Source, CS, and Halflife 2

Before we take a look at the numbers, we have to know what we are dealing with. There are really three important components to address when looking at the beta version of Counterstrike: Source. First, there's the fact that the game is based on the Source engine and has a built in graphics stress test to push hardware to its limits and beyond. Next, there's Counterstrike and how that franchise fits into the equation. Finally, the crux of the matter, what do our observations reveal about the upcoming Halflife 2 title?

The opening of the Video Stress Test benchmark

In taking a look at the source engine test level supplied with CS:Source Beta, one of the first things we noticed was a difference in feeling between Source and id Software's latest engine. We've only got a test room and a sandy CS level to test the Source on, so we really haven't seen all that it has to offer, but our first impression of the engine is that it is very "clean". Clean like listening to an undistorted guitar after hearing some intensely heavy rock, or the feeling of looking at an HDTV next to an old UHF box. So far, the scenes we've seen rendered with Source show us that the engine is very good at producing crisp, clear images. Our initial impression of Doom III wasn't that it was any less real or vivid (we still got that warm, squishy, HD feeling inside), but that it was real in a dark, dirty, and atmospheric way. We will probably see how well Valve can coax their engine into producing similar situations at different points in Halflife 2, and surely there will be Doom III engine licensees who will create games with a slightly (for lack of a better word) happier feel. But at this point we don't have enough info to say that one engine is "better" than the other. So far, we'll just call them different. We are absolutely looking forward to seeing how Valve will integrate some of the very cool effects produced by the stress test in gaming situations.

Some of the more complex rendering that goes on in the Video Stress Test is overlapping reflective/refractive surfaces

Counterstrike: Source is somewhat of an interesting choice for Valve to lead off with. Historically, CS players have been very demanding on framerate. While we can't get 200fps at high resolutions, the subtle (and not so subtle) enhancements to the game engine add a depth to Counterstrike that could revitalize the franchise. Unlike the stress test, the enhancements in the one level available for play in Counterstrike: Source Beta (dust) aren't all about fire, water, reflection/refraction, and tv monitors. The main benefits we see in CS are in the added clarity, feeling of realism, and enhanced physics. Kicking a box or rolling an oil drum down a hill are fun enough to distract players from the game at hand. Actually, such real world interactions with the environment provide a new way to play: kicking a tire down one side of a hill to draw sniper fire, then running down the other is a very effective trick. Smoke and flashbang effects, muzzle flares, and explosions add to the experience as well. Lighting effects inside buildings pile on the realism. With the intensity of effects kept to a subtle level, high frame rates are still achievable, and if we decide to include CS: Source as a test game in future articles, we will put a larger emphasis on higher frame rates than we will from the stress test we will see benched here.

When it comes to Halflife 2, we still don't have a very good picture of how Counterstrike and the included stress test will relate to game play. We will very likely see less sheer graphical impact in the final version of HL2 than in the stress test. After all, Valve packed tons of water, translucent surfaces, and special effects into a tiny room in order to push graphics cards to the limit. We wouldn't expect (or want) to see a level like that in the game. Effects and eye candy are wonderful things, but game designers always need to be careful not to heap too much of a good thing on gamers. One of the most important aspects of the latest in the FPS genre is to put the player in the game as much as possible. At the same time, HL2 will have AI and huge levels with all kind of stuff going on. We really feel that HL2 will be much more CPU intensive than the graphics stress test (which we would hope), or even Counterstrike. Graphically, HL2 will likely be more intense than CS (as it will have more opportunity for strange alien special effects), though this remains to be seen.

So, with Halflife 2, we're looking at something more CPU intensive than both CS and the gpu stress test, and between the two in average graphical intensity. No, it's not easy to call. Especially since we haven't found a "good" way to benchmark our Counterstrike level yet. We take a brief look at CPU scaling with the video stress test on the A64FX platform, but this won't offer as much insight as we would like until we can get our hands on HL2. An in depth analysis of the impact of the cpu on the graphics engine as far removed from game play as possible could help us separate the graphics factor from the game benchmark later on if we decide to use HL2 as a CPU test (we are hoping to be able to test the impact of the new AI algorithm if possible).. Of course, that depends on the type of benchmarking software that comes with HL2 (if any).

But that's enough background. Now on to the tests.

Index The Test
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  • Ballistics - Sunday, September 5, 2004 - link

    I guess I was just expecting more from Anandtech, thats all.

    Tired of buyer guides that are biased towards certain manufacturers (ie) the FX5900XT was released in December 2003 and has proven itself to be an awesome price/performance card. It was a sub $200 card that ran with the +$300 + cards of the time. Yet ATI, ATI, ATI was all that was touted. How come nobody picked up on that little powerhouse of a card that finally gave nVidia fans something to get excited about? There weren't even any good articles on that card until february!?!

    I used to come to anandtech with confidence that what I was reading was the newest "unbiased" hardware analysis. I can't do that anymore. Thats all.
  • AtaStrumf - Saturday, August 28, 2004 - link

    False alarm :(
  • suryad - Saturday, August 28, 2004 - link

    Hey guys, forgive my lack of knowledge but does anyone know if the final product, Half Life 2 when released that is, will have the capability to use SSE/3DNow! instructios in the CPU? Would it also take advantage of Hyperthreading? That would probably lead to higher framerates wouldn't it? I raise this question because I read at the S.T.A.L.K.E.R game website that the X-Ray engine is supposedly capable of taking advantage of not only the GPU (Duhh) but rather the type of CPU the computer has as well. Any comments? Thanks guys. As for the article, I am kind of leaning towards people who say that the games should be benhced on high end, middle end and lower end spec machines. I agree completely so it would give a better idea to most people. But since this is just a beta and I am sure that most people are interested in knowing about HL2 instead of CS IMHO I cant really blame AT for not making the article the way people want it. I am sure when they get the final released copy of HL2 all our questions will be answered. Thanks everyone.
  • AtaStrumf - Saturday, August 28, 2004 - link

    It appears that Gabe said that HL2 will be going gold on Monday, August 30th.
  • robbase29a - Saturday, August 28, 2004 - link

    One more thing, if I may... Some of you guys have it all wrong. Yes, AT is a hardware site... that's a given. But something that (some of) you people aren't getting is that hardware just doesn't stand alone. People don't just buy the newest nvidia card because of it's awesome architecture. Nor do people buy $800 dollar cpus because of their sweet pipelines, right? Hardware is used to run software.... duh.

    So.. what i'm getting at: AT is using this game to glean information about all the available hardware there is. CPUs, Graphics cards, and maybe RAM too. You need to know how your current card measures up before you upgrade right?... That is why AT is going to write a comprehensive review of ALL (or it may be safer to say most) of the graphics cards out there (CPUs too). Not just the new ones. So let's stop this silly griping and wait for them to do their thing. Go AT! - Message posted with good intentions, not to hurt anyone's feelings.
  • Tobyus - Friday, August 27, 2004 - link

    Ok, thanks Derek. That probably explains the difference. I am just amazed that my $170 processor can outperform an overclocked $800 processor. I guess the optimizations really make a big difference.
  • Phiro - Friday, August 27, 2004 - link

    Jalf said it all :)
  • Jalf - Friday, August 27, 2004 - link

    Well, as someone said earlier, AT happens to be a hardware site, not a gaming site. It's a lot more relevant for them to benchmark new cards in an interesting game, than 3 year old ones.

    Presumably they're more interested in which of the new cards actually performs best, than in how old harware HL2 can handle.

    Makes sense to me, and doesn't bother me the least. I read AT to learn about new hardware, and to know what I should upgrade to, not to find out whether my current system can run games. I use actual game reviews for that.
  • Gugax - Friday, August 27, 2004 - link

    We all need to chill out a little bit. I am shure AT will do a complete review as soon as they have a final HL2 copy to benchmark.
    My suggetion goes to havinga bang for the buck report. Better if including both Doom3/Hl2 results combined.
    Most people prefers one of the games. But everybody sooner or later will use both engine based games to play on. And if they are using this benchmarks to help them decide the best way to go, this shoul help them.
    And yes, not everybody is lucky to have a 800$ CPU... (altough you used it to take the cpu out of the equation, I know). :)
  • robbase29a - Friday, August 27, 2004 - link

    I think everybody needs to chill about AT not including the midrange video cards. I would also liked to have seen them, but we have to keep in mind that this is NOT a real game. This is just a preliminary test of a test world. I'm sure AT will come out with a full blown (midrange included) review when the real thing comes out. If everyone just exercised a little bit of patience, we wouldn't have such hot heads floating around.

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