Shank Rants: The Framerate Non-Issue.

Let’s talk about framerate. “Oh no,” you say, rolling your eyes. “Shank wants to talk about framerate…again. This guy never lets up.”

You’re quite right, viewer. I don’t let up. And to be honest, neither should you. For as long as this continues to be an issue in this industry, it should be brought up and talked to death. Quite simply, you deserve better.

But wait, isn’t the title of this Rant “the framerate non-issue? As in…a lack of an issue?”

Once again, astute observation viewer. Here, have a Schrute Buck.

Borderline condescending Office reference aside, let’s be serious here – as challenging as that may be.

As much as framerate continues to be an issue, it also continues to be a non-issue. How can this be an issue and not be an issue? Well it’s not like framerate has suddenly entered into a superposition state.

Let’s first talk about the part where framerate continues to be an issue. And of course, this means consoles.

Since even before the Xbox One and PS4 went on sale, Microsoft and Sony both hammered home “1080p 60fps” to consumers. Naturally, this instilled in consumers an expectation of 1080p and 60fps in their games. Furthermore, to many, this meant that first party titles (and exclusives) would be running at this “magical” 1080p and 60fps.

To a considerable degree, console business models rely on exclusives. Apart from hardware, exclusives are the largest differentiator between various consoles. Xbox has its Halo with its Master Chunk shooting up Covebumps, and Playstation has its Uncharted with Nathaniel Drake punching Somali pirates in the face.

Both of these titles in particular were given considerable hype and touted that they will “target” 60fps.

Now before I go further, let’s all understand that “target” does not mean “locked”. To “target” 60fps means that developers will try to get the game to hit 60fps. It’s a goal. It’s not a guarantee.

And this verbiage is fundamentally misleading to the average consumer. When you say “targeting 60fps”, to the consumer that means “oh, the game will be at 60fps” – even though “targeting” does not mean “locked”.

In my opinion, if the game is not going to be locked at 60fps – and more importantly, if the developer and publisher know it won’t be locked at 60fps – don’t even bring up 60fps! To do so automatically instills an expectation in the consumer. And it is absolutely not the consumers’ fault when they become outraged that your game does not hit the touted framerate that you were claiming to target!

Look. I get it. You want to use buzzwords and build up marketing hype. But I have always said that there’s a right way to do this and there’s a wrong way. This is the wrong way.

How does this relate to Halo 5 and Uncharted 4? Digital Foundry recently did an analysis on the E3 2015 demo of Halo 5. Now yes, it’s analysis on an unfinished product, but with only a handful of months to go before release in October, it’s reasonable to assume that not much will drastically change in the interim.

What they found was, to my complete lack of surprise, pretty damning. Not only does the game not output at 1080p (a long-standing industry standard), it also fails to hold 60fps. How pathetic.

On to Uncharted. In a June 2014 Playstation blog post, Naughty Dog Community Strategist

Eric Monacelli wrote, “We’re targeting 60fps for Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End”.

Now, as soon as I read this, I knew, I absolutely knew that there was not a snowball’s chance in hell that Uncharted 4 would run at 60fps on PS4.

And once again, to my complete lack of surprise, we saw the game running at 30fps during PSX last December (and again at E3 2015).

Shortly after PSX, Game Director Bruce Straley spoke about framerate to Edge magazine saying, “We’re actually above 30, but we locked it [for the demo]…We’re going to do whatever it takes to make the game we want to make. If it means we could go for 60 but lose something that would really impact the player’s experience, then it’s our choice as developers to say, ‘Well, we’re going to go for the experience [instead of] the 60 frames.'”

That last sentence defies logic. Bruce is actually suggesting that player experience is independent of 60fps by saying “going to go for the experience instead of the 60 frames”.

In reality, framerate is inextricably tied to player experience. 60fps is objectively better than 30fps. A game running at 60fps will provide the player a better experience than the same game running at 30fps. There is no arguing this.

So for him to spin his pathetic defense of 30fps into suggesting that somehow, the player’s experience will be better if the framerate is worse is absolutely ridiculous.

So looking at Halo 5 and Uncharted 4, we come to the conclusion that yes, framerate is an issue on consoles. Even the first party exclusives, the games that most consumers will purchase a console for, fail to meet the developers’ and publishers’ promise of 60fps. What this means is that the products that Microsoft and Sony rely on to differentiate from each other can’t even compete on a technical level.

That’s absolutely pathetic. And this should be brought up and discussed every single damn day.

I had mentioned that there would be a “non-issue” part to this rant. Well, here it is.

The way I see it, there are 2 solutions to this whole thing.

First, Microsoft and Sony should have given us proper “next gen” consoles, ones that can actually do the things they claim. Instead, what we got were 2 low end laptops that are laughably pathetic, weak, limp-wristed pieces of garbage that are doing nothing but completely stagnating innovation and ruining the industry.

Second, there is a platform where resolution and framerate are non-issues. I am of course talking about the most powerful, most numerous, and most profitable platform – the PC.

PC gamers have been enjoying 1080p60 gaming for what seems like eons. 1080p60 is the standard for PC gamers. That is to say, it is the bare minimum. It is the lowest experience that PC gamers will accept. That console manufacturers and developers see this PC bare minimum as their gold standard shows just how far behind and pathetic these consoles are.

So, if you want to game with a modern resolution and framerate, join us on PC. The footage you’re watching now is a prime example of unrelenting PC power’s apathy to the desperate attempts of limp-wristed consoles.

So you see, framerate is a non-issue. You deserve better. And you can only get what you deserve on PC.

Shank Rants: The “Cinematic” Problem

Games are NOT film.

This is another topic i’ve wished to talk about for some time now, so let’s tackle this head on. Sure, some action games can take their cues from film for creating set pieces (look at Call of Duty or Uncharted) – but games are fundamentally NOT films. They are inherently interactive and this makes them innately personal. You’re not some agent viewing someone else’s creation – you are shaping your own creation. This leads to what i call “the ‘cinematic’ problem”.

The word “cinematic” is constantly used by the “AAA” industry to falsely justify a subpar 30fps framerate, or a stupid letterbox aspect ratio – as if a deliberately worse experience somehow makes the game better.

I’d like to think consumers (and journalists) are now finally wising up to this farce spewed by the so-called “AAA” industry and seeing it for what it is – an excuse to falsely justify an inferior gaming experience created by very real hardware constraints.

When I play a game, I don’t want a “cinematic” experience – I want a “video game” experience. Why? Because I’m playing a game!

Now, you don’t need a subpar framerate in order for a game to be “cinematic”. And you can have cutscenes in a game which take their inspiration from film.

First, let’s look at Ryse.

There’s a very filmic aesthetic to the whole game thanks to the unrelenting power of cryengine. This filmic aesthetic is achieved by use of film grain, epic wide shots, 3d lens flares, and a slew of other fantastic post processing techniques.

In addition to those, the game features in-game cutscenes which are framed purposefully, crafted solely to convey a mood and draw the player in.

Cutscenes and aesthetics aside, the gameplay itself is quite filmic in its presentation. The game mechanics feature extremely stylistic slow-mo moments during executions, and the absolutely fantastic DoF really helps sell this stylistic choice.

What about framerate? as we discussed earlier, the so-called ‘AAA” industry uses a subpar 30fps framerate to falsely justify this “cinematic” feel. However, playing Ryse on PC at 60fps still makes me feel like i’m spartacus kicking ass.

If anything, this higher framerate actually enhances the filmic feel to the game simply because it’s more responsive and i feel like i’m actually there. Higher framerate enhancing gameplay? what a concept!

Now lets look at a very different example and talk about GTA 5

Every mission, every job, every heist feels like i’m directing a Scorsese film The music kicks in at the exact right time, and the track playing is the absolute perfect track for that scenario.

The pacing of each mission is a slow build, heightening that sense of imminent chaos that film portrays so well. And upon completion of said mission, you feel a real sense of accomplishment and joy – something film simply cannot provide.

And perhaps the best thing about gta is that it manages to retain this filmic, epic cinematic presentation on even the most minor of ad hoc adventures with friends. The genius of that execution simply cannot be overstated.

So here we have it – two examples featuring two completely different games with both games clearly taking inspiration from film.

However, despite the filmic influences pervasive in both of these games, Ryse and GTA 5 remain what they are both meant to be: a game.

They are both highly immersive experiences that still engage with the player, providing him the tools necessary to feel like a huge badass.

In other words, the filmic elements in these two games do not get in the way of actual game elements. The filmic elements exist only to enhance the game elements, not replace it.

And this is what is so crucial about this whole “cinematic issue”. Too often, the so-called “AAA” industry is so hell bent on spinning its marketing, spinning its PR, and is forced to work within constraints of weak consoles that they fundamentally forget what they’re trying to create in the first place: a game.

So let me repeat what i said in the beginning. Games are not film. and they’re all the better for it.

Shank Rants: Art Style And Graphics

Back in June 2011, the United States Supreme Court officially confirmed what all of us who play and enjoy games had already known for years: video games are art.

Now I’m not here to give you a history lesson, rather, I do believe it important and relevant to begin this piece with that bit of fact, if only to bring some pretense of import to this weekly drivel.

Admittedly, I have wanted to talk about this upcoming topic for some time now, I just have never gotten around to it. And so, with no other restrictions placed on me, and now that I’ve taken a brief hiatus from slaughtering Drowners in Velen, let me discuss with you all a subject I’ve longed to address.

Art style and graphics are two different things. The majority opinion out there is that art style matters more than graphics – whatever that means. To a larger point, gameplay actually matters over graphics – despite console fanboys comparing resolution and framerates to death – but that is an entirely different discussion for perhaps another Rant.

I am here to talk about this “art style vs graphics” discussion because I believe this is a rather interesting conversation to have. As we know, and as I stated at the top of this piece, video games are art. I believe video games to be the ultimate form of art and consequently, the ultimate form of expression. It is the only art form where you simultaneously create and consume content. You can’t do this in literature, and sure as hell can’t do this in film.

Video games are the most personal of art forms, and in my opinion, the most impactful as well.

Forgive that brief meander, but I believe it was necessary. Art style and graphics, while contributing to and eventually creating the video game art, are two different aspects of games.

I have often been asked which one I prefer. Those of you who know me well enough already know the answer. But allow me to pretentiously put forth an argument before delivering my verdict.

To me, art style is the most literal interpretation of those two words. It is the form of art chosen by the designers to define the visual style. If that seems ambiguous, perhaps this can help. Dishonored has a very distinct art style. The whole game looks like a beautiful oil painting. Its style is very different from Ryse, for example.

I have chosen these two games deliberately. Dishonored has a beautiful art style, designed to look like an oil painting. However, it does not have advanced graphics. And yes, there is a difference. To me, graphics are a way to convincingly portray your art style – albeit with a few more technical bells and whistles to help achieve this.

And again, this is why I’ve chosen to discuss Dishonored and Ryse. Dishonored has a beautiful, unique and highly stylized art style, but unrealistic graphics. I would go so far as to say the graphics are lackluster.

On the other hand, Ryse has incredibly advanced graphics, but no clear distinct art style. However, the argument can be made that the art style used in Ryse is “photorealism” because we know that “photorealism” is an actual art style. Still, as far as uniqueness goes, Ryse has no unique art style.

So here we have two games that are quite different in their visual aesthetic. One has a unique art style but lackluster graphics. The other has advanced graphics but no real unique art style. However, there exists a third option, a middle ground if you will.

What if you can have a distinct art style and advanced graphics? Fortunately, there exists a game which does exactly that. In fact, you’ve been staring at it for the past few minutes. Of course, I’m talking about The Witcher 3.

CD Projekt Red have managed to merge a distinct, almost surreal art style with highly advanced, photorealistic graphics. And they’ve pulled it off beautifully. This is without a doubt the most beautiful, most technically advanced RPG I’ve ever played, and arguably the most beautiful, technically advanced RPG on the market today.

So no, this isn’t a zero sum game. You absolutely do NOT have to choose to develop your game with a distinct art style or with photorealistic graphics. You actually can have your cake and eat it too.

Now, which one do I prefer? It should come as no surprise that, while I absolutely love Dishonored and Ryse, I prefer advanced graphics to distinct art style any day. I am always chasing the cutting edge, and advancements in graphics are the easiest and most obvious means by which to measure genuine, tangible progress in our industry.

Why? A story as beautiful as The Last Of Us could have been written for games in the 90s. Distinct, though limited, art style for games could have existed 20 years ago. However, the immersion and outright beauty of photorealistic graphics simply were NOT possible back then. In other words, you don’t need technology to enable a good story, but you do need technology to enable total visual immersion.

And it is precisely for that reason why I will always prefer photorealistic graphics to distinct art style. Whether you know this or not, graphics are the first thing you’ll notice when playing a game for the first time. It’s the first thing that helps you become immersed in that game. And only through advances in technology will this immersion become more and more real.

And ultimately, this elevates our art form into something beyond anything we’ve seen. Into something more. Into something that truly transcends human understanding. Into something inescapably beautiful.

Shank Rants: Triple-A PC Neglect

Here are some facts for you: As of this writing, there are over 125 million Steam users. 125 million. Let that number sink in for a moment. That’s more than the sales of Xbox One and PS4 combined, doubled, and then some. Keep in mind, these are numbers for a single platform on the PC. It does not take into account other platforms like GOG, Origin, etc. Yes, some overlap will exist, but the fact remains that this incredibly impressive number is for users of a single platform on PC.

 

Want another fact? Ok, how about this? As of April 2014, PC gaming surpassed consoles in revenue. That was more than one year ago because clearly, the PC market has continued to grow at a truly incredible rate.

 

In looking at these two numbers, it follows logic to assume that as a publisher, you’d want to publish games on the PC, gain loyalty, and accelerate through that. After all, if you’re worried about user base, well, you have more users than both current consoles combined, doubled, and then some. If you’re worried about revenue, the PC generates more revenue than consoles.

 

Here’s another fact. The PC platform is objectively more powerful than consoles. This last one should be obvious, but somehow, console peasant fanboys and publishers seem to not only forget this fact, but actively deny it. The gap between consoles and PC is just laughably huge, and only getting wider.

 

However, despite these inarguable facts, the so-called “triple-A” industry seems hell bent on completely neglecting and actively working against the PC and PC gamers. This happens disproportionately to the PC platform. This is constant. The most recent example of this is Rocksteady’s Batman Arkham Knight.

 

One look at the Steam page tells you users reporting stuttering, framerate drops, memory leaks, and a 30fps framerate lock – regardless of the hardware they are running. That last one really gets me. A 30fps lock? On PC? You’re kidding me, right?

 

These triple-A publishers seem to think that PC gamers are like console gamers. I’ve got news for you. We’re not. We have better hardware. By every metric, our platform is simply superior to consoles. Introducing things like a 30fps lock is downright insulting. How dare you presume to think we’re just like console gamers, to blindly accept a downright peasantry 30fps framerate?

 

This is more than just simply “unacceptable”. This is wrong. And on top of all this, Rocksteady dares have the gall to state, “This is something that Rocksteady takes very seriously”. If this is something you’re taking seriously, why did you release the game and sell it in this state for actual money??

 

This type of behavior from triple-A publishers towards the PC is nothing new. In fact, we can point to another Warner Brothers game in Mortal Kombat X. Despite all the metrics, despite all the cold hard facts, these publishers actively work against the PC and expect to get away with it. They treat us like second class citizens, constantly treating us inferior to console gamers.

 

And this is just wrong.

 

Some may suggest (and indeed have done so on my friend’s facebook page) that this is somehow the consumer’s fault for buying the game on PC, as if a PC gamer dare enjoy cross platform games like a console gamer.

 

Since when is it the consumer’s duty to ensure they product he buys is complete, whole, and functioning? This is a basic consumer right! Consumers should never be held responsible for broken products, nor should they be expected to fix broken products.

 

Yet somehow, the triple-A industry actively sabotages the PC, constantly working against the most powerful, most numerous, most profitable platform.

 

It’s a relentless attack against the PC, filled with empty promises ensuring us proper treatment. But in the end, these publishers treat us worse than console gamers, giving us console-grade features (hello 30fps lock) and completely unoptimized, unfinished games.

 

Now yes, as long as consumers continue to buy these games, publishers will release them. But I always find that this argument misses the bigger issue.

 

The bigger issue is that games released on PC should be complete, functioning, and maximize the strength of the PC. Why? Because that’s how console games are developed! At the very least, PC games should be as polished as console games with additional features designed to take advantage of the objective superiority of the PC.

 

I’m so sick of PC gamers constantly treated like shit. There has to be a consequence for these publishers who think peddling their completely broken products to PC gamers is somehow OK. It’s not OK. It’s not right. It’s toxic to the industry. This is the triple-A industry saying “fuck you PC gamers”.

 

I have something to say to you, the so-called triple-A industry.

 

Do you honestly think we won’t notice? Do you honestly think that we PC gamers will sit here and quietly accept console-level standards on our more powerful, objectively superior hardware? We have invested our hard earned money to receive superior experiences. And you – you toxic, putrid, cesspool of filth laden triple-A industry – you want to peddle this console shit onto us?? No.