We are hiring!
First up, Human Head Studios, where I work, is hiring for basically every department. We are currently staffing up and are looking for talented people. I can't tell you what we are working on but I can say it's awesome and we are doing some very interesting and innovative things on many fronts including technology. The tech department where I am, is developing our own cutting edge tech that I intend to be competitive with all the games I talk about on this blog. I really wish I could be more specific but alas, I cannot. Not yet at least. I'm trying to whet your appetite without getting in trouble if you haven't noticed.
Of most interest to the common visitor of this blog, we are looking for tech programmers. Of most interest to me we are looking for a graphics guy that I will work with on aforementioned secret, awesome, graphics tech. If you understand all of what I talk about here and live and breathe graphics you may be the perfect fit. For submission details see here. Mention my name and you might filter up in the pile. Being a reader of my blog has to count for something right?
On to the main event. The Uncharted 2 multiplayer demo came out yesterday and I suggest you check it out. The first game has been a benchmark for graphics on the ps3 and I'm sure when number two comes out it will set the bar again. Although all you can see at the moment are some of the mp maps it is very pretty and much can be discerned from dissecting it.
There are many options in the demo that offer an ability to study things. You can start games with just yourself. There is a machinima mode that I haven't fully figured out yet but it allows you to fool with more than in a normal game. You can also replay a play through using the cinema mode. That allows you to pause, single step forward, fly around and even change post processing and lighting a bit.
Right out of the gate I noticed their nice DOF blur. It's one of the best I've seen. It looks like there is both a small blur and a large blur that are lerped between to simulate a continuous blur radius. It looks better than gaussian but I could be imagining things. It is definitely done in HDR as bright things dominate in the blur.
Speaking of blur they now have object motion blur. In the first game there was motion blur when the camera swung around quickly but it only happened in the distance. It was at low resolution and pretty blurry. I didn't really care for it as any time I moved the camera quickly to look at something it blurred and my eyes lost focus on what I was trying to look at. This type of motion blur is still there but doesn't seem to bother me as much. It's likely less blurry than before but I can't say for sure. It is done in HDR though. In addition to the camera motion blur objects have there own geometry that draws to blur them. This is the same thing Tomb Raider Underworld did for character motion blur. U2 uses it for objects as well as characters like the bus that drives by in one of the videos. The blur trails behind and can look weird in certain situations when paused but while playing the game these oddities aren't noticeable and it looks pretty nice.
Glare or bloom seemed to be map specific. In the snow map the sky was bright enough to bloom everywhere. In other maps light sources that where bright enough to go almost white but were obviously saturated when blurred didn't bloom at all. The control to change the sun intensity could be jacked up to the point of being completely blown out but with no hint of bloom. On that note, they are correctly tone mapping and not clamping off bright colors, something so many games are getting wrong. Please, people. Use a tone curve that doesn't just clamp off bright colors, as in not linear. Bloom all you want but without a nice response curve your brights will look terrible.
In regards to lighting the only dynamic shadow in their maps was the sun. I don't know whether that is the same in single player or whether it's mp only. There were other dynamic light sources but they didn't cast dynamic shadows. Strangely they did have precomputed shadows that looked like it was the light being baked into a lightmap. I'm not sure what was happening here as the machinima playground map showed evidence of the the artifact from storing precomputed lighting at the verts which is what they did in U1. It's possible that some objects had lightmaps and others were vertex lit. Another possibility is the lightmap looking shadows were not in the baked lighting but were more like light masks. It's hard to say from what I saw. There were also other lights that seemed to be completely baked and not influence characters.
I don't remember from U1 but in this demo the ambient character lighting doesn't seem to change much or be influenced by local features. There seemed to be a warm light direction always there in the night time city map that should be a very cool ambient practically everywhere. I'm guessing the ambient lighting is artist set up and isn't based on sampling the environment.
They are still using a lot of vertex color blending of textures. I think this is done in the shader where it lerps between 2 sets of textures based on a vertex value and a heightmap texture. The heightmap corresponds with one or both of the texture sets and the vertex value is like an alpha test. This hides the typical smooth vertex colored blending and matches the material that is fading. Think of brick and mortar to get the idea. Brick is one material, concrete the other. The heightmap is based off of the brick so as it transitions the mortar starts to dominate and cover the brick, masking the gradient of the vertex values until it's all concrete. In U1 it was very much like an alphatest because it was a hard transition. For U2 these transitions can be smooth. The vertex value is likely a separate vertex stream so that different variations can be used with a single model instance. A material set up in this fashion can be used in a variety of places and with a simple bit of vertex coloring the geometry seems to be uniquely textured.
Here's just a list of some other miscellaneous things I noticed:
SSAO darkens ambient term. Nice addition, helps ground the characters and lessens the pressure on detailed baked lighting. It's much more subtly done than Gears which tended to look very constrasty.
Shadowmap sampling pattern changed to be a bit smoother. Not a big change. There is major shadow acne on characters at times which is not cool.
Particle systems with higher fill expense fade out when you get close to them. There were some nice clouds of dust in a few places around the maps that are gone when you get up to them.
Last shadowmap cascade (3rd?) fades out to no shadow in the distance. This is mostly not noticeable but it can result in the inside of buildings when outdoors turning bright in the distance.
They still have low res translucent drawing although I don't think it's frame rate dependent anymore. I saw low and normal res translucent things at the same time. The odd thing was the low res wasn't bilinearly filtered but nearest. I have no idea why they would do that.
The snow particles stretch with camera movement to fake motion blur. Cool trick.
I can't wait to play the full game. I loved the first and this is looking to be even better. As I said before this will be the new bar so you should definitely check it out for your self.