Here's why #ResolutionGate matters
The graphics controversy on the PS4 and Xbox One has turned resolution and framerate jargon into everyday online game discussion. Everywhere you look it’s “1080p this, 900p that” or “Is the framerate locked or unlocked?” For many, the discussion is tiresome -- especially as an extension of the console war between PS4 and Xbox One fans. When gamers get furious over lines of resolution, it can be easy to dismiss the issue and look like the voice of reason. “The difference between 1080p and 720p is barely noticeable,” many argue.
It may be a hot button issue, and another source of annoying fuel for the idiotic console war discussion among internet commenters, but it is a pretty big deal. Here’s why…
We were sold on HD gaming in 2005
When the Xbox 360 and PS3 came out in 2005/2006, the platforms promised HD gaming. The hope was for 1080p games, the promise was 720p/1080i at the minimum. But the reality over the years has been an increased reliance on sub-HD visuals in exchange for more impressive effects and larger worlds. Resolutions as low as 860x600 (Call of Duty: Ghosts on PS3) still qualify as “HD” on the box, even though they’re closer to the standard definition of old tube TVs than today’s HD monitors.
In fact, it’s taken me getting a PS4 to even see what true 1080p visuals look like on my TV. The HD promise was something that we thought we’d get with consoles nearly a decade ago. Now TV manufacturers are on their way to creating affordable 4K resolution screens and 2014’s consoles are still struggling with the 1080p standard. These new consoles were presumably in development for years and designed to last us as long as the previous nearly-10-year console cycle. At this point 1080p should be the standard.
As I see it, both console manufacturers should be ashamed for putting out consoles in 2014 that aren’t outputting at a 1080p standard. The PS4 may have many more 1080p games, but both consoles have games running below what should be an enforced standard at this point.
It's about more than graphics
Many of today's games focus on the foreground details and fancy effects, forgetting that so often you're looking down the barrel of a gun hunting for enemies in the distance. The 1080p argument isn't just about cool-looking graphics, but about clarity. Since the PS1 I’ve wished for polygonal games without shimmering, jagged, pixellated backgrounds, yet here I am twenty years later and Dead Rising 3 still looks like a low-res, fuzzy mess every time I peer out into the distance. 1080p isn’t just about flashy visuals. It's one piece of a formula (along with anti-aliasing and other visual filtering) that allows for a consistent artistic vision. In terms of playability, it can mean the difference between shooting at a distant human figure in an FPS or a distant moving blob of pixels.
The argument for better graphics aiding gameplay goes even further when you start talking about framerate. With fighting games and some shooters like Call of Duty, a 60 fps framerate is the norm. The reason is because these games demand precision from the player at a frame-by-frame level. But with next-gen releases like Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes and Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition bringing 60 fps to more action-adventure oriented games, we’re seeing increased playability there as well. On consoles, where 30fps or less is the norm, these new releases are opening a Pandora’s box for future next-gen games. I’m now spoiled by the smooth visuals and control responsiveness of 60fps, and want to see it in every game going forward.
Some developers will choose 30fps and cite it as an artistic decision, then turn around and offer an unlocked framerate on PC, allowing those players to enjoy 60fps. In an article on Polygon, Ben Kuchera argued that console players should be able to toggle between higher fidelity visuals and performance. I’m inclined to take that even further, suggesting that Sony and Microsoft should include 1080p/60fps as a required standard for all PS4 and Xbox One games going forward. There is no excuse for Titanfall, a game designed by the original Modern Warfare creators, to ship with a sub-par framerate (and I hope Respawn sticks to their plan of addressing that in future patches).
If high performance becomes a standard, then we can finally stop arguing about it and start focusing on a game’s artistic vision and gameplay. I don’t want to sell technical achievement short -- a 1080p/60fps requirement would put a lot of pressure of devs to plan their games accordingly -- but hitting that target would mean all games fully utlilize the TVs we own and play at a framerate that everyone agrees is ideal.
And you know what Sony and Microsoft? When those 4K TVs become the norm, the next set of consoles (if they happen) better be prepared for that too. For real this time, please.
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