I wasn’t the only person who was so mesmerized by the flaming ocean at the very beginning of the game that I didn’t realize the cut scene was over and playable time had begun. I can’t even remember if the water effects afterward were any good, because the omnipresence of water throughout the entire game was more about the oppressive, broken-down atmosphere and less about realism.

Bioshock 2 had some lovely water levels that were all about the visuals and tone rather than traditional water level mechanics, since you couldn’t swim and never ran out of air. But that scene where the Big Sister cracked open the huge glass wall to wash you away still gave me atavistic chills.
posted by ejs at 12:05 PM on July 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

I've always been hyper aware of the physics/rendering/water in Subnautica because it's so beautiful and calming. I mean it's not once you get beneath the surface (that's a whole other beast), but at least for those few moments when you're up above, it's fairly calm and enjoyable.
posted by Fizz at 11:26 AM on July 24

I remember the first time I ran into a ghost leviathan (which killed me) it freaked me out and I had to switch games for the evening. Probably because I play in darkish room with headphones, but that claustrophobia feeling that's suddenly interrupted by a glow in the dark predator really gets to me.
posted by Carillon at 12:21 PM on July 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

Now I'm wondering if I've ever seen milk rendered in a videogame.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 12:27 PM on July 24, 2018 [2 favorites]

Sort of?
posted by ejs at 12:58 PM on July 24, 2018

So mean Fizz... Now, I have to wait a week for Part 2 and remember to watch it, because I am hooked...
posted by jkaczor at 1:10 PM on July 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

Some of the best digital water I've seen is from The Witcher 3, especially the DLC Blood and Wine area of Toussaint. It has a stunning reflective quality wile being really clear near the edges with gorgeous changes in depths of blue as you get further out. You can even swim and boat through stormy seas. When you're playing and running at the edge of water or swimming through it feels so real and serene.

I drove my husband nuts when I was playing because I would just yell, "But LOOK at the water though! Do you see it?! It's stunning!!"
posted by Crystalinne at 2:28 PM on July 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

No mention of Assassin's Creed Black Flag?
posted by Damienmce at 4:59 PM on July 24, 2018

He's discussing them mostly chronologically, so if he mentions Black Flag it will be in Part 2.
posted by RobotHero at 5:51 PM on July 24, 2018

Short version: water is frighteningly complex and difficult to fake.

See also: characters with curly hair.
posted by rokusan at 11:20 PM on July 24, 2018 [2 favorites]

The recent Tomb Raider reboots have some really cool water effects, especially with the way they interact with clothing and hair. Lara's shirt/clothing will keep damp for a few moments after she emerges from a river, her hair will stick to her face/forehead and these small touches are really cool, they make that lived-in-reality feel more "real".
posted by Fizz at 5:31 AM on July 25, 2018

Great video, I'd be fascinated to find out more about that early screen space reflection example.

Did I miss palette cycling getting a mention? It was amazing how much people managed to do with it in terms of flows and ripples.
posted by lucidium at 5:46 AM on July 25, 2018

The first game I remember with water animation was Richard Garriott's Ultima II. The water tiles animated between two different wavy patterns every second or so. This was a big enough deal to be mentioned in reviews.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:22 AM on July 25, 2018

One pet peeve I have yet to see in any game should be simple enough: tides. No matter how well the ocean's waves are rendered, they're always in the same spots. I've lived near the sea, if you're planning any sort of activity on or near it, you first check the tide chart. It determines how much beach there will be, what sea life can be fished for, whether the boat will be able to get out from the dock to the estuary (nothing like getting all geared up for a before-dawn fishing trip, only to discover your boat is stuck in the mud due to a spring low tide), and if certain areas are even available to walk on. Its quite possible I just missed a game or two where tides were a mechanic, but if your game takes place on the ocean, there should be a significant waterline difference every ~12.4 hours.
posted by Blackanvil at 9:59 AM on July 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

The second part of the video is up now.
posted by lucidium at 6:38 AM on August 5, 2018

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