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Pushing the envelope: Achieving next-level clouds in Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores (explorable skies)



From PlayStation.blog,

In the early 2010s, feature film and animation VFX started using volumetric rendering to create clouds. For video games, this technique took too long to render with high-quality results at interactive framerates, but developers knew it held game-changing potential.

With innovations in hardware, this began to change. At the nexus of the PlayStation 4 in 2015, Andrew partnered with Nathan Vos, Principal Tech Programmer at Guerrilla. Together, they developed the highly efficient open-world volumetric cloud system that can be seen in Horizon Zero Dawn. The intricately detailed clouds framed Aloy’s world as a hopeful, beautiful one. It supported changes to the time of day and realistic animations, creating the sense of a fully living, breathing world.

This established the foundation the team would build upon for Horizon Forbidden West.

“The cloud systems that we developed for Horizon Zero Dawn and Horizon Forbidden West were fast because they didn’t store clouds as 3D objects, but rather instructions on creating 3D clouds from limited 2D information. The PlayStation 5 can handle larger datasets. So, after Forbidden West wrapped, we set to work writing a voxel cloud renderer prototype that could live up to our standards for quality, and actually allow the player to fly through highly detailed cloud formations.”

"It was important to us to make the experience fun and joyful on its own outside of the main gameplay. The clouds are not simply immersive scenery but an explorable landscape in themselves. Among the clouds, players will be able to explore tunnels, caves, and other surprises that make for fun flying,"
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