The retail launch of Oblivion turned out to be such a huge event that it led to a record-breaking number of visitors to the nV News Forums. In two short months, the Oblivion Forum has accumulated close to 9,000 posts and is projected to surpass the total number of posts in the Quake 4 and Source Engine forums.
Oblivion follows in the footsteps of Morrowind, which placed a heavy burden on the most powerful gaming PCs upon its release in 2002. Morrowind became one of the first games to use pixel shader programs, which drove the impressive looking water-rendering effects. I documented a gameplay walkthrough to measure Morrowind performance in early 2003. At a resolution of 1920x1440 and 100% view distance, an Athlon XP 2700+ and GeForce 4600 Ti produced an average frame rate of 35fps.
Oblivion is equally impressive in the graphics rendering department. The impact of High-Dynamic Range (HDR) in outdoor scenes is so convincing that it makes the standard and bloom effect rendering modes appear dull.
Adding to the sense of realism are the swaying of grass and leaves in the scene below, which is demonstrated in this brief video clip (~3.5MB).
A gameplay walkthrough for Oblivion is currently under development so I resorted to using the following outdoor scene from the City Isle to test performance. In outdoor areas, the iMinGrassSize variable, which defaults to 80, has a large impact on performance. The following applet illustrates the effects of the iMinGrassSize variable set to 80, 120, and 140.
The following benchmark results are from the Athlon X2 4800+ system running at the widescreen resolution of 1920x1200 with HDR enabled. A high quality image setting was used along with 8X anisotropic filtering, while in-game settings were at their default values.
Oblivion Performance (Outdoor Scene)
With the default iMinGrassSize of 80, this particular scene is very taxing and is close to being a worst-case scenario. The good news is that performance improved almost 20% when the iMinGrassSize was set to 120. This minor tradeoff allowed outdoor areas in Oblivion to be much more enjoyable during actual gameplay with HDR enabled at 1920x1200.
When you consider the plight of the GeForce 7800 GTX 512MB, the GeForce 7900 GTX turned out to be a pleasant surprise. Six months ago, demand for the GeForce 7800 GTX 512MB was extremely high. The GeForce 7800 GTX 512MB debuted on November 14th of last year and by the end of the day, graphics cards were commanding a price of $749 and higher.
GeForce 7900 GTX vs. GeForce 7800 GTX 512MB
Even at those exorbitant prices, an upper echelon of hard-core gamers chose to invest in one, and sometimes, two graphics cards. Fortunately, the GeForce 7800 GTX 512MB has held its value as it remains a close competitor to the GeForce 7900 GTX as shown by the following 3DMark05 benchmark results.