The State of DirectX 10 - Image Quality & Performance

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Call of Juarez: Image Quality & Features

Call of Juarez is a Spaghetti Western first person shooter first released last year in Europe. Developer Techland later ported the game to the XBOX 360 in June of this year. The PC version finally made it to our side of the pond around the same time, picking up a couple enhancements and bug fixes along the way, most notably the addition of DirectX 10 support (only available in the North American version). The game features both a story driven single player campaign and a multiplayer mode. Call of Juarez's party trick is a somewhat innovative split campaign where you alternate between playing as the protagonist as well as the antagonist, although things get shaken up a bit later in the game.

The game's Western theme means you'll get an opportunity to explore a setting and time largely neglected by other game developers. Luckily Techland has built quite a stunning graphics package to really pull you into the wild west setting. Our image quality comparison was conducted with 4X anti-aliasing and 16X anostropic filtering. All in-game image quality settings were cranked to their maximum levels and all DX10 exclusive options were enabled for the DX10 screenshots.

Built on the ChromeEngine, the North American version of Call of Juarez features excellent graphics and great use of lighting and depth of field effects. This game boasts some of the best rendered scenery we've seen to date in a game and a very impressive draw distance. In the second screenshot below which shows a river with mountains in the distance, you can actually walk right up to the mountains and one of the objectives actually requires you to climb to the top of one of them. There are also no loading screens mid-level so the journey from the position seen in the screenshot to the top of the mountain is totally loading-bar free.

Call of Juarez Screenshots (DirectX 10)

Call of Juarez features, by far, the most drastic difference in image quality between its DirectX 9 and DirectX 10 modes out of any DX10 capable game currently available. The game looks so different in DirectX 10 compared to DirectX 9 that it almost seems like a completely different game. In reality, that sentiment isn't as far from the truth as you may think. In the nine months between Call of Juarez's initial European release in September of '06 and the North American release in June of '07, Techland was able to practically rebuild the game for DirectX 10.

When the DirectX 10 version of Call of Juarez is launched for the first time, a message box appears and informs you about all of the new DX10 enhancements built into this version of the game, and there are a of of them. Some of these DX10 exclusive features can be disabled in-game using the DX10 exclusive "Enhanced Quality" option in the video settings menu. We also noticed a couple features the pop-up message box didn't mention. Interestingly, "gun bob", where your weapons appear to slowly bob up and down, supposedly to simulate breathing, is exclusive to DX10.

Contrast Difference in Call of Juarez

Like many of the other games, DX10 mode features more noticable use of contrast in lighting and better HDR effects. In the screenshot composition above, you can see that DX10 features greater contrast, making the light appear harsher and giving the illusion that the sun is beating down harder. There is also greater constrast transition in DX10. If you stand in a shadow in DX9, then step out into the sun, there is nearly no noticable difference in contrast. However, in DX10, the contrast is stronger when your standing in the sun, causing shadows to appear darker and lighted areas to appear brighter. This is more realistic since you would notice a similar effect if you were to try the same thing on a very sunny day.

Another difference we noticed between DX9 and DX10 is that the draw distance in DX10 appeared to be even longer than what we saw in DX9. However the biggest difference in image quality actually has very little to do with DirectX 10 effects. The DirectX 10 version of the game features a completely new set of textures that are significantly more detailed than the set used for the DirectX 9 version of the game. These DX10 exclusive textures aren't just higher resolution versions of the DX9 textures either, they are actually completely different.

Textures & Shadows in Call of Juarez

The first image above shows a DX9-DX10 comparison of a close-up of a mountain side. Notice that the rock texture used on the moutain is completely different and not just the same texture at different resolutions. The second image shows the same mountain textures, but from a much greater distance. From afar, the difference in the textures is much more noticable, although some of the difference is due to a DX10 exclusive lighting effect reflecting off of the rock. These images also show another difference between DX9 and DX10, the softness of shadows. Call of Juarez's DX10 mode offers softer, more natural looking shadows.

Mip-mapping in Call of Juarez

However, not all of the textures have changed. Some of them remain the same between the two versions of the game. The image above shows one such texture. Notice that while the texture is the same, the mip-mapping used in DX10 is much improved, making the stone appear to have greater depth.

Water Effects in Call of Juarez

Another very noticable difference between DX9 and DX10 in Call of Juarez is the way water is rendered. The water rendering method used in DX9 is fairly transparent and highly reflective of surrounding objects. As a result the color of the water is dominated by the color of the river bed and objects near the river like the trees and hill side. However, in DX10, the water is less transparent and less reflective. The result is that the color of the water is far less dependent on the river bed and surrounding objects. Instead, the river mostly reflects the sky. The edge of the water in DX10 also has a smoother transition between water and land than in DX9. Neither effect is totally convincing and which one looks better comes down to personal preference.

Image Quality Impressions

Call of Juarez displays the greatest image quality difference out of any DirectX 10 compatible game we have seen, however it doesn't do this purely through DX10 image quality enhancements. While, from a DX9 vs. DX10 perspective, this could be considered "cheating", it is still a DX10 exclusive feature regardless of how it was achieved. However, it does raise the question of how many of the image quality improvements seen in the DX10 version of Call of Juarez can be duplicated in DX9.

Overall, we think Call of Juarez is a very good looking game in DX9 and great looking game in DX10. This is one of the few games where DX10 rendering definitely makes an appreciable difference in image quality that can be noticed during regular gameplay. While the difference is clearly present, it's hard to say if the difference is necessarily an improvement. In many cases, such as with the water effect, whether the game looks better in DX9 or DX10 comes down to personal preference.
The next logical question is how much of a performance penalty, if any, will we need to endure in order to benefit from the DX10 exclusive features of Call of Juarez.

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