PC Won E3 2012, And It Wasn’t Even Close
Immediately after the demo concluded (and, really, even during it), the Internet was alight with buzz about the game. What was it? How did you play it? When would it be out? Was it a next-gen game?
Watch Dogs certainly looks the part. The demo Ubisoft showed is beautiful, with smooth character animations, realistically-moving clothing and wind effects, and fire that looks absolutely phenomenal. Surely this was a game for as-yet-unannounced consoles, because the aging current-gen hardware could never have produced visuals like what we were seeing.
Sadly, no. It wasn’t some next-gen console powerhouse on which Watch Dogs was being presented: It was a cranked-up PC sporting at least one NVIDIA GeForce GTX 600-series video card.
PC gets overlooked at E3. There’s no big PC press conference that points out all the great things that are going on with the platform, unlike those thrown by Sony, Microsoft and all the big publishers. The PC announcements happen piecemeal, divided by the various companies working on them, and the big news from the card makers and component manufacturers is easy to miss. It all tends involve far fewer flashy lights and Usher concerts.
But behind the scenes, the PC platform is the workhorse of E3. All the great-looking demos that were running during the show and wowing journalists and gamers — Watch Dogs, Star Wars 1331, Crysis 3, FarCry 3 (single player, anyway) — weren’t running on console rigs, but on decked-out PCs. Developers continue to downplay the PC platform and concentrate their efforts on the easier, more marketable consoles, but the fact is, nobody wants to run their demos on hardware a half-decade old. Consoles are ugly compared to PCs, and make for crappy demos.
Jason Paul, NVIDIA’s director of GeForce Product Marketing, said that many of the demo rigs at E3 were PCs running the company’s GTX 680 graphics cards. And as consoles get old, he said, the gap between their capabilities and those of PCs continues to widen.
“There’s this life cycle that happens, where a new console comes out, and PC and console performance are closer, and generally they’re working off the same version of DirectX, and so a game developer can build a game and it’s going to deliver a similar experience on consoles and PCs and maybe they put in a few features for PC,” he said in an interview with Game Front. “But as a console ages, you see such an enormous gap in performance. I think our high-end cards are, like, 10x that of a console. And that gets tough to ignore for a developer in terms of what they can do with their game.”
And what they can do, it seems, are things like we’ve seen in the demos for the best-looking games at E3, like dynamic fire and wind effects, and intense particle effects. As Paul mentioned, the demo for the Unreal Engine 4, which will likely see heavy use in the next generation of games the way Unreal Engine 3 did in this generation, was on a rig running with a GTX 680 card.
The simple fact is this: Many of the things that were impressive at E3 were impressive because of the capabilities of PC technology, even if there wasn’t a big press conference to make sure everyone knew it.