Wed. Mar 22nd, 2023
Assassin's Creed Unity meets gaming's

It’s been an interesting week for people who like to quantify the technical and graphic performance of games. It was also of interest to Ubisoft, which has been busy rolling back statements after inadvertently sparking a debate about how hardware power, frame rates and artistry all play a role in modern game design.

The issue started on Monday, then Assassin’s Creed Unity Senior Producer Vincent Pontbriand told Assassin’s Creed Unity was locked at 900p resolution and 30 frames per second on both the PS4 and Xbox One. That’s remarkable in its own right, given the interest in pixel and frame counting as a way of comparing the power of the two systems, but it was Pontbriand’s stated reasoning that really powered the story.

“We decided to put them on the same specs to avoid all the discussions and stuff,” Pontbriand told

With that statement, those ‘debates and such’ naturally flared up more fiercely than ever. Gamers flooded Twitter under the hashtag #PS4NoParityangry at the idea that the game’s performance on Sony’s system was presumably scaled back to prevent the Xbox One version from appearing.

Ubisoft has let me down again a representative tweet. “Stop fucking with my games because Xbox One sucks!”

Gaming forums and YouTube talking heads weighed in on the issue with ferocity.

Ubisoft quickly issued a statement assuring fans that it is not holding back any version of the game for the sake of console parity. “To set the record straight, we have not lowered the specs for Assassin’s Creed Unity to consider one system over another,” the statement reads. “At no point did we decide to reduce the aspirations of any SKU. They all benefited from the full commitment of all of our available optimization resources to help them achieve the level of quality we have today with the core Assassin’s Creed Unity experience.”

In another statement, released yesterday, Ubisoft bluntly stated that it “does not limit its games. We would not limit a game’s resolution. And we would never do anything to intentionally reduce anything we produced or developed.”

Pontbriand himself said in that statement that he “simply chose the wrong words when he talked about the game’s resolution, and I’m sorry about that.”

“We could run at 100fps if it were just graphics”

Taking Ubisoft at its word, how does the company explain the game falling below the “1080p/60fps” increasingly seen as the gold standard for the latest generation of console games? It’s partly an artistic decision and partly about prioritizing things other than pure graphics numbers, the company says.

In his first interview with, Pontbriand noted that running the artificial intelligence for the game’s massive crowds eats up a lot of the systems’ computing bandwidth. “Technically, we’re CPU-bound,” he said. “The GPUs are very powerful, the graphics obviously look pretty good, but the thing is the CPU [that] has to process the AI, the number of NPCs we have on screen, all these systems running in parallel.”

“It’s not the number of polygons that affects the frame rate,” he continued. “We could run at 100fps if it were just graphics, but we’re still limited to 30 frames per second because of AI.”

Rather than simply maxing out resolution and frame rate numbers, Ubisoft says it wanted to prioritize features that enhance the gameplay experience, including those AI crowds and environments that are precisely scaled to the real world (rather than the three-quarter scale of older games in the series).

“Please note that prev Assassin’s Creed games can support about 100 to 150 NPCs [on-screen at once]Ubisoft said in Thursday’s statement.Assassin’s Creed Unity has masses of thousands of NPCs on screen, and you can interact with any of them.”

In further statements, Ubisoft focused on the idea that games actually looked much better at 60 frames per second. “At Ubisoft, we wanted to push 60fps for a long time,” Unit Nicolas Guérin, director of World Level Design, told TechRadar. “I don’t think it was a good idea because you don’t gain that much at 60fps and it doesn’t look like the real thing. It’s kind of like The Hobbit movie; it looked very strange.”

Creative director Alex Amancio added that 30fps “feels more cinematic” and that by scaling back the frame rate we can “push the boundaries of everything to the max. It’s like people are starting to ask about resolution. Is it the number or the quality of pixels you want? If the game looks great, what difference does the number matter?”

How many frames do we really need?

Ubisoft’s explanation raises questions about how important it is for game makers to prioritize a high frame rate over other factors when designing their games. (Just like “Resolutiongate” raised questions about the value of extra pixels, as Ars discussed earlier).

There are plenty of games where showing as many different frames as possible is paramount. During my Dance Dance Revolution stage in college, I remember the moment when I was finally able to move from the 30fps versions of the games on the original PlayStation to the 60fps smoothness of DDR max on the PS2. In a game so obsessed with accurate timing and visuals matching the music, the extra frames had an immediate and significant impact on the gameplay experience.

For competitive twitch games such as first-person shooters, real-time strategy games, and fighting games, increasing the frame rate is important for the experience. These are games where high-level players literally measure events by the number of frames they need to render and being “frame-perfect” with an entry can mean the difference between success and failure. For those games and players, locking in a frame rate of at least 60 frames per second without much stuttering up and down is paramount.

TF2 is not particularly playable at 1 frame per second…

For games that don’t require such precision, focusing on frames per second as a measure of a game’s overall graphics quality or a system’s hardware power is as short-sighted as focusing on megapixel count when choosing a digital camera. Of course, when the frame rate drops well below 24 to 30 frames per second, most people begin to see animation as jumpy or disjointed. Above that minimum threshold, however, an argument must be made that simply pumping up the number of frames need not be the priority in every game.

Of course, all other things being equal, more frames per second is usually a good thing. But when it comes to graphics in games, all things are not equal. Pushing out more frames every second requires CPU and GPU time that, as Ubisoft points out, can be spent on other things with a much more direct impact on a game’s quality, such as AI and environment modeling. Things like this affect the quality of the gaming experience at least as much as the smoothness of the animation, even if they can’t be easily quantified into a number that can be quickly compared between games and systems.

Even with plenty of hardware power left, an ultra-smooth frame rate isn’t necessarily the right artistic choice for every game. Outside of those frame-dependent Twitch games, frame rate can be seen as an important aesthetic choice for a game designer to consider. Like it or not, the public has been trained by years of TV and movies to view video at the 24-frame film standard (or the equivalent TV standard of 30 fps) as “cinematic.” Visual media exceeding these rates can appear unnaturally smooth, an effect akin to the uncanny valley in computer modeling. For a historically minded game like Assassin’s Creed Unityespecially, I see a lower frame rate that actually matches the feel of the time period better than a pumped up frame rate that approaches “true” smoothness.

It may sound like excuses or “laziness” for a developer not to push that frame rate number as high as possible, but there are valid design tradeoffs and artistic concerns that make maximum frame rates just one part of a complex equation.

By akfire1

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