How ShadowPlay Highlights and Nvidia Ansel make GeForce cards more fun

GeForce Experience is making it easy—and fun—to share your most glorious gaming successes.

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What is Nvidia Ansel?

Nvidia’s Ansel tool is basically Steam’s F12 screenshot option on steroids, and your key to creating drool-worthy images rivalling the pictures that games advertising use to drum up excitement.

Activating Ansel pauses the game and drops you into the scene as a free-roaming 3D camera (though developers can put limits on its range if desired, to keep secrets hidden). You can navigate around the scene to find the perfect angle, then apply various filters and other basic image editing options to turn that perfect angle into the perfect shot.

hellblade senuas sacrifice screenshot 2017.10.10 11.52.20.35 Brad Chacos/IDG

An Nvidia Ansel screenshot from Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice.

Once you’ve lined it up, you can even activate a “High Resolution” option to crank the resolution up far higher than games can actually run—up to tens of thousands of pixels—to eliminate aliasing “jaggies.” Check it out in this amazing Nvidia-supplied image of Witcher 3, which clocks in at an astounding 46,080 x 25,920 pixels. (Be warned though: It’s a meaty 1.7GB download.)

You can even grab raw HDR images with Ansel, and export pictures in OpenEXR format to choose your camera exposure post-process. You can also capture massive 360-degree snapshots of a scene that you can then check out in the HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, Google Cardboard, or other virtual reality headsets.

Ansel is dead simple and damned addictive. I spent more time playing with Ansel in Mass Effect: Andromeda than I did playing Mass Effect: Andromeda itself—no exaggeration. Here are a couple of images I grabbed in that game and Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, and I’ve sprinkled Ansel-derived screenshots throughout this section.

mass effect andromeda 2 Brad Chacos/IDG

An Nvidia Ansel screenshot from Mass Effect: Andromeda.

mass effect andromeda 1 Brad Chacos/IDG

An Nvidia Ansel screenshot from Mass Effect: Andromeda.

hellblade Hayden Dingman/IDG

An Nvidia Ansel screenshot from Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice.

Like ShadowPlay Highlights, Ansel requires developers to explicitly support the feature, but Ansel’s been around since the GeForce GTX 1080’s debut in 2016 and it’s been included in over 25 games. They’re not all indie releases, either: Standouts include Middle-earth: Shadow of War, Witcher 3, Dishonored 2, Ark: Survival Evolved, Watch Dogs 2, For Honor, Tekken 7, The Witness, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, Ghost Recon Wildlands, War Thunder and more. Nvidia says it’s quick and easy to add Ansel support to games—claiming it can be added with as little as 40 lines of code—so fingers crossed the list keeps swelling.

How to use Nvidia Ansel

If you have the GeForce Experience overlay enabled and boot up a game that supports Ansel, you’ll see an on-screen prompt to press Alt + F2 to use the feature in-game. (Most Nvidia graphics cards from the ancient GTX 600-series onward support Ansel.) Simply pressing that keyboard shortcut pauses the game and summons the Ansel interface. Here’s a look at it in Volition’s Agents of Mayhem.

ansel interface Brad Chacos/IDG

The Nvidia Ansel interface in Agents of Mayhem.

The actual options available may vary from game to game, as developers can choose  which Ansel features to support, but what you see in Agents of Mayhem is pretty standard. Brightness, contrast, vibrance, “sketch,” color enhancer, and vignette options all operate on a slider that scales from 1 to 100 percent, and additional options let you adjust the field of view or roll the angle left and right.

Driving home the point that different games can offer different Ansel features, Middle-earth: Shadow of War includes options for depth of field and depth of field intensity, which you can see in action here…

shadow of war depth of field Brad Chacos/IDG

 

…as well as an option to shift the focal length, which combines with the depth of field feature to let you shift the focus of a shot from something in the foreground to something in the background. Here it is in action; click to each image to enlarge it to see the effect more clearly.

shadow of war focal intensity 1 Brad Chacos/IDG
shadow of war focal intensity 2 Brad Chacos/IDG

Nvidia also includes post-processing filters—sepia, black and white, half-tone, and retro—to change the overall look of the image. You can also adjust the intensity of each filter effect. Here’s a look at images using each, augmented with standard editing options sliders like vibrance and contrast.

No filter, but editing options tweaked in Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice and Witcher 3.

hellblade senuas sacrifice screenshot 2017.10.10 11.56.41.46 Brad Chacos/IDG
the witcher 3 2 Brad Chacos/IDG

The black and white filter in Ghost Recon: Wildlands.

tom clancys ghost recon wildlands 2 Brad Chacos/IDG

The retro filter in Agents of Mayhem.

agents of mayhem screenshot 2017.10.10 10.52.32.13 Brad Chacos/IDG

The sepia filter in Hellblade.

hellblade senuas sacrifice screenshot 2017.10.10 11.46.22.98 Brad Chacos/IDG

The half-tone filter in Agents of Mayhem.

agents of mayhem screenshot 2017.10.10 10.56.53.47 Brad Chacos/IDG

You can combine the different effects to create even more dramatic shots. To create this image during Hellblade’s introductory sequence, I positioned the camera behind Senua’s head, enabled the retro filter, cranked the vignette and contrast options to darken the picture, then used roll to spin the image 90 degrees. After saving it, I then rotated the image back to standard orientation using the Irfanview image editor, giving the picture its stark vertical look.

hellblade senuas sacrifice screenshot 2017.10.10 11.49.54.24 Brad Chacos/IDG

Seriously, if you enjoy creating artistic game screenshots, this rabbit hole goes deep. You can spend hours fiddling with Ansel.

Towards the bottom of Ansel’s features, you’ll see advanced options, such as the ability to enable Raw HDR output, or switch the saved image from a basic screenshot to a Super Resolution or panoramic 360-degree screenshot. In case it wasn’t obvious, clicking Snap takes a screenshot, which saves to your Video folder by default. Done exits Ansel.

Nvidia Ansel and ShadowPlay Highlights make games better

So there you have it: Nvidia Ansel and ShadowPlay Highlights tap into your GeForce graphics card’s potential to make playing games even more fun, and infinitely more shareable. Bolstered by automatic game optimizations and the constant flow of day-one Game Ready drivers, the GeForce Experience software has evolved into a strong selling point for Nvidia graphics cards.

AMD simply doesn’t offer anything like this for Radeon hardware. That’s not to say Team Red’s software lacks standout features; GeForce Experience doesn’t include anything like the per-game Radeon WattMan overclocking and Radeon Chill power-saving feature in the Radeon Settings app. But as good as those AMD features are, they’re tools designed to make your games run smoother—not ones that directly enhance the fun factor like ShadowPlay Highlights and Ansel.

Now if you’ll excuse me, Hellblade and Ansel are calling my name. Have I mentioned how addictive these features are?

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