Why Shattered Horizon is PC exclusive and more technical details
Shattered Horizon is the first game of the benchmark specialists at Futuremark. The multiplayer shooter is based on a heavily modified version of the 3DMark Vantage engine. PC Games Hardware interviewed Lead Programmer Jussi Markkanen about the technical details.
The first game from Futuremark, Shattered Horizon, is a pure DirectX 10 multiplayer shooter and is currently available on Steam for 15 Euros. In a fictional future you can play with up to 31 other people. Three game modes, two similar to Capture the Flag and classic Deathmatch, and four maps are available. One of the most interesting differences to other games is the fact that since you are in space, you have to deal with zero gravity - what's your ceiling could be someone else's floor.
In our picture gallery below you can find more than 20 screenshots that have been downsized to 1280 x 800 but were originally taken at a resolution of 2560 x 1600 pixels with maximal details and 4x MSAA and 16:1 AF. At the end of the page logged in PC Games Hardware users can download a file archive with the pictures in their original resolution.
Futuremark used the engine of their popular benchmarking tool 3DMark Vantage as a base for Shattered Horizon. In a short interview with Lead Programmer Jussi Markkanen PC Games Hardware was told about what has been changed for Shattered Horizon and he also told us why Futuremark's first game is a PC exclusive title.
PCGH: For Shattered Horizon you are using a modified Version of the Vantage Engine. What technical features could be realized with this in-house engine that was utilized in Shattered Horizon? What are the technical highlights of the renderer? While playing we really like the lightning and the shadows, especially the adaptive Tone Mapping and Ambient Occlusion. Could you tell us more about that?
Jussi Markkanen: The Shattered Horizon engine is a heavily modified version of the 3DMark Vantage engine. Since 3DMark Vantage was a pure benchmark, we had to add a huge amount of features in order to meet the requirements of developing a complete online multiplayer game. For example the network engine, level editor and audio code had to be designed and written for Shattered Horizon.
I think the renderer is showcased best by the use of lighting in Shattered Horizon. The artistic goal was to use lighting to help create a realistic "space feeling” for the player. That was achieved with a combination of many different lighting techniques.
Our dynamic shadows use cascaded PCF technology. The high quality and sharpness of the shadows is a result of numerous optimizations and customizations. For example, we eliminate unnecessary workload by pre-calculating the visibility of static geometry. The shadow filtering algorithm is an efficient custom-made solution based on best candidate sampling patterns. With sunlight we use stable cascaded shadows, which reduce the jitter and make both sharp and thin shadows possible. We apply a blur to the cascade borders that smoothes the transition between them.
Another big part of the lighting is our global illumination technology. It uses spherical harmonic lightmaps that interact with the surface shaders to create a very atmospheric and realistic look. Every static light source casts a ray-traced soft shadow to the lightmap. The global illumination lights are offline calculated, and we have hundreds of them in every level.
Our ambient occlusion algorithm is an improved version of one commonly known SSAO-algorithm, which we optimized and modified to reduce the artifacts it usually has. Even if it's a very subtle effect, it adds a feeling of depth to the lighting.
In space, lighting conditions are very harsh with strong contrasts between light and shade. Adaptive tone mapping is crucial. We have dark, almost black shadows contrasting with the direct sunlight. Tone mapping in Shattered Horizon was implemented to bring out the space-feeling with blooming highlights and black shadows. But we didn't want to completely tune down the contrast since it is also a gameplay element. If you look directly into to the sun you will get blinded until your eyes adapt to the light.
PCGH: We know you are using some middleware like Natural Motions Morpheme (Animation), Umbra Occlusion Booster (Environment), Firelight Technologies FMOD (Sound) and Nvidias PhysX (Physics). Why did you decide to utilize these middlewares and how does the players benefit of them? In case of PhysX: Will this version even support Physics calculated on the GPU (Geforce) or PPU (Ageia) or only on CPU?
Jussi Markkanen: We chose our middleware partners to address specific requirements for the engine and the game. For example, it would look really strange to use distance fog to limit draw distance in our zero gravity near-Earth environments but we still needed an efficient method for culling away the highly detailed level geometry in addition to our LOD algorithms. Occlusion culling was a natural choice for our asteroid filled levels. Umbra's technology does just this, and it does it extremely well. With the great tools and the developer support offered by Umbra, Natural Motion and Firelight Technologies we saved a lot of time and were able to make the game the way we envisioned it.
Throughout Shattered Horizon's development we have been working closely with NVIDIA to find interesting and relevant ways to implement PhysX into our game world. We currently run all game physics on the CPU using the PhysX library. We have a number of GPU PhysX effects running in our internal test builds but they were not ready in time for the launch of the game this week.
PCGH: Shattered Horizon is a Direct X 10 only title. Why did you decide to cut off the support for Direct X 9? Will a later Version of your game offer a support for Direct X 11? If yes, what technical advantages do you plan to integrate (Hardware Tessellation, Compute Shader, better Multithreading etc.)?
Jussi Markkanen: I don't think anyone was surprised to hear that Futuremark is one of the first to release a DirectX 10 only game as we have always been on the cutting edge of graphics technology. When we starting working on Shattered Horizon we made projections as to how common DirectX 10 would be around Shattered Horizon's launch, and since then we have followed the Steam hardware survey and the mountain of hardware data from our benchmark users very closely.
Now it looks like that planning has paid off. The number of DirectX 10 capable systems keeps rising, the release of Windows 7 is going to help even further, and there are very powerful and affordable DirectX 10 and 11 graphics cards on the market. Shattered Horizon is very scalable however, and you can play perfectly well, albeit with lower detail settings, with many of the first generation DirectX 10 cards that are now three years old.
PCGH: Does the Shattered Horizon Engine scale with dual- and multi-core processors? If yes, up to how many core are currently supported and what modules/tasks/systems can be parallelized to run in separate threads?
Jussi Markkanen: Our game engine is designed specifically for multi-core processors. We can parallelize all CPU-heavy tasks. For example rendering, physics simulation, audio, network handling and game logic are all executed in separate threads. Some other minor tasks are parallelized as well. Currently we have limited multicore scaling up to 16 cores. Here is an image of one of our test runs with heavy CPU load in a 16 core-machine. It demonstrates how the load is nicely distributed across the processors.
PCGH: Shattered is PC only. Why did you decide to develop a pure PC title?
Jussi Markkanen: Futuremark has always been very PC focused so it is only natural that our first game would be developed for the platform we know best. Making Shattered Horizon PC exclusive also meant that we wouldn't have to make any compromises. We could take the best of what of what the PC offers and make a game that offers the best experience on a PC. Everything, from the controls and the interface to the dedicated servers and our plans for free content expansions, has been designed for PC gamers who love FPS games. The response to this on the forums has been very encouraging. We are reading lots of comments from people who are excited to see a game that has been developed purely for their hardware.
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