Bloodborne Attention 2 Detail Technical Analysis

Publisher Sony
Developer From Software
Platforms tested PS4
From Software have been in hiatus over the past year after dropping the last deathly steeped dark and moody sequel to Dark Souls. But with that game being only supervised by Hidetaka Miyazaki and instead directed by Tomohiro Shibuya and Yui Tanimura it meant that Miyazaki-san was free to continue on his own sequel (of sorts) from the 2009 Demon Souls.


Looking at the technical skill and effort placed into this first leap onto Now Gen technology with this PS4 exclusive, although the Dark Souls 2 Update at 60fps also released on Now-gen machines which you can learn about here. But in the here and now how have From Software adapted to the new hardware and have they made the most of it?


Visual/Audio Fidelity

First and foremost is the near standard on PS4 1080p native display that all exclusives and most 3rd party games share. This makes a huge difference from last gen 720 or even lower quality and enables the sumptuous style of the game to seep through. If ever there was example needed of how much great design contributes to a games visual flair, this game is a shining beacon of that. From the rich gothic inspired architecture that adorns the town of Yharnam which is exquisitely realised throughout the cathedrals, looming steeples, burning bonfires even a Big Ben like clock looms in the distance evoking the 19th century Victorian feel perfectly. With the cobbled streets not only worn and weathered looking but sporting a rich use of both Parallax Occlusion mapping –POM – that adds extra depth to textures far greater than a Normal map can achieve, enabling the floor to have depth away into the screen from all angles even cast deeper shadows as it occludes on itself, seen in later dungeon sections and walls. This affect is not only used in the streets but also in the interiors with broken floor boards exposing sunken depth to them. Manhole covers are raised up using what looks to be tessellating geometry through the use of Displacement maps just like on my GTA V & Shadow of Mordoor analysis this adds more convex geometry to objects by use of the effective height map that is stored within the texture adding in extra detail. This allows the designer to place this at points creating not only a more varied placement of this effect on objects and scenery but also is much easier to implement and vary the level at which the texture is tessellated - sub division – managing the delicate process of performance over presentation. With both now gen consoles being GCN derived cards that support all DX11 and most DX12 features this is then handled through the Hull/Domain shader process to sub-divide the lower polygon object into more primitives allowing more detailed controlled through the tessellation factor which happens in between. Here with Displacement maps this adds in more vertices and triangles to raise the object up and away from the base level along with more weight to it. As see here with the brick assortment or the manhole cover.

Apart from being a nice way to manage bandwidth when used (as the base Poly model is of a lower density for the draw) as then the hardware Tessellation state effectively adds the detail on the fly based on the displacement map or other point of process. This addition of vertices is far more pleasing on the eye adding much more depth to a world and its objects. Looking at older games the flat texture’s of walls floors can all appear stale, but From Software have done a commendable job of mixing great use of POM and Tessellation that works brilliantly in delivering a more believable world to survive in.

Adding to this rich geometric detail is highly quality textures that adorn the world. From the chipped gravestones, moss covered gargoyles to the hanging tapestry and parquet floors that can be covered in blood stains and drag marks. The attention to detail along with the foreboding nature of it all makes a great impact that grounds you in the game adding as much tension as the enemies themselves.

This is backed up with a great soundtrack that is very haunting from the main menu but music in the game is suspicious mostly by its absence. This allows the sound effects in the game to be a big part of how it draws you in. The squelch of blood from impacts, the rumble of a wolf, howl of monster or banter from enemies. As they come towards you filled with petrified mixture of insanity and anger. The clunking of wood as it is broken or the footsteps as they clock on the streets means that you are as conscious of your own sound on enemies which can allow you to sneak up behind or be noticed. It adds a decent amount into the feel of the game with the eerie silence at times forcing far more trepidation to your actions of the uncertainly that lies beyond the smog.

With the villagers being a varied bunch sporting pitchforks, wooden boards and burning torches the variety and vulgarity of the infected horde is repulsing but compelling. With flapping trench coats, dishevelled hair and beards as they swagger, surge and attack in groups they are all well realised with enough menace in their appearance that is only added to by their relative height and size on screen. But these are the small fry in the world of BloodBorne with the demon dogs being another grotesque creation from the minds of the team, lumbering hooded, axe wielding giants, blood crazed werewolves that not are important enough to be given pet names as you talk your way through an encounter.


But later on you get to meet the larger gaggle of foes and they are impressive and imposing in equal measure. As to stay spoiler free the first boss encounter with the Cleric Beast is a huge demonstration of the David and Goliath encounters you will have during this game, and the odds are never in your favour. Like all the other characters in the game animation is a strong point as the enemies drag their weapons showing the weight of the axe or the sheer scale as they swipe and move destroying objects that fall prey to the impact all relative to the weapon and size. Cloth physics work on your clothes, enemies and hair with the wolves hair swaying and moving as they rear up or swipe out. The cleric mane sways with a matted grace as it aims to end your run, the world is dotted with a large collection of objects that all seem to fall into the middle-ware Physics solution in the game as they crack, fall or splinter dynamically when struck, skulls roll down hill realistically, boxes break and horse carriages splinter into kindling with a swipe of a huge claw. The heavy use of physics in the game is another strong point that again like the above visual work adds a real sense of believability in the world as objects seem to follow a consistent physical presence. Which is also improved by the lighting system of the game.

With it using PBR techniques in the game that allow materials and objects to reflect and diffuse light more accurately. This is best witnessed on the cobbled streets or stone works, leather capes or sack linen of the yocals. This is not a full use through with actual skin textures of your characters being possibly it's single biggest weak point as the skin looks very dated not helped by the low Poly models of the face and body best witnessed in the builder stage, but a minor niggle as pretty much most of the time it is never seen or if so doused in claret. Which is another big part of the game as the red stuff flows freely from everyone in the world, this splashes on floors and stains, clothes of you and enemies even covering hair which is a great feature that allows your character to look far more worn as your journey through the games continues like Ash from the Evil Dead even victory bears a stain.

The lighting in the game make strong use of point lights, with yourself emitting a soft yet subtle glow that brightens objects in close proximity while adding a specular on the more reflective materials. Torches cast a stronger point light that cast Occlusion shadows on walls and objects including the tessellated areas, predominately all shadows come from the Sun which can be seen in the daytime with its bloom seeping into edges. When not in direct sun then basic contact occlusion shadows are used on floors and walls with the high specular in the game coming from metals, wet streets or blood stained areas. Diffuse light from the direct sun and dynamic lights is nicely implemented across the rich and very dense levels with so much packed into the horded streets, graveyards and sewers. The blood sprays are a great decal that working within the floor geometry maps so that when it lands it follows the contours all minor but add a better sense of realism.

Sadly the bonfires and other light sources are not shadow casting ones and this can make some of the scenes as you are huddled around the bonfire in the middle of an attack look “Gamey” as the lack of shadows is a standout with some of the other nice features. A game like Shadow of Mordoor had a superb lighting engine that allowed multiple shadows from multiple light sources and again around fire –fights (see what I did there!) it not only is a welcome addition but a very pleasing one.

Aliasing from specular highlights is another downer that is not as present as the early footage but still with its very dark black, blues and brown tones with strong anisotropic highlights in the game this can be very noticeable, even with a native 1080 display demonstrating how important a good A solution is. With MSAA being a hardware feature although being no use for texture, maps like this and with the game sporting a good deal of detail within the textures another method would be needed anyway. It looks to stick with a simple FXAA solution that simple scans the pixels irrelevant of their origin and smoothes out any edging detected, this biggest issue is that it is has no regard or knowledge of the previous frame. So at the cost of a slightly blurrier image dependant on the level applied it can make still shots look reasonably noise free, but in motion from frame to frame the effect cannot be corrected so you can see this is aliasing on thin edges like rails and strong specular highlights. To compensate this and the single biggest improvement since the earlier Gamescom footage and my play at EGX is they have implemented or increased the Chromatic Aberration in the game, more specifically toward the outer regions of the screen as it would in a camera. This faux effect of a bad or broken camera is an ever growing technique this gen but many ask where and why it has come about as this is not new. Coming from the photographic world but can also be seen in movies this emulating an error with how a lens deals with the light and colour refraction resulting in a “fringing” or rainbow affect that can vary in strength and location. Here the effect is used to fringe the edge of the screen and gets progressively stronger the further from the centre you look, resulting in the centre portion of the screen having little to none which means as aliased section move into your peripheral view they are covered better with this Post Effect that helps reduce the aliasing albeit under a false rainbow shroud. The effect is not too heavy in the game and works well within its art style with games like Dying Light and more so Lords of the fallen being far, far to heavy with it and GTAV or more so The Order 1886 using it pretty much perfectly to add a CGI look, one that has been used heavily in Off-line CGI renders like Halo 2 MCC update cinematics for an example of the inspiration of its use and aim. This will be another PP effect that developers will need to experiment with and get the balance right but Bloodborne use is near enough to improve the image but not ruin it by over use, it certainly looks better in motion than on stationary shots which is any games aim lest we forget.

Adding to the Post Effects the game also sports a very precise form of Motion blur that is both radial (Covering the camera movement more so at the outer edges) and per object. It again is a much used effect this generation that not only looks great but adds to the CGI look of any game with its origin again coming from the Pre-rendered CGI world. The coverage is very good and allows limbs of you or enemies to blur appropriately based on direction and velocity. It has been used very well in Dying light, SoM, Advanced Warfare and again The Order 1886 which sports a complete suite of graphical effects woven together well. This is an effect that I myself really enjoy when implemented well, much better than the blurry effects we had in some older games but this is not exclusive to this generation with Gears Of War, Uncharted, GoW and many more games having good use of the effects on older machines. But when used well as here it not only adds a nice visual addition to the characters but also helps smooth frame rate out for the player. And Frame rate is another issue with the game although far from a serious one.


PERFORMANCE


With the game running what should be a locked 30fps frame rate this means that it should deliver a new fresh image every 33ms, if you check out my Software Update video I explain how this works across 30 or 60 fps games including the issue we have in Dying Light on PS4 and again here which is a frame limiter that is employed. You see to run a game at a Locked or Capped 30FPS you need to actual be able to render the frame in less time than the allocated 33ms, this overhead is what keeps you above the 30 limit with most games that do running around the 40’s. Now when a game is capped at a limit like this how and where the programmers choice to do this is entirely up to them but most likely you have a double or triple buffer that holds 2 or 3 frames in a memory pool and using this the engine can render the frame as fast as possible and then either flip the frame to output as needed or hold it in the back buffer for when it needs it. The most obvious issue with this is input lag as you have a screen that is 2 or 3 frames already rendered ahead of what you see on screen that gives this stock pile of frames which is how Vsync works. With a game that needs fast reaction times and low latency input like DmC or COD then these game run an adaptive vsync that allows the screen to tear if the render time breaks budget and is part displayed with the old frame filling up the failed portion of the new. With a Cap like here the engine or API can artificially limit this by using the buffer method. Which should result in a new frame delivered to the display on the expected double integer occurrence, this is not what we have here. The frames are delivered in an inconsistent method that means that you mostly get an even delivery of 30 frames per second but this not always the case. It means that these frames can have a run of {11 22 33 }and then go { 12 333 44 55 67 89 }and this inconsistency means even though it may average out at 30 most of the time over a second it can peak and trough, seen here with many of the frame timings resulting in a peak to 31 quickly followed by a dip to 29 as the engine tries to remedy the balance.

My guess would be that the game engine itself is trying to limit the frame and may have some connection to the 3rd party Physics Engine in the game needing a set time to work within the frame calculation. You can see they are using a distance update within the engine as the locals nearer me here are updating consistently at 30 but the farther away ones are actually updating what looks to be a half rate (15) and as they draw within the radius of the camera frustum. This balance of updating part of your engine is very common, racing games poll the controller and physics faster than the screen or render phase. Here this looks to be a way to keep lots of characters on screen with the physics on cloth, destruction which also seems to have physics in the animation system also tied together. But the issue’s from the render should be fixable and are not a performance issue as much as they are a bug on the chosen method of lock stepping the engine to tie up with the frame rate. The why and how is another question but you can be sure if this is fixed I will let you know ASAP.

Overall From software have taken a very good step onto the PS4 with a game that impresses more with the combination of the art, design and mechanic than the overall technical side. With a solid lighting engine that delivers consistent if a little lacking at times results across the board, improved more with its superb animation, well implemented physics and quality art style. At times the game can impress with a huge collection of enemies, Particle embers from fire or hulking boss encounters making you feel over powered and helpless in such an atmospheric world created by the great mind of the team. But small performance issues aside and heavy aliasing in places it is a bit of a letdown but nothing major to distract from the consistent visuals that succeed greater from the combination of them than any one standout feature aside the great use of texture, POM and Tessellation with great sound design adding to that further.Certainly a game that delivers on its intended mood and setting perfectly and the best quality work yet that From Software have produced.

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