Lunchtime Discussion: Weather

Weather effects everyone in a big way. It clearly effects what we wear, what we eat, how we behave and so on. Case in point today I looked out of the window and it was absolutely tipping it down. I worked a little while longer instead of taking my lunch and twenty minutes later it was blindingly sunny – London’s weather seems highly unpredictable right now – so I popped out for a nice sandwich. I know that’s a fairly boring example, but sadly my life isn’t quite as exciting or narrative driven as a character in a story. If only it were.

The point of that slightly rambling introduction is that the weather effects us in pretty significant ways. Sadly this doesn’t seem to be true in games, rarely do we see characters struggling with the weather. Almost every other aspect of the environment is now modelled with a high level of accuracy, but the weather is so often overlooked. Simulation and sports titles aside weather doesn’t tend to effect the player much beyond some particle physics blocking your vision.

Of course there are a few games that have done weather pretty well, I hear that the rain in Heavy Rain is impressive. However what I find in these is that, in general, the weather isn’t a natural part of the environment that really effects you, it’s normally used a narrative device. Take the snow level on Modern Warfare 2 for example.

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I actually felt the snow was very well done, and lowered your visibility like in a real snow-storm. However it was in there as part of the narrative, it was part of the mission structure. No many how many times you play the mission through it will always be a snow storm in pretty much the same way each time. Wouldn’t it be more interesting if the storm ebbed and flowed like a real storm? Or if the other levels had weather that felt like it changed a little each time?

I can’t blame developers too much for this though. Whilst it would be very cool to have realistic feeling weather, rain and wind the slowed your stride or ice that made you slip, it just isn’t really feasible. We can barely model actual weather right now, creating our own weather with any level of accuracy or realism is probably vastly beyond what’s technically possible.

How do you feel about this? Would you like weather built in a way that makes things feel more realistic? Would dynamic weather patterns that really slowed you down and effected your character’s movement add anything? Or is this just another step too far towards realism?

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15 Comments

  1. It would be absolutely awesome if, for example, each time you play a multiplayer map during MW2 the weather could be different and could actually change during play.
    And I think, for certain games, adding this kind of level to realism could be a big improvement.
    *Thinks about stealth games like Metal Gear Solid and Splinter Cell*

  2. Great, great topic!

    Alan Wake – the “weather” change in that was superb. One of the best I’ve seen. The way the tree branches rolled and flexed as the scary howling winds came in. The mist/fog drifting through the valleys with menacing purpose. Even though I thought the game was “fairly good” the weather change was captivating as they’d utterly nailed it.

    Red Dead Redemption has some incredible weather patterns and followed day/night cycles properly. I remember sitting there and watching my first thunderstorm as the noise filled my 5.1 speakers. Lights off (in the room) with the walls and ceiling lighting up with every shock to the sky. Shadows almost burnt into the ground from the intensity.

    Uncharted 2 – snow. Bloody awesome. That is all. :-)

    However, how does weather affect the game itself? Outside of racing games we see little impact from the weather helping or impeding us.

    I know it would add yet another element that the programmers would have to battle with to get working but would it be worth the pay-off? In the right sort of game, most definitely yes. Imagine how the pace and feel of the game would change if you were genuinely hampered by weather taking a turn for the worse.

    To the point of you being happy to simply traverse A to B and remain alive! You catch yourself exhaling and thinking “phew, glad I made it” just before the killer polar bear rips your funking head off as he was already in the building you’ve just made it to.

    • Agree thoroughly about the trees in Alan Wake. Never have I been more intimidated / scared of a swaying bunch of branches. Didn’t have much of an impact on the mechanics of the gameplay though a superb addition to the atmosphere.

    • I agree here on RdR. First time that happened to me, I ran upstairs to show my girlfriend. Was well impressed on surround sound. Uncharted, well I thought the snow was quality. MW2 I thought it was a bit meh to be honest. Can’t think of any other game that has decent weather other than Killzone, the dust that flies around is pretty good. I personally don’t really mind, it makes a good atmospheric game if it has it though.
      I like the idea of playing an FPS on maps with varied weather.

  3. Not sure how I feel about the weather (having a real tangible impact on gameplay) in games to be honest. In multiplayer sports games I think it would add more (as long as you’ve got the option to turn it off) as both players would be disadvantaged by it. However in single player sports games then it could be frustrating if bad weather severely hampered your game. However this would be akin to real life so whether that’s a bad or good thing would depend upon what you wanted out of the game.

    It depends on what lengths devs took it to. An online shooter when it was raining cats and dogs could increase the chance of you slipping over in adverse weather conditions or, bad cloud cover etc could effect kill streaks in CoD. I do fondly (though sometimes not) remember the ice levels in Mario which were slippy and this is arguably good use of weather / environment in this way.
    Overall as you imply I think that there would just not be enough (any?) devs out there who could implement it in a fair and reasonable manner so think we should just stick to what we have at present. Nice article and discussion point though. Made me think!

  4. Im really looking forward to the Dynamic Weather system in F1 2010, the dev diary on it made it sound amazingly complex. The weather can change thoughout the race, and the AI teams will react to it with their stratagies. But also the track reacts. If its been raining and its clearing up, the racing line on the track will dry quicker than the rest of the track, leading to more grip levels there.
    The weather in RDR is pretty good too, it can really change the whole mood of the game.

  5. Oblivion had changing weather. It didn’t really affect the player though, unless you were a vampire & then you could only go out when it was overcast.

  6. Firstly – the title of this discussion makes it sound like small talk is all we have left to discuss. Secondly, I was quite disappointed in Burnout: Paradise when they introduced weather other than blazing sunshine. Made it a bit less paradise-full to me.

  7. I’m quite excited about the Dynamic Weather system in Codemasters F1 2010. Apparently the Track can be affected buy different types of weather on different parts of the track at the same time. So parts of the track can be wet and other parts dry, with it raining on just one part of the track which ultimately effects your grip and driving style on that part of the track etc..

    • Agreed. The rain/weather looked wonderful in the in-game trailers. The moment I saw them I thought “ooo, that’s just like watching a real grand prix when it comes to the weather”.

  8. Back in the day, there used to be iced pitches on Madden, which made controlling players harder, then there’s the frosty FIFA pitches where the ball bounces miles away.

    GTAIV had good weather where all the NPC used to magic a brolly from nowhere, didn’t affect the gameplay though, but showed off R*’s attention to detail.

    Ice has been a mainstay of platformers since the beginning where landing on icy platforms adds to the challenge, most recently seen in LBP… even Dante’s Inferno in the final level before confronting Lucifer.

    So weather has been pretty much ever present in games, should it have more of effect now that tech has advanced? No, realism is sucking the fun out of games as it is, I can just imagine now Niko not going outside cause the weather’s a bit cold or damp so you sit in your apartment till the next day before going on a mission

  9. FIFA or PES need to have rain with the addition of Microprose Soccer style comedy slide tackles.

  10. F1 2010 has Dynamic weather, the track also knows how dry/wet it is, so the grip changes dynamically too

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