Inside Xbox One X Enhanced: ARK: Survival Evolved

Many of gaming’s most compelling stories come from those who’ve helped to create our favorite Xbox One games. In our Inside Xbox One X Enhanced series, these creators will share the behind-the-scenes accounts of the work involved in enhancing these epic games for Xbox One X, how they’ve helped chart the course of the world’s most powerful console, and what that means for the future of gaming. Today, we’ll be chatting with Studio Wildcard’s Jeremy Stieglitz, Lead Programmer and Co-Creative Director on the wildly inventive survival game ARK: Survival Evolved.

What specifically is your development team doing to enhance ARK for Xbox One X?

On Xbox One X, ARK has a new “Detail Graphics” option which raises the resolution to 1440p and enables the highest-end graphics effects we’ve got, including long-distance shadows, high-rez textures, volumetric clouds, and dynamic weather systems & atmospheric effects. We also have an HDR mode that players can enable on compatible displays which makes the game’s rich lighting look absolutely stunning. In the gameplay department, the Xbox One X’s extensive memory removes the “distance limit” tether that forced players to stay near each other in local splitscreen, improves load times, and Xbox One X-hosted servers support 70 players, up from 50.

How do these enhancements impact the gaming experience?

On Xbox One X, ARK looks better than it ever has before, on any platform, period: playing it on an HDR display in a dark room truly provides a dramatic “you are there” feeling where the world’s dark jungles and bright sunlight have a wide intensity range. At night-time, you can also make out a lot more detail thanks to the increased color accuracy. This vibrant output enhances your natural survival instincts! The increased draw distance also provides a fundamental gameplay benefit, while the removal of the tether makes the game more fun for splitscreen players. Altogether, the Xbox One X version is our gold standard for how to experience ARK.

Why did your development team choose to focus on these enhancement areas?

The Xbox One X has a ton of graphics horsepower, so first and foremost, we wanted to take some advantage of that hardware packed into the console. But also, the massively increased memory available to the console meant that we could provide tangible gameplay benefits to players, so we were really happy to be able to make use of that as well

How do you expect fans of ARK to respond to seeing/playing it on Xbox One X with these enhancements?

I think if they’ve played the game on Xbox One before, booting up the Xbox One X version on a 4k HDR television will be like stepping out of a cave, into the real-world. It’s something of a revelation… we’re excited to see what players think of it!

How has the process been to get the game up and running on Xbox One X?

It was quick to initially get ARK running on Xbox One X, ported up from the original Xbox version, and then making use of the new console’s expanded hardware capabilities was straightforward via Microsoft’s tools. But I must say, tweaking the HDR output for best results was challenging: the technology and compatible display devices are so new, and  everyone’s eyes and perception of reality are a little different. So with respect to configuring the High Dynamic Range output, we went through a lot of iteration and tweaking to arrive at something that we felt was both “realistic” but also represented a “heightened reality” of what actually being on the ARK should “feel” like. But it was also a fun process, with each little graphics adjustment pulling us a little further into that immersive virtual world…

What enhancement were you most excited about leveraging for ARK on Xbox One X?

As a developer, we figured HDR was really freaking cool, and wanted to get our virtual hands on it! It’s a whole new way to think about color ranges and brightness intensity for video output. Thankfully ARK’s lighting systems, with its dynamic day-night cycle and deep shadows, was well-structured for HDR output, now that the hardware is available!

What does 4K and HDR mean for your game, games in the future and development at your studio?

4K means the need for developers to author higher-rez textures and more apparent detail into their game environments — it’s a challenge to developers to create content to hold-up at such a high resolution, but one which all developers will be moving to do as the industry steps into the future. HDR is also an exciting prospect for players to immerse themselves in a more vibrantly realized world, feeling less like the colors on a printed page and more the extreme intensity ranges we experience in real-life. Taken together, these technologies are a big step forwards for real-time graphics. Thankfully, the Xbox One X provides the necessary capabilities for developers to make it happen!

Thanks to Jeremy for taking the time to chat with us about Xbox One X Enhanced. We’ll be bringing you more interviews with more developers in the future, so stay tuned to Xbox Wire!