Laurence Hartje sends in a link to 2 interesting stories (Games Radar, PC Games Hardware) that cover the history of water in games. This is actually something that I have always loved and used as a benchmark to “feel” how real the world was. The first thing I would do is run over and shoot the water.
I remember the first time I thought “wow” when I saw water in a game, and it was Turok on the N64. The 2nd time was Wave Racer… where you really felt like you are on water… getting wet. After that it was Splashdown. These were the first times that I felt the effects of water I was seeing on the screen, made me think of water and feel wet… like I could get into what the character was doing.
After Splashdown water continued to look real, but the feel was never there. Games like Bioshock almost had the feel and certainly had the look, while games like Crysis only had the look, but no feel (e.g. just a little tiny ‘splish’ when you shoot it and a stupid texture/ring-wave that renders over that part you shot).
Believe it or not, but the game I’m going to give the award of “Most Realistic Water” to as of right now is actually Halo 3. The reason for that is not so much how the water looks, from the screenshots above you can see that water has looked good since 2001 in games… that’s not the problem, the problem is the feel of the water. How does it react to you shooting it? How does it react to you driving a car through it? Does it just render stupid textures on it’s surface as you plow through it or throw a grenade in it, or do waves form and react to you manipulating it?
These are the reasons Halo 3′s water wins this award. If you don’t believe me, walk out into the water in Halo 3′s beach multiplayer level, and start shooting it… see the ripples in the wave? Throw a grenade, do you see the big concussion wave created? Start firing the tank into the water, same thing.
The effects, combined with the sound really sell the “you are in water, getting wet” effect to a player. Here’s a video of some of the Halo 3 water effects, the best display of them is at the end when he’s shooting it, and you can see the little waves created:
Unfortunately there has been no other game I’ve seen, where the reaction of the water is proportional to what you do to it. For example, BioShock and Crysis both have better looking water, but its only reaction to being shot or having a grenade lobbed into it, is to render a splash texture on the surface of the water, no proportional waves are created or anything like that.
If you can think of a game that had better water effects than Halo 3 does, as far as modeling real water goes, please let me know. Better looking water doesn’t count, I mean actually more physical water.
Update #1: I would add that other environmental effects can create very real immersion as well, but no one has really dabbled with them. Like rain+wind (rain by itself has been done awesome ever since MGS3) or just strong wind and debris actually effecting the environment (e.g. blowing a tin roof across the screen, or a tumble weed that isn’t scripted).
All of these things would give me a “holy shit!” reaction, but we just haven’t seen them done in games yet. Hopefully as physics engines and computing power keep increasing at a ridiculous rate, truly physical environments will be something we see at the end of this current gen and the beginning of next (3-4 years?).
Do you have a game whose environment made you say “Oh shit!”? If so, what was it?
Update #2: FurballMK3 below just posted a link to a movie of Kameo’s “mathematically correct” water and I’ll say I’m pretty damn impressed, check it out. (Thanks Furball!)