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What would a realistic poly count target range be for NPC and player models in a 3D MMO that will be released in 2 years? What about poly count target range for the entire camera view (environment, NPC and player meshes)?

I read in some places that one should not aim too low if the game will come out in a couple years because technology is always advancing. If you can give some mesh poly stats on what other current MMOs / MMORPGs are running and future projections, that would be great.

Thank you.

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What is the art style you're aiming for with this MMO? Are you aiming for high realism? How many NPCs and/or players are in the same scene at the same time? If it's just a few then the counts can be higher, if it's a lot, they have to be lower. –  Tim Holt Jul 6 '11 at 22:06
    
Art style will be rather minimal. I am going for a slightly more cartoony effect. So environment and characters will be rather stylized. –  classer Jul 8 '11 at 4:29
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5 Answers 5

I remember reading somewhere that a company (Blizzard?) puts its employees on bleeding edge workstations, with the assumption that by the time the game is released, that level of compute power will have become mainstream.

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But Blizzard develops one game for 10 years. –  Markus von Broady Sep 29 '12 at 17:20
    
Lol, I read that around Warcraft III time, –  bobobobo Sep 29 '12 at 17:23
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The performance of a game does not usually get bottlenecked by poly count first. This is one of the reasons that pixel shaders have been gaining speed faster than vertex shaders over the past several years.

To put it somewhat bluntly: If you are asking about how many polygons your models should have, then you should not be working on an MMO.

MMO production has bankrupted large corporations, yet in every game development community (XNA forums, gamedev.net, gamedev.SE,...) there seems to be a weekly newcomer asking about how to fix some widget in the MMO he's making as a one man show.

There actually have been a few successful MMOs that started as one man projects, however they were all created by game developers with a lot of experience.

Studies have shown that players notice and care more about shadows, lighting, and aliasing before they care about poly count. Look at minecraft.

You can get away with very low polygon counts if your lighting effects are excellent. Global illumination approximations, shadow quality, antialiasing post processes, deferred lighting pipelines, should all be a much greater concern than polygon count.

Since your question is about polycount, I'll point out that (new) critters in wow are typically in the range of 50-100 polygons.

Mobs are in the 300-500 polygon range.

CPU speed is typically a bottleneck for most wow players in my experience though, especially in cities where the number individual objects (and therefore the number of draw calls gets large).

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WoW is a special case for CPU speeds, it being a decade old engine that's still single threaded. The rest of your post should be considered deeply by anyone inexperienced who thinks of building an MMO. –  Patrick Hughes Jul 7 '11 at 19:11
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WoW was released ~6 years ago, and about ~3 years ago they started multithreading the engine (to take advantage of 2 cores). If you have many different models, drawing them all with few draw calls remains a challenge in modern engines. Consider that models that require shadows must be drawn in the shadow mapping pass as well as during the normal rendering pass. In fact, modern engines that use light-pre pass or a similar deffered approach may have to draw the models yet another time. So I don't see a reason to think that modern engines should require fewer draw calls/model than WoW's engine. –  Olhovsky Jul 7 '11 at 19:51
    
It is very intimidating going over financial and man power statistics related to MMO development. This post freaked me out a bit gamedev.stackexchange.com/questions/90/… but still I have a vision that I believe in and am committed. –  classer Jul 8 '11 at 4:40
    
I don't mind the downvotes, but it'd be nice if someone told me why I'm being downvoted. I want to learn too :) –  Olhovsky Aug 12 '11 at 10:41
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Focusing on poly count and other rendering minutae is really putting the cart before the horse. Your question depends entirely on what client engine you're going to use, and so can't be answered.

Onwards to predicting future hardware platforms.

Many projects have been sunk by assuming that hardware speeds will always advance. Look at what happened during the switch we are just now completing from single-core processors to multi-core, raw speed didn't go UP at all and mostly went DOWN on each core...

You must define your target audience, do you want enthusiast gamers only or a broad population? There's a great resource here for platform dominance: the Steam store

My personal best guess is that if you take a 50% mark from Steam and call that your baseline platform then in two years you'll have a very nice customer base that won't alienate too many on the low end.

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I think your second paragraph might be misleading for a n00b. –  iamcreasy Jul 6 '11 at 22:09
    
Overall CPU power went up (you can make draw calls from multiple cores), and poly count costs per draw call depends on the GPU speed more than the CPU speed anyway. –  Olhovsky Jul 7 '11 at 18:25
    
Like I said in a previous comment the client I am going to develop for is Flash Player 11 (Molehill). I realize its young but I believe it is a game changer and with its huge install base I feel it is a smart choice, plus I have time. –  classer Jul 8 '11 at 4:34
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A good reference for a wide public is to check the average computer specs around christmas discounts. Also a good option is to have severall levels of details for your game so that you can adapt your graphic performances according to the computer specs.

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I like this idea about the Christmas discounts. –  Patrick Hughes Jul 6 '11 at 23:50
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This is what we used in a former company I worked for, always use a middle-end discount computer from 2 years before the release date, and it worked quite well –  XGouchet Jul 7 '11 at 4:22
    
Interesting ideas. Thanks. –  classer Jul 8 '11 at 4:32
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For MMO due to their nature, wide adoption is a must to survive. They need to have a window which enables them to run on mediocre pc. So, no matter how tech progresses forward, MMO should be always the least to take full advantage of it. And poly count doesn't matter too much, if you can cover this up with your art style and/or other visual stuff. For example, the average poly count of WOW characters are 500.

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Also the poly count of some non-character objects in WoW is extremely low. Some of the basic prop models are incredibly low poly. –  Tim Holt Jul 6 '11 at 22:06
    
I am designing/developing this MMO for Flash Molehill (Flash Player 11) primarily because around 98% of all computers have Flash installed. I know this technology is still in its infancy but I have time. –  classer Jul 8 '11 at 4:32
    
@classer Rather then going after poly count, strive for an optimal limit on which your model looks best. Study other MMO, how they solve the issue. At the bottom line, poly count wont be much of an issue, cause modern hardware are very powerful it,& all you need is to watch out for features they you will be using for your game and how available those features in any randomly picked pc. –  iamcreasy Jul 8 '11 at 4:41
    
@iamcreasy what features are you talking about? GPU features? CPU? –  classer Jul 8 '11 at 4:44
    
@classer GPU features –  iamcreasy Jul 8 '11 at 4:50
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