Video game graphics achieved using the DirectX 11 standard provide a solid indication of the visual power of the next Xbox and PlayStation, Eurogamer has been told.
Eurogamer has also been told that visuals on a par with Hollywood blockbuster movie Avatar are a genuine possibility on the next generation of consoles - a claim first made by graphics technology company AMD and now backed up by video game developers.
As part of an investigation into the next generation of home consoles, Eurogamer has learnt from developers what gamers can expect from the next Xbox and the PlayStation 4.
"It's going to depend a lot on when Sony and Microsoft decide is the right moment to announce and launch things," Crytek UK principal programmer Pete Hall tells Eurogamer, "but it does feel at the moment that the hardware we get in next generation consoles will be about the sort of level that DX11 is at - that's where it currently looks like it's going."
Crytek, creator of game engine CryEngine 3, recently added DirectX 11 support to the PC version of first-person shooter Crysis 2, prompting some suggestions that it makes the sci-fi first-person shooter look so good that it provides a glimpse into the next generation.
But Crytek, rumoured to be making TimeSplitters 4 for Microsoft and Sony's next consoles, reckons better visuals are possible.
"The DX11 support for Crysis 2 was planned quite early on, but while it was being implemented, we were discovering things about the production methods we'd use," Mark Tully, Crytek lead programmer, adds, "If we'd done it slightly differently, we could have achieved even higher results. Those learnings will be going into future Crytek projects. The authoring processes will be able to still target the consoles, but be able to produce even higher results on DX11 than what we were able to achieve with Crysis 2.
"That in itself is exciting."
Earlier this year Epic released the Samaritan tech demo - a real-time video designed to provide a glimpse into what the next generation of consoles will be capable of. But is Samaritan a realistic expectation for the next-generation? Will we really see graphics on that level? Mark Rein, co-founder of Gears of War and Unreal Engine maker Epic Games, says the answer is a definite yes.
"It is already possible on PCs today albeit very high end ones," he tells Eurogamer. "Broadly-speaking tomorrow's console is today's high end PC, whose level of technology eventually trickles down to affordable PCs, set-top boxes and mobile devices as well. So it makes sense that this is the kind of thing the next generation of consoles could power. It is just a question of timing."
And, according to Rein, Direct X 11 is a good guideline as to what gamers will see from the next generation.
"Yes I think there is a feature set there that provides the ability to make clearly-discernible visual improvements over what can be done on today's consoles. Samaritan was an early attempt to demonstrate that," he says.
"As a content developer we'll get better at exploiting these features over time and, as a technology provider, we'll continue to deliver tools and technology that helps our licensees to do the same. In the mean time we've already shipped Samaritan's DX11 feature set in the latest Unreal Engine 3."
"Where the PCs are now compared to what [Sony and Microsoft] are going to do, I assume will be close," Hall says. This week AMD, which is rumoured to be providing the graphics technology powering the next Xbox, said Microsoft's next home console will be so powerful it will be capable of reproducing graphics on a par with James Cameron's computer generated movie blockbuster Avatar.
Many baulked at the suggestion, but Crytek believes it may be possible on future consoles. "One of our rendering guys was looking at that article and was saying he reckons that's doable now with DX11 on PC," Hall enthuses, "I get the feeling it could happen. It could be next-gen consoles. It does feel like if we're able to keep pushing DirectX 11 into the next generation of consoles we should be able to produce some fantastic stuff with CryEngine."
While gamer tongues are wagging on the potential power of the next generation, for developers, visuals are just one facet of the next-gen battle."It's one thing to have the graphics that look like Avatar, but you want to move everything else on a step as well," Hall says.
Tully agrees. "We always use graphics as the benchmark for what's going to be so great about the next game on this platform - but obviously you've got other aspects. In single-player you've got AI, and in multiplayer you've got, well, how do we better integrate the community into the game so it's more of a social experience? There are all these different areas you can move forward in. It's not always just about the graphics, although that is a big part of it."