Camera views have been a part of the video gaming for more than twenty years. In 1996, Super Mario 64 was released and sold over 11 million copies on Nintendo 64. Part of the gameplay featured a small creature on a cloud following Mario around, explaining how the player can control the camera to get the best view of Mario’s sprinting and jumping in his efforts to save Princess Peach.
Since that time, technology has leaped major hurdles and now delivers fast-paced racing games, beautiful fantasy role-playing, and even games that stretch the difference between real and fantasy. Just look at the newest craze, the mobile augmented reality game Pokemon Go. This game actually utilizes your phone’s camera and cleverly places an image of a new-found Pokemon on the screen of your phone against the backdrop of real life.
The advent of the graphics processing unit (GPU) has revolutionized what can and can’t be put into a game’s graphics. GPUs makes images move faster with less lag, which is a positive to both players and those with an eye for photography.
Those who have an interest in in-game photography might want to find out more about the in-game photography software known as Ansel. Built by Nvidia (NASDAQ:NVDA), Ansel is currently only available for a parkour adventure game called Mirror’s Edge Catalyst sold on Origin. It is supported by PCs, provided the computer has an Nvidia card, and more games supporting Ansel are likely in the making. The company, best known for its graphics cards, announced the GTX 1080 earlier this year. This card has twice the frame buffer and a quarter more memory speed than its predecessor, the GTX 980. The memory interface with this card is 256-bit and it supports virtual reality (VR) platforms. This means that PC headset can be used for 360-degree pictures. Nvidia has also put out the GTX 1060, a more mid-priced item, but still packing a lot of punch. This model actually triples the frame buffer rate of its last model, the GTX 960. Its memory speed is only 2 gigabytes per second less than the GTX 1080, and the GTX 1060 is also compatible with PC headsets. At a price tag of $300 rather than $700 for the GTX 1080, it’s a good choice for low-end gaming platforms.
Nvidia has led the discrete GPU market for years, taking the lead from semiconductor developer Advanced Micro Devices (NASDAQ:AMD) all the way back in the third quarter of 2005. It has had a stranglehold on the market in recent quarters. In 2015’s second quarter, the company had 82 percent of desktop GPU share, besting the 77 percent market share Nvidia had in the previous quarter.
The art of the game pic was once the domain of serious, in-depth hunters such as Duncan Harris. Harris would “tweak” games until they were unplayable to get the hi-res shots seen on his webpage. Whether running the game at full volume, actually overriding the game’s parameters by keeping the background as clear and distinct as possible, or using modifications to shoot the shot from multiple angles, Harris does things that the normal player doesn’t even know about, let alone try.
With Ansel, in-game capture of video game graphics is becoming more mainstream. Ansel allows the player to change angles, install filters, and choose contrasts of light. Players can choose any point in the game environment from which to take a photo, whether that is from a first-person view or 50 yards to the right to watch a character exiting a smoky alley surrounded by moonlight. And you can also view all this in 360-degrees with VR.
Players enjoy being immersed within a game which has breathtaking pictures and backgrounds. When they swing a sword, they want to see the sun glisten on the edge of the blade, momentarily blinding them. A game like Mordhau, a sword fighting game, certainly deserves the very best in realism. Nvidia can provide that with the technology described in U.S. Patent No. 9292908, titled System, Method, and Computer Program Product for Enhancing an Image Utilizing a Hyper-Clarity Transform.
This innovation makes it possible to identify an image within the field of the player’s vision and enhance that image, much like focusing a camera in the real world. One technique to enhance the image is tone-mapping the image. Another involves the use of multi-resolution image sharpening on the image. Sometimes the image may have improper color saturation and the technology covered by the ‘908 patent fixes this as well. Enhancing the image may also include the use of a hyper-clarity transform engine which allows for multi-level data structures in which each level has its own set of controls and can automatically switch from low-resolution to high-resolution.
Techniques for automatically changing hardware settings, giving a player a more immersive experience, are reflected in U.S. Patent No. 9087469, titled Methods and Systems for Automatically Switching Monitor Scene Modes.
When the game you’re playing switches to a new scene, this method allows the hard drive to ask the graphics card driver to activate hardware controlling monitor parameters, such as brightness or contrast, to give the best view for the player. This improves the clarity and visual appeal of digital images. It addresses problems faced by current solutions, such color balance issues caused by the presence of mixed color illuminants, halos or ringing, and realistic image remapping.
The randomization of semi-transparent materials such as smoke, hair or foliage, is discussed within U.S. Patent No. 8659616 . Titled System, Method, and Computer Program Product for Rendering Pixels with at Least One Semi-Transparent Surface, this system could make some pictures taken within the game environment far more realistic.
This isn’t just an overall rendering of all visual effects, but a pixel-by-pixel determination of how the semi-transparent material will appear to the viewer on-screen. ‘865 uses randomization of semi-transparent surfaces to determine how well an image can be seen by the viewer by giving each pixel a subset of transparency which dictates how the pixel looks to the naked eye. In this way, colors and shapes may be discernible behind the surface, or at other points of the semi-transparent surface there may be a wall of opacity. This creates a more realistic feel to game images including hair, smoke or foliage. Thanks to the randomization of each pixel’s sub-set, it deemphasizes the need to sort each pixel before rendering it which has been “computationally expensive” in past efforts, whether pixels are opaque, transparent or somewhere in between,
With all this pioneering technology available, it is clear that Nvidia has the clout to innovate into the photo-mode at a far superior level than current mainstream gaming tools. With a system such as Ansel taking advantage of the hardware provided by Nvidia, it would not be surprising to see many more games supporting the new photo mode.
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Nvidia’s Ansel was available in PlayStation 4 versions of Mirror’s Edge Catalyst. It is currently only available for the PC version.