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Enhanced planetary graphics, Reddit followup.
First of all, the Reddit IAmA went pretty well, you can check out the results here. We had a lot of cool questions and discussion, and I did my best to thoroughly answer everyone during the ~3 hours or so that the Q/A was live. Thanks all!
In other news, I wanted to talk a little about some of the quick graphical updates we have in process right now. We're currently going through and updating every planet in the galaxy, increasing the texture resolution by a factor of 8 and enhancing the use of shaders. These improvements will show up in the game this month, as part of an upcoming patch.
We've also made some cool changes to the rendering engine itself, so we can dynamically unload these large textures from memory when you aren't in need of them, keeping our footprint low for mobile devices or anyone with stricter memory limitations. Since you aren't likely to be chased around by a planet (although that would be pretty funny), any additional texture-load is just at jump-time.
Just an early texture Prototype!
Now, I have to emphasize that the image below is a prototype only; it isn't finished, just a quick screen-grab from a test pass. Please ignore the angular planetary outline, the production version will not be like that, some of the shaders and lighting aren't in place, the atmospheric outline is missing, shorelines aren't right, so on and so forth..
It should give you some idea of the difference in texture resolution, particularly in the clouds. Naturally the planets will continue to rotate and display light/dark landscapes depending on the viewing location, as they always have, with darkness bringing out the lights of the cities below.
While these updates will be a big improvement and will bring greater depth and realism to the universe, it's important to keep in mind that even these are a relatively "temporary" stopgap measure until we introduce fully procedural planet generation in 2014. We intend to spend significant effort on the procedural system; it will effectively give us unlimited resolution as well as setting the stage for the ability to land on planets in the future.