So I was chatting with one of my friends about what was up next on the todo list for my procedural planet. I explained that I was working on fog and that after that I would focus on water. He suggested that I get HDR and Depth of Field put in next. I then mentioned how I want to get Atmospheric Scattering in as well.
With all of these features laid out, the project seems rather daunting. That is easily several months worth of work right there. (I still do have a full time job!) I started thinking about how to make it easier, yet still make it stand out. I mean no matter how many awesome looking things I put in, I will never even come close to the level of Crysis. I am only one guy! So, I decided I should focus more on something that would be feasible for a team of one to accomplish in a lifetime.
Time for a personal history lesson!
Back when I first started fiddling around with XNA (over 2 years ago now), I also started looking into shaders for the first time. I have always been interested in Non-Photorealistic Rendering (cel shading, painterly rendering, hatching, etc), so I thought that might be a good subject to test with shaders. In my research, I came across a great paper about doing real-time pencil sketch rendering. http://cg.postech.ac.kr/research/pencil_rendering/
In January 2007, I began work on my own pencil shader. I actually started with 4 separate shaders that would require all models to be rendered 4 times. Fairly quickly I realised that I could speed things up greatly by having 1 shader with 4 passes. I tinkered around with it, and other things, for several months before I found out about using multiple render targets. Using this, I was able to get it down to 3 passes. Not long after that, I demoed the shader in a job interview and I actually got a job as an XNA Game Developer! That job lasted until the company got bought out by a larger company. Toward the end of my employment there, I started getting into procedural generatation, and that's how I came to have the procedural planet that I have today.
As you know, I have a new laptop now, and during the transfer of files from my old laptop, I saw my old pencil shader again. It had gone untouched since the day I demoed it in my job interview. Yesterday I finally decided to take all of the code and update it to XNA 2.0 and clean up what I could. I realized that I had learned quite a bit over the last year about both XNA and C#, so I was able to make the code much cleaner. Not only that, but I was also able to get the shader down to 2 passes! This gave me a 100fps speed boost. (On my GeForce 9800 GT, the 4 pass = 470fps, 3 pass = 480fps, 2 pass = 580fps.)
This has really given me a desire to work on NPR stuff again. So, currently my next goal is to have a procedural planet that is rendered using my pencil shader.