Thursday, 30 September 2010

Tech Report: Updated 3DS Software Analysis

Yesterday Nintendo announced the worldwide launch details of the 3DS, revealing that the machine would be released in Japan on 26th February, and sometime in March 2011 for both North America and Europe. The system will go on sale in Japan for at 25,000 yen, roughly equating to 200 of our GBP, or 300 dollars for those folks over the pond.

But rather than repeating countless details that you can read pretty much everywhere else, instead we’ll be taking an tech-focused look at some of the direct-feed trailers released by Nintendo and select third-parties of first batch 3DS software.

Nintendo themselves displayed a multi-title show reel of games currently in development for the system, although heavy-hitters like Resident Evil Revelations and Dead Or Alive Dimensions managed to get their own individual trailers. Seeing these two titles in motion alone, along with Metal Gear Solid 3, I was left distinctly impressed with the kind of quality on offer from these early, first-gen experiences.

Clearly these titles are already beyond anything seen on the last generation of consoles. Whilst polygon counts may be lower, and in some regards noticeable so, the impressive quality and precision of the effects on offer more than make up for this. In fact, they prove that despite the low paper specs of the console, that it can still deliver some graphically accomplished titles whilst touting all the benefits of stereo 3D along with them.

Taking a look at the individual titles themselves, and we can see the various strengths and weaknesses of the system in their entirety.

Metal Gear Solid in particular seems to show a perfect balance between low geometry and use of advanced visual effects. Whilst the game’s poly counts are noticeable lower than the PS2 version, the level of detail on offer is also visibly superior. You can easily see in the trailer that most of the game is normal mapped, and not just the characters.

The environments in particular benefit hugely from this, in some cases looking smoother than in the original PS2 game. The flower scene particularly demonstrates the 3DS’s ability to throw around lots of normal-mapped geometry on screen, along with having enough power left over to handle all the physics calculations needed for so many moving objects.

MGS Trailer

Dead Or Alive seems to feature excellent use of per-pixel lighting and normal mapping, both effects looking far superior to anything seen on the original Xbox. Texture detail is reasonable, filtering is pretty good maintaining relatively moderate levels of image quality, and the characters also seem to have dynamic shadow maps applied to them, which works well with the rest of the lighting solution. One downside however, is the lack of any self-shadowing. This makes the game look slightly flat compared to SSFIV and RE Revelations. Although seeing as it should be running at 60fps, this is a worthy compromise.

DOA TrailerOur previous look

We’ve already taken a look a Resident Evil Revelations extensively here, and dare I say seeing it in motion is an incredible experience, comfortably showing off just what the 3DS can do. The quality of the normal-mapping is superb, the per-pixel, HDR infused lighting solution creates an incredible sense of depth, and texturing is quite possibly the most detailed on the platform.

Obvious issues stand out with the game running in 3D mode however. Texture shimmering and aliasing is apparent, as is edge aliasing due to the lack of any AA being present. These issues can be seen in the majority of PSP titles - a clear graphical downside of the Sony system - and in most of the 3DS games revealed so far.

RE: Revelations footage can be found this in line-up trailer

Super Street Fighter IV we’ve already covered here, so to be fair there’s very little we can add on to our original report. The game’s downgraded use of assets from the PS3/360 versions makes the title look remarkably close to the high-end console game. Self-shadowing if evident, and is backed up with a slew of impressive shader effects.

SSFIV Trailer

Perhaps one title that didn’t impress as much as the others was Capcom’s Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D, a separate game from RE: Revelations. As you can see from the screenshots below, the game suffers from terrible aliasing from both a lack of AA, and from some pretty bad texture shimmering. This is made worse than in RE: Revelations due to greater amounts of small geomretry being present on screen, along with what looks like a lower level of texture filtering, and poorer mip-mapping.

Detail levels are incredibly high though, and it is clear that despite the low image quality that the game looks considerably more impressive than RE4 on the iPhone.

A general trailer showing off a wide range of 3DS games in development can be found below:

Nintendo 3DS Games Line-Up Trailer

Judging from the various videos released yesterday, it is pretty apparent that in many ways the 3DS easily outclasses every last-gen system with regards to visuals effects, and in fact pretty much everything seen on the iPhone so far. Epic citadel may have higher res texture maps and art assets, along with higher precision normal mapping, but it is also lacking some, if not most of the high-end, per-pixel effects that so many top-tier 3DS titles are showing off.

Case in point; there is nothing running in real-time on the iPhone that I’ve seen matching RE: Revelations, or MGS3 with half as many effects, whether that be an actual game, demo, or otherwise. Maybe that is simply because there is very little incentive to produce titles with such high quality visuals on the platform. And when most high-end titles sell for just £6.99, that is completely understandable, though it is precisely this difference which could make the 3DS stand out. That, and of course the fact that every game will be playable in 3D on the console with most of its visual integrity intact.

However, despite the polished visual mastery on offer with high-end 3DS titles, we can also see that the machine struggles with maintaining overall texture fidelity in some cases, with various issues from poor mip-mapping, to aliasing being present, very much like with what we are seeing on the majority of PSPgames. This is one downside that I perhaps didn’t quite expect to see so obviously given the nature of the hardware.

When you look at how even early Dreamcast titles manage to feature correct mip-mapping on textures with better filtering, and a lack of texture aliasing (even in titles which feature no AA), then we can begin to see the compromises Nintendo has had to make in order to get a reasonably powerful, albeit low spec handheld with 3D support out the door at a relatively low cost.

Saying that the 3DS isn’t the iPhone, nor is it the PSP2. Plus battery life, and a reasonable entry cost are far more important than having the absolute bleeding edge in visual fidelity at your disposal. It’s these factors, along with the desire to innovate, which usually separate Nintendo from the competition.

Even when taking into account some of the graphcal cut-backs sighted, the trailers released thus far show that for the most part, in real-world terms that the 3DS handles top end visuals extremely well for a handheld device, with a slew of shader effects balancing out the few negatives. Coupled with the fact that developers also have the option of enhancing their games with 2D only extras (AA and per-object motion blur) then what you have here is still a mightily impressive showing, just not quite as flawless as some may have hoped.

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