Nathan Drake’s model in Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is definitely a complex one, and Lead Character Artist Frank Tzeng was asked in an interview for the CG Master Academy what’s the character polygon count.
Tzeng mentioned that he’s not at a liberty to give a precise number, but Drake is “up there” in his polycount.
Even more interestingly, he was also asked about the possibility for PS4 developers to go beyond polygons, using NURBS-based subdivision modeling. His answer was quite interesting:
That really depends on what kind of game you’re making. If you’re making say, na open world game, I don’t think that is possible now. But if you’re making like a game which is, say, like a fighting game really focusing on basically two main characters on the screen, maybe you can achieve that.
For open world games, for adventure kind of games like we’re doing, or for a totally open world game like Skyrim or the new Metal Gear, I don’t think that’s possble right now.
Hopefully it will be. It would be very interesting.
If you’re unfamiliar with NURBS, and probably you are, it stands for Non-Uniform Rational Basis Spline, and they’re basically a way to model curves and surfaces with more smoothness precision than polygons, which have to approximate curved surfaces by joining several flat ones.
They’re normally used in CAD design and engineering, but there would be a much higher cost in terms of hardware resources if they were used in real-time rendering.
[Image Credit 3DTutorialZone]
The idea of using them in game design (beyond creating models in Maya and similar programs and then converting them to polygons for the actual game as some artists already do) has been thrown around for a long time, and there were even some rumors that the PS2 would be NURBS-based back in the late nineties. Those voices didn’t, of course, come to fruition.
The discussion in graphics circles has popped up on and off over the years, with many arguing that the use of NURBS or similar modeling methods would be unpractical, or the gain in fidelity wouldn’t be big enough to warrant the cost in terms of hardware resources necessary.
If you want to learn more of what NURBS are, compared to polygons, you can find a quite clear explanation here.
It’d be certainly interesting to see developers experiment with this, even if honestly I don’t see it happening with AAA games. Maybe indie or smaller developers might give it a try, since they are always looking for ways to push the envelope and are more willing to experiment and take risks, pretty much like Q-Games is doing with advanced lighting technology in their The Tomorrow Children.
One thing is for sure: Nathan Drake is made of polygons. A whole lot of polygons.