Date: Wednesday, November 02, 2011
Battlefield 3 is the long-awaited sequel to EA DICE's Battlefield 2, released in 2005. The eleventh game in the Battlefield series, BF3 brings large scale shooter gaming back to the PC with online games supporting up to 64 players. Reception has been generally positive since the game's release one week ago, with the PC version generally scoring better than the console versions. Electronic Arts' internal estimates claim that the game sold five million units in its first week on sale, marking BF3 as EA's fastest selling game.
Battlefield 3 is a first-person shooter. As in previous games in the Battlefield franchise, the key phrase to describe gameplay in BF3 is large scale combat. Even in the single-player campaign, the player fights as a smaller element in a larger fighting force, often with dozens of friendly and enemy combatants engaged in any given firefight. The single player campaign is short, consisting of twelve missions which take place in Iraq, Iran, Paris, and New York City. Co-operative and adversarial multiplayer modes are available, and we'll have a separate review on that as well. The focus of this article is to examine performance and image quality for the single player portion of Battlefield 3. We will be following up with a look at multiplayer specifically.
Battlefield 3 is built upon DICE's Frostbite 2 engine. It is the first game featuring Frostbite 2 to be released so far. The second, Need For Speed: The Run, is due to be released in less than 2 weeks. Frostbite 2 features DirectX 10 and DirectX 11 support. It does not support DirectX 9, and therefore does not run on Windows XP. Battlefield 3 requires either Windows Vista or Windows 7 to run.
Frostbite 2 features an updated version of the object destruction technology featured in 2010's Battlefield: Bad Company 2. Destruction sequences are supposed to be more realistic, thanks to more accurate physics calculation models. To improve rendering performance, Frostbite 2 utilizes deferred shading by way of a DirectCompute shader program. Deferred shading optimizes available computational horsepower and memory bandwidth by shading only visible portions of the framebuffer. Deferred shading makes anti-aliasing more complicated in DirectX 10 and 11, and highly impractical in DirectX 9, which could be one reason Battlefield 3 was not made compatible with DirectX 9 and Windows XP.
Deferred anti-aliasing essentially makes traditional hardware-based MSAA stop working correctly. The chief drawback to using MSAA in deferred shading games like Battlefield 3 is that edge aliasing produced as a result of lighting models is not addressed. This can be corrected with the use of shader-based anti-aliasing technologies, such as NVIDIA's Fast Approximate Anti-Aliasing (FXAA) and AMD's Morphological Anti-Aliasing (MLAA).
Early in the engineering process, Frostbite 2 was supposed to utilize MLAA for post-lighting anti-aliasing. At some point, however, the decision was made to use FXAA instead. Our experiences with MLAA and FXAA are such that we prefer FXAA. MLAA often has the unpleasant side-effect of diffusing fine texture detail, while FXAA did not exhibit that behavior to the same degree.
Other graphics features in Frostbite 2 are radiosity lighting, subsurface scattering for more realistic human skin textures, bokeh depth of field , and ambient occlusion by way of Horizon-Based Ambient Occlusion (HBAO) and Screen-Space Ambient Occlusion (SSAO).
More technical information about Frostbite 2 is found scattered all over DICE's Publications site. Most of that content is beyond the scope of this review, but it is interesting to read nonetheless.