Game graphics are finally getting good, but there are some things they still can't do convincingly. We may have advanced slightly since the plastic faces of 2006, but skin is still one of those things that games just can't do yet. But who needs skin?
There are plenty of things that games do exceptionally realistically. It may well appear geeky to gush about a puddle in a PS3 game, but non-gamers just don't understand. It looks EXACTLY LIKE A FRIGGIN PUDDLE. And that's worth shouting about. You know that, we know that. So let's celebrate the most realistic things in games without self consciousness. Embrace the puddle.
Above: Think that looks good? Wait till you see it in motion
Pictures alone can't descibe the poetry of Sega Rally's mud effects. Shall we try a poem then? "Oh Rally with your soft terrain / Your troughs that fill with last week's rain / But best thing is, with no regret / you never get my socks all wet..."
OK, maybe poetry wasn't the word. So here's a video:
Considering water is supposed to be one of the hardest things to simulate, it looks damn fine in a lot of games. The water in Red Dead Redemption looks nice, but you can't really play around in it. Wading's about all you can do. Uncharted: Drake's Fortune and its sequel on PS3 both have amazing water effects that actually leave Nathan wet. Nathan Drake, that is, not Irvine. Although the GR man does sit funny when he plays it. Anyway, the 'best water' award, if such a thing existed, might just be snatched by Colin McRae DiRT 2.
Any game can do refelections in water - at its simplest, it just means making the surface completely transparent and duplicating the scenenry upside-down beneath the ground. But the water here refelects everything properly, even while it ripples. It splashes up nicely when you zoom through it and reacts to your wheels in real-time as you drive. It even drenches your windscreen convincingly. Can you even begin to imagine how it tastes?
You'd think smoke would be an easy thing to program, wouldn't you? It's like air, but whiter. Right? Wrong. Even the best transparency effects look rubbish when you can see where they pass through scenery. Nah, what you need, mate, is particle effects which flow around objects realistically, like in Timeshift:
Above: Timeshift did smoke brilliantly. Look - no joins!
Games in the past used strange techniques for smoke, from a checkerboard mesh (Anything on Saturn) to a simple black and white filter (seen in Geoff Crammond's Grand Prix 2). But now we have the likes of Battlefield 2, showing everyone how it's done, both up close and spectacularly from afar:
Above: Gaming's gonna have a nasty cough, but it's totally worth it