The State of DirectX 10 - Image Quality & Performance - HotHardware

The State of DirectX 10 - Image Quality & Performance

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Bioshock is a highly anticipated first-person shooter from 2K Games. Dubbed as the spiritual successor to the highly acclaimed System Shock series, Bioshock presents a compelling blend of traditional first-person action with RPG customization options and open ended gameplay elements, all set in a self-sufficient under water anti-utopian city on the mid-Atlantic seabed in 1946. With all the praise and attention this game has garnered and considering that the game supports DirectX 10, we couldn't afford not to check it out. We also have sufficient technical reasons to include this game in our look at the state of DirectX 10. Bioshock is one of the first games built on the Unreal 3.0 engine to be released on the PC this year but it certainly won't be the last. There are several highly anticipated Unreal 3.0 based titles coming this holiday season and Bioshock should give us a preview of what they will offer.

The key features of this game are definitely its excellent plot and engrossing visuals which are achieved due in no small part to the game's steller graphics. From the sea water leaking in through cracks in the walls to the excellent use of particle effects in explosions and ominous shadows, Bioshock's graphics will impress. An interesting design decision that is important to note for our image quality comparisons is that Bioshock is designed to use 4x Anisotropic Filtering and no Anti-Aliasing. The game defaults to 0x AA and 4x AF and there are no in-game adjustments for either setting. The game also will not support anti-aliasing in DX10 mode even if you attempt to force AA through the graphics driver settings . Luckily, this does not seem to negatively effect image quality and we noticed little aliasing in the game despite the lack of AA.

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Bioshock Screenshots (DirectX 10)

While Bioshock is one of the first of many Unreal 3.0 based games that will be released this year, it is certainly not the first Unreal 3.0 based game to be released on the PC. That honor belongs to Rainbow Six: Vegas which has been available on the PC since last December. While both Bioshock and Vegas are built up from the Unreal 3.0 engine, they use significantly different versions and a lot of new features have been added since Vegas was developed, most notably the addition of DirectX 10 support. Like previous Unreal engines, Unreal 3.0 is being continuously developed and improved by Epic Games and new features slowly make their way into the engine.


While it was originally designed to take advantage of shader model 3.0, Epic has since added limited DirectX 10 shader support into newer builds of the engine. However, Epic's DX10 additions have, so far, been primarily focused on performance optimizations. Bioshock's developers had different ideas on how DX10 should be implemented and they have added their own modifications to support a variety of DX10 enhancements. The new DX10 enhancements include the use of dynamic water ripples, soft edges for particles, and crisper shadow edges. These enhancements are enabled by turning on the "DX10 Detailed Surfaces" option in the video menu.

Dynamic Water Ripples

Bioshock takes place in a dilapidating under water city on the Atlantic seabed called Rapture and as you might expect, water is everywhere. Water plays such an important role in creating the atmosphere of Rapture that the development team included a water effect specialist whose entire job was to program and tweak the water effects in Bioshock. It's therefore not surprising that Bioshock sports some of the best water effects in any game. Everywhere you look, you can see the Atlantic trying to seep in to reclaim Rapture and the diversity of water effects is astounding.

One of the DirectX 10 enhancements involves improved water effects, specifically better water ripples. In DX9, when something disturbs the water, ripples are created which quickly fade away. This same effect has been used in many other DX9 games and the result is relatively convincing. However, if you pay close attention to the ripples and really study them, you'll notice that the 'ripple' isn't really there, it just seems like it is thanks to clever usage of 2D animated sprites. However, in DX10 mode, Bioshock actually seems to render the ripple and give it a third dimension. The ripple actually rises slightly higher than the surrounding water, unlike in DX9 where the ripple is purely illusionary. While this is a nice effect, it's very subtle and you're unlikely to notice it unless you're really paying attention.

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Water Ripples in Bioshock

These two screenshots illustrate the difference between ripples in DX9 and DX10. In DX9, the water surface remains completely flat and sprites are used to represent the ripple and splash of water. In DX10, the sprites are still present, but if you look closely you'll see that there is also a slight ring around the center of the splash where the water is slightly higher, representing a ripple. This effect is quite subtle and somewhat difficult to notice in-game and nearly impossible to notice in a still screenshot.

Soft Particle Edges

Soft particles is another touted DX10 feature supported by Bioshock. Soft particles refers to the way particle effects interact with geometric objects. Regular particle effects intersect with geometric objects sharply and the line of intersection can clearly be seen. This often results in particle effects appearing as if composed of several stacked 2D sprites which intersect with an object. With soft particles, the point of intersection is difficult to find and particle effects appear much more natural.

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Soft Particles in Bioshock

These two pairs of screenshots illustrate the advantage of soft particles. In the DX9 screenshots, you can clearly see where the particle effect intersects with the geometric object (a couch or a suitcase, depending on the image), giving the particle effect an unnatural layered 2D effect. In the DX10 screenshot, the particle effects appear 3D and natural. While Bioshock supports soft particles in DX10 mode, it does not in DX9, which is a bit odd since soft particles are not exclusive to DX10.

Soft particles are much more noticeable in-game than the previously mentioned ripple effects, however, they are still rather subtle. In the heat of the action, your unlikely to be bothered by a lack of softness in your particles.

Crisp Shadows

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Crisp Shadows in Bioshock

The last and least noticeable image quality difference between DX9 and DX10 in Bioshock is the appearance of shadows. In the screenshot you can see that the shadow in DX10 has a slightly sharper edge when compared to the same shadow rendered in DX9. We didn't notice this at all in-game and had we not noticed the small paragraph about DirectX 10 enhancements in the Bioshock game manual, we probably would not picked up on it during gameplay the effect is so subtle.

Image Quality Impressions

Overall Bioshock is a great looking game. However, the difference in image quality between DirectX 9 and DirectX 10 rendering in Bioshock is very minimal. Chances are good that you are unlikely to notice the difference during normal play, unless you knew what to look for. For the most part, Bioshock looks equally good in DX9 and DX10. When your busy trying to survive in a anti-utopian society full of genetically spliced mutants, the sharpness of shadows on the wall and how particles are intersecting with geometry are probably the last things on your mind.


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Sorry we lost the previous comments on this post. We just added new functionality to the site and forum that allows you to comment in either place and it shows up on the main site.

The gist of the comment was that a loyal HH reader liked Mike's article here. We concur whole-heartedly. :)

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you guys are so weird. First you say that in BioShock the shadows are better because are sharp and crips. Which is weird as everybody knows that soft shadows are desirable because are more similar with reality. And games makers struggle to offer soft shadows. - And then you said "Call of Juarez's DX10 mode offers softer, more natural looking shadows." - It appears that you contradict yourself. - And then again in World In Conflict you say : "we noticed that, like in Bioshock, shadows in DX10 are crisper and more accurate than in DX9. In the image below, the shadow in DX9 has blurry edges while the same shadow in DX10 has sharp and crisp edges" - ? ? ? sebastian___

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sebastian___:
you guys

 

Reviews/commentaries are written by individuals, so naturally oppinions/perceptions will vary!

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I'm talking about a single review : "The State of DirectX 10 - Image Quality & Performance" - written by (I think) a single reviewer/writer. And it's clearly a contradiction, because one minute he said ..." in BioShock the shadows are better because are sharp" , then the next minute he says : "Call of Juarez's DX10 mode offers softer, more natural looking shadows" ..and than again the writer change his mind by saying about World In Conflict : "we noticed that, like in Bioshock, shadows in DX10 are crisper and more accurate than in DX9".

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 My only fear with Dx10 is that it appears to have become one of only two reasons, the other being a shiny aero interface, that people have any interest in investing in Vista.

 

The difference between the comparative frames in World in Conflict are so negligible that Dx10, for most, would seem to be worth the financial outlay unless you are a complete techno purist. The hit in Company of Heroes is even more dumbfounding

 

I would have felt gutted if I had spent two hundred quid (400 dollars) on an 8800 GTS on the sole premise that I would have been able to play Dx10 games at reasonable frame rates  with a small modicum of future proofing.

 

Maybe Im just getting old and grumpy (actually I am, my wife keeps telling me) but Im sure Dx9 (especially c) was greeted with much more enthusiasm from gamers, developers as well as hardware manufacturers and had an even more positive effect on the whole PC industry.

 

(By the way, I thought the actual article was well written). 

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sebastian___:
you guys are so weird. First you say that in BioShock the shadows are better because are sharp and crips.
 

Point out where it was said that the shadows were 'better'? The article simply points out the difference in the way shadows are rendered between DX9 and DX10, noting that they are sharper in DX10. No where does it say the difference makes things better/worse, therefore no contradiction. 

 

sebastian___:
and than again the writer change his mind by saying about World In Conflict : "we noticed that, like in Bioshock, shadows in DX10 are crisper and more accurate than in DX9".

Note again that the article does not say that the difference in the way shadows are rendered improves image quality, simply noting that they are crisper and more accurate. In this case, "accurate" means how close the shadow resembles the silhouette of the object, not how accurate it is to real life.

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Well, maybe you're right. But he was writing about the BioShock DX 10 features like they were some improvements :

Quote 1 :

"The new DX10 enhancements include the use of dynamic water ripples, soft edges for particles, and crisper shadow edges"

Quote 2 :

"The last and least noticeable image quality difference between DX9 and DX10 in Bioshock is the appearance of shadows. In the screenshot you can see that the shadow in DX10 has a slightly sharper edge when compared to the same shadow rendered in DX9".

- Indeed it doesn't say it's better, but as you are reading this, you are inclined to think that the writer think this is an improvement albeit a very small one. 


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sebastian___:

Well, maybe you're right. But he was writing about the BioShock DX 10 features like they were some improvements :

Quote 1 :

"The new DX10 enhancements include the use of dynamic water ripples, soft edges for particles, and crisper shadow edges"

Quote 2 :

"The last and least noticeable image quality difference between DX9 and DX10 in Bioshock is the appearance of shadows. In the screenshot you can see that the shadow in DX10 has a slightly sharper edge when compared to the same shadow rendered in DX9".

- Indeed it doesn't say it's better, but as you are reading this, you are inclined to think that the writer think this is an improvement albeit a very small one. 

 

The articles mentions that crisper shadows was mentioned in the Bioshock game manual. I have my copy right here and it does indeed list crisp shadows as a game feature in a section titled "DirectX 10 Enhancements".

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