Our meeting with Sierra yesterday highlighted perfectly why you'll need to be very careful in cutting through the hype surrounding the next-gen PC gaming graphics. First we sat down for a showing of World in Conflict, a real-time strategy game that asks, "What if the Cold War ran hot?"
As part of the demo for World in Conflict, a producer from Sierra showed us a video hosted by the game's lead designer, highlighting the game's graphical features, specifically regarding the benefits Sierra is getting from DirectX 10. "Soft particles" was one feature the designer cited, which essentially means modeling all the little particles in a cloud of smoke, for example, so that they look and move more naturally in a game. The alternative creates a banding effect at the edges of a smoke cloud, which hurts the overall feeling of immersion.
Cool. Soft particles. Finally, we thought, DX 10 comes to life.
Our next meeting with Sierra was for TimeShift, a very detailed-looking shooter that involves time travel and does not incorporate any features of DirectX 10 in its graphics engine. And what did company reps show us when highlighting its current-generation visuals? That's right, soft particles!
We're not suggesting that anyone at Sierra is trying to pull a fast one. The features he pointed to probably are capable because of DirectX 10, at least in World in Conflict. As one of the developers of Crysis told us when we interviewed him later in the day in front of his own game: right now, it's not so much that DirectX 10 gives you the ability to incorporate any one feature that you can't do in DirectX 9. Rather, you can expect that games claiming DirectX 10 will have more of the current-gen stuff, but in varying degrees. In other words, if visuals are important to you for gaming, we'd suggest you approach any bullet lists of supposed next-gen features warily. We expect DirectX 10 will have a more significant feature-based visual impact eventually, but for now, you're probably better off looking at screenshots to determine not what but how many graphics bells and whistles a game has to offer.