The PS4 Pro is pointless

first_imgEarlier today Sony announced that they’d be updating the PlayStation 4 with some fancy new tech. You’ll now be able to play your games in higher resolution, enable High Dynamic Range for better color accuracy in some scenes and… that’s it. And frankly, we should all be a little frustrated with that.The current console generation (namely the Xbox One and PS4) has been among the worst in memory. Not because there’s a dearth of games to make these purchases worth it, but because it demonstrates that the gaming industry has some wonky ideas about what makes video games gorgeous.In college, I studied alongside a friend who specialized in stop-motion animation. I worked night shifts at my dorm, and I’d watch him spend hours painstakingly arranging every shot for a film project. He had special clay models that he’d made that looked mounds of green tentacles with a single, massive eye in the center. Obviously, stop motion has some pretty big limitations, but he leaned into those restrictions and opted for something unusual and unreal.When his short film was complete, it looked incredible. Opting for alien subjects instead of more human-looking ones let him show how weird and creepy his monsters were. He understood the limits of his medium and worked with it instead of trying to ignore the problem.Console makers and game designers don’t get this. Every couple of years, they come through with more promises of better resolutions and stunning visuals, but those improvements are put to waste.Today, when Sony showed off how their upcoming open-world survival game Horizon: Zero Dawn would look on the new PS4 Pro, I couldn’t stop looking at how awkwardly the protagonist’s hair flowed, or how plants would sway in weird directions. And it’s even more jarring because of how beautiful some parts of the game are. As textures continue to sharpen, as particle effects fill your screens, we’re smacking into the uncanny valley once again.Animations mean everything. It’s what allows many low-budget, pixel art indie games to leave such lasting impressions. How smooth an object appears to move can tell its own story. A well-animated gait can express sorrow, a fluttering insect can startle, and flora that sway with shifting winds can give you the sense that your digital playground has a pulse.But making great animations is really hard. They are time-consuming. Shaders and textures are too, but animations require exponentially more work as development progresses. You can’t just show what object looks like, you have to show how it reacts. How it moves. What it does. How the world responds to its presence. And that complexity adds up really fast. It’s why so many of the best indie games take just as long as their big-budget brethren.I get that there’s plenty of data out there that shows higher resolutions and flashy effects actually do help sales — and it’s one of the reasons that most console game makers don’t often care about hitting 60 frames per second — but we deserve better.Rethinking how we talk about the visuals in games and adjusting our expectations from developers is critical. Even if you’re the kind of person who would much rather have something smack you in the face with pretty lights and snazzy textures, this trend isn’t sustainable. Photorealism is impossible for the foreseeable future.The world’s beefiest supercomputers can take hundreds, if not thousands of hours to render the CGI effects in many modern films, and they’re still derided as being obviously fake. But the gaming public somehow expects a $400 console to render a scene with just as much fidelity in real-time. That. Is. Impossible. At least for a couple of decades (more if we consider that technology has fallen well short of Moore’s law the past few years).We deserve better. We deserve games that use animations as part of their narrative palette. We can have games that are much more expressive and vivacious if we simply stop accepting minor bumps in graphics every couple of years are enough. Then again, maybe I’m off my rocker. I slotted in a new, top-end graphics card, booted up The Witcher 3 and thought it looked like hot garbage.last_img read more