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GRAW 2

The tech behind the best explosions ever!

Xbox 360 visuals have progressed an incredible amount in the last 12 months, and so Ubisoft's once-jaw-dropping Clancy shooter Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter is looking rather aged alongside graphical titans like Gears of War and... erm, well mainly Gears of War.

But thankfully Ubisoft Paris has been up to a spot of gaming DIY, and Advanced Warfighter 2 is once again standing up to the Epic shooter (ho ho!), with technical jewels like dynamic fire and smoke, depth sprite and ambient occlusion in its grasp (don't worry, we'll explain what they actually mean later).

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"We won the technical achievement BAFTA this year for the first Advanced Warfighter," proudly notes GRAW 2 associate producer Sebastien Dore, "so hopefully next year we'll win it again."

And if they don't nab the Brit gong next year they've at least made some very pretty lighting effects, which are at their most noticeable when shining through trees and leaves, marking out the inner-leaf guts with clever new object translucency tech.

That's not the last of the tree-related light revelations either; there's also something that Ubisoft Paris is calling 'God Rays', the most holy of light techniques that simulates the way light goes around objects that block the sun. For example, when you're in a dense forest with the sun in front of you, you can see the light penetrate the trees in distinct "rays," something that does a lot in making GRAW 2's scorching, sun-kissed Mexico look even more believable.

But the most impressive of GRAW's 2007 touch-ups is its new dynamic fire and smoke systems. One of the developer's critiques of the first Advanced Warfighter was that the battlefield was very static, and their wasn't much going on inside the walls of Mexico city. They don't plan to have the same problem in GRAW 2.

A disturbing amount of attention has been paid to the smoke effects in the sequel, now using Call of Duty-style tricks and techniques to give the smoke a beautiful 'painted' look a world apart from the volumetric equivalent.

But what's more interesting is how the fumes react with the environment (this is the part that makes it 'dynamic' smoke) blowing in different directions, blowing over objects and generally acting like erm, smoke. For example, if you stick a helicopter in between two flaming cars the smoke will blow in different directions - something that Ubisoft believe will bring a much more believable feel to GRAW 2's Mexican battlefields.

But wait - there's more. Even more impressive than the smoke's dynamic blowing mischief is how it traverses static objects. In the first game when smoke blew into a car or rumble a clunky-looking collision line would appear where it met the ground, where as now - thanks to 'depth sprite' tech - the smoke interacts smoothly with the world elements, blowing over and around cars without nasty 'jaggy' lines. You probably won't notice it when it's there, but you definitely will when it's not.

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Fire - now fully particled up and looking gorgeous - works in a similar way, blowing and flaming in different directions and obviously creating the fancy smoke Ubisoft loves so much.

Now - we've seen enough Schwarzenegger flicks to know what decent explosions should look like, and we can say with confidence that the reworked boom-clouds in GRAW 2 are amongst the most beautiful and (for destruction nuts) arousing we've ever seen.

Stooping more towards destructive lust-chat than technical discretion, GRAW 2's new explosions take advantage of both of the above fire and smoke techniques to create a ballet of fiery bang-age, compete with swirling smoke trails, scattered debris, HD-DR light-correction mischief and a revamped physics system to wrap things up nicely.

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