God of War PS4 Tech Analysis – Hidden Graphical Details That You May Have Missed

It’s horribly pretty.

Posted By | On 31st, Jul. 2016 Under Article, Graphics Analysis

Ah, Kratos. Say what you will about his treatment with enemies, or one-dimensional characterization. Sometimes, it’s just lovely to beat the crap out of things, standing on the (literal) shoulders of enemies. It’s cathartic, and it’s just awesome, okay? That being said, the CoD-ization of the games industry has created this sad need to wedge a lot of fan-fic quality schlock, in between the shoot-smashy bits of most AAA franchises. Sometimes, it works, kinda. And sometimes, it really doesn’t. 

Regardless of that, for better or for worse, Santa Monica have decided to soft reboot the series on the PlayStation 4 with a much more contemplative and narrative-driven experience. You’ve got a son to take care of. Rather than speculating on said story, we thought it’d you’d be more interested in a technical analysis, of what Santa Monica have managed to accomplish with the series’ first eighth-gen foray. Parenting/responsibility/commitment issues aside, we have to say we are pretty impressed with what we’re seeing here: Santa Monica’s always been able to make underpowered hardware positively sing, wringing out the best visuals. The PlayStation 4, now, is a much more accomplished piece of hardware than the PlayStation 3, and the generational leap is evident in the game’s E3 trailer. Let’s break down the trailer’s visuals.

The game features a full-HD framebuffer; no 900p shenanigans here. This is backed by a fairly comprehensive post-AA solution. Interestingly, the E3 demo ran with an uncapped framerate.  We’re betting that Santa Monica will lock down on a V-Synced 30 FPS update. This would not only offer a more consistent experience, but it’d free up some additional headroom for visual effects. It’s surprising to note that, despite the impending launch of the PS4 Neo, all E3 showcases ran on standard PS4 hardware. The game’s visuals are eye-opening as-is. In terms of what’s possible for the game’s Neo version, a 60 FPS is likely going to be the most tangible improvement. With its relatively linear environments, CPU-bottlenecking isn’t a likely issue here and the Neo’s beefed-up GPU can readily clear 60 FPS, making for a much more tangible, responsive experience. The biggest change to the core visual experience is more a consequence of design choice: Unlike in previous  games, the reboot features a fully free third-person camera, making it a lot more convenient to gawp at scenery.

The  reboot features a quality per-object motion blur implementation, as seen in Ascension. Observe Krato’s son’s hand as he plays with a wooden  toy. Per-object motion blur lends a sense of groundedness to the animation work.  It certainly isn’t cheap in terms of rendering time, and few multiplats (with the notable exception of Dark Souls) utilised the effect last-gen. Camera blur is also in place. Cinematic Depth of Field is present during the cutscene and finisher sequences, but it is relatively subtle. As mentioned earlier, the game appears to make use of a very efficient post-process AA solution. Alpha textures show little aliasing, and together with the depth of field, grass in the background has a soft, clean look here. Traditional hardware MSAA is notoriously intensive. While 1080p with FXAA is the usual for multiplats on PlayStation 4, developers have been experimenting with a variety of post-process techniques, with varying results. Doom’s TSSAA (Temporal Supersampling Anti-Aliasing) is one of the best post-process AA implementations til date, smoothing out geometry and transparencies, as well as tackling temporal aliasing–the annoying shimmer when you move around in-game. It’s possible that Santa Monica may have whipped up an efficient bespoke anti-aliasing solution for the game. 

The series has always pushed massive polycounts onscreen. In the third gameKratos’ highly detailed model was made up of over 20,000 polygons, and featured 2048×2048 textures, capturing fine details like wrinkles and veins. The high-res textures were a luxury considering that the PlayStation 3 had a paltry 256 MB of dedicated VRAM. The game’s relatively static, set-piece environments allowed Santa Monica to drastically scale up visual detail up close, without having to worry about accommodating a wider open world.

The reboot takes this obsession with fine detail to the next level: On PlayStation 4, plentiful VRAM allows Santa Monica to feature wonderfully crisp textures. Just have a look at the ground in the cutscenes. Texture detail is complemented by an increase in mesh quality, across the board. Everything, from Kratos’ mesh to incidental assets like those wooden toys, receives the high-poly treatment. It’s much harder to render rounded and irregular shapes, but the monster closeup here again is wonderfully curved and organic. (And gruesome.) This along with geometric deformation (the real-time footprints in the snow) lead us to think that the game makes use of hardware tessellation. Tessellation is a DirecX 11 feature that dynamically scales the poly-count on objects. It’s a feature the eighth-gen consoles both support, but which hasn’t cropped up in a lot of games. The last time we saw tessellated snow was in Assassin’s Creed 3 on PC. Trudging through the New England snow was almost the only fun thing about that game.

The game takes another definite step forward when it comes to lighting. The E3 demo makes heavy use of volumetric lighting effects. The light-shafts, dust, and haze do a lot for the game’s atmosphere. Dense, volumetric smoke obscures the fire. The game appears to use a physically-based rendering pipeline. Materials react appropriately to light: The snow is dull without being pasty a la Skyrim. Other materials, including metal, ice, and rock, react appropriately as well, without being overly glossy. Subsurface scattering appears to be used here for skin rendering.

Note how Kratos’ back responds to sunlight. He no longer looks like he’s been slicked with Vaseline. Screen-space reflections make the cut as well, with the fire effects accurately reflected on the water. As for the lighting model, the large number of dynamic light sources are made possible by the new deferred renderer. Light sources are now fully dynamic, and particle effects, from dust to monster gibs are used liberally here.

All in all, Santa Monica’s left us very impressed with the game’s  E3 outing. A strong platform in the hands of a capable first or second party dev can work wonders. Just ask Naughty Dog. While we’re not sure about the implications of the game’s new narrative, we’re pretty happy with how it looks and performs on PlayStation 4. With early code running so well, we wouldn’t be surprised at all if the retail game wound up looking better. PS4 Neo’s the elephant in the room here, though. With games looking this pretty on the standard PlayStation 4, we wonder what direction first party devs will take with the Neo. Do they just up the resolution and framerate, then call it a day? Or do they take in-game visuals to the next level? We’ll see.

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  • d0x360

    Oh wow… I’m sorry but this article is clearly written with information gathered from other places and put together by someone with limited understanding of graphic technologies and the rendering process.

    What type of renderer is this game using? That’s the first question that needs to be answered before you can talk about anything else.

    Aside from that speculating on technologies used in a game running on dev kits is pointless. Dev kits have access to more CPU time and memory than retail hardware and at this stage of development it’s definitely running on a dev kit.

    • Arjun Krishna Lal

      All of Sony’s demos at E3 this year were running off PS4 consoles so this likely where they expect the game to at when shipping. Also, it is mentioned that a deferred renderer is used.

    • d0x360

      They say that every year and it’s not the case for anything but titles close to release. Even then it’s rare because debug units can be remotely rebooted when issues arise and they always do.

      Yes it says deferred but how is the image being rendered? There are multiple types of deferred rendering. There’s also mixed rendering. Rockstar says gta5 is deferred but when you break down the game you find that’s not really the case.

      I criticize not to be a jerk but because I care. Check this out(link below). It’s incredibly useful as a learning tool. It’s one of the most in-depth break downs of an engine around and also provides methodology for obtaining the information. Obviously you can’t use the same tools for console games but the knowledge using those tools imparts is invaluable and would help with future breakdowns. For an actual analysis you need footage captured directly from the framebuffer. I question the article because that kind of information is impossible to get but everything is stated more as fact than speculation or its based on things Sony has said when we all know due to their history they are often less than truthful when it comes to pre release code. They have said many times something was running in real-time on real hardware when it wasn’t.


    • Arjun Krishna Lal

      Appreciate it a lot! I generally focus on hardware and benchmarking, stuff like this: http://in.ign.com/amd-r9-380x/83993/review/ign-india-review-amd-r9-380x http://in.ign.com/tech/82637/feature/ign-india-first-impressions-acer-xb240h-pro-gaming-monitor
      tbh, I was feeling a bit out of my depth on this particular feature, but I definitely would like to learn more. This was kind of a first foray into discussing rendering tech. Quality’s important and I’d prefer to reduce the talking-out-of-my-ass factor as far as development and rendering tech are concerned going ahead. Thanks again 🙂

  • Psionicinversion

    “This along with geometric deformation (the real-time footprints in the snow) lead us to think that the game makes use of hardware tessellation”

    there is no software tessellation unless you want to kill your computer….. also tessellation will be used on a ton more stuff than just snow!

    • Arjun Krishna Lal

      Of course it will be 😛 the snow’s just the most unambiguous use case here.

  • Jeremy Freeman

    I think this will wipe the floor with UC4’s graphics. And some other games that look amazing. 🙂

    • Doggystyle

      I think you’re right. The bar keeps getting raised higher and higher in the Sony camp.

    • Nintengods

      What bar? PC Games already destroy Uncharted Bore. It’s just the same here.

    • Wontime

      U referenced “bore” for GoW and now uncharted, step your game up I expect better from u

  • Doggystyle

    Damn. What resolutions will this game not be able run at on Xbox One S and Scorpio?

    LOL. All of them. Those 2 consoles don’t have any exclusive games like this. Sony has the best studios, the best games, and “the best place to play”. Period.

    • sgt_hammertime

      lol, this guy must be getting paid because if he’s not then he’s a real loser

    • Doggystyle

      Says the salty one.

    • sgt_hammertime

      far from it, just enjoy whatever system you chose and games and let others do the same pal.

    • Wontime

      Is he wrong

    • Nintengods

      God of Bore. Devil May Cry’s poorer cousin trying to be a dark souls clone

      Meanwhile Nintendo funds Bayonetta 2 which is one of the greatest action games ever made and will likely fund Bayo 3 for NX.

      You lose again $ony Drones.

    • Wontime

      The first GoW was on ps2, that’s a ways back. No way GoW is biting any of those games style

  • how ya doin?

    Pc fanboys coming in and saying, “OOOO imagine dis on ay pc”

    • Nintengods

      It would be 60FPS for a start.

    • how ya doin?

      Oh it’s you again, what a surprise, not.

  • Mr Xrat

    Oh man, that Xgimp rage.


    Yeah, alright.

    • Nintengods

      And Nintendo is going to murder $ony with only 2TF next year since God Of Bore won’t be any good.

      Buckets of tears await.

    • Wontime


  • justerthought

    To all fanboys… 6 terraflops won’t create the best games ever made. It won’t guarantee you high quality art, emotion and gameplay.

    You need devs like Naughty Dog for that. The Last Of Us and Uncharted 4 are the proof. Those two games are clearly superior to everything that has been released so far on any platform and will influence all new games going forward. Humanising Kratos and adding a son is a direct response to Ellie in The Last Of Us.

    Am I paid by Sony, am I a fanboy, am I a looser… no, no and no.

    I am a fan of things that deserve praise so we can encourage more.

    • Doggystyle

      Very well said!

    • sgt_hammertime

      it’s one thing to speak all sorts of grace about a dev and games that you like but it’s another to implicitly belittle a system and use it as a springboard to your bullshittt.
      6 terraflops? we all know which system your speaking about here, but 6tf won’t create the best games but it will give creators a lot of power in a console box to work with so they can start imagining bigger worlds, new worlds, refining their techniques and building even greater and better games. lol clearly you are a fan of that dev and their games, sure they make great games but they and their games are not the be all end all of gaming. “clearly superior to everything that has been released so far on any platform and will influence all new games going forward” is such a fanboy statement it’s written all over your face.

      just play the games that you like on whatever system you prefer.
      don’t try to belittle someone’s system of choice because they like it and you don’t.
      don’t try to act like your system or devs you like is only the best of them all.
      don’t try to sound like or be an elitist.
      enjoy your hobby and let others enjoy their hobbies too.

    • Nintengods

      You are a loser.

      Nintendo is going to wipe the floor with $ony next year. Not like this game is coming out till 2019 anyway.


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