Unreal Tournament 3: Technology

By Shamus
on Nov 6, 2007
Filed under:
Game Reviews

I’m not the best guy to review the graphics technology of a cutting-edge game like this. I’m a bit of a luddite when it comes to technology enhancements. If you want to know how the game looks when run at 3072×2048 on a 28 inch LCD using an array of overclocked GForce 8800’s submerged in liquid nitrogen you’re looking at the wrong guy. Still, I can’t resist doing a little armchair quarterbacking on what they’ve done.

Visuals

Composite image. The left side is the normal view. The right side shows the result of pixel-stretching. Everything looks sort of blocky and fuzzy. It might be hard to see here in the context of a webpage, but the difference is striking within the game.
Composite image. The left side is the normal view. The right side shows the result of pixel-stretching. Everything looks sort of blocky and fuzzy. It might be hard to see here in the context of a webpage, but the difference is striking within the game.
Don’t ask me what the game looks like. My graphics card was whittled out of a block of hickory by some old codger sometime during the Great Depression, so the game doesn’t really look its best on my particular setup. At first I was kind of horrified at how blocky and blurry everything looked. Then I found a setting that controlled what percent of the screen to use. Old timers may remember this sort of thing from the FPS games of days past, where the game would draw the view in a small box in the middle of the screen instead of attempting the heroic task of filling the entire display. This is the same idea, except they take that tiny view and stretch it across the whole screen so that the view is blockier instead of smaller. While the game looked like rubbish at full reduction, it gave a wonderfully smooth gaming experience, even on my low-end hardware. The beauty of this solution is that the HUD remains crisp and readable, even when the game itself looks blocky.

With reduction turned off the game looked incredible at the expense of being unplayably choppy. I was free to position the slider anywhere between “runs like crap” and “looks like crap”. I really approve of this. It greatly widened the viable audience for the game and gave those of us at the low end very clear, fine-grained control over the quality vs. quantity tradeoff.

I also admire them for offering really low-end video modes. Lots of games offer 800×60 as their lowest resolution. Recently I saw one that wouldn’t go below 1024×768. In UT3 it’s possible to set the game to run at 320×200. The HUD gets a little screwy at that resolution, but it’s still readable and functional. With pixel stretching turned all the way up, the game would only be rendering 160×100 pixels, which is one quarter the number of pixels drawn by the original Doom, without hardware acceleration, back in 1993. I tried it. The world was indeed very blurry, but the framerate was maxed out. The minimum chipset required by the demo is a GeForce 6200. (Which is what I have.) UT3 might require functionality not offered by earlier cards, but from a pure graphics throughput standpoint this game could probably deliver a playable framerate on some really old hardware.

AI

The bots have finally gotten an AI upgrade. I’ve always been of the opinion that bots should look and feel as much like human foes as possible. Previous iterations of the bots failed across the board at this task. Regardless of how much “skill” you allow the bot to have, it would never be mistaken for a human.

Up until now, bots on “low” skill settings would simulate bad aim by spreading fire in a random distribution around the desired target. This was very evident when using weapons with bright, slow-moving projectiles such as the link gun. Their shots would spray all over the place. That’s not how unskilled humans behave in the game, and the difference was obvious. The only way a human could accomplish that would be to point right at their target and then subject the mouse to very fast vibrations. Humans tend to wave the weapon around a lot, trailing after a target, sweeping past it, over-correcting, and so on. This is how the UT3 bots act, and it’s a nice improvement. If you circle-strafe them they will miss, and if you hold still they can still tear you apart. Again, this is very human.

At higher skill levels, the old bots would cheat badly. They had panoramic vision, so that you couldn’t sneak up on them. They could perform complex wall jump moves that were not available to humans. (And more importantly, didn’t look like human behavior.) They could know where you were, even when they didn’t see you. They could get more accuracy out of weapons than humans could. (In UT99, “Godlike” level bots could drill you at great distances with the minigun without missing, even though the weapon had a pretty wide projectile spread when a human was using it. Same goes for the Enforcer pistol.)

Most of this seems to be fixed. I fought a bot set to “Inhuman” skill level, and I didn’t see any of the ridiculous aerial acrobatics from previous versions. The bots move in a very human way: They pick a target, and then circle-strafe / dodge around that target while jumping. It’s danged annoying, but it’s very authentic. Even at the inhuman level, you could still get the bot to miss if you were nimble and made quick lateral movements. Its aim was very good, but not flawless.

They still cheat, though. I was fighting an “average” level bot and came up behind it. I fired a rocket at its feet, and it deftly dodged to the side without looking. After perfectly evading my “unseen” attack, it continued ignoring me and ran on towards its goal. Nobody would mistake it for a human after pulling a stunt like that.

Still, the AI has taken a solid and much needed step forward. The bots aren’t ready for an honest Turing test in the arena, but I would say they are at last worthy sparring partners.

Performance

This is an area where the game really shines. It launches quickly, and exits quickly. Alt-Tab is smooth and doesn’t produce that awful ten-second pause you see in so many games. Changing video modes ranges from very fast to instant. Level load times are very reasonable, well under ten seconds even on my gimpy system.

To be fair, some of the low load times might be due to the nature of the demo. We only have one character model and one small set of voices to load, (Hey! It’s Steven Blum again!) and things will doubtlessly take longer once you’re in a game with ten different characters and as many voice packs. But still: It’s looking really good so far.

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1818 comments. (18 is the only non-zero number that equals twice the sum of its decimal digits.)

From the Archives:

  1. Phlux says:

    Sounds promising. I’ve never been a UT guy. I played the original UT99 back in the day, but my gamer posse was pretty much into Q3A. Later we moved on to team combat games like Counterstrike and Battlefield 1942.

    As I’ve gotten older I appreciate the different style of play and what it has to offer. I’m not sure it will be enough to tear me away from Team Fortress 2, but I’m pleased there is a demo to play. I always assume that when a game doesn’t have a demo they’re trying to hide how bad it is.

  2. Cineris says:

    I’m pleasantly surprised the game runs at all on my system. Even though it looks like Quake 1, at least it’s smooth and playable. Like you, I can’t really comment on the graphics, but enjoying the game even without the bells and whistles, so to speak, definitely makes me think the core gameplay is solid.

    Load times are great as well. Faster than any previous UT for me. You’re right, it’s only one character model, skin, and voice pack — But if it really comes down to that, you could always forcemodel so the game doesn’t have to load 40 different characters.

  3. mos says:

    “They still cheat, though. I was fighting an “average” level bot and came up behind it. I fired a rocket at its feet, and it deftly dodged to the side without looking. After perfectly evading my “unseen” attack, it continued ignoring me and ran on towards its goal. Nobody would mistake it for a human after pulling a stunt like that.”

    You’ve never played a one-on-one match, heard a rocket launcher fired out of your line of sight, and blindly dodged? From what you wrote in your earlier posts, I find this hard to believe.

    Maybe it just shouldn’t have been done by an “average” AI.

  4. Shamus says:

    Yeah, an “average” bot should never pull a move like that. But the big thing that made it look fake is the way the bot otherwise ignored me. A human player will spin around and face their attacker, or start hopping around if they’re in a hurry to get somewhere. Or weave around if they are being chased.

    Also, they only do this when you shoot *right* at them, not when you fire at a point on either side of them. Which means they know where you’re aiming. Which is cheating for sure.

  5. Curaidh says:

    Well… I can comment on the Graphics. I run on high details and the eye candy is awesome. The detail they put into the game is incredible.
    Take my fav Weapon: The Shock Rifle. When you fire it, the air around the muzzle of the gun gets all blurry like it’s being heated up. After the shot, the blur dissipates quickly.
    I was just standing around and fired off different weapons for quite some time.
    The same amount of detail they put on the guns can be found on the different Vehicles. Then again, I prefer gameplay over fancy graphics any time, so I might be easy to please compared to some of the gamers out there nowadays. ;)

    And about the performance: My Graphics card also is quite outdated atm, so I was pleasantly surprised to see I could still play on high details with about 36-42 FPS, which is enough for me.
    My System specs are:
    Athlon64 X2 6000+, 4 Gigs of Ram, a Creative X-Fi and a lousy Geforce 7600GT which is overclocked and still has a lifetime warranty. EVGA rocks. ;)

  6. mos says:

    Yeah, ok. If they only do it when you shoot AT them, and not NEAR them, that’s cheating. sadface

  7. Zack says:

    I have looked to Shamus’ blog for opinions on games for well over a year now and, when you’re running a dinosaur of a system like mine, reading an analysis written by someone who doesn’t have the latest and greatest graphics technology is a godsend. Keep up the good work, Shamus!

    FYI, my system is as follows:
    Intel Celeron 2.8GHz, 1GB RAM, ATI Radeon 2800 128MB vid card. Yeah, it’s that bad, though my tax return should change things in a few months…

  8. Telas says:

    Curaidh @ 5:
    I was just standing around and fired off different weapons for quite some time.

    Hell, I’ve done that in the real world…

    This game sounds like it’s time to get back into the FPS mode for a bit. I know I’ll get my arse handed to me by a bunch of kids a third my age, but what the heck… :)

    BTW, one of the best things I ever did for videogame performance was to run RAID 0 drives. Load times are lower, the swap file is faster, and now that backup drives are cheap, there’s less risk of losing everything.

    Obviously, a good vidcard and lots of RAM help more, but it surprised me how much RAID 0 did for the gaming experience.

    Telas

  9. Avatar says:

    “They still cheat, though. I was fighting an “average” level bot and came up behind it. I fired a rocket at its feet, and it deftly dodged to the side without looking. After perfectly evading my “unseen” attack, it continued ignoring me and ran on towards its goal. Nobody would mistake it for a human after pulling a stunt like that.”

    I’m assuming you’re talking about a CTF map – this is a tactic I use often. If I think I may be about to die, I prioritise getting the flag back as quickly as possible or putting myself in a better position rather than turning around and trying to return fire on a target that has better bearings on me than I do on them. If there’s teammates around me, I might even move towards them to throw off the person chasing me.

    I’m telling you this because my first reaction to reading this paragraph was to laugh.

  10. Ben says:

    On an unrelated note: shouldn’t the anti-spam word change between comments, since otherwise it’s still possible you’ll be spammed? I’ve only ever seen it be one thing.

  11. Fieari says:

    Ben, Shamus explained the “only using one word” thing here: http://www.shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/?p=1174

    Basically, almost all spambots don’t even ATTEMPT to figure the captchas out, and in fact, fail at anything that doesn’t simply use the default interface. You could probably just make it a checkbox that says “Are you human?” that defaults to no, and it’d work just as well.

  12. Inane Fedaykin says:

    @Shamus
    I believe you have a PS2, check out Timesplitters: Future Perfect. You should be able to pick it up in the bargain bin and if you can stand for an FPS on a console it’s a great buy. The single player game is solid by itself but really shines because it’s almost a running gag on everything from Goldeneye 64 to horror movies to cyber punk.

    However, what got me to post this is the bots. It prominently features an arcade mode where you can go head to head with a vast number of bots (something like 60 models with noticably different AI and stats) that I’ve found act rather similarily to humans. My only real complaint is that the difficulty slider doesn’t change their AI, just increases their hp.

    To sumarize, pick it up if you see it in a bargain bin.

  13. Shamus says:

    Avatar: Not CTF. This was a heatray Deathmatch. He was at full health (I hadn’t hit him yet) and had the rocket launcher, so he wasn’t going somewhere based on an urgent need. He was “ignoring” me because he didn’t know I was there. (Which is good, it means he didn’t have eyes in the back of his head.) But the rocket didn’t tip him off that he was being followed.

    Trust me when I say… it just didn’t look right at all.

  14. Z!re says:

    Shamus, if a human had done the same move you wouldn’t waste a second thought on it, you’d probably make a note that he dodged an incoming rocket, maybe switch weapon, but that’s it.

    People do crazy one-time moves all the time, head shots with a sniper while falling to their death for instance.

  15. Shamus says:

    I guess you guys know what I saw better than I did.

    Come on, when I say “it didn’t look right” you can either conclude that despite my long history with this game I don’t know what I’m talking about, or that I saw something that looked off. Why, given my explanation, do you conclude that the problem is with my perception and not yours? I’m pretty sure you wern’t sitting beside me.

  16. Shamus says:

    More to note on the dodging bot that made it look odd:

    * The bot was going too slow. Low skill bots still run slower than humans, which is another dead giveaway. I wish they would fix this. It’s the WORST thing you can do, to allow a human to practice against bots who move too slow. When they encounter a real human their timing will be all off.

    * The bot dodged as soon as I squeezed the trigger, DURING the firing sound.

    A guy moving at a slow mosey who suddenly dodges with inhuman reflexes, to the point that the first tap of his dodge move had to have taken place BEFORE I pressed the trigger. He then returns to his mosey without a second look in my direction, moving over an open area for no particular reason. This does not look right. Trust me.

  17. Thomas says:

    One of the things I noticed with the bots from UT99 is there’s a few that were a *lot* better than the rest of them. Turns out a couple of the higher-number bots had the accuracy and/or awareness cranked up to max. This may explain the god-like behaviour if it’s only one or two (I think “Loque” was one of the omniscent bots).

  18. Kizer says:

    In the bot set up menu in UT99 you can set the accuracy, awareness, combat style, etc. for all of the bots in the game. It’s kinda fun to fiddle around with that, you can make certain bots quite powerful and difficult to beat that way, even at low skill levels.

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