If there’s one thing that’s annoying about the constant conversations about framerate and resolution, or more accurately, the conversations about the conversations about framerate and resolution, it’s that most people don’t seem to understand what either of these two things really do. Not just on the side annoyed at people demanding a higher standard, I’ve seen enough people defend their desire to have a higher framerate and resolution who had no clue what they were talking about. There’s various reasons why you should or should not care, but there’s two things you should take into account before speaking on the subject.
- It’s not just about graphics
- It’s okay for people to care or not care about things you do care or don’t care about.
Let’s explore the first point a bit more in-depth before continuing on to the second one.
First off, the human eye can see more than 30fps. In fact, it can see a lot more than just 30fps. The entire reason we’ve stuck to a framerate close to 30fps for a long time is because of cost efficiency and technological limitations. That’s also why lower framerates in games are often considered “cinematic”, because it’s subconsciously associated with an industry standard set to the lowest it could get away with. One aspect they forget is that while using that lower framerate, movies tend to incorporate a lot of motion blur to create the illusion of a third frame between every two to make the transition between them smoother.
But that’s not even the most important use for framerate in videogames. A lot of people rallying against framerate or consider it unimportant like to make you think that it’s all unimportant graphical drivel, when the framerate directly ties into the gameplay and game’s structure itself. Even if you, the player, cannot tell the difference between different framerates, it actively effects a lot of elements of game design and play in the background, and there are just as many ways to prove this.
The most important thing to realize is that every frame is a moment in which the game itself updates its entire state. We understand that reality is a constant and that everything typically has immediate consequences, but it doesn’t work that way for a game. Being a digital simulation processed by many different factors, it has to calculate the game’s state depending on the various outcomes of RNG, input from AI, and player input. Every frame is a moment in which this data is updated and brought to the player. This also means that every new frame the game will seek changes in player input. The slower the rate at which the game refreshes its state, the larger the delay between the player’s input and the game responding to it. Considering how much of the player input happens at an instinctive level without much thought applied at the direct buttons pressed themselves, it’s not hard to see how this still influences your playstyle, even if just subconsciously.
Not convinced? Grab a good emulator (I accidentally did this with a Visual Boy Advance download that was already configured, wrongly so) and run a fast-paced game (in my case Battle Network 2, which became unplayable), preferably a precision platformer, and play through a couple of levels normally. Now restart the game and set the frameskip to 2 (mine was set to 5!!!), which is about the same gap as the one between 30fps and 60fps. If your emulator doesn’t tie in overal game speed with frameskip (if the entire speed of the game speeds up, it means the emulator does), you are now playing the game at half the framerate. Feels awkward, doesn’t it? The game itself moves at the regular speed, but the controls feel sluggish and the animations are visibly stuttering. You should now have a decent idea of what framerate is and does.
One of the main reasons a lot of people respond negatively to news about lower framerates is because a lot of games with lower framerates are often badly optimized. Especially when they are locked at a certain fps on the PC version. There’s actually several reasons for this, that actually become more understandable once you look at how a large number of games are made.
The most understandable way to explain this is through something that quite a lot of us have had experience messing around with. RPG Maker. We all know it’s a very limited tool for game development that comes with a large set of problems, but is still fun to mess around with because it’s simple to understand and gives people a good, although simplified, understanding of game design that otherwise would’ve been unavailable to them. Speaking from experience, despite all the problems it has, I love messing with RPG Maker.
For anyone not familiar with how RPG Maker works, that is a cropped screenshot of an Event page, which is the bread and butter of RPG Maker. Just about anything you see playing games made in this engine is created with pages like it. The “Wait” window on the right is for the orange @>Wait: 120 frame(s) command on the page. This is how you generally time things instead of just having them happen immediately. Notice how instead of seconds, milliseconds, or any actual measurement of time, the engine asks you how many frames it should wait. This ties the event directly to the framerate, meaning games made within RPG Maker cannot be set to other framerates other than the native one.
So why is that a bad thing? Because for one, if everything is tied to the framerate rather than a real sense of time, these things can fuck up since the entire concept of time passing becomes relative to the internal game structure itself, rather than an actual sense of time. Luckily, RPG Maker is set to a reasonable framerate, so it’s not too big a disaster, but do take note of the fact that the higher framerate also means that you can also be a lot more precise in terms of how to time things.
What sets gaming on a PC apart from a console is that they aren’t uniformly built to deliver the same experience, so not everyone can run the same games at the same settings. A very large part of this directly ties into the preferences of the people who built their own computer, or even purchased a specific pre-made model. Because of this, a uniform fps for everyone is bad news for anyone who spent money to customize their experience specifically for it.
And now that we know that a lot of forms of inefficient coding tie events and timers to the framerate, we also start to see why they some of them really don’t like the idea of letting people decide what standard they want on a system that is entirely made popular through the choice to customize your experience however you want. Still don’t believe me? look at what changing the PC version of Dark Souls to 60fps did. It doubled durability loss and halved invincibility frames while rolling.
One of the most important aspects of a higher framerate is that it reduces input lag. Even if you’re just a console gamer who wasn’t even aware of the framerate disparity until the last few years, if you’re playing online shooters, this is actually something you should be aware of. In fact, if you play anything online, chances are you already realize that anything that helps reduce lag is a good thing. Higher framerate does just that.
So should everything be 60fps then? No, that’s actually a really silly notion too. Slower, story-driven games are fine at a lower framerate. Although 30fps is the lowest I’d consider acceptable. The thing a lot of people don’t realize is that 60fps isn’t even really all that high. It’s been the standard on PC for years now, with 120fps being the higher number. To drag it down now because developers cannot optimize their games, or likely more accurate, publishers don’t give them the time to, is absurd. Especially when you consider that they were the ones who pushed people into better hardware with promises of a higher standard at the start of the previous generation. Somehow they don’t understand why people have the expectations they gave them because they no longer deliver on them.
Resolution is something I’m not particularly too into. Especially with most of the current games now, the difference between 720p and 1080p isn’t as big as the one last generational leap. If we could only have one or the other, 60fps or 1080p, I’d opt for 60fps every time. Maybe when games have advance further a bit more, they’ll benefit from a higher standard in resolution, but right now it’s downright negligible. My personal views would likely be very different if I cared more about modern shooters on the PC though.
Also, if you’re one of those anime nerds who downloaded 1080p anime and said you couldn’t tell the difference, it’s because anime actually airs at 720p and you watched a badly upscaled rip. This happens a lot more than you’d think, even for movies, TV shows, and official releases.
That said, if you do care about resolution? That’s totally fine with me. Don’t care about framerate because you’re only opting in on one system and thus won’t even have a choice and would rather not bother? Absolutely fine. Don’t care about either and want people to shut up about something they’re passionate about and put down a substantial amount of money for? Not cool.
That is the most important thing. Respect the fact that people care enough about something to actually get heated up about it. Especially when you’re looking forward to something, some of the statements coming out from developers about why they’re not optimizing their games are so full of bullshit, it’s nearly impossible to not feel disheartened by them. Statements like “but Ocarina of Time was 20p and it was fine back then!” don’t help us either. People were fine with the standards of the Atari 2600 back when that system was current, releasing something like that as a consumer product within the price range of modern systems would get you laughed out of the industry.
What’s especially weird about all of this, is that while all of this talk is happening about systems not being powerful enough to produce the desired graphical results, the weakest main system of this generation is actually producing some of the most gorgeous games at a stable framerate despite technical limitations. Showing it’s really just all about proper optimization and good design, and much less about brute technical horsepower.