Assassin's Creed Unity's New Patch: Wait, There's A Difference?

Assassin's Creed Unity's New Patch: Wait, There's A Difference?

There's no doubt that Assassin's Creed Unity had technical problems, otherwise Ubisoft wouldn't have apologised for the game's performance and issued a series of ever-larger patches. So what's it mean if the graphics, then and now, seem to in many ways be the same?

This might seem like a strange point of view. You've heard, after all, that ACU was a mess. But after downloading Patch 4 — the game's biggest update yet — I'm in the odd position of having to trust my eyes and the footage I've captured in the game.

Would you believe me if I told you the game has always run pretty well on my Xbox One, and looks as good now as it did a month ago on launch day?

I am sure that the good people at Digital Foundry or other sharp-eyed graphics-watchers will spot and log differences in the game's pre- and post-patch framerate and graphical performance.

There are some of us gamers, though, who I believe don't spot finer distinctions in performance. Maybe we're more forgiving. Maybe we're lucky. Maybe we just don't care as much and are pleased with a certain level of graphical splendor.

To each their own, but in light of the confusing discussion about ACU's Patch 4 — in light of theories that the draw distance has changed or that characters pop in differently or that the game now looks so much worse or better, I wanted to add some material to the discussion.

Let me show you what I've seen..

Last night, I dug up footage I captured of the game for my review on launch day, November 11. At the time, the game had only received its first major patch.

Here I am atop Notre Dame:

And here I am, as of this morning, atop Notre Dame once more:

I've seen theories online that the new patch has changed the draw distance — how far out you can see. Has it?

Launch day:

Assassin's Creed Unity's New Patch: Wait, There's A Difference?

Today (outfit change! I'm wearing grey in the day one shots and purple in the capture from this morning):

Assassin's Creed Unity's New Patch: Wait, There's A Difference?

Supposedly, some of the Unity's virtual Paris has changed. Ubisoft said as much when explaining why the game's latest patch was so large: "Part of the team's effort to enhance frame rate for players involves replacing and updating portions of the Paris city map where we are seeing issues."

Well, I've been staring into the distance and not spotting any differences! Where could they be? I'm curious if anyone who is playing the game has spotted changes to the game's map. If so, please let me know!

Anyway, back to comparisons.

Launch day:

Assassin's Creed Unity's New Patch: Wait, There's A Difference?


Assassin's Creed Unity's New Patch: Wait, There's A Difference?

Not a chimney changed!

The scenes I've shown so far are all from the game's central Notre Dame area. It's one of the showpieces of the game and one of the spots most tightly clogged with civilians. Here I am running through it on launch day:

And here I am running through it this morning:

Note: I tried to make the lighting match for each of these comparisons. While you can set the lightning manually in the game's options menu, there still seem to be enough variations to produce some of the differing looks you see in some clips.

I ran through the game a bit this morning in order to test one of the wildest claim about the new patch. There's a thread on the NeoGAF message board topped by an amazing GIF that implies that non-player characters pop-in really badly post-patch-4 and that they do so with a flashy new special effect.

Here's the GIF:

Assassin's Creed Unity's New Patch: Wait, There's A Difference?

I've scoured my old footage and have run through the newly-patched game quite a bit. I've not been able to spot this flashing animation. I wonder if it's some sort of effect that only appears in a particularly troublesome area of the city. Or a fluke. Or... who knows.

Watch me run through a chunk of the game this morning, post-patch-4. I was trying my best to make people pop in!

Do you see characters snapping badly into scene? I do notice pop-in when I look at the civilians, but, when I play, I'm usually more focused on my own guy.

There's something worth highlighting about the game's tendency to abruptly change how its non-player characters look. You'll approach one of them and see a low-detailed version of them change into a high-detailed version.

Here's that happening on launch day (watch the dress worn by the woman in the center of the screen):

Assassin's Creed Unity's New Patch: Wait, There's A Difference?

Now, here's that happening today:

Assassin's Creed Unity's New Patch: Wait, There's A Difference?

Seems the same, huh?

Bothersome? No big deal? Call me crazy, but I don't mind it much.

I've got video of both, if you'd like to compare.

Day one:


I think there might be more clothing-snapping in the newly-patched version of the game. Or it's the same. Again, hard to tell.

But all of this gets me back to the weird position I find myself in: not seeing much of a difference and yet knowing there must be one, or else Ubisoft wouldn't have taken such radical steps. Sure, the game launched with a non-functional Initiates service and a busted Companion App. It was glitchy enough to merit some maintenance. As someone who played through Unity with very few technical issues, I nevertheless remain a bit baffled why this all became such a huge deal — and how significantly things have changed.

I suspect I'm missing something. I suspect I'm in the wrong parts of Paris. If there are Unity players out there who have spotted big differences, please let me know. I'd love to see them, and it might help us all get a better understanding about what in the world happened with this game.

Assassin's Creed Unity's New Patch: Wait, There's A Difference?
Assassin's Creed Unity's New Patch: Wait, There's A Difference?


    With the view down from Notre Dame, either you've changed your brightness settings, or Ubi changed shadows / HBAO slightly to increase framerate. Also you changed your outfit ;)

    Firstly I haven't played the game. So I'm going entirely on your images.

    If you look at the first comparison image (the one on with the assassin on top of a tower?). Look at tower/church/castle in the background. There are much higher detail in the shadows cast by the sun in the launch image compared to the updated image on the bottom. If you look purely att he mountains in the background. The definition of the "snowy" peaks is higher in the old image. It looks like they blurred the new image slightly (almost like a light application of bloom in some games I play)

    Same in the top down image from the Notre dame. Focus purely on the individual shadows of the people below. You notice that the shadows are less prominent in the newer version.

    I don't know if this is due to differences in the weather and time of the day you took the images (contrast differences in your image capture). but it looks like they reduced the contrast/detail of the shadow effects with distance.

    Whatever, they did, it maynot be purely draw distance, but how the detail reduces with draw distance. They may have prioritised/increased detail in up close, but created a greater drop off with distance to compensate for processing load. So you won't notice much difference but maybe the game runs smoother/less buggy??

    Last edited 19/12/14 11:11 am

    How does the npc clothes pop-in not bug more people

    I doubt they changed the actual level geometry. The expensive part of the game in terms of on-disc size is apparently the lighting model, which uses a lot of pre-cooked data. I expect they've done a bunch of rejigging of that to step it back in a few areas (especially shadows) and improve the framerate.

    Jesus, the pop ins are something I otherwise would not have noticed. Now I can't unsee it. It is not just the people either. There seems to be a massive amount of pop in foreground objects.

    You plonker, when they mean changes, it doesnt necessarily mean change the physical appearance. If you watch your videos closely you'll notice that the shadows have been tweaked, for a start, but the majority of changes are optimizations that arent exactly visible. for example, 3d meshes that overlap and arent visible to a player (objects intersecting other objects) are still loaded and rendered.

    through optimisation, these unecessary surfaces can be tweaked so as to not render. same goes for textures. some textures arent visible but are still rendered unless the game is told not to render them. its been a while since i did any level design but this is the easiest way i can explain it...

    as an example, in GTK radiant, you use a system shader called Caulk Hull for these situations.

    Caulk Hull In Blender ^
    The general purpose behind using a "caulk hull" is to remove all extraneous material from the compile process that does not, in of itself, determine how the level is presented to the player as they move through it. This is typically done through the use of a simplified 'caulk' textured "hull" that sections the map, on a room-by-room basis, so the net result is a series of interlinking 'boxes' the contents of which can then be safely and appropriately flagged as "detail". This solves two problems at the same time; it optimises the level, and stops leaks due to the 'detail' property.

    in a massive open world map, this can make an enormous difference... dont expect any visible changes with the exemption of lighting, shadow and AA optimisations....

    Last edited 19/12/14 1:56 pm

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