Saints Row: The Third and optimization

I finally started playing Saints Row: The Third, and let me start by saying it is absolutely phenomenal. I’m sure most of you have already played it and know this, but something that makes it even more amazing that you may not have tried is playing it immediately after beating Saints Row 2. You’ll be blown off your seat and into the next room, I guarantee (unless you happen to live in a one-room structure of some kind, in which case I can’t guarantee you’ll be blown into another room). SR3 is everything SR2 wished it could be. All of my complaints I had during SR2 magically vanished in 3 (they even learned how to make decent run cycles!). So, yes, The Third is amazing, blah, blah, but that’s not what I’m here to talk about today.

There are a couple of really impressive technical things Volition did with SR3 that I wish more games did. First off, the PC version is incredibly well-optimized. It’s one of the few games I can play with 8xAA AND ambient occlusion at 30+ fps. Most games I have to drop to at least 4x, usually 2x, and that’s with no ambient occlusion. In fact, a good example of that is Saints Row 2… So, explain to me why a 5-year-old game runs worse at lower settings on my system than a sub-2-year-old game at max settings? It’s all in the optimization, and Volition did a fantastic job this time around.

Another thing The Third does that blew my mind was how they created realistic shop windows. I literally stood in front of a shop window for 5 minutes trying to figure out what the hell I was looking at. It clearly wasn’t a 3D space inside the shop, but it wasn’t a static 2D texture, either. It was a moving texture. It looks to me like a dynamic texture that repositions itself based on the player’s perspective. It gives an incredibly uncanny sense of a 3D space. The shops in the game don’t actually have geometry inside of them, nor do they even have an inside. It’s a texture placed over the window that alters itself based on where you’re looking. And that’s damn cool. I’ve never seen that before in a game, and I really hope other developers learn that technique and use it in the future (and if you know of another game out there that uses it, let me know). It’s really interesting to me, because it reminds me of tricks devs used to pull in the pre-3D era to create certain optical illusions of effects that weren’t really there, such as the first skyboxes and pre-rendered backgrounds. DOOM is a great example, because it’s very similar to what’s going on in those shop windows in SR3: 2D textures moving around with the player to give the illusion of 3D.

But yeah, SR3 is great fun so far. I’m impressed that they were able to make the game look great and pull some cool tricks without sacrificing performance, and still make a game that’s so confidently ridiculous and a blast to play.

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~ by The Retro Gamer on May 27, 2013.

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