Ubisoft Deliberately Downgrades Assassin’s Creed Unity’s Graphics on PS4
Poor PS4, it may not be best in class when it comes to gaming hardware, but it does not deserve to be stuck back in the remedial class eating crayons with the Xbox One. Yes, that is right, the PS4’s workload is being deliberately pegged down and hobbled to that of Microsoft’s chugging class dunce-machine, on account of Ubisoft’s desire to not hurt the Xbone’s feels. While some might argue that not all platforms are created equal, and that superior machines should have their capabilities fully [or at least somewhat] leveraged, Ubisoft instead believes that it is best to dumb down the curriculum in order to coddle the lowest achiever on the bellcurve.
This week Assassin’s Creed Unity‘s senior producer, Vincent Pontbriand, blithely mentioned to Videogamer.com that the team had decided to lock the PS4 version of Assassin’s Creed Unity to 900p, on account of their desire to avoid the usual discussions which take place whenever a PS4 game is released at a higher resolution than its Xbone counterpart – which is like every other week, on account of the PS4’s GPU being much larger than the one found in the Xbone.
“We decided to lock them at the same specs to avoid all the debates and stuff.”
Well, congratulations to Ubisoft for avoiding all of the usual conversations at launch by creating a firestorm for themselves in the here and now. Just how did the frogs think it would go when disclosing to the userbase of this generation’s most popular [and powerful] console that their version of a game was being deliberately hobbled so that a weaker piece of hardware could keep pace? It is likely that we will never know, but one can only imagine that the decision to convey this information was the act of a producer gone rogue, rather than a calculated maneuver on the part of Ubisoft, as these do not seem to be the actions of a self-interested thinking entity. That being said, speculation has already begun as to whether Ubisoft may have had ulterior motives for this decision. The most common line of reasoning is the obvious one: that Microsoft has paid Ubisoft off in order to force parity. Another idea that has been floated is that Ubisoft are deliberately courting controversy in order to raise the profile of a series that people have begun to grow tired of, and that closer to release they may announce a day one 1080p patch for the PS4. Either way, it is quite difficult to see what Ubisoft would stand to gain by messing about the users of the most popular console on the market, especially with the recent success of Shadows of Mordor, which is regarded by many as a tangible evolution of the Assassin’s Creed formula.
From this point it would have been quite difficult to conceive of a way for Ubisoft to create a greater breaking of faith with their PS4 audience, yet incredibly they actually managed to one-up themselves in their condescending response to PS4 owners, which sought to gormlessly deny what had been spoken by Vincent Pontbriand in plain English, and to lie about Ubisoft’s reasons for locking the game at 900p. According to Ubisoft’s hasty damage control Pontbriand was misinterpreted:
“We understand how Senior Producer Vincent Pontbriand’s quotes have been misinterpreted. To set the record straight, we did not lower the specs for Assassin’s Creed Unity to account for any one system over the other.”
Meanwhile on Ubiblog, Ubisoft’s official game developer blog, Ubisoft senior communications manager, Gary Steinman, suggested that both consoles were CPU bound, and that it was the PS4’s weak CPU that had forced the team to lock the game at 900p:
“The beauty of the setting, along with the volume of NPCs, the size of the city and the number of overlapping systems combine to make this a truly next-gen game – and one that takes full advantage of what the newest consoles offer. Which, of course, had some gamers wondering: If this is a truly new-gen game, why not deliver it in full 1080p on both consoles?
The answer is both simple and complex. Assassin’s Creed Unity is pushing the new-gen systems more than any other Ubisoft game has ever done. A quick look at the visuals – the city itself, the crowds, Arno in motion – will show how beautiful and how “next-gen” the game truly is.
The more complex answer? A game’s final resolution isn’t set until late in the development cycle. This is notable because the team has dedicated much of the past few months to optimizing Unity to reach 900p with a consistent 30 frames per second. Considering the sheer number of pixels that are being moved around at all times – which affects both the CPU and GPU – that’s a significant achievement, especially as Assassin’s Creed Unity will release when the new-gen consoles are barely more than a year old. (As with all hardware, it becomes easier to optimize with more experience and software/middleware solutions that only come with time.)
But we made the right decision to focus our resources on delivering the best gameplay experience, and resolution is just one factor. There is a real cost to all those NPCs, to all the details in the city, to all the systems working together, and to the seamless co-op gameplay. We wanted to be absolutely uncompromising when it comes to the overall gameplay experience. Those additional pixels could only come at a cost to the gameplay.”
Right. So essentially processing the game’s systems such as AI and physics proved too much of a burden on the PS4’s CPU for the game to run at 1080p, why? This reasoning is essentially gibberish. Resolution is not at all bound by a system’s CPU, so if a game’s framerate is stuttering because of heavy load of AI and physics calculations on the CPU, then game performance is unlikely to be altered irrespective of whether it is run at 720p, 900p, or 1080p provided that the console has a GPU capable of easily supporting these resolutions. The ability to display at 1080p resolution is essentially governed by two factors; the console possessing enough memory bandwidth to stream game assets while containing a 1080p framebuffer, and the console’s GPU having sufficient fill-rate in order to render the image within the 30fps time budget. The PS4 possesses both of these capabilities well in abundance of the Xbone, with its 8GB unified pool of GDDR5 RAM, and a GPU capable of roughly twice the fill-rate. In short, Ubisoft’s paid sophists are so inept at their jobs [or underestimate gamers by such a staggering degree] that they cannot recognise what is a bridge too far for credulity.
Kickstarter Is in a Slump
The market for video games is an enthusiast demographic. For this reason it is sometimes disheartening to see how easily gamers can be taken for a ride by the slick charlatans of the industry as they panhandle for alms. Abuse them often enough though, and gamers do learn it seems [albeit very, very slowly]. Over the last couple of years we have seen the Ouya launch as a completely useless lump of scrap. We have seen Comcept launch a second crowdsourcing drive for Mighty No. 9 – ostensibly to pay for extras, but probably as a cash-grab, or because they ran out of funding. We have also seen Comcept select a community manager based on nepotism, who went on to ban backers from accessing the forums that they paid for because of their GamerGate activity on Twitter. We have seen many projects go belly-up without being able to pay back backer donations, including Clang and Yogscast, which each grossed over 500,000 dollars in funding. Finally, we have seen Double Fine, one of the most poorly run studios in the industry, blow through a several million dollar budget with reckless abandon, attack backers who expressed concern at their management, and proceeded to release half a game on early access, as that was all the game they could afford to make. With this kind of dirty laundry it is unsurprising that Kickstarter donations are way down for the first half of 2014, or at least such were the findings of analysis conducted by ICO Partners.
In 2013 twenty-one Kickstarter projects were able to raise over 500,000 dollars, while in the first half of 2014 only three projects were able to achieve this feat. Meanwhile the first half of 2014 has seen 13.5 million dollars donated to Kickstarter, with donations projected to reach roughly twenty-seven million dollars by the end of 2014 – less than half of the fifty-eight million dollars that was pledged in 2013. The number of successfully funded projects has declined, albeit by a smaller amount. The first half of 2014 has seen 175 projects successfully funded, with roughly 350 projects projected to be funded by the year’s end, which constitutes a decline of roughly twenty percent when compared to the 446 projects that were successfully funded in 2013.
While it is very easy to defer to wishful thinking when it comes to analysing such data, it is perhaps also prudent to raise a few other issues in play, so as to not become too upset if Kickstarter should happen to get a second wind. Firstly, there has been fewer high profile projects that have taken to Kickstarter this year, so the lack of recognisable brands and blanket media coverage may be skewing the data. Secondly, Steam Early Access has really taken off this year, and could well be canibalising funds that otherwise might be going to Kickstarter. When Early Access inevitably crumbles beneath the weight of shockingly poor Indy titles, Kickstarter might be able to once again catch the run-off. Regardless, it does nevertheless seem as through a substantial chunk has been taken out of Kickstarter, and consumer exhaustion towards this flawed service can only be viewed as a good thing.
Ubisoft Says 30fps Gaming Looks and Feels Better Than 60fps Gaming
One might have imagined that after claiming that the PS4’s CPU was too weak to run Assassin’s Creed Unity at 1080p, Ubisoft may have been done spouting indefensible rubbish for the week – not the case. Assassin’s Creed Unity world level design director, Nicolas Guerin, and creative director, Alex Amancio, have not only sought to defend their use of a 30fps refresh rate, but have actually been mind-blowingly stupid enough to claim that it is in fact superior to playing a game at 60fps.
Guerin kicked off the idiocy by happily proclaiming to Techradar that games look ‘weird’ when played at 60fps:
“At Ubisoft for a long time we wanted to push 60 fps. I don’t think it was a good idea because you don’t gain that much from 60 fps and it doesn’t look like the real thing. It’s a bit like The Hobbit movie, it looked really weird.
And in other games it’s the same – like the Rachet and Clank series [where it was dropped]. So I think collectively in the video game industry we’re dropping that standard because it’s hard to achieve, it’s twice as hard as 30fps, and its not really that great in terms of rendering quality of the picture and the image.”
Amancio then goes on to back-up his colleague by making the ridiculous assertion that games feel better when played at 30fps:
“30 was our goal, it feels more cinematic. 60 is really good for a shooter, action adventure not so much. It actually feels better for people when it’s at that 30fps. It also lets us push the limits of everything to the maximum.
It’s like when people start asking about resolution. Is it the number of the quality of the pixels that you want? If the game looks gorgeous, who cares about the number?”
Who cares about the number? All that input lag must feel golden!
One has never been persuaded that a 48fps refresh rate has had any sort of deleterious effect on the quality of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit films, but, not being a film-buff, one is content to leave that argument to other people. Here is the thing though; video games are not films irrespective of the pretensions of their creators. Video games are not spooled from reels of film, and projected for the passive viewing pleasure of an audience. 24fps film recording has an inherent blur to it, which, when put into motion, serves to blend one image with the next. The graphical cost of effectively replicating a similar effect through software is probably beyond the capabilities of the PS4, and almost certainly beyond the capabilities of the Xbone [it would be less taxing to just render the game at an acceptable framerate]. A game running at a solid 30fps can make for a perfectly acceptable viewing experience, yet it is not difficult to see that it is not as smooth as it could be. As for a game feeling better at 30fps, well, Amancio is just a prize jackass. The claim is mind-bendingly odd, and utterly devoid of any connection with reality. Slowing a game from 60fps to 30fps introduces a substantial amount of input lag. While 30fps games are still certainly playable, they do become less responsive, and they feel worse as a result. Game developers are not sorcerers, and there is only so much juice that they can squeeze from this decidedly modest eighth generation of hardware, so one is very sympathetic to the argument that 60fps gameplay has to be sacrificed in order for the development team to make the game that they want to make. What is not acceptable is for those same clowns to tell very obvious falsehoods to the gaming community, essentially treating their audience as fools. Games will always look and feel better when running in excess of 60fps – to argue otherwise is simply downright bizarre.