Can Halo 5 deliver on its 60fps promise? – article
As with the reveal of the previous Halo three years ago, Microsoft opened its conference at E3 this year with a first look at the Halo 5: Guardians single player campaign. A new approach to mission design and a new set of characters, combined with polished graphics to present something that feels new and familiar at the same time. The multiplayer beta of last December had already showcased a series of changes to the formula, but it is only with this new demo that we can fully appreciate the new direction taken and get a real idea of 343’s vision for its first Halo ‘next. -gen ‘.
Many of the key improvements in Halo 5 are the result of a new technical structure. This is only the second time in the history of the series that Halo has moved to a more powerful platform, and the engine rebuilt by 343 Industries has ambitious goals. Great emphasis is placed on better lighting, effects and performance, and the new technology promises an evolution over Halo 4. A new material system, which makes use of material-based rendering, helps bring more realism to the world of Halo. and its benefits are evident in this demo. The metal takes on a realistic luster, and popular materials blend naturally into the scenery. While we did notice a number of low-resolution textures, there is a strong sense that 343 Industries is moving in the right direction.
Of course, what changes everything is performance. For the first time, Halo 5 is built for 60fps gameplay, but based on what we saw at E3 there is doubt about the studio’s ability to achieve this with an acceptable level of stability. While last year’s multiplayer beta claimed relatively solid frame-rates, the material shown at this year’s conference raises some concerns. Judging from the demo it seems the goal is a 60fps ‘perceived’ experience more in line with the Call of Duty series titles, with performance often dropping below ideal during action sequences.
The question is how much 343 Industries will allow performance to deviate from the desired frame-rate, and to be brutally honest, the experience seen at E3 is currently quite far from the level of stability we would like from the final game. This could become a real problem if there aren’t enough improvements: at the moment only the quietest moments prove to be stable, and every fight in the demo suffers from visible slowdowns. And we’re not just talking about the demo, but we also noticed it in 343 Industries’ b-roll video.
There has been a lot of discussion about the notion of the alleged link between Halo 5’s background simulation and frame-rate. Series development director Frank O’Connor, under the nickname “Stinkles” on NeoGAF, wrote of the controversial decision to abandon split-screen support: “Yes, that’s a shame, but 60fps has to take precedence. It’s not. just a matter of aesthetics, the whole simulation is built on that frame-rate “. After seeing the E3 demo, however, this comment left us confused. The demo regularly drops below 60fps, but if the simulation were tied so closely to frame-rate, there would also be slowdown issues. It’s just a guess on our part, but it sure seems possible for the game to operate at 30fps, and the concept of a simulation operating at a faster rate than rendering is hardly new: Forza Motorsport is just one of the titles that uses a similar. system.
There’s a fundamental reason why a lower frame-rate might make sense, and it ties in with the decision to cut split-screen gameplay. 343 Industries itself has stated that split-screen gaming would compromise its vision and desired performance levels. It is clear that maintaining 60fps with split screen would be a huge challenge, but from our perspective running this mode at a stable, lower frame-rate would not be a big deal, and it would be preferable to not having the mode at all. After all, Halo in split-screen has always been popular, despite the difficulties of providing a particularly smooth experience in previous chapters. Removing a classic mode in this way isn’t pleasant, and Halo fans have already cheered up. There is still a faint hope as Shannon Loftis, General Manager of Games Publishing at Microsoft, said “never say never”, but there seems to be little cause for optimism on that front.
It’s clear that performance is a key focus of Halo 5, and we applaud 343 Industries for aiming for 60fps when many other games are running at 30fps or less. This lends more credibility to a number of factors that seem to suggest that the study is experimenting with dynamic resolution. By adjusting the pixel count according to the engine load, it would be possible for Halo 5 to maintain a superioer frame-rate at the expense of image quality during the most intense sequences. In its current form, this is evident in both the campaign and the Warzone mode videos. In theory, it looks like a promising solution, but Frank O’Conner warns that ?? the resolution information deductible from E3 is nil ??.
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The current dynamic resolution system can be seen in more detail in the ‘Road to E3’ video released on the Halo Channel a few weeks ago and embedded below. The video provides a closer look at the game in debug state, complete with important performance statistics displayed on the screen as the camera moves around the scenario. We can see the horizontal resolution change in an apparently dynamic way going from 1920 up to 832 pixels. With 810 vertical lines the resolution ranges from 1920×810 to 832×810. In the b-roll video released during E3, the observed minimum resolution is 1152×810 – not exactly stunning, but probably indicative of where the system is during gameplay.
Performance optimization has implications in other areas. Regardless of the rendering resolution, we also see a lot of low-resolution alpha transparency effects. Smoke and particles are rendered at resolutions low enough to produce visibly jagged edges when intersecting with the weapon silhouette. This could be the key to achieving stable 60fps, and at the moment it appears that 343 Industries is leveraging all known techniques to lighten the load on the GPU.
There is another potential trade-off made in trying to achieve this frame-rate: the size of the map. Halo 4 had already sacrificed the massive open areas created by Bungie to achieve a higher level of visual fidelity on Xbox 360. There was hope that the move to Xbox One could allow the team to make larger open maps, but we haven’t seen. nothing at the level of what the previous developer did. It is only our observation based on the videos seen so far, so it is possible that these missions will appear in the final game. The new material, however, in combination with what we saw earlier in the beta, seems to suggest that the strategy adopted for Halo 4 also extends to the sequel.
However, there are some intriguing differences from the past. Previous Halo have always made extensive use of cutscenes, but with Halo 5 we see the introduction of smooth transitions between cutscenes and gameplay. This approach helps keep the player in the flow of the action, preventing the game from being too segmented due to the story. Audio seems to be heading in the right direction too, with a whole new set of sound effects and some good music tracks.
Overall it’s the gameplay additions already mentioned that seem to really change the game. The biggest change comes from the new team system. This shouldn’t come as a surprise given that Tim Longo, the creative director of the project, also directed Republic Commando, one of the best Star Wars games ever made. In our opinion this is one of the most interesting changes made to the formula. Including a command system allows you to use a slightly different approach to combat which could result in fresh and interesting scenarios. The new direction taken may worry longtime Halo fans, but after so many years it’s time to try something new, and the move to a new hardware platform is the perfect opportunity to experiment.
Halo 4 felt like it was passing the baton from Bungie to 343 Industries in terms of both technology and design. The debut of the new studio laid the foundation and was the starting point that defined future titles. With Halo 5 the transition is complete and the game is completely from 343 Industries, a creation that puts aside many of Bungie’s roots in favor of a new take on classic gameplay forged over years of experience. The multiplayer beta launched last year gave us a taste of these changes focused on performance and innovative gameplay features, and new technology. The E3 demo further cements these features. Should the final version of the game deliver on the promise of a stable 60fps frame-rate in all modes while offering compelling missions, we could be facing one of the best shooters of the year.
Buy Halo 5: Guardians from Amazon