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The Framerate Debate: 30 "Feels More Cinematic" Than 60

It is pretty.

“The human eye can’t see more than 24 frames per second,” Those Internet People say. “Tests found fighter pilots watching a 250fps video of playful kittens will grow furious if you slip in one single frame of Plumbers Don’t Wear Ties,” Others insist. “If a game ran at 500fps it would seem so real that if you died in the game you would die in real life,” I’m also told. I thought I’d heard it all in The Great Framerate Debate that rages eternally across the gameosphere. Dear, sweet, naive Alice.

Some Ubisoft chaps have declared that 30fps “feels more cinematic” than 60fps. Gosh.

To be quite clear, this is in reference to the Xbox One and PS4 versions of Assassin’s Creed Unity running at 30fps. Ubi haven’t said yet whether the PC version will suffer this fate or not but, given how many PC ports of multiplatform games do run at 30fps, it’s worth highlighting this absurd attitude. I’ll accept ports running at 30fps with a grumble, but let’s not pretend that particular framerate is in itself a sound artistic decision here.

“At Ubisoft for a long time we wanted to push 60fps. I don’t think it was a good idea because you don’t gain that much from 60 fps and it doesn’t look like the real thing,” world level design director Nicolas Guérin told TechRadar. “It’s a bit like The Hobbit movie, it looked really weird.” Pushing twice as many pixels is “not really that great in terms of rendering quality of the picture and the image,” he said.

Creative director Alex Amancio added, “30 was our goal, it feels more cinematic. 60 is really good for a shooter, action-adventure not so much. It actually feels better for people when it’s at that 30fps.”

Oh, what a load of old rot! It’s fine that they want to make a game look so pretty it wouldn’t run at 60fps on consoles — “If the game looks gorgeous, who cares about the number?” asks Amancio — but let’s not pretend we’re better off with low fps. To drag up these hoary old arguments again, recorded film is not the same as rendered game. Film looks dandy at 24fps because of its natural motion blur, while a low-fps game is far jerkier. Jerkiness changes how a game feels, of course, but in a very different way.

Why do these PC ports run at 30fps anyway? A shiny gaming PC could do so much more. Often, it’s because they wouldn’t work right otherwise. Some games build systems like AI and physics around updating 30 times per second, and wig out if this is changed. Hacking Dark Souls to raise the cap to 60fps, for example, will see you rolling shorter distances and possibly falling through the world on ladders. Not every game has such problems, mind. To state the obvious, 30fps limits exist because changing them would be more work than devs and pubs want, or can afford, to commit to in a port.

In related news, Bethesda said yesterday that The Evil Within will be locked to 30fps and a letterboxed 2.35:1 aspect ratio because devs Tango Gameworks have “worked the last four years perfecting the game experience with these settings in mind.” They will share debug commands to change this if you fancy, though. Spooky horror, now there’s a genre where low fps might be desirable to make things jarring and unpleasant.

Games running at 30fps, while less than ideal, are at least understandable from an economic perspective. Weird comparisons to film are less comprehensible.

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Alice O'Connor

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When not writing news, Alice may be found in the sea.

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