Playing games on various devices has become almost everyone’s hobby in the world. 20 years ago, people were thinking playing games is a waste of time. But now the gaming industry is bigger than the cinema industry. There are now gaming giants just like tech giants. They spend a lot of time and effort creating the most immersive games. The hardware companies are also beating each other to produce the best gaming-related products as well. In this article, I will be telling about the latest innovations in both hardware and software, focusing on optimization solutions.
GPU: The heart of gaming
For gaming, GPUs are the most important components of the systems. Generating a tremendous amount of pixels in real-time is not an easy thing to accomplish. The GPUs do an incredible amount of calculations for a single create a single image with its lighting, shadows, geometrical shapes, textures, and more. And it has to repeat this at least 60 times per second to keep the smoothness. GPU is the heart of 3D gaming. Everyone needs GPU for gaming.
Games are evolving around GPUs, with some exceptions in the past, like Crysis. Developers try to squeeze every transistor of the GPU to show the best visuals in their games. However, it is not an easy task to accomplish as well. Developers use some tricks to generate better visuals to deliver to the player with the same amount of required compute power on GPU and other hardware. Those tricks are called “optimization” as a whole and it has almost no limits.
Ancient optimization techniques
One of the most well-known optimization techniques is limiting the image construction to the players’ field of view; the display device. In the ancient times of 3D gaming, developers were also putting a draw distance slider on the game which affects everything in the game (remember Midtown Madness in minimum draw distance). Then it evolved into object-based draw distance settings; enabling users and developers to set their draw distance individually for grass, trees, mountains, shadows, lights, and so.
But there were still some things to do, so developers have decided to generate several versions for the objects in the game. They are alternating between the high-quality and low-quality versions depending on the distance to the player. At this point, things have started becoming a bit weird here since the transition between low-quality assets and high-quality assets was too noticeable to the players. Now, the whole industry is taking serious steps toward reducing the quality of the visible elements on the screen, including reducing the internal resolution as a whole.
DLSS, FSR, and XeSS
First of all, let’s not get confused with the sliders often named Resolution Scaling in-game settings. That is a simple resolution-changing technique that does not mess up your desktop by changing the whole resolution going to your monitor. I am pointing at the modern upscaling techniques; Nvidia’s Deep Learning Super Sampling (DLSS), AMD’s FidelityFX Super Resolution (FSR), and Intel’s Xe Super Sampling (XeSS).
Those brand-new technologies bring down the internal resolution to a lower value, then apply their algorithms to generate original resolution images from the low-res images. All of those technologies do the same thing by utilizing different techniques. For example, Nvidia utilizes the embedded tensor cores on their GPUs, which generally sit there to do nothing while playing games. High resolution means tons of extra burden to GPUs and those techniques manage to take most of it; which results in higher frame-per-second, or ability to play the game with higher in-game settings.
Filling the gaps
The problem is that those technologies do not deliver the same results with direct original resolution outputs. Because they try to guess the rest of the pictures to fill the gaps for the sake of catching up with the original resolution. Just think about this: you have pixel art of 50×50 pixels in your hand, and you have to make it 150×150 pixels; without knowing the extra details of the original art. Yeah, it is a hard task to do with even the human brain with a vast imagination. Now think about a computer doing that, from 1920 x 1080 pixels to 3840 x 2160 pixels, -at least- 60 times per second.
As a result, the games are becoming blurry again; especially the ones with the highest quality effects and realistic visuals. Even if they have the most expensive GPU in the market, players need to utilize those techniques to be able to max out their in-game settings with a fair amount of FPS; which means you give up image sharpness.
AAA games push too hard. Or do they?
Current AAA games make it almost impossible to max out every slider in the game settings on high resolutions even on a top-tier GPU, without the help of DLSS, FSR, and XeSS technologies. It almost looks like the whole industry is adjusting the effects and photorealism with upscaling technologies in mind; not native resolutions.
And one more thing that I personally suspect might be actually happening right now. Game development companies might be almost completely relying on upscaling technologies and scrapping out most of the needed optimization workloads for their games, as time and cost-reducing measures. All of the games need to be polished and optimized as the development completes. Optimization is a hard task and it requires a lot of work time to accomplish with high quality.
The game must be running without using any unnecessary resources of the computer with an optimized code flow. The game must be squeezing every bit of hardware while keeping away every unnecessary action from its flow. Today, we see too many games with mediocre graphics and effects, barely running 60 FPS on 1440p; then you need DLSS, FSR, or XeSS to ramp up to 144 FPS, or 4K resolution. This unnecessary demand for hardware is mostly caused by the lack of optimization. Then, we have Doom Eternal.
Optimization marvel: Doom Eternal
Doom Eternal is an AAA game by id Software, which is an engineering marvel when looking from the optimization perspective. The graphics are incredibly good and it is so optimized, that players can hit 100+ FPS with the highest settings on 1080p with their mid-tier graphics cards. High-tier modern GPUs can easily hit 144 FPS on 1440p and push towards 100+ FPS on 4K. Furthermore, they integrated ray tracing lighting technology into Doom Eternal without crippling the FPS; which was thought to be impossible from our experience with other games.
Ray tracing is an incredibly demanding lighting system that simulates real-life light physics. It demands so much compute power, Nvidia had to develop and introduce dedicated ray-tracing cores with their GPUs. In most games, turning it on slashes the FPS by half and it is impossible to play without upscaling techniques. But developers of Doom Eternal have managed to optimize it as well. You really don’t have to turn DLSS on for ray tracing in Doom Eternal.
But, Doom Eternal is the only example currently…
Some good news
After all of those, let me give you some good news as well. The upscaling technologies have almost become GPU companies’ new competing area. All of the GPU companies have their own solutions and they are really pushing hard to get the best results. Thus, they are getting better and better at generating extra pixels.
Another good news is that Microsoft is also pushing hard for its Direct 3D for new optimization techniques. The DirectX 12 Ultimate version brings a bunch of new cool features that directly optimize the rendering pipeline and way more advanced object quality alternating techniques. The most impressive one is the mesh shading which allows rendering an incredible amount of duplicate objects on the screen without sacrificing FPS. The environmental objects, such as mountains, trees, and grasses will be the benefitting this optimization technique, enabling the creation of much more immersive environments.
Let’s get some blur!
Despite the good news, I can’t stop thinking that GPU and 3D games industries advanced through the years, then we are now going backward with marketing DLSS, FSR, and XeSS like they are the saviors. No! They are not saviors and they are not improving the image quality! Furthermore, they make the gaming companies lazier to apply real optimizations.
id Software is doing great with its Doom series. Please, developers, do the same.