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Wii U, PS4 and 720: Power Matters

November 26, 2012Written by Sebastian Moss

With several developers expressing their disappointment at the Wii U’s average specs, some publications have come out saying that power doesn’t really matter as ‘graphics aren’t important’. Don’t be silly.

First off, liking graphics shouldn’t be such a taboo thing. “Oh we care about the gameplay, not the graphics” they cry. And yes, gameplay is the most important aspect of a title by far, but that doesn’t mean graphics aren’t important. If visuals aren’t a big deal, then watch your movie on a VHS on a black and white TV. Good graphics help with immersion, they help with realism and, well, they make things look pretty.

Then there are games like Heavy Rain, Beyond and L.A. Noire – they rely on graphics to make the characters more believable. Is that 16bit face lying? God knows.

But better graphics are by no means the only positive outcome of more power. Artificial Intelligence (AI) in games sucks, but it has already come a long way. Developers are making huge strides forward in what NPCs can do, but they are, in the words of Ubisoft, “extremely constrained” by current gen consoles. Yves Jacquier told

In general the industry expects that graphics will not be a strong feature any more… Obviously, graphics are better for marketing purposes because you can show things. AI you can’t show.

Our challenge with the PlayStation 3 and Xbox [360] is that we’re extremely limited in what we can do. It’s a challenge for the engineers to provide nice graphics and nice AI and nice sound with a very small amount of memory and computation time.

We think that the next generation of consoles won’t have these limits any more. Games might have more realistic graphics and more on-screen, but what’s the value of making something more realistic and better animated if you have poor AI?

That is a major problem for low-powered devices, and one that could impact a lot of Wii U games.

The next important thing to note about power is that it can fundamentally affect gameplay. LittleBigPlanet needed a ton of processing power to work, and with more it could have been all the more real, the levels could have been all the crazier. Gran Turismo needed the power to have realistic physics, integral the the fundamental point of a life-like racer. Grand Theft Auto V will need all the power it can get to render all the havoc and mayhem people will be sure to wreak. Plus, titles with large worlds like GTA, Assassin’s Creed and Skyrim obviously all need power to be able to show such huge landscapes. With more power, these landscapes could be bigger, and more alive.

Want someone to make a game where you play as an openworld landscape, dynamically changing what happens purely to affect the life of one non-playable AI character to see how he reacts? Probably not, but it’s something that a high powered console could do.

Another argument these publications use is: “I spent a ton of money on a PC and all I got was better graphics”. Well duh. Most games are still designed with consoles as the primary market, so the AI and physics-based gameplay will still be developed to suit that lower power range. So then, yes, the only thing that is better is the graphics (and mods). Of course, there are a few high-end PC-only titles out there – and they still suffer from the fact that publishers aren’t planning on investing in better AI until the next gen, and that middleware is often console focused. Still, you end up with titles like Planetside 2, which can have 2,000 players on the same FPS match. That’d crash your console.

Some sites have said that they played amazing games on [insert weak console] and therefore power doesn’t matter. Again, stupid. Yes, a lot of games and game types can work on the NES and be incredible. But not all of them. The more power, the more choice – a PS4 can play a basic game and a complicated one.

Instead of trying to ignore the fact that the Wii U will almost definitely be outclassed power-wise by the next gen of consoles, these publications should accept it. They should rather try to work out whether the sacrifice in possible innovation by having a weak console was worth it for the boon to innovation that is the Gamepad. It’s a fact that the Wii U Gamepad will be able to allow for new gameplay experiences, it’s a fact that more power could allow for new gameplay experiences. Which is best? That is what they should try to answer.

I, for one, am looking forward to what a powerful new generation could bring.