A Performance Crysis: Blasted to Oblivion

Anybody who knows me has probably heard me at least once slam Crysis for being able to kill myself on a freezer door with a supposedly defense-enhanced nanosuit of the future. That describes the limit of what I can play of Crysis as anything remotely close to a shoot-out – in a FPS game, mind you – is reduced to a flip-book when Crysis is set to its “High” settings. Performance gripes aside, whatever still frames that are in Crysis are a sight to behold, even at one setting below its’ maximum “Ultra High.” However, thanks to recent experiences with The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, I come to ask myself: do I really need that powerful of a machine to play a beautiful looking game? There are work-arounds, but at what cost?

The Lineup: Crysis vs. Oblivion

Before we get into an analysis between these two games, let me clarify that this isn’t necessarily a fair fight. Yes, Oblivion is about two years older than Crysis. Yes, the two games are of different genres, by different developers, and intended for different audiences. Yes, I am diving recklessly into the realm of complex third-party modifications. And before anyone attempts to cover a base I might not have covered, I already know there are various other reasons this isn’t necessarily a “fair” comparison – that will be addressed later.

Let’s isolate the subject at hand: graphics. It is without doubt that PCs marketed and built as game machines are usually built with video performance in mind. Of course, one has to assume that if a game allows you to have ultra-realistic environments through an easy-to-find settings menu, the programmers meant for them to be experienced by the public. It would be silly to assume that these bits were only put in for the developers when it can be accessed by the end user. Crysis is the current game out in the market that is known for pushing your computer past its comfort zone into a graphical overdrive, and many modern systems still cannot play the game with the game’s intended performance.

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion was also heralded for pushing your computer’s performance during its time. Perhaps it is not to the same effect since Crysis is a PC exclusive, but it was heavy on system requirements for its time. The game itself is by no means ugly, but of course, thanks to Moore’s Law, two years later the graphics are sub-par. We now can gripe about the strange and plastic-like skin textures, with blocky patches here and there because we’ve seen way better. Since it took me this long to actually play this game, I wasn’t in love with the graphics either.

This is where third-party modifications come into play. Given the amount of time that this game has been out and the large fanbase it has, many users have made modifications that give this game a major graphical overhaul. Speaking of which, most of the modifications I describe in this article came from the Unofficial Elder Scrolls Pages, dev_akm’s The Oblivion Texture Overhaul, and the TESNexus community. Other than the unofficial patch that fixed a few bugs, I made no actual game revisions with these modifications and, just to challenge my computer, I made no attempt to optimize performance or reduce its size.

The Arena: My Dear Cortana

Cortana, my computer, was built about a month ago. It is my first computer and I gave myself a budget of $2000, which is more excessive than I initially thought for a gaming computer. Here’s what’s inside her:

  • EVGA 680i Nvidia NForce Motherboard, SLI Ready
  • 3.0 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo Processor*
  • 512MB EVGA Nvidia 8800 GTS Graphics Card
  • 4GB Corsair XM2 DDR2 RAM
  • 150 GB Western Digital Raptor 10,000 RPM
  • XION 1000W Power Supply
  • Arctic Cooling Freezer Pro 7 & Arctic Silver Thermal Compound**
  • Windows XP (DX9), with Glass2K and AntiVir running in the background.

* Quad-core processors currently only provide theoretical performance boosts, and a fast dual core is cheaper than an above average quad core.
** My processor idles at 24C.

Oblivion’s Handicap: Third Party Mod’s

Here’s a link to the Oblivion Mods I installed to make my game look better.

!!!DISCLAIMER!!!
Some of these mods replace characters with nude models. I tried where I can to include the non-nudity version, but some of these packs do not have that as a separate option. As far as I am aware, the only one I did include with no option asks you to register in order to view the file. I gave warnings where I can, but the content exists on these sites. Continue at your own risk.

* Underwear is built into this modification, but there’s no protection against adult content. You need a TESNexus account to view this page. Of course, Oblivion has always been rated M.

** Link contains nudity, though I’m not sure if the mod itself does.

I’m not sure how much this does in terms of graphics, but I also installed the Unofficial Oblivion Patch. I also installed the DarNified UI, and though I have yet to try any other UI modifications, they do not do anything to the gameplay graphics. It also bears worth mentioning that most of these mods need either Wyre Bash or Oblivion Mod Manager, third party programs which help overwrite some of Oblivion’s default textures and meshes though a process called Archive Invalidation.

Observing the Fight

There’s no nudity in the links, but I do warn you that these are big pictures at 1900 x 1080 resolution.

Crysis – Environment
Crysis – Dead Enemy

Oblivion – Environment
Oblivion – Dead Enemy

Personally, I think after all the modifications, it’s a tough fight for the graphics. QTP3’d Oblivion easily matches Crysis‘ graphics quality. The people have a very different look, but it’s good enough. Of course, as I had previously stated, this isn’t an even or fair fight at all. Oblivion, after all, did have two years and a community following in order for users to come out with improved graphics.

However, let’s look at the end result: two games that looks relatively comparable, with beautiful graphics that suck you in.

While I didn’t capture the actual frame rates, I must reiterate that on my machine, Crysis will have some visual lag, whereas Oblivion will run smoothly without problem.

Post-Fight Analysis

It goes without saying that this game isn’t a fair fight. It first should be noted that I didn’t have to modify Crysis to make it look good. Modifying Oblivion is a chore to do on its own; it’s homework to sift through the hundreds of mod sites and articles to decide which modifications are worth installing into your game, not to mention in which order everything gets installed and deciding which program to use to install everything – some modders write files for the Oblivion Mod Manager, while others only tell you how to install it with WyreBash. It’s far and away more gratifying to put the disc in, sit there, and let it finish itself to make it look pretty.

The major discrepancy I’d like to highlight is hard drive space. Oblivion also starts off at nearly 5 GB of hard drive space, with the modifications ballooning Oblivion’s size over 7 GB, which makes it a hulking juggernaut over Crysis‘ 2 GB. We also need to analyze what’s in those extra five gigs. We already know that, aside from two other modifications, the graphics modifications alone are around 2.5 GB, since QTP3 alone is almost 2 GB.

Both games use physics engines that are designed for first person shooters. Crysis‘ CryEngine2 is relatively young, being used mostly on First Person Shooters, with Crysis being the only notable game at this time. Its’ predecessor, CryEngine, has mostly been used only for Far Cry games. Oblivion uses Havok, which has spawned games ranging from Dead Rising to Super Smash Bros. Brawl and even Guitar Hero.

Finally, Crysis is a shooter, and shooters are generally meant to be played in a span of 10 hours, 20 if it’s a long one. Oblivion, on the other hand, is a full-world experience RPG, so clearly it will take up more hard drive space on missions and quests.

However, when looking at the handicaps, we’re talking about a full 5 GB difference. Crysis, on the other hand, requrires a much more powerful computer to play.

Here’s where many computer afficionados may wince. Let’s assume the user already owns an upper-mid range gaming computer – more powerful than a console, but with realistic budget considerations taken. Let’s assume there’s a game that will only run on the best computer technology available, and let’s also assume there’s a game that takes up 100 GB of hard drive space. They’re the worst case scenarios and not completely accurate, but we may not be far off of either. Now, let’s accomodate both games.

Scenario 1: “I need the latest video card and processor to make my game run.”
EVGA 01G-P3-N897-A3 GeForce 9800 GX2 1GB 512-bit GDDR3 PCI Express 2.0 x16 HDCP Ready SLI Supported Video Card – $630
Intel Core2 Extreme QX9775 3.2GHz 12MB L2 Cache LGA 771 150W Quad-Core Processor – $1549

Scenario 2: “I need a huge hard drive so I can keep my game on the same drive as my OS.”
Western Digital Caviar RE2 GP WD1000FYPS 1TB 16MB Cache SATA 3.0Gb/s Hard Drive – OEM – $280
Saving $1899 on a computer to play comparable games: priceless…

* All prices from Newegg.

Of course, if you know a fair amount about computers, you probably didn’t need me to tell you that the current dollar to gigabyte ratio is dropping rapidly, especially in the rapidly aging spinning metal platter market. However, it’s always been true that your video card and your processor will cost you a pretty penny, and not too far into the future better hardware will come out.

I’m not in any way saying that it’s possible to have a game played entirely out of a hard drive, or that we should dedicate entire hard drives to single games. I’m not even saying that all limits can be broken exclusively via either avenue. I know there needs to be a certain level of performance from a gaming computer, and that level will always be higher than an average business application computer, and you probably will have to spend over a thousand dollars for something that will play the hottest games. If you ask me, however, if I’d rather drop 10 gigs of hard drive space or upgrade my video card, the answer is clear.

Conclusion

Of course, graphics are only part of a game, and not the most important part as many gamers such as myself would argue. Still, if you’re going to push a game with a lush, alternate world atmosphere, you’d better make sure your consumers can actually play the game. Do you need to make them buy overclocked processors and video cards? No. Will they anyway? Eventually, sure. Do these games have a place in the market to drive the hardware market? Probably, but it can be argued that technology is on its way there anyway for various other applications. However, the truth is that I don’t work for either company and I thankfully don’t have to if developers realize they don’t need to be so stingy on hard-drive space. I have trouble filling 500 GB as is. I shouldn’t have to work for NASA or Pixar to have a computer capable of playing a pretty, playable game, and while I don’t work for either, I thankfully don’t need to.

~ Setsuna Setsunai

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