Assassin’s Creed III Launches On The PC With Impressive Tech & TXAA
PC gamers are used to delays when it comes to multi-platform titles, and more often than not the eventual PC release is no different than the console versions, disappointing fans who were hoping to play the ultimate edition of the next big thing. In some cases a few anti-aliasing options may be added, and in fewer still high-resolution textures may be present. Occasionally though, we do receive the ultimate edition, loaded with enhancements from top to bottom, and that’s what PC gamers are receiving this week with the release of Assassin’s Creed III.
In August, when Ubisoft delayed the PC release beyond that of the console versions, gamers were bitterly disappointed. Many accused Ubisoft of deliberately holding back the PC version, primarily to avoid piracy, but also to keep the focus and limelight on the console versions. These accusations couldn’t be further from the truth, which is this: Ubisoft wanted to make an incredible PC version that rivaled all other games in terms of looks and tech, but to do so a small delay was required.
At the heart of the game is Ubisoft’s “Anvil Next” engine, which will power future releases on both PC and next-gen consoles. In Assassin’s Creed III, the engine had to be held back on consoles, simply because their ageing last-gen tech lacks the necessary oomph. On the PC that’s not a problem, so say hello to textures as originally designed by Ubisoft’s artists, without any kind of downscaling or compression. That means environmental textures that are twice as detailed, character and object textures that are up to four times as detailed, and animal textures that are up to sixteen times as detailed. Furthermore, higher-quality models reveal extra detail on characters, most visibly in cutscenes where the extra polygons improve the realism of facial expressions.
Beyond these expected enhancements Ubisoft Montreal went to town, upgrading every aspect of the PC version.
As any Assassin’s Creed player will tell you, the View Point vistas are some of the most impressive moments of the franchise, showing miles and miles of terrain, and entire cities, all of which can be explored. At these points, and in other areas with impressive vistas, detail levels are staggered using Level of Detail (LOD) systems, which load the nearest textures and objects at max quality, and those further away at reduced levels to maintain performance. In Assassin’s Creed III, the PC options menu lists ‘Environment Quality’ directly below ‘Resolution’, and it is this setting that controls the game’s LOD system.
On ‘Normal’, players receive the same LOD settings as console users; on ‘High’ the maximum visible distance of objects, characters and shadows is increased; and on ‘Very High’ LOD quality is ramped up, meaning the lowest-quality LOD elements of a scene are of a significantly higher quality than on ‘Normal’ and ‘High’, drastically improving the detail level of the game, even in areas with short and mid-range views.
‘Very High’ also enables DirectX 11 tessellation in the snow-filled woodlands of colonial America, adding extra, realistic detail to voids created by characters and animals, as shown in our video further down the page. It’s a subtle effect, sure, but now that we have graphics of such a high caliber, the push to photorealism will rely on the tiny details that we rarely notice in day to day life. In this particular instance, the game’s protagonist wades through the snow, displacing it and leaving non-uniform tracks that don’t fade away like the generic footprint decals of old.
For an in-motion look at tessellation scroll down to our technology video.
The shadowing and shading system, represented in the options menu as ‘Shadow Quality’, has received some major love on the PC. On ‘High’, the resolution of the game’s many shadows is increased by a factor of two, and on ‘Very High’ the shadows are further enhanced by a Hexagonal filter, which is itself enhanced by cross-cascade blending, resulting in high-quality LOD’d shadowing that has few of the visible joints seen in other games where shadows of two different LOD qualities meet.
On ‘Very High’, a custom Ambient Occlusion (AO) technique is also enabled, overriding the console-quality shadowing and shading effect that is seen on ‘Normal’ and ‘High’. Utilizing a combination of Multi-Resolution Screen Space Ambient Occlusion (MSSAO) and Horizon-Based Ambient Occlusion (HBAO), Ubisoft’s custom-made AO effect boasts an unprecedented level of precision, creating one of the most realistic and immersive implementations of the effect we’ve seen to date.
The quality of Ubisoft’s Ambient Occlusion technique is astounding, as our interactive comparison shows. Not only does Ubisoft's technique enhance the shading of long-range detail (AO is often applied only within a certain range of the player’s character to maintain performance), but it also shades the minute gaps between the roof tiles, adding extra depth and realism to the surface.
Anti-Aliasing Quality & TXAA
An aliased object is unsightly in any game, regardless of how many millions of polygons it boasts. To tackle jagged, aliased edges in today’s games, a range of post-process and hardware-based anti-aliasing techniques are applied, smoothing out surfaces and objects, and increasing image quality.
Assassin’s Creed III tackled its aliasing on consoles through the use of NVIDIA’s low-cost, high-performance FXAA post-process anti-aliasing technique. It is this same implementation that is used for ‘Normal’ Anti-Aliasing in the PC version, giving players a good level of fidelity.
Switching up to ‘High’ enables a superior version of FXAA that does a far better job at removing aliasing, and stepping up to ‘Very High’ adds 4xMSAA (Multisample Anti-Aliasing) to the mix, in addition to High’s FXAA. This eliminates the majority of aliased pixels on objects and surfaces and also removes aliasing from alpha textures, such as those used for plants and bushes. This maximizes fidelity, but if you’ve equipped your system with a GeForce GTX 600 Series Kepler graphics card, there’s one final Anti-Aliasing option that produces an even higher level of fidelity, unmatched by any other technique.
Called TXAA, this new form of advanced anti-aliasing utilizes a custom anti-aliasing resolve, a temporal filter, and Multisample MSAA hardware anti-aliasing to remove almost all jagged edges from a scene, in addition to eliminating temporal aliasing, the distracting movement of aliased lines when the player’s viewpoint is in motion in-game.
In July, we launched the TXAA-enabled GeForce 304.79 beta drivers, and in August The Secret World, Funcom’s technologically-advanced MMO, became the first game to support the new anti-aliasing technique. Gamers and the independent press agreed that the result was super smooth, free of all forms of aliasing, but some felt the new TXAA-enhanced image was too soft. To that end, Timothy Lottes, NVIDIA’s FXAA and TXAA mastermind, has improved the technique, making it sharper and more defined.
To demonstrate the capabilities of Tim’s new TXAA implementation we’ve cooked up a side-by-side comparison video, which gives those of you without a Kepler GPU or Assassin’s Creed III a great idea of how TXAA can drastically enhance games.
As of today Assassin’s Creed III is available worldwide on the PC. Boasting advanced graphics, high-resolution textures, class-leading ambient occlusion, some nifty DirectX 11 tessellation, and extra tasty TXAA anti-aliasing, it is a graphical tour de force that can place great strain on your system. To maximize performance:
- Download and install the latest GeForce drivers, which include sizable Assassin’s Creed III performance gains.
- Investigate CPU overclocking, which can boost performance significantly in this particular title.
- Experiment with lower-quality settings - anything above ‘Normal’ is of a higher quality than seen on consoles, and even on ‘Normal’ you’re still receiving a smoother, faster, higher-resolution experience that can’t be found on any other system.
And if this article has given you the desire to upgrade, be aware that Assassin’s Creed III is bundled with select GeForce GTX 600 Series Kepler GPUs at the retailers and e-tailers listed on this page.
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