Brace yourselves everybody, the battle of the point-five consoles has officially begun. Just prior to E3, Playstation’s Andrew House confirmed there is indeed a Playstation 4.5/Neo in the works but stopped short of confirming any concrete details. And during his E3 presentation, Xbox head Phil Spencer announced two new Xbox models, the first being the Xbox One S, a slimline version of the console with minor performance upgrades and 4K Blu-Ray support.
But the second was the big bombshell: Project Scorpio, a new Xbox One console that will boast 6 teraflops of GPU power (compared to the original’s 1.31), 4K gaming and “high fidelity VR”, arriving in the US summer of 2017. Yes, this mid-console-generation-upgrade thing is actually happening. It is possibly the biggest shakeup in video game console history, and Phil Spencer’s Scorpio announcement is where it all begins.
I’ve previously voiced my concerns about the idea of multiple console models with varying hardware capabilities out on the market, mainly due to fears that despite assurances from the likes of Spencer that no one will be “left behind”, users of the older system will quickly be given shonky, half-baked, barely playable versions of games made with the newer console in mind.
But now that Project Scorpio and Playstation Neo are no longer rumoured possibilities but actual eventualities, I’ve spent some time this week thinking about what it would take for such an ecosystem to work in a way that benefits owners of the high-end console and doesn’t screw over those who opt to not/don’t have the means to upgrade.
The answer? I feel while the visual quality of games can, and certainly will, be different, their level of performance must be the same. The system mentioned in the leaked Neo documents in April where games would run at higher frame rates on the newer machines compared to the older just isn’t going to fly. If Scorpio/Neo runs a game at 4K, with high quality textures at 60 frames per second (good luck), then it needs to still run at 60 frames on the older systems by sacrificing whatever quality settings it needs to in order to achieve it, be that image resolution, texture detail, effects, whatever. Scorpio owners will get their shiny, gorgeous visuals and regular console users won’t get a chugging mess of a product.
It’s the only way to keep everything fair, to truly leave no one behind.
Because a game’s performance isn’t just a personal preference thing, it’s a core part of the experience. When it comes to online multiplayer, something Spencer stressed would be possible across all the Xbox console models, a difference in frame rate can mean a lot when playing the likes of Overwatch or any other game that requires quick reflexes. And for single player games, frame rate drops can adversely affect a player’s sense of timing and perception and greatly lessen their overall experience.
In order to establish equal performance, console games from now on are either going to need to do one of two things. One: if games are going to need preset configurations for each platform, those settings will need to all output the same frame rate, not 60 for one and 30 for the other. Or two: console games will need to have tweakable graphics options (something we have seen happen on occasion) so individuals could dictate what level of quality-to-frame-rate ratio they’re happy with, much like PC gamers already do.
Essentially, Sony and Microsoft really need to go full PC in order for this to work. Which leads back to a point I made in my first article on this new console direction: part of the appeal of consoles is that they aren’t PCs. There aren’t three different versions of them (within the same brand) to choose from per generation. You don’t need to tweak the graphics settings to get a game to run. You just buy a thing and it plays the latest games for six or so years.
But it looks like developers this generation, more than any other, are already starting to struggle with the specs from the 2013 Xbox One and Playstation 4, and Microsoft and Sony are responding to that. I may not be entirely on board with mid-generation upgrade idea, but if works as I’ve described then I, and consumers in general, might be able to live with it.
The times, they certainly are a’changing…