Way before you pick up a controller, the first thing lots of folks think about when they think video games is how it's going to look. This generation of gamers isn't so enlightened that they'll overlook shitty graphics in lieu of anything a game presents.
Yet, graphics need to be balanced against various systems' processing power and the design goals that game creators want to achieve. Over at Gamasutra, an interview with Hao Chen, senior graphics engineer at Bungie illuminates how the makers of Halo approach the details of rendering graphics. Here, Chen discusses the trickiness of designing for hardware to come when you don't know what it'll be capable of:
The worst thing you can do is design something that prevents you from being efficient on the future platforms. So on the things where we have sketchy details, we'd rather leave that isolated decision open until later than make the wrong decision. But there are plenty of things we know already, so we try to design an engine that's very efficient based on our knowledge.
Later, in the interview, Chen talks about the problems Bungie's looking to solve in their future games:
The other challenge is selling a dynamic world. In terms of what we think is important, we will even lower some of the quality in order for us to have a more dynamic world. This means dynamic time of day, lots of things that move in the wind, lots of things reacting to players moving through them, and when you walk on soft surfaces like sand and mud, you leave footprints. So basically everything we do to sell that this world is moving and dynamic is important to us.
And then perhaps the last one is believable characters. That's still one of the areas where we still spend a huge amount of emphasis in animation, in the rendering of character faces and facial animation, and just characters in general, that's still one of our high emphases. In the end what we're trying to do is deliver the fidelity where it really matters to the end user.
Chen doesn't drop any real details about Bungie's new IP that will see light under Activision, but does mention a new engine in the interview. If you've wondered how many things need to be considered when making a game like Halo that looks great and plays great, then head over to Gamasutra and read the whole thing.