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Shadow Ops -- 64-bit Gaming Revolution?

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Subject: Processors
Manufacturer: AMD
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64-bit Gaming is Here

AMD Pushes 64-bit Gaming


If you have been following PC games at all recently, you'll have noticed AMD getting into a marketing swing promoting 64-bit gaming.  As the new Microsoft XP 64-bit edition comes closer to availability, AMD is getting more and more anxious to show off their 64-bit advantage before it disappears with the arrival of Intel's desktop 64-bit processors. 


Yesterday, the very first game with 64-bit support right out of the box was released, titled "Shadow Ops: Red Mercury."  Published by Atari, this game features the AMD64 logo on the box as well as during the loading of the game.  64-bit versions of several other popular games have been in development for some time, so this release seemed not too out of the ordinary, so at first it was just minor news. 


However, we then received this link to a page at Atari.com: http://www.atari.com/shadowops/us/amd.html (Edit: AMD and Atari have taken down these images and have since replaced them after feedback from this artlcle, so I have a mirror up of the originals on our server, here.)


It shows screenshots from both the 32-bit and the 64-bit version of the game side by side.  What struck me was how different the quality in these screenshots appeared.  In first set of images, you can see big differences in qualities of the ground, the gun and the shadows the characters are creating.  The second set of images again shows the detail added to the gun, character and shadows, but this time we see the addition of items on the table in the room that do not appear in the 32-bit screenshot.  The third set shows a big difference in lighting and shadow enhacements and the fourth set shows big differences in textures and lighting as well on the floorboards, characters and surrounding area.


I was immediately curious about the enhancements that Atari made to the game in the AMD64 version of that might improve the visual quality so drastically.  So I began to dig deeper into the information available.


First, I found this press release on the AMD.com website that states:



Today, AMD (NYSE: AMD) announces the first 64-bit game optimized for AMD Athlon™ 64 processor-based systems, 'Shadow Ops: Red Mercury,' is available now on retail shelves....includes specific 64-bit enhancements that enable a richer and more immersive gaming experience.


....


With the one-two punch of AMD64 processors and 'Shadow Ops: Red Mercury,' gamers will notice larger and more detailed areas to explore, breakthrough artificial intelligence (AI), and never-before-seen textures that compel players to gawk in amazement.


Next, I visited the Atari.com website to find their press release on this announcement as well:



The 64-bit version of the game will be included with the 32-bit version and will allow for improved textures, better image quality, faster game performance and an enhanced gameplay experience.


...


'AMD and Atari have collaborated extensively to optimize a version of Shadow Ops: Red Mercury specifically for the AMD 64-bit processor to bring the cinematic elements of the game to life in a way not possible in a 32-bit computing environment', said Monica Behncke, director, Customer Centric Marketing, AMD.  'Gamers who use AMD64 processors and install the 64-bit version of Shadow Ops: Red Mercury, get access to the 64-bit only level of detail, with mind-blowing texture quality, enormous map sizes and amazingly enhanced artificial intelligence, creating an exceptional game play experience.'


Coupling those two press releases with the screenshots provided by AMD and Atari,(Edit: AMD and Atari have taken down these images and have since replaced them after feedback from this artlcle, so I have a mirror up of the originals on our server, here.) we can tell the 64-bit version of this game is going to blow away the visual quality of the 32-bit version...right? 


To be honest with you, I quickly began to suspect something was amiss because we saw NVIDIA promote the advancement of Shader Model 3.0 over 2.0 in a similar way during their 6800 launch.  (See our news coverage of those screenshots as well.)  What NVIDIA had done there was mislead the public into thinking their "not SM3.0" images were the best the competition could do at SM2.0 when in fact we were looking at SM1.1 images that both companies were compatible with for some time.  Would AMD be doing a similar marketing scheme here as well with their touting of enhanced visual quality in 64-bit?


I decided to find out myself, so I hopped in the car, drove down to Best Buy, and picked up a newly released copy of Shadow Ops: Red Mercury.  I then proceded to download the latest version of Windows x64 from the link that both AMD and Atari provided ( http://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/64bit/evaluation/upgrade.mspx ) as well as the necessary beta drivers from VIA, NVIDIA and Creative Labs.  It would seem my evening was planned for me once again.


Installation and Setup


After installing the latest Windows x64 operating system and loading the needed 64-bit drivers, I was ready to install Shadow Ops on the PC for testing.  The game loaded fine but no mention was made of a 64-bit version for my 64-bit operating system.  Looking around the disc some, i found a relatively small patch file coming in at under 6 MB.  A file that size doesn't seem like it has the potential to greatly enhance my gameplay experience with greater texture detail, but we'll see.


Below is our system setup for our image quality testing.  No performance testing was done because the drivers and operating system just aren't up to that level of speed yet, and I don't want to give a negative view of the performance of the game, the hardware or the AMD processors.  We are here to simply judge the IQ differences that AMD and Atari claim from the 64-bit version of the game. 




































Test System Setup


CPU


AMD Athlon 64 3800+


Motherboards


MSI K8T Neo2


Power Supply 


Antec 480 watt


Memory 


2x512MB Corsair Micro DDR500


Hard Drive


250 GB Maxtor 7200 RPM SATA


Sound Card


Creative Labs Live!


Video Card


NVIDIA 6800 Ultra


Video Drivers


61.77 (64-bit)


DirectX Version


DX 9.0c


Operating System


Windows XP 64-bit v1218


Next Page - Image Quality Screenshots

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