Blizzard’s New Anti-Aliasing Solution: Meh

It’s whine time. Several days ago patch 6.0.2 hit the World of Warcraft live severs. Among other changes, which were detailed in my previous fluff post, was a change to the graphics engine and how it handles anti-aliasing. I’m not too fond of it to be honest.

Anti-aliasing is a way in which one makes 3D models or 2D shapes appear to have smoother edges than the hardware would otherwise be able to display. No anti-aliasing generally results in models looking like they have jagged edges on your bog standard hardware and enabling anti-aliasing options in a game tends to put more strain on your CPU than having none at all. It more or less does all this by blending the colours of the model edges and their backgrounds together right where they meet on the image, resulting in a (visible, if you zoom in far enough) row, or two, of pixels that are a blend of the colours around them.

Zoooom

 

There are many different kinds of anti-aliasing out there and each one takes a different toll on your hardware and up until 6.0.2 World of Warcraft used MSAA, or Multisample Anti-Aliasing, which provides an extremely smooth image but simultaneously puts more of a toll on hardware, although not as much as some other AA types. Most current games use this kind of anti-aliasing. It does what it does by partly rendering the frame at a higher resolution and then scaling it down to fit to the resolution that it’s being viewed at. Although not optimal, it tends to be used because it has a good quality for cost exchange.

With this new patch, Blizzard removed the MSAA options and fives us only two kinds of FXAA and CMAA, which instead smooth out the frame after it’s been mostly loaded. This results in a more blurry image than you would otherwise get with MSAA as the edges in the entire image are smoothed, rather than just those on the edges of the models.

So why remove MSAA? Well, some have suggested that with the changes made, the game engine can no longer support MSAA, which checks out, considering how it works completely differently from the new kinds of AA included with the game client right now. There’s also the fact that, as graphics hardware becomes better and better, the need for anti-aliasing is constantly decreasing, so perhaps Blizzard overestimated the amount of people who would notice a sudden and slight change to their edge smoothing.

FXAA and CMAA also require less hardware power to use, as Blizzard did promise that Warlords was going to be better optimized and run “cheaper” than Mists did, so perhaps these changes to the game engine are part of that effort. But the difference is still jarring, and I’m honestly not a fan of the slight blur that my game seems to have now.

There’s a campaign among real hardcore graphics enthusiasts to get Blizzard to implement Supersampling anti-aliasing (SSAA), which has a similar quality level as MSAA but requires more processing power. I’m not sure how I feel about SSAA in World of Warcraft. If it were implemented, I probably wouldn’t choose to put the hardware power into enabling it, even if I do miss the crispness that came with MSAA.

I’ll probably get used my new, blurry, yet still jarringly jagged, image in no time, anyway.

Sources:

Forward Rendering vs. Deferred Rendering

A Quick Overview of MSAA