To much fanfare, Blizzard finally released StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty on Tuesday, ending twelve years of waiting. The release was largely without major problems—although some users had difficulty connecting to Battle.net initially, and there is a fairly sizable list of known issues. The one we’ve been hearing about the most, however, isn’t on the list: anti-aliasing and how StarCraft 2 simply doesn’t support it. It’s not a hidden setting, it’s not an ‘only on this setup.’ No—Blizzard decided that they would not officially support anti-aliasing in the game at release.
Despite Blizzard’s lack of official support for it, some users are playing StarCraft 2 with anti-aliasing. NVIDIA elected to modify their drivers, and “enabled” anti-aliasing in StarCraft 2 with a “brute-force” approach. Users and websites have noted that, unsurprisingly, this can have a significant negative impact on performance—especially at higher resolutions.
ATI did not modify their drivers. Instead, ATI issued official statements stating effectively that they stood by Blizzard’s decision at this time, and that they were “committed to making AA perform at an acceptable level before we release it to our customers.” Which only means that ATI wasn’t comfortable with the performance level they could provide at release; nothing more, nothing less.
ATI has already addressed it twice in as many days, as well. Terry Makedon (@CatalystMaker) said on Wednesday that ATI was already testing a hotfix for the Catalyst drivers that would enable AA—presumably at performance levels ATI was comfortable with. But ATI will presumably continue to actively work with Blizzard to enhance the graphics quality in StarCraft 2—and so will NVIDIA.
ATI’s statement also included something very telling about the situation. “Blizzard indicated that they would not initially include options to set levels of in-game anti-aliasing.” There’s no reason or indication that this statement can’t be taken at face value, and as literally as it is presented.
In other words, Blizzard is working with ATI to enable anti-aliasing in StarCraft 2, but decided to not include anti-aliasing at release. Instead, support will likely be added in later patches. There is little question that Blizzard has a love affair with patching their games; the original StarCraft was still being patched on a fairly regular basis years after release. So one can reasonably conclude that StarCraft 2 will see patches, and that these patches will add things like anti-aliasing.
There Are More Important Things
AMD’s official statement says what I have to say pretty well, so I’m going to quote it again. “Blizzard’s focus on incredible game play for all, means that gamers using ATI Radeon products can enjoy smooth HD gameplay and industry-leading image quality with our current generation of ATI Radeon products as well as many of our past generation cards.”
Emphasis mine, of course. Aren’t there more important things than to start up another GPU vendor holy war over anti-aliasing? StarCraft never offered things like anti-aliasing, or even 3D graphics, and it remains one of the most popular games of all time. To this very day, thousands of people play it online daily. See, StarCraft isn’t about pretty graphics or fancy GPU features or neat acceleration tricks. StarCraft is about gameplay.
Is the average player really going to freak out because they have “the jaggies,” as one person put it? Most likely not. They’re going to put the graphics settings at something that runs comfortably on their system, and they’re not going to worry about details they only see when they’re heavily zoomed in, or even pronounced ones. They’re going to focus on building up their forces quickly and defeating whatever menaces them in that mission, or kicking that other guy’s butt in multiplayer.
Ultimately, the gameplay is what determines just how important graphics really are. How many people aren’t playing StarCraft 2 because they don’t have anti-aliasing? How many people ran out to buy a new graphics card because they don’t have 4xAA today? Probably zero on both counts. If the gameplay is good, you’ll be hard pressed to find users who aren’t more than willing to overlook rough edges in graphics—they’re just not make or break when the play is good. A quick search of the StarCraft 2 forums only turned up a handful of topics on it, and many responses can be summarized as “Anti-aliasing would be nice, but I really don’t care that much. I’m more interested in just playing the game.”
So really, what does anti-aliasing matter in the end? So the game doesn’t look as good as it could; instead of starting GPU holy wars, you should discuss it with Blizzard, as it was their decision. And before you do that, you should step back and consider—does it really matter all that much to your gaming experience, or are you still having fun anyway?