Squinting into the Future: SD Gaming in an HD World

This post has been edited by the GamesBeat staff. Opinions by GamesBeat community writers do not necessarily reflect those of the staff.

Editor's note: The debate rages on. Alex wants standard-definition display options for games. People who have upgraded couldn't care less. With so many folks out there who haven't upgraded, I'm just happy to promulgate the argument and keep the discourse going. -James

I have a friend who's been a gamer his entire life, but in the last several years, it has been hard for him to keep up with his hobby. He works until he has enough money to pay for a semester of school, signs up for classes, takes them, and heads back to work when he needs money for the next semester. It's safe to say that this lifestyle doesn't exactly result in much expendable income, but awhile back, he managed to buy an Xbox 360.

Still, getting himself an high-definition TV to play it on is kind of out of the question at this point, so he's left to play on his old standard-definition set. I never really thought much of this until I recently got a PlayStation 3. I own an HDTV that came as a bonus when I bought a car back in November, but I've never gotten around to setting it up. I hooked the PS3 up to the SDTV where I do all of my gaming and set to work on The Saboteur. I quickly realized that the text was going to be an issue. I couldn't really make out most of the main menu, and over time, it got even worse.


Whenever I spoke to someone, I started spinning the camera around in circles and looking for a solid wall to set the subtitles against. I couldn't read the text unless it was laid against something with strongly contrasting colors. Once, I accidentally put on a Nazi soldier's uniform instead of picking up his gun. I didn't want to wear a disguise for the mission I was about to do, so I began hitting buttons and trying to figure out how to take it off. Something popped up that I think read "Want to take off disguise? Press…" and had two action-button icons. I could not, for the life of me, make out what buttons these icons indicated, so I went back to pressing random buttons that looked similar until I figured it out. (Also, I spent this whole time continuing to spin the camera around in an attempt to find a solid background that might help me actually be able to read the text.)

The whole situation seems absolutely ridiculous to me. Game developers have been designing games for SDTVs for more than two decades, yet all of a sudden they can't be bothered to put text or icons in their games that are big enough to make out on an SD set? I sent a text message to my friend, remembering that he was also without and HDTV. "Yeah, man. It's pretty bad. I have to get right up to the screen sometimes," he responded. Clearly, this is an issue for more than just one person or one game.

As near as I can tell from a cursory look around the Internet, HDTV adoption is somewhere near 50 percent in the U.S. This means approximately 150 million people have upgraded. With U.S. 360 sales at around 20 million and U.S. PlayStation 3 sales around 12 million, as of December 2009, I can definitely see how game companies have assumed that most of their customer base would have an HDTV, but it all still strikes me as a little bit lazy.

Lost Planet on SDTV

When SD users drummed up some outrage about the unreadable text in Dead Rising, the game industry as a whole should have clued in to the fact that these people do exist. To me, it seems easy for them to just make the text and icons a little larger — like they were in previous generations. I'm not asking them to change the size of the text to the font sizes found in the large-print section of Barnes & Noble.

The game industry hasn't figured out this seemingly obvious fact yet, and it seems like its already throwing itself head first into 3D TV support. Hey guys, you still don't have half of the entire country on the HD bandwagon, so why are moving into the 3D space? What sort of hiccups are going to occur there? As support for 3D TV rises in the general populous, will the developers forget about all of their non-3D customers? A lot has been said about this generation pushing past the normal five year lifespan because of the slumping economy, but apparently the industry thinks that doesn't count when it comes to any technology beside their actual consoles, even if that technology is integral to the experience.

For more of my writing on music, movies, and video games, head over to Cerebral Pop. And while you're there, hit the staff link at the top and check out all the great writers we've got. Many of them also frequently contribute to Bitmob.

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