At time of writing, I’ve owned an HD console for around 8 months. During that time, I’ve played some astounding things, like Flower and Journey, and seen some real disappointments, like disappearing textures in L.A Noire or random freezes in Fallout: New Vegas. Point is, during none of that time did I ever think ‘Well this is certainly fantastic. Let’s take the resolution and multiply it by four again’. No, I did not. In this week’s incoherent rambling, I’ll be explaining why we should hold off on a resolution upgrade for at least a generation.
Let’s start with the big one shall we? There are only a handful of applications and graphics cards (and NO TVs) capable of the planned 2160p resolution the PS4 will supposedly be packing. When you do see that kind of resolution, it’s done by jury-rigging together multiple displays and hoping your GPU doesn’t melt. No TV broadcasts are currently displayed at anything higher than 1080p, and while cinema projectors commonly display at that resolution or higher, you’d need at least a triple-layer Blu-Ray disc (75GB) to cram anything approaching a full 2160p movie and commentary track into a player.
Now, it’s important to mention that all the same points were raised back at the turn of the generation, when HD was approaching and the Xbox 360 and PS3 were scrutinized for its potential usefulness. The difference there was that 1080p (and even 720p) was a significant leap forward from the adequate but lackluster 480i (and 576i for us Europeans!) display format we’d become so used to. There had been forays into the world of HD gaming with the Xbox (which was capable of 1080i resolution using component cables on some games) and PS2 (ditto, but on fewer games and with a terrible frame rate), but they’d never really taken off. It needed the right combination of technologies to come along at the same time – and that’s just what happened.
See, around 2005, the march towards digital-only TV began to get some attention, and people wanting to avoid the hassle of set-top boxes started looking for new ways to view their favourite programs. It just so happened that around that same time, HDTVs were dropping in price to the degree that they were actually affordable for a decent, if still small, number of people. It became a realistic prospect to have console games in HD – after all, PC games had been running in above-TV resolutions for years – consoles had just been prohibitively weak.
The effect seemed astounding at first. The PS3, halted at first by its stupidly high price point, clawed its way in front of a good number of TVs by virtue of, despite its relative price, still being the cheapest Blu-Ray player available. The Xbox, first into the race and wowing the public with Gears of War and the promise of Halo 3, took first place and made HD a firm fixture.
Six years on, there is no wave of new technology. A dribble of giant, expensive TVs launch this year boasting 2160p resolution, but there’s no synchronicity. People are still impressed by 1080p – for many, it’ll satisfy for years. Most games still aren’t available at that level, even after so many years as a standard. There’s no need to switch TVs because the switchover already happened, and to pretend anyone has a reason to want to go higher – other than to prove they can – is nonsense of the highest order.
There’s another reason too. Remember how most console games are only in 720p rather than 1080p? The console’s power isn’t the only reason for that. creating textures, models and engines that don’t fall apart at that resolution takes time, energy and manpower. In other words, it takes money. Back in 1999, Shenmue, the Dreamcast’s killer app and then the most expensive game of all time, took $47 million dollars to make.
In this article over on Digital Battle, the ten most expensive games ever made are listed. Eight of them are from the current generation. The reason? Graphics need artists, artists cost money. What will quadrupling resolution do except make it even more difficult for indie developers to break out with anything that isn’t a puzzle game or a point-and-click adventure?
I’m telling you now, if we go through with higher and higher resolutions, we’ll all be doomed. And our doom will be high-poly and bump mapped.
Over and out.