Stop Focussing on Technical Issues

Stop Focussing on Technical Issues
 
 

Games have both the fortune and misfortune of being technical creations. The very act of influencing something on-screen is quite astounding when you think about it. There are whole worlds of code behind the games we play, all for the sake of the intended experience. We’ve built some amazing marvels in such a creatively tricky medium (I’m just using collective language when I say “we” – I haven’t made squat).

Yet we’ve also made this a problem, because often we put too much weight on the technical nature of games. We get distracted by issues of frame rate, pop-in, and screen-tearing, while the more important conversations – the ideas more integral to our games – roll on by.

There’s a few reasons we’re so prone to this, but the most obvious one is technical issues are easy to observe. It’s simple enough to see when your otherwise smooth game chugs down a few frames, or when an entire world loads in front of you. Players learn to notice them, and reviewers learn to use them as easy criticism. “It took me out of the experience”, is a common thing to hear in this regard.

We take issue with these because games are an outlet for fantasy. To get lost in the story of a world, to participate in a whole other story is a big reason why games are so appealing.  And I kind of sympathise with that. Kind of. Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune had a bad case of texture pop-in, but would I mark it down for that? Probably not.

Being a medium with mechanical building blocks, improving and changing along with technology, it does tend to attract hardware-types. The kind who enjoy building and optimising their rigs so their games can perform their best.

While I enjoy the culture this high-tech customising creates (or at least witnessing it), it can cause one to focus too much on technical performance, and often does. When you’re creating a rig for peak efficiency, you’re gonna want your games to run in kind.

Technical problems become a little more important when you’re in the competitive scene. When people in the same match can feel encumbered or bolstered by their own equipment; when such differences can potentially make a difference.

But as for the rest of gaming, can we really justify the amount of energy we put into this? If we’re not talking about frequent game crashes or save files deleting themselves, how often do technical issues really hamper our games and make them supposedly unplayable?

I’d heard The Last Guardian had some fairly crippling frame rate issues. When I actually experienced them myself, and I sure did (it felt like 15fps), did they make the game unplayable? Nope. Did they bother me? Not really. Do I care at all? Obviously not.

When a game like The Last Guardian fosters such a poignant experience already, a little frame-dipping isn’t going to break the fantasy. I probably wouldn’t even mention it in a review. It is that negligible, despite being quite severe by many standards. I don’t want to perpetuate the culture that over-emphasises the mechanical aspects of gaming when we’re really dealing with is a creative medium. It’s ones of our critical customs that we feel obligated in reporting how a game “performs” – a word taken very literally.

We should be meeting this question with more important answers. In lieu of the game’s design, what messages are coming across, what does it evoke? Those are harder answers to conjure, but more rewarding and beneficial to an industry with a habit of getting caught up in graphical conversations and technical complaints. And while I’m not suggesting we simply never talk about these things, I am criticising the the part of our industry which does so at the expense of more important topics. Such ideas reserve too much space in our critical mindset as it is.

It’s easy to get absorbed by these concerns because games are themselves, as I said before, technical creations. But why are they made using engines and mechanical language to begin with? So we can have experiences. Unique, enjoyable, fun, insightful experiences.

Everything else a game is made of, every piece of engineering, is just a means to that end.




 

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Comments Comments (13)

 
Posted by ChieftaiNZ
On Friday 17 Nov 2017 1:20 PM
4
If a game drops down to 15 FPS consistently (ESPECIALLY ON CONSOLES), then its not working as it should, and is therefore broken. Its that simple. Should we ignore the part of the game that doesn't work because the idea is good? It doesn't matter that Halo MCC didn't work because of technical issues because the premise was good?

You've mistaken technical issues with the community that puts GRAPHICS above gameplay. Buying a game, experiencing technical issues like frame drops/screen tearing and then getting annoyed because the game you bought isn't working properly is fine. Not buying a game because its at LOCKED 30FPS (No drops, no issues) and doesn't look pretty enough is dumb.

Technical issues=/= Graphics. Technical Issues are actually broken bits of the game that detract from the experience.
 
 
 
Posted by Outlaw213
On Friday 17 Nov 2017 1:27 PM
5
But a game is no good unless it can do 4K @ 144 FPS on Ultra, according to the PC Master Race.

Good article, I'm not too picky about such technical issues when it's single player games, what I don't like is other little issues that kind of ruin the immersion like bad AI.

One example I can think of right now is from the Last of Us when you're in a scary stealth situation trying not to get spotted by clickers so you can get through them safely yet you have Ellie bumping into clickers, running out in the open making a lot of noise.
 
 
 
Posted by kniteowl
On Friday 17 Nov 2017 1:28 PM
2
17 November 2017, 01:20 PM Reply to ChieftaiNZ
If a game drops down to 15 FPS consistently (ESPECIALLY ON CONSOLES), then its not working as it should, and is therefore broken. Its that simple. Should we ignore the part of the game that doesn't work because the idea is good? It doesn't matter that Halo MCC didn't work because of technical issues because the premise was good?

You've mistaken technical issues with the community that puts GRAPHICS above gameplay. Buying a game, experiencing technical issues like frame drops/screen tearing and then getting annoyed because the game you bought isn't working properly is fine. Not buying a game because its at LOCKED 30FPS (No drops, no issues) and doesn't look pretty enough is dumb.

Technical issues=/= Graphics. Technical Issues are actually broken bits of the game that detract from the experience.
I agree to a point. That disruption to the immersion can ruin the enjoyment of an otherwise well designed game. I will concede that we don’t have to chase the photorealistic and ultra high resolution dream all the time though. A well running game with good art direction is preferable to an ultra realistic photo slideshow...
 
 
 
Posted by Syn-Ryn
On Friday 17 Nov 2017 1:31 PM
2
I played through Wolfenstein The New Order just recently,, it's unstable performance definitely affected my enjoyment of the game. If performance suffers so does gameplay. I don't care about how good or bad a game looks graphically when judging it's quality, but if it runs at 20 FPS then it's hard to enjoy the gameplay.
 
 
 
Posted by Paorio
On Friday 17 Nov 2017 2:39 PM
2
I can think of 2 times when I just couldn't play the game at all, the first was skyrim on ps3, for some reason I couldn't jump into water or just go into water the game would crash and it was so bad eventually fixed it (forgot how). The second was dishonored 2 on pc, the framerate was ridiculously unstable, it felt trying to walk down a hallway while someone continuously punches you in the face. Other than those 2 I can't really think of anything technical that stopped me from playing, i'm pretty lenient.
 
 
 
Posted by Coddfish
On Friday 17 Nov 2017 2:58 PM
-
This article is a really strong argument for a Giphy plugin for NZG comments. I need to give you a Shia Lebouf standing ovation.
 
 
 
Posted by AdamC
On Friday 17 Nov 2017 3:17 PM
-
So did you enjoyed Assassin’s creed Unity on release? Because they didn’t focus on technical issues either.
We shouldn’t be having technical issues in a game to be distracted by. That’s what quality control is for. Frame rate should be steady, Bad pop in bugs me personally because yes, it does bring me out of a game if it’s bad enough. But 1080-4K I don’t mind so much, upscales can be fine if it’s consistent.
 
 
 
Posted by drunk_monk
On Friday 17 Nov 2017 3:44 PM
-
This is an interesting piece, and I definitely support the premise.

Frame rate issues weren't bad enough in Last Guardian for me to give two hoots either.

But if it does detract from someone elses experience then two things:
A) its valid, they are a different person, with different opinions and different priorities. They are allowed to not like it
B) If it does pull them out of the experience, they would be dishonest to not include that in a review. Someone who considers that unimportant can let that paragraph go and judge the game on the rest of the review. Someone that considers it important is now a little more informed as a consumer.

Sorry if I'm being a touch negative but reviewers should be free to give their own opinions on a game, and if their opinion is positively affected or negatively affected by technical issues, then they should include that. People with no interest in that fact should move on, and reviewers who don't find that relevant, should also rightly leave it out.

BUT I agree with the overall sentiment, that games are more than technical marvels, and there is more to them as works of art.
Hell, I enjoyed Ascree Unity despite it being a technical mess.
 
 
 
Posted by ChieftaiNZ
On Friday 17 Nov 2017 3:44 PM
2
17 November 2017, 03:17 PM Reply to AdamC
So did you enjoyed Assassin’s creed Unity on release? Because they didn’t focus on technical issues either.
We shouldn’t be having technical issues in a game to be distracted by. That’s what quality control is for. Frame rate should be steady, Bad pop in bugs me personally because yes, it does bring me out of a game if it’s bad enough. But 1080-4K I don’t mind so much, upscales can be fine if it’s consistent.
I think Ben's made a mistake and mixed up people who get annoyed when their game doesn't work as it should (Frame drops, screen tearing, bad pop in) and people who complain because the game runs at a locked 30 FPS or isn't super hyper photorealistic 4k pixels.
 
 
 
Posted by ThatUndeadLegacy
On Saturday 18 Nov 2017 1:09 AM
4
anything bellow 30 fps is unacceptable,
 
 
 
Posted by Bank
On Sunday 19 Nov 2017 1:33 AM
1
17 November 2017, 01:27 PM Reply to Outlaw213
But a game is no good unless it can do 4K @ 144 FPS on Ultra, according to the PC Master Race.

Good article, I'm not too picky about such technical issues when it's single player games, what I don't like is other little issues that kind of ruin the immersion like bad AI.

One example I can think of right now is from the Last of Us when you're in a scary stealth situation trying not to get spotted by clickers so you can get through them safely yet you have Ellie bumping into clickers, running out in the open making a lot of noise.
Hey man I just want to tell you that game's are no good unless it can do 4K @ 144 FPS on Ultra.
 
 
 
Posted by emetic
On Sunday 19 Nov 2017 3:22 PM
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19 November 2017, 01:33 AM Reply to Bank
Hey man I just want to tell you that game's are no good unless it can do 4K @ 144 FPS on Ultra.
Well this all depends on the style of game. For shooters and action games, frame rate is critical. For narrative and experience focused game, it's not.
 
 
 
Posted by guido
On Tuesday 21 Nov 2017 5:01 PM
1
Back in my day if you had a solid 15 fps you were happy! :-D BUT no way should you get away with that now, times and expectations change. Last gen I suffered through Point Lookout on PS3 and it was incredibly framey and crashed frequently. That should never have been released on PS3 in that state. However this gen I've not encountered anything like that and personally didn't care about The Last Guardians sluggishness. But everybody has a different line that can't be crossed. And different lines for different types of game. So I think it's fair to mention such technical issues when reviewing and talking about games. Not to make a big deal about it but just to quickly establish if it crosses any lines you have before you buy.