Elder Scrolls Online Tech Q&A – Improved next-generation usage, better HDR, multithreaded rendering and more

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Elder Scrolls Online (currently 35% off PC and Xbox as part of QuakeCon 2021) is one of the most successful MMORPGs on the market and has welcomed over 18 million players across its platforms to date, and it’s no wonder that the developers are working hard to continuously expand and improve it.

The recent Blackwood Chapter (the equivalent of expansions in Elder Scrolls Online) only launched a few months ago, and yet Zenimax is already about to release a new dungeon-focused DLC, Waking Flame, alongside Update 31.

This free update, expected later this month, also introduces a series of technical improvements to Elder Scrolls Online, such as better use of next-generation consoles (via dynamic resolution), a new implementation of High Dynamic Range (HDR) support, and multithreaded rendering finally launched on PC. We discussed all that and more, including the possible future addition of other prominent advanced technologies, with Alex Tardif, Elder Scrolls Online’s chief graphics programmer.

Can you tell us a bit about your approach to the next-generation upgrades for Elder Scrolls Online? How was your experience with these brand new platforms, as a developer?

Alex Tardif: This was the smoothest console generation transition in the gaming industry, as evidenced by the fact that all titles were ported so quickly, both on Xbox and PlayStation. Aside from the port itself, it was important for us to take advantage of the new hardware to give ESO the lift it deserved on next-generation consoles. For us, that meant a 60 fps mode, faster loading times and a lot of new features and improvements to ESO’s graphics.

Would you say there is now visual parity between the PC version of the game and the next generation consoles, or are there still some differences?

Alex Tardif: They are now roughly equal in terms of visual features. On PC we support slightly longer viewing distances and higher resolution water reflections, but the differences there are minimal. While we’ve adopted existing PC features (water reflections, ultra-shadows, viewing distance, high-resolution textures), it’s worth noting that the following new features were only recently added to PC in preparation for the next-gen consoles: TAA, LSAO, SDGI, high-quality depth of field, improvement of the distance to the lawn and the new “Maximum” option for graphics quality that turns it all on.

When it comes to loading times, are next-gen consoles faster than a PC equipped with an SSD?

Alex Tardif: Overall, loading times are blazingly fast for ESO: Console Enhanced and about the same compared to a relatively recent SSD on PC.

I noticed you chose to use native resolution with Elder Scrolls Online on Xbox Series S|X and PlayStation 5. Have you looked at using some popular techniques like dynamic resolution or checkerboard?

Alex Tardif: Indeed, we have. In 60fps performance mode, we’ll be delivering dynamic resolution scaling as part of our Waking Flames DLC release on August 31. This scales between 1080p and 2160p (4K) on Xbox Series X and PS5, and between 1080p and 1440p on Xbox Series S. In most situations, this will result in higher resolutions than we had at launch a few months ago, while also adding dips up to 1080p to reduce lost frames in tougher scenarios like trials and PvP. This is not necessary in Fidelity mode, as we can comfortably maintain 30 fps at native 4K resolution.

Some developers have reported issues with the lower specs of the Xbox Series S. Have you encountered any issues optimizing the game for this platform?

Alex Tardif: We’ve had no real problems bringing ESO to XSS, but as we’re porting an older title to a newer platform, it was an easier process for us. We were happy to offer a Fidelity mode for the XSS that matched exactly all the new graphics settings we used on the X and PS5, but at 1440p instead of 4K. The only major difference is in the performance mode, where we drop some of the newer settings like SDGI to specifically hit the 60fps target on the XSS, but this feels like a fair trade for those who prefer higher frame rates.

I’ve been playing the game on PC for quite some time, until recently I even had my own guild. At one point, the game got HDR support on consoles, but it was kind of broken and it never really launched on PC. Looking for a good, native HDR implementation for PC and consoles? PC and Xbox series have Microsoft’s AutoHDR, but of course the native implementation will always be better if possible.

Alex Tardif: Thank you for being part of our amazing community! Yes, we’ve heard and listened to the feedback about the first HDR implementation. In fact, our Waking Flame DLC will implement a new HDR mode that will ship as the new default mode. It’s a mode that keeps the game tones you see in SDR while taking advantage of the increased range. For those who like the current implementation, we still offer it as an option in the settings menu. Console Enhanced players can look forward to the feature’s debut on August 31. As for PC, we’re investigating HDR support but don’t have any further updates at the moment.

Since Elder Scrolls Online already supports DirectX 12 on Xbox Series X, is there any chance PC will ever get official DX12 support? If so, do you expect a performance bump?

Alex Tardif: The trouble with PC is that the DirectX 11 drivers are great. It can be deceptively difficult to take an existing game on PC and upgrade from DX11 to DX12 for better performance. Often it takes a significant amount of effort and refactoring before you even align with DX11, let alone faster. There are also concerns about stability. When you have to manage all the memory in DX12 yourself, you are now in charge of things like oversubscribing on Windows, while this was well managed by DX11. There are also more considerations, but it all means that DX11’s stability and performance make it attractive to stay on PC for now.

We still have enough bandwidth to speed things up before we make the jump to DX12. For example, our Waking Flame DLC offers PC players a new beta setting called “Multithreaded Rendering” in our video options, which enables Multithreaded Rendering as we currently have on consoles, providing a much-needed boost in frame rates for those who use CPUs. bound (most people) while playing ESO. Players can look forward to the arrival of this feature on August 23 for PC.

Many developers are adding ray tracing support to their games. What are the chances of this happening with ESO? And what kind of ray-traced effects do you think would be optimal for ESO?

Alex Tardif: We’ve thought about this in the past, but we don’t have any plans for ray tracing yet. If we implemented it in the future, it would be used for environmental occlusion and global lighting, as other ray-traced features would likely require artists to go back and rewrite our materials and environments, and we have a lot of them right now period !

Have you looked at the new Direct Storage API coming to PC later this year? What kind of improvements do you expect from it?

Alex Tardif: Instant storage is an exciting advancement for PC. We’re already using it on Xbox Series X|S to great effect, as it reduces the time it takes to load and stream. However, for it to work on PC, we need to support DX12, which ESO doesn’t currently do.

Not long ago you confirmed that the party limit of 12 people is due to performance issues. Are you trying to overcome this limitation in the near future?

Rich Lambert (creative director): Our current focus is on improving performance, but once we get the overall performance to a point we’re happy with, we can re-evaluate this topic.

Is there anything else you can share about what Elder Scrolls Online fans can expect in terms of technical upgrades in the future?

Alex Tardif: While I can’t share details, I can safely say that ESO players can expect us to continue making performance and reliability improvements well into the future. The Elder Scrolls Online: Waking Flame DLC debuts August 23 for PC/MAC and Stadia, and August 31 on consoles.

Thank you for your time.

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