Monday, September 29, 2014

The Day The World Turned Greyscale : GW2, ArcheAge

Windows 8 has changed my worlds. The difference is like day and night. Literally.

Credit doesn't go to Microsoft. Quite the reverse. From the day I got my PC set up, some four or five years ago, I was very happy with how things looked running under Windows 7. Everthing worked first time out of the box and I didn't really change all that much. When I upgraded a lot of stuff, including the graphics card, a couple of years back, again I just went with whatever the installation required and left it at that.

Windows 8 put a stop to such complacency. As I mentioned yesterday I was deeply dissatisfied with what Win8's drivers did to the look and feel of... well, everything. That led me back to AMD's Catalyst drivers, which I always used to use before I got lazy but which I hadn't bothered with for the lifetime of the current machine.

After a good long tussle with Win8 I got Catalyst up and running and used the Control Center to get things looking pretty again. So far, so expected. Problem solved, back to the fray, status quo ante. We covered all that already. Only there's more...

I played two MMOs last night: GW2 and ArcheAge. The change was unmistakeable. In my time in Tyria I've become used to traveling through a soft-focus, watercolor world. My tentative explorations of the Western Continent, Nuia, revealed a similarly impressionistic approach. Overnight, it seems, the expressionists have taken over.

Edges seem sharper, shadows seem darker. Where there were snowfields I now see patches of fissured ice. Cliffs that reared up soft and chalky now brood in chiaroscuro grandeur. Everywhere details stand out. There's a lot more stitching and etching than I remember, that's for sure.

All that's not totally unexpected. These are the kind of things you can sometimes get when you change the settings. Also you do look more closely when you've changed things. What I didn't expect is a complete revision of aspects of what you might call the graphical gameplay.

Back in beta, when you died in Tyria, the world turned monochrome. It was a feature familiar from other MMOs, notably World of Warcraft, which is why, I imagine, it got changed. For the whole two years that the game's been Live the world has looked as bright and cheerful when my characters are lying face down in a pool of their own blood as when they're up and about gamboling among the flowers.


I was defending the Honor of the Yak last night and even though the Yak is rampant right now I still found plenty of opportunities to get myself killed. At first  thought I was imagining it but soon it became impossible to deny: when my characters die the world fades out. Hints of color remain, albeit with the brightness leached out, but mostly it's shades of grey.

I thought maybe it was a WvW change, perhaps related to the recently-added five-minute release timer but no - I asked Mrs Bhagpuss and her characters still look out at a world full of color when they die (which happens to hers a lot less often than it happens to mine but still often enough to prove the point).

I could swear I remember the actual patch notes from beta when that feature was removed. Am I making that up? Has everyone else been seeing grey all along? Or is it some kind of fresh graphical bug I've dodged until now by not updating my drivers?

I was still mulling things over when I moved across to ArcheAge. It would be nice to say that light suddenly dawned but in fact it was exactly the opposite. In the course of  knocking off a couple of levels, picking up my first Glider and having an all-round fun time I noticed something unusual: about half of my adventures were happening in the dark!

I almost mentioned in an earlier post on ArcheAge that the game appears to have no discernible night-day cycle. In the time I spent in Open beta and the post-launch sessions getting to level fourteen or so I barely noticed the sky dim let alone saw night fall. The little moon crossing the indicator in the top right of the screen tells me it's night-time but other than that it might as well be noon.

That's all changed now. It doesn't quite get too dark to see but it's not far off. No wonder we need all those lamps along the side of the road. Maybe I'll start doing my public duty and light a few of them.

Is it the changes I've made or is there another explanation? Perhaps night only falls once you leave the tutorial region. Perhaps it got patched in and I missed the notes. Or perhaps our shared experiences rely even more than I realized on the precise configurations of the hardware and software lenses through which we view them. If so then the degree of variation goes a lot further than I ever imagined.

It's one thing to know that other players may be seeing a brighter, more detailed, more beautiful world than you; it's quite another when the difference in what you each experience is literally night versus day, color versus black and white.

The moral of this story is always keep your drivers up to date - unless you prefer how things look when they aren't.


  1. You've intrigued me enough to log into GW2 and feed myself to a horde of mobs to check. I remember when I was screenshotting Orr that I went into greyscale on dying too.

    What you're looking at is the difference in the Postprocessing graphics option. If it's on high, you go into monochrome on death. If it's low or none, you stay in color.

    As for player shared experiences depending on your hardware and settings, that goes without saying to me.

    There's culling - I know my toaster doesn't see three quarters of what other people see, and probably at lower framerates than most. I rely on a WvW commander to drive me a lot as a result, as I'm sure they can see more player models at a greater distance than I. On the other hand, I have a lot of experience gauging size and even the direction a blob is moving in, merely by name tags alone. Cos if I don't, I get run over. So I get better and react from mere predictive guesswork - based on where they've been going and their velocity, they're probably going to be... here. Let's not be there. If I screw up, I die.

    There's SSD hard drives improving GW2 map load times. Obviously, I don't have one. I turn up usually in the middle of the zerg, with the head having already run off 10-15 seconds ago. The good news is since upgrading to Windows 7, my load times improved over previously. And I still see people turning up after me, so they must be playing on even cruddier laptops or have worst reaction speeds / are not on voice, etc.

    There was the case of Liadri's orb doing a ridiculous psychedelic flare if you had Postprocessing set on high. Nearly everyone who was annoyed by it turned it down to low or none for that fight.

    There's looking at some of the gem store weapons (eg. chaos weapons) on high graphics settings with postprocessing on, and on low settings with pretty much nothing. To me and my regular toaster settings, most of the chaos weapons look like bright white sticks. I guess that's why I'm usually not impressed by other people thinking they look prestigious. I see them all as the standard pinkish default model anyway.

    And from taking screenshots, I know my charr armor is brighter red on low settings and a duller red on high. I took care to make sure I looked good to myself on both settings.

    These things happen. The difference between DirectX 9, 10 and 11 shaders can be quite dramatic, if I recall just from long ago experiences with LOTRO and comparing screenshots from players who were on different Windows operating systems... or was it DirectX 8 at the time? And quite a bit of the differences have to do with light and particle effects.

    It's not just GW2 or MMOs.

    Random example, a while back, I found out Minecraft had a lighting setting in its options which you could tweak, making night an extreme Wurm Online type of dark if you wanted to, or making night just like a dusky day. Depending on what I'm in the mood for, I sometimes go for the more immersive scary black night option, and sometimes the more tame version.

    Plenty of other games, like Dark Souls or Amnesia, also have suggested gamma settings to adjust your graphics before you start playing, so that you're at the intended level of dark and light.

    1. Very interesting.

      I haven't changed any in-game settings whatsoever. I just logged in and played and the changes happened. Either the games are able to sense the new software environment my GPU is running under and re-optimize to match it (I doubt that) or I had those settings selected already but due to my inferior drivers they previously had no effect.

      It's one thing for players to have different experiences of a shared environment because of the in-game sliders and toggles they have elected to operate but entirely another for the game itself to display things so radically differently under the same settings. What that does to metrics and feedback I'd hate to imagine.

      I would say that this is a very good reason for MMO developers to prefer to work on consoles rather than PCs. The variation in player experience on those platforms must be much smaller and therefore the chances of producing a meaningful shared experience higher. Not to mention that (Destiny excepted) it surely has to be more cost-efficient to develop for a single, known piece of hardware.

      And yet the huge majority of MMOs are made for PCs. I wonder how long that will last now that Consoles are all always-online?

      Anyway, I'll have to play around with my settings. Maybe I'll find a weapon in my bank that actually looks good now. ...nah.

    2. Jeromai beat me to it – I was about to suggest the Post Processing setting in GW2.

      But, since you've not changed it, I'm guessing it's the difference between DirectX9 and DX11 that you got from using up to date Catalyst.

      FWIW the muted colours thing also happens with Risen-related events.

    3. Another big potential difference in how a player experiences the game is screen resolution.

      I've had to replace a monitor fairly recently, so I personally fall within a relatively standard 1920x1080 widescreen or 16:9 aspect ratio.

      I've seen pictures on blogs from people playing with older laptops or monitors and their view is much more constricted with the more square-ish 5:4 or 4:3 ratios. This can have a distinct effect on their situational awareness (can't see what's happening to their sides as well, have to keep turning the camera a lot) and corresponding reaction times.

      And there are the players on the other side of the scale, who have chosen to trick out their computer displays to the max, playing on two screens at once or more. (Mif, a fairly famous asura, previously on IoJ and who moved over to TC, is well-known for a three screen display. I can only imagine/drool at his field of vision - tho I dunno if I personally like the thought of what I see split up by opaque monitor frames.)

      In-game effect? If you ever wonder how certain people can hit things with arrow carts at ridiculous angles... it's their screen resolution. It's wider, they can rotate their camera more so that they -just- see a valid target placement on the ground somewhere, using some kind of camera angle or other... bang, showered with arrows. Some very dedicated WvWers will also resize their screen resolutions with windowed mode for similar effect.

    4. That's *really* interesting information about the arrow carts. There's a well-known hack that allows for siege to be targeted through walls but in some cases where we believe that's happening maybe it's just some rich dilettante with an unfeasibly expensive monitor. I know I certainly spin my camera to all angles trying to eke out that last pixel before the green circle turns red. Maybe I should go to 2560 by 1440 when upgrade.

      This game is pay to win I tell you!

  2. You are not alone. After 2/12 years of problems with a too expensive computer ( first 6 months was great) they finally gave up and sent me a new one. First time I died in GW2- all gray. I thought for sure, my new computer was a dud too. My teammate stopped me mid rant to tell me thats how his always has done.

    Go figure.
    My advice ? Keep testing out dying in WvW. Us NSPers need all the help we can get this week. :)

    Abbygale ( who needs to figure out how not to post as unknown)

    1. Heh! NSP are doing pretty well. Certainly better than poor old DB, not that anyone feels much sympathy for them, remembering what it was like meeting their hordes when they were on their way up.

  3. OMG.... I changed my settings (again), including post processing. Not only is the grey back but...

    Any of you play necro? Death Shroud is creeeeepy. heh

    -- 7rlsy


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