Last week, amid speculation regarding The Witcher 3’s visual downgrade from E3 gameplay reveal to end product, CD Projekt RED publicly stated that visual downgrades are “inevitable“, as if they are part and parcel of the games development due to the “nature of the development process”.
Given that The Witcher 3 is widely considered a fantastic game regardless, many gamers were happy to ignore this whole fiasco. But what about the widespread impact that this has on the industry as a whole? Should we just accept that performance downgrades are going to occur?
The short answer is that no, we shouldn’t, because there is a solution. Often times, a big new game will be revealed and it looks amazing. By the time it has eventually reached the shelves, it still looks amazing, but probably less amazing than it did initially e.g. Watch Dogs, Assassin’s Creed Unity and the like. CD Projekt claims that this is because developers often create a certain build of their product specifically for trade shows (like E3) even though they are “extremely far away from the completing the game” at that point. Essentially, E3 is a conference that shows off a bunch of unfinished products.
Then, important elements of the game are implemented and developers realize that it doesn’t run as well as their demo showed so then they rush to try to replicate it as best they can. Marcin Iwinski of CD Projekt says that “this is the nature of games development”.
Easy answer: don’t show off your game until it’s complete. Of course, this in itself creates more problems; for instance, there may not be the necessary level of hype built up for the game beforehand so the team might have to delay both announcing and releasing the product which will only add to development costs and resources.
However, the most problematic thing is that if developers do choose to show off a realistic interpretation of their product when it’s revealed, it may let down rather than excite. Take Assassin’s Creed Syndicate’s recent gameplay reveal as an example. I’m not sure how many of you picked up on it, but despite the game looking marvellous in some areas such as cutscenes and close-up textures, I spotted a considerable amount of texture pop-in in the distance and generally shoddy performance. Arguably, Ubisoft of all people have no option but to show off their unfinished product, given how the glamorous promises of Unity backfired as the game turned out to be a glitchy mess.
So how can we win? Well, perhaps we can’t. Either we’re shown a stellar looking game at reveal that becomes a less stellar one at launch or we struggle to get excited for a game because the initial showing doesn’t perform particularly well. Do we just have to accept that performance downgrades are a part of games development? Do we have to be teased and toyed with by amazing reveals, showcasing a game that won’t ever exist?
Who knows, but if there is one glimmer of hope, perhaps developers will wait until their huge, high performance new game is finished before playing with our feelings. Then again, if even the nice guys over at CD Projekt couldn’t bring themselves to do that, who will? Sorry to end on a sour note.