Why aren’t graphics getting better?

If you are a gamer, you may have noticed that the graphics in the new games aren’t improving a lot compared to the prev games, and you may ask, why aren’t graphics getting better?

However If you have no Idea about game development, and you have just checked some of the AAA Games released in 2020 or later, you’ll be shocked by the games graphics that are sometimes indistinguishable from reality.

So what’s the deal here? Even though today’s video games graphics are very close to being indistinguishable from reality, some gamers might think that these graphics have reached a point where they aren’t improving anymore.

These Gamers are absolutely right, but wrong at the same time. How is that?

Game graphics are improving by a lot every single week. However, gamers are not being able to notice the difference the way they used to before. Today’s video game graphics have reached a point where huge improvements in the game’s models only result in barely noticeable changes in their looks.

So what’s really happening here, why aren’t graphics getting better?

Take a look at the latest Unreal Engine 5 unveil video in 2020.

A little background for the non Tech people before I proceed.

1 – The Unreal Engine is a game engine that game developers use to create games. It’s basically a tool box that can make game development much easier and faster.

2 – Game objects/models (Characters, trees, cars, …) are made up of triangles connected with each other. Usually, the more triangles a game object has, the more realistic it looks.

The unveil video above is telling you that now the PlayStation 5 and the Unreal Engine 5 are capable of handling BILLIONS of triangles in each game frame, which is just crazy.

The more triangles a console or a PC can handle, the better graphics game developers can create. But why aren’t we seeing so much improvement in graphics if games devices and game developers can now handle better graphics?

It’s simply because the limitations now aren’t the hardware and the software used to create video games, the limitations are the human eyes and perception.

Throughout the years, we’ve seen tremendous improvements in games in generals. Older hardware couldn’t handle many triangles per frame and game developers had to live with that.

But with the huge rate of improvement in the game development technologies, the number of triangles that could be handled by hardware increased very quickly over time.

This resulted in gamers noticing awesome graphics improvements each year. 

However, we finally hit the point where the limitations aren’t in the hardware anymore, it’s in the humans themselves.

Here’s a quick example:

I made this image using a 3D software called Blender to quickly demonstrate what I mean (Note: this monkey comes by default with Blender).

Here are the triangles count of each of the monkeys above:

  • Monkey number 1 has 290 triangles
  • Monkey number 2 has 968 triangles
  • Monkey number 3 has 62,976 triangles
  • Monkey number 4 has 4,030464 triangles

You can easily notice a great improvement from the first monkey to the second one, although there aren’t a lot of new triangles added, yet the second monkey looks much better.

Adding more triangles on the second monkey to get the third monkey also created a huge improvement, however, I had to add A LOT of triangles to get this improvement.

From the third monkey to the fourth monkey demonstrates the huge problem that the gaming industry is facing today. 

The fourth monkey is 64 times better than the third monkey in terms of triangles, yet they look the same to you.

Here’s a closer look at the third and the fourth monkeys:

If you look very closely, you will notice a slight improvement in the fourth monkey (the one on the right), however, for you to notice that in a game, you’ll have to stop everything you are doing in the game and just zoom in on every object you find in the scene to see how good it looks.

I don’t think gamers do that a lot so there is really no point in using the fourth monkey in the game as it will take so much resources from the console or the computer without adding much value to the game graphics.

Still wondering why aren’t graphics getting better? They actually are getting better, you just can’t notice the improvement anymore no matter how big it is.

Is this problem only related to computer games graphics?

Of course not. The rate of improvement in so many areas usually starts fast but then decreases slowly until it reaches a point where improvement isn’t even possible.

When you’re learning something new, this can happen to you. Let’s say you’re learning how to draw.

You watch a couple of videos somewhere and you are now able to draw the human body. This means that you have improved by A LOT. 

However, as you progress more and more, you realize that you’ve already handled the basics and now any slight improvements in your drawings will need much more work and knowledge.

If you’re into technology, then this other example is for you.

CPUs had only one core in the past. CPU manufacturers were able to improve the cores very fast during the years by adding more transistors to the chips.

However, the CPU manufacturers have reached the point where they weren’t able to add more transistors to their CPU cores because the cores were overheating.

So they hit a wall and they had to create multiple cores to improve CPUs.

The point here is that the rate of improvement of anything will eventually decline and might hit a wall where there is no room for improvement anymore.

You may be asking.

Have video game graphics peaked?

While the game graphics have reached a very advanced level, there still is a room for improvement in the years to come. The huge game development companies have already been able to create close to reality graphics, and now is the time they work on the minor details.

I personally believe that game graphics haven’t peaked yet, but seeing the rate of improvement in terms of hardware and software in the game development industry, the day when game graphics reach the peak isn’t very far away.

Will companies be willing to improve their game graphics after this level?

This is a more challenging question. You may ask, why wouldn’t game development studios always keep pushing the game graphics to a next level? Here’s why:

At the end of the day, companies are built to generate money. The ultimate aim for game development studios is to generate revenue and lower the costs as much as they can.

As you have already seen above in the monkeys example, no matter how much improvements you can add to your game models, they might still not be noticed by the players a lot.

So why would a company choose to waste time, money and effort on things that might not add so much value to their game in terms of revenue?

As Leonardo da vinci once said, “Art is never finished, only abandoned”. 

What Leonardo meant by this is that you can never reach a point where you have a piece of art that can no longer improve, however you will have to abandon the art piece at some point because the time spent on the extra details that may not be even noticeable can be invested somewhere else.

This is exactly what game development studios usually take into consideration. They have to use their time wisely to create an appealing game but at the same time finish it with the time limits that they have.

But, will these lead companies to choosing not to improve the graphics that we see nowadays? I guess we’ll have to wait and see what happens.

In my opinion, improvements in game graphics will still be worked on, they’ll just be less noticeable at this point.

So, to sum things up. Why aren’t graphics getting better? The answer would be that they are improving a lot however our eyes are having a hard time noticing the improvements.

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