With the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One around the corner, and with performance tests of both Call of Duty: Ghosts and Battlefield 4 present and correct, the next generation console power debate is in full force - and there's an early frontrunner.
At the sharp end of comparisons between the PS4 and Xbox One are frame-rate and resolution, the two clearest indicators of next-gen game performance. We've already spoken with Call of Duty: Ghosts developer Infinity Ward to gain insight into the challenge the studio faced creating a cross-platform next-gen launch title - and its response to what has been dubbed "Xbox One Resolutiongate". At an Xbox One preview event yesterday, Eurogamer spoke with other developers working on Xbox One launch titles to get their thoughts on the Xbox One power debate and how it relates to their games. Read on for interviews with Ryse developer Crytek, Dead Rising 3 developer Capcom Vancouver, Forza 5 developer Turn 10 and Kinect Sports Rivals developer Rare.
Dead Rising 3: 720p/30fps
Josh Bridge, executive producer, Capcom Vancouver
Dead Rising 3 has suffered high-profile performance issues since E3. How have you improved the game in the months since?
Josh Bridge: Well, first I'm really proud to say we were running on hardware at E3. We had the kits there and we were running it behind closed doors for press. I was really proud, and I had no shame in saying this is where we're at - this is preview code. Ever since then, and it was happening during that time, content needs to be completed, and then optimisation is the focus. And that's what happened - you've seen it through E3, through Gamescom, through now - the frame-rate's been going up and up. And now we're at locked 30 - and that's just been purely the effort of all aspects of the team, the engineering team and our team all trying to optimise. And that's always what happens as the last step of the development of a product.
"The Xbox One hardware hasn't really changed. The evolution has been on the software, and the core drivers that drive that hardware."
Josh Bridge, executive producer, Capcom Vancouver
How much has changed with the Xbox One hardware during development?
Josh Bridge: Apart from the clockspeed boost that was announced was after E3 - no the hardware hasn't really changed. The evolution has been on the software, and the core drivers that drive that hardware, and that's where a lot of the communication goes back and forth on iterating and improving to make our game more efficient on new tools they give us, or areas we see maybe we can have some help where they can do certain things on their software level.
What native resolution is Dead Rising 3?
Josh Bridge: 720p. And I'm really happy with that, with the sheer amount of stuff we have in an open world game locked at 30fps, that's just brilliant. Of course our UI (user interface) runs at 1080 native on top, but no, we're a 720p game locked at 30fps.
Did you ever want 1080p native?
Josh Bridge: It was not really something we actually set as a mantra. When we first started there was no platform, it was PC and we were just targeting next-gen, and 1080, even before then we thought it'd be prohibitive to even consider that, because essentially you have to do everything twice, which is just massive when you think of it. It's more important that the end image looks awesome - look at how much stuff is on screen, that's always been a Dead Rising sort of brand. That still looks really good, and that's been our goal. I hope it shows - just look at how much insane stuff is going on screen.
How hard has it been getting to 720/30 on Xbox One?
Josh Bridge: It's been... Outside of infancy - every new platform launch, I've now learnt - it's always infancy on tools, and that's the back and forth with tools improving. It's very similar to a PC development environment, so that's been really cool. Happy to not be cross-platform, to be honest - it's a huge challenge for a game like ours. We have to do very specific things with memory allocation and drivers to get our stuff running, and in the past it was like wow, it made our teams quite a bit larger having multiple leads.
I feel sorry for the cross-gen devs!
Josh Bridge: Oh yeah. We couldn't have done this on last-gen. Absolutely not. We tried, believe me we tried to figure out not to have load screens, but we couldn't. There's no way we could stream the amount of content fast enough. It hit a load screen every time.
So where else is that next-gen difference? What else is there you couldn't have done last time out?
Josh Bridge: Well, it's scale. The load screens isn't a bullet point that any gamers are going to be like 'sweet! No load screens!' It's the scale, and the world size - Dead Rising 1 and 2 fit into 3 several times. It's also the depth - where before we'd tell artists not to go there because we don't have the memory or resources, now we're like please go there. Go into that detail. For the designers, it's like can you make the weapon system more interesting and deep. It's the depth and breadth that we've been able to blow out that's just been huge for us.
"You don't happen your way into 1080p, it doesn't matter how much power you have. You plan it from the beginning."
Dan Greenawalt, creative director, Turn 10
Forza Motorsport 5: 1080p/60fps
Dan Greenawalt, creative director, Turn 10
What challenges did you face getting the game running at 1080p and 60fps?
Dan Greenawalt: You don't happen your way into 1080p, it doesn't matter how much power you have. You plan it from the beginning. And 60fps is even harder - it has to be in the culture of your team that every little aspect of content, the code, everything has to be developed that way. You start off with that plan and you build that plan.
We have a bespoke engine that was made for this console. Since it was made for this console, and we started off with that plan it wasn't difficult at all to hit those specs. It's an incredibly powerful console, but it uses DX11 - there's other ways of putting that together, and if we weren't making a bespoke engine it would be more difficult to make it look like this. The moment you make something that is custom made you can trick the hardware into doing whatever you want. We have more control because we're talking directly to it.
How's it been working with the Xbox One, and what can we expect in the future?
Dan Greenawalt: The big thing that's going to happen over the coming years, we're using the cloud for Drivatar - it's asynchronous use of the cloud. Someone may figure out a good synchronous way to use it. You can't count on someone having great bandwidth, but someone's going to think of a way to use it asynchronously that's going to take some of the synchronous work out, and I've got a couple of ideas myself I'm going to hold in my back pocket for a little while. That's going to offload some power. I think the real gains are going to come from people realising how better to trick it.
"The difference between 900 and 1080 it's like... when some of the best rendering programmers in the world, when we sit down and look at the difference and they're like, no, 900 is fine, the difference is infinitesimal that you're not going to really recognise it."
P J Esteves, design director, Crytek
Ryse: Son of Rome: 900p/30fps
P J Esteves, design director, Crytek
Some people were disappointed to learn Ryse outputs at a native 900p resolution. What's your take on the Xbox One power debate?
P J Esteves: When people debated the 900 versus 1080 resolution for Ryse, it's like, well, we've run the game at 1080 at 30 frames per second on Xbox One, but that's not what matters the most to us. What matters the most to us is the art and the quality of the work we're doing.
Every game will have its own cross to bear as far as what it wants to trade off. Whenever you're working with any platform, whether it be an iPad or high-end PC, there will always be trade-offs. You can never do every single thing you want to do at the highest quality resolution. I'm sure, if we were making a high-end PC game, it would be like, well, not every PC can run 4K, and we'd be like, well we're doing 4K! It's all relative. At the end of the day it comes down to the game you're making.
Very early on we said, Ryse is going to be a gorgeous next-gen title. We want a deep combat system. And we want to tell a great story. That's where we hedged our bets. Cevat [Yerli, Crytek boss] has released statements saying, well, even on the PS4, it doesn't really matter. We would make the same decisions.
The difference between 900 and 1080 it's like... when some of the best rendering programmers in the world, when we sit down and look at the difference and they're like, no, 900 is fine, the difference is infinitesimal that you're not going to really recognise it.
And then you look at the two and you go, well, what do we get for 900? Well PJ, you have 10 more AI on the screen. Sold! To a lot of people it might seem like an oversimplification, but it's the absolute truth. What's the best for your game? Games like a shooter, running at 60 frames per second would be important to me because you really want that twitch response. So if people choose a lower res and a higher frame-rate, then as long as the game is good and it looks beautiful for what they're doing or what they want to hit, then that's fine.
So much of it is actually just the quality of art as well. When you look at Ryse, the thing a lot of people forget is the technology is there to serve a purpose for the art. Some of the artwork we have is absolutely gorgeous. A lot of it to me doesn't even seem like video game art any more. It's just really beautiful stuff. You could take a lot of the sculptures and print them out in 3D and go, wow, that's a nice sculpture. Put it in a park or something.
"If I can do 10,000 AI, and I use the cloud to compute the processing power, then you bet your ass you're going to have a battle with 10,000 AI in it."
People just get really caught up because that's what some people want to talk about, because I don't think they have enough games to really sink their teeth into to figure out what that really means. But Crysis 2 was running at 720 and that game was beautiful on Xbox 360 for that time. Crysis 3 as well. Go figure.
I guarantee you, if you take a high-end PC running a game and you look at the graphics comparison between that and Ryse, you're going to go, wow, they both look really good! It's about the art. It's a lot less to do with the actual specs and more to do with what you do with those specs.
I've been telling people, guys, this is just the first game. If we can do this on the first game, can you imagine the second generation, once we really start wrapping our head around what the cloud can do? I joke, dude, if I can do 10,000 AI, and I use the cloud to compute the processing power, then you bet your ass you're going to have a battle with 10,000 AI in it, because that's what we want to do.
You're saying that, but do you think that's a reality? Is that genuinely possible on Xbox One, to do 10,000 AI?
P J Esteves: Technically it's possible. It is possible. You could do it. It makes total sense. You have a bunch of really high-end PCs on the cloud computing stuff. It's just a matter of having the right engine and renderer to actually pull it off.
P J Esteves: I'm not saying anything about that. I don't know how far off anyone would be to really doing that, but look at how long this console generation lasted. If you just look at five years out, there will be a phase where there will be this massive jump and people will be like, wow, you're not rendering in the cloud? Why would you do that? So, it is coming. The reason it's coming is because it's already being used, like that kind of computational power. Anyone who works at a game developer, they have these renderers that use a little bit of everyone's processing power on all their PCs. That's just how render farms work. So, why wouldn't it work on a console?
That's what I'm the most excited about. I play Ryse and go, yeah, this looks pretty good for a first title. Let's see what we can do next time around?
"It's almost meaningless after a while. You get to a certain resolution where it doesn't make any difference if I add more pixels. The human eye can't pick it up."
Danny Isaac, executive producer, Rare
Kinect Sports Rivals: 1080p/30fps
Danny Isaac, executive producer, Rare
Rare has worked on an Xbox One launch title as the Xbox One has been created. What's your take on the power debate?
Danny Isaac: Xbox One is really an amalgamation of a number of things. You have great graphical fidelity and power, but then we've got the sensor. We have a great controller. We have SmartGlass, and we have services such as Xbox Live. To me, that's really what next-gen's about, now.
When I was younger and buying consoles, the Commodore 64 and Amiga, it was always about how many polygons it can push and how much power does it have? People still find that important. They still want to see something they haven't seen before graphically. But next-gen is a much bigger experience than that now.
People will always look at numbers. Even today, the latest iPad has come out, and everyone's like, well, what's the resolution? Apple did that Retina display and moved it away from numbers because after a while they found you just can't compete there. It's almost meaningless after a while. You get to a certain resolution where it doesn't make any difference if I add more pixels. The human eye can't pick it up. You start chasing something that - I wouldn't say it's not important - but it's only a piece. It's a slither of the story.
Of course, the most important thing for the next-gen titles is to look better than current-gen, right? Otherwise, what's the point? Look at the titles we have and there's a clear differentiation over where we were previously. But you've got to look at the whole ecosystem. Xbox Live is massive for us. The seamless multiplayer. The amount of apps you can download. The integration with television. The controller. The Kinect. SmartGlass. You've got to look at the whole ecosystem, the whole picture and then take away what that experience will be.
You're always going to have those who want to say, 'this one's running a frame faster', or, 'this one's running at a slightly higher resolution'. But ultimately it's about, can I get my entertainment when I want in the way I want and it caters to me from a convenience perspective? With Xbox One we've got a levers we can pull in that regard above our competition.
What is the native resolution of Kinect Sports Rivals?
Danny Isaac: 1080p.
So Rare can say it doesn't have a problem with resolution.
Danny Isaac: We actually started at 720p and we didn't think we had a problem there. The world still looked lush. The water looked fantastic. We went up to 960 and it got a bit crisper, and I remember looking at it going, 'actually, yeah, that's a big improvement.'
When we went up from 960 to 1080 I was like, well, do you know what? From an actual living room perspective, we couldn't really tell the difference.
"To get the speed of the product working without slowdown will trump a higher resolution for most games."
How were you able to improve the native resolution during development?
Danny Isaac: The box was getting faster and faster. The software was getting faster and faster. So we went up. But we made a decision over a year ago that if we had to stay at 720 to get the frame-rate we wanted and the fidelity we wanted - ultimately for us, and I think a lot of titles - to get the speed of the product working without slowdown will trump a higher resolution for most games.
So as a developer you think frame-rate is more important than resolution?
Danny Isaac: Yeah. I've done a lot of games, and if you lose control or you don't get the speed you want, or that responsiveness isn't there on the button press or in the sensor because you've got slowdown, then that ultimately will ruin the experience. Once you've gone past - well, does it look great? - you don't want anything to get in the way of what your brain is telling you to do down to your hands and to what's actually going on screen.
What frame-rate does Kinect Sports Rivals run at?
Danny Isaac: 30 frames, 1080p native. We were always aiming at 30. When we were at 720, we thought, well, that was because we wanted to keep 30 30. We didn't want it to dip. Once you dip below a frame it halves the frame rate, so you go down to 15. We really wanted to combat that lag Kinect had before. So we thought, okay, well, let's stay at 720. But the guys in Redmond did a great job getting the box more and more powerful, which allowed us to just gradually go up and up.
But ultimately, that's a piece of the puzzle. We wouldn't be having a great experience, or people liking us as much if we were at 1080 and 30 frames but still lagging and it didn't feel good, or the world didn't look great, or the water was just a pretty thing that didn't actually affect the way you play. This all needs to come together.
And then with the hub, the cloud services and Live, it creates this cool, engaging package.
Did you at any point have the game running at 60 frames per second, which would obviously be the ideal?
Danny Isaac: We didn't. There's a natural body lag. If you think about the distance you have to press a button or move a joypad, it's actually tiny, compared to the steering wheel in your car, for example. Your full lock on a joypad is a fraction of an inch. Your full lock in your car is a lot. So in the real world there's a lot more travel.
If I'm trying to drive the wake racer to go left or right, I can only move my hands so fast, and it's a lot less than my controller. So 30 frames is actually a sweet point for us.
Additional reporting by Martin Robinson.