Mantis Burn Racing - 4K/60fps Pro updates and developer interview
Mantis burn racing is a simple, fun and addictive mix of old school charm and modern day presentation. I covered the game, engine and team in detail in my technical review thanks to a review code at launch and just before the PS4pro launched.
Now that the team have added even more tracks for free, something I raised in that review would help expand the games value and reach along with some more race modes and via a £1.99 DLC pack a brand new class of vehicles in the elite pack. Hover craft meets Ferrari in this new set that can be used across the launch 12 tracks and 4 new set of tracks now added as a free DLC to expand the list to 16. You can choose to attack this is a 9-season long single player career mode with progression, earning points to spend on modifications as you work your way up the ranks.
After covering the PS4 version this is a look at the Pro release with the extra free and cheap new vehicle class now added. That version runs at a native 1080P and 60-Frames-per-second and a 2xMSAA pass on geometry giving a very clean title. But on Pro this is ramped up to a native 4K resolution at the same 60fps, the only cost is the loss of the MSAA solution but that is not an issues with 4x the pixel count it is still much sharper on a HD or more so a 4K screen. It was not always intended to be a native 4K option mind, they experimented with various modes open to developers on this machine. 4K Geometry was attempted, along with the ID buffer routed checkerboard solution, but the team felt these did not quite hit the levels of IQ and target they had, pushing on with other changes and hardware choices to get a native 4K/60 output, not a mean feat.
The frame-rate is very solid in this new mode and the team did use 16-bit shader code changes specifically for the Pro to achieve these incredibly high results. I had a chance to chat to the team and learn more on this changes, Pro coding and how mutli-platform development is effecting them or not with this new advent of tiered console hardware including the up-coming Microsoft Scorpio, you can read this below.
Like the base PS4 version it holds onto the 60fps rate in single player action with no drama. 2-player split screen is also now fully locked at the same rate from my tests which was improved and patched on the base PS4 version which did waver at times but now is as solid as here on the Pro, a commendable achievement to hit near identical performance levels as base hardware at 4x the fill-rate and only 2.3x the raw power boost. As I have covered many times the double rate, half precision maths options open to teams with the pro only help in certain areas and have been a factor in this impressive leap.
Beyond 2-player the frame-rate is cut to 30fps to keep the same 4K resolution and allows all 4 of you to race, this is the best option as dips between these 2 levels would impact the games controls, response and enjoyment and from my tests it never dips below this level with headroom to spare.
Visually the game is far from lacking, post effects are strong with great artistic view of track scenery and scale through the use of a focal point DoF. Particle effects are used for collisions, smoke and the new snow levels. Physics is a core part of the engine and these cover the vehicles various levels of handling as they skid, boost and drift around tracks, breaking through barriers again causes splintered parts to spin off and away.
Sound must also get a special mention with a rousing techno soundtrack that accompanies each track and helps fuel your adrenaline levels, special mention must go to the new track in my now favourite area in the snow. It really fits the tempo of the game and works wonders to drive on the skill in all game modes.
The team have had a long life in multi-platform games and have added, improved and changed their own engine for each title as driven by the designers gameplay needs. In this modern age of the “deferred render” being the only option this game proves that forward based rendering is still more than up for the challenge and can stretch its legs in this new 4K era. It can also be enjoyed on PC and XboxOne and possibly see a 4K patch on Scorpio once it lands on the shelfs.
I had a chance to chat with the team on this games development, engine changes and just if 16-bit code is a rare as some may think.
NXGAMER:- How have you found the development environment on consoles compared to the PC in terms of tools and code optimization?
In many ways console development is much easier than PC development. We've been working with consoles for longer, and we have fixed hardware, which means we have tools that understand the fixed hardware. Optimising code on consoles is always going to be a lot easier because you know exactly what you are working with, and the performance analysis tools can give you information directly from the hardware. On PC you have to make a lot of guesses and assumptions, or implement multiple code paths for different hardware configurations.
NXGAMER:- With Mantis burn racing you have launched across 3 platforms "almost" at once. Can you share much of the code between them or do you have to make larger changes across them?
Yes, most of the code is shared. We have our own cross platform engine that has been designed from the ground up to work across multiple platforms and APIs. Now that our engine is well established, most of the code we write for any new title is shared across all platforms. It's only when we're implementing new low level techniques, or having to integrate something new into the system software on consoles, that we have to go in and write platform specific code. Implementing 4K on PS4 for example was quite a localised change in the low level graphics component of our engine - the game code doesn't really care about any of that.
NXGAMER:- With your game being 1 of a few supporting Pro right out of the gate in addition to running at a native 4K. Can you share what solutions you have used for this E.g.have you used the MSAA options within your engine and hardware to support the Geometry based reconstructed 4K buffer?
We investigated geometry based and also checkerboard rendering, but our goal was always to try to achieve true native 4K if we could. We did have a checkerboard rendering implementation working at one point, but true native 4K looks so much nicer, we decided it was worth the time investment in optimising our code to make that run at 60fps. The only thing we had to drop for 4K was the 2x MSAA - but at 4K, you don't really miss it.
NXGAMER:- 16-bit shader code is still not dead and very much alive, you have used this within the Pro as it is a hardware feature and improvement, can you shed more light on this and how it has benefited both the Pro and other versions of the game as I assume you have not re-written 32-bit shader code to 16-bit just for this portion?
To be honest, most pixel shader code can easily run at 16 bit, without any perceivable difference in the output quality. Even with 10-bit HDR displays, you're only seeing 10 bits in the output, so unless you're doing lots of complex math where loss of precision can be amplified many times over, or your ranges are all off, there is no requirement for 32-bit arithmetic on colour and lighting values. We're stuck with it on base PS4 though, as that's all it does, but we can just make the same shader code run at 16-bit precision on Pro, and therefore get almost a 2x speed improvement in some parts.
NXGAMER:- You have your own engine that has carried you through multiple generations of machines. With this being forward rendering based do you find any limits with this and are you planning any changes for the future?
Not really, it's worked well for us in all of our games so far. I guess the only thing we would miss with the forward renderer would be if we wanted to do lots of dynamic lighting - you might have seen some car headlights in Mantis Burn Racing if we had done that, but then the rest probably wouldn't have looked as good. We could very easily add a deferred, or any other sort of renderer, to our engine, should we need it, we just haven't yet. We generally don't let limitations with our engine dictate what we can and can't do in our games - much better to let the technical requirements of our games dictate the direction in which we take the engine.
NXGAMER:- Are you looking to support the new MS console currently titled the Scorpio next year and have you had access to any information on it that you can share?
Yes, we do plan to support Scorpio, but we haven't been given access to any detailed info or hardware just yet.
NXGAMER:- Do you feel the new 2 tier levels of console hardware are a big strain on resource for development?
Not at all. We've been used to dealing with PC for a while now, and there(fore) we have far more than just 2 tiers of hardware capability - you have to support everything. Making the base PS4 version of our game run on PS4 Pro is just like taking the PC version and ramping all the resolution and graphics settings up to maximum. You generally design for scalability from the outset these days - so you can ramp up on high end hardware, and equally scale down on older setups.
NXGAMER:- What next for the team on both PC and consoles?
First and foremost, we are supporting Mantis Burn Racing. We have some free DLC coming up in the future, as well as lots of nice new features and improvements. We've got some really cool ideas for other DLC too, so watch this space.
Thank you very much for the time to answer and I look forward to speaking to you all again soon and congratulation on a great title in Mantis Burn racing.