Chris Kemp’s opinion piece on gamers and graphics in games raises some interesting points and its clear by the 22 comments the piece has gathered so far, that gamers all have different tastes and ideas of what qualifies as “acceptable visuals.” Chris’ argument was mostly catered towards the console crowd because “resolutiongate” and “downgradeton” have become buzzwords on forums across the globe (including NeoGAF, which has some very heated console wars) and they appear to irritate him and others right down to their inner gamer hearts.
Professionally, I disagree with Chris on a few points and I’d like to expound on those in this column. Personally, I agree with his sentiment and his loathing of all the people who complain for the sake of complaining. Join me after the jump to see why!
Sub-30FPS is a terrible experience
Lets be honest: any action, driving, shooting, sport, strategy or platformer game running at below 30 frames per second is not a good experience. Animation can become jittery, there’s input lag if the 30fps cap is being done through V-Sync, dropped frames break the immersion and sub-15fps in multiplayer games where there is a lot of action going on is just completely unacceptable. If you had to take GTA V in its current state and run it on hardware that’s at least 10 times as fast, you’d be able to run the game with a cap of 60fps and it would be, subjectively and objectively, a much better and smoother experience.
Despite the incredible achievement of Rockstar’s developers achieving near-identical performance and visual fidelity on both the PS3 and Xbox 360 which had radically different hardware setups, it’s pretty easy to see the ugliness of the game when driving in first-person mode, which can cause the game to drop below 20fps and drop frames; or watch object pop-in happen if you’re driving one of the faster cars in the downloaded version of the game through a more crowded part of the city.
The hardware we’re getting with the PS4 and Xbox One is magnitudes more performant than the previous generation. Most games didn’t even run at 720p on those consoles, they were actually scaled up from different internal resolutions to preserve some performance and to work around the smaller memory buffers. Now it’s possible for both current-gen consoles to achieve a native 1080p resolution with 60fps at what amounts to medium settings on the PC platform. That is a massive jump.
Chris’ main argument is that gameplay should be prioritised over graphics and I fully agree – but when the gameplay is let down by the hardware’s performance or the developer’s inability to extract maximum performance for whatever reason, then I feel a bit cheated (by whom is the subject for another debate altogether). We’re not whining if we’ve been sold a game that under-performs on hardware that should be capable of much more.
It is false advertising when Microsoft uses PS4 footage for Watch Dogs and claims it is footage for the Xbox One, despite the button icons being prominently visible. Or when Forza 5‘s demo at E3 2013 and Gamescom had much more visual fidelity and detail than the retail product because it wasn’t running on Xbox One hardware.
Or when Dark Souls II launched with the retail version completely lacking the promised advanced lighting engine, or the heavier mood and darker shadows, or the advanced detail on the player’s character.
But I guess we’re not too surprised any longer, considering that the games industry have become pros at selling the idea of a game to gamers and delivering something completely different in the retail product. We’re sold on the idea of the game that’s being showcased and not the real thing that we’ll get to play later.
Resolutiongate does have its merits
Although I hate the term, let’s focus for a minute on Battlefield 4 for the PS4 and Xbox One. On Sony’s machine, it is run at an internal resolution of 1600 x 900 with a software-based upscaler to make the game appear to be running at native 1080p. There are some visual differences and extra details in the PS4 version that are only possible because the console employs GDDR5 memory and has more graphical grunt, along with the framerate staying around 60 on average. The software scaler on the PS4 was not so great because it reduced sharpness and creates fuzzy lines around objects and shadows – the game just didn’t look that impressive when examined a bit more closely.
The same game running on the Xbox One was rendered at an internal resolution of 1280 x 720 and was scaled up by a hardware scaler designed by Microsoft (the PS4 also has a hardware solution, but it appears that DICE elected not to use it). The Xbox One’s scaler also applies a sharpening filter and unfortunately also muddies textures of far-away objects, like enemies in the distance.
Because of the DDR3 memory and the 32MB of eSRAM, the game runs at 60fps for most of the time, but dips much lower than the PS4 in busy scenes and also omits some detail from the game. There are also missing features like HBAO and there’s noticeable flickering artifacts in the game. The game’s UI overlay has its own render path, though, and is always set at the native resolution of the TV it’s running on.
Neither console’s output looks extremely good when you have them side-by-side. On their own they are somewhat acceptable (the Xbox One less so) but we wouldn’t be able to point out these differences in performance or design philosophy if we didn’t scrutinise the products and games that we’re buying. Some of these are dealbreakers for console gamers and in most cases, the PS4 appears to be better overall than its competition when it comes to multi-platform titles, which sways purchase decisions in a big way.
If no-one cared about the limitations that come with upscaling, Sony’s console wouldn’t have been as good as it is, all the textures in games would be of the same quality as Call of Duty: Ghosts and every game on the One would be oversharpened and oversaturated. But that’s only if no-one, including the designers and developers, cared about the presentation of their work so it’s a good thing that the slope isn’t as slippery as some people think it is.
More than that, though, if more games would run at 60fps without frame drops and stuttering and if the field of view was just a bit wider at an angle of 115º, that would help combat one of the things that dog gamers as they grow older – motion sickness. That’s right, a better framerate and a wider field of view is half the step required to help gamers get over this mind-boggling affliction.
Pushing forward to VR and better games
The reason why a few gamers in the crowd also make the most noise initially about graphics quality in a more reasonable manner than the rabid fanboys/fangirls is that we have this very clear idea what we should be moving forward to – things like virtual reality or 4K gaming, which is going to be a thing in a few years, or even Lightboost and 120Hz monitors on the desktop which may be the greatest thing to witness since the invention of Nutella.
Especially on the PC, the hardcore gamer group that uses the most cutting-edge hardware and employs multiple GPUs and high-end machinery to fulfill their gaming desires are also the most vocal group who complain when the game they’ve put money into is a pile of goo that doesn’t run as well as expected.
Look at Ghost Games’ Need for Speed Rivals. Its capped at 30fps on the PC. The game’s physics are tied to the frame rate and to V-Sync, which makes it untenable when you use hacks to unlock the framerate and accidentally make the thing unplayable. In fact, ever since Need for Speed Shift, none of the later titles have included good racing wheel support. Shift 2 comes close but the cars still handle like barges while Undercover, Hot Pursuit and The Run all have this gloriously massive dead zone where you lose steering feedback and control.
Despite getting very angry about this and seeing the NFS community complain about it, it didn’t help one bit – EA ignored many of the complaints outright and continued to do so for every installment following Undercover. Its the chief reason why I say that the NFS franchise is dead to me. I also have an intense hate for the use of motion blur in racing games to cover up poor quality textures and that was started by Need for Speed Carbon.
Its not that issues like these are minor inconveniences, they are actually indicators of a lack of foresight on the part of developers and it’s a legitimate reason for people to complain about the quality of the game they’re buying. Gamers by and large aren’t that petty. We’re not whiny crybabies, we’re second and third-generation game-playing consumers who deserve better quality products. Its interactive entertainment that costs a lot of money, not like a movie or a book where you’re a passive observer of the events unfolding before you.
Despite the honest intentions that people like myself, Durante, the posters on NeoGAF or the NAG Forums and others have, there will be the unintended attraction of morons who join the screaming bandwagon and don’t know why we’re screaming about something in particular. This is because highlighting issues with games to the people responsible for them is a bit like playing “Pass the Message,” only with a million more people to muddy the original intention.
We should care about resolution and we should care about good graphics because these are not only crucial to the immersive capability of modern games, but they’re also part of the package that we’re sold when we first see trailers and game-play footage and read interviews with developers who explain their vision.
Not holding the games industry to the promises it makes to us just opens up the door for more lies and trickery to get us and the masses to willingly part with our money without knowing what kind of quality we’re paying for.