We know that the 3DS is a potentially very powerful machine, and although its GPU is lacking any kind of programmable pixel-shader support, many of the effects done through this method can be recreated via its advanced fixed-function pipeline. The result is a range of visual effects that look surprisingly high-end and extremely close to what is possible on current home console hardware.
A glimpse of just what is possible on the system was briefly shown off with Capcom’s Resident Evil Revelations demo at E3 earlier this year, but now the company has shed even more light on the tech powering the game, and the results are not so surprisingly impressive.
In an interview with Zenji Nishikawa for Japanese site Impress Watch, Capcom’s Jun Takeuchi (head of production), Masaru Ijuuin (head of technical research and development), Satoshi Ishida (programmer) sat down to discuss the latest version of their MT Framework engine (called MT Framework Mobile), created specifically for the 3DS and incorporating many of the advanced visual effects usually found in the company’s PS3 and 360 titles.
Impressively, the trio revealed that the new engine is fully capable of delivering advanced features like normal mapping, depth of field, motion blur, gamma correction, anti-aliasing, surface shaders and self shadowing, whilst rendering in real-time at 30fps, and with most of the effects being enabled in 3D.
Some of these, like motion blur, and anti-aliasing are not available in this mode, perhaps down to both the way they are implemented and the additional processing load they require to work.
A few comparison shots were also revealed. They show the game with these features both enabled and disabled, demonstrating that the 3DS’ fixed-function graphics pipeline can still handle work carried out by the PS3 and 360’s pixel-shaders with relative ease.
The results are very impressive. And the screenshots in question can be found directly below.
Note: top shots are without these effects, bottom ones are with.
The use of motion blur appears to be more than just a simple post-process effect added to the finished framebuffer image. Instead, all signs point to it being object based, calculated in real-time and processed only for the items which use it. This usually requires a large amount of processing power compared to the much cheaper ‘camera-based motion blur’ solutions, so seeing it up and running here is a pretty incredible feat.
Currently the effect has been fully implemented with the game is running in 3D, although Capcom are assessing its suitability for use in this mode.
Depth Of Field
When using a DOF effect objects in the foreground or background appear to stand out, and focus points are created. This accentuates cinematic realism when using certain camera angles.
HDR (top) and Colour Correction (bottom)
Capcom’s use of high-dynamic-range lighting here seems to create a larger contrast between light and dark areas of the scene, although it can also be used to show a larger spectrum of light points across the entire available range. The above shows a more realistic presentation of shadowed parts of the screen, creating a moody, more atmospheric look to the proceedings.
Seeing as polygon counts are vastly lower than in 360/PS3 Resident Evil 5, normal mapping has clearly been used to make both characters look smoother, their lower polygon origins slightly more concealed as a result. This technique allows for more detail to be included via texture mapping without the need for incredibly high levels of geometry, which is perfectly suited for the 3DS.
Surface Shaders and Self Shadowing
Like with HDR, the effect of self shadowing adds additional realism and depth to the scene, whilst additional shaders help maximise the amount of detail from the game’s texture maps.
Perhaps the most interesting feature is the inclusion of 2xAA when the game is running in 2D mode. While Capcom didn’t discuss the method of edge smoothing they were using, it is very likely that it is the very same supersampling technique as found in Nintendo’s Starfox 64 conversion.
Effectively the 3DS renders its final framebuffer output at 800x240 when running in 3D mode, with two 400x240 frames being created (one for each eye). These are then combined to form a single 2D image using jittered samples, thus basically equating to 2x supersampling, and it’s this image that is finally displayed on screen. Regardless of mode, the game is always rendering the full 800x240 resolution in order to apply AA in the final framebuffer output.
It’s pretty clear from what we’ve seen so far that the MT Framework Mobile engine is a force to be reckoned with for sure. From a mere graphical standpoint Resident Evil Revelations is easily the most complex 3DS title we’ve seen to date given the large range of effects displayed at any given time. However, it is the engine’s cost and time saving properties which are perhaps even more important than its flagship game’s visual splendour.
One of the main things to come out of the interview was that when making for the platform using MT Framework Mobile, you wouldn’t need to start the entire game creation process from scratch. It is possible for developers to carry over all of their existing art assets from the work done on PS3 and 360 titles, simply scaling back geometry counts and texture detail to match the lower spec hardware.
This is exactly what Capcom have done for Resident Evil Revelations and 3DS Super Street Fighter IV, in which most of the artwork and assets were taken directly from both Resident Evil 5 and the console version of Super SFIV, before being downgraded accordingly.
Effectively, by doing this overall development costs should be lower, thus allowing for software teams to target high-end levels of graphical performance that are usually expected from fully-featured AAA titles. Only this time in the handheld space. And all without breaking the bank.
Ultimately, Capcom’s mobile version of the highly proficient MT Framework engine bodes well for not only future handheld ports of PS3 and 360 games, but also original titles as well. More time spent on game design, and less on getting your art, assets, and tech up and running can only be a good thing. And it is precisely this approach which will be the driving force behind future development - a statement echoed by the fact that the company also confirmed the MT Framework Lite; a cross platform solution designed to get games ported from PS3 to Wii more quickly, but without the usual legwork.