Since Star Wars(tm) (so i’ve read), texture-based techniques have been used to improve the detail on planar and easily curved surfaces. The one i’m talking about here is called Greebles. Apply an heightmap texture on a surface and on a per-pixel basis, geometry is generated acoording to the pixel’s intensity. By doing it you get more detailed surfaces without having to model every little part by yourself, making things more interesting, realistic and much more appealing.
To achieve this i’ve picked Vertex Texture Fetch. It allows you to access texture data on the vertex shader. Pass a texture to the vertex shader and offset the surface vertices by the pixel’s intensity. To improve the looks, bump-mapping with multiple lights have been used. Everything presented here is generated on the GPU, even the objects. Runs nicely on a Nvidia 8200M. Lots of space for improvement.