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MLAA technique can give results 4x better than 16x MSAA

GLOW
01-14-2010, 12:06 PM
http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/digitalfoundry-saboteur-aa-blog-entry

http://images.eurogamer.net/assets/articles//a/8/6/7/8/5/1/Saboteur_Aliasing_001.jpg.jpg

DF on Saboteur's PS3 anti-aliasing
December 9th, 2009

Update: This morning, Christer Ericson, director of tools and technology at Sony Santa Monica and part of the hugely respected God of War team, got in touch to set us straight on the technical background to the effect seen in The Saboteur. Christer's knowledge on this subject obviously far outstrips our own and he took issue with several points in yesterday's article, which you can still read in full below this update.

Firstly, the definition of MLAA isn't in keeping with the basic outline of the technique as it has been described by some Pandemic staff, and it is almost certainly an extension of the edge-filter plus blur technique seen in several cross-platform titles already. As Christer says, "the qualitative difference comes down to how you edge-detect and how you 'blur'."

The screenshots may not be showing MLAA, and it's almost certainly not a technique as experimental as we thought it was, but it's certainly the case that this is the most impressive form of this type of anti-aliasing we've seen to date in a console game. Certainly, as we alluded to originally, the concept of using an edge-filter/blur combination isn't new, and continues to be refined. This document by Isshiki and Kunieda published in 1999 suggested a similar technique, and, more recently, AMD's Iourcha, Yang and Pomianowski suggested a more advanced version of the same basic idea.

In terms of the effectiveness of luminance for determining edges, Christer also pointed out that the pixels we've highlighted as causing problems for edge-smoothing in The Saboteur aren't a product of red meeting black, but actually brown and red - similar in terms of luminance values and thus more likely to cause that particular artefact.

It's fair to say that in our excitement about the level of image quality displayed in The Saboteur, we were off-beam to be so definitive about MLAA as the technique being used, but it is still a great example of the SPUs being used to do post-processing work more traditionally associated with the GPU and, in this case, producing arguably better results than the more generally accepted MSAA solutions built into the graphics hardware. Thanks to Christer for getting in touch.

Original story: If there's one element of multi-platform development that comes up repeatedly in our Face-Off coverage, it's the implementation of anti-aliasing on current-generation HD consoles.

It's often the case that the Xbox 360 version of a game features edge-smoothing, while the PlayStation 3 counterpart will either leave it off altogether, scale it back, or use an NVIDIA specific technique called "quincunx", which refines edges nicely, but blurs the entire texture in the process.

None of these options are particularly attractive (though quincunx has its place in certain scenarios), and neither is blurring the entire screen, which other people do; the so-called Vaseline effect. However, recent games like Brutal Legend and Overlord II on both console platforms have tried out another technique - seeking out just the edges themselves and blurring them, leaving texture detail intact. It's better than nothing but still not actually that good.

The PS3 rendition of Pandemic's The Saboteur is different though. It's special. It's trying something new that's never been seen before on console, or indeed PC, and its results are terrific. In a best-case scenario you get edge-smoothing that is beyond the effect of 16x multi-sampling anti-aliasing, effectively delivering an effect better than the capabilities of high-end GPUs without crippling performance. Compare and contrast with Xbox 360 hardware, which tops out at 4x MSAA.

Let's kick off with a quick comparison of the effect in play on both versions of the game. It's interesting to point out that both Xbox 360 and PC versions of The Saboteur have no support for anti-aliasing whatsoever. It's just the PS3 owners that get the love, for reasons explained later. While the lack of AA in the Xbox 360 version is a bit disappointing, for the purposes this piece it's a bit of boon as it effectively gives us a "before and after" means of better understanding the PS3 technique.


The Saboteur on 360 has no anti-aliasing, making it a good comparison point up against the PS3 version with its new edge-smoothing technique. The difference in lighting, along with other matters, is something we'll cover in the next Face-Off.

So how is it done? Well, in the comments section of one US PlayStation Blog post, Pandemic's Tom French talked about "using the SPUs to do a full-screen FSAA filter". The satellite processors within the Cell chip are excellent for extremely fast processing of limited batches of data, making them perfect for the task at hand, which is to process the entire framebuffer seeking out all edges and then blending them.

Posters on the Beyond3D forum soon began to investigate. It's a technique initially put forward by Intel, but best described with examples in this blog post which shows the real potential of the technique, and how it compares with the Brutal Legend method of edge-blurring. There is no real competition here. The so-called morphological anti-aliasing (or MLAA) seen in The Saboteur is leaps and bounds ahead of anything we've seen so far when it works in optimum conditions.

Being experimental, it does have its drawbacks. When edges in-game are one pixel or less than one pixel in thickness, the edge-detection technique doesn't really work. Pandemic also subjects the entire, completed framebuffer to analysis - including the HUD elements - so there is often artefacting on the text overlays. This is probably unavoidable in this game: while the GPU starts to draw the next frame, the SPUs are busy with the AA and for that situation to take place the completed frame will need to be analysed.

Pandemic is keeping mum on the AA technique, though some tidbits have apparently leaked from the developers on the NeoGAF forum. According to these posts, the filter is applied to the luminance of any given scene. It's a really clever way to maintain speed, but on the other hand, some colours - red and black for example - have similar luminance levels, so the filter picks up the majority of edges but misses others. Additionally, in some cases there are some interesting "fuzzing" issues on edges, which without some more illumination from the coders is very difficult to explain. Perhaps it's simply the effect of processing a motion-blurred screen?


While the edge-smoothing properties are astonishing, it comes at the cost of a few artefacts as you'll see by clicking on each thumbnail. Thankfully they barely impact on the quality of the overall presentation.

Overall then, what we have in The Saboteur on PS3 is very much an experimental technique, and you get the idea that the base visuals suit the technique well. In playing the Xbox 360 version, the level of "teh jaggies" isn't exactly a major issue; the game lacks high-contrast edges, and is pretty soft in general. In this environment, the MLAA technique employed by Pandemic works beautifully and in most cases you really need to look hard for the artefacts. But they are there, and you wonder how well the technique would work on higher contrast games like Battlefield: Bad Company 2, Halo 3 or the almighty Uncharted 2 where the MLAA would really have its work cut out.

In the meantime, what we have is something that's new and genuinely exciting from a technical standpoint. We're seeing PS3 attacking a visual problem using a method that not even the most high-end GPUs are using. You can't help but wonder whether MLAA, in combination with MSAA and a filter to weed out the artefacts, couldn't be hardware-integrated in the next generation consoles.

It'll also be interesting to see whether MLAA returns in other PS3 cross-platform projects before then, because it looks extremely good in action. Chances are it will come down to how computationally expensive the technique actually is on the SPU, and how it can be refined still further, and that's where our knowledge hits a brick wall. If any ex-Pandemic staff want to share more on the MLAA implementation, feel free to get in touch...

Kinda puts a hole in Pinoy's theory that 360 versions of multi-plat titles will always have better AA. :busy:

Pinoy
01-14-2010, 12:46 PM
http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/digitalfoundry-saboteur-aa-blog-entry

http://images.eurogamer.net/assets/articles//a/8/6/7/8/5/1/Saboteur_Aliasing_001.jpg.jpg



Kinda puts a hole in Pinoy's theory that 360 versions of multi-plat titles will always have better AA. :busy:

No it doesn't. What I said was that the 360 has a little extra piece of hardware that allows 'free' low spec AA. Although that doesn't really explain why Pandemic chose to not use it on the Saboteur or if they couldn't use it I wonder why, but that's a different story.

I've seen this MLAA info before, it's interesting to say the least. I'm not so sure it'll be so great on twitch games, it will slow down response time as the framebuffer is dumped to the cell, processed and sent back to the framebuffer for output. Unless of course they found a way to have the cell edge scan each frame without it going to the framebuffer <shrugs>

There are other ways this tech won't be so great, aliasing from shaders won't be effected as a guess. However if it can be done relatively cheap cpu wise then then awesome, could really help devs get past the vaseline blur of quincunx AA and I'm all for that.

Oh yeah... I don't think this gives 4x better results that 16xMSAA. It may come at a cheaper processing cost, but I wouldn't say it's producing better results from what I'm seeing. Still impressive seeing the image come from a ps3 however :D

kamspy
01-14-2010, 03:56 PM
Nice idea. Throw a FSAA pass into the frame buffer.

It does cost an SPU, but I doubt most multiplat games use them all anyways.

Kudos to Pandemic, too bad they're no longer in business.

Cygnus
01-14-2010, 04:54 PM
tldr...

awol
01-15-2010, 09:48 AM
tldr...

But thank you for sharing and contributing. :rolleyes:

More like mm$lbsdwtr.

Cygnus
01-15-2010, 12:14 PM
What...was it something that I said? :what: What is "mm$lbsdwtr"? :confused: :helpme ;)

But thank you for sharing and contributing. :rolleyes:

More like mm$lbsdwtr.

awol
01-15-2010, 01:40 PM
What...was it something that I said? :what: What is "mm$lbsdwtr"? :confused: :helpme ;)

It's similar to "tldr"

MikeRox
01-16-2010, 10:50 AM
Could this mean an end to the jaggies that so many PS3 releases of multi format titles sport?

kamspy
01-16-2010, 11:26 AM
Could this mean an end to the jaggies that so many PS3 releases of multi format titles sport?

If Pandemic is the sharing type.

awol
01-18-2010, 09:41 AM
If Pandemic is the sharing type.

Considering Pandemic is no more, I would imagine we will see more of this type of thing with any EA game, but I doubt they'll share the technique with other devs.

What will be interesting is to see if any of the Pandemic peeps land at other companies and can share this technology. I would think they would be bound by a Non-Disclosure/Compete from EA, but who knows?

MikeRox
01-18-2010, 09:50 AM
If you were kicked out of your job, would you really give a damn about NDAs? What they gonna do, sack em? I'd think it'd be very hard to prove where such knowledge came from :lol: Once the knowledge is out there, it's not as if they can really stop it being used unless they've got it patented.

I understand the US Pandemic was partially reabsorbed back into EA though? Not sure how true that was.

Pinoy
01-18-2010, 02:40 PM
A lot of the pandemic employees were moved around inside EA according to hearsay. As far as the tech goes the idea of it was actually developed by MS, they just didn't pursue it. With that in mind I don't see any reason why those employees, or anybody, couldn't use the same MLAA technique. It's not like Pandemic patented it (at least I dont' think they did)

railven
01-18-2010, 02:45 PM
I can't see the images here, but I remember when i saw that at home, the 360 textures over all still looked cleaner.

The PS3 versions still looked blurred, and when zoomed out, the difference in AA was almost neglible. I'd have to see it in motion to be impressed, the stills do it no justice.

What game is this on? Saboteur?

Pinoy
01-18-2010, 02:56 PM
I can't see the images here, but I remember when i saw that at home, the 360 textures over all still looked cleaner.

The PS3 versions still looked blurred, and when zoomed out, the difference in AA was almost neglible. I'd have to see it in motion to be impressed, the stills do it no justice.

What game is this on? Saboteur?

Yeah Saboteur. I've always found AA to be pretty unnoticeable unless I was sitting pretty close, or unless I"m looking really hard to see it.

railven
01-18-2010, 03:03 PM
Yeah Saboteur. I've always found AA to be pretty unnoticeable unless I was sitting pretty close, or unless I"m looking really hard to see it.

I consider myself a graphics whore to a point (willing to scale back a bit for frames of course haha.)

I see AA really really easy. I don't know why. Maybe subconsciously I'm looking for it.

Girlfriend was playing the Wii, all I saw was jaggies. I have been running WoW on lower settings to two box and help a friend, I finally put it back to my usual settings (except AA) and the jaggies run out like crazy.

I dunno, they really irk me and can easily distract me from some good onscreen action (Halo 3, I'm looking at you) yet in other games (GeOW/GoW1+2 remakes) they don't bother me as much.

Pinoy
01-18-2010, 03:09 PM
I consider myself a graphics whore to a point (willing to scale back a bit for frames of course haha.)

I see AA really really easy. I don't know why. Maybe subconsciously I'm looking for it.

Girlfriend was playing the Wii, all I saw was jaggies. I have been running WoW on lower settings to two box and help a friend, I finally put it back to my usual settings (except AA) and the jaggies run out like crazy.

I dunno, they really irk me and can easily distract me from some good onscreen action (Halo 3, I'm looking at you) yet in other games (GeOW/GoW1+2 remakes) they don't bother me as much.

Hmm... maybe it's more noticeable to you in certain art styles or color palettes?

railven
01-18-2010, 03:33 PM
Hmm... maybe it's more noticeable to you in certain art styles or color palettes?

Never thought of that. Halo/most Wii games were bright games with lots of lighting. GeOW and GOW are darker, and have more shadows than bright edges.

I didn't notice the jaggies much in Ratchet 1 for PS3. I'd have to relook at that game (still got Rachet 2 unwrapped :( )

kamspy
01-18-2010, 03:37 PM
Darksiders having 0AA on both console makes me a sad puppy.

If Vigil even hints at a PC release I'm trading my xbox copy in immediately.

railven
01-18-2010, 03:54 PM
Darksiders having 0AA on both console makes me a sad puppy.

If Vigil even hints at a PC release I'm trading my xbox copy in immediately.

I'm hoping for a PC release. After hearing about this game here I really REALLY want to get it.

But, I don't want to play it on a console. I want a PC version.

Might just crack...going to hold out for a PC version or a $30 console version, which ever comes first.

kamspy
01-18-2010, 04:18 PM
I'm hoping for a PC release. After hearing about this game here I really REALLY want to get it.

But, I don't want to play it on a console. I want a PC version.

Might just crack...going to hold out for a PC version or a $30 console version, which ever comes first.

It's sooooooo good.

Best game-game console game I've played in a LONG.


If it were cooked wild poultry, I'd say it tastes really gamey. In a good way. Darksiders totally reproduces the "8 years old x-mas with first nintendo" feeling.



Also, Newegg had it for $40 yesterday, sooooo...

MikeRox
01-18-2010, 04:43 PM
Might just crack...going to hold out for a PC version or a $30 console version, which ever comes first.

STFU, get down to your local games shop or online to Amazon and buy the damn thing NOW! :p

kamspy
01-18-2010, 04:54 PM
STFU, get down to your local games shop or online to Amazon and buy the damn thing NOW! :p

did you?

railven
01-18-2010, 05:12 PM
It's sooooooo good.

Best game-game console game I've played in a LONG.


If it were cooked wild poultry, I'd say it tastes really gamey. In a good way. Darksiders totally reproduces the "8 years old x-mas with first nintendo" feeling.



Also, Newegg had it for $40 yesterday, sooooo...

360 version and sold out. At this point due to my history with the 360, I'd only prefer superior multiplats or exclusives on the 360.

I'm one RROD/E74/Broken Disc drive from just slamming the thing on a wall and melting my 360 collection. I don't want to add more fuel to the fires.


*I'm just about done trying to surf/post here. 3rd attempt at posting this, and multiple pages won't load on first few clicks.

MikeRox
01-18-2010, 05:43 PM
did you?

I havn't got the $$$ otherwise I would have done. Moving house in just over a fortnight. Hoping there will be enough left over afterwards to buy the game. I'm not waiting for a price drop though, just some capital to be able to afford it.

kamspy
01-18-2010, 07:42 PM
I havn't got the $$$ otherwise I would have done. Moving house in just over a fortnight. Hoping there will be enough left over afterwards to buy the game. I'm not waiting for a price drop though, just some capital to be able to afford it.

Good luck with the move.

I loathe it. When you have three kids, when you dig in, you dig in pretty deep. Getting it out is a pain. I'll be doing it sometime this year, it's just hard to get motivated to do it.

MikeRox
01-19-2010, 06:39 AM
Good luck with the move.

I loathe it. When you have three kids, when you dig in, you dig in pretty deep. Getting it out is a pain. I'll be doing it sometime this year, it's just hard to get motivated to do it.

Cheers, it shouldn't be too much hassle, we're only moving about a mile away and we live in such a small place at the moment that we don't have loads of crap to move with us. Also no kids etc. It's just all the extra outgoings such as paying the bond, agent fees and a few bits and bats we've gotta buy like a washing machine and a new mattress because the current place has made ours mouldy :(