Why I chose Champions over Aion for the graphics award

January 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.

Aion on left, Champions on right. Lighting test.

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.

Aion on Left, Champions on right. Texture test.

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.

Champions on left, Aion on right. Environment construction test.

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:

Champions Online -- Note the dynamic lighting and bloom. The shadow will move as she turns.

Aion -- Note how more details are put into the characters and not the environment. Here, the CryEngine struts its stuff.

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…

Kyle Horner's "Tesla Six" -- Holy crap reflection quality and details!

Champions has that.  How can I deny a graphics award to that?



  1. My god, it’s full of reflections!

  2. I’m gonna be abnoxious and say that I don’t see it. I respect that you give awards to whoever you want, but I don’t have to agree with it. Perhaps it is the overall design of CO that gets in the way for me, though.

    • OBNOXIOUS PERSON!!!!!! *shakes fist and hugs* All you then dear. :3 I mean, it could be that. If you don’t like it, you just don’t like it.

  3. Interesting technical observations. I honestly don’t notice the lack of dynamic lighting as much in games (though the subtle effects can make scenes seem a lot more “real” at times), but the lack of texture quality in Aion does definitely get to me some times.

  4. I just don’t see how CO is better. To me CO graphics are Polygons become very blocky and the art work is bland.

  5. Very interesting, that’s a lot more thought than I would’ve put into the decision (so it is probably good that I wasn’t making it). Oh course I agreed already, but it’s nice to have actual reasons.

  6. Bravo! Just shut up those Aion fanboys with solid arguments! 😛

  7. Very nice post, but I prefer the graphics of Aion 🙂

  8. was this made before or after patch 2.5?

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