10 Top technical achievements in video games for 2015

These are the top games for the holiday season with a description of the top technical achievement.

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Videos games are all about an adrenaline rush, but there’s an amazing amount of work that goes into making the gameplay more innovative and awe-inspiring. These programming techniques and tech advances also make the games more realistic, visually stunning, or just more enjoyable to play. Here are my top picks.

1. Rise of the Tomb Raider lighting effects

If you play any video game this holiday season, make sure you check out Rise of the Tomb Raider. The graphics, especially during the intro sequence, are stunning, but the main technical achievement has to do with the Lara Croft’s hair. Crystal Dynamics used a technique that creates a lighting effect on individual strands of hair.

2. Just Cause 3 in 4K

4K resolution could be the savior of PC gaming. There’s enough graphics horsepower now to play in 4K without any slowdowns, and Just Cause 3 is a perfect example of how everything looks cleaner and sharper on PC than any of the game consoles.

3. Guitar Hero Live dynamic live action

This is one of the most amazing programming accomplishments in recent memory. As you play Guitar Hero Live, the live-action scenes morph and change dynamically to react to your own ability. The crowd and band show disappointment or elation without any cutaways.

4. Star Wars Battlefront photogrammetry

If you play this online shooter and can’t believe the intense realism, thank a technique called photogrammetry. It’s a way to scan real objects (like Darth Vader’s helmet) and transfer them into the game in 3D. Even the redwoods on Endor were scanned from real forests.

5. Halo 5: Guardians artificial intelligence in the cloud

If you want extra bragging rights when you play Halo 5: Guardians, just talk about the cloud. The new 24-player Warzone mode includes AI-controlled enemies. All of the AI processing occurs on Xbox Live in the cloud, not on your Xbox One -- which frees up the local processor for other duties. It means the game runs faster and smoother.

6. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain open-world stealth

There’s an incredible amount of programming that went into Metal Gear V: The Phantom Pain to give you options in how you complete objectives on a map. You can crawl into a base and lurk in the shadows, tag enemies and take them out one by one, or even combine tactics without any scripted sequences.

6. Call of Duty: Black Ops III movement system

One of the best technical achievements in the Call of Duty series is the new movement system. Breaking from the traditional mechanic of running and gunning, COD: Black Ops III now lets you run along the side of walls or jump higher, which changes the strategy in the solo campaign and in multiplayer. Maps were designed so you can wall-run and sprint continually (since it is now unlimited).

7. FIFA 16 motion caps

EA went the extra mile on FIFA 16, their long-running soccer franchise. For the first time, they performed motion-captures on both men and women players. The result is that there’s a much great difference between the running cadence and playing style. Each player runs differently and has different posture -- the game even models the unique cadence of Sydney Leroux.

8. Assassin's Creed Syndicate historical realism

Ubisoft usually goes to great lengths to achieve historical accuracy in the Assassin's Creed series. For Syndicate, the dev team went to London to recreate the Victorian era. One example of their findings: Because the roads were wider and the buildings were taller compared to other time periods, the developers added a rope launcher to help with faster movements.

9. Rainbow Six: Siege debris effects

Having a destructible environment in a game is not new. Rainbow Six: Siege takes the concept to a totally different level, though. There are hundreds or even thousands of debris effects, so no explosion, multiplayer match, or even lighting and particle effect will look the same twice.

10. Fallout 4 time of day lighting changes

One of the most interesting technical advancements in this apocalyptic role-playing game has to do with the weather and day/night cycles. When you play, the lighting effects and shadows change depending on the weather and the exact time of day. Everything changes -- colors, reflections on the water, and even the skin tones of your enemies.

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