Star Wars: Empire at War

Written by Geoff Richards

February 21, 2006 | 13:45

Tags: #benchmark #bloom #geoff #petroglyph #real-time-strategy #review #richards #rts #star-wars

Companies: #game #lucasarts

Soft Shadows

Remember the days when merely having in-game shadows was a big deal? It is now possible to have dozens of units running around a map with each unit casting a realistic, fully animated shadow.

In the past, shadows have been sharp, in some cases, a little too sharp. Back in 2000, nobody cared because real-time shadowing of characters was the latest must-have feature. These days, most notably in Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory and F.E.A.R., shadows play a core role in the game itself and developers have sought to increase the realism further by introducing Soft Shadows. The techniques vary from game to game but the net result is blurring the regular shadow to give it a more "natural" appearance.

Star Wars: Empire at War Soft Shadows and Heat Distortion Star Wars: Empire at War Soft Shadows and Heat Distortion
Here you can see the effect on a cropped portion of regular screenshot at 100% zoom. There is no doubting that enabling Soft Shadows does improve the overall look of things. Unfortunately for the poor Petroglyph programmer who had the task of creating it, we question the necessity of it to be honest. RTS games are often played at a frenetic pace and with dozens of units to control, how bothered are you really that the shadowing is soft versus hard.

We wouldn't go so far as to suggest sacrificing shadows completely, though that is certainly an option if your system was struggling. However, when Soft Shadows costs some 7 to 10 frames per second over and above regular shadows, we can see some users opting for higher detail and / or resolution and sticking with regular shadows.

Heat Distortion

The third bonus eye-candy option in the game is Heat Distortion. It does exact what it says on the tin: any unit that emits heat, such as these T2-B tanks, will distort the surround air with its hot exhaust gases.

Star Wars: Empire at War Soft Shadows and Heat Distortion Star Wars: Empire at War Soft Shadows and Heat Distortion
The effect is not easy to show using screenshots as it is the rapid distortion of the underlying texture that creates the illusion of high temperatures. The screenshot on the right is a 200% zoom of the left-hand screenshot and you can see the ripples. As with the other bonus effects, Heat Distortion is optional but the game does look that extra fraction better with it enabled. Happily, doing so doesn't appear to impact performance to any great extent.
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