Ever since I was a small child, seeing the amazing 3D visuals that developed in the 1980s and 1990s, I was certain that photo-realism was "just around the corner". In the year 2020, I certainly thought it was going to be a standard fact of life.

That never happened.

It's as if not only the technology halted, having taken a giant loap from the SNES to the Nintendo 64 in just a few years, but also the whole mentality of game developers seemed to shift around year 2000. Video games, even simulators, started looking more and more unreal and uninteresting to me.

As the resolutions increased, it only became more and more apparent how crude and fake the 3D environments really were. To me, it seems like they tried to make up for this by adding heaps of visual filters on top, giving a thin illusion of "visual eyecandy". But not realism. Or even something which looks appealing.

Movies started to look more and more like these ugly new video games, and the video games started looking less and less like video games, yet still not anywhere close to reality. They both blended together into "generic CGI" which really does look ugly to my eyes, and very far from "real".

Today, in the year 2020, there isn't a single modern video game you would catch me dead playing. I'd rather watch paint dry or even sports than I'd play or watch somebody else play these modern video games. How can that be? I don't want it to be the case. I want it to be like how I dreamed it would be 20+ years ago. It seemed like video games and simulations would just keep on getting more and more fun and exciting, but they just... died.

Now, all I see are dead polygon models with nonexistent AI and which are lightyears away from even resembling real-life wax figures. They look nothing like reality, yet don't have the visual appeal of the "early" 3D games and simulations.

My dream remains to get to run a program which literally looks like somebody is walking around with a camera in reality. Nothing has ever come close to resembling this, and in fact, we seem to be drifting further away from it with each year. And I don't mean that extremely limited tech demo I saw a few years ago where they had made one single room in "OK" detail/realism. While slightly cool, it had zero interactivity and the room was too small and uninteresting for it to qualify. Not to mention it had no living entities in it.

They don't even seem to be attempting to make such things. Everything uses these ugly, unreal visuals with a bunch of uninteresting garbage story where they seem to have spent all their budget on voice actors and motion capture, which I couldn't care less about. I want a perfectly recreated realistic environment to explore with zero story/plot/cutscenes. Just me, walking around, in first-person view. It just starts like that, with no menus or settings or cutscenes or logos. I just double-click an EXE on the desktop and BAM! I'm in a 3D world of the size of perhaps a neighbourhood, free to explore it as if I were actually walking around in the real-life location.

I don't care if the resolution is 320 x 240 pixels or 4K. It's become clear to me that the resolution has zero to do with how it looks; an old black-and-white 1920s film camera or a 1980s cheap consumer camera will capture infinitely more realistic visuals than the biggest monster computer in existence today can produce. It has nothing to do with the resolution.

What's stopping people with skills and resources from doing this? I know what's stopping me -- I can't make a cube in Blender to save my life. But surely I can't be the only person on this planet who has this strong desire for such a digital, photo-realistic recreation of some -- any! -- location?

I remember seeing footage of a "game" in the mid-1990s where they had just taken a camera and walked around a real old castle, then made it into an interactive multimedia CD-ROM or something. I didn't understand what technique they had used, so it seemed like it was a photo-realistic simulation to me back then. Ever since that day, I have wanted such a thing "for real", but not even the most impressive VR demos come anywhere near close.

Note: This does NOT need to be VR by any means. In fact, since I have sold my VR headset and won't be buying a new one for a very long time, if ever, I don't even want this to be VR.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ What's stopping it is the current computational resources of the average consumer. On the other hand, photorealism is very much here even in real-time: youtu.be/BpT6MkCeP7Y youtu.be/vpi-3q98uH4 The resolution matters very much. At 320x240 the above will easily run on most current systems, and on the original systems you could have a lot more details. Photorealism is a solved problem, photorealism at "decent" resolution, with high polygon counts, difficult light effects, and for a reasonable computation time on current hardware - not so much. $\endgroup$
    – lightxbulb
    Commented Feb 17, 2020 at 4:18
  • $\begingroup$ I’m curious which modern games you’re referring to, because by my (also fairly high) standards, there’ve been several recent ones that crossed the threshold of photorealism. Horizon: Zero Dawn, Far Cry 5, and Assassin’s Creed Odyssey all have terrific outdoor environment detail; Control, with its raytracing settings turned up, has incredible lighting and reflection effects. Can you go into what details you’ve found to be missing in the games you’ve looked at? $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 17, 2020 at 21:28


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