The Xbox One and PS4 look amazing, but Sony and Microsoft have no way to show you
The evolution of video game consoles includes features like online gaming, social networking, new controllers, and new formats like the GD-ROM and, most recently, Blu-Ray. Still, the feature that drives consumers above any other, or at least arguably, is graphics.
Everyone wants to know which system has games that look the best, with the smoothest framerates, and the most special effects. Comment threads devolve into arguments about the 360 version of a game versus the PlayStation 3, and then screenshots of the PC version of the game are thrown in for another data point.
Graphics sell consoles. We want a longer draw distance, a smoother image, and we need it to all look as good as possible on our splashy new big-screen televisions. This, believe it or not, is a problem for the upcoming crop of next-generation systems.
Once again, our Internet infrastructure sucks
I keep hearing that the graphical jump from the current generation to the next generation is too subtle, that many people can’t see the difference. It’s true that in person the jump from the Xbox 360 to the Xbox One, or the PlayStation 3 to the PlayStation 4, isn’t nearly as pronounced as the leap we saw during the last console transition around eight years ago.
If the shift from the 16 bit to the 32 bit systems allowed games to move into 3D, the move from the 32 bit systems into the current systems have allowed us to do 3D very, very well. Powerful gaming PCs will blow the current generation console games out of the water, but it’s amazing how much the now-inexpensive consoles have been able to keep up with graphical advances, and how much fidelity and detail developers have been able to wring out of systems with 512MB of RAM.
I’ve had a chance to play through a good variety of next-generation content, and the updates to the graphics are often subtle. It’s now possible to enjoy games running at a steady 60 frames-per-second, even with a large amount of action on the screen.
You know how much smoother everything gets in a game when you’re in a tunnel? Yeah, it feels like that all the time now. It’s fantastic, and I think many gamers are unaware of how much better 60 fps feels over games that run at 30 fps or lower.
Environments will be larger, allowing better open world games. Both the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 feature 8GB of RAM and, even though each system uses that RAM differently, that's a literal shit-ton more than the 512MB you find in existing consoles. It's science.
This will help those of us who are primarily PC gamers as well; the lowest common denominator will suddenly become much, much higher, especially as the current generation systems die out to be replaced by a mass market that’s mostly playing on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. This will allow PCs to really stretch their legs on ported games. The rising tide raises all ships, as they say.
The problem is that we watch videos on Youtube, or embedded via whatever service our favorite news sites use. These services tend to suck for image quality, to put it bluntly, and the quality of the video is tied to your connection. If there’s a burp in the network, you lose resolution. You can’t see very clearly into the distance. The frame rates tend to be inconsistent. The quality of the image isn’t being represented.
Watching a game like Titanfall on Youtube is one thing. Downloading the video in high resolution and watching it from your hard drive adds another layer of quality, but nothing, NOTHING beats actually playing the damned thing on a large display and picking out all the detail and intricacies of the image. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve played a next generation game at E3 or a press event and been impressed with the graphics and responsiveness, only to see all the things that stood out reduced to mud in the videos available online.
The graphical leap to the next generation is not going to be as great as it has been in the past, but developers will be able to do so much more with the hardware that the game itself will be changed. You’ll spend less time looking at loading screens, and you’ll enjoy a smoother, more steady framerate. Levels will be larger, and characters and environments will be more detailed. There will be many small things that add up to an experience that makes the upgrade worth your time and money, but those advantages are impossible to convey to players using our existing Internet connections, or still images. You have to see it in person and feel it.
This isn’t a problem with the systems as much asit’s a problem in how we show off games. Video games are moving towards products that simply can't be adequately expressed via embedded videos watched on laptops or even standard monitors. Selling the Oculus Rift will be the same thing, and the 3DS still struggles with showing what 3D adds to the experience without just putting a system in someone's hand.
This frustrating issue is not likely to be fixed until these consoles are in the stores, or hooked up to our friends’ televisions, and we’re holding a controller in our hands. Until then? Hold judgment. You're not seeing everything you need to in order to have an informed opinion.