The State of DirectX 10 - Image Quality & Performance

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World in Conflict: Image Quality & Features

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The last game in our look at the state of DX10 is World in Conflict. Developed by Massive Entertainment and published by Sierra, World in Conflict is an alternate history real-time tactical game set in 1989. Released for the PC and the XBOX 360 in mid-September, World in Conflict explores a "what if" scenario where the Soviet Union -- on its last legs and about to collapse -- decides to go to war in a last-ditch attempt to pull itself out of economic collapse. The game features a single-player campaign narrated by Alec Baldwin, a skirmish mode and multiplayer via Massive Entertainment's 'Massgate' system.

While World in Conflict explores an interesting plot and rather unique setting, its real claim to fame are its fast-paced tactical gameplay and steller graphics. Company of Heroes may have been considered the best looking strategy game when it was released last year, but World in Conflict is definitely the best looking strategy game to date. WiC incorporates many advanced graphical effects and as long as you don't zoom in all the way, it looks absolutely spectacular. Most important to us, the game also features DirectX 10 support and it incorporates a lot of DX10 features.

World in Conflict (DirectX 10)

We'd like to note that while we are looking at World in Conflict last in this article, we actually started with World in Conflict during our testing and at the time the game had not been released yet so all of our image quality and performance tests are conducted with the official demo. However, the demo is sufficient in giving us an idea of what World in Conflict has to offer and should be an accurate representation of the final release.

World in Conflict boasts three main image quality enhancements that are exclusive to DX10 and an additional functional difference. The three primary DX10 exclusive image quality effects are the addition of soft particles, cloud shadows, and volumetric lighting. We also noticed slight differences in the way shadows are rendered. We'll get to the image quality enhancements in a moment.

On a DX10 compatible rig, World in Conflict enables enhanced dual-screen support which is unavailable in DX9. World in Conflict has a 'Mega-map' screen that displays the entire battlefield on-screen, in real-time, in a map-like style reminiscent of a satellite image. The mega-map also displays tactical data overlayed on the terrain such as unit types, unit positions, line-of-sight and terrain features. Commands can also be issued from the mega-map so the game can also be played from this view. Enhanced dual-screen support in DX10 mode allows the player to play the game on one of the screens while the Mega-map is exclusively displayed on the second screen.

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World in Conflict Mega-map

Enhanced dual-screen support is a very useful and significant feature since it is the only feature exclusive to the DX10 path of a game that effects gameplay in any of the games we have looked at. This feature also gives dual-screen setups a bit more utility and may lend a dual-screen user a tangible tactical edge in the game. For really serious players who wish to compete with the best, this feature alone may be worth the transition to DX10.

Moving on to image quality differences, we'll start with soft particles. When particle effects intersect with geometry in World in Conflict's DX9 mode, the particle effect intersects in a hard line and appears to be comprised of stacked 2D planes. Just like in Bioshock, when DX10 is enabled in World in Conflict, particle effects are softer and intersection points with geometry don't result in visible lines of intersection, giving a more realistic effect overall. Additionally, soft particles in World in Conflict also exist in-game, which means that particles are effected by other in-game objects. For example, in DX9, if a helicopter flew through a plume of smoke, it would simply go directly through the smoke effect. That same scenario would play out much more realistically in DX10 since soft particles would be effected by the presence of the helicopter, resulting in the smoke being dispersed by the helicopter's passing. In the image below, you can see the difference between particle effects in DX9 and soft particles in DX10.

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Soft Particles in World in Conflict

Another image quality enhancement available in DX10 in World in Conflict are cloud shadows. While clouds are present in both DX9 and DX10, in DX10 the clouds can cast their own dynamic shadows. The clouds are constantly moving through the sky, this means that the shadows they cast slowly roll accross the landscape in real-time. This effect is quite detailed and very realistic. Not only are the cloud shadows cast on the ground, but they also roll over buildings and units. While this effect is quite subtle, it adds to the realism of the game and makes it that much more pleasent to look at.

Another image quality enhancement offered by DX10 rendering in World in Conflict is volumetric lighting. World in Conflict features the best volumetric lighting effects in any strategy game and they easily rival the lighting effects of many first-person games. The volumetric lighting effects are quite spectacular as you can see in the images below, however they are not limited to sunlight. While it is much harder to notice since the effect is fleeting, volumetric effects can also be found in explosions. We found volumetric lighting in World in Conflict to be quite noticable and pleasant to look at . You can also see the effect of cloud shadows in the image below. Note that the cloud shadow effect is much more pronounced when in motion like it would be in-game.

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Volumetric Lighting & Cloud Shadows in World in Conflict

The last image quality difference we were able to notice is in the way shadows are rendered. When we were zoomed in enough, 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. This difference is very subtle and you're very unlikely to notice it during normal gameplay since unlike in Bioshock where you're right next to the shadows, in World in Conflict you're often zoomed out, far away from the ground in order to see more of the battlefield at once.

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Shadow Edges in World in Conflict

Image Quality Impressions

World in Conflict is a great looking game and enabling DirectX 10 makes it look even more spectacular. However, it is also a very hectic and engaging game so your constantly busy doing something. This means you won't get very many oppertunities to stop and oogle at the beautiful graphics. We played the demo in both DX9 and DX10 and our impression is that they looked pretty similar, even though we knew it not to be true. Despite knowing what to look for, we were simply too busy enjoying the game to notice the image quality differences between DX9 and DX10.

The most noticable DX10 image quality enhancement is definitely volumetric lighting, unfortunetaly volumetric lighting is rarely encountered if you prefer to play the game from a traditional top-down view, where you're zoomed out and looking at the ground. With this view point, it's also more difficult to appreciate soft particles since your zoomed out far enough not to notice how ugly particles effects can be in DX9.

However, one huge advantage of using World in Conflict with DX10 enabled is the dedicated mega-map screen with a dual-screen setup. While the necessity of having two screens makes this feature quite prohibative, we found it to be extremely useful. The information available through the mega-map is extremely valuable and being able to see it at a glance without having to leave the main in-game view can make all the difference. Another side effect of having a dedicated mega-map screen is that you can afford to be zoomed in more on your main screen and therefore appreciate the graphics more since you'll still be able to get quick tactical information from the mega-map.


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