60 frames or not 60 frames? When it comes to military first-person shooters, that is the question.
Call of Duty and Battlefield - the top two games in the genre - are rivals at the till, but they're also rivals when it comes to the number of frames that glisten from your television every second. And in this regard, we have two very different philosophies.
For Battlefield, Swedish developer DICE targets 30 frames per second on console. For Call of Duty, Treyarch and Infinity Ward have are locked at 60 frames per second. Most would agree that the higher the frame rate the better the experience, but, as with much of game development, working out which is best is about more than numbers.
"It's a choice you make," DICE executive producer Patrick Bach told Eurogamer. "What is the experience you want to create? Is it more important that it's 60 than you have all this other stuff? And how many players do you need to create that experience? Some games are 60 with fewer players and no destruction and a static world and no vehicles. Other games are the opposite. In the end, everything is a compromise. You can't make a game that does everything always. It's more about, what is the game you want to create? What is more important for you?"
Bach is, of course, referring to Battlefield's trademark destruction, huge maps and high player count. It is what sets the series apart from chief rival Call of Duty, and is what's most loved by its loyal fans. In fact, so treasured is Battlefield's wide open spaces and vehicular carnage that many fans slammed the Close Quarters Battlefield 3 add-on for being too much like Call of Duty.
Some people complain because it's a number, and you can compare numbers. And then there are a few people who complain because they say it's a worse experience. That group has their needs and their urges, and then you have the other group that says, you know what? I'd rather have destruction, vehicles, graphics and audio because it's fun.DICE executive producer Patrick Bach
On PC, of course, frame rates are limited only by the power of the hardware. But running at 30 frames per second is unavoidable on console, according to DICE.
"On console we have to make some compromises," Bach said. "We love our vehicles and we love our destruction and we love the pretty graphics and the awesome sound. We think 30 is pretty decent.
"Some people complain because it's a number, and you can compare numbers. And then there are a few people who complain because they say it's a worse experience. That group has their needs and their urges, and then you have the other group that says, you know what? I'd rather have destruction, vehicles, graphics, audio because it's fun. So, it's a compromise."
On the flip side of the coin is Call of Duty, which speeds along on console at 60 frames per second. But then, Call of Duty's maps aren't as big as Battlefield's, and don't house as many players, and the level of destruction is not as comprehensive.
For Treyarch game design director David Vonderhaar, currently working hard to get Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, out the door, the decision to go with a high frame rate is the result of one thing: latency.
"We think 60 frames is super essential," he told us. "Any time you have any kind of input latency at all, players can feel that. I'm pretty convinced Call of Duty is as popular as it is because of how fluid it can feel.
"You can feel the difference, and we go to a lot of trouble to try to keep the game running at 60 frames all the time."
As we approach the end of the lifecycle of the current generation of consoles, thoughts turn to the next Xbox and the PlayStation 4, expected at some point next year. Will developers be able to get games running at 60 frames per second on the next generation while, hopefully, improving destruction, player numbers and all the rest of it?
"Maybe," Bach said. DICE, which is working on Battlefield 4 - possibly as a cross-generation title - won't be drawn in detail on the future. But what it does know is that the current generation of consoles is incapable of running the Battlefield 3 experience in 60 frames.
"No, I think it's impossible," Bach said. "You have to do compromises somewhere. Then the discussion should be, where would you be willing to compromise? You can't do exactly what we're doing in 60, because then we would have done that or someone else would have done what we're doing in 60. But you don't see that."
For Vonderhaar, whatever the future brings, Call of Duty will remain a 60 frames per second game. "It's no doubt a super challenge," he said. "It's always a challenge. It's always a series of compromises between 60 frames and whatever else. But it's in our blood. You're playing some games that look pretty stunning. So it's possible, it's just complicated and takes time and is difficult, but that's what we do here."
We think 60 frames is super essential. Any time you have any kind of input latency at all, players can feel that. I'm pretty convinced Call of Duty is as popular as it is because of how fluid it can feel.Treyarch game design director David Vonderhaar
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