Hangar 13’s Andy Wilson, Executive Producer on the open-world action game Mafia III.
What specifically is your development team doing to enhance Mafia III for Xbox One X?
We have focused on a number of significant graphical improvements for the Xbox One X version of Mafia III, led by the implementation of HDR and an upgrade to full 4K resolution. On top of this, we have improved the performance of and in some cases implemented more sophisticated solutions for depth of field, ambient occlusion, shadows, volumetric effects and motion blur. Finally, we’ve increased geometry detail to take better advantage of the higher resolution. In summary, we’ve pushed the boat out!
How do these enhancements impact the gaming experience?
4K obviously provides a much crisper and more image, which paired with the geometry improvements allows the player to see a lot more detail in the near and mid distance. HDR feels like a generational leap visually in several respects. The bright whites and deep blacks enabled by the greatly increased contrast (not to mention the improved SSAO and shadows) really make the visuals pop; Mafia III already looked pretty great at night in a rainy French Ward, but now it looks spectacular. The depth of field, motion blur and VFX refinements all help improve the stability and cohesiveness of the image. Finally, the extra power of the Xbox One X means we can do all of this at a consistent 30fps without dropping frames.
Why did your development team choose to focus on these enhancement areas?
We wanted to implement the combination of features that we felt would take the most advantage of the new power available to us. We also looked at some of the things in the original release that we felt could be improved visually now that the game has been out for a full year. Developers always like to try and push technology forward so this was an opportunity to match and hopefully beat some of the newest titles out there. With 4K and HDR in particular we’re now seeing a pretty big install base of compatible displays, so we were excited to be able to implement what looked a while back like next-gen visual improvements into our existing game.
How do you expect fans of Mafia III will respond to playing it on Xbox One X with these enhancements?
I think our existing players and fans (plus hopefully lots of new ones!) will see a big difference in the visuals, all married to a rock-solid framerate. Mafia III is a strongly narrative-based game at its heart and all of these enhancements help to take our characters, cinematics and big story moments to another level visually. This is all tech we’re planning on taking forwards for our future games so we’ll certainly be keeping an eye on the response. We’ve been steadily tuning various aspects of the game for all Xbox One owners over the last year and with this version we think we’ve definitely hit the peak, graphically.
How has the process been to get the game up and running on Xbox One X?
It’s actually been very straightforward. There’s obviously consistency in the underlying platform so getting the game stood up didn’t take very long. After that it’s really a case of understanding how much ‘extra’ you have to play with, in the context of your specific game and its underlying tech. At Hangar 13 we are fortunate to have our own bespoke engine, which is optimized to create the exact experiences we want to build. We were able to look at the list of potential enhancements on a case-by-case basis and then further tweak our own tech to push things even further. Our first big question was “can this box actually run our game at full 4K and with HDR enabled”, to which the answer was ultimately “it certainly can”. We were able to take care of that early on, which meant we could then focus on adding even more enhancements.
What enhancement were you most excited about leveraging for Mafia III on Xbox One X?
For me it’s HDR all the way. I’ve been watching movies and TV shows in 4K for some time now and I often find it hard to take my eyes off the screen. It’s almost better than real life when done well. Given we have a dynamic day/night cycle in Mafia III (as well as some missions that only take place at night), it’s an improvement that really adds a lot to our specific game. You can see so much more detail in dimly-lit scenes and for the sections where we want true pitch black we now have it.
What does 4K and HDR mean for your game, games in the future and development at your studio?
Simply put, it’s on the verge of becoming the new standard, at least for the next few years. It was important for us to use Mafia III to implement this tech as that means we now have it ready for everything we do in the future. It also means we can monitor feedback from a very large player base and look for ways to further improve it. As developers, we love anything that pushes the medium forward, whether through new genres or concepts or through bleeding-edge tech. I think things were starting to plateau a little when it came to console graphics, so this gives us another leap forward and another chance to make people’s jaws drop.