It seems that every year, the games released look better and better, but rarely does the hardware, the consoles games are played on, improve. Even a PC user will only upgrade every so often. Without a more powerful system, how do games look better and better all the time?
The answer, is optimization. As new generations of hardware hit the market, the game development industry is bombarded by new “next gen” tools to take advantage of this new power. As time goes on, tricks are discovered and shared, creating ways for artists to optimize their props. These shortcuts allow artists to push the envelope on what is possible, as they are always applying past lessons to new projects.
While readily available technology and artist skill will always play a a factor in the visual aspect of games, they are not the sole causes for the evolution of game graphics.