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Engineer’s Workshop: Engine Evolution in Warlords of Draenor
Originally Posted by Blizzard (Blue Tracker / Official Forums)

Welcome to the first in an ongoing series of programming- and engineering-focused articles that, over time, will cover some of the technical nuts and bolts that go into creating and running World of Warcraft.

Before we kick this first one off, a quick warning: What follows is a fairly technical explanation for a graphical-setting change related to anti-aliasing. Most of you probably won’t notice any difference at all—this is primarily for those who tend to tinker with their hardware and graphical settings.

In short, we’re taking strides to improve the performance of World of Warcraft, while also ensuring there’s plenty of potential to further increase graphical fidelity and enhance our support of high-end CPUs and graphics hardware.

For Warlords of Draenor, we made a decision to remove Multisample Anti-Aliasing (MSAA) and instead include a new anti-aliasing technology called Conservative Morphological Anti-Aliasing (CMAA). This change is going to allow us to bring some overdue technological advancements to World of Warcraft over the course of the next few years—we’re thinking long-term with this change.

One reason MSAA remained viable for WoW over the past decade was that the GPU had the time and resources to handle it. WoW has been a CPU-bound game for much of its lifetime, but during the Warlords development cycle, we endeavored to change that. A lot of that work involved analyzing the flow of data through our code and making sure we work on only what we need to for any given frame. One example is we now variably reduce the number of bones that need to be animated based on proximity and view (sometimes called level of detail, or LOD), a primary consumer of CPU time. We’ve also added a job system that the engine uses to task out animation and scene management in ways we had prototyped in Patch 5.4, but are expanding in Warlords.

The outcome of all of this is that more than ever before, World of Warcraft relies heavily on a GPU that previously was largely free to handle things like MSAA. We explored a number of options to reconcile this increased GPU demand with the game’s anti-aliasing needs, and ultimately decided to embrace CMAA as our anti-aliasing technology for Warlords of Draenor. As with anything that can potentially change the look of the game, we vetted removing MSAA through our engineering and art teams before coming to the conclusion to swap it for CMAA. CMAA provides solid anti-aliasing at a fraction of the cost in memory and performance. It also integrates well with technologies we have planned for the future, and helps us bring those to the game sooner. We also support FXAA (Fast Approximate Anti-Aliasing), an even lighter-weight solution, as an option for our players using DirectX 9.

CMAA fulfills our goals of providing high-quality anti-aliasing at reduced performance cost, while giving us the extra headroom we need to further improve the graphical fidelity of the game. We don’t have to make any architectural concessions within the engine for CMAA to work, and for Warlords of Draenor we’ve already been able to implement new graphical features like target outlining, soft particles, a new shadowing technique, and refraction—and more graphical features are on the horizon for future patches and expansions.

For the launch of Warlords of Draenor, CMAA is the top-tier graphical setting available, but after release we’ll be exploring more options for players with high-performance graphics cards—and if they provide quality while still fitting into our future technology plans, we’ll take a serious look at adding them to the game.

The graphical future of World of Warcraft is a bright one, and the changes we’ve made during the development of Warlords of Draenor have laid the groundwork for us to continue making the game look better and better far into the future.

Thanks for reading!
This article was originally published in forum thread: Engineer’s Workshop: Engine Evolution in Warlords of Draenor started by chaud View original post
Comments 170 Comments
  1. papajohn4's Avatar
    TL;DR Besides we are at 2014 we will still going to support your mothers toast machine in order to not lose a subscription from people who still have ENIAC on their home.
  1. potis's Avatar
    An explanation was needed but in reality.

    The graphics are so old and bad, no matter how they change it but Anti-Aliasing barely does anything at all at any setting, at least i dont see any difference, up close there is a tiny difference on hair and stuff but otherwise its non-existent.

    Not to mention if you dont play at max camera distance you are playing the game wrong and at that distance there is no chance you even care about anti-aliasing on your character.

    Sure a few corners and edges will look better, woohoo for raiding improvement.
  1. panzerdan's Avatar
    Grommloc is pleased, You shall not be punished
  1. Mx's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by papajohn4 View Post
    TL;DR Besides we are at 2014 we will still going to support your mothers toast machine in order to not lose a subscription from people who still have ENIAC on their home.
    Nothing wrong with trying to make the game as accessible to as many people as possible, imo.
  1. Baphomette's Avatar
    Honestly, MSAA broke in 5.0, so I don't mind seeing alternative methods that actually work.
  1. Denizly's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by papajohn4 View Post
    TL;DR Besides we are at 2014 we will still going to support your mothers toast machine in order to not lose a subscription from people who still have ENIAC on their home.
    Not everyone has a great comp. Some people only play wow, hs and mobas :P they don't need anything superb for that
  1. Anshlun's Avatar
    I think it is about time Blizzard think about changing the core game engine, to achieve better graphics, rather than switching AA tech.
  1. Phabulous's Avatar
    "Morphological" is only a word if you're a Power Ranger.

    I ended up here thinking this would be an article on Engineering the profession. I am le disappoint.
  1. bluspacecow's Avatar
    The pro "we like our graphics sharp and not fuzzy" MSAA crowd ain't gonna like this.
  1. Lolsteak's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Mx View Post
    Nothing wrong with trying to make the game as accessible to as many people as possible, imo.
    The downside is that it could be at the cost of a greater proportion of the playerbase.
  1. Jokerfiend's Avatar
    I don't even know what it is, much less care. I guess I could look it up, but again, I don't care.

    Seems to be a positive thing, regardless of my opinion. Thumbs up. The new bank tabs, featurettes, plus new tech is awesome. Glad to see some positives.
  1. mmoc6a5a7ae332's Avatar
    I for one hate FXAA (World of Blurcraft anyone?) and CMAA is extremely ineffective. (For me on a 27" 1080p Monitor on Warlords Beta it is equal to having Anti-Aliasing Disabled!)

    Really hope we get a way to enable SuperSampling, which those of us that use it on Live have also just lost!
  1. Bisso's Avatar
    So I guess it explains the WHY they removed the MSAA. I tested it on the PTR, and it's true that the CMAA is just slightly blurring the whole screen, and most of the jagged edges are still very apparent. I'm not sure that Blizz art team was very pleased with the final decision, as it blurs their textures as well as the edges of polygons, unlike the MSAA that seemed to only work around the edges. If it allows us to be at 60fps in Tarren Mill vs. Southshore though, well I guess it's a good trade.
  1. Baphomette's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by potis View Post
    Not to mention if you dont play at max camera distance you are playing the game wrong and at that distance there is no chance you even care about anti-aliasing on your character.
    Discounting the first part of your statement which is obviously not true 100% of the time: the more zoomed out you are (the smaller your character on screen), the greater the proportion of pixels that are on an edge, making AA a greater benefit.

    - - - Updated - - -

    Quote Originally Posted by Anshlun View Post
    I think it is about time Blizzard think about changing the core game engine, to achieve better graphics, rather than switching AA tech.
    It will never be worth rewriting from scratch.
  1. dragothica's Avatar
    What kind of GPU would you need for CMAA (preferably at max 1080p)? Is Radeon HD 6970 2 Gb enough?

    Not going to aim at having 60 fps during raids but around 30 fps is fine..
  1. mmoc56187fe24d's Avatar
    I really hope we get some how MSAA to work. We got new player model and i'd love to see the new model without these ugly jagged edges. I use AA in every game.
  1. Bisso's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by potis View Post
    Not to mention if you dont play at max camera distance you are playing the game wrong and at that distance there is no chance you even care about anti-aliasing on your character.
    Camera distance doesn't affect Aliasing, yes small details will matter way less at max distance, but the aliasing will remain as ugly overall. That's why I don,t like games on console, which don't have the power to put some AA to remove the jagging. The Aliasing on a Mountain is as ugly as for a strand of hair.
  1. markdall's Avatar
    This is pretty cool, one of the first new things I noticed on PTR was the mouse-over target relationship highlighting. That is, when I mouse over an unplugged friendly player they are briefly outlined in blue, flagged friendlies in green, etc.

    I thought the graphics on the PTR looked quite nice, and of course since I didn't copy my massive collection of addons over the game ran much faster than I'm used to. (Pity I can't raid with the default UI.)
  1. Soisoisoi's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by dragothica View Post
    What kind of GPU would you need for CMAA (preferably at max 1080p)? Is Radeon HD 6970 2 Gb enough?

    Not going to aim at having 60 fps during raids but around 30 fps is fine..
    You'll never be able to achieve a stable 60 FPS during raids (at least during the actual fights, anyway) no matter what hardware you have. Wouldn't worry too much about it.
  1. markdall's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Treelife View Post
    You'll never be able to achieve a stable 60 FPS during raids (at least during the actual fights, anyway) no matter what hardware you have. Wouldn't worry too much about it.
    You guys all noticed that you now check a box and have radically different graphics settings inside a BG or instance, right? I thought that was also extremely cool of them.

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