Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Tech Analysis: Split Second (360 vs PS3)

Earlier on today we posted up our technical analysis of BlackRock Studio’s Split Second. However it was brought to our attention that there was a mistake in our original article, which stated that the PS3 version of the game didn’t have any kind of anti-aliasing, when it did in fact have 2xMSAA just like the 360 version. Our reasoning behind this was the PS3 version's constant jagged lines made it look awfully like there was no AA. Although in hindsight the high contrast nature the game is actually the cause of the issue, creating problems for the MSAA in generating good enough samples for the anti-aliasing to work.

We did pick up on this in our original article (highlighted in bold)with regards to the 360 game, and it is still featured below in our updated version, but failed to spot this as the cause in the PS3 version. Despite this, in light of the above information, it doesn't change our initial feeling towards either version in any way.

We appologise for any mistakes and do try our best to maintain absolute accuracy in all the content we provide. However we are only human, and even the best of us can at times make the occasional error. What follows below is our updated and re-published article.

When BlackRock Studios first unleashed the critically praised pure onto consoles last year, it was a shining example of just how to approach multi-platform development. Highly optimised for both platforms strengths and weaknesses, it was largely identical, with only subtle differences between them, barely noticeable unless both versions were running side by side.

For Split Second the fine team at BlackRock seem to have done an almost equally stellar job, with the concessions made for each platform being remarkably low, and the differences again being hardly visible in motion, apart from perhaps the PS3 version's seemingly less successful use of AA and the 360's slightly blurred image.

Surprisingly, it is the PS3 that appears initially to get the arguably superior version this time around, on paper at least. Further inspection shows however, that things might not be so clear-cut. Whilst the PS3 build is in fact the sharpest, it also has some dialled back post processing effects and what appears to be only very little in the way of jaggies reduction through the use of MSAA.

In a game like Split Second - where high contrasting edges are everywhere - the 360’s use of AA isn’t as perfect as we’d like it to be either, with jaggies regularly appearing at certain points, although not to the extent of the PS3 version. But it’s eradication of more jagged lines does make a difference during gameplay, though not enough to make any version an initially clear winner.

So that’s the gist of it. Now, lets delve into those all-important details as we take a closer look at both versions of the game.

In terms of rendering resolution it’s the PS3 build that takes the lead with its crisp and clear 720p display. It’s a full 1280x720 on the Sony platform, and 1280x672 for the 360 game. Both seem to use the standard issue 2xMSAA (multi-sampling anti-aliasing) that is commonplace in most titles on MS’s machine, although its inclusion in the PS3 build doesn’t do much to reduce aliasing.

From the screenshots on this page it’s pretty clear that the PS3 build is shaper overall than the 360 one. However the reason behind this isn’t quite so straightforward as you might think. Obviously the 360 build’s lower 672 resolution does have an impact on how sharp the final image will be, although as we’ve seen before with Splinter Cell and to a much lesser extent with Alan Wake, that an upscaled image can still look rather clean and artifact free. And with BlackRock’s latest that certainly seems to be the case, being pretty sharp in motion.

The upscaling appears to be rather good, and only a small amount of softness seems to come from this process. It can be pretty hard to tell though, as the game features heavy usage of a screen blurring post process effect which distorts the entire image. Thankfully we can still see that regardless of post processing, that the overall composition of the image is still superior in terms of raw sharpness in the PS3 build.

Unfortunately this raw sharpness coupled with what looks like no anti-aliasing in motion - due to the lack of good samples being available to the MSAA, largely because of the game featuring constantly high contrasting edges throughout - simply heightens the game’s already visible jagged lines, with the PS3 version crawling in shimmering edges. The 360 on the other hand, handles this a little better with it’s combined use of MSAA, greater amount of post processing, and from the extra blur added by the upscaling process, in which the overall result is a smoother final image despite the small vertical upscale taking place.

This is particularly noticeable during gameplay as the PS3 build’s constant edge shimmering make it just a little bit harder to read the road up ahead when things get chaotic. By contrast, the cleaner 360 game allows you to see small details coming up ahead without the screen crawling in as many aliasing atifacts, though they are a little blurrier than on the PS3.

Despite this issue both versions are equally playable, and at times the 360 version is no stranger to these effects, though they manifest themselves less frequently which is definitely a plus.

What about the game in motion then? Well, both versions run at thirty frames per-second (30fps) for the most part, with both slowing down on occasion in certain situations – usually when powersliding around a corner whilst all hell is breaking loose. Like with Pure both versions are remarkably similar and very solid at maintaining their framerates. Both seem to be v-synced, and suffer from only minor frame drops.

The 360 build seems keep up with the demands of the action slightly better than the PS3 one, although the difference is tiny with it rarely dipping below the intended 30fps target, and only occasionally loosing the odd frame to screen tearing. PS3 owners get a version that is mostly identical with very few drops in framerate - just a little more than the 360 - but this barely impacts in any meaningful way during gameplay, still providing a solidly smooth experience for the vast majority of the time.

Whilst both versions seem to be v-synced, I did notice that the PS3 game would tear the occasional frame more often in stressful situations compared to the 360 one, although this difference is very hard to detect by eye, requiring you to be looking out for it. The small amount of screen tear on ether version is only visible for a fraction of a second, and only appears right at the top of the screen, so it isn’t particularly noticeable at all.

In the end both versions perform excellently, with each one rarely dropping framerate for more than a second or so, and the tearing that arises in either build is barely worth mentioning. BlackRock have basically achieved parity across both platforms with any differences being purely un-intrusive and not detrimental to the game in any way.

Texture filtering and detail is like for like across both platforms, as is the modelling and general shader effects. Most alpha effects and particles seem to be rendered in the same resolution on both platforms, with the PS3 getting an equally high-end experience with regards to the games often impressive visuals – especially the lighting which looks incredible when in full bloom. Some smoke and flame effects look slightly lower on PS3, but it's hard to notice when playing the game.

Post processing is another matter, in which it is clear that the effect has been dialled back slightly on the PS3 game. You can see this in the shot below where the 360 game features what looks like a slightly stronger blur-styled effect over the PS3 one.

It’s this effect in tandem with the lower 672 resolution, that gives the 360 build a clear loss in sharpness, but also a greater reduction in jaggies than what 2xMSAA would usually provide. However, there is also a strong case for the PS3 build and the sharper overall display it provides, although the differences are less apparent in motion than they are in still screens.

Overall, BlackRock have done a mostly excellent job in maintaining platform parity to the point where there really isn’t all that much in it.

The PS3 definitely benefits from having a slightly higher vertical resolution and the shaper display it provides. From a raw technical perspective is arguably superior, but then again, the 360 version features less jagged lines due to both the use of anti-aliasing combined with the slightly greater post processing effects over the PS3. The upscaled nature of the game may also help in this regard, with the slight blur adding more AA in areas in which the MSAA would usually fail.

Either way both versions perform smoothly with very little in the way of framerate drops or troublesome screen tear, and the differences in screen composition when the game is in motion are not as apparent as they are in still screens. Certainly, I'd say that most people will be satisfied whichever version they decide to go for.

It’s tit for tat, and given the choice I would probably take the 360 game with its reduced amount of jagged edges, along with a controller that is more suited to racing games if I absolutely had to pick - although I do prefer the sharpness of the PS3 version, and the higher resolution overall.

So in conclusion, Split Second is solid on both systems with your choice most likely coming down to which controller you prefer using, or which online network all your friends will be playing on. BlackRock’s latest is a good example of balanced multi-platform development, and where the differences between each version isn’t at all detrimental to the experience.


  1. Good analysis. Thanks for the effort!

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