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.
|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.|
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.
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.
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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