Digital Foundry vs. E3: Sony

A technical perspective on Vita, its games and the PS3 big guns.

It's been an E3 of few surprises: little in the way of hot new games announced, and hardware launches either spoiled by eerily accurate rumour-mongering or - in the case of PlayStation Vita - with most of the crucial information already out there, thanks to previous press conferences.

Regardless, Sony managed to put on a good show which emphasised its stunning array of first party studio talent and effectively showcased the raw capabilities of its next generation portable console. As with the Microsoft conference, there seemed to be a particular emphasis on evangelising motion controls (and Move is clearly the better fit for core gaming). At the same time Sony reaffirmed its support for 3D gaming with a range of both software and hard offerings.

After the necessary, if unfortunate, apologies for the PSN outage, Sony kicked off proceedings with what must surely be a prime candidate for Game of the Show. Naughty Dog's Uncharted 3 looks simply sensational. While the technical leap from its predecessor isn't of the same magnitude as it was between Drake's Fortune and Among Thieves, plenty of details still caught our eye.

Drake's voyage through a boat tossing and turning in a storm is another in a long line of examples from the series of how brand new technical effects are being used in concert with innovative gameplay ideas. In this case, the developers' stunning new 3D water effects combined beautifully with uneven ground. Animation on Drake himself as he fought to retain his balance again showed improvement over Uncharted 2.

Lighting appears to have been refined, light shafts have been added and the somewhat basic screen-space ambient occlusion (SSAO) of Uncharted 2 - where the occlusion was rendered almost in a plus shape across the x and y axis - has been revamped with a much more pleasing effect.

A real-time gameplay demonstration of Uncharted 3 was the perfect start to Sony's E3 press conference. Naughty Dog went on to announce that the entire multiplayer component would be given away to select Subway customers - a genuine surprise in an E3 short of shocks.

The 2x multisampling anti-aliasing (MSAA) of the older game - something of a drain on RSX resources - appears to have been given the boot. Our initial thought was that MLAA has been introduced instead, but a look at the multiplayer demo later in the show suggested that while there were some sub-pixel artifacts typical of MLAA, the overall effect wasn't quite the same - perhaps Naughty Dog is using its own custom edge detect and blur solution.

Moving onto the 3D trailer, aliasing was much more evident, and it looks as though Naughty Dog are employing a system similar to Guerrilla Games' Killzone 3 efforts, going for a half-resolution image in order to conserve fill-rate and shader resources.

The 3D effect itself looked excellent and the stereoscopic camera work was flawless, though much of the trailer was based on cinematics. In previous Uncharted titles, Naughty Dog has mostly used pre-rendered movies recorded directly from the game engine, offering superior lighting effects in general and skin-shading in particular.

Next up, Sony moved on to another established PlayStation exclusive franchise: Resistance. This third offering showcased Insomniac's expertise in producing innovative FPS weapons designs. There was a pleasing level of detail in the cityscape and really nice wet shader effects on some of the surfaces.

However, there was a lot of aliasing in terms of geometry edges and shimmering and frame-rate was definitely inconsistent. The whole presentation was in 3D and the effect here didn't wow us - it looked almost as if the rain splashing onto the camera on one level, with the view weapon and then everything else were in different 3D planes.

At the post conference hands-on event, we got to play the game in 2D on one of the kiosks and it seems as if Insomniac is running with an uncapped frame-rate. Indoors things seemed to be a buttery smooth 60FPS; outdoors, general performance is much closer to 30FPS. A closer look at the image seemed to suggest implementation of 2x MSAA, but with very inconsistent coverage. In common with previous Resistance titles, the game is v-synced.

There was much to enjoy in Resistance 3, but we hope that Insomniac can resolve the performance issues we saw in both the presentation and in the after-show hands-on we had with the game.

Bearing in mind the small take-up of the 3D screens, overall support for stereoscopic games has been remarkably strong, with the PS3 offering over 30 titles in the last year - not just from Sony - with plenty more to follow.

In many ways, gaming has spearheaded 3D take-up at home, with 3D movie support being rather lacklustre to date. To its credit, Sony realises this, and the reveal of a 24" monitor with PlayStation branding was a masterstroke. 3DTVs are too big and too expensive, and a keenly priced monitor designed for the office, study or bedroom is an excellent product idea.

Sony is pitching its offering at $499 with Resistance 3 bundled in, which seems like good value - particularly as this monitor includes exclusive tech that allows selected split-screen games to be played via 3D glasses with full-screen viewpoints for each player. However, there are competing products available in the here and now. For example Acer has a much larger, 27" display out now for 485, which is both HDMI 1.4 and NVIDIA 3D Vision compliant - a product we'll be looking at in the next few weeks.

Comments (60)

Comments for this article are now closed, but please feel free to continue chatting on the forum!