When it comes to pure vision, the limits of current technology should never be a stopping point. And when it comes to research and development, system requirements are rarely part of the initial discussion. That was a sentiment expressed by Associate Producer Sylvain Trottier in a recent media interview, in which he was speaking purely about R&D environment during the early days working on Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag. In the interview, he expressed that during the R&D phase, optimization isn’t the focus. Instead, it’s about seeing what you can do – and if you can’t pull it off with the tools at hand, you simply add in a bigger GPU. This statement was then re-quoted out of context, making it appear that we don’t focus on PC optimization.
Rest assured, that is decidedly not the case.
PC optimization is a key process for all our games, and Black Flag is no exception.
But, as with all development, those gorgeous next next-gen effects – like the billowy clouds of volumetric fog that flood your screen when you blast away with your cannons while at sea – were initially dreamed up in an unfettered R&D environment. “You want to push the particle and lighting effects to the max to see how it looks,” Trottier says. “Thing is, while you’re doing that, the performance doesn’t matter. We were doing R&D. But we weren’t doing R&D for performance. We’re doing R&D to try to see how far we can push the limits, to make our game look very amazing.”
Only afterward did the team start to figure out how to make this actually work on next-gen and PC. “This is where the optimization phase starts,” Trottier explains. “And we started doing optimization on PC first.”
Why PC first? Three reasons. One is logistical: every team member has a PC at their desk, and the engineers are most familiar (at least during these early days of next-gen) with the PC environment. Trottier also mentions that the team is stacked with “brilliant engineers” who are constantly reading white papers and staying on top of PC development, and they’re always eager to try out new tricks and techniques that could benefit the game.
Also noteworthy: both of the next-gen consoles are very similar to PCs, so any learnings from PC optimization can be readily applied to the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. If, say, the team finds a way to shave 50% off the GPU burden for a particular effect, they can then expect a roughly equivalent savings on both next-gen consoles, and they can be confident in their ability to apply those savings. “It’s not 100% linear, but at least it gives you an order of magnitude,” Trottier notes.
Finally, our developers and engineers are, simply put, PC fans. They know PC is an important platform and stand behind it. They want to make the game just as great on PC as it is on consoles. That’s why Ubisoft has a team dedicated solely to building the PC version of Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag, working on everything from the UI to the controls to wide range of settings encountered in PC gaming. “It’s absolutely not true that we don’t care about PC optimization,” Trottier says. “If we didn’t care about PC optimization, then we would not have such a big team in Kiev. We have a team dedicated just to the PC version in Kiev.”
“We are very proud of the PC version of Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag,” Trottier continues. “The game runs well on low-end PCs, and lots of additional features were added for higher-end machines, allowing each and every customer to fully enjoy the experience on their PCs. Our partnership with Nvidia that saw our respective engineering teams work together to develop a highly optimized PC version also demonstrates our commitment to the platform.” Trottier also points to the additional PC features that were implemented, including: keyboard and mouse optimized control, three-screen support, and unique effects and technologies, including NVIDIA HBAO+ (occlusion), NVIDIA PCSS, NVIDIA TXAA and NVIDIA GPU-accelerated PhysX in an upcoming patch. And, of course, there’s higher resolution support, including 4K support. “If you can see our game run at 4k resolution on PC, it’s magical. It’s beautiful,” Trottier smiles.
For the PC system requirements, please see: Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag Out Now on Xbox One and PC