Why I chose Champions over Aion for the graphics awardJanuary 2, 2010
A few people over at Massively have been confused as to why we gave Champions Online the award for “Best Graphics of 2009.” Most are saying that we should have chosen Aion, as it clearly has the better graphics engine. CO is too four color, too “comic-booky” and too cartoony to truly get the award, right?
Well, let me lay out why I chose Champions, because I actually have clear evidence as to why I thought it deserved the award.
In the screenshots below, I’m running both games on full graphics power. They’re both running at 1600×900, so the resolution quality is the same. Let me point out some very clear differences in how the two engines handle objects and the world environment. If you want to see the full 1600×900 version of these photos, you can click any one of them to view the comparison.
In this first screenshot, we see Aion and Champions both running in indoor settings. However, the Champions engine does a few things differently. One, it’s rendering dynamic lighting while Aion only renders global lighting. No matter where you stand in Aion, your shadow will always stay the same height and direction, regardless of light source. Even while I’m standing next to a burning spirit, there’s no change.
Champions will correctly display the shadows according to the dynamic lighting of the scene, and will render all technical features of the character. Even with a horribly complex character creator, my shadow displays properly with wings and outline, and all lights in the scene are causing a shadow from their correct directions. As I move around the scene, the shadows will get larger or smaller, depending on my distance from light sources. Also, powers will cause their own local lighting effects while Aion’s powers will not.
Example number two is how the two games handle surface quality. Aion’s texuring, outside of the characters, is very bland. Polygons become very blocky and the art work, while awesome, does not have any qualities outside of the texture itself.
Champions, on the other hand, does a double layer on all objects — one for the texture, and one for the bump map. Metallic surfaces will appear to be raised and metallic, reflecting the objects around them accordingly. While Aion’s metal stove doesn’t appear metallic, the powerhouse logo in Champions does. Once again, another feature to the engine that Aion just doesn’t possess.
Lastly, Aion’s environments can become very polygonal, as I mentioned above. Play this against Champions environments, which are much more detailed, utilize all the other aspects of the engine that I showed above, and appear more dimensional because of it. While Aion is undoubtedly beautiful (as you can see from the above artwork) it lacks some subtle features that the Champions Online engine possesses. Therefore, because of those differences, I gave the win to Champions for going the extra mile with lighting, shadows, and textures.
Two final photos for you, however, that do show an advantage to Aion’s engine:
As stated in the photos above, Champions seems to lose resolution on the characters while it keeps it everywhere else. Aion, on the other hand, steps it up when it comes to character design. If they put as much emphasis on world design as they did on character design, they would have totally got the win in spades. However…
Champions has that. How can I deny a graphics award to that?