Storm in a Teacup: Anti-Anti-Aliasing

By Alec Meer on May 10th, 2008 at 12:21 pm.

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I keep seeing this story doing the rounds, and originally didn’t deem it worthy of a post, but seeing as this week seems to have inadvertently been Hot Button Issue Week on RPS, may as well give you folks a chance to have a shout about Assassin’s Creed too. I know you do like to.

There’s some fury amongst the more technically-minded echelons of PC gaming about the announcement of a patch for the divisive stealth/Parkour/action/endless cutscene ‘em up. The patch’s main purpose is to fix some of the PC port’s many glitches, but there’s an unhappy rider attached – it removes the DirectX 10.1 codepath from the game. DX10.1 requires DX10.1 hardware – so your GeForce 8 can’t run it, and will default to 10.0 instead. The latest ATI Radeon HD cards, however, do support 10.1. The differences between 10 and 10.1 are very minor, and certainly not worth upgrading your card for (especially as AssCreed is, I believe, the only game to support it so far), but there’s one stand-out goodie – 10.1 corrects a snafu in 10 that caused some anti-aliasing slowdown. So, if you’re running a Radeon HD 3000 series card, you can smooth out AssCreed’s edges with significantly less decrease in framerate than if you’re running a GeForce (in Vista, anyway). Unless you apply the update, which coldly removes the Radeon advantange. A patch that makes a game run worse? Hmm.

(I’m avoiding the technical detail on how this works for the sake of clarity, but it’s here if you want it.)

For the sake of performance, I generally don’t bother with anti-aliasing unless it’s an old game or I’m taking screenshots, but crisp edges are really a big deal to image quality junkies. Thus, Angry Men On The Internet are extra-angry about the performance hit, while The Angriest Men have even accused NVIDIA of strong-arming Ubisoft into deliberately killing ATI’s advantage. NV and Ubi have been sharing the AssCreed marketing campaign, and the game sports that The Way It’s Mean To Be Played guff, so clearly NVIDIA wouldn’t want it to run better on rival cards. Would they really go to such lengths, though? Both NVIDIA and Ubisoft strenuously deny there’s any funny business going on.

According to TG Daily’s extensive report (which includes comment from all involved parties) on this oh-so-specific scandal, Ubisoft have told them the game was developed mainly on 10.1 hardware and not tested on enough 10.0 systems, meaning a whole ton of gamers have been experiencing problems, including crashes. If that’s true – and it’s a pretty silly oversight if it is, given most every bugger seems to have a GeForce 8 these days – then just ripping out the 10.1 path could have been the cheapest, easiest way of making the most serious bugs go away. It may well be as a simple as there’s no budget or motivation for a best of both worlds patch. Or maybe there is something sinister going on, though there’s certainly nothing to prove it as yet. Simple sloppiness, so common in console-to-PC ports, seems the most likely explanation.

At any rate, there seems to be an easy answer for us gamers – install the patch if you’re running a GeForce 8/9 or an early Radeon HD, but don’t install it if you’re running an HD 3400/600/800 card. Unless, of course, the patch is such a box of additional delights that it’s worth having anyway. That said, the patch isn’t out yet – when we’ve even got EA backing down in the face of internet rage, it’s not out of the question that Ubi’s plans might change.

Anti-aliasing, eh? It’s the new piracy.

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43 Comments »

  1. Dinger says:

    New Piracy? What do you mean?

    This is clearly a case where piracy is the sole, root cause of the problem, and the inevitable result.

    First off, DirectX 10. Sure, you can make all kinds of fancy technical claims, but the fact is, it’s Vista-only because of Piracy. If it worked on XP, gamers would illegally continue to use their operating systems, many of which they’ve stolen, without all the benefits of content control. By making all the cool hardware developments available only to DX10, Microsoft can offer developers the enhanced protection from their clients that Vista offers.

    Second, why does Ubisoft have to seek out a close alliance with nVidia? Piracy, of course! People aren’t buying games any more — they’re ripping them off. But these same criminals buy super-expensive video cards, and, since they’ve flush with the cash they’ve stolen from content-commanders, they buy a new video card every other week. So Ubisoft had to ally with nVidia, and make sure their pirate-bait worked well with the nVidia card. In exchange, nVidia uses some of their ill-gotten gains from dealing with pirates to fund the port of AC.

    Third, AC has been so heavily pirated, that Ubisoft had no money to do proper configuration testing, nor to fix the bug. “Rip it out and go” was all they could do.

    Finally, it’s clear that the pirates and their fellow travelers will use this anti-aliasing debacle as an excuse to pirate games. “If they put out crap games, why should I pay for it,” they’ll whine.

    They should just throw all PC gamers in jail and be done with it.

    At least when Xboxers steal, they do it with style

    (okay. making the rounds. My money is on an urban legend)

  2. Steve says:

    This caused a massive feeling of meh in me. If I could super/sub script meh to make it really small I would but I can’t so you must use your imagination, I’m afraid.
    Surely if you’ve got a good enough PC to run this at max res then anti-aliasing wouldn’t do much on an LCD? Not that I know anything you understand.

  3. Alex says:

    “AssCreed” is a beautiful acronym.

  4. Theory says:

    Do you seriously play without any aliasing, Alec? What about Cleartype for your text?

  5. Bob Arctor says:

    I’d rather run the game at native resolution with jaggies than lower the res and have AA if it’s a choice between them, and it often is as AA slows down as does increased resolution.

  6. nakke says:

    Steve, anti-aliasing does wonders even when you play on native resolution. Although the importance obviously lessens the smaller the pixels are.

  7. Cargo Cult says:

    I’d rather have native resolution, no anti-aliasing and a semi-decent framerate than native resolution, anti-aliasing and a poor framerate.

    Although, to be honest, I’d rather have native res, super-duper anti-aliasing and a stupendous framerate. But that would involve spending lots of money. :-)

  8. Biscuitry says:

    @Alex

    It’s fantastic, isn’t it? Except it’s an abbreviation, not an acronym. It does nicely express a certain discontent with how the game came out.

  9. John P (Katsumoto) says:

    Anti-aliasing is also the last thing I ever both with, only putting it on if I can run the game superbly with everything else turned up first.

  10. derFeef says:

    Its a paradox. Buying too expensice nvidia cards leads to too less money for the games – which means the ones with the newest of the new hardware are piracing a lot more? :)

    I wrote about that nvidia strategy before. Its a shame how one company tries to dictate the sales of hardware and games (for the pc). I dont like nvidia at all. Good hardware maybe, but very chesty folks.

  11. Rook says:

    Even at 1920×1200 Anti-Alaising does make a massive difference to the visual quality of a game. The bigger problem here is probably how legendarily bad ATi drivers are both in terms of both Dx10 performance and AA.

    Given both Intel’s and nVidia’s support of mainy gaming titles, it’s really not surprising that ATi/AMD are having a hard time competing.

  12. derFeef says:

    @Rook
    But ATI is performing better here (at least 3000 series). The patch will change everything. And thats a good example – not the ATI drivers are causing low performance – its sometimes also the game itself (or ridiculous patches)

  13. Optimaximal says:

    nevermind…

  14. Masked Dave says:

    This effects how many people exactly?

    Less than 1%?

  15. Joe says:

    It doesn’t make a difference anyway and there is no avoiding the patch – Assassin’s Creed auto-updates every time you run it. If you run it while connected to the net then you automatically get the patch.

    And, trust me, it makes no difference. I reviewed the game and tested 10.1 with an ATi 3800 series card and compared it to performance and quality using an 8800 Ultra. There was no difference.

    Besides, though who are REALLY performance hungry will run the game in DX9 mode under XP, where they can get much better performance than in the same mode under Vista. DX10 as it is adds very little to the game and gives nothing in terms of performance, especially when you use these high end cards.

    Images below using ATi’s absolute latest card.

    DirectX 10.1 OFF:
    http://images.bit-tech.net/content_images/2008/05/assassin-s-creed-director-s-cut/bx1.jpg

    DirectX 10.1 ON:
    http://images.bit-tech.net/content_images/2008/05/assassin-s-creed-director-s-cut/bx2.jpg

  16. someone says:

    So, Dinger was just kidding right?

  17. Alex says:

    @ Biscuitry:

    Except it’s an abbreviation, not an acronym.

    But.. it’s an abbreviation that forms a new word (it’s written together).. which would make it an acronym, surely? An acronym can be made up from parts of words, not just initials. I’m confused now.

  18. Rook says:

    @derFeef
    Only benchmark I’ve seen is the PCGH.de one (here) with the 8800 massively outperforming the 3870. I’d like to see a proper site (hardocp/anandtech etc) do a benchmark though.

  19. derFeef says:

    Just read the closing thoughs at the page linked in the article. It makes a difference. And I wont call hardocp a proper site. They may have a different and “real world” benchmark system. But we know whos winning there. I dont care for benchmarks so I will stay with ATI and spend the money I saved into games. No offense here btw :)

  20. Mike says:

    I can hardly play a game without AA on. My eyes seem to go to the edge of objects and are appalled with jagged edges. Still, I’d choose frame rate over pretty graphics.

  21. The Shed says:

    Man, I feel so bad for you guys.

    I had a 360, and I got Assassin’s Creed, and played it. End of story.

    Masked Dave also raises a good point; this minor development is hardly worth a fairly chunky article.

  22. Alec Meer says:

    (It was meant to be a very brief piece, but ended up taking so damned long to explain)

  23. Dot says:

    Just “playing it” is not really a problem, you have a choice between running it in DX9 and DX10, so if DX10 presents a problem, you just start it in DX9!
    I went through the game on DX10.0 hardware without any trouble though.

  24. DigitalSignalX says:

    “Besides, though who are REALLY performance hungry will run the game in DX9 mode under XP”

    bingo.

    The other unwritten option? Skipping it all together.

  25. Perry says:

    Great game but it sure is a magnet for controversy. Angry men on the Net indeed.

    First it was hated because its producer was beautiful. Then it had tons of ‘issues’ at launch (I played it on PS3 without any issues). Now this…

    I played it through on the PC again recently. I have an Nvidia 8800m and have no complaints.

  26. wcaypahwat says:

    Oh darn. And I thought it looked pretty as ms. Redmond on DX9. I still refuse to upgrade from my 7900, it’s great having these non-issues =)

  27. Muzman says:

    Gear heads are a noisy bunch. Lest we forget Bioshock vs the widescreen nerds

  28. Him says:

    Honoured RPS Overlords;
    In light of the first post in this comments thread, a hillarious misreading of High Overlord Meer’s closing phrase, I hereby move that the word ‘piracy’ is forever stricken from these pages, only to be replaced by a code-word which should prevent such storms of fecal matter from spraying upon such hallowed pages.

    Also, I think the intent was to claim people were getting something for nothing with ‘New P****y’ quip.

  29. Dinger says:

    My dear colleague,
    I suspect that the failure to appreciate the polyvalence of the expression the ‘New Piracy’ lies not with me.
    The richness of the term as used by Mr. Meer lies in its playing off of several derivative senses of the “New Piracy”:
    A. “Piracy” as a single-cause argument that poisons everything else. Just as: “All these great games are coming/released on the PC platform, but piracy is killing it,” here the argument of the Radeon-toting anti-aliasing fanatics turns on:

    The patch’s main purpose is to fix some of the PC port’s many glitches, but there’s an unhappy rider attached – it removes the DirectX 10.1 codepath from the game.

    So the patch would be great, but removing DX 10.1 kills it.

    The substrate to the argument is that those who make the most noise about it do so because they are among the few owners of a DX 10.1 card, and find their slight advantage negated (property isn’t about keeping what’s mine mine, but rather making sure it never becomes yours. So losing DX 10.1 means what they ‘owned’ is now given way).

    That leads to the second sense of the “New Piracy”, the one alluded to by the “Storm in a Teacup” (presumably the more common and alliterative “Tempest in a Teacup” would confuse both the old-school arcade fans and the RAF nutjobs).
    B. “Piracy” is a topic that generates polarized opinions, with those heavily invested or looking for a fight wasting tons of internet space with heated blather that doesn’t really solve anything. Hence, Meer’s comments:

    Thus, Angry Men On The Internet are extra-angry about the performance hit, while The Angriest Men have even accused NVIDIA of strong-arming Ubisoft into deliberately killing ATI’s advantage

    Thus, he acknowledges that this topic has kicked off a silly flamewar, one rather good at generating page impressions. Heck that’s even in the first line.

    So, in my little post (however faulty it may be), I tried to point out that strong lines of logic bind the two discussions. In fact, on a proper reading of “Piracy”, the Anti-aliasing case is quite capable of explication. Indeed, you don’t need to posit a “New Piracy” — it’s just the “Old Piracy” forms of A and B under a different form.

  30. Mario Granger says:

    Issues like this is exactly why PC gaming can never be the foremost gaming platform.

    You have to be so technologically inclined to avoid being burned in some way. And mind you, this is a big budget release.

  31. malkav11 says:

    Remove the glitches? But they were such an important part of their storytelling method!

    ….oh, yeah, some people were having the game crash on them, weren’t they? I beat the whole thing, had exactly one problem – I somehow got stuck in a wall in the aftermath of an assassination. Once.

  32. AbyssUK says:

    The game is still pants, right?

    Ok… move along.

  33. The Shed says:

    Hey, the game’s no pants brutha. Try playing it yourself. (The only problem is that it loses pretty much all appeal after the story’s done. Not enough incentive to keep playing basically, although the gameplay is funs.)

    Also, straight up Mario G-dawg. I couldn’t keep up with P-C gaming, so I had to slip almost exclusively into console gaming. Fair enough Mr (pronounced Meester) Meer.

  34. Nick says:

    Nah, issues like this are why Ubisoft suck the proverbial.

  35. Empty=IRL= says:

    Microsoft can offer developers the enhanced protection from their clients that Vista offers.

    Er…. what?
    What are these enhanced protection features?
    Sounds like another Vista basher….

  36. Mario Granger says:

    I know there are protection measures built into Vista that prevents illegal video copying by encrypting output channels, but I’m not aware of any systems in Vista that covers gaming.

    Not to say there aren’t any, I’m just not aware of them.

  37. Brad Grenz says:

    I’m not sure I understand how removing a 10.1 code path will solve stability issues for hardware not using that path. By all means, if Ubisoft wants to rework that part of their engine they should feel free, but there’s simply no benefit to patching the current capabilities out for cards that can take advantage.

  38. Chris says:

    The vast majority of slowdown/crash etc. issues with Assassin’s Creed appear to be solved by using a No-DVD patch. Nothing to do with DxWhatever.

    Another beautiful instance where those worthless beancounting cnuts in suits make games worse for the people who pay for them while making no difference to those who pirate. Yet again, the pirates have a BETTER product than the people who pay money for the game. Well done Ubisoft.

  39. Ravenger says:

    Another way to improve stability in Assassin’s Creed is to stop it phoning home. For some reason this single player only game keeps trying to connect to the net, which crashes some user’s games. Use a firewall to deny it access, and it doesn’t crash.

  40. Optimaximal says:

    Assassins Creed just checks for updates every time it starts – You’ll notice that it does a quick check before the CD-check.

  41. Chris says:

    It also seems to phone home constantly, like Ravenger said. The firewall trick or the No-DVD pretty much do the same thing: stop it phoning home, which stops it crashing. I’ve had a grand total of zero crashes since putting the no-DVD on.

  42. Ravenger says:

    If you run the DX9 or DX10 executable directly you can bypass that annoying update check.