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Question of the Week Responses: HD Video Games?

Examining whether high-definition visuals are vital to continuing gaming's rise, our latest Question of the Week asked our audience of game professionals: "Is HD important to the future of video games?"

With Microsoft's Xbox 360 and Sony's PlayStation 3 set to support a resolution of at least 720p, pushing high-definition as a prominent feature in the next-generation of consoles, Gamasutra asked our audience:“Is HD important to the future of video games?”

The responses from our audience of game professionals showed a surprising range of opinions, ranging from suggestions that HD is simply not important at all, all the way to the concept of HD being completely vital in taking video games to the next immersive experience.

HD is Important

Those that felt HD is important to the future of video games cited a variety of reasons why, but with no clear-cut consensus. Nonetheless, some notable suggestions were to better realize the artistic vision of game developers, to create a more immersive, realistic experience, and to better compete with television and movies as an entertainment medium.

 

 


HD is important in giving game developers access to a better, more standardized, medium for relating their visuals, but it is even more important to the future of the industry. To further abuse a marketing term, HDTVs are the center of the trend towards "convergence" of consumer multimedia electronics and high-power home computing. A progressive-scan HDTV is really just a wide-screen computer monitor, that tends to be much bigger and cheaper than such monitors were in the past. As the marketplace starts to look at their computers and their entertainment components as one and the same, less as idiot-boxes and more as productivity devices with "fun thrown in," it will become much less of a leap to market a high-end gaming PC/console as a gaming device with powerful productivity and media tools given as a bonus. Right now gaming PCs seem more like a work-box with overly expensive game components inside, and consoles seem like just another TV attachment that "lets" you play games offered by that specific console maker. The less boxes consumers have to buy, the more they can spend on one box, and the more likely it will be that they want to play the latest and greatest games on that box. As standards converge around a one-box-of-all-trades model, it will become much easier for game developers to reach a larger audience. As long as those standards remain open, and multiple hardware and software vendors compete to be the ultimate tool in standards compliance, equipment and software costs can only go lower for both the consumer and the developer communities. Lower cost means better accessibility, to a wider population, which is a boon to any industry. When we start talking about video games less in terms of market saturation, and more in terms of social ubiquity, that will be the first sign of success. HDTV, as an international and open visual interface standard, is central to that progression.
-Jared Hardy, Obey Kitty

It is, and it will be... but not right now. At the moment, there isn't a large enough installed base of HDTVs in consumers' homes, but in a few years there will be. I'd predict around 2007 is when it will really start to matter, in the U.S. at least. This is assuming we are talking about consoles though, as high resolution graphics have mattered for quite some time in the PC market.
-Derick Eisenhardt, EMH Games

If HD is used to create a more immersive experience for the gamer and the goal of a game is to include the player at the greatest level possible then it is important.
-Kent Simon, Novalogic

Personally I think that the console creators should make a deal with Sony or Dell or Panasonic… whoever to create monitors for the consoles. TV is bad for everyone anyways. All I ever wanted was a really kick butt screen to play movies and games on, as do many of the people I know. Who has time to waste watching television programs anyways? Let's create something that works with the consoles and the PCs, not the other way around. Start something new and innovative. If something like this existed, no one would need television. It would be sweet.
-Christina Bergschneider

I work at one of the largest consumer electronic retailers in the U.S. and see firsthand the reaction people have to the "HD Experience" as it relates both to games and to traditional TV-entertainment. HD requires a leap of faith by the consumer. After they make that first leap, though, there is no turning back. HD is one of those features that you do not know you have until you lose it. HD as a technology is important to video games now, but it is not as accepted as “the way to play” quite yet. This generation of consoles may be seen as overkill as far as HD is concerned, but it's a step to get the consumer's feet wet for coming generations and make HD the norm for video games. Microsoft started this transition by defaulting with HD cables in their standard bundle, making composite/S-V cables the "RF-adapter" of the future.
-Anonymous

Absolutely. After seeing a game like Oblivion in HD, I think most gamers will never look back. That's going to affect the amount of time and money that gets put into top-shelf games. It's certainly going to increase the market for texture designers.
-Morgan LaVigne, Classroom, Inc

Yes. As developers further push the bounds of realism in games (and related applications), it's important that the output and display technology available to the consumer be sufficient to realize the beauty and detail thereof. If the consumer cannot visually discern the level of detail in one game from another, even though the one has a significantly higher level of detail than the other, then the display technology in use has reached its limits. And, with current graphics technology, televisions of normal resolution are not sufficient to express the full level of detail displayed in many games. Computer monitors have been able to display graphics of higher resolution than that of the standard television for many years; it's time that console display technology catches up. On a related note, we must keep in mind that our eyes do not have a maximum resolution in the same way that televisions and computer monitors do, so there is really no point at which someone can say "Okay, that's enough, we don't need anymore detail than what we have now." And so, there is no reason to believe that graphics technology will not continue to evolve as it has so far, producing ever higher and higher levels of detail in games (and related applications). In the future, HD, as we currently understand it, will not be enough; it will reach its limits just as standard television displays have now. HD is a good start for now, but "for the future of video games" that's all it is.
-Matthew Thomas, University of Montana

Absolutely. HD is a reality of the home entertainment world. Video games will continue to compete with films and TV, and need to compare well with their use of HD.
-Justine Bizzocchi, BizArts

Yes... it is very important. High definition is the number one factor that can influence the PC gamer to purchase the console version over the PC version. Not only does HD help generate an interest in console games from the PC gamer market, but it also brings the original artistic vision of the game as it was intended by the developer to a high definition console system. No one wants to pay over 1000.00 US dollars to see a larger image of an 8-bit Mario, but someone will not think twice about spending that kind of money if it means their console games will look even better and more realistic than a standard television. Of course HD is only important if the game developer takes the time to build the game from the ground up using HD visuals. Take Gran Turismo 4, HD was thrown in as an afterthought... a very good decision pressured by the fan feedback during development, but clearly thought of after the code base was written for standard telvisions. I know I get tired of watching the game switch in and out of HD format based on where I am at in the game.
-Douglas Matulewic, MechLife


HD is Not Important

Those that felt that HD was unnecessary or over-hyped simply felt there were other things that were more important than how video games look. Commonly cited reasons included: a need for more innovation and better gameplay, the fact that PCs already have HD displays, and the expense in both developer and consumer dollars of HD.


HD is what broadband was 10 years ago. Everybody wants it, no one can afford it, and it's overpriced. Too bad the cost hurdle is so high. It's going to take some commoditization for HD to trickle in, especially since HD broadcasting isn't that commonplace. Standards and compatibility are issues too... it's sad when you spend $3 grand on a HDTV only to find (as a friend did recently) that your new Xbox 360 insists it's 480i. It'll be nice to see PC resolutions finally hitting the living room, though.
-Anonymous

Not really. I think there are quite a few items on the wish list way before HD. In fact, if Microsoft hadn't brought it up, I don't think the developers would have considered it a missing necessity for quite some time. 'Why does a dog lick itself between the legs? Because it can.' Why does Microsoft impose costly new standards which will further escalate the content explosion, which developers fear? Well, let's put it this way. I don't think they share the financial concerns with the studios out there in the field. Wasn't it Seamus Blackley's vision that the Xbox was going to free developers up to just practice their art? Help them focusing on making the things they always just wanted to? A console to be on the developers' side. Those aspirations should go beyond the API. Is the HD era just another "my dad can beat up your dad" aimed at Sony? Because I don't see how developers are to benefit from adding more costly polish into the equation, and as for consumers, I doubt they'll even notice (see Jason Rubin's talk about graphics saturation from GDC 2003). The more you look at the HD idea, the more it looks like another way of increasing the entry barriers to games development. Important to the future of video games? Important as another little bullet point on a marketing brief, perhaps, but not to the future of video gaming.
-Marque Pierre Sondergaard, Heroes Team

I would say “not necessarily.” While improved graphics have often been the impetus for the growth of the gamer population, video games (during actual gameplay at least) have never been able to match regular television broadcast quality (even the horrible FMV "games" of the "Night Trap" ilk). When and if HD becomes the standard, as the corporate flacks have been proclaiming for years, why should we expect things to be any different? If video games can somehow make the quantum leap in graphics and actually take advantage of HD's capabilities, great. But if not, I doubt it will bring the industry to its knees.
-Eric Braxton

Honestly, the entire push for HD has always seemed to be driven more by manufacturers than by consumer demand. HD television, next-generation optical discs, and even HD games - they seem like a want that has been created for consumers, rather than by consumers. I think this is borne out by a recent study that shows most people don't have any idea whether they're watching HDTV or not; if it was a feature that people wanted, they'd care enough to know. However, recently it's been made another box on the feature checklist for games, much like past graphical technologies. Whether or not people actually know what it will look like, the box of the game or system they're buying had better say "HD!" on it. This despite the fact that it hardly changes the appearance of games at all, much less the gameplay. So, is it really important to the future of games, themselves? I don't think so. PCs have been high-resolution for a long time, and people have been more willing to play games on their consoles regardless. And of course gameplay beats graphics, etc. But is it important to the future of game marketing? As much so as any other buzzword of the past.
-Anonymous

It's certainly important as a sales pitch, which can help improve sales of hardware and accordingly software. To consumers, it will be as important as the prevalance of HD displays, meaning it is bound to become continually more important. For console developers, it carries importance mostly because it forces - perhaps for the first time - you to create two levels of detail; one for low-def, which the additional rendering power exposed by the much lower resolution, another for high-def. As recent blunders show, failure to appreciate that both non-HD and HD consumer segments exist can make a game almost unplayable in either mode.
-Anonymous

Actually I think that video games are important to the future of HD. Video games are fast becoming the primary form of entertainment for most households. With the Xbox 360 and the PS3 supporting high definition resolutions, I believe that most households will finally make the leap into HDTV. In short, games will be the catalyst that will drive more people to upgrade. I don't believe that this relationship works the other way around however. Grand Theft Auto is not the first thing that comes to your mind when coming up with a list of beautiful games. Solid gameplay and/or themes that gamers find accessible or intriguing will always have higher priority than high definition visuals.
-Carlo Delallana, Ubisoft

HD is simply a higher resolution. PC's have offered higher resolution gaming for years, so why should consoles in the year 2005-2006 be left behind, resolution-wise? I don't see it as a revolutionary change or anything, but as simply an expected graphical improvement for any modern gaming device.
-Jason Alexander, Terminal Reality

God, I hope this isn't all we have up our sleeve. HD looks good when you're up close to your TV. If you're sitting back on a couch with your glasses off, it really doesn't matter. Is HD an improvement? Absolutely. Is it the future of videogames? Of course not.
-Matthew Freedman, Electronic Arts Canada

Yes and no. HD won't really make our games better, but it may distract us from the important parts enough to make them worse. It reminds me a lot of the FMV wave in the wake of the first CD-ROM drives.
-Caliban Darklock, Darklock Communications

Not overly so. From a graphics point of view, there are far more important things than high resolutions. Scene complexity, and lighting effects are far more important visually. And improvements to AI, physics and sound (like adaptive soundtracks, better sound filtering and occlusion, and sound effect modeling, all of which are not "HD" sound) are likely to add more to player experience than HD will.
-Anonymous

Not really. As more and more households get HDTVs, games that run on those TVs will of course support that format. But games will survive and thrive regardless what format they're output to. What's more important are technologies that allow new types of gameplay, and freedom to implement creative vision: cheaper RAM, more widespread broadband distribution, larger, faster storage media, new types of controllers, and better developer tools. Look at the jumps between the Atari 2600, the Genesis, the PS1, and the Xbox. Those leaps were astounding and all ran on regular TVs. What changed was processor speed and power, cheaper RAM, increased storage, Internet connectivity, etc. HD games do look awesome, and eventually that will be the standard for all games. But higher res graphics aren't what will take games forward.
-Anonymous

HD is quickly becoming the new catch phrase. It's good that the industry has grown to the point where HD is even an option but it's not an option that should make or break the industry. Innovative gameplay should be the driving force for industry growth. Upgrades in technology are always good but it seems that some marketing schemes suggest that HD support is enough to justify a purchase. Also considering what is required by the consumer to support HD and we are looking at an expense that many people just simply cannot afford. I have played many games in HD for the Xbox 360 and I can't be that impressed because I have also played Unreal Tournament 2004, Half Life 2, and Quake3: Team Arena in resolutions higher than what HD has to offer at the moment. Ideally, HD support would have to go hand in hand with great, innovative gameplay, presentation, smooth frame rates, etc., to really excite the more informed gamer. But then, you're talking about a total package and not just one aspect of it. Keep that same equation but remove HD support and you still have a great game that just plays in a lower resolution. Make a terrible game with HD support and you still have a terrible game.
-Victor Bunn, Solo Mission Studios

HD isn't important at all. Computer's have had high definition (high resolution) screens for a really long time now, so HD is really a thing of the past. While the newer consoles will look better on HDTVs, how many gamers really own one? Gameplay is far more important than graphics anyways. If your game is relying on being the best looking, or the highest resolution, then you are in trouble in a week when the next slightly better looking game comes along. Upping the number of pixels on the display isn't going to improve how fun a game is, just try cranking down/up the resolution a notch in your favorite game and you'll find that it really isn't that different at all.
-Anonymous

People who believe that high definition graphics are going to solve everything, are quite simply wrong. People are making too big a deal about it. Is that all there is to the next generation of games consoles? Support for something most of us don't have (HDTVs)? More expensive development costs? More development time? All this for an unrecognizable improvement of graphics (to the mass public's eyes)? It seems silly to me, there are far more important things for developers to think about, like originality and innovation in games. HD is expensive, is it worth the money? I don't think so. Is it important to the future of computer games? I don't think so. I think what is important the future of video games is developers finding new ways to interest players, before everyone gets fed up with the same old ideas being repeated. As a true enthusiast of video games and games development, I am really concerned about the way the industry is going. All this talk of HD as if it is going to change the face of gaming forever. Well it isn't. I have lost any faith that I had in Sony and Microsoft's priorities and I embrace Nintendo's direction. I think that the Revolution is more important to the future of video games than HD technology and the costs that come with it.
-Matthew Hazlehurst, DSF

I want to say yes because of the impetus Sony and Microsoft are placing on HD, but in actuality HD doesn't hold a great deal of significance to the future of gaming. Sure, HD will most likely pick up in popularity once the 360 is readily available, the PS3 launches, and HD sets drop in price, yet this has negligible effects on the industry as a whole. What is happening in the industry now is the formation of a schism between the massive, multi-million corporations and the independent developers who are finally finding a voice via digital distribution. The market is expanding enough that a viable indie solution is becoming attainable; most likely the majority of innovation will come out of the developers not tied down to budget pressures and parent publishers. With the Revolution, Nintendo may retreat from the mainstream and help shepherd a new school of gaming not focused on graphical power; and there's always the burgeoning mobile and portable markets that will never sport HD capabilities in a true sense. So, although it may not fade away like so many gimmicks, HD is not the true next step in gaming—the games are.
-Ben Serviss, Creo Ludus Entertainment

When it comes to the beauty and aesthetic quality of games, my mind plays tricks on me. I think about games like The Ocarina of Time , and I see the visuals flow as flawlessly as if they were completely pre-rendered in CG, for an HD system. Is it pure nostalgia? I was eleven when I played Ocarina for the first time, but the truth is; I know it can't be just nostalgia. The scene that, at this moment, I recall as enhanced beyond its means, happens to be one that I had completely forgotten until I had the chance to play Ocarina again this past June. Hell no, HD isn't the end-all be-all future of games. First, the casual market is huge, and I don't think any soccer moms are sitting around on Sunday afternoons wondering when they're getting high-definition jewels. Casual gamers play to fill time, to have fun. They play games to play games. In my opinion, this type of gamer may be closer to hardcore than any other type. They're not interested in bragging rights, playing every title, owning every title, or beating every title. All they want is for a game to be worth their time. Tetris is still selling. San Andreas ignored graphic updates. The Sims is The Sims. Millions still play Starcraft and Half Life. I just played through Super Mario World last weekend. And I would have bought a PlayStation 2 just to play Katamari. The fans are the future of gaming. Sales are our future. Truly, HD is but one bullet point on a list of what can make a good game great.
-Anonymous


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[Please note that the opinions of individual employees responding to the Question Of The Week may not represent those of their company.]

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