Eli5: How can a game such as Horizon Forbidden West look and run as beautiful and smooth as it does, when comparatively uglier games such as Star Citizen run terribly?

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I’d like to be able to understand how the aforementioned example looks like so ahead of the curve graphically while also running really well. It has very taxing visuals that I can identify, such as dense foliage, detailed physics and animations, and incredible lighting. It doesn’t seem to compromise in ways that other games such as Star Citizen do, and yet I get way better performance out of it too.

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6 Answers

Anonymous 0 Comments

“Performance” is the end product of *numerous* techniques, rendering decisions, and chances for optimization all coming together. There is of course a ceiling for what performance can benefit from good choices in these areas of course–detail, textures, lighting, physics, and so on will never be free, nor cheap resource-wise for modern games, no matter how well you optimize. But, some people/teams make better use of what they have to work with, or find ways to cut corners in unnoticable (or less noticable) areas to improve performance. Or, maybe they don’t have time during production and prioritize getting everything to work and all the content in, and end up with some bugs or poorer performance in some areas as a consequence. 

Additionally, maybe some features or techniques that you might not consider are actually really intensive, while others aren’t, game to game. Reflective surfaces and dynamic lighting for example can be awful, while distant object rendering can sometimes be short-cut in ways that look much more resource heavy than they are. 

Anonymous 0 Comments

You can make anything run like crap if the code is poorly optimized.

Just by way of a simple example: Back in the day, computer hardware couldn’t perform multiplication. It could only do addition. Computers performed multiplication by repeated addition (3×4 is 4+4+4). You could do 4000 x 2 as 4000 + 4000 or 2+2+2+…. Not picking the larger of the two numbers as a base for the addition is a really simple (like ~5 lines of assembly) change in code with massive implications for performance.

Suffice it to say, there’s a *lot* going on under the hood and you can put a crappy engine in a really nice looking car.

Anonymous 0 Comments

I can answer for those two games.

Horizon is a finished product. All the content is there and they had time to refine it all, optimize the engine, make compromises along the way and make the best of whatever hardware people were going to be playing it on.

Star Citizen is stil in Alpha. They are working on adding content. Optimization is very much not the focus, and most things are not as optimal as they could be (for example, a good chunk of the graphics processing goes through the CPU, whereas a fully optimized game might utilize the GPU as much as possible).

Anonymous 0 Comments

Basically, making a good triple A game is very difficult.

Like extremly. Same as making a good TV show or Movie.

It’s so complex, that sometimes everything works like you wanted and sometimes it doesn’t. It just doesn’t work out.

Obviously studios try to replicate sucess. We made a good game here, let’s use the same processes and structures to make another good game. But sometimes it doesn’t work out.

If they had a formula for success they would use it (and they do if it’s close enough like pumping out CoD games every year. But it doesn’t work that well when trying something a bit different).

There are too many workers involved, and too many stakeholders. Those things are expensive.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Horizon: Forbidden West runs on a significantly more mature engine, is a sequel to an existing game and is scoped appropriately by the team making it with no new features added after certain time.

Combination of these factors shouldn’t be underestimated.

Star Citizen is in a never ending stage of “let’s add this and that”. So even if devs sit down to balance this Jenga tower so it can run better management comes in and throws new pieces on top effectively undermining these efforts as suddenly what you thought is good enough no longer is as there are more pieces to handle.

Optimization is a process, not a one time deal. But in order to optimize something you need to have metrics on what is considered good enough. You see problems and you fix them as you go but in this case more problems are added as you work through them. This is also on top of a fact that frankly I doubt management of Star Citizen development care THAT much about optimization. It doesn’t bring money. New features do. It has to run >just< well enough.

It’s a different story if you prepare for console release for instance. Your game either runs smoothly enough or it doesn’t get certification. Developers of Cyberpunk 2077 have seen that firsthand – they failed certification for PS4, told Sony that “no problem, we will fix it by day 1 patch” (and since they were an AAA it was accepted), release happened and whole game was nuked from the orbit because it ran like crap. But there is no such standardization for PCs – Valve which is the largest store checks if your title starts, if key bindings are correct etc and that’s about it. Whereas if you run your own store – hey, no checks whatsoever.

Now, onto other factors – Horizon: Forbidden West is a **sequel**. Among other things it means you actually have a fully operational game as your starting point. You also have every single crashlog reported and thousands of data points. Game development is sometimes described as a neverending race full of crunches but in earlier phases of the development it’s fairly chill and relaxed. So it’s easier to send some developers to optimize parts of the process that were the problem last time.

Which is why it’s not uncommon for sequels to actually run better than original games. Now, part of that optimization may disappear as you add new effects. But odds are that sheer technological advancements in the meantime will carry that for you. In this case – Horizon Forbidden West runs on PS5. But it also runs on PS4 which by now is very obsolete. PCs have improved since PS4 era by a lot so it brings relative requirements down. Zero Dawn, when first came out on PC, was in fact seen as very unoptimized. I mean:


2560×1440 at 60 fps was only possible for the fastest GPUs money could buy. Game also suffered (in it’s original 1.0 state) from memory leaks, being released in DEBUG mode, shader caching all the time etc. All these issues however were eventually resolved – and their fixes have been migrated to the sequel.

Forbidden West requirements have increased since but we also have two whole new generations of GPUs on top of major advancements like DLSS.

Anonymous 0 Comments

To add on about star citizen itself, besides being pre alpha where it doesn’t make sense to do a lot of optimization, they aren’t faking some things commonly faked in games. When you travel in an elevator to your hanger you aren’t sitting in a box where they fake the travel, you’re actually moving. When you blow up a ship it has long persistence with a lot of discrete stuff track to support salvage gameplay loops, your ships thrusters aren’t just an animation and are actually doing stuff, and when you’re in your ship you don’t animate into the cockpit and become one entity.