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One Fine Day inside a Silicon Chip
 

Daniel Adi Nugroho dot Net

...because a man can’t just sit around

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One Fine Day inside a Silicon Chip

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As I heard the release of Far Cry 3 into the video game stores, I am curious of the predecessor, Far Cry 2. Soon enough, I got a copy of it, and installed it on my laptop. Shortly after that, I become absorbed in a game which makes me think and contemplate long after I finished an immersive gaming session. This game is a piece of art which continues to amaze many fans of open-world first person shooters for a few years since its release in 2008.

Previously, I’ve played Crysis and Crysis Warhead, two of the most realistic first-person shooter (FPS) game in the last 5 years. In both of the very first installments of Crysis, I can see the immense amount of detailed simulation of physics and particle dynamics. I enjoyed my hours in that virtual world, especially after I wiped out all the enemies stealthily, and leave the buildings, vehicles, and other destructible objects intact whenever possible. I will then play around with the objects, messes things up, throwing hand grenades to wooden huts to see them explode and shatter into pieces, planting mines to the road and then running a jeep at a high speed over the mines and experience the thrill of flipping in the air for several times before crashing and burn. Or sometimes as simple as lobbing hand grenades into the sky to knock down the birds… Yes, it was a fine day there in the simulated tropical world, where I mess things up and set everything on fire.

Far Cry 2: the game

For the past few days I’ve been playing Far Cry 2, quite similar with Crysis, but in my opinion, it provides better freedom in the gameplay. I am impressed with the stunning graphics and the elaborate scenery. I love Far Cry 2 more than Crysis, since it is less scripted, and provides more freedom to accomplish a mission. No heads-up display, no clutter on the screen except your weapon or your vehicle’s hood. Checking where the wind blows, setting things on fire, and let the ensuing firestorm spread and engulf an enemy outpost, is one of my favorite experiment.

The fire propagation, ambient atmosphere, and the weather system impressed me, to the point I simply wandering around the arena just for fun. A lot of efforts have been put into designing the world and placing the objects on it. The enemy’s artificial intelligence also quite good, so that when they spotted me, they will work as a team to chase me, sometimes indirectly, one of them comes straight ahead and the other took a longer route and sneaked behind me. The variety of the terrain and obstacles also add a great deal of realism in the game, because it makes every action is unique, no two car chases are the same, sometimes I got stuck between rocks, or my vehicle rolls over, and sometimes the enemies are as incompetent as I do, driving their trucks into a gully, and then they have to chase me on foot. Another fun aspect of the game is chasing animals such as zebras, goats, and buffalos using SUVs, trucks, or my favorite, the agile buggies. 

Ubisoft’s attempt to recreate the sensation of realism has resulted in immersive gameplay, at least in my opinion. It has its shortcomings too, such as the repetitive action and tasks, the “malaria”, and the constant respawning of enemies in the area that’s already been cleared. Nevertheless, I continue to admire its beauty and realism. Each time I cleared up a large complex populated by more than 5 enemies, I always walk around the complex leisurely to enjoy the success by inspecting the wreckage caused by fire and explosions, as well as counting the bodies of the enemies that was killed in the combat.


FPS Evolution

So much has changed since the first time I played my first FPS game, Doom, back in 1996, when DOS and Windows 3.1x still rules. I still remember the thrill I got when I played Doom for the first time. I was impressed by the fluid movement and the three dimensional perception of the virtual world created by idSoftware, the first level of Doom was a scene that I never forget. Before that, the computers that I know are simply a box with keyboard, CRT monitor, and a blinking cursor behind DOS command prompt. I glimpsed Windows 3.1x as well (in which I can “touch” virtual buttons with mouse), but it’s nothing as dynamic as the scene I saw in Doom.

The two-dimensional sprites in Doom now morphed into full three-dimensional models in which the ragdoll physics can be applied easily. The simple polygonal objects now become intricate meshes of wireframe faces painted with highly detailed realistic texture maps. The view that was constrained indoors now expands to the vast outdoors. Combined with recent hardware capable of processing the immense amount of graphics information, comes the eye-pleasing graphics with photo-realistic quality.

What makes it possible?

Hardware

In my case, I am using an Intel Core i5 3210M processor, 4 GB of RAM, equipped with nVidia NVS 5100M graphics processing unit. The processor itself is belongs to the newest family of processors from Intel, codenamed Ivy Bridge, fabricated with 22 nanometer transistor technology. It comes integrated with Intel’s own graphics processing unit (GPU), called Intel HD 4000. However, in my setting, this integrated GPU is disabled in favor of the more powerful nVidia GPU.

The main work-horse in this game is the dedicated GPU. It is one of the latest GPU for laptops which is advertised as being a compromise between energy-efficiency and high-performance. It has 1 GB of dedicated video memory and 96 unified shader cores. This nVidia NVS 5200M is not actually designed for gaming; instead, it is designed for business applications. Nevertheless, Far Cry 2 runs beautifully on this graphics card. At 30-40 frames per second at high video settings, it’s definitely playable and quite pleasing to the eyes.

Game Engines

Game engines are software platforms which provide essential functionality to develop a modern game, such as graphics rendering engine, sound, physics engine, and artificial intelligence. These core functionality serves as a middleware between higher layer of, and the lower level hardware abstraction, such as DirectX.

Crysis and Crysis Warhead use CryEngine 2, developed by Crytek. Far Cry 2 uses Dunia Engine, developed by Ubisoft. There are more game engines out there, such as Unreal and idTech.

What’s Next?

The next logical step would be fully stereoscopic display, which adds another perception of depth. Now that’s completely visual and aural. Our eyes and ears are good observers to our surrounding. What’s next? Touch? Since the sensation of touch is not easy to be conveyed digitally, this would require some kind of implant to our nerves. The same applies to smell and vibration. What about pain and numbness? Can we integrate them into the game as well? Someday I believe there will be a way to connect computers to our nerves through some kind of non-intrusive interface.

Memories are memories, be it virtual or real.

What does this virtual worlds help us to improve our lives? Our life is peppered with memories and experiences. Playing first-person shooter games on a computer imprints some memory into us, but the memories of playing actual paintball games are more vivid, which is nothing compared by the memory of being involved in an actual battle, which not all of us exposed to it. First person shooter computer games triggers our visual and aural acuity, and tickles our emotions. Real-life paintball games triggers all of our senses, stirring our emotion, and exert some pressure on our muscles, but lacking the life-and-death situation. Actual battle with live-ammo gunfights, triggers our deepest survival instinct, whose impact is far more profound than raw emotion, and left haunting memories for many years to come, and most likely, changes our lives.

At some point in the future, fully immersive virtual worlds with sophisticated simulation systems will enable us to fully experience moments which will be too expensive or too dangerous for an ordinary person, such as climbing the peak of Mount Everest, acrobatic flights with single-engine aircraft between skyscrapers, or hunting lions on African savannah. These systems will become a popular entertainment alternative, and will find its way to become an effective training tool in many institutions.

What are missing from the virtual worlds are the actual consequences to the real life. When failed a mission, or getting injured or even killed in the simulated world, people can simply start over. No physical impact, no real-life consequences, except for the time and money that has been spent on it. This may harden our hearts and detach us farther from real life.

Now, what about Far Cry 3 and Crysis 2? I think I’ll decide when I finished playing Far Cry 2.


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Last Updated on Saturday, 09 February 2013 00:41
 

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