Jumping into a video game world is a little like going on a trip, but for most of us, our method of taking snapshots on those journeys for years has been the lowly screenshot. More often than not, the act is a little like taking photos of western Montana or Iceland from inside a car—the beauty’s there, but bits like snippets of user interface or floating numbers ruin the appreciation of the wonders beyond.
NVIDIA wants to change all that, or at least bring the blossoming hobby of video game photography from the relatively exclusive hands of people like Duncan Harris and Leonardo Sang and to the masses. Some games, like Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, already include a built-in “photo mode” that makes the process of capturing the artsiest shot a cinch. For everything else, though, NVIDIA CEO Jen-Hsun Huang recently announced the upcoming release of Ansel, a game photography tool named in homage of famed real-world nature photographer Ansel Adams.
It’s first and foremost a 3D virtual reality camera. Turn it on, and Ansel pauses the action and allows you to swirl and zoom around your subject with a “free camera” for the best shot as confidently as though you were walking around a statue. Once you have that perfect shot, click another button, and boom, just as video game marketers have done for years, you’ve just made another way to confuse players who haven’t bought the game as regards what the gameplay actually looks like.
But that’s only the start of the fun. With the help of the spiffy new GeForce GTX 1070 and GeForce GTX 1080 cards NVIDIA also announced yesterday, you can capture the image with a stunning resolution of 4.5 gigapixels, or 61,440 x 34,560, or, as Huang says, more than the resolution of 1,000 iPhone 6 units. That’s good enough, as Huang showed, to take a photo outside a castle in a game like The Witcher 3 and read the pages of books on tables within.
Image: NVIDIA/CD Projekt Red
It’s also particularly helpful for the virtual reality component, as a single click captures a 360-degree view of the surrounding scene, and all without the hassle of spinning in circles with my phone like I have to go with my Google Street View spherical photos. From there, it’s easy to share the images through a virtual reality platform for better immersion, whether it’s something fancy like the Samsung Gear VR headset or the humble Google Cardboard. Barring that, you can just explore the images with a traditional interface.
As to when we’ll get to try all this out? Huang would only say “soon,” and that the feature would be limited to just seven games at first. Game developers have to put some work in to integrate feature, which sadly means I won’t be trying out Ansel in Skyrim for now. But for the most part, they’re games that perfectly suit the medium–stuff like The Witcher 3, No Man’s Sky, and The Division.