As a gamer, have you ever heard about frame rate drop? Of course you have, we’ve all experienced it from time to time. Most gamers have experienced some brutal frame rate drops that cause their screen to look like a sequence of snapshots. This distracting experience is absolutely annoying at best, and can end your game at its worst. It makes it impossible to react or play accurately and can cause some real problems.
With the advent of next generation consoles i.e. the PS4 and Xbox One, almost every hardcore gamer is expecting that the next wave of games will run at a golden standard of 1080P/60 fps. However, it takes a lot for a piece of software to be able to run at 30 or 60 frames a second consistently, and with so much stress being put on the console or PC’s hardware, is it really worth it to push past the 30 fps barrier? The human eye doesn’t recognize a frame rate increase once it goes above a preset value, so why do developers bother with it?
Most games for the soon-to-be last generation of consoles run games at both 30 and 60fps as it is and these games are pretty much at height of the hardware’s life cycle. Games like The Last of Us are all locked at 30 frames per second and it looks gorgeous. Not only do plenty of games get locked at this frame rate, they look good at it. This is great option for the PS3 and Xbox 360. Other, more fast-paced games like Call of Duty however are locked in at around 60 frames a second. Games that have a faster pace and depend more heavily on quick reactions and split section decisions seem to have a higher frame rate, which is understandable. This isn’t a new feature in gaming by any means either, developers and consoles have been able to pull 60 frames a second for quite a few years, although with a few compromises.
As far back as the Nintendo 64 developers were running games at 60 fps. One such popular racing game for example, F-Zero X could run at 60 frames a second with about 30 vehicles on the screen at any given time. The problem that the developers ran into was that sacrifices had to be made to keep the game running at a steady 60 frames. Things like polygon count and textures had to be greatly reduced to get everything on the screen at once without any performance drops and that means thinning the game down a bit. F-Zero X most likely could have been playable at 30 frames a second, but it wouldn’t have looked as good. This fast-paced racer would have been choppy and somewhat “jerky” looking at 30.
Pacing of a game has a lot to do with what the frame rates are set at. On the flip side of this though, PC gamers don’t really have to worry about locking their frame rates into anything lower than 60 with the current hardware and game engines available today. Most games, even cross-platform titles give them the ability to easily tweak graphical settings, frames per second and a variety of other options that either directly or indirectly affect the games’ performance.
Let’s take a look at Borderlands 2, the default for this game is 60FPS for PCs. It’s a fast-paced, brightly lit game that has a whole lot of background processing, especially if you decide to leverage Nvidia’s PhysX engine. While it looks great, it puts a massive load on the system and can really bog things down. The PhysX feature wasn’t available for consoles, and it’s not like this feature really added anything to the game that console players were missing out on, a bit of eye candy and some extra effects from specialized weapons, but that’s about it. With that said, it’s obviously awesome to have, but it comes at a price.
When you’re running a game at 60 frames a second with all the graphical goodies turned all the way up it’s fairly likely that you’re going to see a hiccup every now and again. Even going from 30 to 60 frames you’re still going to notice if the system is running smoothly, then suddenly drops down to say, 45 or 35 frames only to spike back up, specially in PC games. In this sense, console gamers don’t have to worry about it as much. While you may see a drop every once in awhile, the software has been optimized to run as efficiently as possible. While this has also been done with the PC versions of the games, the wide array of hardware and software configurations certainly makes it a more challenging task.
Games that are locked in at 30 frames a second certainly leave more room for visual styles, and background processes, but doing this can also make the game look choppy, and unpolished. A good example of this is Sleeping Dogs. Playing this game at 60 frames a second vs. 30 frames has a relatively noticeable impact on the game. In side-by-side comparisons you can see fairly easily that the video running at 30 fps is choppy, almost like there is missing data in between frames. While the player may not necessarily directly notice the lower frame rate, they will most likely notice the game appearing to almost skip to the next frame, almost like it could be struggling to render the images, even though the hardware is running at optimal performance levels.
Can people play games at 30FPS with little to no problem? Absolutely, but with the leap in display technology, PC hardware and soon-to-be available PS4 and Xbox One that are incredibly powerful, there is very little reason to lock a game’s frames at 30FPS, even the current generation hardware that is soon to be outdated doesn’t seem to have a problem with most games running at over 30 frames a second. While you can still game at lower frames there really is no doubt that 60FPS is better than 30.
So yes, 60 fps in video games matter but are we going to see it become the standard anytime soon? Nope. Just like with any console cycle, developers will need more time to get themselves acquainted with the new hardware. However certain games like Titanfall [I can’t imagine this game being played at 30fps], the next Halo and even launch games like DriveClub are targeting 60 FPS. It is only a matter of time before we see games pushing the barrier, game developers finding intelligent ways to write optimized code to attain the much wanted golden standard in video games.