Digital Water

A revolutionary new way to render waves in video games

| posted on May 08, 2013

Tube Time circa 2003 in Kelly Slater's Pro Surfer for the Playstation 2.

Water is one of the most difficult things to model in a video game—especially if it’s dynamic and swell-driven. The processing power and coding required to convincingly simulate an ocean wave surging around a lighthouse, for example, has traditionally been considered too cost prohibitive and labor intensive for most video game developers. This is one of the main reasons why it has been ten years, seven months, and eighteen days since a decent surf video game was last released on a major console.

(To put Kelly Slater’s Pro Surfer into its proper—and archaic—technological context, YouTube didn’t exist when the game was released in September of 2002, Friendster was considered “a social networking revolution” with 3-million users, and the iPhone was only a gray wrinkle in Steve Jobs’ mind.)

The good news is that two researchers working at Nvidia, a global graphics chips manufacturer, have come up with a solution. Miles Macklin and Mathias Müller-Fischer recently published a paper called Position Based Fluids, which outlines a new way for game developers to model waves. “Based on our understanding, this research is close to the cutting edge of programming techniques,” says Adam Biessener, a writer for Game Informer.

The paper itself is full of algorithms that are so complex the developers wrote their equations in mathematic symbols rather than actual numbers, but the visual product is pretty straightforward: it looks like their modeling system will emulate a pretty realistic barrel. On Macklin’s blog, the programmer assures us that they’re also still fine-tuning the process, focusing on things like spray, foam, and surface tension.

The only problem now is that the current generation of consoles cannot adequately support the software, but Biessener speculates that it could work on a PlayStation 4, which, according to rumor, is slated for release in time for the 2013 holiday season. And with it could come the next generation’s surf video game.

  • abouttime

    Yes, please! I still have KS Pro Surfer and it works on the 360. Still amazing with a great soundtrack…

  • digitalSurfer

    Keep up the enthusiasm for a new surf game Mr. Wilson. It’s coming, like a bump on the horizon. Long live KSPS!

  • Jah hellfire

    There is a thing called Youriding IV go check it out.

  • Casey

    I’ve played Transworld Surf, Kelly Slater’s Pro Surfer, Sunny Garcia Surfing, and even (shudder) H30.

    Sunny Garcia Surfing is easily my favorite of them all. It has the best gameplay out of all of them, no question. Sure, the graphics aren’t as good as KSPS or TS, the surfer selection is meager, and the soundtrack is pretty much crap. Oh and Sunny Garcia is the main character, so there’s that too. But sometimes I just want to play a surfing game that replicates actual surfing. SGS looks like it was made for actual surfers to play, while the others all seem like they were catering to middle america’s version of surfing first and formost. I really don’t need to be doing kickflips in my surfing game. I just wanna carve and do layback hacks and snapstalls into the barrel and have it actually look and feel like it.

  • http://DeepRootsAroundSound YesYesYes!!!

    Thanks for all the hard work and hard thinking! Many of us out there await the next surfing game and feel the next one will be on the level (of course, depends on the developer.)

    Hey, whoever develops the next game…can you please consider an optional control scheme which utilizes both analog sticks and the triggers on the controllers? Like Skate, but maybe have analogs control direction of front and back feet and the triggers control how much pressure…or just something more complex than KSPS. Then things like floaters and smooth cut backs will feel more rewarding and take more time to learn to do well.

  • Pat Judd

    Amazing…can’t wait to see an Olympic diving game come out…the smaller the splash the higher the score much less an astounding surfing game. The future is here already. 🙂

  • Scotty


    I wish Electronic Arts (EA) would take this up, They have done such a good job of the Skate game series that if they did create an ultra realistic surf game it would make them millions! and make many surfers happy!

    I think we should all make a petition and send it to EA to make a totally awesome game… EA Surf 😀

  • Scoobydude

    Heck ya lets get another surf game. KSPS is the best! (excluded the sentimentally great ‘california games’ surfing from nintendo). I’ll let you all into a little secret of mind with KSPS… screw the balance meter in the tube. Turn on the first person view cheat. Then while surfing in the game, cut back into the barrel, tailslide it, and click on the first person view and just read the lip and suction action that happens and you get pitted for dayyyys. It’s great because you can enjoy the barrel view and not be focusing on the balance meter. If they just remade this aspect of KSPS with better graphics, I’d probably stop real surfing. jk. but seriously.

  • Allen Rafael

    Surperized no one brought up NES “TC surf and skate”