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StarCraft II: Technical Aspects

The StarCraft II is one of the several modern highly-anticipated AAA games for personal computers that do not have a leading-edge graphics engine. Although Blizzard has no plans to bring the StarCraft II to video game consoles, it decided not to use modern applications programming interfaces, such as DirectX 10 or DirectX 11. Instead, the graphics engine is based on DirectX 9 API which should maximize the amount of potential gamers.

According to Blizzard, graphics card's performance is more important for StarCraft II than processing power of the system CPU. Since StarCraft II uses Havok physics engine, which is perfectly scalable on multi-core central processing units, we would still recommend getting a proper CPU for the new game. Still, since it is a DirectX 9 title, extra cores will only handle physics effects since the API cannot use them to speed up graphics rendering.

One thing you should keep in mind when dealing with StarCraft II is that its graphics engine supports two "modes" for different scene types: the game mode is tailored to provide decent performance in scenes with many units and a lot of action amid high-quality visual effects; the story mode is tailored for cinematic effects on several models in various environments. Since StarCraft II - just like its predecessor and virtually all modern RTS games - can create cut-scenes based on gamers' actions, we are still talking about the same graphics engine that is simply sufficiently scalable to handle different scene types.

In spite of being DirectX 9-based, the graphics engine appears to be pretty performance demanding. There is a lot of emphasis on local lighting and translucent shadowing when it comes to game mode. The game uses deferred FP16 HDR renderer (with multiple render targets) with screen space ambient occlusion (SSAO), which results in decent demands for graphics processing power. The story mode adds things like depth of field, soft shadows and more complex characters.

Since by design DirectX 9.0 API does not allow to support multi-sample full-scene antialiasing (MS FSAA) with MRTs, the StarCraft II engine does not support FSAA at all. Even though there is talk that eventually antialiasing will be enabled with a patch, at present FSAA should be forced from the drivers (provided that the hardware actually supports the functionality), which causes rather massive performance hit.

Since the game is not really geometry intensive (at the end of the day, this is a graphics engine from 2007 - 2008), we would not expect any particular graphics hardware architecture with bumped up geometry performance to have any advantages here. Generally, the game more depends on raw graphics performance rather than on any specific peculiarities of modern GPUs.

The time has come to find out actual performance that StarCraft II can show on different types of today’s hardware!

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