In particular, one of those half-finished features not only could use to be shipped, but also affects the way just about every other rendering effect works. So better to get these features finished first, and build new effects within the context of these "new rules".
Here are some of the ideas that I've heard kicked around:
- Environment maps on the plane - I like it, it's not that hard to do, and the framerate hit could be ramped up and down with detail. See above about finishing other features first.
- Next-gen texturing on runways (wet runways, environment maps, bump mapping) - I like all of it. The runways really need to be addressed comprehensively, not piece-wise, in order to find a rendering configuration that meets our scalability and efficiency needs. (In other words, we can't just burn tons of VRAM on the runways, and we need a way to render them that works on low and high end computers with one set of art assets.)
- Normal mapping on the ground. I like it, but I wonder if this isn't part of a bigger idea: procedural texturing on the ground. E.g. if we want to add detail on the ground, can we add it with multiple layers at different resolutions with a shader adding yet more detail.
Going Crazy With Choices
Here's a straw man of why polygons might be different: draped polygons can't have specular shininess right now, and I don't think anyone is complaining. So it's a bit of a waste to use the alpha channel of a normal map for shininess. Perhaps it could be used for something else like an environment mapping parameter.
Hrm...but we would like to have environment mapping on airplane objects too someday. Well, we could go two ways with that. We could just use the alpha channel for shininess and environment mapping...not totally unreasonable but it wouldn't let us have a glossy non-reflective material, e.g. aluminum vs. shiny white paint.
Math nerds will realize that the blue channel in normal maps can be "reconstituted" from the red and green channels by the GPU (at the cost of a tiny bit of GPU power). That would give us two channels to have fun with - blue and alpha. Perhaps one could be shininess and one could be an environment mapping material.
Well, shininess is still no good on the ground. But...perhaps that would be a good place to store dynamic snow accumulation? Hrm...
My point of this stream-of-consciousness rant is that the design of any one rendering engine feature is heavily influenced by its neighbors. We'll get all of these effects someday. If there are features that are really easy, we can get them into the sim quickly, but the only obvious one I see now is using bump maps on other OBJ-like entities (which at this point would mean facades).