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God of War III: demo vs. review code

You ain't seen nothing yet.

Back in 2005, Sony Santa Monica redefined the technical limitations of an entire console generation with the epic God of War. Five years later, the team has done it again with its debut PS3 outing. God of War III is magnificent.

But you've played the game already, right? Last year's E3 demo received a limited release in Europe before the code was circulated widely with the US release of the God of War Collection, and the sampler was recently made available as a general release on PlayStation Network.

Checking out the final God of War III review code, it is obvious that while impressive, the demo is simply not fully representative of the finished game. Understandably, extensive amounts of content didn't make it into the sampler, but more than that a range of visual effects have been added and performance has been improved considerably.

For the sake of not spoiling the game, we won't cover the additional content (cool though it is!), but a comparison of effects and performance offers an intriguing window into just how much the Sony Santa Monica tech team squeezed out of the hardware in the final months of God of War III's development.

Perhaps the most obvious change to the game is an extensive retooling of the lighting scheme, which for the most part is now much richer and more realistic. Dark areas of the demo level now seem to more accurately represent the effect of the ambient light on the environment.

The most obvious change is in the lighting of the entire level - far more of the art detail is now more readily apparent.

A realistic, per-object motion blur has also been added to the game. This has the effect of giving the game more realism in motion, but does have the unintended side effect of not looking so clean in screenshots.

The final God of War III has a much more 'film-like' quality about it owing to the excellent motion blur implementation.

It's interesting to note that the Sony Santa Monica team has made a number of graphical improvements across the board, some very noticeable, others subtle. The changes on the Titan are immediately apparent, with an obvious level of increased detail in the skin texture.

Close-ups of the Titan in the demo show a lack of detail compared to the version in the final code.

Smaller tweaks to the level are also apparent. In this brace of shots, we can see that the team has added additional shadow effects that were not present in the demo.

Note how shadows have been added to the boxes on the left of the screen in the review code, compared to their omission in the demo.

The fire effect on Helios's circling chariot now looks much more detailed, and you can also see how the main light source that influences the environment has been changed between the demo and retail versions of the game.

Many of the effects optimisations appear to give God of War III a less CG-like feel.

It's also interesting to note that Helios himself now looks subtly different compared to his debut in the demo. There's dither on his hair in the demo that is much reduced in the final version. Could it be an effect of God of War III's new anti-aliasing technique? According to posts on the internet by Sony Santa Monica itself, God of War III is using an implementation of morphological anti-aliasing, carried out by the SPUs. This achieves superior edge-smoothing, and is another example of how offloading tasks typically done on the graphics chip can result in both performance and quality increases.

Again, the more 'game-like' elements of the scene have been refined.

Bearing in mind just how much of a visual upgrade the game has had, it's impressive that the improvements do not restrict themselves simply to visual quality. Sony Santa Monica has achieved all of this while creating a faster, smoother game. In this video we have several different clips taken from a playthrough of the God of War III demo. These have then been matched with action taken from the same areas in the review copy of the game.

Not only has there been a huge improvement in visual quality, performance has also been boosted significantly. Blue line indicates review copy performance, while cyan follows the demo's frame-rate.

The conclusions from the video are enlightening: the video above shows a significant improvement in frame-rate in like-for-like scenes. In our analysis of the E3 demo, we were curious about why the game ran with an unlocked frame-rate when in the thick of the action, frame-rates were around the 30FPS area anyway. Looking at the final game, the performance increase speaks for itself, and while there is still noticeable judder incurred by the variable frame-rate, the effect is mitigated somewhat by the quality of the motion blur.

We'll have more on God of War III soon.

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About the Author
Richard Leadbetter avatar

Richard Leadbetter

Technology Editor, Digital Foundry

Rich has been a games journalist since the days of 16-bit and specialises in technical analysis. He's commonly known around Eurogamer as the Blacksmith of the Future.

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