After a six-year stint in the debriefing room, everyone’s favorite cloned assassin returns with a spool of piano wire and a chip on his shoulder. This time, Agent 47 is out to settle the score against those he once trusted in the shadow of a dark conspiracy. IO Interactive, the storied franchise’s developer, says 47 will embark on a personal journey through a “corrupt and twisted world” in search for the truth. But that’s not why we’re here! Ladies and gentlemen, we are here to talk graphics. So, while 47 is off racking up a bodycount, we’ll be discussing the sweet DirectX® 11 graphics, which have been optimized for performance and quality on AMD Radeon™ graphics by the AMD Gaming Evolved program. Let’s get started!


AMD Eyefinity technology


An agent’s work isn’t glorious, but at least it can be all panoramic and pretty. Thanks to native support for AMD Eyefinity technology, you can skulk through the shadows in Hitman: Absolution™ on multiple simultaneous displays.1 



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AMD HD3D technology


Developed by AMD’s Direct3D Engineering team, and implemented by virtue of AMD’s Gaming Evolved Program, the AMD Quad-Buffer API allows Hitman: Absolution to tap directly into AMD’s graphics driver for two streams of data at once: one frame for the left eye, and one frame for the right. When this goodness is piped out to a compatible 3D monitor (like the Samsung SA950) and enabled in the game, users will be treated to rich stereo 3D graphics with no additional hardware or software. It’s native AMD HD3D technology, baby!2


AMD CrossFire™ technology


Last week we told you about the value that AMD CrossFire™ technology3 represents for gamers, and Hitman: Absolution is another excellent example of that. Across the entire range of Graphics Core Next-based AMD Radeon™ HD 7000 Series products, you can expect performance scaling in excess of 1.8x going from one GPU to two.4

 

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MSAA and FXAA anti-aliasing support


Many modern games use what’s called a “deferred rendering” engine, which defers the game’s application of lighting to a second pass of the renderer. This has the advantage of dramatically increasing the amount of lights that can be used in a scene, but it makes high-quality multi-sample anti-aliasing (MSAA) quite difficult to implement. MSAA cannot easily anti-alias all of the lighting with a deferred engine, and a fully-lit scene is what must be anti-aliased. 


The deferred engine rose to prominence as a way to make the most of the fixed hardware resources in a modern game console. Generally forfeiting MSAA, and a comparatively limited diversity in game textures, was evidently deemed acceptable casualties in the push for more realistic lighting. Rather than work to implement the visually superior MSAA filter, most developers have come to rely on post-processed AA filters (like FXAA) as a way to get "good enough" anti-aliasing at appreciably high framerates. There's nothing inherently wrong with this approach on a console, but today's PCs are capable of much more. 


Thankfully, Hitman's developers and AMD worked very closely to implement MSAA into the game's deferred engine. This approach required a careful analysis of each scene/level in the game, selectively enabling MSAA on sections of the scene (like trees) that would benefit from the technique, while avoiding MSAA on sections that would slow the game with no visual improvement. This extra level of anti-aliasing is unique to the PC version, and a nod to the graphical prowess of modern GPUs like AMD Radeon™ graphics. 


Once a scene is fully rendered, Hitman: Absolution also allows for Fast Approximate Anti-Aliasing (FXAA), which applies a complex AA filter to the completed frame right before it hits your monitor. It’s an extra injection of quality at your disposal to make those jaggies buttery smooth.


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Real-time global illumination


Global illumination, or GI, is a relative newcomer in the world of DirectX® 11 graphics. GI is designed to simulate the way rays of light reflect, not just off of the first object they strike, but each successive object struck by that reflected ray.  To achieve this effect, the engine renders a Reflective Shadow Map (RSM) of the scene, taken from the point of view of a light source. Using GPU compute (DirectCompute language), it populates the RSM with a list of angles from which that light can reflect off an object, and then uses the RSM to compute several bounces of that lighting across the objects in a scene. The result is a stunning improvement in the realism of the game’s lighting, which we think contributes quite a lot to a game’s atmosphere. 


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DirectCompute-accelerated bokeh depth of field


Depth of field (DOF) is a technique that simulates the blurring we perceive on distant objects that aren’t in focus by the eyes or a camera lens. This technique is extremely common in photography and cinema, where the composition of a shot is designed to naturally draw the viewer’s focus to a specific place or object that remains in focus.  To achieve this effect in a game, circular shapes are utilized to simulate the “bokeh” lens effect on unfocused lights and highlights. The game engine then utilizes the computational horsepower of the AMD GCN Architecture to evaluate the focal length of the scene’s imaginary lens, relying on that calculation to properly defocus background objects and apply those circular shapes.  In Hitman, simply look to the horizon to see this effect in action! 


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DirectCompute-accelerated ambient occlusion


When objects are located near to each other, they cast a mutual shadow that reduces the amount of light that may reach the surface of an object. From this perspective, ambient occlusion (AO) is a very literal name: it describes objects blocking, or “occluding,” ambient light.  While many games have simulated this effect by applying algorithms like AMD’s “high definition ambient occlusion” (HDAO), Hitman: Absolution goes a step further with a new AO algorithm of its own. This new process combines some of the best ideas of the many AO techniques in market to create one high-quality, high-performance technique unique to Hitman. This technique relies on compute, particularly strong compute like the GCN Architecture, to impart accuracy to the occlusion simulation. 


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Tessellated character models


One of the techniques that heralded the DirectX® 11 era, hardware tessellation is a scalable method by which new detail is created in the scene’s geometric objects, such as buildings, trees or characters.  Rendering with hardware tessellation begins when a special polygon, called a “patch,” is issued to a rendering stage called the hull shader. The hull shader accepts this geometrically simple patch and prepares instructions for the tessellator, which dynamically generates new geometry required to make a complex 3D model. Once tessellation is finished, the model passes through the complete rendering pipeline for textures, shaders and lighting before finally arriving on your monitor as a complete 3D object with considerably more detail than originally designed. 


Lately, as in the case of Hitman: Absolution, tessellation is a feature that endows game characters with additional geometric detail on systems that offer the necessary performance. As tessellation is particularly strong on Graphics Core Next-based GPUs, users will want to enable this feature to provide surprisingly realistic smoothness to objects like Agent 47’s shiny bald head. 


The performance advantage of AMD Radeon™ Graphics


As you can see, IO Interactive and AMD’s Gaming Evolved program collaborated extensively throughout Hitman: Absolution’s development to ensure that this game’s graphics are a demanding technological showcase for PC graphics. But the collaboration did not stop at quality, as we also wanted to ensure that all of this goodness runs like a champ on AMD Radeon™ graphics.  First, let’s take a look at ultra high-end gaming: 2560x1600, FXAA, 16x anisotropic filtering, and the game’s “ultra” settings.4 With this configuration, the AMD Radeon™ HD 7900 Series takes home the gold against each of its competing products: the AMD Radeon HD 7950 is faster than the GTX 660 Ti, while the HD 7970 and HD 7970 GHz Edition best the GTX 670 and 680.


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Stepping down into 1080p territory, AMD Radeon™ graphics continues to barnstorm the performance charts in this game.4 At 1920x1080, 4xMSAA, FXAA, 16x anisotropic filtering and “ultra” settings, each and every AMD GPU we tested delivered faster performance than the competition in Hitman: Absolution. Make no mistake, though: this game’s ultra settings are brutal for modern GPUs! If you were looking for an excellent test for your rig’s performance, Hitman: Absolution is the place to be.


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Wrap-up

 

Hitman: Absolution is available today on Steam® for $49.99 US (as of 11/20/2012), or it can be had for FREE with the purchase of select AMD Radeon™ graphics products while supplies last. If that tickles your fancy, consider visiting our Never Settle promotion page for T&Cs, participating retailers and applicable products.  Until next time, Agent...



FOOTNOTES:


1 AMD Eyefinity technology supports up to six DisplayPort™ monitors on an enabled graphics card.  Supported display quantity, type and resolution vary by model and board design; confirm specifications with manufacturer before purchase.  To enable more than two displays, or multiple displays from a single output, additional hardware such as DisplayPort-ready monitors or DisplayPort 1.2 MST-enabled hubs may be required.  Maximum two active adapters supported. See www.amd.com/eyefinityfaq for full details.


2 AMD HD3D is a technology designed to enable stereoscopic 3D support in games, movies and/or photos. Requires 3D stereo drivers, glasses, and display. Not all features may be supported on all components or systems – check with your component or system manufacturer for specific model capabilities and supported technologies. A list of supported stereoscopic 3D hardware is available at http://www.amd.com/HD3D.


3 AMD CrossFire™ technology requires an AMD CrossFire Ready motherboard, an AMD CrossFire™ Bridge Interconnect (for each additional graphics card) and may require a specialized power supply.


4 System configuration:Intel Core i7-3960X (3.3GHz) MSI X79A-GD65 8D 16GB (4x4GB) DDR3-1600 Windows® 7 x64 AMD Graphics Driver: AMD Catalyst™ 12.11 Beta 8 & 12.11CAP1 NVIDIA Graphics Driver: 306.97 WHQL


Robert Hallock is a Product Marketing Manager at AMD. His postings are his own opinions and may not represent AMD’s positions, strategies or opinions. Links to third party sites, and references to third party trademarks, are provided for convenience and illustrative purposes only. Unless explicitly stated, AMD is not responsible for the contents of such links and no third party endorsement of AMD or any of its products is implied.