Crytek’s Robinson The Journey released last week for PlayStation VR and while it may not have set the critics’ minds on fire, it’s still a bold new direction for gaming. To explore a mysterious planet in first person as if you’re actually there is no small feat and it will probably look even better now that the PlayStation 4 Pro is out.
GamingBolt spoke to technical director Rok Erjavec about Robinson The Journey along with his thoughts on PS4 Pro and how it would improve performance.
"With our experience in VR and knowledge of the PS4’s capabilities we knew this would be a challenge, but it was one that the team was eager to tackle…"
Robinson The Journey looks like one of the first PlayStation VR games that seem to be offering high end visuals, something that Crytek is known for. How far are you pushing the PlayStation 4 (the base model) to achieve those kinds of visuals? Are you maxing out the console like you always do?
When we started development on Robinson, one of our objectives was to set a benchmark for VR visuals, based on and including our prior work in VR on PC. With our experience in VR and knowledge of the PS4’s capabilities we knew this would be a challenge, but it was one that the team was eager to tackle and– in my opinion–- has successfully accomplished. In a lot of ways, we’ve even surpassed our own expectations.
There seems to be some sort of visual downgrade on the latest PS4 footage compared to what was shown a few months ago. Can you let us know why this the case? (video comparison here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a6Nrdu1FjWQ )
Actually, the video you shared is comparing an E3 work-in-progress build to the final version of the E3 demo. At the point of WIP capture, art-readability and game design changes for E3 were still being made, but most of the assets were close to final and didn’t change between the two builds.
That being said, the game has undergone significant changes and upgrades since that E3 build in areas such as level design, art quality, rendering quality, and performance, and we intend to talk about this more in a dev diary in the near future
I own the PlayStation VR and although it’s a great entry level solution for VR gaming, I can’t help but feel slightly disappointed with image quality, especially with the blurring and all. How is Crytek handling this on the base PS4 model?
We learned early on that image quality in VR is a vital area to address and optimize for, and while the current generation of headsets will never be a match for 4K pixel density on a big screen, there is a lot that can be done to improve things, when performance allows for it. With that in mind, Robinson is one of the first titles to implement FOV optimized pixel distribution (which we achieve by rendering scenes more than the usual 2x in Stereo 3D).This allowed us to considerably boost the image quality we could reach.
"Shortly after the E3 demo was shown to the public for the first time, we also ran the game on PS4 Pro dev hardware, and one of the first things we tested was what framerate E3 content would hit on the Pro"
Referring back to the E3 demo, that was running at the base 1080p (i.e. 1x scale) – well below what is considered the recommended ratio (1.4x) for matching pixel density of the PSVR headset. With all of the optimizations that have been put in place since, we’re rendering slightly above the equivalent of 1.5x scale on the PS4 in the final game, which combined with a brand-new anti-aliasing method – introduced to CRYENGINE for Robinson – gives us image quality that is among the best on any current VR platform.
Do you think the PS4 Pro version of Robinson The Journey will provide a substantial boost to the image quality while playing the game in VR mode?
In the end this will be something for the users to decide – but we’ve implemented an array of improvements for the Pro, ranging from roughly doubled rendering resolution compared to the base PS4, improved quality of post-process SSDO, mostly eliminated viewing-distances, considerably less visible LOD transitions, and more.
Are you looking to aim more than 60fps on the PS4 Pro mode?
Shortly after the E3 demo was shown to the public for the first time, we also ran the game on PS4 Pro dev hardware, and one of the first things we tested was what framerate E3 content would hit on the Pro – which turned out to be significantly higher than the base PS4. However, after evaluating the visual/other enhancements possible within the time frame against trade-offs of using some of that power for a higher framerate, and given the fact that Robinson is not a high-octane action game, we decided to keep the framerate locked at 60 and maximize visual quality.
How are you ensuring that motion sickness and nausea are kept to a minimum?
One of the first things we start with is maintaining a high framerate and minimizing tracking latency to give players as optimal a VR experience as possible within the chosen constraints. Beyond that, our VR teams have spent a good part of the last two years researching what works and what doesn’t in terms of artificial locomotion in VR, and looking for ways to maximize comfort while still giving players the freedom of movement they have come to expect when exploring 3Dworlds.
"I would suggest that the real question we should be asking is whether native 4K will be seen as an important enough feature for developers to prioritize."
In our first release, The Climb, we created a mechanic to do “platforming-like” locomotion across game worlds (ranging from climbing, jumping, sliding, and more) that maintains a high-degree of comfort for the majority of users. Robinson builds on this and expands the move-set with free-form, on-ground locomotion where we use a balance of factors –from movement speed, control over direction of movement, calibration of moments of acceleration/deceleration, and fixed-angle body-rotation as the default scheme – to again get something that is comfortable for the majority of users we tested with.
The game does provide advanced customization of the control scheme for users that are more tolerant to simulator-sickness, but we are confident that the default scheme is both comfortable and flexible to play with.
I will also like to know your opinion on the PlayStation 4 Pro. When it launches, it will be the most powerful console available. Do you think that power can be used in other ways instead of 4K resolution?
Definitely, yes, and our own title demonstrates multiple aspects of those improvements, and we’ve only started scratching the surface in terms of what is possible there.
Do you think for high end AAA modern games (such as the ones you make), the PS4 Pro is powerful enough to run games at native 4k instead of utilizing checkerboard rendering to achieve the same?
This is something that will vary widely with different games, so there really isn’t any one answer, unless we use a generalization without context. But I would suggest that the real question we should be asking is whether native 4K will be seen as an important enough feature for developers to prioritize .
"There’s a list of interesting enhancements that Pro brings to the table that we haven’t had the opportunity to work with so closely in hardware before."
The PS4 Pro also features an additional 1GB of DRAM which is used to off load non-gaming tasks. This leaves developers with 8GB of improved memory bandwidth. Do you think this leaves for substantial headroom for memory related work scenarios?
The system gives us back an additional 0.5GB over the PS4, which is enough to fill in the increased requirements from things like 4K, higher quality rendering features, etc. Coming out at about a 10% increase, it “can” be seen as somewhat substantial relative to the base console, but mainly it’s there to transparently allow for PS4 Pro-specific improvements without developers having to jump through complicated hoops.
Polaris features and energy efficient GPU architecture that lets boost the GPU while keeping the console form-factor roughly the same. Delta colour compression is making its debut in PS4 Pro. What kind of advantages do you think this will bring to games development on the Pro?
There’s a list of interesting enhancements that Pro brings to the table that we haven’t had the opportunity to work with so closely in hardware before. Some things (like colour compression) are transparent efficiency improvements, so really more of a balancing tool to allow high utilization of the increased compute resources despite the relatively smaller bandwidth increase. Others – like the ID buffer or hardware-multi res – actually pave the way for new rendering pipeline workflows, and as such still need to be experimented with to determine all the possibilities.