Next-Gen Games: To HD or not to HD?
With the Playstation 2 and the first Xbox being able to run select games in high definition, for example Grand Turismo 4 supported 1080i resolution. One would expect that in the age of 'next generation' consoles, the age of 1080p resolutions, that all games would, as a standard, support high definition.
Well it would appear that is not the case, with an increasing number of recent titles outputting native resolutions of lower than 720p. Such games are then up-scaled to meet this high-definition benchmark. On the one hand, what's the point of paying for 1080p TVs, consoles and all the HDMI related accessories when the games you're playing don't even qualify as 'high def?'
While the other argument is that whether this really matters, many of the games in question are actually some of the best lookers out there. And what's the harm in sacrificing a few lines of resolution to secure a stable frame-rate?
This debate has again reared its ugly head with the revelation that Playstation 3 exclusive HAZE's resolution is only 576p, thus leaving it to the Playstation 3 itself to upscale the game to meet minimum high def standards.
Recent news has also revealed that the Playstation 3 version of Grand Theft Auto IV only runs at 640p, while the Xbox 360 version natively reaches 720p. This is not a Playstation 3 exclusive issue, far from it, with the most famous case belonging to Microsoft's Xbox 360. The case is of course Halo 3, which with much uproar also ran in 640p.
Ripten recently got to the bottom of HAZE's final revolution when speaking with Derek Littlewood, Free Radicals Creative Lead, who confirmed that the finished game renders at 1024 by 576, which is effectively more than 300,000 less pixels than if the game managed to reach 720p resolution.
Littlewood wasn't sold on the whole numbers of pixels argument, "But I don't understand why people care whether there's 20 pixels, 50 pixels, or 100 pixels more." Littlewood suggests the team had other priorities:
"We prioritise a nice smooth framerate over a different res. Personally, I don't really buy the whole thing. People did the same with Call of Duty, they did the same with Halo, and they say with those games 'It's not running at true HD!' And it's like, I don't care. If the game looks good and it runs smoothly, those are the important things to me."
Rather, he was asking people to judge HAZE, "by the whole experience. Sit down with it and enjoy it. If people come away from that saying 'Yeah, the resolution was a bit lower than I was expecting' then I hope people wouldn't, because it has other things it does really well."
What about the people who made Halo 3, Bungie. What do they think about the lower resolution achieved? Well it seems as if the developers are singing from the same hymn sheet. In one of their weekly updates, Bungie said there were many other aspects of the game which took priority:
"This ability to display a full range of HDR, combined with our advanced lighting, material and postprocessing engine, gives our scenes, large and small, a compelling, convincing and ultimately "real" feeling, and at a steady and smooth frame rate, which in the end was far more important to us than the ability to display a few extra pixels"
Would the inclusion of a few extra pixels really make that much of a difference and are they worth sacrificing some of the extra features for? Well it appears not, at least if Grand Theft Auto IV is anything to go by. As mentioned, the Xbox 360 version tops the Playstation 3 version by 80p, yet for all intent and purposes both versions are identical.
And arguably offer one of the best experiences offered on any 'next generation' console. One of the games battling Grand Theft Auto for this top spot is Call of Duty 4, and if you remember, another game rendered sub 'high def' at 600p. In doing so, developers, Infinity Ward, have managed to create a game which runs at 60 frames per second and still looks better than many of its contemporaries.
Yet this brings up an interesting fact. In doing this, Call of Duty 4 misses out on 307,200 pixels, which is the exact number contained in a 640 by 480 resolution.
So in this era of high definition technology, it doesn't seem that actually natively rendering games in high definition is that important. It seems amazing how many pixels can go missing, and yet still produce some of the best games out there. Indeed few titles on either platform have managed to achieve the pinnacle of 'full HD,' that is 1080p.
Perhaps this is something which will be achieved towards the end of this console generation. But one thing's for sure, developers sure don't see a few wandering pixels as a major issue. They have a point. Why would anyone want to play a game at 1080p if it ran like a snail? Alternatively, are gamers getting constantly tired of being tricked into thinking they're experiencing high definition?
It's still the early days, but maybe there is only so much this hardware can do, and the next generation will mark the start of full high definition gaming.
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