It began with Call of Duty: Ghosts, and it continues to ramp up in “severity,” a word I’m using ironically, as we get closer to the launch of next-generation consoles. Basically, some games, or as we’re learning, most games, won’t be hitting the 1080p resolution that gamers have come to expect on the Xbox One. We know for certain that CoD will hit a “paltry,” and again, I’m being ironic, 720p. Ryse, made by Crytek, which is particularly known for stunning graphics, will only run at 900p. Both these games gave up the 1080p in favor of a frame rate of 60FPS.
Now, depending on the size of your television, the difference will be anywhere from invisible to barely discernible. I also don’t think the news will overwhelmingly affect sales, as people have already picked their brands, and those who haven’t are more likely to be swayed by exclusives. Still, I can’t help but be unnerved by what is being called “Resolutiongate.” A term, I fear, people aren’t even using ironically. To a lot of people, it’s apparently a pretty big deal, and worth spending hours in forums debating.
The whole thing has a tinge of familiarity to me, and that’s what is particularly unsettling. Sure, it’s probably an issue of developers figuring out how to optimize for the console; the same thing happened back in the PS3 days. Multiplatform games aren’t always made exactly equal. I accept that, and so should you.
What we shouldn’t accept is Microsoft’s flippant attitude about the situation.
You see, back at the dawn of the current generation of platforms, everyone knew that the PS3 had a more impressive infrastructure. The high-quality hardware was also reflected in the price, and caused a lot of people to hold off on purchasing the platform. But the 360 sold, and sold rapidly. Whether or not it was a reflection of a larger install base, or purely a reflection of PS3’s complexity, I’m not certain, but factually, multiplatform games often looked better on the 360. Developers simply put out games on the PS3 that weren’t in “true” HD and were, quite often, “sub” HD. This trend continued for a long while afterwards.
Microsoft latched on to this fact. Going into the 2009 holiday season, Chris Lewis, European executive for Microsoft, stated that multiplatform titles “just work better” on the 360. Normally, in a medium highly based in subjectivity, it’s hard to make such a claim. It’s plain to see that he was referring to the difference in resolution between games.
“We have a great journey through to Christmas," he said. "There are key titles that are exclusives but also great cross-platform titles that will just work better on Xbox Live.
Eventually, developers became familiar with the hardware, and optimization became easy. Multiplatform titles were nearly identical.
But in the year 2013, Microsoft has started singing a different tune. 5 months ago, during E3, the damage control started. Microsoft Studios’ Vice President, Phil Spencer, said in an interview, “Some of the most beautiful games of this generation are not dictated by how many pixels they're pushing to the screen. Motion blur, antialiasing, lighting: all of these things come into play. We just give developers the tools and let them make the right creative decisions.”
Philosophically, I agree with Phil. But why the change of heart? What was once a selling point has somehow become something to sweep under the rug.
Confronted with questions regarding the recent wave of non-1080p games, he strengthened his position.
"If people want to get hung up on the numbers, they can do that, but really, what they should be looking at is what's on screen, with the controller in their hands, and play[ing] the game. Games should be defined by more than their framerate and resolution,” he said, speaking to Revision 3.
This is the same Phil Spencer that mocked Nintendo for building a system that has the graphical capabilities of an Xbox 360 for the next-generation.
Couple the role-reversal with the recent news story asserting that Microsoft used PS4 footage to promote multiplatform games, and it’s becoming harder to trust them. And trust is important if I’m going to be dropping all this money on a new console. I may not care, overall, about the graphical fidelity of the games. But I want to be able to trust that the hardware is sound, that the console won’t be prone to overheating like the early Xbox 360 models. I want to be able to trust Microsoft as a reliable company who will provide me a reliable product, even as it endeavors to extract money from my wallet.
It’s not as if I don’t get it. This is business after all, so naturally, the corporate executives will speak like politicians, erring on the side of convenience over honesty. 1080p may not be absolutely important, but if it was a vital selling point however many years ago, don’t try to tell us now that it’s not.