Digital Foundry's 2010: Part 2 • Page 3

Invert the polarities!

November

The seven day weeks and 12-14 hour working days continued in earnest in November. It was a pretty bleak time looking back - 30 days of just work and sleep with not much in between, an intense experience only offset by the thrill of getting our hands on the most important and anticipated games of the year.

At the beginning of the month, we did manage to find some spare time which we put to use in constructing a Fallout: New Vegas time-lapse World in Motion piece, which - as impressive as it was - demonstrated quite clearly just how old the Gamebryo engine employed was becoming.

Around the same time we also had the opportunity to produce an in-depth Tech Analysis on Killzone 3 based on the multiplayer beta code sent out to select PS3 owners. This, combined with hands-on time with the E3 demo allowed us to construct a pretty exhaustive piece which performed well - in any other month that would have been well up the Most Read chart.

Two stories dominated the month. Our Call of Duty: Black Ops Face-Off revealed that the quality gap between the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions seen in Modern Warfare 2 had grown rather than narrowed, and that the 3D performance on both platforms impacted the fundamental nature of what makes COD so enjoyable to play (though on a decent PC, it's frankly brilliant with NVIDIA 3D Vision).

Next up was our Gran Turismo 5 Tech Analysis - one of the most in-depth, time-consuming pieces I'd ever put together. I was particularly happy with the performance tests - GT5's Replay Theatre in first-person view allowed me to measure the exact same gameplay in 720p, 1080p and 3D modes. A bonus piece covered off the bizarre 42-minute installation - and a look at our debug unit's hard drive revealed that Polyphony Digital had chosen pretty much the most inefficient time-consuming installation method they could possibly have come up with.

To this day, I'm still somewhat ambivalent about this game. The car/track stuff is all as brilliant as you'd expect, rendering tech is - with one two exceptions - superb, the amount of content is frankly staggering. However, the structure surrounding the game and the online integration are big disappointments, and as much as I enjoyed playing it, the compulsion to return for more has slacked off far more quickly than it did for GT4. I'll be interested to see how well it does in the Eurogamer Readers' Top 50 Games of 2010.

Gran Turismo 5 was a joy to work with when it came to performance analysis. The Replay Theatre allowed us to measure the exact same gameplay running in 720p, 1080p and even 3D, giving us valuable insights into the capabilities of Polyphony's engine.

It's a stark contrast to Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, which may be more limited in what it set out to achieve (definitely so in terms of the content) but the setup of the game and the online integration is simply brilliant - and as the triple-format Face-Off demonstrated, it's a superb game on any of the major HD platforms. It also happens to be the most responsive 30FPS game we've ever measured. Criterion was only too happy to explain NFS's ultra-low controller latency - a nice bit of bonus content there courtesy of senior engineer Alex Fry.

Probably my biggest regret of the month is that I never had time to properly get hands-on with Kinect. Kits were thin on the ground and it took some time to source one, and that, combined with Oli Welsh's excellent Kinect review, persuaded me to concentrate on the big games instead. However, the emergence of open-source Kinect drivers plus hints that the Xbox 360 itself was holding back the Kinect hardware made for a couple of interesting pieces.

We do enjoy posting the occasional 'concept' video and this Gran Turismo Evolution piece is a favourite, showing the same cars on the same tracks running on PS1, PS2, PSP and PS3.

A gruelling, punishing month finally closed out with a lighter piece. I'd been planning on a mammoth PS1/PS2/PSP/PS3 comparison for Kazunori Yamauchi's latest GT epic, and this materialised in the form of The Evolution of Gran Turismo - a vid I really enjoyed putting together, and which seemed to go down well.

Other Digital Foundry articles: Irrational Games outlined its many improvements to Unreal Engine 3, including deferred lighting - I've since discovered that it's not the only, or indeed the first UE3 title to do this... More on that soon, hopefully. Microsoft launched an anti-piracy initiative of its own, the effectiveness of which lasted for less than a month, while Xbox technical visionary Alex Kipman talked tech, and a whole bunch of PR buzzwords in an interview I shamelessly adapted from GamesIndustry.biz (though in fairness, I did brief the guys with many of the questions!). Finally, I also managed to find time somehow for a RAGE HD tech analysis, including the first iPad performance test.

Face-Offs: In addition to the Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit and Call of Duty: Black Ops Face-Offs, I also took a look at Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, coming to the conclusion that while both versions were great games, the 360 version had a clarity in the visuals and a performance edge that made it the marginally superior purchase.

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December

Thanks to some superb assistance from the chaps at Bungie - who really pushed the boat out to make this happen - I was proud to post an eye-wateringly comprehensive Halo: Reach tech interview, covering off everything from improvements in the renderer to the AI, to the performance testing... Indeed, just about everything we asked about in what proved to be a 6000-word monster of a piece. Part of the remit I set out for Digital Foundry was to try get to the truth behind the games we play and the way they are made, and the refreshingly candid ways in which developers talk to us is hugely valuable, providing a fascinating insight into the game-making process. In the same way, conferences like GDC and SIGGRAPH are equally insightful: in what is such a fiercely competitive market, it's remarkable how willing developers are to talk about their approaches to game design and technology.

With the deluge of new titles in the last couple of months reduced to just a trickle, Digital Foundry's posts reduced in volume too, giving us a bit of a breather in what was an absolutely manic Q4. However, just before Christmas, Sony unleashed a triple-header of excellent PSN demos: LittleBigPlanet 2, Dead Space 2 and Mass Effect 2 all dropped on the same day, with the latter two proving to be ripe for comparison to their Xbox 360 siblings.

The Dead Space 2 demo showdown demonstrated cross-platform development its best, with absolutely nothing of any consequence whatsoever to differentiate PS3 and 360 versions: a situation we hope extends to the full game due at the end of January 2011.

The full Face-Off article for Mass Effect 2 is set for early 2011, but the release of the PSN demo allowed us to put together this comparison from the game's introductory level.

Mass Effect 2, based on the PS3 demo code, didn't quite live up to claims that it was a "definitive" version of the game, best described as being "different" as opposed to "better". Elements of the renderer have clearly been boosted, with the sudden frame-rate drops in the cut-scenes far less of an issue in the PS3 game. However, toned-down effects, some very odd lighting decisions and more screen-tear weren't so welcome. BioWare describes its PS3 work as running on the newer Mass Effect 3 engine - it'll be interesting to see that tech running art designed for it, as opposed to importing the older assets as is the case here.

Other Digital Foundry articles With Gran Turismo 5 in the shops, hackers released details of a hidden options screen in GT5 Prologue. Clearly set up to get the game able to demo any car on any track for display or event purposes, the blog post and accompanying video turned out to be quite a widely shared piece. News that installing an expensive SSD into your PS3 could halve GT5 loading times was interesting, while a forensic look at the PS3 HDD revealed that over 30,000 items are installed by the game just in the initial, partial install.

Face-Offs: Just the one round-up this month, an attempt to cover the multitude of releases from Q4. In Xbox 360 vs. PlayStation 3: Round 28, we took a look at Nail'd, Splatterhouse, TRON: Evolution, James Bond 007: Blood Stone and Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II.

Then we wrote this. Then we rested. See you again soon!

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