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jefferytitan

Graphics baseline for a good-looking PC game?

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I was thinking about a variety of games that I've played. It can be hard (for me) to tell which graphical techniques they use. I would never aim to write a AAA killer (due to the effort/reward ratio), but what sort of techniques are expected for a game not to look dated? A few examples:

  • Textures - simple, with normals, relief-mapped, procedurally generated, sub-surface scattering?
  • Geometry - number of polys, tessellation?
  • Lighting/shadows - forward, deferred, soft shadows, SSAO, global illumination?
  • Effects - HDR, bloom, FSAA, volumetric fog, god rays?
  • Sky - skybox, animated, day/night, weather, seasons?

What would be your baseline must-have for a FPS that won't turn off paying consumers?

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One huge difference I've noticed between really old games and new ones is the lack of repetitive textures. Some games seem to have an impossible texture budget. Do you think this is due to bigger textures, lots of textures plus splat mapping, fancy shaders, procedural textures, something else?

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One huge difference I've noticed between really old games and new ones is the lack of repetitive textures. Some games seem to have an impossible texture budget. Do you think this is due to bigger textures, lots of textures plus splat mapping, fancy shaders, procedural textures, something else?

 

Just to take a guess, old games used impossibly small texture sizes, like 256x256. New games probably use an average closer to 2048x2048, which gives 64 times the detail of a 256x256 texture like you might see in the GameCube/original Xbox/PS2 days and shortly after. Texture detail has shot up like crazy over the years, and only a few developers haven't really taken advantage of it (Sonic 2006, I'm looking at you).

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Actually to semi-answer my own question re textures, I was trying to find some good example screenshots, and I think that a huge factor is (a) increased poly/art budget therefore fewer huge flat chunks of land and (b) masking agents such as plants and volumetric grass which prevent seeing huge chunks of bare ground at a time.

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One huge difference I've noticed between really old games and new ones is the lack of repetitive textures. Some games seem to have an impossible texture budget. Do you think this is due to bigger textures, lots of textures plus splat mapping, fancy shaders, procedural textures, something else?

 

Well there's definitely more memory and manpower for creating unique textures, but a lot of it is due to techniques that are able to add unique detail using tileable textures. Many materials in modern games will blend together many maps, which can effectively hide the repetitiveness if done correctly. In our game all environment geometry uses "layer-blended" materials, where different maps and material properties are blended together based on blend weights stored in a  vertex color channel. This gives you the ability to paint unique features and "break-up" even though the textures being used for each layer are tiles across the surface.

 

 

If you've got non-overlapping UV coords, you could store the blending weights in a texture instead of on the vertex colors.  That way your layer transitions wouldn't be tied to vertex density.  You could also put the blend weights in a compressed texture to save a bit on memory.  Anyone know how UE4 does it?

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Any opinions out there - does tesselation make techniques like relief mapping obsolete? I would assume (and correct me if I'm wrong) that you could use the same kind of texture to add geometry detail, and because it's geometry it would benefit from the standard lighting/shadowing/etc without the relief mapping problems with .aliasing and oblique angles. Also can you stack standard vertex/fragment shaders on top of tesselation? That would make it easier to combine effects.

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Technically taken, it is possible to use tessellation along with F.e. QDM or POM or relief mapping (anyone actually tried it? If so, could you share a screenshot?) ... but once you can tessellate to the level where your triangles are at size of pixel (which isn't a problem on modern GPUs), why would you need & want to do some offset mapping - it won't help the model to look better at that point.

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Is there a reference (or published experiment) where I can confirm either way? Do all 3 vendors perform the same way?


I think they do it differently; NV do perform better at low tessellation than AMD (which is why they shout about it the most) and Intel I've no idea about.

As normal NV are pretty silent on their internal workings.
AMD do have this document however; http://t.co/zOyz5DFa6D (APU13 talk "The AMD GCN Architecture: A Crash Course") - slide 61 onwards pertains to this topic but the whole thing is a nice chunk of information to have.
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Another thing to keep in mind is that with parallax mapping, you only pay the price of the difficult texture lookup once. With tesselation, you pay the price of the increased amount of vertices that need to be transformed once for the z pre pass, then for every shadow map and then again for the actual rendering.

Something that I never liked about tesselation is the resulting topology of the mesh. A good artist can squeeze out a lot of curvature from a small amount of triangles by aligning the edges correctly. Most tesselation techniques however just subdivide and displace, which results in far more triangles then an artist would have needed. Has anyone worked out a solution to this, or seen some work that goes in that direction?

PS: To tie this back in with the original question of the OP: You don't need tesselation for a good looking FPS. But you might want to have animations, particle effects and decals (only mentioning it because all three are missing from the list).
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Another thing to keep in mind is that with parallax mapping, you only pay the price of the difficult texture lookup once. With tesselation, you pay the price of the increased amount of vertices that need to be transformed once for the z pre pass, then for every shadow map and then again for the actual rendering.

Something that I never liked about tesselation is the resulting topology of the mesh. A good artist can squeeze out a lot of curvature from a small amount of triangles by aligning the edges correctly. Most tesselation techniques however just subdivide and displace, which results in far more triangles then an artist would have needed. Has anyone worked out a solution to this, or seen some work that goes in that direction?

PS: To tie this back in with the original question of the OP: You don't need tesselation for a good looking FPS. But you might want to have animations, particle effects and decals (only mentioning it because all three are missing from the list).

 

There is a solution, if I read your answer right, some methods do it on the fly, others do it offline, generating a "density" of where tesselation is required, as if you had a hill and a flat area after the hill, the density map ( texture maybe ), would have a high intensity around the hill and practically zero around the flat area, then use this intensity value to determine the tesselation factor on the fly. In this way computational power would be reduced, with the cost of an extra texture ( if using the offline method ).

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Is there a reference (or published experiment) where I can confirm either way? Do all 3 vendors perform the same way?


I think they do it differently; NV do perform better at low tessellation than AMD (which is why they shout about it the most) and Intel I've no idea about.

As normal NV are pretty silent on their internal workings.
AMD do have this document however; http://t.co/zOyz5DFa6D (APU13 talk "The AMD GCN Architecture: A Crash Course") - slide 61 onwards pertains to this topic but the whole thing is a nice chunk of information to have.

 

 

As far I know both AMD VLIW and GNC architecture perform good at low & mid-low tessellation factors...

 

This is the "old" sample of the legacy Directx SDK..

 

http://www.pcgameshardware.de/screenshots/original/2011/12/HD-7970-DX11-Tessellation.png

 

I got similar performance droops on all tessellation demos I tested (not only from Microsoft) at mid and mid-high tessellation level on both my system (the first has a VLIW4 6970, the second a cheap GCN 7730 mobile).

 

EDIT: for GCN max recommended tessellation factor value is 15. http://amd-dev.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wordpress/media/2013/05/GCNPerformanceTweets.pdf

 

EDIT2: "AMD: tessellation factors above 15 have a large impact on performance" http://developer.amd.com/wordpress/media/2013/04/DX11PerformanceReloaded.ppsx

 

...

 

x7/x8 should be the max recommended value for VLIW4/5 GPUs (make sense since the doubled the tessellation unit in the GNC architecture)..

Edited by Alessio1989
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Thx for the link Migi. It was an interesting read and had some neat ideas. In terms of the bad mesh topology however, I feel like it actually proves my point ^^

Take a look at page 14. The three images at the bottom from "NFS Rivals". Even with density map, the mesh on the right contains orders of magnitude more triangles then would have been needed to represent the shape. Yes it's a terrain where this might be acceptable, but also look at page 37. If any artist had produced that, I would seriously question his competence. You can see the texture for that on page 34. All there is in terms of geometry are 8 horizontal ridges. You shouldn't need more than say 100 triangles for this. There are also some smaller things like the holes and stuff, but those aren't captured by the tesselated mesh either.

This might be a nice thing for the industry since it provides another easy quality<-->performance slider when releasing for consoles and the PC. But apart from that, it feels to "brute force"ish to be a good option for most meshes. It might work out for stuff, that actually needs lots of triangles everywhere (terrains) or some meshes, where you want to increase the tesseleation just one or 2 levels to increase curvature (human faces). But I don't really see it employed on every wall, floor and ceiling.

PS: Apologies to jeffery for going slightly off topic ... again.
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No problems... it's a big topic which I think we only explored a few corners of, so I'm cool with branching out.

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Geometry - a human character should have at least 10k polys. Less is accepted with normal-mapping, or using tessellation to boost things up.

 

That number can change though between cutscenes and the actual game. So It is best to use various levels of detail. 

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So I was going to step in and offer a more minimalistic way of making art. We are talking about pretty much competing with the industry here, I think. But what about a minimalistic design that actually makes it easier for one but still looks good?

 

Okay, so there is cel-shading. You generally don't have to worry about many of these effects, or detailed detail textures with it.

 

That being said, I temporarily used a shader which resembles cel-shading on a full detail game, my outer space game, to see how it looked - and it looked great. I wish I still had a picture of it in action.

 

I'm not trying to force it on the OP to make his game cel-shaded though, just offering a suggestion to him and anyone.

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A bit in addition of what Shane wrote above, what kind of game is it?

 

"Looking good" is vague term. As I like graphics programmer, I quickly get lost in shaders and other coding tricks. But does that make a game automatically look good? Super engines like CryEngine3 are capable to approach photorealism more and more. Still a game on CryEngine looks like shit if you don't have good ideas for the environments, or the capacity to make tons of superb looking textures. At the other side of the spectrum, take a game like "New Super Mario Bros". Does it look photorealistic? Hell no, nor was it supposed to. Does it look *good*? I think so. Much simpler techniques were used, and still it looks solid because the artists/programmers had a clear goal in mind.

 

Another example. Very recently I played Bioshock Infinite. Although its engine (Unreal Engine 3 I believe) is still pretty good, its starting to date. Yet I found its world one of the most beautiful ones I ever saw in a game. Not because photo-realism and the hottest shaders, but because the designers put a lot of creativity, style and love into it.

 

 

So maybe it's worth to approach this a bit different. First think how the game should look like. If you or your friends can draw well, make some "reference pictures". Unless you aim for photorealism -which means you're on the cutting edge of graphics and are always behind-, it's much easier to learn what techniques are needed to render whatever you made up. And also a lot more satisfying once you reach that level, rather than trying to compete with CryEngine or Unreal Engine 4 :)

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