That’s the view of Need For Speed: Shift producer Jesse Abney, whose “authentic/” racer displays at 30 frames per second. Abney claims there’s plenty more under the hood that determines a racer’s performance.
I was in a Forza Motorsport 3 demo at E3 this year. During his presentation, Turn 10’s Dan Greenawalt said, “If it’s not 60 frames, it’s not a racing sim.” Greenawalt was placing emphasis on his game’s refresh rate, which he believes gives it an edge over its rivals in the field.
When chatting with Abney recently, I brought up Greenawalt’s remark, knowing that Shift runs at 30 frames. I asked Abney why, and what the difference is. His answer revealed a lot more about the development process than I expected.
“It’s funny hearing that. For one thing, these machines [pointing at the PS3 he had Shift running on]have multi-threaded architecture, meaning they can operate at different speeds; the control I/O, the driving physics, the collision physics, etc… all those things can run at entirely different speeds depending on which thread they’re on.
“And then the render thread, the speed of that and the refresh rate, which is really what 60hz versus 30hz relates to, is the end result showing up on screen.”
Abney points instead towards controller latency as a major factor in whether a racing game can feel like it’s running slower than it ought to be. As the Digital Foundry blog examined yesterday, this is the time it takes between a button press and on-screen action.
“In the past the clock cycles with which the simulation was gathering controller data was often slower than the input. So when users are doing this [waggles the analogue stick] , but the game was only updating every 1/5th of a frame, it would look like it was sluggish and going slower than it was.
“But now with multi-threaded architecture and a number of other improvements in pulling rates and radio signals and all that, especially to the speed of the processors, there is now virtually no lag. Really, as long as you’re running your controller I/O and your simulation thread at full speed, the perception of 30 versus 60 is negligible.”
My time with Shift suggests there’s merit to this argument. Combined with the fully articulated driver model and “Driver Vision” effects, there was little to suggest the game was running slow. Of course, the proof will be when we see Forza 3 and Shift running side-by-side. Not long to go now.