Command And Conquer 3 Screenshot Co...
Editors Challenge Sponsored by Inte...
FiringSquad Editors Challenge Round...
||3 entry(ies) in this category
| Evolution of a Game Engine: from RTS to FPS (17 comments )|
by: Mishkin (30) | Posted in cluster Editors Challenge Sponsored by Intel Round 2
Posted 75 months ago ( edited 75 months ago ) in category DEFAULT
|» MEDIA (4)|
Framerate Test Graph
Tiberium Wars quality comparison
Renegade quality comparison
Isn\'t it amazing at ultra high resolution?
HP Media Center PC m1297c
Microsoft Windows XP Media Center Edition Service Pack 2
Intel Pentium 4 3.20 GHz Processor
1.50 GB of RAM
ATI RADEON X300/X550 Series
1280x1024 Desktop Size
Back then... and now
When we first laid our eyes on that one game that everyone remembers, we didn't know anything about computers. All we cared about was running our precious games at 640x480 resolution. As technology began to change the way we play our games, it has also changed the way we think about ways to actually run the games. Suddenly, gaming had a sticker price to it. I suppose it's not surprising that gaming is just like any other thing in the world - you get what you pay for.
These last couple of years, the focusing point of gaming has been revolving around what video card is inside your pc. That little graphics card (newer ones not so little) is the main factor when you sit down and click the 'options' or 'settings' tab of that new game you just bought. Suddenly, you start feeling real tense. VFX, anti-aliasing, pixel-shadows... the list goes on and on. Beads of sweat start to form on your forehead as you start doubting that behemoth inside your pc which you bought a year ago.
Don't feel bad. When you have to turn down some of the bells and whistles of the game, your graphics card isn't the sole culprit to blame. There's also this little thing called a game engine which powers everything in your game. Just like a car has to have one, so does your video game.
Most of the time, every game has it's own engine. Ever wondered why it took Valve nearly 4 years to make Half-Life 2? It's not the content itself, it's the thing that defines how good the content is. Valve's SOURCE engine is a technological marvel. Just take a look at the character's faces, the physics, and the water. Almost like real life, eh?
Most of the time required to make a game goes into building the game engine. After this task is complete, the developers usually build level tools that allow other members of the team to actually make the levels and maps that you play. Many times, companies will re-use the same engine for games, or modify it a little bit with each new game. Other times, they will license their engine to other companies who want to quickly get games into the market, and into your hands. That is why for example Battlefield 2142 came so quickly after Battlefield 2. The engine is the same, with some new minor adjustments and improvements. Companies do this to maximize profit, and why not? If the game is fun, and the graphics are still pretty good, why re-invent the wheel?
The engine I'm going to focus on had a really interesting development cycle, going from one company to another. It went from being used in a Real-Time Strategy Game (RTS) to a First-Person Shooter (FPS) to a Flight Simulator, and back without many people even realizing it.
The Strategy Action Game Engine (SAGE) first started life as the Westwood 3D Engine (W3D). Westwood first used the engine for a Real-Time Strategy game - Emperor: Battle For Dune which came out in 2001. For 2001, the engine proved to be very formidable to other ones that powered other RTS games. It was completely 3 dimensional, going away from a time where 2D sprites were used to draw the soldiers and cavalry in past strategy games. You could easily revolve the camera around and see your structures and units from all angles. The maps had a depth to it that 2D games couldn't mirror. Aerial units could now ascend and descend realistically as they pummeled the enemy with their bombs. Soldiers could run over hills, evading enemy fire. Really cool stuff for the time. The game was very well received by both fans and critics alike.
Westwood then jumped into a new game genre for them - FPS. Command & Conquer: Renegade (2002) was based on an RTS game they did in 1995 - Command & Conquer. This time, players were promised that they could relive the moments from the classic hit in first-person mode. How cool is that? Instead of ordering a commando to destroy a building with a C4 charge, and watching him do it, you could actually do everything yourself. You were that commando now, with an arsenal of over 15 weapons and a number of vehicles.
Having made both RTS and FPS games with a similar engine, Westwood now turned to another area again. Flight simulator. Earth & Beyond was a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG) where players piloted highly-customizable spaceships and did many interesting missions for or against other factions. The game was not really a huge hit due to EA not promoting it, and 2 years after it's launch, the servers to power it were shut-down in 2004, deleting the world of Earth & Beyond forever.
After Electronic Arts acquired Westwood in March of 2003, the engine was heavily modified, brought back to its RTS roots, and renamed to SAGE.
EA then went on and released the next iteration in the C&C series - Command & Conquer: Generals (2003) which utilized the new SAGE engine. Much like in the past, the engine was a remarkable achievement in the RTS genre. All the units were rendered fully in 3D with the smallest details like decals completely visible to the player. The engine supported realistic shadows, reflections, high-quality particle effects, different times of day, and a stop-motion camera.
The SAGE engine was highly modifiable, with Generals being one of the most mudded games in recent years. After the release of Generals, hundreds of user-based moods sprung up on websites like moddb.com.
At the end of the same year, the SAGE engine was further modified, and most importantly optimized in Command & Conquer: Generals - Zero Hour, an expansion pack for Generals that came out in September of 2003. The engine was much more stable than in Generals, partly due to the team having more time to work out the bugs. Some of the features like anti-aliasing were cut, but brought later on.
The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-Earth (2004) and Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-Earth II (2006) both used the SAGE engine which was so heavily modified by EA, that internally, it was re-named to SAGE 2.0. The main focus of the modifications was to make the engine better render organic things and improve animations to fit the live atmosphere of the Lord of the Rings movies. Anti-aliasing was finally added to compete with other games on the market.
An expansion pack for BfME2 was released, not adding anything significant to the game engine.
An interesting note is that that BfME2 was ported to the Xbox 360. This was a very bold move on Eva’s part, and the gap of PC and console games suddenly became that much closer. The control scheme for the 360 controller was very intuitive and praised by everyone who tried out the game on both the PC and the 360.
Finally, it's March 2007, and EA is about to unleash Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars in the acclaimed C&C RTS franchise. The current version of the SAGE graphics engine will be powering the game, and it is considered very high up there in terms of visuals on today's RTS market.
The engine can easily render tons of effects on the screen from lasers to smoke and other particle effects. From my experience of hands-on with the SAGE engine, I can say that it is best utilized when used to render non-organic things like tanks, airplanes, and structures. Which is not to say that the engine can't handle organic things like dragons and foot-soldiers. It can, just not excellent. With the camera zoomed in, the soldiers tend to look a little blocky, even with the graphic settings turned all the way up. However, RTS games are not meant to be played zoomed in, and the engine does an excellent job rendering the soldiers with the camera zoomed out. I estimate that C&C3 and its upcoming expansion pack(s) will be the last games to use the heavily modified SAGE engine.
Like it's predecessor, C&C3 will also be making its way to the Xbox 360 later in 2007 with its simple, but proven formula of managing an entire battlefield with a controller, rather than a mouse and a keyboard combo.
From all of this, you can easily see that SAGE has come a long way, spanning 6 years, and many games of multiple genres. First it was used to render mechanical things, then it was highly-improved to handle organic creatures, and finally, it was brought up to date to be capable of producing high-dynamic range lighting (HDR) and highly advanced particle and motion effects. Currently, the engine does not support any new features that DirectX 10 offers, but EA has stated that they may add some features via future patches for C&C3.
To follow the progression of the SAGE engine, I tested most games that used it starting in 2001 and ending in 2007. I am missing a few games like Earth & Beyond and The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle Earth II, so I couldn't test them. However, the data and charts should give you an understanding how my all-powerful ATI graphics card that dominated in the year 2001 squealed like a little girl when I tried playing games that were made in 2007 on it.
All the benchmarks were done in 1024x768 resolution on every graphics level that the game offered (i.e. low, ultra high.) If a level of detail is missing from a game, the game did not offer me that choice. The graph documenting my tests is on the right.
Deciphering the numbers or how my video card failed me
These benchmarks clearly reflect the progression of the SAGE game engine. 30 frames per second is the widely accepted frame rate that games should run at without hindering the action on-screen. As the frames dip below 30, slowdowns start to be identified easier and easier by the human eye. Sometimes games run at 60 fps, instead of 30. 60 is of course much better, but many people question whether the human eye is able to distinguish between 30 and 60 frames per second. While scientific research has proven that it is near impossible to do so, the conditions were different. If for example, you are playing a game at 60 fps, and the frame rate suddenly lowers to 30, you are definitely going to notice it.
Renegade and Battle For Dune run very good on my pc, even with the highest settings enabled like shadows and high-quality textures. During huge battles in Battle For Dune, I can detect slight engine slowdown, but these moments only last a few seconds, and do not pose too much of a problem.
Generals also runs good, but I experienced slowdowns more frequently that with Battle For Dune. Also, when huge game effects are rendered, like a nuclear blast, the engine slowdowns a lot, sometimes even dipping below 20 fps. Interestingly enough, the engine was more optimized in Zero Hour, and performed much better than in Generals. When I played Generals, I set it on medium, but Zero Hour allowed me to go all out and take the slider all the way to high.
Battle For Middle-Earth is where all the trouble started happening. My frame rates were pathetic when compared to Zero Hour or even Generals. No wonder the EA guys named the engine SAGE 2.0, as all graphic options were highly improved. Sadly, I could not enjoy the game to it's fullest potential, and had to manually modify some options to enjoy my battles with an acceptable frame rate. My final options were in-between low and medium, all variously configured to squeeze out a couple extra frames here and there.
Tiberium Wars was the end of the line for me, and my video card. This is where it hit me - I need to upgrade my graphics card to enjoy this game. The only time it runs smooth is when I turn down all the options to low.
R.I.P. my ATI baby
Pretty soon, I will be purchasing a new graphics card. I'm not sure on the model or the company yet, but it will definitely be a DirectX 10 capable card, so I will be set for the future (forget, the future, all I care about is playing Crysis on high!). In the meantime, my ATI Radeon X300/550 has served me well, and will continue to be powering the games of today, and technology of the future on my computer.
|17 User Comment(s) • 3 root comment(s)|
| Droniac (114) Mar 14, 2007 - 04:55 pm|
|The human eye can distinguish between 30 and 60 fps, in fact - research has shown that a fighter pilot's eye can distinguish and identify a plane on a single frame out of 280. So we're able to perceive a heck of a lot more than 60 fps.|
That's also why playing a game like UT2004 in 30 fps feels exceedingly slow and choppy, whereas 60 fps is decent and 85 fps is yet several more notches up the ladder of comfort. Oh and most PC games are only truly enjoyable at a steady 60 FPS or more, 30FPS is the low-end minimum - lower than that and you need to upgrade..
» Login to reply to this
| jacobvandy (1636) Mar 14, 2007 - 07:45 pm|
|eyes don't work in FPS.|
30 is perfectly smooth if it is a CONSTANT 30. it's the fluctuations between 60 and 30 that make people think 30fps is bad. that's exactly the point with the frame limiter on grand theft auto games. if you're curious, try playing without that on. *shudder*
» Login to reply to this
| suibhne (65) Mar 15, 2007 - 03:33 pm | Edited on Mar 15, 2007 - 03:36 pm|
|The 30fps myth is often mentioned, perhaps inspired partly by television, but it is just that - a myth. This is especially true for any images in motion. There's plenty of scientific research on the subject - in fact, I'm surprised to see the article claim that the research tends in the other direction - but you can easily test it for yourself without diving into abstruse accounts of rods and cones: fire up your favorite FPS that allows decent .ini editing and cap the framerates at different levels. If you can't perceive a significant difference between moving images at 30fps, 60fps, and 100fps, you're an unusual human being. ;)|
That doesn't mean 30fps isn't nicely playable, especially if it's consistent as you mentioned.
» Login to reply to this
| suibhne (65) Mar 16, 2007 - 08:39 am|
|Fwiw, my response wasn't just to you, jacobvandy, but to the whole discussion.|
That said, 30fps is very much an issue in competitive gaming, even if it's a constant 30fps with no fluctuations. Tracking movement is extremely important, and motion is noticeably smoother at 60fps or higher than at 30fps. Sure, 30fps in a single-player brawler like God of War can be 100% satisfying, and even works very nicely in a game like Oblivion or in Splinter Cell titles, but fast-paced twitch games like UT2k4 are pretty challenging at that performance level even without wide fluctuations.
But yes, it's silly to say that 30fps is necessarily choppy. It's all about context. :)
» Login to reply to this
| jacobvandy (1636) Mar 15, 2007 - 09:05 pm | Edited on Mar 15, 2007 - 09:13 pm|
|you should stop seeing what you want to see in what i'm typing, and see what it actually is. it's SUBJECTIVE. you even said it yourself, "for most people to perceive it as.." it's nothing to do with any scientific fact you can dig up, the smoothness of the motion has everything to do with how used to it you are. |
since you like facts so much, here's one: i used to play CS 1.6 on a pentium 2 with an nvidia riva 8mb and 192mb of sdram. i would get a steady 12fps on the lowest possible settings. regardless, since it was fairly steady, i was used to it (READ: it felt SMOOTH to ME, not to someone with a much better computer playing with 100fps), and i pwned with the best of 'em.
until somebody brings something new to this conversation and i can reply without repeating myself, i say good day!
» Login to reply to this
| Kerrick (217) Mar 15, 2007 - 07:59 pm|
|jacobvandy, you should not open your mouth about something you obviously know nothing about. It's been proven time and again that 30 fps is noticably choppy. It has nothing to do with fluctuations. when you are flashing static discreet images on the screen the way computer games do, the human eye can detect the small jumps in the images because there is no motion blur like there is in recorded images. It has to be over 60fps for most people to perceive it as smooth. and some people have even better sight and can notice the choppiness in that even. I am sorry you don't like reality, but that is a fact. It has been scientifically proven. You are just restating an old myth that was started because of motion pictures appearing smooth at 30fps. computer graphics are a completely different animal.|
» Login to reply to this
» Note: You need to be logged in to write a comment!Login here, or if you don't have an account with FiringSquad, register here, it's FREE!
My Media-Blog categories
No categories created yet.