The Technical Artistry of Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes and What It Means for Next-Gen

Hideo Kojima likes misleading his audience, but when he said Ground Zeroes was targeted at current consoles, he may have been telling the truth.

It's hard to take anything Hideo Kojima says about Metal Gear at face value, but there's a chance he was speaking out of sincerity when he told the audience at PAX that the Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes demo was running on a PC that parallels current-gen hardware. Of course, there were some elements that looked next-gen, but for every wrinkle, reflection, and raindrop, there were tells that yes, in fact, a PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360 can produce graphics that look this good.

Before delving into the finer technical points, the direction and composition of the demo at large should be our first point of examination. Hideo Kojima is a self-proclaimed film buff and is known to obsess over camera angles and lighting during cutscenes. These aspects alone aren't responsible for the visual quality of the Ground Zeroes demo, but when done right, lighting can significantly affect the perceived realism and accuracy of objects within a scene.

Global illumination is a lighting technique that has only gained a foothold within game engines over the last few years, but it dramatically affects the perceived realism of a scene. By attempting to re-create the way light "bounces" from one surface to another, scenes are increasingly looking less like collections of unrelated objects. A few months ago, Kojima Productions released images displaying the prowess of the Fox Engine, prominently featuring its ability to employ dynamic lighting and global illumination, as seen below.

Of course, where there's light, there's shadow. This is another tool in Kojima's kit that can be used to convey realism, as the counterpoint to light, but in the right hands, it can also be an effective resource management tool.

To elaborate, the majority of the background plane during the first half of the demo is poorly lit and clouded in mist. Spotlights are also used to great effect in the demo to create contrast, further drowning out the already obscure background by drawing our focus into their light. This limits the viewers' instincts to scrutinize details in the background, and gives the artist an excuse to omit details from the scene that would take up valuable RAM and processing cycles otherwise. It's not until the player begins to control Snake that we get a full view of the military base. At that point, however, there is very little in the fore- and mid-ground. By limiting the detail in the background, artists can use the freed-up overhead to increase the details of objects in the fore- and mid-ground, and vice verse.

It may surprise some people to find out that even simple models with modest polygon counts can achieve high levels of detail once the image completes its rendering passes. Based on its work on Metal Gear Solid 4, as detailed in a case study from 2008 published by Autodesk (now archived at MGSForums), Kojima Productions is truly adept at getting the most out of its models. Its techniques aren't unprecedented, but what we can surmise is its talent at scaling up quality without drastically impacting computational resources. This is primarily achieved through the creative use of textures by the studio's artists.

Most people are probably familiar with textures, or more specifically, texture maps: 2D images that are applied to the surface of a 3D model. The most commonly used texture maps, diffuse maps, define the default color of an object and its various details. Of course, texture maps come in a variety of flavors, characterized by their particular target attribute. Here are two of the primary suspects responsible for the perceived level of detail in the Ground Zeroes demo.

Specular maps: Artists use specular maps to define the way lighting affects 3D models. Altering the value (where white is "high" and black is "low") of the details in a specular map will increase or decrease the potential influence of light on the models' default color.

Normal maps: To put details into a model without increasing poly counts, normal maps dictate the slope of a surface, usually generated from a high-res model and applied to another version with simpler geometry. Rather than adding or displacing the geometry of the model in question, normal maps define the interaction of light with the model, and ultimately, the camera. Both of these map types are used to great effect in the XOF patches that are thrown out of the helicopter, just after the 7-minute mark of the demo. Of course, the same instance also reveals the inherent deficiencies of these techniques and the target hardware.

The great thing about normal maps is their ability to add relief to a polygon's face without adding extra geometry, but what they can't do is actually change the geometry proper. This is why you see crisp edges and angles on the XOF patch, rather than smooth curves. In order to transform visible edges into curves, the game must support tessellation. By the time Metal Gear makes its debut on the next generation of consoles, we can look forward to tessellation and other techniques that will have a significant impact on in-game graphics.

Tessellation: The process of dividing geometry, resulting in a mesh with increased geometry and vertices, allowing for greater detail potential and surface manipulation.

While the simple model sits in RAM, tessellation divides its geometry during processing. This method requires fewer resources than tracking a traditional, high-poly model.

Once tessellation is applied, artists can then move forward, replacing normal maps with displacement maps. Where normal maps dictate the angle at which light bounces off a surface, faking detail, displacement maps actually deform a model with enough vertices to deform, creating detail rather than implying it.

Displacement maps: A 2D image that translates surface elevation to a 3D model, deforming vertices and edges according to the maps' features.

Displacement maps are great, but they require a lot of geometry in order to properly displace details. In some cases, console games are already using displacement maps. It's highly likely that there are elements within the Ground Zeroes demo that feature displacement maps, but it's clear that objects with stiff edges don't have the right ingredients, such as tessellation, to take advantage of it.

Kojima did state that the demo was targeted at the current generation of consoles, so it's not news that we're inclined to believe him, but with such impressive visuals on display, discovering current-gen problems within the demo gives his comments credence. The final product will have to account for the biggest variable in any game, the player, which means Kojima and company won't be able to rely on camera and lighting tricks all the time. But if the demo is any indication of the potential for Ground Zeroes' graphics, then it looks like there is still room for other developers to squeeze a little more power out of our six-year-old consoles.

Written By

Want the latest news about Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain?

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

Discussion

0 comments
kidgodkun
kidgodkun

Finaly a good metal gear from kojima  i hope this game its amazing but the new snake has the outfit to peace walker go konami 

jimrhurst
jimrhurst

I don't care about MGS or this trailer, but I just wanted to say thanks for writing an interesting, in-depth technical article.  Cheers.

kerodrake
kerodrake

I knew the PS3 wasnt in its full potential of high definition graphics yet.. Hopefully Fox Engine can show other titles not to stop depending on the future consoles

-Unreal-
-Unreal-

What I saw in that MGS demo was excessive amounts of depth of field blurring and lens flare possibly being used as a mask. The impression I got was that it's cinematic trickery I've seen in many console games and is used to hide the limitations of the hardware. It's more artistic merit than technical merit.

deathstream
deathstream

I am sure that the MGS cutscene engine can run on current generation consoles.  If they decide to add gameplay this time, it could be a problem.

marceleleco
marceleleco

@buying1999 are you serious?the box will need 2 dvds.hows that a win over ps3?

Lotus-Edge
Lotus-Edge

If anyone could max out the consoles, it'd be Kojima....

buying1999
buying1999

wow. this is getting really ram intensive and gpu intensive. Looks like the poor over priced internet ready blu ray player will have it's hands full with this one. I hope lensoftruth will do a head to head on this. I already know that the SUPERIOR Xox 360 console will win out but it'll be interesting to see how badly the the over priced internet ready blu ray player gets crushed.

 

The Xbox 360 is the BEST console EVER made. --John Carmack

Jaku13
Jaku13

Great article! I would really like to see more games that use these techniques for perceived realism combined with unrealistic art design. Imagine say, the city in Jak 2 with these effects.

Borges2207
Borges2207

This new FOX engine looks a lot superior compared to other current gen engines like Frostbite, Cry engine, Unreal Engine and so on, not just on the lighting side but in almost every aspect, when i first saw the demo it was hard for me to believe it wasn't pre-rendered wich also reminded me that Kojima never uses pre-rendered scenes in his games and that he is also a master as making things look damn good.

Too bad he doesn't come included in the engine.

XD.Well guess Crytech, Epic Games and DICE can stop arguing about who has the better graphics. 

supertostadas
supertostadas

Time & Money my friends... that's the difference to make the things right.-

Good-Smurf
Good-Smurf

After looked at the  ground zeroes trailer I can say the way how Frostbite 2 engine looks on BF3 is so crappy compared to this even on PC it looks pale and bluish or brown and the optimization on console is a joke it's one of the ugliest FPS of this generation.

Other developers clearly just didn't do it good enough.

I really want Polyphony Digital to using tessellation on their car modeling and graphics rather than polygons can't imagine how more they can get for less!

 

daveg1
daveg1

i thought the demo looked like this gen..

some of it was pretty ropey if ypou ask me, the building especialy.

DarthLefein
DarthLefein

Tessellation is the successor to the polygon.  Sprite > polygon > Tessellation

j_kizi
j_kizi

very good article....

EKGProd
EKGProd

Incredibly well written article. I would love to see more like this. You explained advanced techniques in a simple, easy to understand way that actually educated me on aspects of video game development that I've always been interested in. That previous sentence almost seems like a backhanded compliment, or that there is sarcasm in it, but neither is true. It's just that there is such a lack of knowledgeable story's in this industry that do more than just preview games, that when one comes along I am shocked that I'm actually seeing it.

 

You'd think those first two sentences I wrote would be written in the comments section of hundreds of articles a day on the most popular video game sites. Instead, we spend most our time reading "This is what I played and how I played it" previews and "Here's an interview with a developer who raves about his game" interviews. The industry needs more of THIS. Educate gamers in an interesting way, like you did here. Maybe if we knew more about the industry, we'd be less likely to expect so much when developers simply can't give us everything.

 

Now, granted I already knew much of this at a very basic level, but I still want to learn. For example, if a developer is working on a smaller scope game, like a very linear shooter, how come they can't just turn the dials up to 11 and produce some of the best graphics ever seen in a game? They don't have to worry about rendering huge open worlds, or even large outside areas like what we see here, yet it is rare to see a shooter really push consoles anymore. They would have much less on screen to worry about. Why not turn it all to 11?

 

If Fox engine can produce these graphics on current hardware, why are games like Homefront still being released? Is it money? Is it time? We have had these consoles for 7 years, and developers have had them for even longer, yet we still get games from respected publishers that look like they could have passed for launch games, and many of these games are super linear titles that don't require much assets. If Kojima can make such a pretty game in a world that requires a ton of stuff to be rendered on screen at once, why can't everyone?

s0l1dsnake
s0l1dsnake

This is what it means to provide VALUE to customers, all the whiny developers and publishers complaining that they need new consoles are just looking to shift the blame for their lack of creativity. To be able to harness the potential for current gen systems this beautifully is a real accomplishment and proves we shouldn't have to shell out another $500 for a console every 5 years.

anhnhay
anhnhay

SOURCE ENGINE FTW !!! SOURCE>ALL ENGINE. SOURCE ENGINE 2 DESTROY ALL. VALVE >>>>> ALL DEVELOPER

vgsak2005
vgsak2005

I can believe they are targetting current gen systems with this. It looks better than MGS4 but MGS4 looked pretty darn good. I think what we are seeing is advancements in lighting effects, the overall geometry here looks on par with current system capabilities. The animation is also superb which adds to the overall quality of the presentation.

 

Having said that, I'm totally disinterested in this game. I don't envy Konami's position these days. They seem to be stuck making Metal Gear games to keep them going. To the extent they make the Rising, er, Revengence spin-off which looks to be a Metal Gear game in name only. I think Konami is in trouble and desparetely needs to find out how to sell games other than Metal Gear.

solidus2_1
solidus2_1

I don't know why people would bad mouth such a good thing better graphics on current gen, that means not having to waste money on new systems, that wont even use their full potential. 360 and ps3 have been out for what 5, 6 years? and how many games have actually used a systems full potential 4 or 5, thats why I personaly perfer system exclusive games, because then the developers put all their attention into using that one specific sytems full potential.

wasakaka
wasakaka

Guys, stop sucking Kojima's nut sack. He's not one of the programmers or a digital artists responsible for bringing this to life. his ideas would be just ideas without a skillful team of programmers and artists, so stop saying, "wow, that Kojima is gifted, talented", or some shit like that, like he single handedly wrote all the code and manipulated those polygons to make the 3d art. Give credit for to the ones actually respinsible for building this.

lyncer777
lyncer777

Kojima is an Artist, if MGS GZ comes to the current gen consoles and looks like this, then im gonna sabotage nvidia and AMD for letting us (PC Gamers) buy overpriced videocard, i mean c'mon PS3 has gpu like Nvidia 7800gt? if this comes to PC i hope the recommended (not minimum) requirements are 8800gt or 3870 atleast.

 

oh Cryengine, Frostbite Engine, and Unreal Engine creators i dont care if all of you have a powerful Game Engine in your hands but take a look at this Engine even this Demo blows the "Samaritan tech demo" that rumored to run on three "3" GTX 580's (how much is that?), this shows that there are so many lazy dev's that did not optimized their game well on current gen hardware. They want you to buy new hardware....

 

Baby You're A Rich Man.

 

FLAME?

No_SuRReNDeR
No_SuRReNDeR

 @buying1999  Quoting John Carmack of all people is simple invalidating your own baseless point

NinjaMeow1991
NinjaMeow1991

 @buying1999 Either an idiot kid or a troll....I'm going with idiot as most Xbox players are morons, griefers and tools and i'd like to think this proves it. =)

MrDoomLWest
MrDoomLWest

 @Borges2207 Ignorance speaking, didn't you understand the article. This is the best engine for consoles, yes. Kojima said that it was running on a pc, that parallels current consoles. Cryengine 3, Frostbite 2, UE4, Red Octane, and other pc engines, are far superior. Fan boys, are so blinded, and to top that so easy to impress. My pc, running crisis, runs over you Fox engine. But fan boys see what they want.

UsernameofDoom
UsernameofDoom

 @Borges2207 Better yet...Kojima stated that this demo was running on a current gen PC hardware which means you still have to drop your jaw once more when you see this demo running on a high-end PC or on next gen consoles

ShimmeringSword
ShimmeringSword

 @Borges2207

 You need to read the article again, it's pretty much all about how the artists are pushing the limits of an engine and console processing power. This is all artistic trickery, any modern engine can do it, though the unreal engine is a little less oriented toward realism compared to the others.

xiayan
xiayan

 @Good-Smurf I don't think you understand how gpu intensive tessellation currently is, it can cut your frames less than half so 60 fps could easily turn into 15-20 just from flicking it on.

ShimmeringSword
ShimmeringSword

 @Good-Smurf

 The pale blue in BF3 is an artistic choice, it has nothing to do with the engine. You cannot say it's the ugliest of the generation, it's simply not the prettiest.

Tessellation doesn't quite work the way you think it does. It's for disposing of high detail when it isn't needed (on distant models). In a racing game you always need your best detail on display and you can't have detail pop-in occurring.

ShimmeringSword
ShimmeringSword

 @DarthLefein

 Tessellation is applied to polygons, and the tessellation itself it just another layer of polygons. Some programmers are trying to pioneer the Voxel as the replacement for the polygon, but so far it's uses are limited.

splinter10
splinter10

 @EKGProd Its about time and money friend. Time because they have a very strict deadline to finish the game by (especially if its a big title). So they skip trying to make it look as good as possible. And money, because some devs just don't have the wonga to invest. Its funny cause the guys that usually don't have the money usually have a lot of time, and vice versa.

arkadiyk
arkadiyk

 @s0l1dsnake you mean every 7 years the ps 4 is rumored to launch in end of 2014 now from 2007 makes it 7 years, and xbox 720 in end of 2013 from 06 makes it also 7 years. they aren't making you buy anything, and they are still making games for this ancient hardware. fyi phones and other mobile devices are almost more powerful than consoles. Even apple said the current ipad and iphone  has more memory than current consoles, and the next iphone is launching in a few days which will be even more powerful.  

s0l1dsnake
s0l1dsnake

 @wasakaka No ones denying the skill that the programmers have but it is Kojima's vision, it's his work it's his attention to detail, he may not write the code but he has final say. Kojima is gifted and talented for the eye he has for his work and the guidance he provides to the code writers and the programmers to make it all happen.

traitor_651
traitor_651

 @wasakaka Well, actually if it wasn't for Kojima's eye for detail, most of this would be omitted. Yes the programmer and the artist do the actual work, but without Kojima's guidance they would never have created this. Kojima has the eye of a film fanatic, which many programmers and environment artists lack for games. But don't get me wrong, the whole team is incredibly talented.

traitor_651
traitor_651

 @lyncer777 remember that most of that is light tricks not actual high quality modelling.

UsernameofDoom
UsernameofDoom

Don't feed the troll it's what he wants instead just back off and let him bark till he shuts up.

MrDoomLWest
MrDoomLWest

 @UsernameofDoom  @Borges2207 If the demo was running on current pc hardware, there is no way it could be ported to consoles, since their gpu is 3 generations old. They run the game on pc with current consoles similarities. 

Rippletonz
Rippletonz

@arkadiyk@s0l1dsnake

Fully agree.  Lots of people are whining about "why isn't this game next gen, it's gonna be BUTCHERED to work on this gen."  I believe the burden is on developers here.  Console manufacturers shouldn't be pressured for new tech until developers have made full use of what's in front of them.

 

arkadiyk - "Ancient hardware?"  A tad hyperbolic don't you think?  If the hardware was so obsolete, it wouldn't be able to make use of tessellation or displacement maps.  Comparing phone power to console power is totally pointless, apples to oranges.  Regardless of how powerful phones are getting, regardless of how powerful current consoles are, the potential is not being fully used yet.  Why should the console manufacturers have to get even further ahead of developers who aren't keeping up as it is?  

 

Don't get me wrong, I want to see the next generation just as bad as the next gamer, but I'm more concerned with seeing proof that devs will make full use of it.   

 

 

s0l1dsnake
s0l1dsnake

 @traitor_651  Those light tricks have produced one of the most stunning graphics any one's ever seen.

lyncer777
lyncer777

 @traitor_651 i have to agree a bit, but damn the MGS GZ demo is EPIC, the cloth physics is awesome and facial expression is realistic to me and art design, is what the other games lack.

FSDude
FSDude

Funny thought how he said demo was running on a "PC".  PS3 exclusive I wouldn't dare to say so soon.

angleslam
angleslam

 @UsernameofDoom But trolls should be put in their place instead of given freedom.  Of course, they have inferior brains so they believe in an inferior system.  That's why they think paying $60 a year is better than getting something for free like, ya know, online play.  When was the last time XBLA gave out free games every month?  Not just PSN games, but PS1 and PS2 games?  Oh that's right.  NEVER!  Gotta love the Micro$oft bots!  360 couldn't even handle MGS4!  I can't wait until they announce that this game is EXCLUSIVE to PS3!

Vaev
Vaev

 @wavelength121  You're forgetting Yoji Shinkawa... It all starts with a few brush strokes form this man...

traitor_651
traitor_651

 @wasakaka  @aXeem316 Now, I didn't say that Kojima was a one man team. I just wanted to remind you that both Kojima and the team are incredibly talented.

wasakaka
wasakaka

 @normsta  @wasakaka  @aXeem316  @traitor_651

 If you read my first comment, you'd know that my beef is not with kojima( I have the utmost respect for the man and his creative mind) my problem is with the guys just saying, " oh Kojima san is so gifted and talented", not even mentioning his team. The way every one praises kojima makes it sound like he's a one man army.

normsta
normsta

 @wasakaka  @aXeem316  @traitor_651 Yes without skill an idea is just an idea... BUT without direction or vision a skill is useless. Both are needed. Also don't forget.. kojima does the "boring" stuff, technological research, GDD and management. Something I respect. Being a 3d artist/game designer, personally I hate GDD 's I rather just jump in and create shit... But after a while you start wishing for a GDD and someone who is passionate enough to write one and do the business side of things, has my respect. The planning is extremely important for such a large project.

wasakaka
wasakaka

 @aXeem316  @traitor_651

 No skillful programmers and artist, no video games, or any form of digital media, at all. Like I said before, ideas would just be ideas without the skill to bring them to life.

PodXCOM
PodXCOM

 @Rippletonz  If you're going to be rude, then I won't show you. Apologize  first, then I'll show you. i have standards, you know.

 

As for why I think Samaritan looks awful: The only really cool thing was the tessellated characters and SSS. That's it.  The city looked boring and looked like it could be made for the  PS3. And the fact that it was very dark, and blurred only help to hide the details.

 

That horse on top of the page is so much better.

Rippletonz
Rippletonz

 @PodXCOM   MmmHmm.  Very elitist of you.  If it was worth the time, I would post the .jpeg of willy wonka to show you how impressed I am.

 

Samaritan might look "awful" to self-important blowhards and other such d-bags, but it still looks 100x better than what we're currently playing with.  WTF is your point?  At least provide some examples to support your claim.

traitor_651
traitor_651

 @s0l1dsnake I never said light tricks were bad, I'm just making the guys understand that there is more than one way to make ultra cool looking stuff, High Polygon Models, and Light Tricks. Each has a downside. High Polygon models require a very powerful graphics card, where as light tricks need an eye of a specialist (Kojima) because the are very difficult to pull off. The Samiritan utilizes ultra high polygon counts, and extreme Anti-aliasing, so its a whole different concept.

Rippletonz
Rippletonz

 @ShimmeringSword I know but it's not there yet.  Each animation in a can by itself looks good enough, but stringing together predefined animations in a fluid manner during gameplay hasn't been perfected.  It is getting pretty damn good, The Last of Us and Assassin's Creed come to mind as having the most believable animations that I can think of at the moment.  Maybe I'm wrong, but I just feel like graphical quality is reaching photo-realism faster than animation quality is reaching video-realism. 

ShimmeringSword
ShimmeringSword

 @Rippletonz 

 Motion capture animation, it's already being done. Can't get more lifelike than real life.

Rippletonz
Rippletonz

 @s0l1dsnake  @traitor_651 Imagine in the future, possibly next generation, when ALL games are making full use of lighting tricks AND high polygon models.  Then add some masterful resource management (as described in the article above), and we could be looking at Samaritan-level graphics or better. 

 

Soon, probably during the next console cycle, graphical quality is going to reach a ceiling of sorts, where animation quality is the only thing holding us back from (basically) VR.  Obviously we're already capable of some very fluid and realistic animation in CUTSCENES.  Creating fluid, lifelike, contextual animations in gameplay is going to be the next major challenge for the industry.  And I do believe it will be an enormous challenge. 

aXeem316
aXeem316

 @lyncer777  @traitor_651 so what if they were light tricks ? me, urself and all others were blown away... and it looks and controls good... and really, that is all that matters from gamers` point of view