Why New Consoles Are Good For PC Gamers
In Mass Effect 3, I favored a set of Terminus armor. Gleaming, black, with a network of glowing red piping, it made Shepard look invincible, deadly, and extremely cool.
Until the conversations started, that is. I played Mass Effect on PC, and during every conversation, the close-ups made the game‘s low-resolution textures distractingly apparent. Those glowing red lines that looked so cool while I was busy setting Husks on fire suddenly appeared jagged and dull, as if someone had drawn them on in red Crayola.
As the gulf in performance between PC’s and consoles continues to grow, such problems will become all too frequent. XBOX 360′s and Playstation 3′s are simply not capable of running modern game engines at high resolutions, while still maintaining a stable framerate. Even console mega-hits like Call of Duty resort to rendering a lower-res image, then scale it up to fit a TV screen.
In an ideal world, this would be an easy problem to fix. Software is flexible, and can be easily adjusted to match the capacity of different hardware. Unfortunately, developers increasingly don’t think that way. Lured by the huge audiences and huger profits found in the console market, they carefully tailor games to suit consoles first, then add PC support as an afterthought, often without doing a very thorough job. PC users, even if their machines are actually better suited to running an engine as designed, have to contend with grainy cutscenes, ugly, low-res textures, awkward control schemes, and other avoidable compromises. Many turn to mods that fix the problems developers were unable or unwilling to fix themselves.
Still, hope remains. Released in 2005 and 2006, respectively, the 360 and PS3 are reaching the end of their console lives. Sooner than you think, they will be replaced with new, more powerful hardware. The nature of PC customization and development will always result in superior performance, but with the release of new consoles, that gap will narrow abruptly — from the widest possible difference to the narrowest.
Games ported from the next generation of consoles will blow games like Mass Effect 3 out of the water, without requiring significant upgrades on the part of PC users. Textures and cutscenes will better match a player’s chosen display resolution, and designers will take advantage of physics modelling and anti-aliasing technology that 360′s and PS3′s just can’t run. Console games and their ported half-brothers will never look as good as native PC games, but they’ll look at lot better than they do now.
To be sure, hardware manufacturers looking to market their new consoles will insist on a slew of exclusive titles, which will pain PC users looking to get in on the action. Once this initial flurry of activity is over, however, many of the games will eventually become available on PC. PC-centric developers will also have to step up their game in the meantime to weather console resurgence without seriously compromising their market share.
Some might say that the “PC vs. console” debate is a manufactured controversy, but it’s a fact that dedicated PC gamers tend to be derisive when the subject of a new console generation is raised. This is a short-sighted reflex. New consoles benefit all gamers, even PC gamers that don’t buy them.