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Moving Pictures

posted on October 30th, 2009 by christian

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?


  1. jay said on October 31, 2009:

    I think it’s depressing that every generation we get a lot more horse power in most consoles and every generation they put 75% of it toward graphics. Slowdown should have been solved generations ago, it’s absurd that shmups on the Genesis and action games on the 360 both have it.

    Slow down ruins immersion for more much more than good graphics add to it. Mass Effect was supposed to be a beautiful game – beside the plastic faced people, and texture loading delays the slowdown was pretty bad just when running through town. I’ve always been staunchly against graphics whores but framerate is not at all in the same category, which may be why graphics whores I know trump up games like Mass Effect and manage to ignore all of the technical shortcomings.

  2. christian said on November 1, 2009:

    Mass Effect is a good example. The stability problems were not only bothersome during combat, but it took away from the immersion during exploration. They spend all this time and money making worlds that look more and more believable, but once it is put into motion it looks anything but.

  3. Bruce said on November 1, 2009:

    It’s fascinating to me, but it makes a lot of sense. For one thing, people spend a lot of money on game consoles and want to be assured that all that money is giving them maximum polygons, as only a better looking game can.

    Add to that the natural tendency of males to engage in pointless dick waving contests over both how good a game they made looks or how good a multiplatform game looks on whatever console they’re currently boosting on NeoGAF and how could we expect anything different?

    And it’s a reason I prefer a game with a strong fantastic or abstract aesthetic instead of just trying to look realistic and landing squarely in the uncanny valley. I don’t want games to look like the boring world I see every day, I want them to show me things I’ve never even imagined.

  4. Cunzy1 1 said on November 5, 2009:


  5. the_flying_dove said on January 22, 2010:

    I greatly agree with you, christian. Framerate could make a huge difference in terms of how playable a game is. It will either make or break a game. If I were to choose between the most graphically impressive game ever with a horrible framerate and a decent looking game with a good framerate, I would go with the latter. Gameplay matters the most in a game. Unfortunately, many gamers will awe at how graphics are being pushed forward and not consider the quality of gameplay as much.

  6. ys said on January 25, 2010:

    Great article. I agree with every point being made. It even mentions something that I thought only bothered me : those plastic/shiny looking humans in “realistic” looking games. I think that Cliffy B once mentioned that this is a byproduct of current technology and that that same technology isn’t that good at displaying flowing things like hair. Which made many developers go for the bald look according to him.

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