Croc – Legend of the 3D Accelerators

The middle 90’s era is a proper nest for treasure. Just like Tomb Raider, other games had to include support to multiple APIs in order to get their games to run properly on various graphic cards (or they could also use software mode, but… ehhh).

Croc is one such game, although unlike Tomb Raider, there’s support for 3D accelerators right out of the box. To specify, the game supports the omnipresent Glide, a special Voodoo Rush mode (according to the Vogons Wiki, among the Rush’s various shortcomings there was also an incompatibility with certain Glide games), the good old Matrox Mystique API, the S3 API because your game can never be slow enough, and CIF for the two people who had a Rage II+ for games.

Being a Windows game, I actually managed to take screenshots this time. With two exceptions. The software mode will give out screenshots in garbled colors, so it’s out. And the Voodoo, well, I have some drivers issues with my Voodoo 3 which I still haven’t managed to solve, so I couldn’t even get it to run. The game doesn’t support Direct3D or OpenGL, so unless you have one of these cards, the game will run in software mode.

But let’s start now, as usual, with my favorite card (for nostalgic reasons only), the Matrox Mystique. Click on the screenshots for the full image!

No filtering, no alpha blending - it's a Mystique alright.
No filtering, no alpha blending – it’s a Mystique alright.

I said i couldn’t take screenshots of the software mode, but this is pretty close. Well, as expected of the Mystique. The texture pixels are as big as my hand, and shadows are pixelated. It doesn’t look like an improvement over software rendering.

Mystique owners had to get used to the lack of proper transparencies. These are actually a little better-made than usual - you don't want to see Forsaken.
Mystique owners had to get used to the lack of proper transparencies. These waterfalls actually look a little better than usual – you don’t want to see Forsaken and its light effects (although that game still impressed me in terms of speed on the Mystique).

But you know what, it’s not that bad. It looks like software mode, but good luck running that at any decent speed on 640×480. The Matrox, on the other hand, will deliver similar quality (and in fact better, since the image looks cleaner somehow) at much improved framerates. The game is very well playable with the Matrox, running smoothly and with no hiccups.

You only need to deal with the aforementioned filtering and alpha problems. But what if you dont want to? Well, we have reserves. Come into play… the Virge.

We traded giant pixels for terrible dithering. Good job, S3.
We traded giant pixels for terrible dithering. Good job, S3.

I don’t see an improvement here. Quite the opposite. We have filtering now, but the sampling seems to be really spotty, with color stains on the grass that make me think of some kind of disease, and dithering that looks like it crawled straight out of the PSP. I don’t know what’s up with the terrible filtering, but it almost appears as if the green gives it trouble. The cobblestone and well look better, but the dithering still ruins it.

Besides, even if I could accept this image quality, I certainly wouldn’t be able to accept the framerate. The last time I’ve played such a jerky platformer was Evil Twin on PS2 (I just remembered a game I had buried real deep… I’ll need to look for it on PC). 640×480 is nowhere near playable. 512×384 starts getting a little better, but in the end you’ll probably have to go all the way down to 320×240.

That’s if you want to torture yourself and use a Virge. Why not use a Rage 2 instead?

Something is amiss here... the CIF seems to have trouble with Croc.
Something is amiss here… the CIF seems to have trouble with Croc.

Marvel at Ati’s prowess. No more dithering! Yay! Well, actually, not so fast. There is a bunch of other issues here. For starters, the texture filtering is as bad as on the Virge, which seems to imply a bad implementation within the game itself. It’s unfortunate that I couldn’t run the game on the Voodoo, or we could see if at least the Glide version fixed that.

I hope you like polygon seaming issues because you'll see them a lot.
I hope you like polygon seaming issues because you’ll see them a lot.

The other big problem is polygon seaming. You could already see it on the well in the previous screenshot, but this one shows it a lot better: pretty horrible lines where polygons meet. Even in the skybox. The readme mentions this problem with CIF cards, but can only offer one solution, disabling the texture filtering. This is a doubly good idea, since as I have noticed in other games, the Rage II incurs a pretty hefty performance hit with bilinear filtering – the framerate is definitely worse than the Mystique.

I liked those pixels better on the Mystique.
I liked those pixels better on the Mystique.

With texture filtering disabled, the seaming issues all but disappear and the framerate gets much better – wait, what’s up with those ground textures? If you thought the pixels on the Mystique were bad enough, just wait until you see these ones. It’s like the ground has measles. What’s more, the smoothness still isn’t up to par with Matrox. You will need to go down to 512×384, which makes it pretty smooth overall, but it won’t look as good as 640×480.

So what’s the best choice? Well, if you have a Voodoo and it actually works, just go with that, I guess. Otherwise it’s a victory for Matrox – it has the highest speed of the bunch, coupled with the best textures (because they are unfiltered, go figure) and no glaring image artifacts. I don’t know about you, but I’ll take pixelated shadows over dithering everywhere. And I’ll take smaller pixels over green stains.

The speed factor is actually a victory for Ati, however, as the CIF was supported up to the Rage Pro, meaning you could use that card to get better results. Indeed, my Rage LT Pro ran the game very smoothly even with the max resolution of 864×480! But you’ll still get the seams or the giant pixels, so in the end I’d rather go with Matrox.

It’s a matter of compromises, and for once, the Mystique proves itself the most useful. At least until I get my hands on that 3dfx Velocity.

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