This post is about the “less filling, tastes great” debate of the video game console industry. Also known as, “my graphics are better than yours.” In any case, we’re revisiting the Xbox 360 versus PlayStation 3 horsepower fight.
The PS 3 has been touted as a graphics supercomputer by Sony and others who are fans of its Cell microprocessor. The PS 3 comes with a 3.2-gigahertz PowerPC processor and seven smaller cores that handle specific processing tasks. It also has an Nvidia graphics chip that, full told, gave the machine a huge amount of floating point processing power (think: extra good at math).
But not all developers are satisfied with the PS 3’s graphics. Hideo Kojima, the designer of Konami’s upcoming PS 3 title, “Metal Gear Solid 4,” just dissed the PS 3. His game is an exclusive that Sony has touted for years as proof positive that the PS 3 can outperform the Xbox 360. But processing experts have frequently said that the console processing battle was a wash. He said, “Game-wise, it’s pretty close to the original vision: you sneak into the battlefield and can choose whether to do a stealth game or interfere with the battle more directly. But the graphic side, things like motion-blending and the size of the map, totally was not accomplished to my original vision — to my satisfaction….The original vision was to go ten steps further.” He blamed the shortfall on the Cell processor. I saw a demo of the game at the Consumer Electronics Show and I would agree that it fell short of the expectations created by Konami’s video previews of the game. Kojima’s words won’t help Sony keep developers loyal to its platform.
The debate is sure to continue. Kojima says that eh PS 3’s restrictions meant he couldn’t make the game that he truly envisioned when he started talking about the title three years ago. The Metal Gear series always pushes the envelope on graphics capability in a game. Since Grand Theft Auto IV will come out simultaneously on the PS 3 and Xbox 360, the Metal Gear franchise was one of the last big exclusives that Sony could tout. I’ve seen GTA IV on the Xbox 360 and it looks really outstanding. The graphics are no different on the PS 3.
The Xbox 360 was designed on an earlier timetable than Sony’s machine and so its technical specifications weren’t as ambitious. But Microsoft’s executives and engineers say that they made smarter choices than Sony when it came to technical trade-offs. Microsoft, for instance, was able to dedicate 10 megabytes of embedded graphics memory for its ATI graphics chip. Sony, on the other hand, had a Blu-ray storage device that could store more graphics, about 25 gigabytes to Microsoft’s 9-gigabyte DVD. With more storage, you can get a wider variety of gaming graphics and just more content. But Microsoft argued that its DVD-9 drive could spin data off the disk more quickly than the slower Blu-ray drive could.
The Microsoft team also argued that it was easier to create games for the Xbox 360, while a number of developers have publicly complained about the difficulty of programming for the more complex Cell processor architecture. Sony executives countered that their game developers are on a learning curve. Just as developers had a tough time making the initial Xbox 360 games, so it was with the PS 3.
But you can expect Microsoft to start taking advantage of the situation, if what Kojima says turns out to be true. Epic Games’ “Gears of War 2” promises to take the Xbox 360’s graphics to a new level when it comes out this fall. When I looked at the graphics for “Resistance: Fall of Man” (fall 2006) for the PS 3 side by side with the graphics for the original “Gears of War,” (fall 2006), I thought that Gears of War looked better.
Julian Eggebrecht, head of Factor5, also noted that his PS 3 dragon-flying game, “Lair,” had huge environments that just weren’t possible in Xbox 360 games such as Gears of War. With your dragon, you could fight on the ground with enemies that you could see close-up, or you could take to the air and fly through a huge 3-D expanse. Unfortunately, Lair got panned in the press because the game itself was too hard to control.
Of course, a lot of fans of the Nintendo Wii can legitimately argue that superior graphics don’t matter anymore. But in the fight between Sony and Microsoft, the debate is relevant. And it could well determine whether or not Sony or Microsoft come in second-place to Nintendo in the console sales war. Sony has a lot of beefy games coming this year while Microsoft had huge hits like “Halo 3” last year.
Jon Peddie, a graphics expert and analyst at Jon Peddie Research, said, “I’ve heard from various developers and friends of developers that the programming environment for the PS3 and its lack of a useful compiler has made very difficult to exploit the machine’s potential, and taking twice as long to get things done – but that’s just hearsay. But, when you look at the cars in the racing games they are amazing with brilliant reflections, physics, and multi views – very impressive.”