If you read a gaming forum daily you certainly have already seen the word Render when a very or almost too beautiful image of a game was published. In this article I'll try to explain what a render is, how to create one and will make a comparison between renders and ingame images of 4 games (PGR2, DOAX, MM3)

What's a render ?

A render is a high resolution image created so you have a better idea of how the game will on your TV. This image is not directly captured from the game but generated specifically.
Renders at first were given to the press so they had very high resolution images to illustrate the games previews and reviews. A half page images requires at least a resolution of 1920x1440 to look good !
But since everyone started using the internet renders are also used to give the best impression of a game, while hiding the most embarrassing problems like aliasing or texture resolution.
It's also important to separate concept shots done very early in the developpement of the game and renders, like we will see later.

How is generated a render ?

There are generally two ways to generate a render :
- Using the Xbox and the game engine : The game engine uses a special mode without any display on TV and internally generates a very high resolution image and puts it on a PC once done (PGR2). It's the most common method, but it requires to put the game in a special stand alone mode since you can't play. Team Ninja seems to use a variation of that mode, they play the game normally and when they want they generate the very high resolution image. The main point of the method is that the 3d models / textures and game engine are used so there is no real cheating, except that there is no mipmapping (the texture resolution stays high even for far away models) and no aliasing.
- Using a PC (workstation method) : This method is mostly used for a game being developped for multiple platforms, where the developpers mostly use the PC for all testing and just validate everything on each console from time to time. This allows to play the game at very high resolution directly with a normal high performance PC, and use true screen captures as renders. This method allows the developper to truly cheat us by using more detailed models and textures. This method is also used for early concept shots of games.

How do I identify a render ?

It's usually very easy to identify a render. If the resolution is higher than 480 vertically you can be 99% sure it's a render (with the 720p exception). If there is absolutely no aliasing then it's also a render. The Xbox can "only" use a 4x antialiasing that won't hide all jaggies on almost horizontal or vertical lines.

Comparisons between renders and final images

Here is how I did the comparison :
- Search for a render with an interesting setting and rather simple to reproduce myself.
- Resize the image to 640x480 is needed
- Capture of the image from the framebuffer of the Xbox (internal rendering)
- Capture of the image from my TV card

Project Gotham Racing 2

PGR2 render PGR2 framebuffer

Most of the hype of PGR2 was because the renders we all saw were incredibly beautiful and detailed. A lot of people thought it would not be possible to have this on a simple Xbox. Here is the proof Bizarre did not lie to us. Except for a very slight aliasing the game looks exactly the same as the render !

Dead or Alive Xtreme Volleyball

DOAX render
DOAX framebuffer

DOAX is a bit more of a problem. There is a big difference between the render and the framebuffer capture. The game uses no antialiasing and the water does not look as good. Midtown Madness 3

MM3 concept
MM3 render
MM3 framebuffer

Midtown Madness 3 is the worst of the lot. The first image is a concept shot of the game. As you can see it's very different from even the first render. Comparing the render and the ingame framebuffer capture also leads to quite a few difference, aliasing, textures and lighting all look worse in game.

Renders are now part of almost all games advertising. So it's getting more and more important not to believe everything we get to see. After seeing a screen of a game try identifiying a render and then think if what you have is too good to be true or may be done on the Xbox with some slights alterations. You may be surprised !


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