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The file sizes of video games always seem to get bigger with the move to each new set of consoles, and recent times are no exception. The difference today is that customers are increasingly being asked to acquire entire games straight out of the air instead of from a disc, and the sizes of today’s full-retail games are outpacing some people’s internet connections. Depending on where you live this is mostly the fault of ISPs, but I think there are some things developers can do to keep file sizes down without drastically impacting gameplay or graphics.
When or if I buy Wolfenstein: The New Order this year, it will probably be the physical PC version because I don’t want to have to download 50GB on my internet connection and monthly data cap. When I download a game on Steam my maximum download speed is around 1.5 Megabytes per second. Installing a 20GB game usually takes me six hours. If Call of Duty Ghosts — somewhere north of 40GB, shows up on a Steam free weekend, I’d have to spend 12 of those free hours downloading the game. On that note maybe EA’s Origin Game Time is a better take on the free trial idea since it doesn’t start your clock until you’ve actually installed the game.
I elected to buy games like Max Payne 3, RAGE, and Bioshock Infinite on discs instead of Steam mainly to avoid downloading them. We say physical retail is dead for PC gaming and in decline everywhere else, but in my experience installing a game off a disc is still much faster than downloading it. This is probably why most PS4 and Xbox One owners are buying games at retail despite every console game being available digitally now. Even those people however can’t totally avoid the problem. Dead Rising 3 had a 13GB day one patch for anyone who bought it on a disc. Halo: Master Chief Collection will have a 20GB day-one patch.
Hard drive space is a problem too, though not an especially serious one. Consoles have 500GB hard drives now, and terabyte HDDs for PCs aren’t expensive. Space is a premium for Solid State Drive users however. I love how fast mine is and will never install another OS on a hard disc drive if I can help it. But the price per gigabyte on SSDs is still insane, so I had to settle for a 128GB drive. As my system currently is, installing a game like Call of Duty Ghosts or New Order would consume basically all the remaining space on my drive.
People hail the file size expansion as a sign video game graphics are moving forward. A lot of that space comes from higher-quality textures, especially for the PC versions of games, which is great. There are other things that might hog data however that I think developers could cut back on.
Developers should use less pre-rendered FMVs for one thing. The PC version of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is nearly 25GB, but as I understand it around 18 of those gigs are consumed by FMVs. The actual game is somewhere around 5GB. The recent PC release of Final Fantasy XIII weighs in at 60GB, with FMVs accounting for 46GB.
FMVs made sense back in the 90’s when real-time video game graphics couldn’t display events in storylines as convincingly. Pre-rendered CG graphics are always a generation ahead of video game graphics, but I’d say real-time graphics have gotten good enough to fully convey storylines. Plus, they mesh better with the actual gameplay. FMVs have also only accelerated their file size increases with the move to encoding them in 1080p.
Somewhat odd are games that use FMVs that are pre-rendered with the same graphics as gameplay. Maybe things are rendered in those cut scenes that the gameplay engine can’t handle or doesn’t need, but I think developers should still try if it can make the difference in file sizes. Can some developers do a better job of compressing the video files if FMVs are unavoidable? Maybe some games should do a better job of storytelling that conveys more through gameplay and less through cut scenes and FMVs.
Do developers really have to include multiple audio languages with the download? With the move to uncompressed audio, which actually started with the PS3, some games are ballooning in size because they include eight audio languages and force digital customers to download all of them, even though they’ll probably only listen to one. Final Fantasy XIII’s 46GB of FMVs actually includes two versions of each FMV for each language, but doesn’t provide an option to download just one. I hear Max Payne 3 — which is over 30GB, has this problem too. If you buy the Witcher games on Good Old Games however, the initial download is just one language with the others available for download separately. What if digital distribution platforms simply let customers choose audio languages when they initially download games?
Then you have asset quality. Titanfall is 48GB on PC because it uses uncompressed audio which is easier on dual core processors. In addition to choice of languages, why don’t they give players a choice on whether uncompressed audio matters to them. The same goes for textures. Some pirate versions of Max Payne 3 come with only one audio language or with compressed textures to cut down on the download size. I wonder how many customers would be receptive to official distributors doing the same thing.
Is download compression an option? An interesting thing Titanfall actually does is it compresses its files during the initial download to about 20GB, decompressing to 48GB during installation. Is there some development-related reason other 50GB games can’t do this?
Overall I think the main issue here is that right now, digital distribution basically means straight-up downloading the files that are on the disc. When developers know they can fit 50GB of data on a Blu-Ray, they aren’t really thinking about the guy who has to download those 50 gigs. If they did I think they would be giving people more options concerning what to download when they get a game.
I know the ultimate problem is ISPs in many countries. 50GB games probably aren’t much of a problem if you have unlimited data or gigabit internet. Unfortunately, many ISPs are only clamping down more on speed and data, and probably aren’t accounting for services like Steam or game consoles. Ideally the onus would be on ISPs to solve this problem by offering better service, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon. In the meantime I think platform holders and developers should try to mitigate the problem from their end.