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Old Sep 19, 2010, 04:04 PM   #1
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Civ5 using DX11 Graphics: The way it's meant to be played!

DirectX 9 vs DirectX11 in Civilization 5

DirectX 11 (or DX11) is Microsoft's latest incarnation of the DirectX API, a set of Application Programming Interfaces that are used for multimedia on a PC, and graphics in particular. DX11 adds some new features to allow better graphics details, such as tessellation and improved multi-threading, along with some other graphical enhancements. The first game to be released supporting DX11 was the RTS game BattleForge, initially released as a DX9 / DX10 game, and updated to support DX 11 in September 2009. There are currently only a handful of titles that have been released with DX11 support, and Civilization 5 is now one of them.

Civilization 5 ships with two versions: a DX9 version, and a DX11 version. In this review here, I will endeavor to show you the differences between the two; but first a word on availability:

In order to play the directx 11 version, you need to have both a video card that supports DX11 (ATI Radeon 5XXX or higher, or NVIDIA GeForce 4XX or higher), and an operating system that supports DX11 as well: Windows 7, or Vista (SP2). For those of you who have Windows XP, unfortunately you're out of luck: DX11 is not supported under XP. For those of you that have Vista SP2 or Windows 7, but don't have a graphics card that supports DX11, hopefully this article might help you decide whether an upgrade is a good option.

Before we get into the differences between the two, I need to give you the "disclaimer" bit. CFC was contacted a couple of weeks ago by NVIDIA. NVIDIA have been providing some support to Firaxis on the graphics hardware side for Civ5, and just over a week ago, they released a new entry-level (affordable) DX11 card, the GeForce GTS 450. NVIDIA proposed that they could send me one of these cards for review. Well, we're not a hardware review site, and if I tried to get into the technical details of the benefits of CUDA vs other graphics architecture, I would get shot to pieces by those who know a heck of a lot more about it than me. So I saw this as an opportunity not to review the card per-se, but to show you how such a card can (in my opinion) improve the look of Civilization 5, by giving you access to all the bells & whistles that come with DX11. We will also use this as an opportunity to tell you about a NVIDIA Civilization 5 promotion, but we'll get to that later.

So a bit about the set-up I used here. I have two PCs - one is a few years old, the other not so old. I ran the "System Requirements" checks using System Requirements Info on my older PC (Core II Duo, E6600 running at 2.4 GHz), and it told me I met the "minimum CPU" requirement, but no the "minimum speed" requirement for the CPU. I'm not really sure why it concluded that, but to allow this to be a graphics-focused discussion, I used my more modern PC - a Core i7 860. All tests were run on this, using a ViewSonic VX2433wm 24" widescreen. Resolution was set to 1920x1080, 60Hz refresh rate, and "WaitForVerticalSync" set in the game options. Now, I'm no expert, but I understand that this option forces the game to limit the number of frames per second to the screen refresh rate. This is the standard option, and designed to give a smooth display. Other graphics options, I all set to "high" detail level.

The graphics options available in Civ5 are shown below:

Now: One important point to note is that (in my setup at least), anti-aliasing is set to "off" for the DX9 version - the option is grayed-out (the screenshot above is for the graphics settings for the DX11 version). Anti-aliasing is a technology used to smooth-out jagged lines on textures (read more about it here). Now, while Civ5 doesn't seem to support anti-aliasing, the in-game settings can be over-ridden using the NVIDIA graphics control panel. I did actually try this to demonstrate the effect, and you can see the difference in the image below. The image on the left is with Anti-Aliasing via the NVIDIA control panel, set at 8x. The image on the right shows the standard image.

You can see from the image above, that the lines along the vertex of the tent are sharper and more jagged in the non-AA version.

Now: One other point:
In Civ5, there is a minimum default zoom level. To show the textures in all their glory, I changed a setting in the Config.ini file for Civ5.

; How close you can get (11.0=default, 4.0=debug zoom)
Minimum Zoom Level = 4.000000
This has allowed me to zoom in to really see the details up-close.

And finally, before we get onto the review proper, let me state that I am not an expert on the subtleties of these two technologies. I aim to show you the differences between the two in terms of the graphical experience playing Civ5, but if I have my explanations wrong, then please forgive me!

Now: On to the review!
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Old Sep 21, 2010, 01:08 AM   #2
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City Textures

The first thing we will look at is some city textures.

In each case, I will present the DX9 version of each picture on the left, and the DX11 version on the right, assuming a desktop setting of approximately 1280 x 1024. If you have a small resolution, the images may be tiled vertically, but the first will be the DX9 version. Each of the pictures is actually a hyperlink to a larger (non-cropped) version of the same image. Note that I am saving these a .JPGs rather than something like a PNG, which will lose some detail. But I looked closely, and I think that the detail loss from .JPG is fairly minimal.

The first is a very basic city - its Rome, my capital. The city is size 5, with the palace as the only improvement.

The palace is the object in the middle of the picture, with the marble horses across the top, and I think that these horses actually provide a pretty good example of the improvements in textures; particularly the legs of the horses that look quite sharp in the DX11 version, and a bit jagged in the DX9.

The other thing you may notice is the jaggedness of the edges of the buildings in the DX9 version. Now, I mentioned above that this is partly due to the anti-aliasing, but even with anti-aliasing turned-off in the DX11 version, the textures are still fairly crisp. I've repeated the DX9 picture below, next to the DX11 one with AA turned-off.

Of course, cities without many buildings are not as interesting as cities with more stuff. In the screens below, I present similar pictures of Beijing, except this time the city has a number of buildings, and also some wonders: The Pyramids, Stonehenge and the Porcelain Tower. A nice touch in civilization 5 is that there are actually textures for wonders that are in-progress, and not yet completed.

Again, note the sharper images generated in the DX11 screenshots, particularly noticeable in the stonehenge blocks, and down the lines of the pyramids. You will also see this in the buildings in the city proper. Now, anti-aliasing my be part of the answer here, but DX11 also introduces tessellation, and I believe that this may have something to do withe the sharper images. Hopefully someone who knows a bit more about this that I do (maybe a heads-up to one of the Firaxis artists / DX programmers?) might be able to tell us a bit more!
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Old Sep 21, 2010, 04:26 AM   #3
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We have seen above a little bit on the units, particularly how they don't cast shadows on the terrain in the DX9 version. Here we examine a couple more units. The first two are actually from the full version of the Beijing picture I showed before, where I had previous cropped-out a couple of units. Here is the Great Scientist (As in Civ4, in Civ5 the Great people units change with the ages. This is the industrial era version)

Here, the lack of a shadow is not as evident. Note that the wheels on the vehicle are more round in the DX11 version.

Finally, we have a set of units: A rifleman in the center, a great general to the left, and the boat is actually an embarked worker, believe it or not!

...and its good to see that the riflemen aren't doing anything untoward with those cattle, as well!

Again, I would like to draw your attention to the extra detail, shadows and reflection provided by the DX11 graphics. It is not particularly clear to see in this particular shot, but the boats reflect in the water as well. In fact, after mentioning that, I think I owe it to you to show you the effect. Here we have an American Caravel, and a Carrier.

As you can see, the reflections look pretty cool, and they're dynamic as the ship moves and rocks. The lighting effect that can be seen on the sea in the DX9 shot is actually available on both DX9 and DX11 - look at the full picture (click on the images above) to see it better.
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Old Sep 21, 2010, 05:14 AM   #4
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As I said at the start, this is not meant to be a video card review specifically, but more of a demonstration of DX9 vs DX11 in Civilization 5. But for those of you interested in the video card, I have a few comments.

Firstly, it fits easily into my case (standard ATX), although it takes a double-slot. It connects with a single 6-pin PCIe power connection. The NVIDIA control panel doesn't report temperatures, and I couldn't be bothered finding out how, but during my playing, I didn't notice any abnormal sounds from the fan (didn't hear it at all). It has a couple of DVI connectors, and a single HDMI one.

Civilization is not a First Person Shooter (obviously!) and high frame rates are not the be-all and end-all. As you zoom around the map, the frame rates may drop slightly here, but leave the camera still, and everything catches-up.

NVIDIA recommended that I play this with MSAA (anti-aliasing) set to 2x. I actually set it to 8x for the screenshots I took above, and got a perfectly playable ~30 FPS when scrolling around land, and got 60 FPS (limited by Waitforverticalsync) on water. With WaitForVerticalSync turned-off, the land scrolling remained the same, and the water did too, suggesting that 60 FPS is about the limit at 8x MSAA. I turned the anti-aliasing down to 2x (as recommended by NVIDIA), and got around 45 - 60 FPS on land, and 70 on water (waitforverticalsync disabled).

What this actually translates to is a very slight 'jerky' look feel when panning-around the map. However, when you're immersed in the game, it is hardly noticeable. And note that this was at 1920 x 1280 widescreen resolution, with a 60Hz refresh rate. For those of you up-and-playing, you may notice that when the AI moves, they tend to do unit moves simultaneously, instead of moving units sequentially (looks pretty cool, actually). There may be a bit of slowdown when a whole pile of units move at once. Combat is on a unit-by-unit basis, and this tends to be handled fairly well.

In summary, this NVIDIA GTS 450 card does not purport to be the highest spec. video card. It serves a purpose as an introductory-level DX11 card, delivering DX11 graphics at a reasonable price. I was sent some links, and this card can be picked up for as little as CAD 129 (also with a free copy of Just Cause 2) from NCIX, and USD 129 from NewEgg.

Now: One other thing that I'm really pleased to be able to announce here is a promotion for North American customers who play civilization 5, and who purchase one of these cards (and it looks like it may apply to Australia and New Zealand as well). If you buy one of these cards from certain retailers, you get a free upgrade from Civilization 5 Basic Edition to the Digital Deluxe Edition!

>>Read more about the Promotion on the NVIDIA Website HERE
>>Go review and order a card from (Canada)
>>Go review and order a card from (USA) - (Look for the ones that say "Free Civilization 5 Upgrade)

Finally, my thanks to Christopher Pomroy, Martin Day and especially to Leslie Pirritano of NVIDIA for sending me this DX11 card and making this review possible, along with Charlie Sinhaseni & Tom Bass (2K Games) and Kelley Gilmore (Firaxis) for sorting out some of the other details.

And very, very finally, as a teaser, we will be announcing another NVIDIA promotion in the near future! Look out for it!
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Old Sep 21, 2010, 04:39 PM   #5
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I've never even heard of a deluxe edition. In the last week or so, I just built a new computer system, keeping this specific game in mind. I have a GTX460. What is the deluxe version? Is there something in it that the "regular version" doesn't have? I wish I would have known about this.
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Old Sep 21, 2010, 04:50 PM   #6
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hmm the differences are pretty subtle imo... well my comp is below min req anyways
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Old Sep 21, 2010, 04:57 PM   #7
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The thing i'm most interested to know and i hope you can cover in this thread Ainwood is the difference between a DX10 card or DX10.1 and DX11 card.
Is there any noticeable difference in graphic department?
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Old Sep 21, 2010, 05:07 PM   #8
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So why can't I run DX10 with AA? Why does it have to be 9 or 11? I have a DX10 card, I want a DX10 version.
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Old Sep 21, 2010, 05:09 PM   #9
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There is a DX10 version, and you can use AA.
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Old Sep 21, 2010, 05:10 PM   #10
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Why can't I launch it, then?
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Old Sep 21, 2010, 05:11 PM   #11
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Thanks for this Ainwood. As nice as those DX11 pictures are, this confirms my thoughts from playing today - DX9 is good enough, I don't gotta go pay for Win7 yet.

Although I DO like those water textures/reflections a LOT...
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Old Sep 21, 2010, 05:15 PM   #12
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not bad, but the effects are negligible. you'd have to look that close to see *any* difference
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Old Sep 21, 2010, 05:24 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by Tamed View Post
Why can't I launch it, then?
I read somewhere you may have to close out the Steam application than restart it for some reason.
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Old Sep 21, 2010, 06:28 PM   #14
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Originally Posted by Mathalamus View Post
not bad, but the effects are negligible. you'd have to look that close to see *any* difference
Exactly my thoughts. Sure, it does look a little better, but its minor enough for my tastes that I am certainly not about to rush out and plunk anymore money down.
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Old Sep 21, 2010, 06:45 PM   #15
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So how are framerates in dx9 versus 11? Is 9 considerably faster ?
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Old Sep 21, 2010, 07:05 PM   #16
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I have an Nvidia GeForce GTX 260. When I start the game I select the dx10/dx11 setting (as recomended), but for some reason when I am in the Video Options screen I can't set anti-aliasing on. As soon as I hit "Apply" the screen goes black and anti-aliasing turns off automatically. I set the application override thing on in the Nvidia control panel. Does this card even support dx10/dx11? Is there a way for me to turn anti aliasing on in the game, or does this mean that it's automatically on when I set it in the Nvidia Control Panel? Thanks.
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Old Sep 21, 2010, 07:08 PM   #17
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i usually struggle to see differences in side by side comparisons like this, i think if you're playing the game and you have a world with shadows and better lighting and smoother textures it becomes more noticeable. also, those nvidia quotes are brilliant
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Old Sep 21, 2010, 07:50 PM   #18
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In case the OP and other people in this thread didnt realize, in DX11 mode, only the terrain is tessellated, not the buildings / units.

If you compare the terrain, yes the differences are very significant between DX9 and DX11.
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Old Sep 21, 2010, 08:02 PM   #19
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Some notes on this, sorry if its been mentioned already

1. Tesselation is basically subdividing the terrain's polygons = moar polygons = moar details and crisp cliffs, mountains or hills.

2. DX11 AND DX10 has tesselation, frankly i dont know what DX11 does that DX10 doesnt do in civ5. Maybe depth of field or something?
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Old Sep 21, 2010, 08:17 PM   #20
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I don't see why anti-aliasing is off in DX9 :???:

Honestly, while DX11 does look better, it isn't a huge difference in Civ5's case.
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