Racing Evoluzione (Apex) in the house!

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by Bjoern Roy, Feb 5, 2003.

  1. Bjoern Roy

    Bjoern Roy Second Unit

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    I ordered the US version of this game, 'Apex', and it won't be released until the end of the month. Here in Europe its released under the name 'Racing Evoluzione' and in some european coutries, its already out. Here in Germany, its available in every store.

    A friend just came over with the UK version! I am too busy in recent weeks to read much, let alone post, in the forums. But being a complete racing game nut, i will take the time off tonight to get a close look at it.

    Having several years background in this field, expect some really anal nitpicking on any graphic related issues.
     
  2. Masood Ali

    Masood Ali Supporting Actor

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    I'm looking forward to your thoughts on this very anticipated title.
     
  3. Dan B

    Dan B Screenwriter

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    I'm definitely waiting for some reviews on this game...although it's already been positively reviewed in a few places. We know it looks awesome, especially the impressively detailed backgrounds, but I am waiting to hear how the handling and AI are.

    Along with your graphic nitpicking, please include some comparisons to other racing games' handling and AI, if possible. [​IMG]

    We also finally get Colin McRae 3 here the same day as Apex. Good day.
     
  4. Kelley_B

    Kelley_B Cinematographer

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  5. Bjoern Roy

    Bjoern Roy Second Unit

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    I also already have played the european version of Colin McRae, so i can also include some thoughts on that.
     
  6. Bjoern Roy

    Bjoern Roy Second Unit

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    Its now 3.30am here and i played the damn sucker for about 6 hours without a break. Sorry to say folks, i am now far too tired to write a review.

    Utterly amazing game in my book, that i can tell you in advance. More tomorrow.
     
  7. Kelley_B

    Kelley_B Cinematographer

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    Talk about McRae 3!!
     
  8. Dan B

    Dan B Screenwriter

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    Bah! Damn tease! [​IMG]

    Speaking of McRae, how 'bout that Monte Carlo rally? Hell of a start to Citroen's first full year in the WRC.
     
  9. Duane Robinson

    Duane Robinson Second Unit

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    So this game is definitely coming out at the end of this month then right. I'll be getting it for sure if it does. This game looks friggin sweet and if it controls as good as Rallisport then I'll be in gaming heaven for a long while. I love the stages in Rallisport and always wanted a game where I could drive exotic cars through stages like that instead of just rally cars. If this game delivers then I'll be a happy man until Midtown Madness 3, NBA Street 2, and Tao Feng get released.
     
  10. EdR

    EdR Second Unit

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    Yeah, EB shows both Apex and CMR3 being released on the 18th...I definitely have a date with my Xbox on that night!

    FWIW, I doubt that CMR3 will look as good as Rallisport, but I'm hoping it plays better.
     
  11. Dan B

    Dan B Screenwriter

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  12. Bjoern Roy

    Bjoern Roy Second Unit

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    "Graphics Whore" Review: Apex / Racing Evoluzione [​IMG]

    When the first screenshots of Racing Evoluzione (RE) were shown last year, the reaction of most was doubt about them really being representative for the in-game engine. Too often in recent times, developers have played the 'tease' game, with screenshots that are rendered at a higher resolution than the final game actually uses, or that show a very high level of anti-aliasing (4x4 or even 16x16 matrix), incredible high polygon count, or features like self-shadowing or advanced pixel shaders.

    The closer the release date gets, the more dissapointed you might become how the actual graphics turned out. Brute Force is one of the recent examples where ALL of the above mentioned tricks were used to gain attention. Actually, it went more like from incredible to horrible and now to at least quite good again. Maybe when its finally released, it will be very pleasing after all.

    Early screenshots of RE didn't even show cars on the tracks, yet the moody use of lighting, bump-mapping and pretty, highly detailed surroundings looked marvelous:

    [Click on thumbnails to enlarge...]

    [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]

    The fact that they showed jaggy non-anti-aliased edges made it likely that they were the real deal. I am glad to report that not only were the early screenshots in-game, but the final game looks even BETTER! (See discussion on anti-aliasing below)

    Once the first screenshots with actual cars appeared, both on-track and in showcase type, it seemed like Milestone decided not to use real car licences. The roadsters and sportscars that appeared to be design studies, fantasy cars. Not using licenced cars 'can' work, but only if done extremely well. Usually, the ability to identify with a known brand or particular car, increases the interest in a racing game.

    The cool thing about this game, is that they DID actually pull the strings to get real car licences, yet they also included many incredible design study type cars and models that are most likely specifically designed for the game. Actually, this very fact is a key feature of the game, since this isn't the usual kind of game, where you are a regular driver and get to drive all sorts of regular cars...

    Instead, you play the game in a career mode, where you found your own company and design a first prototype car. You participate in races to compete with others, which mostly drive in regular brand cars, and try to improve your car, increase interest in your project, to eventually sell the first few cars, expand your company and later go into full production... then develop another, even better car...

    I find this very well done and in no way distracting from the actual racing focus. You get to choose which car to develop from a handful of designs and see your company expand step by step, that kind of thing. Its not intended to be the next 'SimWhatever' game, its just to get a mood and motivation across, which i think works great. Its not unlike Deathrow, where you also get a little surrounding story with mini events. In Deathrow, its the traing droids who challange you to give them a revenge, in RE its a Sheik, who wants to invest in your company and how you have to demonstrate your skill in a race.

    I won't list all of the features of the game, you will be able to read this in a dozen of reviews over the next few days. One on One, Time trial with nicely done Ghost Car, you name it. No Live Support, haven't found out if there is any chance to play it over network, don't think so. Too bad, would have been incredible.


    Graphics

    After seeing screenshots of this game, you basically assume that graphics is going to be its strong point and your only hope is, that it also handles well, has great track design and that the physics don't suck a monkeyball. A certain 'eye candy without substance' primal fear is raising its head and hunts you until the day you actually play the game... More on that later. Lets focus on the visuals first.

    No doubt, the graphics are among the best. IMO, in this genre, considering all aspects that make a game look realistic, i think this is the new king overall. Most racing games lately have had some very strong aspects visually, but lacked in others. This one is incredibly well balanced.


    The surroundings look incredible and there is a nice variety here. Tropical asian courses, old french-style to modern metropolical city tracks, mountain courses, actual racing tracks, super-speedways. Great combination and i was surprised at the amount of tracks that appear to be unlockable! I thought "if the tracks look this distinguished and beautiful, they probably don't have more than a dozen tracks...". Can't say how many there are, but it appears to be many many more.

    Textures and geometry of surrounding objects like buildings, trees, mountains, and what-have-you are great. The reason this game looks so good, is that the developers had a clue about creating a good balance between textures, geometry and lighting. For example, if you simply use photos as a basis for your textures, you need to make sure that the lighting that is already captured in these shots, fits together with the real-time lighting you render. Shadows in the photos, that point into other direction than your realtime shadows, for example, completely destroy the illusion.

    You also need to have a good hand at choosing a realistic color pallette. You cannot take photos of trees at a foggy morning and use these as your tree textures and expect this too look good in a moody warm dusk lighting scheme on your track. What you want to make sure, is that you basically extract all the inherent lighting information from the photos, so that close to 100% of the shading comes from the realtime engine and not the moment of your snapshot.

    Non-photo based in-house created textures need be wisely choosen in pallette as well, since its of paramount importance to have them match in tone and style to any photo based textures. Another very important aspect is, that the color balanace of the 'sky' texture/s needs to be accurately matched by the realtime lighting you use on your objects.

    You need to tackle down a WHOLE lot of small issues to make a game look realistic. Proper knowledge of lighting is the key. Its not just about texture size, poly count and display resolution. Having background in this area, i am VERY picky in this regard and am constantly shocked at how many obvious bad choices designers make in most games.

    Among the very few titles, that i don't have much to complain about are Rallisport Challange and Splinter Cell. The dusk ice race (Lk. Bauer i think) in the former and embassy level in the latter for example, illustrate how proper knowledge of lighting and color balance make almost photo realistic looking graphics. And now, RE is another of the few titles were i applaud most graphic design choices.


    Here are a few example from RE, that illustrate a few of the things i mentioned above:

    [​IMG]

    The lighting and color balance on the objects in this picture scream 'daylight' without even looking at the sky texture. Perfect. Also look at the amazing combination of shading (see front) and texturing to make that huge ship in the back look so realistic.


    [​IMG]

    In this picture, everything mirrors a warmer evening pallette that you would expect from the clouds in the sky. You can also see an example of a photo based texture that doesn't fit 100%, because its inherent lighting information hasn't been extracted good enough. Look at the trees on the left. They are too contrasty, and appear to be shined on by another imaginary light source. They appear to glow.


    [​IMG]

    This is also true somewhat for the trees in this picture, but overall, the mood set by the low sun and brightly lit cloud formation looks just 'right'. Another thing visible in here, is a feature of this engine that i also like very much, and that is the use of 2 seperate car shadows. One for the actual directional light of the sun (the longer shadow to the left) and another for the general reduction of ambient light intensity under the car. In hard normal daytime sunlight, the directional shadow is rather defined, while the ambient one is soft and blurry, just like it should be. Love it.


    [​IMG]

    Looking at about every screenshot, you will notice that the asphalt is amazingly well done. A small scope bump-map is used to model the diffuse and specular components of the asphalt, with a rather high choice in reflectance, which looks incredible real when you drive against a sunset, for example. The ambient dark gray base texture blends in great with this.

    This in itself is neat, but another 'small thing' they thought of, and that i can't remember having seen implemented in another engine yet, is that the specular 'reflectance' part of the pixel shader is disabled wherever there is a shadow cast over the course. This is physically correct, the sun cannot 'reflect' from a point on the surface that is in the shadow the sun itself casts. This may sound like no big deal, but it simply adds another dimension to the realism. In Rallisport, they didn't think of this and i noticed it right away. You can see this nicely in pic 2 and 4 of the row of 5 early teaser screenshots above. Notice the shadow of the bridge and tree on the asphalt and the lack of any reflectance there.


    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    These are just 4 random screenshots that show how excellenty modeled and rendered the cars are in this game. In shading metal, its very important to get a good balance between reflectivity and actual paint color. Many game designers just put reflectance up through the roof, just because they can. Sensationalism, if you will, which kills any realism intended by the reflectance in the first place. The balance in RE is just right.

    The reflections on the cars are rendered in real-time through an cubic environment map. This is done incredibly well:
    - The whole environment is used for the calcualtion of the map, not just key buildings. In PGR (Project Gotham Racing), the buildings and signs were rendered in the env-map, but the trees weren't, for example. Rallisport Challenge doesn't even use an actually calculated environment map for the reflections, its an approximated global map, which looks kinda fake at times. RSC gets away with it, since the cars are driving on long open tracks and never under bridges or in cities between skyscrapers, since then it would get very obvious.
    - Cars are not relected in one another. That would be the icing on the cake. Am not aware that it has been done yet by any game. One goal left.
    - The resolution of the cubic map is very good. Only when you actually focus on the reflection, you can see some jagginess.
    - The temporal resolution is also very good. The reflection is rendered about every 2nd frame, so the reflectance judder is only minimal. Quite amazing to have 'cubic' maps with this high temporal and spacial resolution on several cars. You need to render about 300-500 lowres frames per second for the reflections, if 5 or 6 cars are on screen. In addition to the main picture... Hopefully some optimizations used to keep this down in average situations.


    The interesting thing about the game is the choice for the PQ vs performance ratio, that was chosen. I am sorry to inform, that the game is running 'locked 2-framed'. Which means it runs a constant 30fps and not the expect ultra fluid 60fps (1-framed). Thats my ONLY gripe with this game right now. Its was a good choice to lock it at 30fps, and not allow it to go up to 60, even if its able to sometimes, since its the fluctuation between the different achievable discrete framerates (60, 30, 20, 15), that will lead to choppy 'studder', that you try to avoid. Its better to have a game locked at 30fps, if it isn't able to hold 60fps for 95% of the time, since constantly toggling between 30 and 60fps is a studdery mess and far less pleasing than a constant smooth 30fps. This is an interesting topic, maybe i write some more about it some day.

    The real surprise is that the game is using anti-aliasing. Usually, you would expect a racing game to be tuned to get 60fps and leave AA off to achieve this. But considering the intelligence that the Milestone team demonstrated with all other choices, my explanation is, that they weren't able to hold a constant 60fps throughout the whole game, maybe only 70% of the time, with the usual AA disabled. As mentioned, that would result in a juddery mess. So they decided to lock the game at 30fps (2-framed), which means they now have twice as much time to render a single frame. Enabling the kind of AA they used, didn't result in enough of a performance hit to go down to 20fps (3-framed) in more than 1% of the scenes, so they decided to use it. Good choice. Too bad 60fps appears to not have been possible without AA. The graphics make more than up for it, though, and after playing it for 2-3 hours, it didn't bother me as much as it usually does. Now, after more than 6 hours, its mostly a non-issue for me.

    Another excellent choice, is to use a [1x2] matrix for anti-aliasing for a racing game. 1x2 means, the picture is only supersampled with twice as much samples in the vertical direction. Horizontally, there is no AA. This leads to a very desirable effect for a racing game, since vertical AA reduces jaggies at 'almost horizontal' edges. And there are plenty of those in every racing game. Roof-tops, bumpers at the sides of the street, all these kinds of things were 'jaggies' usually distract the most, are of 'almost horizontal' nature. So use a form of AA that reduces exactly those is nice. 'Almost vertical' edges stay just as aliased and jaggy as usual, though. Enabling 2x2 AA would have killed performance just too much.

    Look at this picture to see that almost all critical lines in this shot of a car are of 'almost horizontal' nature and jaggies are nicely reduced on them due to 2-times vertical AA:

    [​IMG]

    Here is a closeup, for you to clearly see the assymetry. The horizontal edge the green arrow points to is anti-aliased and looks rather smooth, yet the vertical edge the other arrow points to shows the normal non-AA jaggies.

    [​IMG]


    I will probably leave it at this with the graphics. They are amazing and have to be seen in real to be appreciated. If you get the game, i would recommend to start the 'carrer' mode right away. The first 3-4 tracks that you will be allowed to drive on are graphically good, but with the Semi-Pro league that you will unlock, it will get even better. And once you unlocked the 'Pro' league, you will get to drive on 4-5 course, each one of which so unbelievably beautiful... oh my. A 'league' of its own, in my book, from there on.

    Now, that should be enough impressions on the graphics.


    Sorry, I will keep the rest incredibly short... Too tired. If you have more questions in the areas below, let me know.


    Sound
    - The sound effects and surround usage appears to be good.
    - Soundtrack has some appropriate nice songs, but also some that i don't like. Haven't checked whether you can use your own music.


    Handling and Physics:
    - both quite similar to Project Gotham Racing (one of the best games ever, in my book), so i am a happy as a puppy
    - physics might even be a bit better, since you can crash into other cars and loose ground, which i can't remember from PGR
    - once i crashed into something and car started tilting, until i was driving on 2 wheels! I managed to drive for about 5 seconds as a two-wheeler!! Absolutely incredible.


    Component AI
    - lets just say, they are similar to PGR in that they are quite aggressive and rather tough.
    - overall, i can only say, the AI didn't rub me the wrong way yet. Seemed appropriate. More thoughts probably later.



    Thats it, shoot away. Comments on other games (McRae) better not in this thread, lets keep this to RE. I might post some thoughts on it in another thread.

    Regards
    Bjoern

    P.S. It took 4 hours to write this, so don't expect me to reread it for spell checking and grammer, etc. [​IMG]
     
  13. NickSo

    NickSo Producer

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    Wow... Graphics whore indeed lol.. more than 50% of the review was about the graphics...

    *sigh* i want an xbox... I live for racing games, thats why i have a dreamcast... Sucks i have no time to play them however if i did have an Xbox
     
  14. Paul_Fisher

    Paul_Fisher Screenwriter

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    I think I'll be picking this one up. [​IMG] Thanks for the review!
     
  15. John Kilroy

    John Kilroy Stunt Coordinator

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    You truly are a passionate graphics whore. Wear the badge with pride! Thanks for the great review. If you get a chance, see if it uses custom soundtracks. Thanks again!
     
  16. Dan B

    Dan B Screenwriter

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    Thanks for taking the time to write that! It sounds like a winner. Questions:

    -How many cars do you race against?
    -How many camera choices are there & are they adjustable in any way? (like they are in Project Gotham Racing)
    -Can you turn off on-screen displays such as the speedometer and lap times? (pet peeve of mine)
    -How is the damage modeling, if there is any, & does it affect the car's performance?
    -I've read that there are slow loading times. How slow are they?


    John, the game does support custom soundtracks according the the Official Xbox Magazine review.


    Thanks again, Bjoern!
     
  17. Dan B

    Dan B Screenwriter

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    I've just heard that the game apparently has a major freezing bug that prevents you from completing the career mode.

    Let's hope it gets fixed for the US release, but I suppose we can expect a delay now because of it. Ah well.
     
  18. Bjoern Roy

    Bjoern Roy Second Unit

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    Oh, forgot something important.

    The game doesn't appear to be 16x9!

    Its really odd and strange, all of my favorite XBox games appear to be 4x3: Halo, Splinter Cell, Project Gotham and now Apex... [​IMG]

    Thank god my picture is still 7' wide when masked to 4x3 [​IMG] Makes it very bearable.

    The field of view is similar to Project Gotham. A 16x9 mode would have been great: a tad wider peripheral vision through a wider horizontal FOV would have increased the sense of speed a tad. At first this really bugged me. But its great as is, accepted it rather early on. Still a shame.

    But it IS 480p. No 720p or 1080i, no surprise.

    Since the game i played was PAL, it needed a modded box set to NTSC to be able to play it in 480p of course.
     
  19. Bjoern Roy

    Bjoern Roy Second Unit

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    Dan,

    all races i participated in were with 6 cars. I prefer compact fields of 6-8 like in PGR or Apex, so its fine with me. Others might prefer compromises in graphics to get huge component fields.

    I remember 4 camera choices: Near the Ground, Hood, Near Behind, Far Behind. 'Near Behind' is actually quite close to the car roof, 'Far Behind' isn't all that *far* behind, but is well chosen both in regard to 'distance' and especially in regard to 'rotation lag'. Meaning, the camera's sideway tracking in relationship to the steering/turning of your car, seems very natural. The 'coupling' between the 2 works good.

    In regard to turning off hud info, i haven't found anything. There is a track map in the upper left that i think you can turn off, though. I agree with you, both from an immersion and burn-in-fear point of view, being able to completely turn off display info would be great. Oh well, if its a pet peeve of yours, you probably play a lot of DOAX. [​IMG]

    A nice little touch is, that the speed-o-meter differs from evolution step to the next, probably also from car to car.

    There is a damage model, but i haven't seen it affect performance yet. Maybe there is some kind of 'hard' difficulty were it does. Having your bumping hanging down leads to some nice particle sparkling effects. I haven't seen any parts fall off yet and doubt that will happen.

    Haven't been able to see any freezing yet, knock on wood. If this exists in all PAL versions, than i hope they can fix it until my precious NTSC version arrives.

    Regards
    Bjoern
     
  20. Dan B

    Dan B Screenwriter

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    Thanks Bjoern. From what I've read, the bug doesn't affect all copies of the game. I haven't heard yet if it's a problem with hardware, certain copies of the game, or something else.

    My personal preference in regards to on-screen displays in racing games is to have a real working dashboard with functioning speedometer & tachometer. (it's common in PC racing games) In real life, I don't have a gauge floating in mid-air in the corner of my eye and an invisible car interior. Good news is...developers are starting to listen. Some of the big upcoming racing games later this year & early next year are promising an in-car view finally, & some others already have it like Colin McRae 3 & World Racing.
     

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