Splinter Cell: Conviction exclusive interview - PC version is a console port with extra quality features
Conviction is the next part of the Splinter Cell series. PC Games Hardware got some tech infos about the forthcoming mission of Sam Fisher.
Splinter Cell: Conviction is scheduled for release on April 13 (North America) respectively April 15 (Europe). The latest part of the series around Sam Fisher is currently developed by Ubisoft for PC and Xbox 360. PC Games Hardware had a chance to send some questions about the PC version of the game to the developers and they told us for example what technical features the engine has been upgraded with and what performance can be expected. In this context you might want to take a look at teh stem requirements that have been released recently:
- OS: Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7
- CPU: 1.8 GHz Intel Core2 Duo or 2.4 GHz AMD Athlon X2 or better
- RAM: 1.5 GiB (XP)/ 2 GiB Vista and Windows 7
- Graphics card: 256 MiB DirectX 9.0c video card (512 MiB recommended)
- Sound card: DirectX 9.0c sound card
- DVD-ROM: DVD-ROM drive
- HDD: 10 GByte free disc space
- Internet connection: Broadband connection
In the transcript below you can fin all the answer we received from Ubisoft.
Ubisoft:Splinter Cell Conviction uses a custom engine called Lead based on the Unreal 2 engine. The engine has been fully customized to meet all the special requirements of a "Next Gen” iteration of the Splinter Cell genre.
PCGH:You announced that you game will be developed for PC, Xbox 360. Will the game be a pure cross-platform product or will there be an optimized version for the PC? If there is a special built for the PC what technical feature can't be realized with the console version or in other words are there any features the PC is the ideal platform to develop for?
Ubisoft:The lead platform is Xbox 360 and we are pushing it to the limit, we really want to give the players the best experience they can get out of it. The PC version is a port of the console version with the ability to boost the gaming experience furthermore with higher resolution, increased frame rate and many extra quality features. Also, we spent a lot of time working on the controls for PC, they have been tested by gamers and play testers and everyone agrees that the PC control scheme works very well. Obviously the controls are configurable to match everyone's taste and you can play the game with a keyboard / mouse or a gamepad, you choose the one that feels right for you.
PCGH:Are there any differences between the Console and the PC Version as far as technical as well as visual aspects are concerned?
Ubisoft:The PC version will output a greater resolution (up to 2560x1440 on the latest graphics hardware) at 60FPS. Shadow resolution is also greater on PC and we support 16X Anti-Aliasing as well as Anisotropic Filtering. Physic effects are the same that on the Xbox 360 version.
PCGH:Visuals especially lighting and shadowing have been a very important feature in previous Splinter Cell titles. Have you improved lighting calculations and shadow rendering in comparison to Splinter Cell Double Agent. Are there any other new visual features/effect that can be seen for the first time in Splinter Cell: Conviction? Which modern rendering techniques do you generally utilize in the game (don't be afraid to use technical terms)
Ubisoft:We wanted more of everything (lights, shadows, etc.)
For the projected text and for richer lighting in general, we needed to handle more lights on screen. We also wanted more shadow lights, so we switched to a deferred approach and added support for overlapping shadows.
A unique, dynamic Ambient Occlusion system, Spherical Harmonics for directional ambient
Our AO solution looks better than SSAO for the same cost and, combined with SH, we get a lot of the effects of diffuse radiosity but in real-time.
We spent some time replicating the kind of "cinematic” lighting you see in movies, so that characters never look flat. Instead, all of the geometric and normal map details show up well as a result. We even evaluate the SH lighting per-pixel for characters for this reason and we achieve all this via view-space sphere maps.
A completely dynamic visibility/occlusion system (again, unique to our engine)
This allows us to cull thousands of objects individually and fully adapts to changes in the environment (doors opening/closing, physics, destruction, etc.) It's much faster than using regular Occlusion Queries and comes with fewer limitations, allowing us to render more details on screen and avoid popping.
Large-scale shadows (cascaded shadow maps)
More and more games are using a variation of this approach for outdoor shadowing. We leverage the visibility system to speed things up and we smoothly blend between the cascades.
We added a range of post-processing filter controls that we fade between to change the mood, to further enhance the cinematic qualities of the game (depth of field, being a prime example) or to give feedback to the player (light and shadow).
PCGH:In previous titles of the series it was the power of the player's video card that was mainly responsible for the overall performance. Do you try to optimize the engine code for Dual GPU Card like the Geforce GTX 295 or HD 5970 as a consequence of this?
Ubisoft:Yes, we have worked with NVIDIA and ATI to make sure the game would take advantage of multi-GPUs setups and you should see a good performance improvement on those platforms has long as the CPU doesn't become the bottleneck.
PCGH:By now multi core CPUs have become very popular and the numbers of players with such machines is rapidly increasing. Did you integrate multi-core support into the engine from the beginning? How many core are supported and what is the expected performance gain from 2, 4 or even 8 cores?
Ubisoft:We do support multi-core CPUs and we strongly recommend it. The gain does not increase linearly with the number of cores and at one point we become bound by the graphic performance, so it is very hard to put hard numbers on that, but I can assure you that the gain on performance is very noticeable.
PCGH:What different systems run in separate threads?
Ubisoft:Loading, audio, rendering, particles simulation, animation, physics and more.
PCGH:Does your engine profit from SMT/Hyper threading or do you recommend turning it off for maximum performance?
Ubisoft:Unfortunately Hyper threading can sometime lead to a worst performance than without it so we don't recommend it.
PCGH:Will Splinter Cell Conviction offer a special physics simulation? Does it affect visuals only or is it used for game play terms like enemies getting hit by shattered bits of blown-away walls and the like?
Ubisoft:Yes, we have almost a complete physics simulated world. Traps holding by constraints that breaks when you shoot them and fall on the NPCs. Explosion that will break everything around and send the NPC into powered/animated ragdoll to have a more realistic effect. We apply forces exactly where the bullet hit the body of the NPC so you feel exactly what it would be in reality. Every object in the map is in physics and most of them are destructible. This is all part of the immersive experience you get when you play Splinter Cell Conviction.
PCGH:Did you program your own physics engine or do you utilize a middleware? Does the game even support hardware accelerated physics calculated on the GPU (via PhysX, OpenCL or even DX Compute)?
Ubisoft:We are using Havok under the hood, but since we have so many objects in the world and with the help of Havok, we came up with lots of innovative mechanisms to handle the limitation of the middleware. Unfortunately, we are not using any hardware specific acceleration in the game; the solving of the physics is mostly handled by Havok.
PCGH:Why did you decide against it? Does it not improve the game experience or is the available middleware like Physx, Havok or ODE not suited to your particular needs?
Ubisoft:Today's PC is powerful enough to handle all our current needs in physics simulation. The Havok middleware allow us to use all the hardware threads on the CPU to simulate the world. We therefore have no need for any hardware accelerated physics.
PCGH:Will Splinter Cell Conviction offer a support for Direct X 11?
Ubisoft:Unfortunately, there is no DX11 support in Conviction simply because it is a port from the X360 version which is based on DX9, so we have no plans for DX11 support in the future for Conviction.