What was expected to be a quick patch type release wound up being much, much more, so we delayed a couple of months so that all of these new features could be implemented and tested. Version 7.45 not only makes some nice changes visually, but the performance improvements are very significant. In some cases performance was increased over 100%, on the average, framerates of the game on highest settings improved around 30-50%. This will be discussed and explained further in this news post.
The first major improvement was the implementation of skeletal models using the new Inter Quake Model format. We initially saw about a 40-50% increase in rendering speed over the old MD2 format models. Again, more on this later.
Here above, we have two models rendered using the IQM format. One thing that is readily apparent is that the IQM models have more accurate bumpmapping and vertex positioning. For a more dramatic comparison, view the difference between the old MD2 and the new IQM formats below!
Here you can see exactly what I was discussing. Believe it or not, this is the same exact model exported from Blender. The MD2 on the right has horrendous vertex deformation, and the bumpmapping is not nearly as accurate. Initially, tests on highest settings rendered the MD2 at around 240 fps in a square room(using NV9800GT) while the IQM topped out at 320 fps! When switching to simple planar stencil shadows, the difference was even more apparent, with the MD2 at 255 fps, and the IQM at 377!
These weren't the only advantages of switching to the skeletal model format. Another was the ability to actually bend the player at the waist, rather than the old method of rotating the entire model to account for player pitch. Below, you can see how an IQM is able to achieve this.
This is a pretty nice improvement over simply rotating the model, or even worse, just rotating the weapon as some engines do.
The other major visual improvement was the implementation of soft shadows for both dynamic and world lighting. The CRX engine uses a combination of shadowmapping and blurred stencil volumes to achieve this effect. We also fixed some inaccuracies from some old, hacky code that somehow had gotten overlooked in the past.
In the first image, you can see both the soft shadow casted by the overhead lighting, as well as the soft shadowap a little further to the left that is casted by the dynamic. In the second image, you can see soft shadowmaps casted by the stairs, which are map geometry. In the CRX engine, all objects will cast shadows(unless flagged not to do so).
We also improved some issues with self shadowing. In the case of a item that has light coming from behind, and you have a light rim with a shadow casting towards the viewer, the self shadowing would make the model almost black. We were able to do some compensation here(and the soft shadowing also helped, so that would no longer occur, as shown below.
Lastly, another improvement is the real time specular lighting which now is not only faster, but alot more accurate. This real time lighting is a fallback for what will eventually be replaced by deluxemapping in all future map builds. What this means is, if you run an older map, as long as it has the proper textures, you will still get nice specular lighting on surfaces such as this.
Far more people will be able to run the game on the highest settings, and have a vastly more rich, and immersive world in which to frag on. Most of these performance gains and visual improvements are only seen on the higher graphic settings, but for those who run on lower settings, there were still some nice little gains here and there as well, not to mention the better looking player models, lighting, and animation. After implementing the IQM format, we were able to apply some new found knowledge to the MD2 rendering, and wound up making them run equally as fast as the IQM! The most striking example was in the test map, lighttest, with 4 MD2 player models and a weapon. In version 7.40(our last release), the tested fps was 79(on highest settings). After some optimizations with the compiler and other areas, we had gotten it to 96. After revamping the MD2 code, the fps jumped to 173, which was more than doubled the 7.40 release! If anyone has doubts, we do have screenshots showing all of this in our forums at Red.planetarena.org
There were only some minor changes to gameplay in this release. At this stage, after seven years of development, we feel we have a stable, and balanced game. This doesn't mean we won't make changes in the future, as we are always open to new ideas, but it does mean that our focus is now on improving the overall client experience. You can always expect new maps, models and other content to be updated, but this release the focus was more on performance and visual quality. While some may not care for the gameplay or style of the artwork, the developers and community are very pleased with it, and the good news on that front is, there is always the ability to make a game mod. We are still working on the game scripting language that will make this very easy for anyone to create mods without having to recompile game binaries.
We are expecting to release this game in the next couple of weeks. There are still some items we are hoping to include, which may be talked about in another news post. We are also working on implementing the ODE physics engine, and ragdolls, but this will not be included as of yet. Another item that won't be included, but is getting closer to working, is the use of AutoTools for making cross platform compiling and installation vastly easier. After seven years of development, Alien Arena has never had a period of stagnation, and the core developers are more committed than ever to improving this game in every way possible.