While the details are scarce, apparently Insomniac Games did some sort of “study” that came to an interesting conclusion about graphics fidelity. Apparently, if gamers had to choose between great visuals with a choppy framerate, or smooth framerate and simpler visuals, they would choose the former. Not only that, but they concluded that games that adopt the former can even gain better review scores. They go so far as to say that some study respondents claimed that better visuals made the game more fun to play. As a result, Insomniac will no longer strive for 60 frames per second in future releases, which used to be one of their top priorities.
Three thoughts come to mind. First, I would love to see how they conducted this study (likely with focus groups). Second, I don’t blame Insomniac for their choice; apparently they do not like it any more than we do. Third, I would like to hear the explanations given during the study, or even some examples of what games are considered to look “great”.
I bring up that third thought because I struggle to comprehend what a justifiable answer might be, and wonder if there even is one. Poor framerate is my biggest pet peeve of this generation, beyond clayfaced character models and shiny textures. I have played so many choppy games on the PS3 and 360 that I feel the same excitement I had when I played Turok 1 whenever I find a game that runs at a stable 30 frames. To me, framerate makes all the difference.
If you were to look at screenshots of Shinobi on PS2, and Heavenly Sword on PS3, one would look like a blocky old game, and the other might resemble an action scene in a big budget film. But when you actually play them, one looks like poetry in motion, while the other resembles cheap animatronics with bad joints. The one that looks less realistic still feels more realistic. All the fancy textures and character models in the world become a lot less meaningful when they create create nothing more than a bunch of puppets moving along a stage. And to agree with Insomniac, good framerates make me think that the developer is a real professional, with an eye towards craftsmanship and professionalism. Instead, most of the time I will be playing a “next gen” game and thinking that we have taken a step back from where we were.
But while the results frustrate me, they do not surprise me. In fact, we should all have seen it coming from a mile away. The problem isn’t due to stupid, self described “hardcore gamers”. Those types may exist, but they aren’t to blame. Lower framerates have been acceptable by everyone, for a very long time. For a classic example, look at Rare’s N64 era shooters. I still claim that Goldeneye is a better game, because while it isn’t perfect, it isn’t impossible to get decent framerates out of the multiplayer. Perfect Dark on the other hand becomes a slideshow whenever you try to do anything worthwhile with it. Sure, it has more weapons and customization, but what is the point when you can’t have any fun with them? Every time this debate comes up, I find myself in the minority opinion, so I believe that this framerate issue is agreed upon by gamers of many different stripes.
So what are your thoughts on framerate? Do you agree with the survey, or do you feel like this is the wrong approach to take?