Yes, Technical Details Are Important In Video Games

Yes, Technical Details Are Important In Video Games

In the world of video game enthusiasts, there are a significant number of people who care a great deal about graphics and resolutions.

This group sometimes comes across as obsessive, almost rabid about their hobby, to the point where a couple of vague tweets and rumours can trigger a scandal, or a -Gate. Take ResolutionGate, the dramatic controversy that was triggered in October because a few games had higher resolutions on one of the two big next-gen consoles that came out a few weeks later.

This left some observers scratching their heads, and apparently they're still itching. In a piece on Vice today, writer Yannick LeJacq contends that these sort of debates and discussions, both on message boards and on video game sites like Kotaku, are hurting video games as a culture and art form.

"If we want to understand video games as the cornerstone of pop culture that they are, we have to question whether or not these technical details are actually important," LeJacq writes. "Pitchfork saves its best critical faculties for discussing the artistry of music, not the technical details of sound systems and headphones. The New Yorker and New York Magazine only glosh over screen specifications and 3D technology in movies when things like that actually say something interesting about the authorship of a film. Good critics talk about the work itself first and foremost."

LeJacq goes on to call on video game journalists to talk more about the bigger questions in gaming -- like "why are people obsessed with Lara Croft's body?" -- rather than debate about granular technical details like resolution (the number of pixels on a screen) and frame-rate (how smoothly a game's images move). He never quite addresses the accusation in the headline -- Obsessions Like "ResolutionGate" Are Why Video Games Don't Get Enough Respect in Pop Culture -- but his point is clear: debates over technical details are clouding the discussion of Video Games As Art.

But resolutions do matter. Frame-rates make a difference. Nitty-gritty technical details are worth discussing. Let me explain why.

1) The graphical difference is not insignificant.

Here, look at this lovely GIF:

Yes, Technical Details Are Important In Video Games

That's from NeoGAF, and it shows a clearly discernible difference between the Xbox One and PS4 versions of Assassin's Creed IV, particularly if you expand the image. You might not notice or care about the filter that's making the Xbox One version look darker, and hell, if you only own and play on one of those consoles, the graphical differences might not even matter to you. But there are differences, and we can't pretend they're not there.

Via the very-technical folks at Digital Foundry, here's a comparison between both next-gen versions of Call of Duty: Ghosts:

Yes, Technical Details Are Important In Video Games

It's not minor, as you can see. The PS4 version is clearly crisper, less muddy. "The PS4's resolution advantage gives it a considerable boost in quality over that of the rougher-looking Xbox One version," Digital Foundry writes. (They also note that the PS4 version seems optimised more poorly, with more slowdowns and lag issues.)

To say that these differences don't matter to you is perfectly fine. They're not that big a deal to me, either -- brown war games are still brown war games no matter the resolution -- but it's irresponsible for any journalist to say this shouldn't matter to anyone.

And what of frame-rates? Right now, ardent gamers everywhere are arguing over the next-gen versions of Tomb Raider, out next week, which will reportedly run at 60 frames-per-second on PlayStation 4. (It's unclear how the game performs on Xbox One -- "Delivering the core Tomb Raider gameplay at native 1080p and running at 30fps was always our primary goal given the type of experience Tomb Raider is and the exploration we want players to do," a Square Enix representative told Eurogamer. "Anything beyond 30fps for this version is gravy.")

LeJacq argues that this doesn't matter.

"[Frame-rate] effects the gameplay experience in some minute ways that are usually only apparent if you're really looking for them, or if something is going wrong -- say, if a game's display suddenly becomes very choppy," LeJacq writes. "Like screen resolution, it's the kind of figure that appeals mostly to gearheads."

YouTube videos all run at 30fps, so it's difficult to directly compare video game frame-rates online, but luckily, there are websites designed solely for the purpose of showing you how much smoother an animation will look at 60fps. If you don't see a difference there, try spending some time with The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, a game lauded as one of the smoothest in recent memory -- possibly because the whole thing runs at 60 frames per second, unlike many of its peers.

Regardless, like with resolution, these are technical details that make a difference to a large group of people, and that's not something journalists should ignore.

2) Technical dissection and critical analysis are not mutually exclusive.

"Publishing isn't a zero-sum game," LeJacq writes, "but choosing to continually inquire about stories about frame rates and resolution takes time and energy away from other, more human questions."

Except... it doesn't. Large gaming sites like Kotaku and IGN publish hundreds of stories a week, written by stables of staff and freelancers. We have reporters and we have critics. We have both time and energy. And we're capable of asking both technical and critical questions without blowing any fuses.

In October, Kotaku's Kirk Hamilton took a few hours to compare games like Call of Duty: Ghosts and Battlefield 4, noting that yes, there is a tangible difference between how each game performs on both the PS4 and Xbox One.

That didn't stop him from writing a smart analysis ofAssassin's Creed IVthat asks some sharp questions about where that series is and where it's headed. Nor did it stop him from critiquing some of the big "choices" in video games that turned out to be nothing but illusion and manipulation. All in the same week.

3) People deserve to know what they're paying for.

Here's the big one. When we talk about resolutions and frame-rates, we're really asking two questions: 1) Is this software performing as well as expected? and 2) Is this hardware performing as well as expected?

Video games, more than any other form of art, are often perceived as products. This is partly due to the industry's ridiculous marketing cycle, but it's also because they often straight-up don't work. We have come to accept bugs, glitches, and weird slowdown effects in many of our games; they've become as ingrained in the culture as Mario's jump and Call of Duty Character's gun.

LeJacq, in his article, points to critical analysis of film and music, which doesn't often mention technical details, but the comparison is unfair -- how often do films crash and force you to watch the last hour all over again? How often does an album have random lag spikes?

"If we want to understand video games as the cornerstone of pop culture that they are, we have to question whether or not these technical details are actually important," LeJacq writes. And they are. The technology of games is evolving at exponential rates, and video games are not yet at the point where we can ignore their technical shells. Every game performs differently. How could you critique SimCity without mentioning the crippling server issues that rendered the game unplayable for over a week after launch? How could you review Fallout: New Vegas without talking about the frequent glitches and game-crashing bugs?

Consequently, when people want to know whether they should buy, say, an Xbox One or PlayStation 4, they deserve to know everything -- the resolution; the frame-rate; every single nitty-gritty detail that keeps these machines humming along, playing games. If journalists handwave and dismiss concerns about technical details as only for "gearheads," we are doing a disservice to the people who spend a great deal of money on these games and machines.

If a video game has even a fraction of a pixel more on one console than they do on the others, doesn't that deserve to be discussed? Don't the people thinking about both the short- and long-term power capabilities of these machines deserve to know as much as possible about what they can do? It's tempting to wave off the communities on sites like Reddit and NeoGAF as an obsessive minority who are concerned with nothing but absurd console wars, but these questions make a difference. As they should.


Comments

    Technical details are relevant, but the subsequent fanboying and generalisations that ensue are not.

    '720P COD LEL PS4 IS BEST SYSTEM'

      Well, if you're just playing games and don't care (or have) friends, then PS4 is the best system. It's a simple fact, and people get all uppity when articles get posted saying "we tested this and this, here are the results, PS4 wins, therefore PS4 is better at games".

      People can't't handle the truth when it clashes with their personal opinion that they've held for 5+years - and doubly so when money comes into the equation.

        'Best' is subjective, and different for each person, for different reasons. Just because you believe PS4 is 'best', and even if 99% of everyone, everywhere agreed - it doesn't automatically make it true for the other 1%.

        That kind of thinking is why we can't have nice things.

          It's not what I believe. COD is available on both xbox and ps4. It runs 720p on xbox, 1080p on PS4. Therefore, the PS4 is better at playing COD. How is that so hard to grasp?

          Last edited 24/01/14 1:31 pm

            It's still subjective. Are you comparing purely the output per game? Then yes, the ps4 is better. Overall it's subjective when throwing in online, console functions, exclusives etc.

              Of course. Apples to apples - output of the game only. PS4 wins.

              Armed with this knowledge, you can then get all the other aspects - controller, community, online functions - and rate them against each other. Tally it up, and what wins overall is your subjective opinion on the best console.

            COD is a bad example, because as mentioned in the article, the PS4 version suffers from some frame rate issues, most likely due to the fact they are pushing it through at full HD where the xbone version is lower res, but has no slow down issues, for COD both have detracting issues.

            When it comes down to it I would buy neither because LOL COD but you can choose here which is more important to you personally, resolution or steady frame rates? So @ynefel is right, it is subjective... for COD. On the other hand there are games running at full HD on the PS4 but not on the xbone not suffering from this issue (ACIV for example).

              The real tragedy is that neither of these run everything at 1080p/60

              I mean on the PC side we are moving to 4k and 1080p is something we will look back on and wonder how we ever managed with such horribly blurry games.

              Last edited 24/01/14 2:30 pm

              I thought they fixed the framerate issues? Thought it had something to do with vsync, or was related to that anyway.

              Must say though whilst it is an valid argument, even when running CoD Ghosts on Ultra at 1920x1080 on PC (4670k and a GTX 770 OC) it still doesn't look that good anyway

                And it runs like shit with everything on Low as well

                EDIT: And the bloody mouse acceleration. Move too fast and your character has a seizure!

                Last edited 25/01/14 5:56 pm

                  Must agree like before the last major update for PC, they recommend 6gb of ram. 6GB of RAM for CALL OF DUTY. What?! Not to mention it is like a 50gb game. Like even though on a 2TB HDD that's not much but still 50GB for CoD? Just wow

            So you would rather 1080/30 over 720/60 as a hypothetical example?

            Because framerate is the true key indicator of "performance" and the PS4 framerate has been shown to be worse than that of the Xbox One version, so no, the PS4 actually isn't better at playing CoD.

            I personally would always take 720/60 over 1080/30, but obviously 1080/60 is the preference if the option is available.

            Having said that, unlocked framerates SUUUUUUUCK. Both versions of Tomb Raider Definitive have unlocked framerates.

            It drives me crazy on Killzone Shadow Fall. GG should have just locked it at 30 and called it a day.

              If I were playing Skyrim I would choose 1080/30 but If I were playing BF4 I would choose 720/60

            Shouldn't use CoD as an example. Better developers could get it to run at 1080p on the Xbox. That game runs like shit on all platforms.

          Best is not subjective when dealing with measurable and quantifiable data. If you have 2 sports cars, handle identically and cost the same money however Car A accelerates to 100 1 second quicker than Car B and has a higher top speed then Car A is far and away the best objectively.

          When discussing technical situations with games it is no different. All other things being equal between the two versions, the one with the higher frame rate, the higher resolution or the more technically impressive effect is the Best version.

          The problem is that most people who are deep into games are completely incapable of divorcing there insane brand name fanaticism from from factually based discussion even handed discussion.

          Just because something doesn't matter to you, doesn't mean it doesn't matter at all. To me, technical analysis is very useful consumer information. At the end of the day I will always buy the version that offers the best experience (and that normally comes down to the technical side of things).

          If that's the case, why bother comparing consoles at all? If each person is going to have a different opinion, then by your logic it's not worth even attempting to figure out which console is better, has better bang for buck, and has the greater technological capabilities. Your circumstances should not factor into saying which console is better, because you can deal with that yourself. When someone asks you "which console do you think I should buy, and why?" are you going to say, "well everything is subjective when doing this so I'm afraid I can't help you at all"? No, you'll tell him the pros and cons of each system and let him figure out which is better for him for himself.

          It should have gone without saying that Stickman was comparing things in a technical and factual advantages and disadvantages level. He wasn't saying "PS4 is objectively better in every single circumstance", what he really probably means is "PS4 is objectively better in several measurable areas, but your circumstances may make a difference when you're trying to decide which console is better". Everything after the word but from that sentence usually goes without saying when people start using the word objectively.

          Last edited 24/01/14 10:10 pm

      It is very annoying, but games aren't the only media where this is a problem. How many fans of One Direction (Just for example) have you seen on sites like YouTube plague it's already fetid comments section with drivel relating to how "1D BEST 4EVA!!!!!". Most of us hate this. Then look at an AC/DC video or almost any other big band and you'll see the exact same arguments and discussions, just written by (generally) older and more grammatically correct people.

      How many wine critics will swear the glass used by X company ruins it's flavour while fans will maintain it accents it beautifully?

      How many fans of the Bond series of films look at the Bourne films with disgust and vice versa?

      Fanbois exist in all markets, social circles and clubs where 2 or more version of any particular object or thought can exist and possibly collide.

        The point is realising yours is a preference, and nothing more. It doesn't automatically make you correct, or make others wrong. Different strokes, and all that. Some people seem to be missing this point.

        Incidentally, I own both an Xbone and PS4, and I love them both for entirely different reasons. I prefer one a little more, but only because it suits my tastes and lifestyle a little better. I won't grace the topic with saying which I prefer, because it's irrelevant. Just because I prefer it doesn't make it best.

        I think the difference here and what the atricle is talking about is how the reviews of bond film vs bourne films are done.
        For me if you start talking about the cinematography and how a subtle framing of expression provides a deep insight into the character of bond/bourne then I will tune out. For me that isn't a big deal. Just tell me if it is a good film or not and why.
        The talk of a different res or some other textures doesn't mean a lot to me. It's important more from buying a console but does it matter for an individual game. Not at all. To me.

          Normally it shouldn't make a difference, but when you consider, for example, the PC port of GTA IV ran rather badly due to poor optimisation and it's mouse/keyboard input scheme was dreadful. Now even thou it was the same game the platform you play it on made a huge difference in how you enjoyed it. As a critic you couldn't possibly predict on launch of a system that lazy devs would do a hatchet job of a port in the future so you can't mention it on review of the console it self. But it makes total sense to mention something like this on the review of the game.

          Call of Duty Ghosts is another example of a situation where the performance of the game needs to be mentioned in the review. It runs at a higher res on PS4 (1080p) but only 30/50 FPS due to a variety of issues where as the XB1 runs it at 720p but the full 60 FPS. As a gamer I want to know this and as a a consumer I would love to be told that "This one runs better, the other one looks better, it's a good game" as opposed to "It's a good game"

    Maybe I prefer using the Xbox One because I don't want my retinas burned by the graphics on the PS4.

      I just wear my sweet sweet Gunnar Optiks and my retinas are fine :-)

    I recently found in my closet one of them bootleg machines that looks like a ps1, loads cartridges like a snes, but actually only runs pirated NES games. 500 games in 1! although...really its just like 10, renamed 50 times each....

    Anyway, in relation to the actual article, the graphics suck in comparison, but the games are still---quite poor...uuuurrrghhh

    The minor (and they are minor, don't kid yourself) differences are pointless to argue over. Unless you are getting an XB1 "and" a PS4 "and" getting the same game on both of them, the chances of you being in a position to notice and have it actively impact your life (or your wallet) are non-existent. Sure there are differences but can we pretend that they will be anything but irrelevant in about a year from now when developers have harnessed the power of each respective console and patches have been released to fix this and that issue about some something or rather that is wrong with the console?
    You know what you should base your opinion on? Does it have the games you want to play on it? Anything more than that and you are jumping on the console war band wagon. For the record, I own a Wii U, an XB1 and I intend to buy a PS4 when Second Son comes out.
    We could argue how they have no games though, that right there is fair game, and incidentally it is the same issue that the Wii U is only now digging itself out of.

    *edit
    also I don't discount that the PS4 is the more powerful system on paper but it is not like the power jump between a PS2 and a PS3, it's merely splitting hairs.

    Last edited 24/01/14 1:23 pm

      If you owned neither at this point and were looking at buying one or the other wouldn't the fact that one consistently outperforms the other influence your decision somewhat?

        "I can't see the difference. Also, you're stupid."

      So you're saying an inferior and more expensive product is okay? Even when it doesn't meet the target mark of 1080p (a tv set capable of 1080p is pretty normal these day). So car X can only do 90kmph and costs $30K, yet car Y does the full 100kmph on our highways with ease and costs $25K?

      If we're comparing things on equal terms, the above statement is ridiculous. But, if you say "yeah but it has this game on it and my friends are on it", you're introducing outside variables that skew the balance and do not make for an equal comparison.

      Fact: the PS4 is better at playing cross-platform games right now (subject to change).

        I don't really think it could change unless they change the hardware in the Xbone.

        MS chose Kinect over better hardware. It will be interesting to see if it pays off for them.

          I think the same, too. Xbone has 10% GPU power automatically reserved for kinect, CPU cores locked away too, slower RAM, etc. The only saving grace is the ultra-fast eSRAM, if you think about it. IMO even this won't help, and its actually unrealistic to expect full optimisation of it.

          But, I'm happy to be proven wrong and have Xbone display all cross-platform games at the same quality as PS4. :) Consumers can only win from this.

          The GDDR5/DDR3 decision is also relevant here, in a sort of cascade of tradeoffs. MS seemingly figured that the global supply of GDDR5 would not be enough/too expensive to satisfy their requirements (this may be one factor in the supply chain difficulties with the PS4), and so went with DDR3. This led them to include the ESRAM on die to compensate. This blew out the size of the die, so they went conservative with the size of the GPU (the die of the Xbone SOC is actually larger than the PS4's, negating some though not all of the savings from cheaper DDR3).

        Rampant insistence of "MY CONSOLE IS BETTER" is EXACTLY why articles like the one this one is referencing get written. It's the incessant flamewars and staunch support saying "MY SYSTEM IS THE BEST AND THE OTHER SYSTEM IS TERRIBLE" that leads to gaming journalists going "quit the 1-uping and discuss the game".

        We had exactly the same issue at the start of the last console cycle with Sony fans going "Oh, the PS3's hardware is so much better", but developers were unable to use that hardware effectively. Yes, the PS4 has an edge ON PAPER, but as has been stated above, even the comparison of COD, you get 1080/30fps on PS4 and 720p/60fps on XBone.

        Please, take a moment to look at your behaviour... and stop it. Quit platform wars. Differences in resolution/framerate should be noted in game reviews, but they should NOT lead to pointless pissing contests about who has the bigger epeen. It's just moronic.

        For the record: I do not own a Xbone or PS4 - and I do not give a flying toss about which one people think is better. I'm just sick of Sony or MS fanbois keeping this pointless crap going. Just grow up.

        Last edited 24/01/14 5:51 pm

        Just to be sure, you're not implying that the Xbox One cannot do 1080p are you? There are multiple games on Xbox One that do perform at 1080p. Forza, Fifa and Ryse that I own do and so will Titan Fall, Thief and most of the ones coming out this year. Just clarifying that you know that because you made that comment about it not hitting the mark of 1080p and you're unequivocally wrong there.

    Here we go! inb4 giant shitstorm.

    First sentence on the post above beat me to it. I lose!

    Last edited 24/01/14 1:25 pm

    If one console is more powerful than the other there will never be parity unless MS are able to enforce it.

    I agree with this article, EVERYTHING should be discussed. If somebody isn’t putting minor graphical differences under the microscope, developers might start to get lazy. Games have come as far as they have because of this over-analysis.

    Would the Mona Lisa's beauty be diminished if you saw an A4 reprint opposed to the real thing?
    Would the raw power and grace of a beautiful orchestral piece be tarnished by only hearing it through the medium of a ringtone?
    Would a five star restaurant be ruined if it's food was made using off ingredients and served on paper plates?

    Yep.

      Horrible comparisons. By this logic all multiplatform games of last gen were ruined since the PC could play them all with higher graphical quality.
      the difference between ps4 and xbox games is small. Sure you can see the difference between 2 side by side pictures but if you play one and then the other your thoughts would be something like this "I guess the ps4 version was kind of clearer maybe"

        You misunderstand. I personally think the graphical differences do seem very minimal right now between the XB1 and PS4. I am commenting on Yannick LeJacq's attitude that people that play games would not and/or should not care for details that can make an impact on the way you enjoy a medium.

        P.S Last gen multi-plats were ruined by consoles towards the end of their stupidly long life time. GTA IV is by far the biggest example of one of PCs greatest titles ruined by a badly done port with a crap control scheme.

        And also I don't think systems like the last gen consoles ruined multi-plats on PC, I think the evolution of PC hardware showed how good a game could look, which ruined it on console for lots of gamers that use both universes. Everytime I play Battlefield 3 on my bottom end 2011 iMac I used to think, "Geez my computer can only play this on medium-high and get 50FPS, that's bad!". And then I'd look at my friends Xbox 360 and just laugh at how crap it was in comparison. Made even worse when considered I got my iMac for $1000 AU and Battlefield 3 for $15 on sale when his 24" 720p TV cost $250, the console was $400 and the game was $60. My "rig" was only $300 more expensive and had a better screen, better internal speakers, was thinner, more powerful, could do everything a computer could and comes with cheaper games :D

    There are still other things to consider though which are more personal preferences, like the controllers. The ps4 controller made my hands feel sore after extended play, same with the ps3 dual shock. My hands don't get sore using the 360 or xone controllers. There's the exclusives as well, I'm a fan of dead rising, forza, halo and gears of war. I will probably get a ps4 for the good exclusives much later in its life like I did with the ps3 for the last of us and the uncharted series, the god of war series has gone pretty stagnant and disappointed me though.

      I'm the opposite; the Xbox controller makes my left hand sore. I can see the value of having a controller like that though, it just hurts my hand after about half an hour.

        I still believe the 360 controller is the most comfortable for extended periods of gaming. The ps4 controller feels nice and in my opinion is a huge improvement over the ps3(1?) dualshock. But my fingers tend to slip off the thumbstick and the start button placement is stupid.
        On the other hand the xbone controller doesn't feel as comfortable but it never hurts my hands. My main gripe is the stupid bumper buttons.

    Have to disagree.

    Unless the "inferior" version of a game is inherently broken, this is all fanboy fodder and I'm pretty sure Jason knows that.

    This article is essentially his way of getting back in NeoGAF's good books.

      It is broken. It's a new generation meant to last at least 5 years, comes around after an 8year still-running generation, has a target demographic of 1080p since the majority of TVs are this resolution. It simply doesn't meet expectations and is not on-par with the competition.

        Are you seriously saying the Xbox One version of Tomb Raider is a broken unplayable game?

        Do you not understand what broken means? Broken basically means unplayable, that is not true at all. Not to mention that this is the START of a new generation, since when are consoles used to their max power at launch?

    LeJacq says: “Pitchfork saves its best critical faculties for discussing the artistry of music, not the technical details of sound systems and headphones."

    This analogy is flawed. In the world of music, the best analog to the technical discussion of games would not be sound systems and headphones, it would be the quality and style of the production. ( fidelity, use of effects like reverb and auto-tune, mic placement, EQ and other things determined by the producer, recordists and sound engineers)

    Would a music publication differentiate between a recording that sounded as if it was recorded in a bedroom, or on recorded in a multi-million dollar studio? I certainly hope so!

    Production values are important in the world of music, just as they are in the world of video games. LeJacq doesn't know what he's talking about.

    I play on 3 platforms! PC, PS4 and Xbox One!

    (Xbox One- 720p-Higher Textures, Crippled OS for now, Runs cooler)
    (I got for Halo and some select titles) (loads faster on Slow Internet)

    (PS4- 1080p-lower Textures, Stable. Fast and runs HOT)
    (I got for games like MGS5 and more) (Hangs at times on slow Internet)

    (PC- AnyRES!- More than just games, Cheaper to buy games,)

    So PS4 and Xbox One are basically the same! It is like DirectX Vs OpenGL
    So why bother fighting about it! Just use the one you love! :)

    The issue I find with this site is the bias slant of Kotaku. It feels that Kotaku is on the Sony payroll. As for the AC4 image, to me, the XB1 looks better than the PS4. They don't highlight the negatives of PS4, or only brush on it and try to make it an upside. Where with XB1, something small is blown out of proportion. Ugh, I'm over it.

    There's a difference between discussing something, and how MUCH we discuss it. The problem at the moment is that people are putting WAY too much emphasis on the technical aspects of games, and not enough on the quality of the aesthetic and experience of the game.

    It's when we starting shifting priorities about how we view and judge games that we'll see the industry start to really mature, and push forward the medium.

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