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GPU warzone: the great graphics debate

Thursday, 4 October 2012 14:23 GMT By Stace Harman

Stace Harman ponders the question of whether fancy graphics can make a game better and why video game sex scenes don’t float anyone’s boat.

The importance of a strong visual identity and graphical high fidelity in video games has been debated for a very long time. A game that is fundamentally flawed cannot make good its shortcomings by way of spectacular particle effects or dynamic depth of field.

Conversely, the overall experience delivered by a brilliantly designed game can be enhanced by a striking visual identity and intelligent application of aesthetic effects. Primarily, it is a developer’s talent and vision that inform the overall visual impact of a title and the effect that it has on the game’s appeal.

The immersive atmosphere of Bioshock’s Rapture captures the imagination thanks to the level of detail delivered by Irrational’s artists and designers; it’s possible for Dark Souls contrasting regions to swing from dank and fetid to serene and pure because of FROM Software’s unique visualisation, and Amanita’s hand-drawn visuals lend unassuming point-and-click title, Machinarium, a timeless quality.

However, in some instances, talented teams can utilise technical wizardry to help bolster the impact of their original vision.

Where GPU is king

Nvidia is in the business of helping to make games look good. While indiscriminately throwing additional graphical horsepower at a title does not magically make it a better game, it is surprising just how much difference intelligent use of that power can make.

With the current console cycle deep into its twilight years, even relatively inexpensive PCs are able to pin extra bells and whistles to multi-format titles and the simple act of swapping out a graphics card can have a marked impact on how a title both looks and, more crucially, how it plays.

Such is the case with 2K’s recently released Borderlands 2. Gearbox has done a fantastic job of creating a multi-format title that looks great on all three platforms thanks to the delivery of its unique art style.

That said, extensive play testing of the game on PC using a mid-range GTX 660 GPU supplied by Nvidia for testing purposes, reveals that Gearbox has honoured its promise to take better care of PC gamers this time around.

Extended draw distances, FXAA (fast approximate anti-aliasing), VSync, and numerous framerate options contribute to a suite of tools that, on PC, it’s not unreasonable to expect but that is welcome nonetheless. However, its Gearbox and Nvidia’s work with PhysX that stands as the most significant differentiator between it and its console counterpart.

“After an intense fire fight on the console version of Borderlands 2, the scene quickly empties out as bodies and giblets dematerialise; on the PC version with a reasonably powered GPU and PhysX set to high, the scene looks like a warzone.”

PhysX fluid effects lend viscosity to the various goops and goos of Borderlands 2: blood pools in thick puddles and runs down inclines, globules of corrosive fluid coat enemies as they burn and gelatinous purple slag explodes from the genre’s ever trusty volatile barrels.

Cloth effects are fun to manipulate: shoot holes in an awning will leave it flapping in the breeze, for example, but it’s the weapon and environmental particle effects that most significantly affect game play.

As shots are fired, sparks and debris fly from the level furniture, weapon fire chews-up the terrain and hundreds of pieces of individually modelled rubble erupt from the ground. Smoke from explosives hangs in a thick pall in the air, obscuring vision and requiring a shift of position on the battlefield to keep clear line of sight on multiple targets.

After an intense fire fight on the console version of Borderlands 2, the scene quickly empties out as bodies and giblets dematerialise; on the PC version with a reasonably powered GPU and PhysX set to high, the scene looks like a warzone.

Aside from some persistent bullet holes, the terrain does not actually deform, which leaves you wondering quite where all the debris came from, but the effect is still striking nonetheless.

For those developers willing to put the work in, the PCs added grunt can pay dividends by delivering an enhanced version of their original vision. Done right, the question of whether graphical effects can make a game better gets an emphatic yes.

One for future generations
Intelligently applied, impressive GPU power can enhance immersion and game play, but it cannot solve all of gaming’s quandaries. While carnage inflicted upon the game world can be impressively depicted, it’s notoriously difficult to model convincing interaction between characters. It remains much easier to create impressive looking explosions than to capture the natural ebb and flow of a conversation.

This applies even more so to physical interaction and is part of the reason why video game sex scenes are so awkward. It’s not because a collection of polygons or pixels has never been sexy to anyone, for there is a whole genre of pornography based on the depiction of sex between animated characters.

Instead, it fails to convince because having that bunch of polygons interact with anything other than static objects requires a consistent level of subtlety that is all too easily punctured when using today’s technology.

A character holding a gun can be rendered with aplomb, but a character interacting with the environment at large is a little more tricky and can lead to clipping or a lack of connection with the terrain; most commonly seen with stairs and ladders.

“It’s exciting to have a new console generation around the corner and developers will no doubt try to outgun each other with opening salvos that bring to the wider market what is already plausible but not always delivered to PC gamers.”

However, that’s nothing when compared to attempting to have characters interact with each other. In titles that already have resource-heavy game worlds, it can often lead to unconvincing physical interaction, be it a wooden handshake with rigid, unyielding hands or a supposedly tender embrace rendered comical by the inability to convey emotion with a glassy-eyed stare.

Thanks to the valley of the uncanny, these issues will remain for a very long time and while standout examples currently exist, it will likely be many years before they can be consistently countered.

It’s here that more work to convey to the audience the authenticity of relationships in video games must be pursued; for no matter how powerful a GPU may be, visual versimillitude alone cannot offer a substitute for emotional connection.

There’s no question in my mind that thoughtfully applied graphical effects can and do impact the game play of what is already a well-creafted and enjoyable experience, as is the case with something like PhysX and Borderlands 2.

However, it remains within the genus of the design team’s creative vision to shape the aesthetic identity of a title, while ensuring that a game has more to offer than a pretty face. After all, impressive graphical effects without a solid game underneath is nothing but a glorified tech demo.

It’s exciting to have a new console generation around the corner and developers will no doubt try to outgun each other with opening salvos that bring to the wider market what is already plausible but not always delivered to PC gamers.

My hope is that after the dynamically rendered smoke clouds have cleared and the realistic dust particles have settled, there will be developers who focus on the human element to help lend real meaning to the debate of whether graphics really matter.

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17 Comments

  1. OlderGamer

    Another good read.

    #1 2 years ago
  2. Dragon246

    What you said is true. But I would like to add something. There are very few games that are graphically awesome but a dud gameplay wise.
    For me, if the trinity of “story, gameplay, graphics” is satisfied, then a games great. Graphics alone cant cut it.

    #2 2 years ago
  3. HeavyD-Love

    Where’s ERTH???? this is right up his alley!

    #3 2 years ago
  4. Fin

    @3

    DON’T WORRY BRO I GOT THIS

    @2

    lol wut stfu xbox fanboy. I cant play games at anything less than 2560×1600 16xAA 60fps on my 24″ 3ms monitor with my 4GB GDDR GEFORCE 15600 AND MY 32 CORE INTEL CHIP AND 64GB OF RAM. WHY WOULD I PLAY ON SOME SHITTY SUB-HD SHIT CONSOLE SHIT?? IT’S LIKE TRYING TO PLAY ON A POTATOE. 1280X720 @ 30FPS? I’D RATHER CLAW MY OWN EYES OUT THAN HAVE TO PUT UP WITH THAT.
    BTW EVERYONE ELSE IS WRONG AND I AM RIGHT. LALALALALALA I CAN’T HEAR YOU.

    Anyone wanna play Blops? I hate it and its such shitty sub hd graphics but I played it for 500 hours over 9 months..

    #4 2 years ago
  5. viralshag

    “IT’S LIKE TRYING TO PLAY ON A POTATOE.”

    Lol.

    #5 2 years ago
  6. Gadzooks!

    #4

    Nicely done!

    @VG247

    What a flamebait article. Its like dumping a duffle bag of rusty knives on a soccer pitch. Apes are gonna get themselves cut up, innit?

    #6 2 years ago
  7. roadkill

    Oh what a surprise! An article about graphics in games and console people trolling. I would have not expected to see these two on the same page. @console fanboys You know just because you are retarded and lazy doesn’t mean that everyone else should be like you.

    #7 2 years ago
  8. Christopher Jack

    @7, You’re a hypocrite to call out fanboys then claim console users are retarded & lazy.

    #8 2 years ago
  9. Froseidon

    @4 – Well played, good sir.

    @8 – Ignore him, nearly all of his comments are a pile of crap.

    #9 2 years ago
  10. Fin

    Thanks guys! 8)

    #10 2 years ago
  11. Dragon246

    @4
    Were you talking to me ?

    #11 2 years ago
  12. Christopher Jack

    @11 He was sarcastically acting like Erthazus (the resident PC fanboi on this site). He wasn’t being serious.

    #12 2 years ago
  13. G1GAHURTZ

    Erthazus is on holiday, I believe.

    #13 2 years ago
  14. Stace Harman

    @1 Thank you.

    @2 It happens. In particular, certain companies are fond of “paying homage” to indie titles by copying their mechanics wholesale but giving them an extra shiny lick of paint.

    @6 Always game for some *intelligent* debating ;)

    #14 2 years ago
  15. Erthazus

    So much agony in the thread related to the GPU warzone. I guess for many console gamers visuals indeed matter.
    If you don’t like my comments about visuals and other stuff you should just move on to something else really.

    @13, Nope. I’m just playing Borderlands 2 + WoW:MOP

    @Stace Harman, great article. Thanks.

    #15 2 years ago
  16. Ireland Michael

    Graphics only matter so much as to how well they can define the art direction and atmosphere in a game.

    The fidelity of those graphics is utterly meaningless and solely the domain of people who can’t think outside of their tiny little obsessive minds.

    Great game have existed for decades, and some state the test of time because their art direction was rock solid and their gameplay was refined to greatness… not because of of the number of post-processing filters applied to the visuals.

    #16 2 years ago
  17. Kuwabara

    i would love to see a well made resident evil 7 with cell shaded graphics.They can add alot more detail than their current engine. The animation would be awesome.

    #17 2 years ago

Comments are now closed on this article.

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    Notes for upcoming Patch 5 for Dragon Age: Inquisition have been posted, noting improvements to gameplay and stability, and the new features outlined back in early February. Along with the new party storage system added to the Undercroft at Skyhold, players also have the ability to adjust the size of subtitles. Below you will find […]

  • Game of Thrones, Mortal Kombat X, Batman mobile games on the way

    Warner Bros. has announced free-to-play mobile titles spanning its DC Comics, Mortal Kombat and Game of Thrones properties. The following five new games under development are: Mortal Kombat X from NetherRealm Studios: The game blends fighting and card collection with cinematic gameplay and Fatalities. Play as both classic and fighters, and if you own the […]

  • Win! Beta access to new MMORPG Skyforge and DLC worth $70

    We have ten Wrath of the Gods Founders Packs to giveaway for new RPG Skyforge, worth over $70. All you need to do to win a Wrath of the Gods pack is enter your details in the form below and we’ll pick 10 winners at random on Thursday, March 5, after 3pm GMT. Skyforge is […]

  • PC gaming expected to be worth $35 billion by 2018

    PC gaming is alive and well. In fact, it’s expected to be worth $35 billion by 2018. According to game-business group Open Gaming Alliance, the PC gaming industry is expected to grow beyond its current $26 billion worth and to a massive $35 billion by the year 2018. The information is based on data collected […]

  • Advanced Warfare: new patch adds new weapon, Master Prestige ranks, more

    Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare has received a new patch that gives season pass holders early access to a new weapon and everyone else a myriad of fixes and additions. The patch went live today on Xbox 360 and Xbox One, without any official notes. CharlieIntel reports that among the new additions is the new […]

  • Destiny’s end game and raids explained

    Destiny’s end game can be a bit obtuse to those not used to MMO games. Fear not, we’ve got a few quick tips on how to crack it. Arekkz Gaming has a video for new players of Destiny or those who are looking to brush up on their knowledge of the game. Today’s theme is […]

  • Capcom adds local co-op to Resident Evil: Revelations 2 on PC

    Following fan outrage over lack of local co-op support for the PC version of Resident Evil: Revelations 2, Capcom has now added it. Resident Evil: Revelations 2 now officially supports split-screen local co-op in both campaign and raid mode. The update is currently in beta on Steam, but anyone can opt-in to try it. Capcom […]

  • New Destiny glitch spawns infinite Thralls on Earth

    Destiny’s latest glitch spawns infinite Thralls to help fuel your bounty hunting and loot lust. The glitch is simple to replicate. You’ll need to start The Dark Within mission on Earth, on any difficulty. Then follow the steps in the video below (Via DualShockers) to get to an area out of the map. You’ll then […]

  • Battlefield 4 Winter Patch is here with new game mode, netcode improvements and more

    DICE has released the Winter Patch for Battlefield 4. The patch brings an eSports focus with new game mode Squad Obliteration and plenty more. Battlefield 4 Winter Patch is now live on all platforms. It’s just over 400MB on PC and 1.34GB on consoles. The patch adds new game mode Squad Obliteration and more customisation […]

  • HTC hopes to see Half-Life on VR headset Vive

    Vive manufacturer HTC said that it hopes to see Valve games, including Half-Life, on the virtual reality headset. Speaking to the BBC, HTC chairwoman Cher Wang said that Valve is keen on having its games available on the VR headset. “I think Valve’s best game is Dota, right, and Portal and [Team Fortress] and I […]

  • Make money easily in Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate

    If you’re looking to buy a fell set of armour for your character in Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate but keep falling short on Zenny, this video will show you an easy way to make lots of it. Arekkz Gaming has a very handy tip for all Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate players: how to make Zenny […]

  • This is how you claim free Xbox One games from your Xbox 360

    Microsoft is giving everyone the ability to claim their free Xbox One Games with Gold titles from their Xbox 360 console, even without owning an Xbox One. If you don’t yet own an Xbox One and want to make sure you don’t miss out on all those free Games with Gold games, you’ll be pleased […]

  • Destiny weekly reset for March 3: Heroic and Nightfall detailed

    Bungie has reset the weekly cap of Crucible and Vanguard marks and added new Heroic and Nightfall strikes, now with burn. From now until next Tuesday, the weekly Heroic strike will be The Devil’s Lair with Heroic and Lightswitch modifiers. As for the Nightfall, you’ll be fighting Sepiks Prime with the help of Arc burn. […]

  • Few Mass Effect FemShep cosplays are as elaborate as this one

    The internet is full of Female Commander Shepard cosplay from Mass Effect, but very few are as terrific as this one. Visual artist Freya Willia has spent over two years painstakingly creating the perfect suit of armour and the best weapons to make her cosplay of Female Shepard as authentic as possible, Omni tool and […]

  • Deals with Gold: Assassin’s Creed Unity, Red Dead Redemption and more discounted

    This week’s Deals with Gold titles for Xbox Live subscribers is a good mix of modern games and old favourites. The list of discounted games through this week’s Deals with Gold is live with discounts on Assassin’s Creed Unity, Amazing Spider-Man 2, Red Dead Redemption, Max Payne 3, and more. The deals are live now […]

  • Destiny guide: how to maximise your Grimoire Points

    Destiny players regularly compare the size of their Grimoire Points. Learn how to make yours the biggest. Destiny guide: how to earn Grimoire Points In Destiny, earning most Grimoire cards is just a matter of playing the game, maybe a little more attentively than usual. You’ll either need to complete a certain number of actions […]

  • Shovel Knight: Plague of Shadows will let you play as a baddie

    Shovel Knight owners will benefit from the generosity of Kickstarter backers quite soon. Because Shovel Knight was overfunded during its Kickstarter campaign, developer Yacht Club Games committed to releasing free content updates. The first of these, Plague of Shadows, has now been detailed. The expansion stars baddy Plague Knight, who turns on his former allies, […]

  • GTA controversies, from Hot Coffee to PR manipulation

    GTA has a long history of controversy. The latest Did You Know Gaming tells the full stories behind the sensational headlines. Grand Theft Auto is such a byword for controversy that it’s easy to forget the full context of what actually happened to bring mainstream press, politicians and interest group awareness to the Rockstar series. […]

  • Infamous 2 one of five new PlayStation Now additions for March

    PlayStation Now will expand to the tune of five new games this month. The March PS Now additions are Infamous 2, Twisted Metal, R-Type Dimensions, Alone in the Dark: Inferno and Operation Flashpoint: Red River. PS Now will set you back $20 per month or $45 for a three month subscription. It offers all you […]

  • Final Fantasy 10/10-2 HD Remaster gets PS4 release date

    Final Fantasy 10/10-2 HD Remaster hits PS4 in May. The PS4 release date for Final Fantasy 10/10-2 HD Remaster is May 12 in North America and May 15 in Europe. Gematsu reports a special pre-order bonus calendar with art by Yoshitaka Amano is available through the Square Enix Store and participating retailers. In Europe, pre-ordering […]

  • Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare getting 15 new Prestige levels

    Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare players can now aspire to the ranks of Grand Master Prestige. Advanced Warfare developer Sledgehammer Games will add 15 more Prestige levels to the latest Call of Duty, giving players at max XP a chance to grow even further. According to the Sledgehammer Games blog, when you enter Master level […]

  • Destiny: Crota’s End recreated in Minecraft

    Destiny’s toughest challenge gets even nastier if you throw Creepers into the mix. The ultimate Destiny challenge – for now – is the Crota’s End raid. Taking place in an alternate dimension accessed through the Hellmouth on the Moon, the Raid takes Guardians through a pit of darkness to the resting place of Crota himself. […]

  • Xenoblade Chronicles 3D trailer introduces the Heir to the Monado

    Xenoblade Chronicles 3D protagonist Shulk is the Heir to the Monado, his distinctive red sword. Let this trailer fill you in on what that means. Xenoblade Chronicles 3D releases for New 3DS on April 2 in Europe and April 10 in North America. As well as all the content of the Wii original, it has […]

  • The Elder Scrolls: Total War mod covers Morrowind, Oblivion and more

    The Elder Scrolls: Total War is a terrific mod allowing you get get intimately involved with the history of Bethesda’s detailed fantasy universe. The first release of The Elder Scrolls: Total War dropped on the weekend, giving players their first chance to try out LoRdNazgu1‘s creation. This version runs from 3E 427 to 4E 45, […]

  • Five Nights at Freddy’s 3 out now on Steam

    Five Nights at Freddy’s 3 is out now. Yes, we’re surprised too. You can grab Five Nights at Freddy’s 3 on Steam for $8. Developer Scott Cawthon really doesn’t mess about; the game was only announced in early January. Here’s the blurb: Thirty years after Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza closed it’s doors, the events that took […]

  • EVE Online heister makes off with $13,000 worth of goods

    EVE Online is a hotbed of villainy, espionage and backstabbing, but one intrepid corporate thief has made waves even in this setting. The thing about EVE Online is that it’s a true sandbox: the game’s rules are very loose, and allow players to make careers out of theft, piracy, assassination and espionage in addition to […]

  • Marth Amiibo getting a stock refresh in North America

    Nintendo of America has announced a fresh supply of the difficult to find Marth Amiibo. The Marth Amiibo will be back in stock in the US in late April, the platform holder said on Twitter today. Planning to pick up Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. and don’t have a Marth amiibo? More are headed to stores in […]

  • Skyrim beta update upgrades creation kit file size

    Skyrim has been granted a new beta update – more than three years after launch! – to improve the experience for modders and those who use them. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim released in November 2011. I think that’s worth noting before we discuss the beta update that dropped today, even as Bethesda is working […]

  • Paradox’s next epic RPG is, uh, Knights of Pen & Paper 2

    Knights of Pen & Paper 2 is very serious business so please enjoy this very serious trailer. “Return to the dicey world of Knights of Pen & Paper for a new turn-based adventure, where players get to take on the role of players, and also of the game’s encounter-designing, rules-laywering GM in a fully customizable […]

  • Amplitude looks amazing in new gameplay trailer, has a team multiplayer mode

    Amplitude may have been delayed but we still get something this March: a fine new gameplay trailer. Amplitude is coming to PlayStation 3 and PS4 sometime in northern summer. It’s a reprisal of Harmonix’s classic rhythm action game, a forerunner to its later efforts with Guitar Hero and Rock Band, and was crowdfunded. Update: Turns […]

  • DayZ creator’s “crazy”, “esoteric” next game developed with Improbable

    DayZ creator Dean “Rocket” Hall has dropped the first vague details of his new game project. “I do not want to make safe games. I do not want to make games the way we have been making them. What if the most experienced video game staff in the world collaborated on the most esoteric and […]

  • Battlefield Hardline will support AMD’s Mantle

    AMD has confirmed what most Battlefield fans thought. Battlefield Hardline will indeed support Mantle. Battlefield Hardline will support Mantle, AMD has confirmed. Some players weren’t sure whether the retail version of the game will support AMD’s API, due to its absence from the recent PC beta. AMD did not say whether the feature will be […]

  • Unreal Engine 4 GDC 2015 sizzle reel shows what the tech can do

    Unreal Engine 4 is a pretty versatile bit of tech, as this new sizzle reel shows. As one of the more ubiquitous engines, Unreal will be on show at GDC this week. Developer Epic produced the following sizzle reel to quickly demonstrate what it can do – cutting edge graphics (there are very few games […]