Dreamworld Engine Upgrade
Besides the many additions and improvements to the game, the major component of Update 2.1.3 is the release of the Dreamworld Technology Integration.
This upgrade to our proprietary Dreamworld engine contained various improvements to many of the game’s core systems but also many changes and updates to tools used by developers.
Rendering Engine Improvements
Since the release of Age of Conan in 2008, we have been constantly hard at work revamping our rendering engine, called ‘Cheetah’, both from the visual and performance perspective, to ensure that we remain at the forefront of what is possible to do on current hardware for both DX9 as well as DX10.
The biggest changes made was to move from a forward rendering approach to a light pre-pass approach, allowing us to decouple scene complexity and lighting complexity. In practice, this means we can now render scenes with hundreds or even thousands of lights, with only minimal performance hits. Though the current Age of Conan playfields only have limited amounts of lights, all future content will be made to take full advantage of this technology.
The other big area of focus for us was shadows: Our new shadow system uses a tiled technique called Adaptive Shadow Mapping, allowing us to really focus the shadow resolution on the areas close to the camera, while only re-computing small sections of the shadow map per frame, resulting in better quality and better framerates. The system also features soft shadows with correct occluder fusion, meaning realistic shadow falloffs. Finally, our local lights now can also cast shadows, potentially resulting in dozens of different light sources casting shadows on screen at the same time.
We also improved a lot of effects we already had, such as godrays and screen space ambient occlusion, making them faster, better looking and adding cross platform support to most of them. Age of Conan now also features the new FXAA system from NVIDIA which makes Age of Conan one of the very first games to get access to this new solution. FXAA provides highly effective edge smoothing, based on image luminance variations.
Many of the changes to the Dreamworld Engine improve the performance on various levels. This includes the reduction of memory usage mainly by removing many small memory leaks and preventing unnecessary copying of data. In addition a lot of work also went into optimising ways to pack data to reduce memory fragmentation.
Another important area where a lot of improvements were made is in the loading process of playfields with the goal to speed it up significantly. This optimisation is especially aimed towards playfields with many players or NPCs and results in improved loading times. We also implemented new mesh streaming processes for systems with only 2Gb of virtual memory address space (for example all 32bit Windows versions). This system now only loads meshes when they are closer than 400 meters or if their bounding boxes take a significant amount of space on the screen.
These are only some of the many tweaks and changes to performance that went into the new Dreamworld Technology Integration. The other main task was to improve the Rendering Engine.
Improved Development Tools
Last but certainly not least, the update also added various new and improved tools in the back-end for development of future content. This means players will get to see some cool new content in the future as we have improved our scripting, cinematic and design tools on various levels.
These are only some of the changes and improvements we have pushed out in this new engine to give players an even more intense experience in the world of Hyboria. The Age of Conan has never looked better!