To AA or not AA?
Having settled on a Detail level, the next question is what difference anti-aliasing makes. It's common knowledge that FSAA has had an enormous impact on the First-Person Shooter genre, smoothing out jaggies with every frame. Empire at War
may well feature 3D graphics with a rotatable viewpoint but many users will stick with the tried & tested top-down view. Is FSAA really necessary?
In zoomed-in mode, as well as the Cinematic mode, there is no doubt about it: FSAA makes all the difference that you would expect it to. Buildings are crisp and even individual soldiers appear clearer. Overall, enabled some level of anti-aliasing is A Good Thing.
Switching to the regular viewpoint and the benefits are less clear cut. At close examination, buildings do certainly look better though since the view mostly moves left, right, up down on a 2D plane (rather than first-person 3D), jaggies are less apparent. The one exception to this are large, moving units such as tanks and AT-ATs. These have enough polygons for jaggies to show and these are compounded as the unit moves and turns throughout the map.
As with the Detail, your FSAA requirements will vary depending on your style of play. From above, you could get away with scaling it back or disabling AA completely if necessary. However, if you want to exploit the full 3D features, FSAA is a must.
We first came across Bloom when Valve included it in the feature set for their HDR showcase, Half Life 2: Lost Coast
. In short, Bloom involves boosting the luminosity of a bright light source so that the light bleeds outside the normal area. This soft blooming often obscures fine detail, simulating the effect where the light is so
bright that your eye wouldn't be able to see this detail anyway.
In Empire at War
, Bloom is bonus eye candy enabled outside the regular Graphics Options. It is visible in two areas, shown below. The first is what you might call Ambient Environmental Bloom: the subtle glow of the sun on the horizon. The effect is certainly subtle and in fact is only really visible when zoomed in or in Cinematic Mode, but there's no doubting it adds that extra 5 percent of realism to the scene. Once disabled, things looks a little flat as a result.
The second is more immediate, involving bright reflections off buildings and units. This is certainly noticeable in both the regular aerial viewpoint as well as zoomed in. Again, you could arguably live with out it, but it just adds that extra little bit of eye candy. When you have an entire legion of Stormtroopers glinting in the late afternoon sun, it looks pretty cool.