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Thursday, August 24, 2006

Digital Cities

via digitally distributed environments (http://digitalurban.blogspot.com/search?label=Cities+in+Games)

The best architectural renderings of cities are not to be found in research labs or in virtual reality theatres but on game consoles and of these Project Gotham 3 Racing (PGR3) on the Xbox 360 stands out from the crowd. Developed from the original Metropolis Street Racer on the Dreamcast PGR3 takes architectural rendering to new levels.

The movie below concentrates on views of the cities, notable is the London Eye towards the end of the clip.

Continuing in our series of Cities in Games we cast our eye back to Metropolis Street Racer (MSR) on the Dreamcast Console by SEGA in 2001. MSR holds the accolade of being the first game to make us sit back in wonder, not at the gameplay but at the rendition of the cities of London, Tokyo and San Francisco.

The use of games in both architecture and planning is limited, yet back in 2001 Bizzare Creations, the creators behind MSR, had a better model of three of the worlds cities than most, if not all, of the architecture companies at that time. Games should not be seen as something more aligned to teenagers and kept tucked away in bedrooms, the latest, and indeed consoles from the past, should be given pride of place in the the office as a reminder of how advanced city visualisation currently is and how many companies are still struggling to reach 2001 console levels of rendering.

The development of MSR was, at the time, impressive - allowing players to drive around areas of London including St James Park, Trafalgar Square and Westminster taking in all the sights of Buckingham Palace, Admiralty Arch and Leicester Square to name but a few. In a city plagued by congestion to scream around city and end with a handbreak turn outside Buckingham Palace couldn't fail to make you smile. Which is why perhaps games are so frowned upon in the


Technically however, MSR now seems very simple. Each city was constructed from block extrusions and texture mapped with a simplified texture taken from a photograph. The screenshot above of Tokyo was compared favorably in a interview on IGN as being almost indistinguishable from the real location. In reality of course the building is a textured box, but in 2001 this was state of the art. Coming forward to 2006 this is where we are today with SketchUp modelling and Google Earth. Version 4 beta of Google Earth allows texture rendering and by linking with SketchUp you can create rapid city models with phototexturing, in a similar manner to MSR.

The use of textures to provide the sense of location is clearly demonstrated in the video of MSR below:

MSR was a first - a series of cities created from textures that finally allowed the user to identify with locations, it was the first game to truly replicate the real world and give the user a sense of location and space. Sadly the Dreamcast was Segas' swansong and marked their exit from the hardware market.

MSR was re-rendered and rejuvenated on the XBox under the title Project Gotham Racing 1 and 2 and more recently version 3 on the XBOX 360. These versions will be the subject of a future post on Cities in Games as they moved on from creating cities using simple phototextures to increasingly complex geometry.

Fresh after we posted on The Getaway - London - Cities in Games we view a post on Londonist that the forthcoming Playstation Portable Game 'Gangs of London' has been released into the wild via bitorrent before the code is complete.

Of interest to us is the intro movie below which shows how London is rendered on the Playstation Portable.

We recommend you wait for the official release but in terms of visualising cities it clearly demonstrates what can be done on hand held consoles.

London has been featured in many games over the years and in increasing levels of detail as game consoles and budgets increase. In the first of a more detailed look into the production of 3D cities for games we turn our eye to the forthcoming PlayStation 3 and The Getaway.

The Getaway originally appeared on the PlayStation 2 recreating a 3D rendition of London covering approximately 10 square miles (16 square kilometers ). The team produced a wire frame model based on a photographic survey of London and then projected the resulting textures onto the geometry. The game is viewed from the street level allowing some simplification of buildings. In a write up for the BBC Senior producer Peter Edward mentions that "The street sites are like a western movie. They don't have wooden slates at the back but they are just the fronts". This is the easiest (if easy is the word) way to rapidly create geometry by ignoring the overall building footprint and pasting on rectified images to create facades.

The recreation of London is impressive and gives an insight into the budget required to build realistic representations of cities in console games. The next Getaway update is scheduled for release to co-inside with the launch of Sony's PlayStation 3 in November 2006. The movie below shows the model development to date, concentrating on the area around Piccadilly Circus:

The use of High Dynamic Lighting, real time traffic, pedestrian simulations, and detailed geometry is impressive. The game looks like it will represent the state of the art in city modelling when it is released, owing its roots to a previous generation of cities built for consoles.

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1 comment:

Ed said...

Maps, the symbolic representation of actual places on paper, have always facinated me. I have been drawing them since I was a child. As an adult I began working with computer graphics and later 3D graphics.

When first person shooters like Half Life came along I became very interested in the environments being created for them. I remeber playing Half Life and wanting to clear an area of creatures so I could explore it in peace and check out all the little details. I tried my hand at level design just so i could "walk around" in them.

My idea of a perfect game would be one where the manufacturer provids a highly detailed and expansive environment to explore. As for game play and what to do whithin the environment, that would be left completely up to the people using it. I, for one, would likely be that strange character just wandering around looking at everthing.