The release of Patch 1.16 for Horizon Forbidden West finally fixed visual issues in the game’s 60fps performance mode, making it our new recommended way to play on PS5 over the 30fps mode we preferred at launch. To find out exactly what changes have been made behind the scenes, we spoke to Guerrilla Games, who provided some fascinating details about the game’s anti-aliasing solution and how it’s changed since launch.
So what were the initial image quality complaints about the 60fps performance mode at launch? In short, this mode gave a jagged, shimmering look to many objects, while even the high-fidelity 30fps mode exhibited a different kind of noticeable shimmer in the foliage. Patch 1.07 included “adjustments to vegetation to improve image quality in performance mode”, but it had minimal impact on the final image quality and everyone was still unhappy with the result.
Luckily, Guerrilla Cherry’s second bite in the form of patch 1.16 produced much better results. Looking at the moss and vegetation that demonstrated an annoying shimmer in the launch build, the issue appears to have been completely resolved. The image is stable and clean in motion, with virtually all shimmer vanquished. It’s a similar situation if you look at the problematic red haze, with visual aberrations evident in the launch code and looking much more consistent in 1.16. However, it seems that the red mist is no longer visible at greater distances – it only appears near Aloy now. Ultimately though, the improvement here is dramatic – so what exactly has changed under the bonnet?
Giliam de Carpentier, Senior Technology Programmer at Guerrilla Games, was generous enough to provide a very detailed breakdown of the process: “In the new AA mode, the world is still rendered using the same alternating checkerboard pattern, but now uses a different way to reuse historical data: the old system only used the current and previous raw render as input for the AA to complete a two-frame native 1800p output, while the new system uses the current raw render and the previous AA output as input for the AA of the This means it still stabilizes at the output resolution within two frames, but now it can also continue to reuse data from older frames for longer, not only adding more stability in motion, but also accumulating more sub-pixel detail in the process.
“This concept itself isn’t new, but it’s complicated to implement and often comes with its own set of artifacts, such as ghosting, that were inherently prevented in our implementation. previous implementation due to its limited history reuse, although it didn’t allow pixels to “flicker” more under motion.In particular, the previous implementation allowed us to cleanly execute all post effects before the AA pass at checkerboard resolution, which is faster than rendering those effects afterwards at the higher output resolution, without introducing ghosting artifacts of any kind.
“And so moving to a new AA technique that reuses history for longer meant we had to develop a new bag of tricks that still allowed us to keep doing it cleanly and robustly, even for effects like blooming. and depth of field, for example. This included improving and further processing the motion vectors themselves, as well as finding new ways to better discard all stale history while reproducing actual sub-pixel geometry- thin with more confidence and correctly over longer periods of time.Also introduced a more accurate custom reprojection kernel as well as output sharpness that changes with dynamic resolution, allowing resolved details to be displayed more clearly and more effectively combat visual differences in dynamic resolution.
To sum this up, Horizon Forbidden West still uses a checkerboard rendering solution to produce a 3200×1800 image. The anti-aliasing pass relies on the input frame data to create the final frame, and in early versions only the current and previous frames believed rendered images (before reconstruction) were used as input to produce the final image. With the new patch, the AA stage now combines the current raw image with the previous full anti-aliased image. The final output is still stabilized in just two frames, but can now use longer (“history”) frame data from previous frames, helping to reduce flicker and retain more sub-pixel detail. As noted, this is not a new technique and comes with a tradeoff: the more data used from previous frames, the more likely ghosting is to be introduced, requiring additional tooling from the developer.
In the age of ‘next-gen’ scaling techniques, there has been some confusion as to why Guerrilla has persisted with checkerboard rendering and the studio was happy to give a few reasons why. .
“DLSS 2.0, FSR 2.0, and checkerboard rendering are all different ways of rendering fewer pixels per frame than the actual output, and then reconstructing a higher resolution result over time,” says Giliam de Carpentier. “And so, that means the distance between rendered pixels will always be greater than the distance between output pixels. But with checkerboard rendering, the distance between rows and columns in the rendered image and the image resolved will always remain the same, which means that most edges (usually either mostly horizontal or mostly vertical) won’t be able to “push through the cracks” as easily and therefore won’t be as easily missed completely in a frame and will be at visible again the next.
“The result is data that has the potential to hold thin edges more stable more reliably, but is also more complex to use optimally. But the new custom AA resolution is a big step in harnessing this potential, by much more reliably distinguishing between data that can be reused (to reduce shimmer) and data that has become too different (to avoid ghosting). And this is still associated with our checkerboard compatible version of FXAA to get the most out of even a single -frame data.”
I’m really impressed with the changes in Guerrilla, but it’s worth pointing out that the new anti-aliasing technique is also rolling out in 4K quality mode – and to be honest, I’m not sure I prefer the new look. It is true that the scintillating effect is gone, but the new presentation lacks the extreme precision of the previous version. Given that, weighed against the solid improvements to the 60fps mode, the latter is now my recommended way to play.
So that’s basically what changed with this update and why it required a lot of additional development. By reconstructing the image with additional data frames, there is simply more information to use when it comes to producing the end result – but clearly the amount of engineering required to perform and test these changes was substantial.
Along with these graphical changes, the developers have also made numerous bug fixes and even some major changes to the in-game intro sequence which sees Aloy embark on her long journey. Here the camera work has been adjusted, the position and intensity of the lighting has been changed and the color grading has even changed. These kinds of changes aren’t limited to the intro either, with several of the scenes we used for side-by-side testing showing differences beyond anti-aliasing improvements.
Beyond the art changes we noted, Guerrilla has also been busy optimizing the game significantly since launch, as Giliam de Carpenter reveals: “The team also spent a lot of time post-release researching how to we could squeeze more performance out of the PS5, especially around the dynamic resolution system, to give us some breathing room to improve both quality and effective resolution and also pave the way for this update. these optimizations have already been removed in previous patches and even new ones have also been introduced in this patch.
It’s rare to see such a massive overhaul of a game launch, so the Guerrilla team deserves serious credit for addressing user concerns. The studio could have left the game alone, but instead it took the extra time to work on a new solution that greatly improves the game while introducing other improvements across the board. Guerrilla even said it’s working on adding VRR support and a 40fps mode which should split the difference between the clarity of 30fps mode and the responsiveness of 60fps mode – and that could be another big step forward for a game that is already one of the most beautiful titles of the current generation of consoles.
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