More powerful gaming consoles have historically been a good thing. That might seem like an incredibly obvious statement, but it’s worth pointing out that many of most revolutionary games of all-time earned that status because they were released on a console that could just so happen to handle the developer’s vision for the game.
Yes, marketing teams love to tell you about how the latest piece of hardware will change the way that video games are made, but there has usually been some truth to that statement. If it weren’t for the power of the N64, Nintendo couldn’t have made Mario 64‘s 3D worlds. If it weren’t for the PlayStation 2 processing punch, Grand Theft Auto III couldn’t have birthed the modern sandbox genre.
At the moment, some console manufacturers want you to believe that 4K gaming will allow developers to achieve things we’ve never even dreamed of. That’s an exaggeration, but there’s also some truth to it. The problem is that the benefits of 4K will never be realized until someone solves gaming’s frames per second problem.
FPS simply refers to the frequency at which images can be rendered and animated. It’s something that many gamers never really even thought of until around the PlayStation/N64 era when 3D technology allowed games to more closely resemble films. Suddenly, a game’s frame rate could affect both the performance of the game and the performance of the player.
Actually, FPS isn’t even something the average gamer thinks about today until there is an obvious problem with a game’s framerate. When frame rates dip below the 30 FPS mark – or otherwise vary wildly – it causes a disorienting sensation that can render a game unplayable to some.
While it’s obvious when you have a frame rate problem during a game, it’s less obvious to many that the entire game industry is suffering through a large-scale frame rate issue.
Just as your playthrough of a game suffers from a lack of consistency, the video game industry is suffering from a lack of consistency in terms of finding an acceptable average frame rate. This has led to many developers using tools like motion blur to convey a certain frame rate or otherwise locking a game’s frame rate in order ensure it can neither rise or dip.
However, the real problem can be traced back to the extreme variances in platform power. Designing a game to take advantage of the power of a platform like the Xbox One X while also ensuring that game can run on a device like the Nintendo Switch is a tall task.
It’s an issue that is hindering the progress of 4K gaming devices. Simply put, 4K resolutions on their own can only achieve so much if the game you’re viewing isn’t designed to achieve and maintain an optimal frame rate.
While this shouldn’t be an issue by itself, the fact that so few console games are designed to specifically take advantage of the most powerful devices on the market – all PS4 Pro/Xbox One X games are designed to work on less powerful consoles – means that it’s difficult for developers to fully explore how beneficial new console hardware can be.
The full benefits of 60 FPS – or higher – gameplay may have become something of a running joke, but we shouldn’t even be having a debate about frames per second in this day and age. The fact we are speaks to how much work there is to be done on that front before true progress can be made.