BioShock Infinite might still be over a year and half away, but what Irrational Games has shown to us already looks stunning — leagues beyond the claustrophobic hallways of Rapture. How much of the demo remains in the final product will be interesting to see, though.

In case you haven’t noticed in the screenshots thus far, Columbia is a gorgeous floating city, and one that was made possible only by overhauling the game’s underlying technology to accommodate all the new design elements. Jumping on the Irrational forums, the game’s technical director addressed some of the concerns and questions about Infinite‘s tech, which is a far cry from BioShock and its sequel, which used the ancient Unreal Engine 2.5 tool set.

BioShock Infinite‘s engine is based on Unreal Engine 3, but tweaked and highly altered in places to allow Irrational’s developers to implement vastly improved AI, lighting, a new renderer, and even complex animations thanks to the utilization of NaturalMotion’s Morpheme tech seen in BackBreaker, Enslaved, and more. It’s a whole new beast, and an impressive looking one at that. Check out just some of the items that are bringing BioShock Infinite to life in 2012.

• Given the intelligence and sheer number of AI we planned to throw at the player, we needed an entirely new AI system that was both more efficient and gave designers the ability to author their own behaviors. And because smooth and complex animation is the key to looking intelligent, we got down to business building a new animation system on top of Natural Motion’s ‘Morpheme’ technology.

• All major FPS engines (CryEngine 3, UE3, id Tech 5) are designed and optimized for static environments that the player moves through, which is a reasonable choice because, even if there are trees moving in the wind, the ground under the player’s feet isn’t going anywhere. Unfortunately for our tech team (but good for you) everything in Columbia is capable of moving. The very ground beneath your feet could fall out of the sky at any moment, which makes for some awesome gameplay and visuals but required us to create a completely new technology that we’re calling “Floating Worlds”. You saw a little of this in the gameplay demo video (in the part right after Saltonstall jumps on the Sky-Line) and you’ll be seeing a lot more of it in the future.

• To meet the aesthetic goals of our art team, our rendering gurus had to write a whole new renderer for BioShock Infinite based on Deferred Lighting (a technique used in Uncharted 2, CryEngine3, and Killzone 2), and on top of that they’ve developed a proprietary per-pixel dynamic relighting scheme that allows characters and dynamic objects to receive global illumination.

• BioShock 1’s audio system was… umm… “sub-optimal”. This time around our sound team demanded a new audio pipeline based on AudioKinetic’s WWise technology that supported 5.1 with adjustable dynamic range and a fully dynamic mixing system. Not only did our engineers rise to that task, but they subsequently took it up a notch and implemented both a custom sound propagation system (so voices properly echo down corridors and around buildings) and a dynamic wind audio system that reinforces the dynamic weather in the world.

• Finally, we’ve built a whole new parallel processing framework (a “job architecture”, in programmer lingo) that lets the engine take advantage of as many cores as you can throw at it. This will let us eke out all the power of the PS3 and 360, and also give hardcore PC gamers something to show off their rigs with.”

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