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Metal Gear Solid V – Graphics Study (adriancourreges.com)
244 points by jsheard on Dec 15, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 62 comments

Slightly off topic, but hopefully a fun anecdote:

Sometime in the second half of 1988 — I was 11 or 12 years old at the time — I was determined to beat the original Metal Gear (North American NES version[+]). I got up one Saturday morning, played straight through to the early afternoon; I had the NES hooked to a little 10-inch color CRT in my bedroom. I don't remember writing down any save-point passcodes (if there even were any, memory is hazy; or maybe I was down to my last re-spawn despite save point), and I don't recall having gotten too far in previous attempts... challenging game! It was apparent to me that I was reaching the final stage of the game, big boss ahead. My kid brother had been hovering around for hours, and I declared my bedroom off-limits until victory or defeat was certain. All of a sudden, my brother comes bouncing in and says, "Here, have a jolly rancher!" — which was appreciated momentarily, it was even watermelon flavor, which (God knows why) I savored for some reason — and then granny passed the hard candy in my direction. It ricocheted off the back of my chair and then....... struck the reset button on the NES!!! All was lost, and I was too devastated to pursue him downstairs in anger. About 6 weeks later, I finally beat the game.

[+] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NJPVTylzt80

Not only was MGSV5 great graphically, it also was very performant. I always wondered if they where using rendering tricks like the ones known in Just Cause (loading in 2d assets when very far away and than swapping them with 3d assets as you get close) or similar.

Someone else replied pointing out that what you're referring to are called imposters. I would also like to add they're a very very common technique, and something Wolfire Games added to their indie game Overgrowth in 2010, with a complete explanation: http://blog.wolfire.com/2010/10/Imposters

Yes, you can expect modern games to use any and all tricks available to squeeze performance. Imposters are an example of a LOD (Level of Detail) technique, which is standard in all game engines.

Imposters seems to be really old technique - see Trespasser 1998:

"The engine also used two other big tricks to lower the poly count: The most famous was "object caching": While rendering objects, the distant ones would be rendered to a cache and drawn as sprite on a quad. This trick originally resulted in mixed results since the mesh would remain a sprite too close from the player and changed from 2D to 3D in a very noticeable way as see in the two next images" (http://fabiensanglard.net/trespasser/index.php)

Another fabien post!!! Can never get enough of his writeups, no fluff just good review analysis and code.

Are those imposters usually prerendered or are they rendered at runtime, just at a much lower framerate? In any case, both could be seen as temporal LOD.

More than a lower temporal resolution (framerate), imposters are more often about a lower spatial resolution (2D billboarded asset instead of fully textured 3D model, or 3D model with fewer polygons/lower res texture, etc.)

There are also tricks using a lower temporal resolution - for example giving fewer ticks per second to the logic or animation of entities further away/out of sight.

I believe the question was whether the texture for the imposter is loaded from disk or rendered to a frame buffer but at a lower frame rate. I'm guessing rendering the object to a texture dynamically is the most common approach.

It's usually more performant to store them as framebuffer objects, so this way they could stay in the memory of the graphics hardware.

AFAIK, it runs stable @ 60fps on the standard PS4, with quality similar to PC (Xbox One version drops a few of the effects). Very impressive.

Don't forget that the same game also ran beautifully on the PS3. Not 60fps, but fluid and pleasant.

Yes, to be sure, but seeing the difference between PS3 and PS4 is a sea change. It doesn’t really run “beautifully” on a PS3...It runs on a PS3.

It functionally works as a different game. I watched an ex play through the whole game on PS3 (her choice) and there were many aspects of her playthrough that were not tied to her platform, but were hindered by being on the PS3

yes it scales down really well.

The 2d assets when very far away is called billboarding.

Billboarding is more general than that, it refers to any 2D sprite that always faces the camera. It's often used at close range for things like particles and grass as well.

Billboards that are used as substitutes for 3D models at long distances are more specifically called "imposters".

Or 'posters ?

BTW I've often noticed these 2D images (which work better than I'd've thought)... but for distant objects (in an open world game where the player can approach them from any direction), is a 3D model ever rendered once to a 2D poster when the player first sees them, then that is reused (until player gets too close; or approaches at too different an angle)?

I'm concerned at the uneven computation required as objects move in/out of range and need to be re-postered. (I prefer steady fps).

Back when I was in games we still called them billboards or more commonly just LODs.

LODs refer to simplified versions of the original mesh. So they are not flat like billboards, and still have the "depth" to them. Think for example, a pine tree with many shapes for branches in the foreground, but in the distant background the entire body of the leaves can just be a simple cone.

Ahh, I always wondered what that was called

MGSV is also has comparatively low polygon count. Coupled with the clever shading, lighting and great art this it what makes it run so well and look so good.

Similarity Super Mario Odyssey has lots of clever tricks to hit 60 FPS. For example far away models animate at 30 FPS instead of billboarding. You won’t notice it because there’s so much detail and richness close to you.

On the other hand Just Cause 3 barely manages to keep above 25 FPS on a standard PS4. The difference is jarring.

As a side note the a Fox engine used for MGSV was also used for the P.T (Playable Teaser) for the cancelled Silent Hills. This was incredibly photo realistic and pretty scary!


That's the oldest trick in the book...

After I played MGSV first time, I was stunned by it's graphics. Everything is so perfect: materials, lighting, camera movement, character animation.

Looking forward for next Kojima's game - Death Stranding.

In one of the MGSV trailers there was a scene with Big Boss and Miller on horse back overlooking a canyon. That was the first time I ever mistook a video game scene for actual video.

I mean, on closer inspection sure you can tell its not video, but at an initial glance it wasn't immediately obvious to me. The Ground Zeros trailers were great but everything had a 'gloss' to it, MGSV tuned that up and the results truly were exceptional to me.

I don't watch or play many games, but so far MGSV is the only game that has done that to me and the results in the trailer matched the final product which is a feat of its own.

Kojima was forced out of his old company and lost access to the engine described here. Death Stranding will be using the game engine from Horizon: Zero Dawn.

That said, the Horizon engine is solid and the Death Stranding visuals we've seen so far look incredible.

Just look at this rendition of Mads Mikkelsen: https://youtu.be/H2Hy96sOnq8?t=200

This might be OT but I just noticed - the baby doll's eye is blinking just like those mechanical light arms are blinking in the new trailer.

That trailer is pure perfection...

> Looking forward for next Kojima's game - Death Stranding

Because one person makes a game... sorry it's my pet peeve, a game is made by a team not a single name.

I bet you could task the entire production team of Pulp Fiction with creating a movie, but without Quentin Tarantino it would never reach the same heights.


Paths of Glory : Kubrick

Seven Samurai : Kurosawa

Stalker : Tarkovsky

Sorry but kojima seems to know how to push the enveloppe in many levels. He surely relies on mad skilled devs but it's not enough.

I agree with sneps, game dev is a team job.

Props to the graphics team that worked on this game.

he might be right, I have no real idea about kojima contribution per se, just that he was the constant in the long list of amazing games he produced. While I'm sure dev came and went. Hence my comment.

I guess there is a skilled team, but they use him as a brand, because that sells better.

It's not always true of every game, but I think it's safe to say these games start with Kojima. Without him they wouldn't get made. Just like it takes a band to make music but often it's only the lead artists name you know, because without them the band wouldn't have formed in the first place.

When people reference Kojima, they do it referring specifically to his unique inputs to the game, which are pure genius.

Like impregnating a girl with a bomb?

This guy surely runs circles around us...

His contributions seem to be the inane dialogue, impenetrable cutscenes, and nonstop flogging of his own name in the constantly repeated credits, plus the "problematic" take on women. does he actually do anything with the parts of his games that aren't terrible? i see no evidence

I've been playing through the Metal Gear series in release order, starting the MSX games, currently on Peace Walker.

It took me until 3 to actually think Kojima was decent at storytelling, and then 4 got me onboard the "Kojima is a genius" train. Metal Gear's backdrop is a fever dream about the military industrial complex, but the storytelling is always much more focused on exploring themes and ideals than it is dedication to realism.

FWIW, there has been a significant increase in the quality of his work. Solid 1 was kind of puerile and hamfisted in its approach to its themes, in a kind of "terrible shounen anime" kind of way. Solid 2 was a really amazing prediction of the way surveillance works in a modern society, but was needlessly obtuse. Solid 3 was way easier to digest, and Solid 4 was sublime. But neither really work in isolation from the first two, and slogging through them definitely takes a lot of patience, so I see where you're coming from.

I guess the way I'd summarize is: a lot of people talk about abandoning setting details for other motives (e.g. there are monsters in the witcher, so why can't there be a sizeable black population), but Kojima is one of the few I'd trust to actually pull it off - I just need it to not be ~1999 Kojima.

It's only "problematic" to those who suscribe to the idea that male sexuality is evil.

One person doesn't make a game, nor a whole movie, but certain positions hold quite a bit of influence over the direction of any complex media property like a AAA video game or a movie. For the same reason, many people go see movies based on who directed them.

This seems needlessly pedantic. He’s the producer and in general the guy with all the big ideas. And the studio is named after him. We know other people work on the game without saying that every time.

Do you make the same comments with movies? It's the same thing.

On that note what the hell happened to MGS V? I feel like I'm taking crazy pills but isn't it very obvious they only finished one level (the first) to the quality they were aiming for?

The first level is most definitely a MGS game. Unique voice acting, level design, action, gameplay mechanics. The works.

Then you finish that intro and it's a complete 180 - now it's open world, no more voice acting, no more cutscenes, no more story. Just open world diarrhea with assets they most likely finished and could use in the game.

It's as if the studio finished the first level, Konami pulled the plug and cut funding, they told Kojima wrap up with what you have and we ended up with this totally shallow game.

I felt like the game was a bait n switch. How far off base am I?

The Collector's Edition of the game came with a bonus disc featuring a 20-minute video of unfinished content not present in the final game, the development seemingly went through quite a bit of trouble, most obvious by Kojima splitting from Konami after it was finished.

It's not that unthinkable that Kojima's grand ambitions ran into budget constraints and they had to cut down the story content. I can easily imagine dozens of more hours of voiced and animated cutscenes polishing out the content that's already in there, but voicing and animation are expensive.

What remains is imho still quite good and entertaining, I really enjoyed the open world parts, the base management, hunting for new soldiers or grooming favorites.

The multiplayer part made it all a bit grindy, without some story fluff in-between, but I think it was a smart game mechanic to add to a sneaking game where you have the option for non-lethal take-downs/straight up bypassing of enemies, especially in the context of the "lore".

Regarding your comment about animation being expensive, I feel that at least some of the audio tapes in the game were probably meant to be cutscenes. Despite the criticisms people lay on this game, it is probably my favorite game of this decade.

That's a good point I never really thought about, guess I had an easy enough time simply imagining the visuals.

But having at least some of these tapes as actual cutscenes would probably have changed a lot about the game feeling "unfinished". A lot of important main story beats are revealed through those tapes, of which there are so many that going through them feels like a chore at times. That's probably why so many people consider the game so light on story: Those tapes are easily skipped by players so they can progress further through the game, but barely anybody would skip a full blown cutscene with said tapes content.

I think it's a mix. Kojima was pretty clear that he wanted to make MGSV about the player creating their own stories and de-emphasizing an explicit plot. The opening is meant to be a bridge with the older games, hence it having a structure more similar to them (and specifically to MGS4).

But on the other hand I got the impression that the game was definitely not finished plot wise and even stylistically, at least not to the point that Kojima and his core team had originally envisioned. It felt like we got 90%, but that last 10% was the bit that was supposed to fill in the gaps in the plot and leave the player feeling satisfied. Compared to e.g. the ending of MGS4 (which is my favorite in the series), the latter third of MGSV was just so... unfulfilling.

I suspect friction over Kojima's vision versus Konami wanting to get the game to market was why they parted ways, even though Konami was very clearly killing the golden goose.

The mp was a grind to get more money out of people, for a game that shipped unfinished. It had great moments and bones, but was an unfinished cash-grab by the end. Kojima was wasted on Konami.

The nature of the mission list/tapes makes far more sense when you consider that it is a follow-up to Peace Walker (not to MGS4) which used a similar structure. Arguably, it's part of the reason that it's MGS_V_, not MGS_5_ - Peace Walker was at one point known as "Metal Gear Solid 5: Peace Walker"[0].

It does definitely go overboard though, with the missions that are there being repeated and many of them not being that memorable. There are also plot threads that are clearly just dropped (e.g. major character disappearing with an important item that is only addressed in an unfinished state on a bonus disc/cutscenes that seemingly have no way to be unlocked in-game),and given how Konami just dropped Kojima Productions it's a reasonable assumption that it wrapped early (though whether that is due to Konami plugging the plug early or because it overran budget/time estimates is less clear).

[0] http://ameblo.jp/kp-blogcast/entry-10466416389.html#main

Not sure what you are talking about. MGS V has 31 main (51 total) mission across 2 worlds (afghanistan and africa), complete with interesting story and beautiful cutscenes.

Hospital mission is not even longest one, nor most detailed.

I think he's referring to the fact that first chapter had a very coherent story, then in chapter 2, it's just random stuff happening with some occasional story taking place in Mother Base...and then the game just suddenly ends.

Does anybody know who actually owns Fox Engine at this point? Afaik it was Kojima Productions who created the engine, but Kojima and Konami split.

Yet the Fox Engine wiki lists Metal Gear Survive as the only upcoming Fox Engine game, not Death Stranding. Death Stranding's wiki says it uses the Decima game engine. That, in turn, was developed by Guerilla Games and Kojima Productions.

So from that situation, I guess it's Konami who now owns the Fox Engine? I wonder how that ended up happening, Kojima's own studio developing an engine and then he doesn't even get to keep it.

Kojima Productions, pre-Death Stranding, was only a subsidiary under Konami.

As I understand, its purpose was to relieve Kojima of business responsibilities that a traditional executive would have. I would assume it was only a studio on paper and all assets and IP were still retained by Konami.

I didn't realise until now but Fox Engine has also been used in the yearly PES Soccer games as well!

After Kojima left, he reformed the studio as an actual independent company which is backed and funded by Sony with complete creative freedom.

He toured studios around the world and decided to work with Guerilla Games, who built Decima for their title Horizon: Zero Dawn.

They're simply using the engine and collaborating with Guerilla to make tweaks and modifications to suit their title.

I believe it's not unlike the working relationship that Insomniac and Naughty Dog had in the PS2 days, where they would share tech and insights.

So yeah, tldr: Fox Engine was always owned by Kojima. Kojima Productions was once a subsidiary and is now an independent entity. KojiProd is essentially borrowing Guerilla Games Decima Engine rather than building one from scratch.

P.S. I'm just a fan, not anyone who is speaking with authority ;)

> Kojima Productions, pre-Death Stranding, was only a subsidiary under Konami.

One would assume that if Kojima is already influential enough to get a whole studio, even named after himself, he might as well ensure, at least partial, ownership of the properties created by that studio.

These contract negotiations, for the studio's original formation, must have been a really awkward process.

On a side note, I was hoping to look up the subsidiary under the Japanese companies register out of curiosity but unfortunately they don't provide free and/or unregistered search like the one here in my country.

They also don't run their service on weekends meaning they quite literally shut down registration and other functions. I feel like that defeats the entire purpose of having a website!

They developed it while they were owned by Konami, so yeah its pretty natural it falls under the ownership of Konami by contract.

Konami is using the Fox Engine in the upcoming Metal Gear Survive.

Even though I knew most of this, I'm still surprised how many layers are rendered every frame

Yeah, it's absolutely mind blowing. My last involvement with graphics programming was the 90s demoscene, and fill-rate was a massive constraint on doing cool things. Doing the amount of math these modern engines do per frame, let alone multiple times per pixel, would have been unimaginable.

It's amazing and cool how much GPUs have changed all that, and the techniques are so different and constrained in such different ways.

I also like how if you remove most of the passes you end up with virtua fighter

This is pretty standard in AAA games, if you look at some of his previous breakdowns there are a similar amount of passes. What was surprising to me was how much work was done post tonemapping and gamma correction.

Great blog post. Maybe he will post another article about MGSV5 open world rendering, as it's one of the highlights of the Fox engine.

Anyway RAGE engine from Rockstar (GTA IV+V, RDR 1+2) is probably one of the most advanced engines, so much details in rendering.


A detailed comparison of open world game engines would be interesting with focus on LOD, streaming and rendering techniques.

  * RAGE (GTA5/RDR2)
  * AnvilNext (AC:O, GR:Widelands)
  * Frostbite3 (NfS:Payback, SW:Battlefront2)
  * Just Cause 3
  * Watch Dogs 2
  * Mafia 2/3
  * Dunia (Far Cry 4/5)
  * Decima (Horizon Zero Dawn)
  * Fox (MGSV)
  * REDengine (Witcher 3)
  * Minecraft (Java + new C++ Bedrock ed)
  * Genome (Elex)
  * CryEngine/Lumberyard
  * Unity
  * Unreal 4 (PUBG)
It's impressive how such game engines provide seamless high speed travel with vehicles (cars, airplanes) in an open world environment.

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