Recent advancements in graphics processing technology have permitted software and hardware vendors to collaborate on real-time ray tracing, a long-standing “holy grail” of computer graphics. Ray-tracing has been used for a couple of decades now, but has always been used in pre-rendered graphics – often in movies or other video playback that doesn’t require on-the-fly processing. The difference with going real-time is that we’re dealing with sparse data, and making fewer rays look good (better than standard rasterization, especially) is difficult.

NVidia has been beating this drum for a few years now. We covered nVidia’s ray-tracing keynote at ECGC a few years ago, when the company’s Tony Tamasi projected 2015 as the year for real-time ray-tracing. That obviously didn’t fully realize, but the company wasn’t too far off. Volta ended up providing some additional leverage to make 60FPS, real-time ray-tracing a reality. Even still, we’re not quite there with consumer hardware. Epic Games and nVidia have been demonstrating real-time ray-tracing rendering with four Titan V100 GPUs lately, functionally $12,000 worth of Titan Vs, and that’s to achieve a playable real-time framerate with the ubiquitous “Star Wars” demo.

Final Fantasy XV recently released on PC, and given the attention we drew to the benchmark’s LOD and HairWorks issues, it’s only fair that we take a look at the finished product. Prior to the PC release, the best playable version of the game was the cracked Origin preload the Xbox One X version, so our baseline for this graphics comparison is the Xbox at 4K using the “high” preset.

To match our PC settings to the Xbox version, we first selected the default choice for every option, which got us 90% of the way there. That includes “Average” settings for Model LOD, Anisotropic Filtering, Lighting, Shadows, Ambient Occlusion, and Filtering. Assets (high-quality asset pack), Geomapping (ground tessellation), and all NVIDIA features were turned off, anti-aliasing was set to TAA, and motion blur was turned on. Although this wasn’t a performance test, we limited framerate to the Xbox’s cap of 30FPS for good measure, and set resolution scaling to 100% (since dynamic resolution isn’t available on PC). This is a pretty close approximation of what the Xbox is capable of, and it’s an encouraging sight--the Xbox’s “High” is the PC’s “Average” in almost every category.

As we’ve done in the past for GTA V and Watch_Dogs 2, we’re now taking a look at Destiny 2’s texture resolution settings. Our other recent Destiny 2 content includes our GPU benchmark and CPU benchmark.

All settings other than texture resolution were loaded from the highest preset and left untouched for these screenshots. There are five degrees of quality, but only highest, medium, and lowest are shown here to make differences more obvious. The blanks between can easily be filled in.

Blizzard announced in January that Overwatch had surpassed the 25 million player milestone, but despite being nearly a year old, there’s still no standardized way to benchmark the game. We’ve developed our own method instead, which we’re debuting with this GPU optimization guide.

Overwatch is an unusual title for us to benchmark. As a first person shooter, the priority for many players is on sustained high framerates rather than on overall graphical quality. Although Overwatch isn’t incredibly demanding (original recommended specs were a GTX 660 or a Radeon HD 7950), users with mid-range hardware might have a hard time staying above 60FPS at the highest presets. This Overwatch GPU optimization guide is for those users, with some graphics settings explanations straight from Blizzard to GN.

We’re on to Episode 43 of Ask GN, which means we’ve past 42 – which means that the we missed the perfect opportunity to answer questions about “life, the universe, and everything.” Ah, well.

In episode 43, we’re talking skills to figure out if your CPU is bottlenecking your GPU (or vice versa), laptop thermal refurbishment (copper shims, thermal pads, thermal paste), and more. A good few minutes of the video is spent addressing a question about “Temporal Filtering,” one of the new-ish settings that’s been in a few Ubisoft games lately. Watch Dogs 2 most recently makes use of Temporal Filtering. We define that here.

For written content today, check out our revised WD Blue vs. Black vs. Red guide that defines Western Digital’s rainbow of hard drives. It’s been updated a bit since our original piece.

The goal of this content is to show that HBAO and SSAO have negligible performance impact on Battlefield 1 performance when choosing between the two. This benchmark arose following our Battlefield 1 GPU performance analysis, which demonstrated consistent frametimes and frame delivery on both AMD and nVidia devices when using DirectX 11. Two of our YouTube commenters asked if HBAO would create a performance swing that would favor nVidia over AMD and, although we've discussed this topic with several games in the past, we decided to revisit for Battlefield 1. This time, we'll also spend a bit of time defining what ambient occlusion actually is, how screen-space occlusion relies on information strictly within the z-buffer, and then look at performance cost of HBAO in BF1.

We'd also recommend our previous graphics technology deep-dive, for folks who want a more technical explanation of what's going on for various AO technologies. Portions of this new article exist in the deep-dive.

A frame's arrival on the display is predicated on an unseen pipeline of command processing within the GPU. The game's engine calls the shots and dictates what's happening instant-to-instant, and the GPU is tasked with drawing the triangles and geometry, textures, rendering lighting, post-processing effects, and dispatching the packaged frame to the display.

The process repeats dozens of times per second – ideally 60 or higher, as in 60 FPS – and is only feasible by joint efforts by GPU vendors (IHVs) and engine, tools, and game developers (ISVs). The canonical view of game graphics rendering can be thought of as starting with the geometry pipeline, where the 3-dimensional model is created. Eventually, lighting gets applied to the scene, textures and post-processing is applied, and the scene is compiled and “shipped” for the gamer's viewing. We'll walk through the GPU rendering and game graphics pipeline in this “how it works” article, with detailed information provided by nVidia Director of Technical Marketing Tom Petersen.

We spoke exclusively with the Creative Assembly team about its game engine optimization for the upcoming Total War: Warhammer. Major moves to optimize and refactor the game engine include DirectX 12 integration, better CPU thread management (decoupling the logic and render threads), and GPU-assigned processing to lighten the CPU load.

The interview with Al Bickham, Studio Communications Manager at Creative Assembly, can be found in its entirety below. We hope to soon visit the topic of DirectX 12 support within the Total War: Warhammer engine.

Our East Coast Game Conference coverage kicks-off with Epic Games' rendering technology, specifically as it pertains to implementation within upcoming MOBA “Paragon.” Epic Games artist Zak Parrish covered topics relating to hair, skin, eyes, and cloth, providing a top-level look at game graphics rendering techniques and pipelines.

The subject was Sparrow, a Braid-like playable archer hero with intensely detailed hair and lighting. Parrish used Sparrow to demonstrate each of his rendering points – but we'll start with sub-surface scattering, which may be a bit of a throwback for readers of our past screen-space subsurface scattering article (more recently in Black Ops III graphics guide).

In our latest graphics technology interview – one of many from GDC 2016 – we spoke with Crytek's Frank Vitz about CryEngine's underlying graphics tech. Included in the discussion is a brief-but-technical overview of DirectX 12 integration (and why it's more than just a wrapper), particle FX, audio tech, and more.

This is following Crytek's announcement on CryEngine V (published here), where we highlighted the company's move to fully integrate DirectX 12 into the new CryEngine. As an accompaniment to this interview, we'd strongly encourage a read-through of our 2000-word document on new graphics technologies shown at GDC 2016.

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