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Opinion Analysis Graphics Analysis: Ghost of Tsushima

VFXVeteran

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This game is the perfect example of a very talented studio that understands what makes games look good and the technical chops to actually make a game look good with very limited bandwidth hardware. The tricks Sucker Punch used to achieve the stellar results they did is something that all studios should aspire to. While the game couldn't brute force it's way to implement some of the more expensive aspects of the pipeline, their overall presentation is stellar! I liken it to what Rockstar did with their recent open world game Red Dead Redemption 2.

Let's start with all the known features that has been implemented to make this game one of the best looking games ever on the last-gen PS4.

1.) GI Illumination using light probes. Many games use this as the main approach to solving the global illumination problem. However, most games don't use energy conservation in their shaders and the number of light probes could be limited in accuracy causing most games to blow out the lighting on an object and making it standout from local illumination. Without using proper ambient occlusion, these objects look flat and totally destroys the look of the game. Sucker Punch went with concentrating on energy conservation and lowering the contribution of the ambient term.



Here is a shot where I'm totally in shadow from the Sun. I wanted to see how their GI system worked with illuminating all the objects within that area. Aside from the white horse which is picking up probes from the sun that are underneath his body (inaccurate), everything else is completely dark and produces the proper results without blowing up the lighting on surfaces in shadow.



2.) Parallax Occlusion Mapping. There are typically 2 algorithms to use for POM. The second faster algorithm, came out just a few years ago and companies adopted it. SP wanted more than just normal maps for their game so they went with using the 2nd approach to POM. Having this instead of spending a large compute time on tessellation but not just settling for the conventional normal maps was a very wise choice. Here is a read on how the algorithm works.





The downfall to the new technique is that the parallax isn't as apparent and it breaks down rather quickly on adjacent angles of the camera and the surface plane.



3.) Smoke FX. Why companies don't use offline rendering of FX and creating animated textures with the renders is beyond me. It's absolutely a superior short-cut than trying to draw these kinds of FX by hand. This smoke is completely top notch. I claim they used Houdini to render out a fluid smoke simulation and baked the animation down into textures. Perfect trick that makes the FX look great!



Here is a video of it's motion. Simply superb look and pretty much a cheap cost for the GPU.



4.) Blockers for light leaks on eye lids. This has got to be one of the worse rendering artifacts that we've seen to date. VERY few gaming companies spend the extra time to make sure this extreme nuisance isn't in their game. I simply had to test whether the team addressed this issue and to my surprise they did!

Here is a screen of putting the character's back to the sun and seeing if the light leaks to the eye lids. It's not there thank God!



5.) Self shadow of foliage. When you don't have enough brute force GPU power to implement full on self shadowing of grass you can either use a proxy geometry rendered to shadow the grass, or use SSAO. SP went with both alternatives and as an added measure they painted in a gradient from tip to root where the root was totally black. I found this trick when viewing the grass when in shadow not under direct sunlight. With having a dynamic time of day, you can let your AO and the painted grass work (as you see here) and under direct sunlight, the grass will have a shadow as well. Again, really cheap and acceptable solution under all lighting conditions.



6.) Water shading. We still have top tier games that can't get water right. Some of the highly acclaimed games use a simple sine wave to show water and to me, that's simply being too lazy to make it look more convincing. In Ghost, they focused on making the water look believable by having several overlapping frequency sine waves along with light propagation and a fresnel effect in the shader to make the water appear natural.





Ghost of Tsushima is a game made by a company that understood what needed to look "right" with the current techniques that are currently out. None of this technology is some new innovative achievement. It's all been done before. What makes it stand out is the company and their talented artists and programmers understood how to make a game look *good* with the limited hardware they had to play with. I'm hoping that they made higher resolution texture assets and can use the GPU power of the PS5 to make a remaster with the game logic they already have in place. GoT isn't graphically perfect by any stretch of the imagination but it's the combined issues that SP decided to remedy along with smart ideas to get around blatant rendering problems that we still see in games made by some bigger studios with larger budgets.

In conclusion, I decided to kick off a chat message to one of my ex co-workers that works at SP congratulating him and his team on a job well done.
 
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mansoor1980

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really good analysis , highlighting the specific graphical features and also isnt POM incompaitable with anisotropic filtering? any solution to that?
 
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Kuranghi

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Apr 17, 2015
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Great writeup, thanks for taking the time. I would like to see a slightly higher resolution for the PS5 version to bring out the detail in the mid-distance more and increase the quality of the effects you mentioned but the main one I think would make the biggest difference overall is increasing the amount of subdivisions of the alpha textures that make up the fronds/branches of some of the trees types.

Its the only time in the game it really took my out of it, I'm glad they did it like they did because the scale, visual style and tone (of many trees swaying in the wind) is more important than the tree looking detailed up close but I hope PS5 can be used to increase fidelity there.
 

StreetsofBeige

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Oct 26, 2018
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Arguably the best art style this past gen. A combo of gritty westernized style visuals but with lots of colour. But not in a bright anime crazy kind of way. The pics on the net of bold reds and yellows look great.
 

Panajev2001a

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This game is the perfect example of a very talented studio that understands what makes games look good and the technical chops to actually make a game look good with very limited bandwidth hardware. The tricks Sucker Punch used to achieve the stellar results they did is something that all studios should aspire to. While the game couldn't brute force it's way to implement some of the more expensive aspects of the pipeline, their overall presentation is stellar! I liken it to what Rockstar did with their recent open world game Red Dead Redemption 2.

Let's start with all the known features that has been implemented to make this game one of the best looking games ever on the last-gen PS4.

1.) GI Illumination using light probes. Many games use this as the main approach to solving the global illumination problem. However, most games don't use energy conservation in their shaders and the number of light probes could be limited in accuracy causing most games to blow out the lighting on an object and making it standout from local illumination. Without using proper ambient occlusion, these objects look flat and totally destroys the look of the game. Sucker Punch went with concentrating on energy conservation and lowering the contribution of the ambient term.



Here is a shot where I'm totally in shadow from the Sun. I wanted to see how their GI system worked with illuminating all the objects within that area. Aside from the white horse which is picking up probes from the sun that are underneath his body (inaccurate), everything else is completely dark and produces the proper results without blowing up the lighting on surfaces in shadow.



2.) Parallax Occlusion Mapping. There are typically 2 algorithms to use for POM. The second faster algorithm, came out just a few years ago and companies adopted it. SP wanted more than just normal maps for their game so they went with using the 2nd approach to POM. Having this instead of spending a large compute time on tessellation but not just settling for the conventional normal maps was a very wise choice. Here is a read on how the algorithm works.





The downfall to the new technique is that the parallax isn't as apparent and it breaks down rather quickly on adjacent angles of the camera and the surface plane.



3.) Smoke FX. Why companies don't use offline rendering of FX and creating animated textures with the renders is beyond me. It's absolutely a superior short-cut than trying to draw these kinds of FX by hand. This smoke is completely top notch. I claim they used Houdini to render out a fluid smoke simulation and baked the animation down into textures. Perfect trick that makes the FX look great!



Here is a video of it's motion. Simply superb look and pretty much a cheap cost for the GPU.



4.) Blockers for light leaks on eye lids. This has got to be one of the worse rendering artifacts that we've seen to date. VERY few gaming companies spend the extra time to make sure this extreme nuisance isn't in their game. I simply had to test whether the team addressed this issue and to my surprise they did!

Here is a screen of putting the character's back to the sun and seeing if the light leaks to the eye lids. It's not there thank God!



5.) Self shadow of foliage. When you don't have enough brute force GPU power to implement full on self shadowing of grass you can either use a proxy geometry rendered to shadow the grass, or use SSAO. SP went with both alternatives and as an added measure they painted in a gradient from tip to root where the root was totally black. I found this trick when viewing the grass when in shadow not under direct sunlight. With having a dynamic time of day, you can let your AO and the painted grass work (as you see here) and under direct sunlight, the grass will have a shadow as well. Again, really cheap and acceptable solution under all lighting conditions.



6.) Water shading. We still have top tier games that can't get water right. Some of the highly acclaimed games use a simple sine wave to show water and to me, that's simply being too lazy to make it look more convincing. In Ghost, they focused on making the water look believable by having several overlapping frequency sine waves along with light propagation and a fresnel effect in the shader to make the water appear natural.





Ghost of Tsushima is a game made by a company that understood what needed to look "right" with the current techniques that are currently out. None of this technology is some new innovative achievement. It's all been done before. What makes it stand out is the company and their talented artists and programmers understood how to make a game look *good* with the limited hardware they had to play with. I'm hoping that they made higher resolution texture assets and can use the GPU power of the PS5 to make a remaster with the game logic they already have in place. GoT isn't graphically perfect by any stretch of the imagination but it's the combined issues that SP decided to remedy along with smart ideas to get around blatant rendering problems that we still see in games made by some bigger studios with larger budgets.

In conclusion, I decided to kick off a chat message to one of my ex co-workers that works at SP congratulating him and his team on a job well done. Here's the excerpt:

Excellent write up, tons of evidence, reference links to read, thank you!
 

Guilty_AI

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Interesting point with the smoke. I wonder if this can also be applied to water in the game's enviroment, or fire.
 
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DeepEnigma

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Nice writeup, thanks for the in depth analysis.

Finally got around to platting it last Tuesday. Loved the ending choice nature, I chose to walk away and not honor his wish to die. Japan needed him still as a strong leader for the Mongols that are still at war.

Still breathtakingly beautiful and that was on a base PS4, I can only imagine it at higher res and 60fps with all the foliage and smoke effects going on.
 
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Thedtrain

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Jul 30, 2018
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Good write up. Absolutely loved that game.
Look forward to more of these now that you have a ps5
 

GymWolf

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It's definitely not AC kind of water, but it's also not sine wave water like in some other games. I feel you though.
Yeah last 3 ac games and rdr2 spoiled me with their water, tsushima is sensibly worse tbh, not shit but like horizon zero dawn post patch tier.
 
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Excellent analysis. Subscribed.

Additionally, I really enjoy the specular lighting on the grass. To me, it almost looks as if they applied a similar technique to what Guerrilla Games did with HZD - purposefully introducing subtle manipulation of the surface normals of tree leaves, grass, etc w.r.t the camera to produce a visually pleasing "shiny" effect. It gives off that hyper-realistic vibe, although slightly inaccurate.
 
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DeepEnigma

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Excellent analysis. Subscribed.

Additionally, I really enjoy the specular lighting on the grass. To me, it almost looks as if they applied a similar technique to what Guerrilla Games did with HZD - purposefully introducing subtle manipulation of the surface normals of tree leaves, grass, etc w.r.t the camera to produce a visually pleasing "shiny" effect. It gives off that hyper-realistic vibe, although slightly inaccurate.
Watching this in 4K/HDR and seeing the grass move at 5 seconds in (with the same sheen) reminded me of GoT, and the first thing I thought was, PS6 graphics?🤭
 
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MetalRain

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I think problem with Ghost of Tsushima is not the technology, but art and gameplay. For gameworld I'd say it's too fantastical for my taste (it's not accident but by design) and biomes change too abruptly. For gameplay it's too Ubisoft. It's good in that category, like it's better than Valhalla, but it is that Far Cry, Assassin's Creed like template with different spin.
 
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Flabagast

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Is there any way to get a notification anytime you make a new thread like this lol ? Really great work, thank you !

Yes, not too fond of the game but GoT sure is a looker. Really a unique package on the visual department. There are indeed a lot of jarring graphical issues when you look closely that are done better in a million other games and in fact I would clearly not say that the game is ahead of the curve technically, but on the other hand it compensates with a lot of visual flourishes and unique methods that we do not see in any other video game. When played normally it's truly beautiful, technical artists at SP are exceptionally skilled to make the best out what they got to work with.
 
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sncvsrtoip

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Jul 18, 2019
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game looks very impressive and surely one of best looking in ps4/xo generation, sure not all animations or textures were perfect but still shame that df didn't even put in top10 best looking game of 2020 (ridiculous for me)
 
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Stuart360

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Sep 9, 2018
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Watching this in 4K/HDR and seeing the grass move at 5 seconds in (with the same sheen) reminded me of GoT, and the first thing I thought was, PS6 graphics?
Thats a weird video. I thought it was like a graphics tech demo, but its actually real life. It looks like graphics though lol.
 
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Bo_Hazem

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This game is the perfect example of a very talented studio that understands what makes games look good and the technical chops to actually make a game look good with very limited bandwidth hardware. The tricks Sucker Punch used to achieve the stellar results they did is something that all studios should aspire to. While the game couldn't brute force it's way to implement some of the more expensive aspects of the pipeline, their overall presentation is stellar! I liken it to what Rockstar did with their recent open world game Red Dead Redemption 2.

Let's start with all the known features that has been implemented to make this game one of the best looking games ever on the last-gen PS4.

1.) GI Illumination using light probes. Many games use this as the main approach to solving the global illumination problem. However, most games don't use energy conservation in their shaders and the number of light probes could be limited in accuracy causing most games to blow out the lighting on an object and making it standout from local illumination. Without using proper ambient occlusion, these objects look flat and totally destroys the look of the game. Sucker Punch went with concentrating on energy conservation and lowering the contribution of the ambient term.



Here is a shot where I'm totally in shadow from the Sun. I wanted to see how their GI system worked with illuminating all the objects within that area. Aside from the white horse which is picking up probes from the sun that are underneath his body (inaccurate), everything else is completely dark and produces the proper results without blowing up the lighting on surfaces in shadow.



2.) Parallax Occlusion Mapping. There are typically 2 algorithms to use for POM. The second faster algorithm, came out just a few years ago and companies adopted it. SP wanted more than just normal maps for their game so they went with using the 2nd approach to POM. Having this instead of spending a large compute time on tessellation but not just settling for the conventional normal maps was a very wise choice. Here is a read on how the algorithm works.





The downfall to the new technique is that the parallax isn't as apparent and it breaks down rather quickly on adjacent angles of the camera and the surface plane.



3.) Smoke FX. Why companies don't use offline rendering of FX and creating animated textures with the renders is beyond me. It's absolutely a superior short-cut than trying to draw these kinds of FX by hand. This smoke is completely top notch. I claim they used Houdini to render out a fluid smoke simulation and baked the animation down into textures. Perfect trick that makes the FX look great!



Here is a video of it's motion. Simply superb look and pretty much a cheap cost for the GPU.



4.) Blockers for light leaks on eye lids. This has got to be one of the worse rendering artifacts that we've seen to date. VERY few gaming companies spend the extra time to make sure this extreme nuisance isn't in their game. I simply had to test whether the team addressed this issue and to my surprise they did!

Here is a screen of putting the character's back to the sun and seeing if the light leaks to the eye lids. It's not there thank God!



5.) Self shadow of foliage. When you don't have enough brute force GPU power to implement full on self shadowing of grass you can either use a proxy geometry rendered to shadow the grass, or use SSAO. SP went with both alternatives and as an added measure they painted in a gradient from tip to root where the root was totally black. I found this trick when viewing the grass when in shadow not under direct sunlight. With having a dynamic time of day, you can let your AO and the painted grass work (as you see here) and under direct sunlight, the grass will have a shadow as well. Again, really cheap and acceptable solution under all lighting conditions.



6.) Water shading. We still have top tier games that can't get water right. Some of the highly acclaimed games use a simple sine wave to show water and to me, that's simply being too lazy to make it look more convincing. In Ghost, they focused on making the water look believable by having several overlapping frequency sine waves along with light propagation and a fresnel effect in the shader to make the water appear natural.





Ghost of Tsushima is a game made by a company that understood what needed to look "right" with the current techniques that are currently out. None of this technology is some new innovative achievement. It's all been done before. What makes it stand out is the company and their talented artists and programmers understood how to make a game look *good* with the limited hardware they had to play with. I'm hoping that they made higher resolution texture assets and can use the GPU power of the PS5 to make a remaster with the game logic they already have in place. GoT isn't graphically perfect by any stretch of the imagination but it's the combined issues that SP decided to remedy along with smart ideas to get around blatant rendering problems that we still see in games made by some bigger studios with larger budgets.

In conclusion, I decided to kick off a chat message to one of my ex co-workers that works at SP congratulating him and his team on a job well done.

Amazing breakdown of many of the techniques behind this beauty. Enjoyed it fully. Thanks for your dedicated time to make this quality thread!
 
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Bernd Lauert

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Apr 15, 2018
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Pretty looking art style and movement to the world but the dated animations and textures at time ruin it for me. Plus some plain-looking character models and boring missions.
It certainly has its limitations. It's a beautiful game but the devs aren't literal wizards. Last gen consoles are borderline trash hardware, so there's a limit what you can do with it.
 

MadPanda

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Really nice write-up! It really is a testament to how much heavy lifting art style can do.

It's a beautiful game and it plays nice too.

Yup, exactly that. It's not comparable to something like red dead redemption 2, but it's beautiful in its own way. It's very pleasing to look at and gameplay isn't stressful.
 

Stuart360

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You know why? Because most youtubers shoot in 24fps, and I personally love 60fps videos as they feel lively.
I think the clarity and 4k/8k presentation helps too. I also think the way he shot it, like first person moving through environments, it makes it look like a tech demo, or a game.
Its really weird.
 
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Bo_Hazem

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I think the clarity and 4k/8k presentation helps too. I also think the way he shot it, like first person moving through environments, it makes it look like a tech demo, or a game.
Its really weird.

Yeah wonderful movements with rock-steady gimbal combined with 60fps gives you that feeling. I think he shoots in 4K-8K RAW with RED camera. Their channel is pretty famous for top videography usually used to test new TV's.
 
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truth411

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Arguably the best art style this past gen. A combo of gritty westernized style visuals but with lots of colour. But not in a bright anime crazy kind of way. The pics on the net of bold reds and yellows look great.
Its definitely up there, but I personally give best Art Style to CupHead.
 
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GaviotaGrande

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Thanks VFXVeteran VFXVeteran . I'm curious what your opinion would be on Days Gone. It's not the most technically advanced game by any stretch of the imagination but thanks to artistic direction it can look truly beautiful. Might be worth checking out!
 
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Hobbygaming

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I think problem with Ghost of Tsushima is not the technology, but art and gameplay. For gameworld I'd say it's too fantastical for my taste (it's not accident but by design) and biomes change too abruptly. For gameplay it's too Ubisoft. It's good in that category, like it's better than Valhalla, but it is that Far Cry, Assassin's Creed like template with different spin.
The combat is much better than the recent Assassin's Creed games IMHO