Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Let's Look At Graphics - Wuhu Island (Wii) vs. Wuhu Island (3DS)

Whenever a new system comes out, a popular subject among video game enthusiasts is to figure out how much more powerful it is than anything else out there or (typical to handhelds) to figure out which older console it most closely represents in graphical prowess, using whatever screen/scans/videos they can get their eyes on before the system launches. Ultimately this is useless simply because developers get better at pushing the hardware as they gain more experience with a system and it's very rare that a launch window game is considered among the best looking of a system's library at the end of the system's life.

But speculation is fun. The Nintendo 3DS as the newest kid on the block has been the most recent subject of scrutiny concerning visual capabilities, so why not take an in-depth look at one game for the 3DS that seems to have the same geometry and the same graphical style as a game on another system that has been out for awhile that has a more understood visual capability, which is the most fair comparison you could make.
These games in particular are the upcoming Pilotwings Resort for the 3DS and Wii Sports Resort for the Nintendo Wii. Through the course of researching for this article, I found quite a bit of material for similar looking games across Wii and 3DS that would be interesting to compare (and I might visit them in a later piece) but as this was my original concept and I have personal experience with one half of the equation (Wii Sports Resort's Wuhu Island) I'll stick to making this as in-depth as possible about only the two games.

Wuhu Island. The setting for Wii Sports Resort, a portion of Wii Fit, and now Pilotwings Resort. A charming little island set who knows how far off the coast of who knows where in the vast who knows what ocean on planet Nintendu 64. Okay, so that's not helpful. Some people, maybe Wuhu Island haters non-enthusiasts or passionate Pilotwings fans seem to think that this is a less than desirable location for a Pilotwings game, sighting the recycled scenery and in general the lack of variety on the island, but I submit that perhaps Pilotwings Resort, after almost 15 years since the last game in the Pilotwings series, would never have been made if it couldn't be made at a reasonable cost and/or without a reasonable assurance of it's financial success. That's where Wuhu Island comes in. Wii Sports was huge, and by association people bought up Wii Sports Resort so they recognize that "Resort" tagline. Through Wii Sports Resort and Wii Fit, people actually recognize that island; they can see that island in a different game and they're familiar with it. Because the island is a previously existing location, they can cut some costs and time in terms of developing Pilotwings Resort, potentially getting the game done by the system's launch. All this together reassures Nintendo that that chances of the game being a financial flop are almost non-existent, regardless of how big the existing Pilotwings fan-base is or isn't.

My theory before I began researching: the Wuhu Island of Wii Sports Resort is vastly more detailed and more lively than the Wuhu Island of Pilotwings Resort, and it could be surmised that when the Wii and 3DS are doing the same style of game at 60 fps (with the 3DS of course producing stereoscopic 3D), that the Wii is simply better at it.

Now For Some Comparisons
When viewing footage of the Pilotwings Resort, the first thing that struck me to compare were the silhouettes of rock structures. More specifically the arches that you could fly through/under.

At about 2:45 in this video from Kotaku's Stephen Totilo, you'll see one of the rock arches I'm speaking of as he flies under it. But what does this same arch look like in Wii Sports Resort?
Why, exactly the same for as good as we can see it in the Pilotwings Resort video. And infact the arch just beyond this one (the tiny island one) looks quite similar, too.

At about 2:04 in the above video we see another arch (not too far away from the last one, actually). And in Wii Sports Resort?
Looks the same. It seems to have the same lengths and angles for each polygon.
How about some trees?

^From Pilotwings Resort
^And in Wii Sports Resort. This is definitely an area where I gave Wii Sports Resort too much credit for its visuals. Before I started my research, I would have pointed to the Pilotwings Resort trees as an obvious example where the game isn't as detailed as Wii Sports Resort. But that obviously isn't the case.

In the same pictures we can see some buildings and you'll likely notice that they have higher resolution textures in the Wii version of Wuhu Island.
If you believe IGN.com and their unnamed source, or this picture from a stolen 3DS, then it seems that the 3DS has 64 MB of RAM to work with for games, while 32 MB are saved for use by the OS (for processing background functions like StreetPass and SpotPass, or seeing if other friends are playing on their 3DSes, or quickly pausing your game to switch to the interet browser). Comparatively, the unofficial specs for the Wii call for it having 91 MB of RAM in total, with no clear confirmation of which portion of that developers can use for a game. Why bring up RAM? Well it directly effects the texture quality. For an example, Nintendo released the Expansion Pak for the Nintendo 64, which doubled the RAM from 4 MB to 8 MB, and the resulting games that used it had notably better visuals (from textures to a higher output resolution). While the difference in RAM from 3DS to Wii seems pretty big, you should know that output resolution (screen resolution) is affected by the available RAM as well, which is one reason that the Expansion Pak let games display at a higher resolution. 3DS has a combined resolution of 268800 pixels (top screen: 800 x 240 + bottom screen: 320 x 240) though since the bottom screen is purely 2D for Pilotwings Resort, we should look at the top screen only, at 192000 pixels. For Wii, it's 345600 pixels (wide-screen games are about 720 x 480). Simply put, the Wii has to fill out about twice as many pixels and uses more RAM for it, so the gap in RAM is effectively smaller.
A bit too much tech talk. Back to pictures and a look at the pretty plane.
And below a plane from Wii Sports Resort.
As far as the smoothness/roundness of the wings and tail, it looks to be pretty similar.

You can see a nice example of the overall island, from structures to tree count, in the above video of Pilotwings Resort from IGN. And below one from Wii Sports Resort
Which looks to match up with the Pilotwings Resort footage. Granted, because of the distance it's not the best example to say they look the same, but an interesting thing about that footage; it seems like the handglider descends with incredible speed. Much faster than you can accomplish from a full dive in Wii Sports Resort. This may be from an actual increase in speed in Pilotwings Resort, but it could also be a camera trick to make distances seem more drastic for the stereoscopic 3D effect.

You may need to look closely to see this next detail, but it's about the textures on the side of this mountain in Pilotwings Resort:
And the same mountain-side in Wii Sports Resort:

There is a bit of shiney-ness on the mountain in Pilotwings Resort that isn't present in the mountains in Wii Sports Resort (though it may be hard to verify from the pictures [sorry], it isn't present). Though the outcome feels like a simple effect, it's all thanks to the PICO200 that the 3DS is using and the effects of which it is capable. Another effect; a sunset. Back to that video from GameStop, at about 2:31 we can see the sunset in motion, but we can also see it in this picture:
In Wii Sports Resort its a bit less full without an appropriate reflection on the water.

Other Considerations
Adaptive level of detail. Basically, rendering only what you can see and doing so based on how well you may see it. This could include either replacing a tree model with a more detailed tree model as you get closer, or swapping out a lower resolution texture with a higher resolution texture as you get closer. In Wii Sports Resort, Wuhu Island seems to have little to no adaptive detail (impressive), while in Pilotwings Resort it seems that textures are adaptive as the mountain-side doesn't seem to be shiny from any other screens or video of the game other than when you get closer to it. In this way, coupled with the lower resolution screen, developers could work around a somewhat lower amount of RAM to produce perceptively more impressive textures on the 3DS than you see on Wii.

No extraneous Mii's, balloons, planes, and cars all over Pilotwings Resort's island. Though I don't have any pictures, rawmeatcowboy in his site's weekly podcast did report that you can see cars as you fly through the islands traffic tunnel so if those objects exist over the rest of the island, they are more extremely adaptive than in Wii Sports Resort's Wuhu Island. But Pilotwings Resort is rendering out various 3D targets and up-drafts that you are to fly through or land on which aren't present in Wii Sports Resort.

It should definitely be noted that while the Wii is producing Wuhu Island at a higher resolution than the 3DS, the 3DS has to deal with 60 frame per second stereoscopic 3D. Shortly, I can tell you that it's like producing the scene at 120 frames per second, but you might read my other piece about frame rates to get some more info on that.

In closing, my theory after doing the research: the Wuhu Island of Wii Sports Resort is somewhat more detailed overall than the Wuhu Island of Pilotwings Resort, but it could be surmised that with time the 3DS could produce a more detailed looking scene than the Wii when they are doing the same visual style at 60 fps (and the 3DS of course producing stereoscopic 3D).

If you've got comments or questions on this article, please tell me in the comments section.

Source of the Wuhu Island picture here.


  1. The 3DS is NOT outputting visuals at 60 fps in 3D mode. It's 30 fps with 3D ON, 60 fps with 3D OFF.

  2. That's just for one game, Dead or Alive, other games will be 60 fps with 3D on, pilotwings for example.
    SSFIV 3D will always be 60 fps but when 3D it won't use any anti-aliasing.

  3. @1434ae
    While I can't disprove this, I can point out that people that have been trying the 3DS have only spoken of a drop in frame rate when you turn the 3D on in Dead or Alive. Just looking at videos of Pilotwings Resort, I can tell you it's running at 60 fps, so is Ridge Racer 3D. Compared to say, Asphalt 3D which runs at 30 fps.

    Upping the frame rate when the 3D is turned off is a good option, and one that I hope developers take advantage of.