Technical Discussion

The bigger news with Rage is that this is id’s launch title to demonstrate what their id Tech 5 engine can do. It’s also the first major engine in a long while to use OpenGL as the core rendering API, which makes it doubly interesting for us to investigate as a benchmark. And here’s where things get really weird, as id and John Carmack have basically turned the whole gaming performance question on its head. Instead of fixed quality and variable performance, Rage shoots for fixed performance and variable quality. This is perhaps the biggest issue people are going to have with the game, especially if they’re hoping to be blown away by id’s latest graphical tour de force.

Running on my gaming system (if you missed it earlier, it’s an i7-965X @ 3.6GHz, 12GB RAM, GTX 580 graphics), I get a near-constant 60FPS, even at 2560x1600 with 8xAA. But there’s the rub: I don’t ever get more than 60FPS, and certain areas look pretty blurry no matter what I do. The original version of the game offered almost no options other than resolution and antialiasing, while the latest patch has opened things up a bit by adding texture cache and anisotropic filtering settings—these can be set to either Small/Low (default pre-patch) or Large/High. If you were hoping for a major change in image quality, however, post-patch there’s still plenty going on that limits the overall quality. For one, even with 21GB of disk space, id’s megatexturing may provide near-unique textures for the game world but many of the textures are still low resolution. Antialiasing is also a bit odd, as it appears have very little effect on performance (up to a certain point); the most demanding games choke at 2560x1600 4xAA, even with a GTX 580, but Rage chugs along happily with 8xAA. (16xAA on the other hand cuts frame rates almost in half.)

The net result is that both before and after the latest patch, people have been searching for ways to make Rage look better/sharper, with marginal success. I grabbed one of the custom configurations listed on the Steam forums to see if that helped at all. There appears to be a slight tweak in anisotropic filtering, but that’s about it. [Edit: removed link as the custom config appears mostly worthless—see updates.] I put together a gallery of several game locations using my native 2560x1600 resolution with 8xAA, at the default Small/Low settings (for texturing/filtering), at Large/High, and using the custom configuration (Large/High with additional tweaks). These are high quality JPEG files that are each ~1.5MB, but I have the original 5MB PNG files available if anyone wants them.

You can see that post-patch, the difference between the custom configuration and the in-game Large/High settings is negligible at best, while the pre-patch (default) Small/Low settings have some obvious blurriness in some locations. Dead City in particular looked horribly blurred before the patch; I started playing Rage last week, and I didn’t notice much in the way of texture blurriness until I hit Dead City, at which point I started looking for tweaks to improve quality. It looks better now, but there are still a lot of textures that feel like they need to be higher resolution/quality.

Something else worth discussing while we’re on the subject is Rage’s texture compression format. S3TC (also called DXTC) is the standard compressed texture format, first introduced in the late 90s.  S3TC/DXTC achieves a constant 4:1 or 6:1 compression ratio of textures. John Carmack has stated that all of the uncompressed textures in Rage occupy around 1TB of space, so obviously that’s not something they could ship/stream to customers, as even with a 6:1 compression ratio they’d still be looking at 170GB of textures. In order to get the final texture content down to a manageable 16GB or so, Rage uses the HD Photo/JPEG XR format to store their textures. The JPEG XR content then gets transcoded on-the-fly into DXTC, which is used for texturing the game world.

The transcoding process is one area where NVIDIA gets to play their CUDA card once more. When Anand benchmarked the new AMD FX-8150, he ran the CPU transcoding routine in Rage as one of numerous tests. I tried the same command post-patch, and with or without CUDA transcoding my system reported a time of 0.00 seconds (even with one thread), so that appears to be broken now as well. Anyway, I’d assume that a GTX 580 will transcode textures faster than any current CPU, but just how much faster I can’t say. AMD graphics on the other hand will currently have to rely on the CPU for transcoding.

Update: Sorry, I didn't realize that you had to have a game running rather than just using vt_benchmark at the main menu. Bear in mind that I'm using a different location than Anand used in his FX-8150 review; my save is in Dead City, which tends to be one of the more taxing areas. I'm using two different machines as a point of reference, one a quad-core (plus Hyper-Threading) 3.65GHz i7-965 and the other a quad-core i7-2630QM. I've also got results with and without CUDA, since both systems are equipped with NVIDIA GPUs. Here's the result, which admittedly isn't much:

Rage Transcoding Performance

This is using "vt_benchmark 8" and reporting the best score, but regardless of the number of threads it's pretty clear that CUDA is able to help speed up the image transcoding process. How much this actually affects gameplay isn't so clear, as new textures are likely transcoded in small bursts once the initial level load is complete. It's also worth pointing out that the GPU transcoding looks like it would be of more benefit with slower CPUs, as my desktop realized a 41% improvement while the lower clocked notebook (even with a slower GPU) realized a 52% improvement. I also tested the GTX 580 and GTX 560M with and without CUDA transcoding and didn’t notice a difference in perforamnce, but I don’t have any empirical data. That brings us to the final topic.

Rage Against the (Benchmark) Machine Performance Investigation and Wrap-Up
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  • Stuka87 - Saturday, October 15, 2011 - link

    Ok, I realize this is just a pet peeve, but on page two there is this line.

    John Carmack has stated that all of the uncompressed textures in Rage occupy around 1TB of space, so obviously that’s not something they could ship/stream to customers, as even with a 6:1 compression ration they’d still be looking at 170GB of textures.

    Ration should be Ratio. Unless of course it is in fact compressed food :)

    But great article otherwise. And maybe I missed it, but did you go into texture pop-in at all? It seems storage speed is a major issue in this game.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, October 15, 2011 - link

    Thanks... sorry for the typo. I know the word is "ratio", but when I'm typing fast for some reason I often end up with "ration". I think it's just muscle memory from all the other words ending in "tion". Reply
  • Stuka87 - Saturday, October 15, 2011 - link

    Oh I know, its very easy to do :) Reply
  • nyran125 - Saturday, October 15, 2011 - link

    when you actually play the game, peopl eare getting mroe than just little texture pop ups, they arew getting massive driver conflicts from AMD. Like big ugly strange low res texture blocks show up all over the road in front of you, or on the hills or on objects, especially on mid range systems like AMD 6870's, its more noticable.

    Purely an AMD driver is problem. It would be nice if GPU companies were encouraged before major games like RAGE are released to stores, to just maybe have someone pop into id software jsut to make sure if any dirver updates need to be done. Or maybe more team work between game developer and hardware manufactorers.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, October 15, 2011 - link

    I need to test on lower end AMD hardware, but unfortunately the only hardware I have other than 5870/6950 is mobile hardware, and both laptops with 6630M GPUs will not take the reference AMD drivers. Long-term, I'm sure it will all get worked out, but of course that doesn't help if you have a Sony laptop that won't accept non-Sony driver updates. :-\ Reply
  • RenderB - Saturday, October 15, 2011 - link

    Are you running the 11.10 preview 2 drivers? Those made things far worse on my HD6870.
    Actually those drivers stop working, and then do a recover whenever I logged into windows. Was even giving me trouble with the intro vid.
    Reverting back to 11.9, and using radeonpro to run this game without ati AI more or less fixed my issues with the game.
    Reply
  • Frenetic Pony - Saturday, October 15, 2011 - link

    Graphics programming enthusiast, checking in!

    This is due to the engine itself, or rather just the size of the game you have to download and limits of the 360 being on a dvd.

    The textures the engine uses can all be utterly unique (and essentially are in RAGE thanks to precalculated lighting for every last environment pixel). They can also be unlimited in texture size, but because of the way technical mumbo jumbo this takes up a ton of disc space. So they limited it because they wanted to put it out on the 360.

    But the good news is that a patch is on the way that should clear up the textures some on the pc. That and Carmack has expressed a desire to see what the game looked like when turned up to 11, and release that to the pc public. So presumably there will be some taste of an ultra sharp co-op level or something coming and we can see what Id-tech 5 will be able to do without dinky little disc space requirements holding it back.
    Reply
  • ENUF - Sunday, October 16, 2011 - link

    I have beat RAGE on the normal setting; however am having a b!tch of a time on nightmare. I was able to beat Borderlands + all the DLC on the hardest setting. I love both games; I like Borderlands more; however RAGE is tougher to me. Excellent graphics on both games too. I can't wait for more patches to come down the pipe and more DLC for RAGE. Another excellent game by ID. Reply
  • Akv - Sunday, October 16, 2011 - link

    It is always sad for me to see that kind of video games, which I consider esthetically appalling, intellectually illiterate and psychologically gloomy.

    You might argue it is what teenagers are nowadays, and there is a huge demand for ugly, stupid and gloomy games. However, I don't get used to seeing adults praise that sort of things.
    Reply
  • Revdarian - Sunday, October 16, 2011 - link

    About the technology. I do not think that MegaTexture is quite nice, as i feel that it's pro (non repeating textures) is overshadowed deeply by it's cons (severely HDD inefficient for memory storage, and the problems it generates when generating//editting levels), so yeah, i am personally not impressed on that very specific regard.
    Also you guys didn't seem to notice the total lack of dynamic lights, and how they had to butcher the texture in any dark area...

    I understand your opinion and respect it, but i can't share it. Cheers!
    Reply

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