If you’ve hung around World vs World long enough, you’ve probably heard people talk about culling.  It’s a huge issue where your game client is either unaware of or unable to render entire players (or NPC’s, as this sometimes happens in large PvE gathering as well.)  Imagine a giant mob of 100+ Mists invaders coming by and killing you, and you didn’t even know they were there because you literally could not see them.  This is culling.  As mentioned, it’s super prevalent (and a major pain) in WvW when the battle lines can be moving and you’re caught unaware and die from invisible enemies.  Habib Loew over at Arena.Net earlier today proudly proclaimed that they are “ending culling” in the March 26th patch.

If you’ve ever played World vs. World in a large group, you’ve probably noticed that there were some enemy players that you couldn’t see. That was an unfortunate side effect of a process called culling. I’m pleased to announce that in the upcoming patch on March 26, we’re going to turn culling off completely in WvW. This will make invisible enemies (except those using invisibility skills, of course) a thing of the past.

Great news!  Visible players everywhere! Problem solved!  Right?  Maybe?  If you’re like me, you’ve been thinking the following: Wait a minute, isn’t culling mostly a graphical issue with computers not being able to render models fast enough?  In that case, you’d be partially correct.  There are multiple types of culling, or rather, multiple things that can go wrong with getting a character model to show up that the community as a whole calls culling collectively.  But, when ArenaNet refers to culling, they’re referring to one very specific version of culling, which is the data the server reports to the client being limited, and thus causing the culling effect.  Here’s Loew again, emphasis is mine:

For the sake of clarity, I want to make a clear distinction between our usage of the term “culling” in this post (meaning to limit the amount of data the server reports to the client) and other uses of the word “culling” related to graphics (discarding backward facing triangles in models, triangles or whole models that are occluded, etc.).  Our changes are to the client/server culling and have no bearing on basic graphics operations in the GW2 client.

Yep.  Got an older computer?  Culling will still exist for you.  Guild Wars 2 is insanely CPU intensive, and large WvW battles push even high end Core i7′s and AMD FX’s to their limits.  Chances are, if you’re running on older hardware, culling is in fact not dead for you.  If anybody remembers back to the early days of the game, the client/server culling wasn’t an issue then either, as the server more or less just sent everything.  What was an issue though was there being so many models to render that it tanked many computers that could otherwise play the game.  If you tried to walk out into a starter area a couple of hours after launch, you probably have an idea of what I’m talking about.  ArenaNet has added some extra graphical options to help relieve this problem.  We’ll go to Loew one more time:

Under the new system, characters can be rendered in three different ways:

  • High resolution models - These are the high-res character models that you’re all already familiar with.
  • Lower resolution fallback models - These are the models that we’ve been using as placeholders in WvW while the hi-res models load. They differ depending on race and armor class, though human, sylvari, and norn share the same model.
  • Nameplates only - We don’t render the model at all and instead only show the nameplate for that character.

We’ve also added two new options to allow players to select how WvW characters are displayed:

  • WvW Character Limit - This controls how many of the reported characters render with a model and how many are rendered only with nameplates.
  • WvW Character Quality - This controls how many of the characters rendered with a model use the high resolution models and how many use the lower resolution fallback models.

This is a good solution, and much, much better than the status quo, but it’s not quite the “end of culling.” I guess nameplates are better than nothing.