I suppose now is as good a time as any to talk about this. Not too long ago, Ubisoft managed to cast itself into the spotlight of controversy when it revealed that its flagship title Assassin’s Creed Unity would run at 30 frames per second in a resolution of 900p as opposed to a reported target of 60 frames per second in a full 1080p resolution. Indeed, public outcry was prevalent, as Ubisoft had seemingly backtracked on what had been pushed as an industry standard for a while, at least on the PC. Not only that, but to add insult to injury, Ubisoft defended its decision by suggesting that the decision to cap the PlayStation 4 version to a lower frame rate and resolution was made to “avoid all the debates and stuff”—something they would later backpedal on.
There are a number of different issues I want to discuss here, and with no particular order in mind, let’s get the ‘debate’ between 30 and 60 FPS out of the way first. Ubisoft may have shrugged off concerns about the low frame rate, exclaiming that the experience is made more cinematic by 30 FPS, and that action-adventure simply doesn’t fit well at 60 FPS. However, that statement simply is not true. I find it shocking sometimes that, corporate damage control aside, some people have not yet accepted that 60 FPS is (if I may say so) outright better than 30 FPS. If you don’t believe me, check out this link. The argument that 30 FPS is cinematic or “filmic” has been made before—Ready at Dawn Director Dana Jan, currently developing The Order 1886, claimed back in May that running a game at 60 FPS would change the aesthetic of the game, and that Ready at Dawn had gone for a more cinematic look.
“60 fps is really responsive and really cool. I enjoy playing games in 60 fps. But one thing that really changes is the aesthetic of the game in 60 fps.
If you push that to 60, and you have it look the way we do, it actually would end up looking like something on the Discovery Channel, like an HDTV kind of segment or a sci-fi original movie maybe. Which doesn't quite have the kind of look and texture that we want from a movie. The escapism you get from a cinematic film image is just totally different than what you get from television framing, so that was something we took into consideration.” — Dana Jan
This argument has been made over and over, and I have to admit that I’m caught off-guard by the support it seemingly has on certain avenues of the internet. I could spend this entire article talking about why this is simply not true; I shall do worse and refer to this handy guide. As the author points out, it’s not the lower frame rate that makes films look ‘better’—it’s the motion blur. Indeed, Ubisoft is called out here as well.
However, it seems to me that this argument isn’t seriously put forth because it genuinely makes games more cinematic. Rather, it appears that developers have been struggling to push both high-end, top-of-the-range graphics alongside a substantially higher frame rate (in theory, forcing the game to run at twice the frame rate would add twice the load on your device). Ubisoft even admitted that the company is now trying to back away from 60 FPS. However, the shocking act here is that it’s simply being dismissed as a matter of taste. I find this somewhat suspicious—was this also the reason game wasn’t able to achieve a full 1080p either?
Yes and no—as I mentioned, Ubisoft would eventually backpedal on that argument, and instead suggested that the CPU had bottlenecked what Assassin’s Creed Unity could be capable of. This may be true to some extent, but I’m forced to ask, was it not the likes of Ubisoft that had spearheaded, or at the very least partook, in the arms race of next-generation graphics? Was it not Ubisoft that vowed to bring Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag in native 1080p on PlayStation 4, but ended up shipping it in 900p? And was it not Ubisoft that dazzled us at E3 with a stunning Watch Dogs showing, only to gate away those stunning visuals on PC, for reasons unknown? Yes, it was. Ubisoft (albeit alongside its like-minded AAA competitors) has raised our expectations, and they are now finding out that they don’t have the hardware they need.