Interview With Victor Zordan, Expert In Video Game Technology
GF: How far are we from reaching a plateau in graphical improvements?
The National Science Foundation doesn’t fund graphics anymore because they think it’s a solved problem. In the graphics industry, it is said that rendering research is dead because there’s no interesting meat left on the bone. There are still open problems; nonetheless, these problems are becoming less and less important.
There are things that are still ahead; I’m really excited to be working on human animation because I think it’ll be the last one to die. We’re not going to be able to make believable humanlike characters for a while.
A lot of it is based on people being excited about the new innovation; the 3D movie industry just came to our theatres after existing for a long time — what changed? What we will see in games in this respect is that as long as people are still excited about innovation in games, then there will still be things people will want to bring in and improve upon.
I think we’re hitting a plateau in rendering. I don’t think people care in the real world about the rendering problems that are being looked at by the researchers right now, including making sure the caustics are right and carefully changing tones interactively — these are things that will be lost on the masses. But there are exciting new fronts that are going to innovate, like new ways of interfacing, and we’re going to see those kinds of innovations — we just don’t know what they are right now.
GF: Rendering issues aside, what is the greatest barrier to photorealistic graphics in cinematics or movies?
The human animation problem — we’re not going to be able to make convincing humans any time soon. We may be convinced by a photograph of a synthetic human — we may even be convinced by a short two-second scene in a movie, but as soon as that thing is right there in plain view, the longer we are exposed to it, the more we’re going to realize it is not a human.
Humans have all of these subtle characteristics, and these subtleties are things that we’re going to be complaining about for a while.
GF: I have to ask this question, because we always see it in the movies… Holographic user interfaces that respond to motion commands. Are they possible, and if so, how far into the future are they?
I know of two technologies that are similar to this that have been prototyped.
One is from a group from Japan that used triangulated lasers to vaporize the air, which created a burst of bright light at a rate of 30 points per second. They could draw spiral dots in the air. It was very loud, and very dangerous, and I would not wave my hand through it, but the technology exists. I’m sure that, when they first started shooting electron beams to light up phosphor on TVs, it was just as scary. Is this the beginning of this technology? I don’t know, but it’s an example of a real 3D display.
The other technology (from USC’s ICT) is essentially a ceiling-mounted projector that shines down on a rotating mirror. The mirror rotates at a specific rate that is linked with the rate at which the projector changes frames. The projector changes the frames to beam a version of the 3D image it’s projecting based on the direction the mirror is facing.
This is a spinning mirror, so you can’t put your hand in there either, but it’s very convincing. And all it uses is a standard LCD projector and a rotating mirror.
GF: What’s preventing us from seeing that technology in our living rooms today?
I think we’ll see versions of it appearing in malls, probably in the next couple years. Why a mall? Because it’s expensive. Why is it expensive? Because there’s only a few of them.
Also, it’s still a block. It occupies space. If you want a big one, you need a big mirror rotating around. That said, I think the technology will improve, and they could design a slick way of having it pop down when it’s not needed so that it’ll be like a table until you turn it on.
Whether we’ll actually use it is the question because it affords only a specific kind of appearance. In movies, we have a background, and the background goes off the edge of the screen; there’s no way to do that with this technology.
It’s a question of whether people are going to find an interesting use for it. There will invariably be these 3D displays in malls, in special exhibits.
GF: Can this technology appearing in malls spark renewed interest in arcades? Can it be used to create an old-school fighting game, with two fighters suspended in space with no background?
(pause) Well, you just did it, didn’t you? I’m going to go with “yes” on that one.
A new wave of 3D games that occupy space is quite possible. It would be neat to apply this technology in an interactive way, such as by controlling an object in 3D, like 3D Tetris or a 3D Rubik’s cube type of manipulation — an object that has reasons to be three dimensional. I think that would be an interesting innovation.
GF: What would you like to see in the next generation of consoles?
I want full physics everywhere. I’m done with characters that don’t interact. When I was in school, we learned Statics, then we learned Dynamics. The game industry has been caught in statics for its entire life, and it should be ready to move into dynamics now. It’s a processing burden, but the next consoles should be specifically developed to be able to have everything in their games physically realistic.