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Comparative fps study in Source Engine Optimization System

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An article where I showcase the clear frame rate variation between having a solid optimization system and not having one in a Source engine map, with plenty of numbers and a complete comparative study

Comparative fps study in Source Engine Optimization System

Intro

I have been writing papers and articles about optimization for the past 4 years, and have been preaching about the utmost importance of a good optimization system in a Source map in all of my writings.

It is about time I dedicate a whole article where I showcase the clear difference between having a solid optimization system and not having one. Since I am also a man of science, the article will have numbers, a lot of numbers, for a complete comparative study that shows the frame rate variation with and without the optimization system in place.

As with every scientific study and experiment, we need a guinea pig; luckily, my map cs_calm has volunteered for this job.

The study

Every solid study needs a systematic approach and a standard operating procedure to make sure the findings are as accurate and impartial as possible.

The methodology that I will use is fairly simple and straightforward: I will systematically record the fps in key locations in the map, then I will turn off the optimization system, one component at a time, and test the new frame rate at the same locations (localized fps). I will also systematically roam the maps and record time demos to get the average fps of the entire map.

The fps study will be done according to my devised procedure that is all nicely and clearly laid out in my paper Optimization Testing in Source Engine. For the optimization system, some components can be turned off (such as hints) while for others, I will need to edit and compile a whole new map to test the effects (such as the skybox). I will need to fully compile 6 new versions of the map which is time and effort consuming but it will be done…for science.

The map

As I mentioned earlier, the map to be used in this study is my own CSGO map cs_calm. It is fully optimized with regard to layout, skybox, brushwork, func_detail, nodraw, props fading, lightmaps scale, hints, and areaportals. Only occluders are not present in the map (not needed).

We will start first by recording the fps in 2 key locations of the map: CT spawn and T spawn. These are the first locations that the player will have contact with and they are fairly open and highly detailed which makes them perfect to compare the effects of the optimization system.

The test system is an i7 with 6GB of RAM and a 2GB NVidia card all running on Windows 10 64-bit at 1920x1080 resolution.

For CSGO settings, everything is on high with 4X MSAA and 8X Anisotropic filtering and multicore rendering enabled.

The compile process of each map version is done with full vbsp, vvis, vrad and final parameters for vrad (-final -textureshadows -hdr -StaticPropLighting –StaticPropPolys).

The fps for these 2 locations, as can be seen in the screenshot below, is 233 for CT spawn (left) and 274 for T spawn (right). These figures will be subsequently used as benchmarks to compare the fps from the map variations against them.



The cases

Skybox

In this first case, I deleted all the optimized skybox brushes and replaced them with one giant skybox cube that envelops the whole map. This is a common mistake that many designers “commit”. All other optimization components in the map remain unchanged.

Results and fps variation are summed up in the table below. I am always benchmarking against the fps of the original cs_calm (showcased in the previous screenshot).



You can notice that CT spawn dropped 23 fps while T spawn incurred a 27 fps drop. This is a significant drop but one to be expected because of all the useless newly created visleaves and the new open sight lines on the map’s edges.

Nodraw

In this case, I replaced all nodraw surfaces in the map with a concrete texture. All the other optimization components are untouched; remember, we are only changing one component at a time to test the corresponding fps change and variation.



The drop here, 23 and 26 fps respectively for CT and T spawns, is somehow similar to the case of the skybox cube. This is all because of extra overhead on the engine originating from all the faces that were textured with a concrete texture, a real texture (see what I did here?)

Props fade distance

In this case, I removed the fade distance from all the props in the map (static, physics, and dynamic).



The drop here will be relative to the number of props in the scene and the openness of the map. The more props you have and the more open the map is, the more severe the fps drop will be when you remove the fade distance. You can see here that the drop, 11 and 17 fps, was slightly inferior to the 2 cases before. This is due to the layout of the map itself and to the other optimization components, mainly hints, which are keeping the fps in check.

Hints

In this case, I disabled the hints visgroup in Hammer and compiled a new version of the map.



The drop here is substantial with 21 fps in both locations. When you disable hints, more visleaves will be visible in the PVS and the engine will incur additional rendering overhead which will directly affect the fps.

Areaportals

As with the case before, I disabled the areaportals visgroup in Hammer and compiled a new version of the map.



Similar to the hints case, the fps drop is important, 18 fps, and is also due to over-rendering between visleaves and the elimination of the view frustum culling effect of areaportals once they were removed.

Func_detail

This case is supposed to be like the others where I select all the func_detail in the map and revert them to regular world brushes, compile a new map version, and test the fps accordingly. However, cs_calm is highly detailed and relies heavily on func_detail with intricate shapes; I knew beforehand that compiling this new version on full VIS and final RAD with all these details switched back to regular world brushes was not going to happen…at least not easily or quickly.

I decided to discard this case and not include it in the above study with other optimization components. Nevertheless, for the sole sake of science and testing, I decided to give this compile a try…out of curiosity.

Just as I suspected, after 3 long hours, the portalflow in vvis was still stuck at 60-70% and it was not moving, nor it had any obvious intentions of moving; it was there to stay (probably overnight). I had to put an end to its miserable life.

I still won’t include this version in the study but I got more curious to see how this “world brush details” edition would benchmark against the original map. For this reason, I decided to perform a separate, “independent” small test on this version using fast VIS and fast RAD; mind you the results won’t be as accurate as a full VIS since the advanced vis algorithm won’t run, therefore, full visibility matrix won’t be calculated and the lighting will be flat and basic without dynamic shadows which could also affect fps.

To keep things fair, accurate, and in check, I will compile both the “world brush details” map and the original one in fast compile parameters to keep a level playing field and similar testing conditions and parameters.



Even on a fast compile, the version with details as regular world brushes dropped by 13 and 10 fps respectively for CT and T spawns. The drop is not as big as the previous cases, in part due to the inaccurate fast VIS compile, and because the other optimization components are still in place (skybox, hints, areaportals, etc…), keeping the fps under control. But nevertheless, 10 fps drop could mean the difference between a playable and an unplayable map when the gaming system is in low to mid-range specs.

Combination of components

We have seen how much the frame rate would vary when we change one component of the optimization system, and it was a significant variation.

What happens then when we change several or all components at once? I bet this is the part you all have been waiting for.

In this case, I disabled hints and areaportals visgroups, removed all props fade distance, replaced nodraw with a concrete texture, and removed optimized skybox brushwork, substituting it with a big hollow skybox cube. The map was compiled on full final compile as with the other cases included in the study.

Without further ado, here are the results as well as a screenshot showcasing the fps in CT and T spawns.





On the spot, you can observe a huge drop in both locations: 98 fps in CT spawn versus 84 fps in T spawn. Remember that the figures are taken with me standing alone in the map; if you factor in bots, human players, and server-client ping and lag, then you can anticipate an additional 100 fps drop. The map will be unplayable in certain locations if the fps drops below 60.

This is, ladies and gentlemen, what happens when you don’t eat your vegetables, optimize your map properly. We are talking here about a near 100 fps drop in certain map locations and this is a surefire way to kill the map; no one will play it, or more precisely, replay it once they test the first time.

Additional figures

Since we all like numbers (at least I do), let us observe some more figures related to compile times and average fps of all the above map versions (except the one of the func_detail compiled on fast settings that I decided not to include in the study).



The numbers were recorded using the time demo technique (refer to my fps testing paper for methodology). You can see that the figures are more average and smoother than the sharp variations in the localized fps in the previous cases. This is mostly due to large parts of the map taking place indoors with twisting corridors that are naturally suited for the Source engine and help it raise the fps intrinsically.

When we modify one component at a time, the difference is restricted between 5 and 10 fps but when we combine all the optimization components, the drop is huge (almost 41 fps) which speaks a lot considering this is an average fps not a localized number.

As a bonus feature, I will throw in the compile times, listed below, that can give an additional insight on each map version.



You can observe that a well optimized map should have a very short vvis time (unless it’s a really large map with a very complex optimization system); the non-optimized map version has its VIS numbers on the high side.

You can see that the biggest VIS times are for the skybox and the combination versions of the map since they involve adding substantial numbers of additional useless visleaves. The nodraw and props versions have no impact on visleaves numbers, while removing hints and areaportals reduces the number of total visleaves (at the cost of decreasing fps). As I mentioned in a previous article, do not confuse VIS time with in-game performance.

On the fast compile test, you can notice that the version where I switched the func_detail into regular world brushes has a 10s VIS time compared to virtually nothing on the optimized map. Remember that on full final compile, the map was stopped as it would have taken a day to finish or even crash before outputting a final visibility matrix. Even on fast compile where VIS only does preliminary visibility checks, the map took 10s and this is due to the huge number of additional visleaves that were created by the regular world brushes that were func_detail before.

Outro

This article and study were a good exercise to showcase, in numbers and hard facts, the utmost importance of a good optimization system in a Source engine map.

Having tirelessly preached about the significance of optimization over the years, I believe the facts and figures presented here leave no doubt about this issue. A good optimization setup is not a choice, it’s a must if you wish to have a nicely playable map.

I sure hope this study serves as a motivational boost and a wakeup call for any designer, beginner or expert, who is still on the fence on the whole importance of a good optimization system in Source.

Will2k

September 27, 2015

Comments

  • AlcyToronto avatar
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    1 year ago:
    > **Posted by Akshit Saklani**
    >
    > One thing I would like to ask will2k. Is there a proper way of doing fading distance on multiple models or is it done one at a time only?

    To set the same fade distance to multiple props you can simply select them in _map_ / _entity report _ menu, click "_properties_" button in the same menu and set the fade distances. in this way the new setting will be applied to every selected props.
    But the best thing, IMAO, is set the distance one by one, using the "_toggle model fade preview_" button, to see the fading effect already in Hammer. That because, of course, a lightbulb in a small closed room can't have the same fading distance as a big tree, visible from everywhere... You can also select many similar props in the 3D view, double click the last selected one opening the properties window and set the fading for those multiple objects.
    fair-player and mapper
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    1 year ago:
    Thanks everyone for the comments and posts :)

    @ Akshit Saklani: All props are candidate for fade distance optimization. One should take extra care for non-destructible physics props as they can be moved around the map and an inadequate fade distance could break immersion and realism. The last thing you want is to shoot or throw a metal bucket for example only to see it vanish in thin air after traveling 512 units :)

    For static props, small ones are a better candidate since players are less likely to notice them even from a close distance when they are focusing on gameplay and enemies surrounding them.

    Large props can be faded safely taking care not to do so abruptly or in a way to break gameplay especially if the said prop could be used as cover (dumpster, car, concrete block,...). If in doubt or can't find a good fade compromise for big props, then leave them be as long as you do so for the small ones.

    @ JorisCeoen: Hi joris, good to hear about your new map. Hit me up if you need any help with optimizing it.
    cosa dici! avatar
    Mantra
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  • JorisCeoen avatar
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    1 year ago:
    A very professional approach to optimisation, congratulations. This is basically what gives meaning to optimising your map. If you don't factor in the calculation count by writing them down and comparing, optimisation is pointless and will be inefficient (or is at least a probable situation if you don't know why you're doing it).

    It's clear that this is the reason they hire you for optimisation purposes on Source projects :)

    Just for your information, on my very soon incoming map, a remake of surf_greatriver, I'm using all your hints to optimise whatever is possible. As it's a large open map it is very hard to implement optimisations that are mattering. Only a handful of locations that are enclosed will be world brush, and in there I have to cut down visleafs with hint, skip and areaportals (especially the horizontal ones to avoid skyhigh leafs).
    Level Designer & Youtube
  • Akshit Saklani avatar
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    1 year ago:
    One thing I would like to ask will2k. Is there a proper way of doing fading distance on multiple models or is it done one at a time only?

    And also, do all models need to be having a fade distance? Or just the small ones?
    Fall 7 times, stand up 8! avatar
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    1 year ago:
    It's not so much what you have or are lacking with optimization, it's what is rendering at the moment.

    If you build your map smartly, you could have it all world with props and no nodraw and still get great fps with little next to no improvement using any sort of optimization. for example, a bunch of boxes connected by winding pathways will generally always have better fps then several large areas connected by shot straight paths. Or a map with props for the smaller details and the rest all world geometry will still run well even without func_detail. It is all about how you plan your map/details that determines the fps. In some rare cases it's actually faster to brute force render everything than it is to test for visibility. Many people make the mistake with thinking "Oh I can build my map any way I want and slap in some optimization" That is certainly not the case at all. All hammer optimization is for, is for sacrificing things for fps gains (areaportal windows), or providing hints to vvis on what can see what (hints, occluders, etc) But they all become useless if you can see all of your map from any point. There's also prop fading and lods that can skyrocket your fps, despite being able to see all of the map.

    If you want to create a good optimized map, the best way to see your map is a bunch of connected sectors. Source was designed for this, and if you build it this way, your maps will generally have great fps with no optimization at all. That is not to say don't use hammer optimization; use it when you need to, or when you can get a huge boost to fps with an areaportal without harming gameplay.

    /rant
    King of Derping around
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    1 year ago:
    Very nice Will, good comparisons
    Mapper
  • noxious avatar
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    1 year ago:
    Really nice & detailed tutorial. Thank you! :)
  • will2k avatar
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    1 year ago:
    > **Posted by cdstines22**
    >
    > Read this and realized, you're a Source badass.

    Thank you :) I still learn new things everyday though
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    Mantra
    cosa dici!
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    1 year ago:
    > **Posted by NvC_DmN_CH**
    >
    > That can make you think how important the optimization really is. Great work :)

    Thanks :)

    > **Posted by KIPPER**
    >
    > Will2K can you please write my essays?

    Sure, that'll be 20 quid per essay, plus an additional 10 once you get the A+ grade :)

    > **Posted by Akshit Saklani**
    >
    > Another great article. :D

    Thanks Akshit :)

    To everyone sending "thank you" notes and points, and posting encouragement words, I thank you, it means a lot.
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    1 year ago:
    Read this and realized, you're a Source badass.
    • Agree x 1
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Sep 27 2015 @ 3:21pm UTC
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