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Mailbag
August 16, 1998 -- Previous Mailbag

From: Adam
Subject: In Response to Jim Collier, and the FPS

In Quake one when 16 people all start firing rockets into a large room, your frame rate can drop ... it drops a long way...

just because you can get 60fps in quake in demo 1 ( or where ever) if your in say .. dm3 in the pool room (lots of brushes present) and everyone is firing rockets ( like in clan arena) your frame rates will drop to a very low amount compared to standing at the yellow amour looking at the wall with no one near you.

From: Czar
Subject: FPS MailBag Response

Sorry Mr. Collier, your eyes can only convert so much light into electrical impulses at a time. The real problem is sync. The brain is limited by slightly less than the speed of light (chemical to electrical impulses then back again) and as for the brain being analog, it is a neural net. You were almost on the right track when you mention sync. Recent discoveries in the field of biology suggest that the body has an internal clock, much like a computer. This clock syncs the entire body up so that we can function properly. This is what gives us our sense of timing. To illustrate how this synch works, lake a camera and focus it on your TV. See those weird effects such as lines and such that the camera picks up? This is all because of sync. We can't perceive those lines because an image lingers in the retina for a short time (this is where the max FPS you can see comes from, you can only sample an image so fast, IT IS PROVEN BIOLOGY). Demanding 90+ FPS is insane if you want it for visual quality. The real reason for higher FPS is less lag. With a higher framerate, input can be sampled more often, physics can be done more, and the game generally feels better. Look at Descent, it looks the same at 40fps as it does at 500. The real problem becomes cramming the ability to run complex math in between frames. This is the problem with the 3DFX version of the game. It seems that at this point FPS measurements are being used as a nuclear arsenal, 5000 and 50000 are both enough to kill all human life on the planet, it is simply a question of numbers. Personally I'd rather get the job done instead of brag. 60 FPS is an awesome framerate, you will have problems seeing above that. So what would you rather have, a crappy game at 5 gazillion FPS or a really great game at 60fps? I know what I'll pick.

From: Alaric G. Weigle
Subject: FPS The Reality

Ok, couldn't resist here. This one's destined for the mailbag. The great FPS second issue. First off I'd like to say that all those publishers out there stating that anything above 30 fps is a waste of time haven't been paying attention in class. But before I get down to the hows and whys here's a listing of common visual media and how fps relate in each:

Film: as most probably know theatrical releases are displayed at 24 fps at a VERY high resolution. Each frame is displayed independently at a rate of twenty four individual frames per second. This standard was chosen long ago and has become very deeply entrenched in the industry; which, in addition to cost, is why you won't see films going up to a higher frame rate any time soon.

Video/TV: perhaps the most common moving media on the planet this media (in NTSC format) displays at a resolution of ~586x457 (higher on better TV's) at a fielded frame rate of 30 fps. What "fields" mean in the VHS format is that whenever a frame is displayed you get part of the next frame at the same time. This is done to smooth the motion out. So frame 1 is displayed with half of frame 2 then frame 2 is displayed with half of frame three overlapped and so on and so on. And again the choice of frame rates was a decision made some time ago and is too entrenched to be altered any time soon.

Now the reality of FPS. The human eye can be fooled into seeing continuous motion by anything above 15 fps. Now before you start crying out that 15 fps is hardly enough to play a game at realize that the jerkiness most people suffer at 15 fps is due to limited resources as a whole on their machine. What in effect is happening is that you frame rate is varying between 5 and 25 fps during a game depending on the number of polys displayed the amount of processor being chewed for AI thinking, the system RAM consumed by the number of monsters on screen at once; etc, etc. Most games at the end of a demo will give you an AVERAGE fps. So the 22 fps at the end of Quake's Time Demo 1 doesn't mean you were going 22 fps all the time. If you were ever able to get a solid 15 fps you'd find it was quite acceptable. Now before you all begin yelling at me let me say that I'm not supporting dropping to 15 fps :). No at all. Here's why more frames are better: Theoretically there is a limit to how much information the human visual cortex can process at any given moment. However I am not aware of anyone discovering a number for that limit. 30 fps is definitely NOT the limit, though. In fact Douglas Trumble ( SFX wiz of Star Wars fame) did numerous tests in the 80's with high speed motion picture film. Displaying movies of things like roller coasters and car chases at varying frame rates. 24 fps, 60 fps, and (I think) 120 fps. What he discovered is that the higher frame rates produced higher degree's of motion sickness in the audience due to the fact that the higher frame rates were fooling more people's brains into believing that they were moving at a high rate of speed while their equilibrium said that they were remaining still. This is what brings on "Doom sickness" in those people with more extreme motion sickness (I on the other hand read entire books on car trips). This is also why (along with price) VR helmets like the extremely cool VFX-1 never took off. When completely enveloped in a virtual world (even at lower frame rates) without any exterior cues telling you how fast you're really going you are fooled even more into believing the virtual motion and your equilibrium rebels even more vehemently (I shocked the demonstrators at the old CES show where the VFX-1 was first demonstrated by playing around in an early System Shock room for ~20 minutes without getting the slightest bit ill. That thing rocked!). However for those of us that can stand up to motion sickness better, higher frame rates are definitely sought after. A game running a 60-90fps is MUCH more enveloping than one running at 30 fps. The fps argument is very similar to the old (now laughed at) argument of "Why go higher then 16.7 million colors, the human eye can't distinguish the difference anyway" . As for the disorientation that Jim Collier (see previous Mail Bag) refers to; this has more to do with the lagging between frames or "dropped" frames than the frame rate. The lag can cause you to think your facing one way when your character is really a little to the left. We've all gotten fragged by that one. As for the "higher frame rate=higher kill advantage" this is sorta true. A player playing at a higher frame rate will be more immersed and their reactions will be a little better (though the max human reaction time, due to the length of time it takes the nerve impulse to reach the brain is a little under a tenth of a second). However factors such as faster control response, which usually improves on faster machines along with the frame rate, not because of it, are equally important factors. At any rate (pun not intended) a higher frame rate is better. So give us 90fps Quake Arena!!!!!

From: Grendel
Subject: Ping Plotter - Bad Bad!

I saw the post on Ping Plotter, and wanted to give out a little blurb on such programs to try and save some poor network admins from dealing with complaints based on these tools.

Programs like Ping-Plotter use traceroute to determine the outbound path to a particular destination host. They then send ICMP echo-requests to every host encountered in the path to the destination host, and measure round-trip time as well as packet loss from each.

While this sounds like a good idea, it is really a very poor tool. The reason for this is that routers - particularly busy routers - will almost always drop ICMP datagrams destined for their own interfaces. This is done to ensure that a router's resources are being consumed doing what routers do - passing packets from interface to interface - NOT generating echo-reply packets for nosy gamers. :)

From: Tim Aidley
Subject: Hi Res/Lo Res

Ben Creech was right to point out the flaws in the 'Return to Low Res' article on Redwoods, however, I feel that there are other very good reasons to stay at a lower res. The main reason is that a high resolution emphasizes the low detail of geometry. Current technology allows a proportionally much higher level of detail in textures than in geometry (you might have a 128x128 texture - 2048 pixels covering a mesh made of only about 200 polys, or less), whereas ideally you need a consistent level of detail in all aspects of the 3d scene. The advantage of lower resolution is that the larger pixel size gives added detail to the edges of the polygons, (by aliasing) and also reduces the possible detail information conveyed by the texture.

I found this effect *very* noticeable on Hexen II - I had a bit of trouble getting the 3dfx version working at first and played in 320x240 software - the environments looked beautiful - really full of detail.. However, I found myself slightly disappointed when I moved to the 3dfx version - the statues and trees that had before looked so complex now looked chunky and polygonal. I could now see polygons where before I could just see shape - much of the atmosphere was lost.

From: Glenn Driscoll
Subject: No Dogfights in FreeSpace

Originally FreeSpace was going to have dogfight mods for multiplay. However, they removed this feature for because 'they' thought it wasn't fun and lack of production time. I tend to believe the latter is the case. FreeSpace as it is now supports two mods, coop and teams. These mods are ok but hasn't anyone told Volition that the real multiplayer experience is human vs. human? You have to play multiplayer with (of all things) AI ships. Even in the team mod for FreeSpace, if all player slots aren't taken by human players, then AI ships take over. This causes unnecessary lag in the game. I for one want to see dogfighting missions in FreeSpace. I encourage you to e-mail Volition in support of dogfight missions.