New powerful technologies are giving an explosive punch to the next generation of video games like Just Cause 3.
It’s nighttime in the snowy mountains around a military base. A solitary paratrooper, rocket launcher in hand, quietly drops out of a helicopter. There’s a moment of calm… then the explosions start. Radio towers, helipads, concrete bunkers all blossom into balls of flame. The paratrooper reloads, and another round of destruction begins.
The Just Cause franchise has made an art out of blowing stuff up. For over a decade, Just Cause has allowed players to run amok, torching the scenery to their heart’s content.
“We expect our players to be anarchists,” said Johan Fläckman, VP of Technology at Avalanche Studios, developer of Just Cause.
With every new version, players received more intense methods for expressing their wild, and often creative, destructive urges. With the Just Cause 3 (released in late 2015), players can move through mayhem seamlessly, as they carve out a swath of devastation, sparking cascading chains of explosions one after the other.
Impact of Cloud Computing
Just Cause 3 isn’t alone. Leveraging ever increasing computer processing power, graphics capabilities and cloud computing, game developers creating apocalyptic experiences with greater and greater intensity.
The upcoming Crackdown 3 by Reagent Games, which leverages Microsoft’s Azure cloud computing system to handle massive processing needs will let players collapse entire digital cities in real-time.
Cloud computing can create new possibilities for designers and players, according to Maurizio Sciglio, founder of cloud services company Cloudgine. He is convinced that most games will be using cloud computing within five years.
Pre-release footage of Crackdown 3 shows a player leveling skyscrapers and collapsing whole city blocks in real-time as they dart around the wreckage to take down enemies. According to Ars Technica, the game does its physics calculations on the fly and pings them to Azure, which responds within milliseconds to render what the player sees on-screen.
Using cloud computing for real-time destruction can minimize opportunities for cheating and can give a game like Crackdown 3 as much as 20-times the power of games played on the Xbox One, according to a blog post by Reagent Games founder Dave Jones. He explained that Crackdown 3 gives players the ability to wreak havoc on an unprecedented scale.
Another great example of destruction at work is Ubisoft’s Rainbow Six: Siege, which funneled reactive, destructive environments into smaller spaces. Siege is a tactical first-person shooter with an emphasis on squad communication. Instead of blowing apart an entire island, you’re placing explosive charges on walls to outflank your opponents.
In Siege, destruction opens new possibilities. Ubisoft physics programmer Julien lheureux likens the game’s use of destruction to blocks used in the original Super Mario Bros.
“They don’t just break for show,” said Iheureux. “They break for a reason: they hide things, or they can make or unmake paths.”
In a multiplayer death match, imagine hearing the enemy team on the floor above. Instead of rushing upstairs to find them, like players of Halo or Call of Duty might do, you blow up the ceiling and wipe out the stragglers.
Pairing flexible physics-driven destruction with open gameplay worlds has infinite creative potential for players. But it also requires serious horsepower on the technical side.
“At the beginning of development [of Just Cause 3], a technical artist told me that he thought every bullet should be able to leave a permanent mark in the world,” said Avalanche Studio’s Fläckman. He thought this was “crazy,” but later agreed that this type of permanence was something to shoot for.
Rendering each bullet hole, and the successive deterioration of, say, a concrete wall, puts a strain on the CPU, so Fläckman’s team focuses on CPU optimization to accurately simulate physics.
Avalanche’s dedication to this “granular destruction,” as Fläckman put it, comes from a desire to let the player create their own action.
Technology advancements behind real-time destruction rendering is bringing players ever closer to the fantasy of starring in their own action movie.