These days, video games are bursting with detail and crammed with realism.
Cars look like they can leave tyre marks on your mum’s carpet, planes are using your porch lights to line up for landing and explosions risk singeing the dog’s bed.
The days of making a stickman jump onto a stick platform to fight stick monsters are long gone. But even by today’s standards, the makers of Forza Horizon 3 took graphics in gaming to a whole new level.
A team from British firm Playground Games, which has developed the latest title in the popular racing series, built a revolutionary new camera, shipped it across the world and slept in the wilderness with deadly spiders to film one thing – the sky.
“They camped in the Australian Outback for the summer. It was hard, because everything wanted to kill them,” said Ralph Fulton, Creative Director at Playground. “Every hour they had to change the camera lenses, but that also meant ‘de-spidering’ the camera because there are little crevices which are perfect for spiders to hide in.”
The result is that the sky you see in Forza Horizon 3 IS real-life sky that was filmed in Australia over several months. And because it is real sky, it also produces real light that “refracts, bounces and reflects in a physically correct way off every surface” in the game, Fulton added.
Forza Horizon 3 is due for release on Xbox and Windows 10 this month as part of Microsoft’s Play Anywhere initiative, which lets gamers buy the title on one platform and play it on both. Players can drive more than 350 cars – including the Halo Warthog – across open-world maps set in Australia.
To ensure the game was authentic as possible, Playground Games spent around £100,000 building a 12K High Dynamic Range (HDR) camera rig, which no one had ever done before. The team then shipped it to Australia to film real footage of the Outback.
What they captured “completely changes the look of the game” and gives it a “generational leap forward in visuals”, Fulton said.
“We looked at Forza Horizon 2 and where we could improve,” he added. “We built an incredible atmospheric simulation in our sky system in that game, which still exists in Forza Horizon 3 and is fundamental to the lighting; but when you see clouds in real-life, they morph and fold in on themselves, and that’s very difficult to do with traditional methods. However, it’s an effect we get with our camera [in this new game].”
The Playground team took “hundreds of thousands” of photos of a range of weather conditions in Australia and physically shipped a terabyte of data a day back to the UK, because “you can’t email files that size”. Once back in the studio, the data were worked on by lighting artists and rendering engineers to stream it into the game.
The results of the hi-tech operation sit alongside standard photogrammetry in the game, which makes roads, walls and trees look very realistic.
Fulton was pleased with the outcome.
“I have high hopes [for this game]. That’s testament to the work Playground has done over the past couple of years. It’s the biggest and the most technically challenging game we’ve ever made, but it’s also the best one we’ve done so far.”
A history of Xbox
Halo: Combat Evolved is releasedNovember 15, 2001
Xbox launchesNovember 15, 2001
733 MHz x86 Intel Celeron/Pentium III Custom Hybrid CPU 233 MHz nVidia custom GeForce 3 NV2A DirectX 8.0 based GPU 64 MB DDR SDRAM at 200 MHz dual-channel 128-bit configuration giving 6400 MB/sRead more
Xbox Live is launchedNovember 15, 2002
Halo 2 is releasedNovember 9, 2004
Xbox 360 is launchedNovember 22, 2005
New controller 3.2 GHz IBM PowerPC tri-core CPU codenamed “Xenon” 500 MHz ATi custom Radeon X1800 DirectX 9.0c based GPU codenamed “Xenos” 512 MB of GDDR3 RAM @ 700 MHz 22.4 GB/s, 10 MB EDRAM GPU frame buffer memoryRead more
Gears of War is releasedNovember 7, 2006
Halo 3 is releasedSeptember 25, 2007
Gears of War 2 is releasedNovember 7, 2008
Halo Wars is releasedFebruary 26, 2009
Xbox Live adds Xbox 360 games for downloadAugust 11, 2009
Redesigned and thinner Xbox 360 is launchedJune 14, 2010
Xbox 360 Kinect is launchedNovember 4, 2010
Xbox 360 Kinect claims a Guinness World Record for the fastest-selling consumer electronics device ever, after selling eight million units in its first 60 days.Read more
Gears of War 3 is releasedSeptember 20, 2011
Windows version of Kinect is launchedFebruary 1, 2012
Surface RT is releasedOctober 26, 2012
The Surface RT was launched alongside Windows 8Read more
Halo 4 is releasedNovember 6, 2012
Surface Pro is launchedFebruary 9, 2013
The Surface Pro featured a higher-resolution screen, a Surface Pen stylus for touch input and a full version of Windows 8.Read more
Surface 2 available to buyOctober 22, 2013
Features an NVIDIA Tegra 4 Processor, 10.6-Inch ClearType Full HD Touchscreen Display, 2 GB RAM; 64 GB Storage Capacity (47 GB Available), Windows RT 8.1 and 24W Power Supply.Read more
Surface Pro 2 is releasedOctober 22, 2013
Compared with the original Surface Pro, the Surface Pro 2 has improved hardware specifications, such as a next generation Haswell Intel Core processor and an increased number of storage options, improved versions of the kickstand and cover accessories.Read more
Xbox One is launched with new controller and new KinectNovember 22, 2013
1.75 GHz AMD x86-64 eight-core CPU codenamed “Jaguar” 853 MHz AMD Radeon HD 7000 series DirectX 11.1 based GPU codenamed “Durango” eight GB of DDR3 RAM @ 2133 MHz 68.3 GB/s, 32 MB ESRAM GPU frame buffer memory.Read more
Surface Pro 3 is releasedJune 20, 2014
The Surface Pro 3 was announced on May 20, 2014, at a New York City event, pre-orders were opened on May 21, 2014, and the first models were released on June 20, 2014 in the US and Canada, with the Intel Core i3 and Intel Core i7 models released on August 1, 2014. The Surface Pro 3 was launched in 25 additional markets on August 28.Read more
Surface 3 available to buyMay 5, 2015
Microsoft Surface is built around a durable magnesium body that’s incredibly light and thin, so you’ll feel confident taking it anywhere. With up to 10 hours of video playback, a beautiful 10.8″ display and integrated Kickstand, Surface 3 is perfect for hands-free entertainment wherever you go.Read more
Surface Hub releasedJuly 1, 2015
The Surface Hub is a wall or roller-stand mounted device with either an 84 inches, 120 Hz 4K or a 55 inches 1080p touchscreen with multi-touch and multi-pen capabilities and runs Windows 10.Read more
Surface Pro 4 is launchedOctober 26, 2015
Surface Pro 4 is ultra-thin, fast and versatile, the perfect balance of portability and power. With 6th generation Intel Core processors and up to 1TB of storage, it’s built to run professional-grade software. And the PixelSense Display has stunning colour and contrast that comes to life with Surface Pen and touch. Simply connect your…Read more
Surface Book available to buyOctober 26, 2015
Surface Book is a powerful, thin laptop computer with a full-sized, backlit keyboard for fast and natural typing. The 13.5” PixelSense display detaches easily from the keyboard to become a thin, light tablet that works perfectly with OneNote and Surface Pen. Turn the screen around and reattach it to use Surface Book like a creative canvas. By reconnecting it to the keyboard, you unlock its full creative power in a pen first mode. With an optional discrete graphics chip, Surface Book can handle even the most intensive creative tasks. Use the multi-touch PixelSense Display and Surface Pen to create with all the desktop software you already use, like Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. Surface Book is the creative professional’s laptop, designed to be used…Read more
Halo 5: Guardians is releasedOctober 27, 2015
Halo 5: Guardians is releasedRead more
Xbox One S is launchedAugust 2, 2016
Blu Ray / DVD RAM: 8GB DDR3 Clock: 2133MHz Bandwidth: 68.26 GB/s + 32MB eSRAM / Bandwidth: 204 GB/s(102 In/102 Out) 8GB flash memory CPU: 8 Core AMD custom CPU / Frequency: 1.75 GHz GPU: Clock Speed: 853 MHz / Shader Cores: 768 / Peak Throughput: 1.31 TFLOPS Storage: 500 GB (5400 rpm) hard drive non-replaceable, external hard drive support available Backwards compatibility HDMI input and output (4K support) API: DirectX 11.2Read more
Gears of War 4 is releasedOctober 11, 2016
Surface Studio launchedOctober 26, 2016
Surface Studio is an new device designed for the creative process. Its roomy and adjustable 28-inch PixelSense Display provides a huge canvas for all kinds of work. Position it upright to sketch, paint and edit photos, or lay it flat to draw on it like a drafting table.Read more
Surface Book i7 releasedOctober 26, 2016
Surface Book is a powerful, thin laptop computer with a full-sized, backlit keyboard for fast and natural typing. The 13.5” PixelSense display detaches easily from the keyboard to become a thin, light tablet that works perfectly with OneNote and Surface Pen. Turn the screen around and reattach it to use Surface Book like a creative canvas. By reconnecting it to the keyboard, you unlock its full creative power in a pen first mode. With an optional discrete graphics chip, Surface Book can handle even the most intensive creative tasks. Use the multi-touch PixelSense Display and Surface Pen to create with all the desktop software you already use, like Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. Surface Book is the creative professional’s laptop, designed to be used with professional-grade software anywhere you go – in a café or your office. The Surface Book works perfectly with the full suite of Office products, for driving your productivity to new heights. Write directly on webpages with Surface Pen in the all-new Microsoft Edge browser and share your notes easily. Surface Book has all the power you’ll need for even the most demanding creative apps.Read more