Ubisoft Responds to Low Frame Rates in Assassin's Creed Unity

Subject: Graphics Cards | November 12, 2014 - 09:03 PM |
Tagged: Unity, ubisoft, assassin's creed

Over the last couple of days there have been a lot of discussions about the performance of the new Assassin's Creed Unity from Ubisoft on current generation PC hardware. Some readers have expressed annoyance that the game is running poorly, at lower than expected frame rates, at a wide range of image quality settings. Though I haven't published my results yet, we are working on a story comparing NVIDIA and AMD GPUs in Unity, but the truth is that this is occurring on GPUs from both sides.

For example, using a Core i7-3960X and a single GeForce GTX 980 4GB reference card, I see anywhere from 37 FPS to 48 FPS while navigating the crowded city of Paris at 1920x1080 and on the Ultra High preset. Using the Low preset, that frame rate increases to 65-85 FPS or so.

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Clearly, those are lower frame rates at 1920x1080 than you'll find in basically any other PC game on the market. The accusation from some in the community is that Ubisoft is either doing this on purpose or doing it out of neglect with efficient code. I put some questions to the development team at Ubisoft and though I only had a short time with them, the answers tell their side of the story.

Ryan Shrout: What in the Unity game engine is putting the most demand on the GPU and its compute resources? Are there specific effects or were there specific design goals for the artists that require as much GPU horsepower as the game does today with high image quality settings?

Ubisoft: Assassin’s Creed Unity is one of the most detailed games on the market and [contains] a giant, open world city built to the scale that we’ve recreated. Paris requires significant details. Some points to note about Paris in Assassin’s Creed Unity:

  • There are tens of thousands of objects are visible on-screen, casting and receiving shadows.
  • Paris is incredibly detailed. For example, Notre-Dame itself is millions of triangles.
  • The entire game world has global illumination and local reflections.
  • There is realistic, high-dynamic range lighting.
  • We temporally stabilized anti-aliasing.

RS: Was there any debate internally about downscaling on effects/image quality to allow for lower end system requirements?

Ubisoft: We talked about this a lot, but our position always came back to us ensuring that Assassin’s Creed Unity is a next-gen only game with breakthrough graphics. With this vision, we did not degrade the visual quality of the game. On PC, we have several option for low-scaling, like disabling AA, decreasing resolution, and we have low option for Texture Quality, Environment Quality and Shadows.

RS: Were you looking forward or planning for future GPUs (or multi-GPU) that will run the game at peak IQ settings at higher frame rates than we have today?

Ubisoft: We targeted existing PC hardware.

RS: Do you envision updates to the game or to future GPU drivers that would noticeably improve performance on current generations of hardware?

Ubisoft: The development team is continuing to work on optimization post-launch through software updates. You’ll hear more details shortly.

Some of the features listed by the developer in the first answer - global illumination methods, high triangle counts, HDR lighting - can be pretty taxing on GPU hardware. I know there are people out there pointing out games that have similar feature sets and that run at higher frame rates, but the truth is that no two game engines are truly equal. If you have seen Assassin's Creed Unity in action you'll be able to tell immediately the game is beautiful, stunningly so. Is it worth that level of detail for the performance levels achieved from current high-end hardware? Clearly that's the debate.

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When I asked if Ubisoft had considered scaling back the game to improve performance, they clearly decided against it. The developer had a vision for the look and style of the game and they were dedicated to it; maybe to a fault from some gamers' viewpoint.

Also worth nothing is that Ubisoft is continuing to work on optimization post-release; how much of an increase we'll actually see with game patches or driver updates will have to be seen as we move forward. Some developers have a habit of releasing a game and simply abandoning it as it shipped - hopefully we will see more dedication from the Unity team.

So, if the game runs at low frame rates on modern hardware...what is the complaint exactly? I do believe that Ubisoft would have benefited from better performance on lower image quality settings. You can tell by swapping the settings for yourself in game but the quality difference between Low and Ultra High is noticeable, but not dramatically so. Again, this likely harkens back to the desire of Ubisoft to maintain an artistic vision.

Remember that when Crysis 3 launched early last year, running at 1920x1200 at 50 FPS required a GTX 680, the top GPU at the time; and that was at the High settings. The Very High preset only hit 37 FPS on the same card.

PC gamers seems to be creating a double standard. On one hand, none of us want PC-ports or games that are developed with consoles in mind that don't take advantage of the power of the PC platform. Games in the Call of Duty series are immensely popular but, until the release of Advanced Warfare, would routinely run at 150-200 FPS at 1080p on a modern PC. Crysis 3 and Assassin's Creed Unity are the opposite of that - games that really tax current CPU and GPU hardware, paving a way forward for future GPUs to be developed and NEEDED.

If you're NVIDIA or AMD, you should applaud this kind of work. Now I am more interested than ever in a GTX 980 Ti, or a R9 390X, to see what Unity will play like, or what Far Cry 4 will run at, or if Dragon Age Inquisition looks even better.

Of course, if we can get more performance from a better optimized or tweaked game, we want that too. Developers need to be able cater to as wide of a PC gaming audience as possible, but sometimes creating a game that can scale between running on a GTX 650 Ti and a GTX 980 is a huge pain. And with limited time frames and budgets, don't we want at least some developers to focus on visual quality rather than "dumbing down" the product?

Let me know what you all think - I know this is a hot-button issue!

UPDATE: Many readers in the comments are bringing up the bugs and artifacts within Unity, pointing to YouTube videos and whatnot. Those are totally valid complaints about the game, but don't necessarily reflect on the game's performance - which is what we were trying to target with this story. Having crashes and bugs in the game is disappointing, but again, Ubisoft and Assassin's Creed Unity aren't alone here. Have you seen the bugs in Skyrim or Tomb Raider? Hopefully Ubisoft will be more aggressive in addressing them in the near future. 

UPDATE 2: I also wanted to comment that even though I seem to be defending Ubisoft around the performance of Unity, my direct feedback to them was that they should enable modes in the game that allow it to play at higher frame rates and even lower image quality settings, even if they were unable to find ways to "optimize" the game's efficiency. So far the developer seems aware of all the complaints around performance, bugs, physics, etc. and is going to try to address them.

UPDATE 3: In the last day or so, a couple of other media outlets have posted anonymous information that indicates that the draw call count for Assassin's Creed Unity is at fault for the poor performance of the game on PCs. According to this "anonymous" source, while the consoles have low-level API access to hardware to accept and process several times the draw calls, DirectX 11 can only handle "7,000 - 10,000 peak draw calls." Unity apparently is "pushing in excess of 50,000 draw calls per frame" and thus is putting more pressure on the PC that it can handle, even with high end CPU and GPU hardware. The fact that these comments are "anonymous" is pretty frustrating as it means that even if they are accurate, they can't be taken as the truth without confirmation from Ubisoft. If this turns out to be true, then it would be a confirmation that Ubisoft didn't take the time to implement a DX11 port correctly. If it's not true, or only partially to blame, we are left with more meaningless finger-pointing.

PCPer Live! Assassin's Creed Unity Game Stream Powered by NVIDIA!

Subject: General Tech, Graphics Cards | November 10, 2014 - 10:07 PM |
Tagged: video, Unity, pcper, nvidia, live, GTX 980, geforce, game stream, assassins creed

UPDATE: If you missed the live stream event: good news! We have it archived up on YouTube now and embeded below for your viewing pleasure!

Assassin's Creed Unity is shaping up to be one of the defining games of the holiday season, with visuals and game play additions that are incredible to see in person. Scott already wrote up a post that details some the new technologies found in the game along with a video of the impressive detail the engine provides. Check it out!

To celebrate the release, PC Perspective has partnered with NVIDIA to host a couple of live game streams that will feature some multi-player gaming fun as well some prizes to giveaway to the community. I will be joined by some new NVIDIA faces to take on the campaign in a cooperative style while taking a couple of stops to give away some hardware.

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Assassin's Creed Unity Game Stream Powered by NVIDIA

5pm PT / 8pm ET - November 11th

PC Perspective Live! Page

Need a reminder? Join our live mailing list!

Here are some of the prizes we have lined up for those of you that join us for the live stream:

Another awesome prize haul!! How do you win? It's really simple: just tune in and watch the Assassin's Creed Unity Game Stream Powered by NVIDIA! We'll explain the methods to enter live on the air and anyone can enter from anywhere in the world - no issues at all!

So stop by Tuesday night for some fun, some gaming and the chance to win some goods!

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New Ubuntu 13.04 Release Upgrades Unity, Ditches Wubi, and Updates Applications

Subject: General Tech | April 30, 2013 - 12:57 PM |
Tagged: wubi, Unity, ubuntu 13.04, ubuntu, openstack, linux, canonical

Canonical released its the Ubuntu 13.04 “Raring Ringtail” Linux distribution earlier this week. The updated operating system incorporates a new Linux kernel, newer pre-installed applications, and a tweaked Unity desktop environment. Enterprise and server users also have updated server software stacks to look forward to, including the latest juju and OpenStack (Grizzly) releases.

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Ubuntu 13.04 continues in the direction of convergence set in motion by Canonical and its founder Mark Shuttleworth. It is the first step towards Ubuntu running on many types of devices (including mobile) as it includes an updated Unity interface. The 13.04 release still uses the X window system, but Canonical has made tweaks to Unity and is offering up an optional download of the new Mir display backend that users can install. Mir is the display server that Ubuntu will be switching to with its next LTS release and that will reportedly enable a cross-platform Ubuntu/Unity experience. The Unity tweaks include disabling Workspaces and the “show desktop” button on the desktop (though they can be re-enabled in settings). There have also been tweaks to Ubuntu’s Dash UI, including a typo-tolerant search function and new result sorting options. It will not be until the next release that users will really start to see Ubuntu’s plans of convergence come together (heh), but even with the small changes present in 13.04, the traditional desktop OS is making considerations for mobile devices.

While the visual changes are minimal on Ubuntu 13.04 compared to 12.10, the new release does update a lot of the underlying software.At least on the outside, Ubuntu 13.04 has not changed much from its 12.10 predecessor. Ubuntu 13.04 is based on the upstream 3.8.8 Linux kernel, and incorporates a number of updates to the pre-installed applications and core software. The updates include Unity 7, LibreOffice 4, and Python 3.3 (future versions of Ubuntu will remove Python 2 completely, though it will still be available as a downloadable package). Gwibber has also been replaced with a new service called “Friends” that takes all of your social networking accounts and combines them under your Ubuntu Online account.

Additionally, Ubuntu 13.04 also no longer includes the Wubi installer, which allowed users to install Ubuntu as a program within Windows and got around the need to mess with partitioning. Although there was a bit of overhead in doing the install this way, it was noticeably easier for new users than other methods. Canonical suggests that users interested in trying out the new operating system should simply use the live media, but installing it in a VM such as VirtualBox or VMWare may be more appropriate as some of the functionality is missing from the Live DVD environment in my experience (at least if you also want to try out functionality or other Linux software that would require a restart). Canonical has also cut the support time in half for Ubuntu 13.04 (and all future interim releases) from 18 months to 9 months. Hopefully the development team puts the reduced support workload to good use by investing the time in quick and stable releases.

So far, Ubuntu 13.04 has been getting positive reviews, though some users have run into issues running the operating system on their particular hardware (a bit of instability is expected with a new release, however).

If you are interested in Ubuntu 13.04 “Raring Ringtail,” you can read more about the changes in the official release notes and grab a download of the OS from the Ubuntu website or the updater if you are currently running Ubuntu 12.10.

Source: Ubuntu

Linux Mint Rising In Popularity And Surpassing Ubuntu For Top Spot

Subject: General Tech | November 26, 2011 - 04:53 AM |
Tagged: Unity, ubuntu, mint, linux, katya

Linux Mint Is On The Rise

Ubuntu has long been the popular choice when it comes to Linux distributions. The open source operating system even managed to be picked by large computer OEM Dell for the company’s netbooks and select desktop computers at one time. As far as free alternative operating systems go, Ubuntu was the top choice of many Linux users. Lately; however, the distro seems to be declining in popularity. According to ZDNet, Pingdom has gathered Linux market share data from the past few years and found that the once popular Ubuntu OS has given up a great deal of ground to competing distributions. In particular, Linux Mint has risen to the 11% usage level that Ubuntu held at its prime versus Ubuntu’s current 4% market usage in 2011.

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Linux Mint 11's desktop.

Interestingly, Linux mint started at 0% adoption in 2005 versus Ubuntu’s 11% in that same year where it would grow to 4% in 2007 and grow slowly to 5% in 2010. From there, the adoption grows rapidly to it’s current 11% market usage as of November 23rd 2011 (based on DistroWatch ranking data).

Linux Mint 11 is a very respectable and speedy distribution and is comparatively very media friendly and easy to use out of the box for newcomers. These qualities likely have contributed to the operating system’s place on the Top 5 Linux Distribution list.

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Wait- What Happened To Ubuntu?

Ubuntu gained fame due to its friendliness to newcomers, casual users, and enthusiasts/power users alike. Adrian Kingsley-Hughes over at ZDnet notes that the operating system’s popularity is wavering. Linux Fans have cited Ubuntu’s recent interface overhaul-dubbed Unity- as a possible source of the decline in popularity. Kingsley-Hughes believes; however, that in the latest iteration(s) Ubuntu has spread itself too thin by attempting to appeal to too many people at once.

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The Ubuntu 11.10 installation.  One of several slides on everything that is packed in tight in Ubuntu.

On that point I think he is correct. Ubuntu has been attempting to become the Windows equivalent of the Linux space. This goal in and of itself is a noble one; however, it also goes against the grain of the “ideal Linux OS” (meaning the OS that users want to use). Linux itself is (by comparison) a niche operating system, and within that general term spawns numerous Linux distributions that are even further niche and highly specialized products and user experiences.

I have to concur with Mr. Kingsley-Hughes on this one, even with my own personal lackluster (or “meh” in less technical terms ;) ) opinion of Ubuntu’s Unity it’s not bad or difficult enough to get rid of to cause such a drop in usage. The inherent purpose and goal of a Linux distro is to be a highly specialized and customizable user experience that is easily tailored to a specific users’ wants and needs. Ubuntu is falling out of favor with many Linux fans due to it trying too hard to appeal to everyone in a “jack of all trades, master of none” method instead of the perfect distribution for each individual aspect that makes Linux so appealing to users to begin with. Many design and under the hood changes have taken place in Ubuntu to accommodate the mainstream Linux goal(s) and in doing so a lot of users and configurations aren’t as easily obtained with Ubuntu anymore. There’s now more programs included by default and more programs running to maintain the something for everyone system, and that is not what many Linux fans want out of their distributions. They want a distro that only does what they want with as minimal of resources as possible while still being productive for example.

What are your thoughts? Is there a reason for Ubuntu’s decline or is the distro’s time in the spotlight simply over (for now at least)? Have you moved on from Ubuntu? You can read more about the Linux usage data here.

Source: ZDnet

Are you nuts to switch to the Narwhal? Check out Ubuntu 11.04

Subject: General Tech | May 12, 2011 - 11:54 AM |
Tagged: Unity, Ubuntu 11.04, ubuntu, OS, natty narwhal, linux, gnome

Natty Narwhal, officially called Ubuntu 11.04, has arrived on the scene and it brings some changes to the way you will look at Linux.  It was designed to be the first desktop version to dump the Gnome GUI in favour of the Unity interface that has been previously used on netbook and other lower powered machines.  The design its self is fairly minimalistic as you would expect from what it was first implemented as, but not to the point where you won't recognize the familiar dock style interface common to OS X and Win 7.  Ars Technica takes you through a thorough look at the newest Linux and the pluses and minuses of the new GUI.

 

"Ubuntu 11.04, codenamed Natty Narwhal, rose from the depths last week. The update brings a number of significant new features to the Linux-based operating system. It includes a much-improved refresh of the Unity shell and a number of other significant improvements throughout the application stack.

This is the first version of Ubuntu to ship with Unity on the desktop. Due to the far-reaching nature of the changes that accompany the transition to a new desktop shell, this review will focus almost entirely on Unity and how it impacts the Ubuntu user experience. We will also look at how Unity compares with GNOME 3.0 and the classic GNOME experience."

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Source: Ars Technica