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 Post subject: Remember when...
PostPosted: Fri Aug 09, 2013 7:24 am 
Sharptooth
Sharptooth

Joined: Thu Aug 07, 2008 11:49 am
Posts: 378
In late 2003, Halo: Combat Evolved was released on the PC, ported by Gearbox Software. It wasn't a very good port. Folks who had dropped two and three grand on their gaming rigs could not get the game to run reliably well without turning most of the effects off. Naturally, Gearbox blamed and insulted customers, allowing them to chase their own tails, struggling to get the game to run as well as it did on the old XBox. Yeah, the first XBox.

What we didn't know then (and were never told) was that the game's shaders didn't have the hardware-level support of any graphics card on the market, and would not for at least a year or two. Both ATI and NVIDIA attempted to address the performance issues with driver updates, but software-level support never cut the mustard. To give a little perspective, the ATI Radeon 9800 was the fastest video card on the market in 2003.

These days, it's quite common for developers to release games no affordable hardware can handle. Sure, you can buy three and four $1000 video cards and get over 60 FPS most of the time, but that's not realistic for the vast majority of PC gamers. Developers call these designs "future proofing." I've always called them shit.

Funny thing: Right after this interview was published, someone leaned on Adrenaline Vault and had content edited out. Of special note was the removal of the choppiness comment in the first paragraph and the Editor's note in the third paragraph. Fortunately, some fans managed to copy the original article before the edits, so the original article has survived, while the Adrenaline Vault has not.

Another thing: The issue of gamers criticizing performance before the official release came about following gamer experiences with a leaked version of a late build (possibly the retail release itself). Early versions of the game, built for DirectX 7 and 8, were reported as looking and performing better than the final DirectX9 release. In fact, after release, gamers with older GeForce 2 cards enjoyed a far better experience than gamers with newer DirectX 9 hardware. It was widely speculated that Microsoft itself forced the late move to the immature DirectX 9 API. And it would not be the last time Microsoft promoted a new version DirectX at the expense of PC gamers.

Halo PC Performance Interview
Reported by: David Laprad


It's safe to say there's never been a PC game that's made everybody happy - especially when it comes to performance. The incalculable number of PC configurations available practically guarantees some users will experience problems of one sort of another. It's also safe to say some products harvest more than their share of complaints. Gearbox's Halo: Combat Evolved for the PC has fallen into the latter category as the result of what many game players claim to be poor graphics performance. (Our review compliments certain aspects of the game's visuals while noting its choppiness at resolutions above 1024x768.) The recoil grew strong enough that we met with Microsoft and Gearbox's Randy Pitchford to discuss their perceptions of the situation and potential solutions.

What issues are Microsoft and Gearbox aware of that are affecting some users' performance in Halo for the PC?

Randy Pitchford: We see a trend with the feedback we're receiving that's helping us understand what some users are experiencing. I can sum up our analysis like this:

1. Expectations set by older games: Halo renders pixel shaders and is the first Triple A first-person shooter to make widespread use of pixel shader programs. Previous games have used texture mapped polygons and occasional vertex shaded effects. The result is that Halo is simply doing several times more calculations per pixel than most competitive titles are doing per vertex or per surface. Halo - being the first to use pixel shader programs as extensively as it has - must bear the burden of setting new expectations.

2. Expectations set by misunderstood hardware: Nearly all of the feedback we're getting concerning performance issues is coming from people who are using video cards that technically offer DirectX 9 support but don't handle DX9's advanced features as well. They are the budget end of the DX9 cards - such as nVidia's FX 5200 or 5600 or ATI's Radeon 9500 and 9600. These cards support DX9 features like Pixel Shader 2.0 but don't perform as well with Halo because they have much less fill rate and bandwidth than their full-powered and more expensive cousins like the FX 5900 and the Radeon 9800. Customers who purchased these cards expect them to do very well - and they do tend to do very well with DX7 and 8 games. But you'll find big differences between these cards and their superiors once you get in the area of programmable pixel shaders. This is all right for the most part as Halo's default settings take care of these users. Various hardware configurations or manual settings can dramatically affect performance in ways we simply can't control. [Editor's note: We've encountered performance issues playing Halo with a Radeon 9800 Pro 256MB card and a P4 3.0 GHz PC.]

3. Incorrect performance optimization settings: Many users attempt to manually enable features using their video card drivers - features such as full screen anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering. These features are very fill rate intensive and have little to zero effect on the visual quality of Halo. Turning them on will dramatically decrease performance with no implied improvement in visual fidelity.

4. Timedemo feature: We knew lots of hardware folks were going to use Halo as a benchmarking tool because the game was going to be the only first-person shooter using DX9 and Pixel Shader 2.0 as much as it does. So we included a timedemo feature that was very precise for comparing one system configuration against another. We used the timedemo feature ourselves during development to help us measure all kinds of things - and we added lots of measuring tools to the timedemo for that purpose. The thing we didn't anticipate is that players would use the timedemo feature to report what kind of frame rate they were getting in the game. This is unfortunate because - while the timedemo numbers are precise - they aren't very accurate. The old timedemo did memory checks and tended to other business during every frame. The calculations were also considering the load times between demos - which have nothing to do with rendering. This confusion helped add to the perception that some people – people who weren't playing the game but were talking about it - were having performance issues. That was an unfortunate perception because it was based on inaccurate information.

5. Pack mentality: We found many users in our forums being quite vocal about the game's alleged performance issues before the game was released. In every case we investigated users were mirroring allegations they'd heard about or seen written about in other forums - despite not having played the game themselves. They were enjoying the kind of fun you get when there's a bandwagon trolling going on. It was somewhat entertaining to watch - but it was also very frustrating for us because it was initiated by those who were publishing inaccurate timedemo results as evidence of in-game performance. This behavior propagated mostly because of the pack mentality. It's been more than a week after Halo's actual launch - and most of the customers who are playing the game are just getting online and having fun. These customers have made Halo for PC the best launch with which Gearbox has ever been associated (as judged by the number of units sold relative and the number of people playing the game online).

Did Microsoft and Gearbox know about these issues prior to approving Halo for release?

Randy Pitchford: We didn't anticipate the differences in expectations. This is probably because we're very educated about what the hardware is capable of and about what Halo is doing that DX7 and 8 games never did. This was a mistake on our part that we're moving to correct.

We knew there would be configurations for which we didn't account when making our default settings - and that some of these configurations would have performance and visual anomalies. But we knew the only way to deal with these issues was to be reactionary (because it's physically impossible to test the millions of possible configurations). We have and are reacting.

We also didn't anticipate that customers would use the timedemo feature the way they did. This is a mistake we have corrected. We did anticipate the pack mentality of detractors because there are always people who enjoy tearing things down instead of helping to build them up. But we expected the primary target would be something other than performance.

Is anything being done in response?

Quite a lot. Gearbox has committed its resources to Halo for many months post launch. It's our desire to adapt and improve the game based on user feedback and other influences in order to make it a more fun and more engaging place for us and our customers to spend time. These resources have used the automatic update system built into Halo to deploy two updates as pain free and as quickly as possible to customers. These updates include corrections to the timedemo system as well as other performance tweaks to make the game better for more users.

Information about how to fine-tune Halo for your system has also been released in the form of a performance tuning FAQ. This is available from gearboxsoftware.com.

Gearbox and Microsoft have also been as responsive as our resources allow to customer inquiries in order to help those with difficulties. We've also created and participated in official forums that provide lots of information to users about how to get maximum enjoyment out of the game. We also use these forums as a sounding board for new ideas and a place to harvest the thoughts of our customers - a devoted group that's influencing our future plans for Halo PC. Gearbox has always been involved with the fans of our games and we've always taken the time to listen to their thoughts. This won't change.

We have several priorities for updates to Halo. The highest priority is response to important customer related issues - including performance. Other priorities include the launching of the Halo Editing Kit and the deployment of new features and systems that will make tournaments and competitive gaming stronger (such as the Winter CPL Event where Halo players will compete for thirty thousand dollars in prizes).

It's difficult to juggle all of our priorities and balance our desire to add new features and more content to the game against improving what's already there - but we're doing the best we can. The Halo team at Gearbox has also assigned resources to investigating and profiling other things that could be affecting performance in hopes that further large optimizations can be made. Halo underwent huge optimizations during development. We're still working on optimizing and making the game more accessible and more entertaining. Each successive optimization requires more and more time for smaller and smaller yields. It becomes tricky to balance infinite performance tuning against adding cool things since the vast majority of users are having a great time with ample performance.

When can users expect these updates?


There have already been two updates since the game was launched that answered priority issues - and I expect there will be a really exciting update with lots of improvements and new things within a month or so. More updates will follow as we create them. We love playing Halo and we're here to support it!


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 Post subject: Re: Remember when...
PostPosted: Fri Aug 09, 2013 10:06 am 
Smithfield
Smithfield

Joined: Sun Jun 18, 2006 7:37 pm
Posts: 5260
I have a few issues with this post...

The first is that Halo was built around the Xbox, which used a GeForce 3 chip. Considering the vague requirements for the video card at the time ("Video card: 32 MB with 3D Transform and Lighting capable."), this meant that the original GeForce met those requirements, but was ill equipped to actually run the game. If those that complained had a GeForce, GeForce 2, GeForce 2 MX, or GeForce 4 MX, they were basically SOL on any reasonable amount of performance. And I doubt that the game actually took advantage of DirectX 9 anyway (in the same way Halo 2 doesn't do jack for DirectX 10), as I had a GeForce FX and my friend has a GeForce 4 (not the MX version). The GeForce FX had terrible DirectX 9.0b support and the GeForce 4 only supported up to 8.1. And we both played Halo: CE on the PC just fine.

The second is regarding the "It was widely speculated that Microsoft itself forced the late move to the immature DirectX 9 API." note. The game was released in September 2003 for PCs. ATi already had DirectX 9 compliant hardware out almost a year before with tech demos to show it off. Not to mention that Source Engine was showed off in E3 2003 using DirectX 9 (including this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IdhWeyffmBc ). I would hardly call DirectX 9 "immature" at the point of release for Halo: CE.

And finally this comment:
Quote:
These days, it's quite common for developers to release games no affordable hardware can handle. Sure, you can buy three and four $1000 video cards and get over 60 FPS most of the time, but that's not realistic for the vast majority of PC gamers. Developers call these designs "future proofing." I've always called them shit.

At what criteria? For maximum details at 1920x1080, pretty much any recent $300 video card is going to give you over 60 FPS most of the time. Even $200 video cards will give you 60 FPS or more if you lower the details to "high", whatever that may be. And most people can't even tell the difference in quality between the high and maximum settings because they're very subtle, to the point where you have to sit and look at it for a while. In many cases, these minor details don't matter because often times they're used in high-paced action games. Take for instance in Crysis. Was it cool that the clouds in the sky looked as real as real clouds? Sure. But did I care when the North Korean soldiers were shooting my ass? No.


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 Post subject: Re: Remember when...
PostPosted: Fri Aug 09, 2013 3:15 pm 
Sharptooth
Sharptooth

Joined: Thu Aug 07, 2008 11:49 am
Posts: 378
I remember a lot of people claiming they ran the game at 1600x1200 with everything maxed out or some other such nonsense. We had a name for those people then, and we still do.


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 Post subject: Re: Remember when...
PostPosted: Fri Aug 09, 2013 3:32 pm 
Smithfield
Smithfield

Joined: Sun Jun 18, 2006 7:37 pm
Posts: 5260
And what's that?


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 Post subject: Re: Remember when...
PostPosted: Fri Aug 09, 2013 5:21 pm 
Sharptooth
Sharptooth

Joined: Thu Aug 07, 2008 11:49 am
Posts: 378
I'm sure those good people at Adrenaline Vault just didn't understand how their hardware worked....

R300 was new in August of 2002 and the first card to support DirectX 9.0. If the 9700 and 9800 had Vertex Shader 2.0 on the box, what the hell did Gearbox do to make their implementation perform like ass? Were they coding for 9.0b while the newest hardware only supported 9.0?

The DirectX 9.0b R420-based X700 cards appeared in 2004 and ran the timedemo at 1024x768 with an average of around 54 fps. At 1280x1024, those averages would drop to 42 fps.

By late 2004 and 2005, there were the X700 XT, X800, X850, and GeForce 6600 and above cards breaking 60 fps at 1024x768. Only the X800 XT, X850 XT PE, and 6800 Ultra could break 60 fps at 1600x1200. Pitchford alleged he managed such frame rates at 1600x1200 two years before ("I tend to run in 1600x1200, but the game can go higher."), though these claims were widely disregarded by enthusiast overclockers.

So, yeah, no one was running the game very well with the 9700 or 9800-series cards, which were the fastest cards on the planet in 2003. Those R420's did better in 2004, but weren't exactly setting the benchmarks on fire. And they sure as well weren't delivering an enjoyable experience at 1600x1200. That wasn't possible until 2005, two years after the game was ported.

DirectX 9.0 was released in December of 2002, so it was an immature API when the Halo port hit the streets. DirectX 9.0b was released in August of 2003, so no video card had hardware-level support of the 9.0b version (Halo's version) when the port was released—that support wasn't seen until 2004. DirectX 10 came around November of 2006.


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 Post subject: Re: Remember when...
PostPosted: Fri Aug 09, 2013 5:55 pm 
Smithfield
Smithfield

Joined: Sun Jun 18, 2006 7:37 pm
Posts: 5260
DirectX 9.0 until 9.0c used Shader/Vertex Model 2.0, and I believe the differences between 9.0a and 9.0b are subtle and were only optimizations for NVIDIA and ATI respectively.

Also I found some old benchmarks for the 9800 Pro: http://www.anandtech.com/show/1545/3

My verdict? Halo CE falls in about the same performance drop as a few of the other shader heavy games over resolution increases, notably Far Cry. Also keep in mind that during this time, resolution was a very good performance killer, unlike today where cards are happy starting at 1080p and the next step up is only about two times the resolution, versus a spread of over 4 times the resolution.


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 Post subject: Re: Remember when...
PostPosted: Fri Aug 09, 2013 6:42 pm 
Sharptooth
Sharptooth

Joined: Thu Aug 07, 2008 11:49 am
Posts: 378
I had Far Cry, and it ran better than Halo: CE on my rig, which was one of those high-end $2000 builds in 2003. Halo: CE was a special breed of poor performance, and it took two years for the hardware to catch up enough for us to turn everything on at just 1024x768.

Quote:
IGNPC: What are we going to need to run this baby at 1024 with maximum detail settings? What is the absolute minimum required to run Halo at low detail and a playable level?

Randy Pitchford: Minimum specification is still being determined. It's going to be a mid-speed Pentium III, a good DirectX 7 compliant video card and a reasonable amount of RAM for a system of that type. For the ultimate experience, get the fastest CPU you can, a top-of-the-line video card from ATi or NVIDIA and at least half a gig of RAM, then crank it up as high as your monitor will let you (I tend to run in 1600x1200, but the game can go higher). When you play this game on that kind of system when it comes out later in the summer, it will be the best possible thing you can show your friends -- and it doesn't hurt that it's just kick-ass fun, too.


I get that damage control was part of his job, but the lies that man told . . . . He pissed off a lot of gamers. And he still does. He's someone who enjoys twisting the knife.

Remember what he said about Duke Nukem Forever?

Quote:
I play everything. The last time I had a really solid experience like this was Half-Life 2.


Putting DKF in the same category as HL2 takes . . . . Well, I don't want to say balls, because that could be a complement. It takes a lot of gall. A lot of bullshit.

The R420 line had the extra Shader Model 2b (in DirectX 9.0b) extensions used in Halo: CE. Those of us with 9700's and early 9800's only had Shader Model 2 hardware-level support with our DirectX 9.0-compliant cards.


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 Post subject: Re: Remember when...
PostPosted: Fri Aug 09, 2013 7:25 pm 
Smithfield
Smithfield

Joined: Sun Jun 18, 2006 7:37 pm
Posts: 5260
Every time I keep looking back on this, it appears that games that made heavy use of shaders were all killing cards back then in performance. I looked up Half-Life 2, but then I remembered Source back in that time was ATI biased. 3DMark 03 show similar performance on game test 4 which made heavy use of shaders with the results I pulled from Anandtech. People mentioned Final Fantasy XI, but that benchmark only gives a performance number rather than FPS.

If you really want to continue making a case about something that happened in another epoch, go find some era hardware and run those benchmarks again. Otherwise, I don't see what you're getting at here. Gearbox is a great company and Microsoft keeps shooting itself in the foot.


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 Post subject: Re: Remember when...
PostPosted: Sat Aug 10, 2013 5:59 am 
Sharptooth
Sharptooth

Joined: Thu Aug 07, 2008 11:49 am
Posts: 378
Upon its release, Half-Life 2 looked great and ran better. Valve had a good handle on the technology. I'll even suggest they were honestly "very educated about what the hardware is capable of."

The benchmarks are already out there. The reviews have been written. And a little bit of late-night editing is no longer archived.

I think its important for all of us to remember how, not very long ago, developers and publishers would abuse and lie to customers as a matter of course. It was common for publishers to withhold or deny press review kits until after particularly bad games went to market, thereby ensuring a healthy initial sales period of a month or two. It was common for the advertising-starved press to work in tandem with developers to publish positive, but undeserved and dishonest, reviews.

The rise of social media has connected and empowered customers enough to circumvent most of those behaviors, but not all. Game forums remain insular enough to contain a certain level of deceit and abuse.

Unfortunately, the power of the press (the more responsible parts of the press, that is) has diminished to the point that only the most outlandish, sensational, or illegal of activities are ever reported on. As the mainstream press grows increasingly irrelevant in an increasingly connected society, the responsibilities left unattended will have to be picked up by individuals willing to carry on the fight.

And then there is


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 Post subject: Re: Remember when...
PostPosted: Sat Aug 10, 2013 8:34 am 
Smithfield
Smithfield

Joined: Sun Jun 18, 2006 7:37 pm
Posts: 5260
Before making a bold claim, go find other instances of this. One does not make this an industry wide issue. I can say that several companies released great games with their newest technologies. Did they withold some features? Sure, but am I going to be butthurt about it now? No.

Oh, as far as "advertised starved press"... Were you living under a rock for the past 20 years?


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 Post subject: Re: Remember when...
PostPosted: Sat Aug 10, 2013 5:20 pm 
Sharptooth
Sharptooth

Joined: Thu Aug 07, 2008 11:49 am
Posts: 378
I'm not turning this in for a grade or peer review. I'm not after anyone's approval.

Games Journalism Is An Irredeemable Mess

Eurogamer Writer Loses Job For Pointing Out How Much Video Game Journalism Fails

Oops. Didn't Edit That Shit Fast Enough

Games Journalism! Wainwright/Florence/Tomb Raider/Eurogamer/Libel Threats/Doritos


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 Post subject: Re: Remember when...
PostPosted: Fri Sep 06, 2013 3:39 pm 
8086
8086
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Joined: Fri Sep 06, 2013 3:34 pm
Posts: 2
Personally, I'd rate 'Halo: Combat Evolved' as a VERY good port.


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