Put Your System Through Its Paces: Download The PLA DirectX 11 & PhysX Benchmark
By Andrew Burnes On Monday, June 18th, 2012
The Chinese gaming industry has advanced by leaps and bounds in recent years, progressing from the creation of outsourced art and copycat Facebook games to the development of fully-fledged AAA titles that generate hundreds of millions of dollars per year. Hoping to replicate that success is Passion Leads Army (PLA), a highly anticipated, free-to-play, multiplayer online first-person shooter from Giant IronHorse.
Known locally as 光荣使命, Giant IronHorse's shooter is one of the most graphically advanced Chinese titles to date, in part thanks to the use of Epic Games' Unreal Engine 3. Featuring a range of DirectX 11 effects, such as tessellation and Bokeh depth of field, PLA also makes extensive use of NVIDIA’s GPU-accelerated PhysX technology to generate realistic, physics-led effects. To help promote PLA, and to get gamers ready for its launch later this year, Giant IronHorse has released the first-ever Chinese-developed DirectX 11 benchmark featuring the aforementioned range of effects.
Weighing in at 566MB, the PLA benchmark is available to download direct from GeForce.com, is fully localized, and showcases the complete range of effects in the final product.
While you’re downloading, let’s take a closer look at the effects on display in Passion Lead Army’s benchmark.
DirectX 11 Tessellation
As we all know now, having seen it used in numerous titles, tessellation adds extra detail to objects and surfaces without seriously impacting performance, as would happen if the same detail was modeled using traditional polygons and techniques. In the PLA benchmark, tessellation is the most prevalent effect, adding extra detail to cobbled streets, statues, and walls, to name but a few examples.
This back-alley street scene benefits massively from tessellation, bringing the cobbled street to life in a way that would be impossible using standard rendering techniques.
As you can see in our second interactive comparison, tessellation adds extra depth and detail to the stone wall in addition to the cobbled street.
Unlike Parallax Occlusion Mapping, tessellation creates real geometry instead of cleverly faking the effect, as shown by the gate’s dynamic shadow adjusting to the terrain’s changes.
Horizon-Based Ambient Occlusion (HBAO)
PLA’s world is further enhanced by Horizon-Based Ambient Occlusion, an effect that measures the angle and luminosity of light sources to generate more accurate shadowing. In the tessellated example below, HBAO adds additional shadows between the road’s cobbles, shadows the branches of the tree that are hidden from the sun by the leaves above, and generates contact shadows between objects and surfaces.
Click to view an interactive comparison highlighting the benefits of Horizon-Based Ambient Occlusion.
GPU-Accelerated APEX Destruction With Rigid Body Fracturing
Giant IronHorse leverages our library of GPU-accelerated effects to rapidly add realistic, physics-led graphical enhancements to PLA, enhancements that would otherwise require a great deal of time and effort and to develop anew. The most noticeable GPU-accelerated addition in the PLA benchmark is that of PhysX Destruction, implemented using NVIDIA APEX, a toolset comprised of several PhysX effects modules.
The interactive comparison below shows the night-and-day difference in visual fidelity that occurs when PhysX is enabled.
When enabled, PhysX fills the screen with particle effects, large chunks of debris are propelled with realistic force from the source of the explosion, and debris persists after the event, instead of fading out of existence. And because this debris exists as a physical prop, it casts dynamics shadows and can be interacted with.
Our second interactive comparison shows a similar shift in fidelity when PhysX is enabled. Note the increased particle count, the persistent debris, the shop window being completely destroyed in a realistic manner, and the APEX Cloth being torn and manipulated by the forces emitted from the explosion.
Click to view the second interactive PhysX Destruction comparison.
GPU-Accelerated APEX Cloth
As mentioned above, the second Destruction example features APEX Cloth. In Batman: Arkham City, the APEX module was used to create discarded newspapers, flyers, and banners, helping support the notion of the Arkham City area being dilapidated. In the PLA benchmark, Giant IronHorse use APEX Cloth to create a number of banners and flags that react realistically to wind and other forces, such as the aforementioned explosions.
When PhysX is disabled, the banner vanishes, removing an interesting, eye-catching element from the scene.
GPU-Accelerated APEX Particles
The third and final APEX module utilized in PLA is Particles, which generates extra smoke in the aforementioned Destruction scenes, and adds sparks, leaves, and fog volumes to the benchmark’s scenes, all of which react realistically to their surroundings and the forces exerted upon them.
An early benchmark scene sees a tram interact with APEX Particles. Upon striking the tram’s roof, each spark bounces before cooling and fading out of the scene realistically.
In a later scene, a tram passes through fog. When PhysX is enabled, the tram passes through a large Fog Volume comprised of APEX Particles, pushing them realistically across the scene. When PhysX is disabled, the tram merely passes through the area, clipping through a small, static bank of fog. Furthermore, with PhysX enabled, additional sparks help immersive the viewer, reinforcing the idea that ageing rolling stock is travelling along an electrified overhead cable.
Bokeh Depth Of Field Effects
Bokeh is the technical term for an out of focus shape in an image. In photography and film, Bokeh has been used for decades for aesthetic affect, the shape being determined by the size and type of lens. In games, the technology to replicate Bokeh eluded developers until the recent release of Crysis 2 and Epic Games’ Unreal Engine 3 Samaritan demo. With the tech now built into the latest versions of the respective engines, third parties merely have to specify the elements that are out of focus and assign a textured shape to create the desired effect.
In the PLA benchmark, Bokeh is part of a catch-all Post Processing effect that radically changes the look and feel of the world, as shown in our interactive comparison below.
Note the pentagonal Bokeh effects between the angelic figurine and the Giant IronHorse team photo.
Combining these advanced effects results in a significantly improved level of fidelity, as shown in our HD video:
Click to watch GeForce.com's Passion Leads Army benchmark video.
Passion Leads Army Benchmark Performance
With PLA’s impressive effects enabled, in addition to PhysX, what level of performance should you look forward to on your system?
As one would expect, there’s a linear progression in performance from the GTX 560 Ti to the GTX 680, and a larger jump to the dual-GPU GTX 690. From the GTX 560 Ti and up, every card was capable of using 4xMSAA anti-aliasing at over 30 frames per second with every setting enabled and maxed out, in addition to displaying the full range of PhysX effects. Given a larger level with more unique, high resolution textures, we expect the result would be far different, forcing owners of the GTX 560 Ti to use low-cost FXAA post-process anti-aliasing, which is expertly implemented in PLA.
Given the performance of the GTX 560 Ti, a card with strong PhysX capabilities, we expected the GTX 550 Ti’s performance to be far lower due to its reduced number of CUDA Cores, the element of the graphics card responsible for powering GPU-accelerated PhysX effects. Investigating further, we discovered that PLA lowers the PhysX detail level based on a GPU’s CUDA Core-count, explaining the GTX 550 Ti’s performance.
To receive 1:1 ‘High’ PhysX detail, a GPU must have at least 336 CUDA Cores, like the GTX 460. Given an identical Core Clock speed, the GTX 460 would easily trump the GTX 550 Ti’s performance, but unfortunately its Clock speed is that bit lower, and unlike the GTX 550 Ti it is rendering the full PhysX experience, making it the superior GPU in this specific instance. To discover how many CUDA Cores your GPU has, visit our Hardware page or open the NVIDIA Control Panel and click ‘System Information’ on the bottom left.
Disabling PhysX, meanwhile, resulted in no major changes across our line-up, but here’s the data nonetheless.
As expected, frame rates increased across the board when PhysX was disabled, albeit to varying degrees. However, we recommend keeping some level of PhysX enabled, even at the cost of other effects, as it adds so much to the PLA benchmark.
The PLA benchmark is an impressive piece of coding from a previously unknown team, utilizing the latest version of Unreal Engine 3 to good effect. Featuring tessellation, DirectX 11 effects, tessellation, Bokeh depth of field, GPU-accelerated PhysX effects, and 3D Vision support, the PLA benchmark ticks all the technical boxes, and does so in a highly compressed 566MB package, available for download here.
Any user with a recent GeForce GTX graphics card should be able to enjoy the full PLA benchmark experience, and if you’re in China you can check out the final free-to-play, multiplayer first-person shooter product later this year.
Share your benchmark results, system specs, and benchmarks settings in the comments section below to see how your system shapes up against those of fellow GeForce.com community members.