As many of you know, I cut my video gaming teeth on the original Atari 2600 — or at least the Sears branded version of it — so I remember the good old days (ha!) of 8 bit gaming. Had you shown 10 year old me what current generation video games would be like, I wouldn’t have believed it possible.
These days, video games have advanced to the point where highly detailed 3D worlds full of NPCs and tons of interactive objects are the norm. Naturally, our expectations of what a game should look and play like have risen accordingly, but there are times when I think we’ve gotten a little spoiled by the riches of modern gaming.
Take, for example, Marvel’s Spider-Man. Which has a brand new game launching on the PS4 today. I’ve been licking my chops waiting for this title to drop as the E3 demo from last year looked fantastic and it’s going to be a bit before I can get my hands on it. Probably not until Christmas as we’re at that point in the year that I tend to stop buying games for myself lest I screw up someone’s Christmas gift for me. It’s gonna be difficult to be patient because the demos I’ve seen are amazing. Which is why I’m surprised to find out some gamers are complaining that the game has been downgraded.
Apparently, it all started with a post on Reddit that was just the screenshot I’ve included below. As you can clearly see, Spider-Man’s suit isn’t as shiny in the shot from the release version of the game as it was in the E3 demo. Also, where’d all that water go?
Thus started the conversation about how the release version of the game had been “downgraded” graphically. Presumably for performance reasons. I say “conversation”, but that’s probably being way too generous. Basically, some fans went apeshit and proclaimed loudly that they were going to cancel their preorder and so on and so forth.
Eventually someone took to Twitter to send the screenshot to the developer, Insomniac Games (who are responsible for some of the best Playstation games ever including the Ratchet & Clank and Resistance series) and asked why they downgraded the graphics to which Insomniac replied that they didn’t downgrade anything. Which didn’t really help and the “debate” raged on.
To be fair to the folks crying foul, there is a rich history in the video game industry of final releases that didn’t live up to the demos that developers had used to build up hype for the game. Probably one of the best known examples, that also helped sell a lot of PS4s in anticipation of its release, was Watch Dogs which allowed players to live out their super-hacker dreams in a GTA-style open world. When it was unveiled in 2012 the graphics in the demo were amazing, but the final release looked more like a port from the PS3 than the next gen title it was supposed to be.
Another example is The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. The initial footage wowed gamers in 2014 so gamers were surprised when the 2015 release had graphics that had been pared back. It was still an incredible looking game and it went on to great success, but there was no denying it didn’t live up to the initial footage even after developers released a patch that improved things.
Maybe it’s because I’m old and I come from a time when ads for games often didn’t use actual screenshots or had simulated representations on TV, but even with the examples above I think folks are being nitpicky and this is especially true with the just released Marvel’s Spider-Man. Sure, I was underwhelmed by Watch Dogs once I got my hands on it, but that was due more to the fact that the gameplay wasn’t quite as varied as they had suggested. As for The Witcher 3, I had no problems with the release version’s graphic fidelity, but that hasn’t stopped me from only playing it for a few hours. For fuck’s sake, I played Spider-Man on the Atari 2600 and it looked like this:
Granted, that’s an 8 bit game written in just 4K memory circa 1982, but it wasn’t half-bad for what it was. It played a bit like the arcade game Crazy Climber in that it had bad guys showing up in windows who would cut your web lines and bombs from the Green Goblin you had to defuse while scaling the building. By comparison, the amount of detail and just sheer things you can do in Marvel’s Spider-Man is insane. Who the fuck cares if it isn’t quite as detailed as the E3 demo from last year? You get to swing from spider webs around a detailed 3D recreation of New York City beating the shit out of bad guys, finding collectables, and enjoying a narrative story that is more than a blurb on the back of the box the game came in. OH NOES! THE PUDDLES AREN’T AS DETAILED AS THE DEMO! I’M NOT PLAYING THIS CRAP!
There’s a group out there called Digital Foundry that came together in 2004 specifically to analyze video games and settle arguments such as the one about downgraded graphics in the final release of a title. A couple of days ago they released their video on Marvel’s Spider-Man and they argue that not only is the final release not downgraded, but it’s an improvement over the E3 demo in a lot of areas.
I don’t watch a lot of their videos, but I thought I’d check this one out given all the noise that’s been made about it. It was during that viewing that it occurred to me that video gamers have gotten spoiled. The DF folks do an amazing job of pointing out all the details that are in this game and the methods used to achieve those effects. You don’t have to fully understand what a Cube Map is to appreciate what it adds to the visuals when it’s pointed out to you. For a game that expects you to spend a lot of time swinging between buildings high in the air, there’s an amazing amount of detail at street level when you opt to just walk around a bit. From the number of unique and varied NPCs to the amount of traffic to the various storefronts, this looks and feels like a living world.
The DF folks show where you can see how the underlying game engine works to compromise between realism and playability in areas such as the reflections of other buildings in the windows of the one you’re climbing up and it’s the sort of thing you’re only likely to notice if you were looking for it. In the heat of gameplay it’ll probably never catch your attention and it shouldn’t matter that much if it does if the gameplay is fun. That stupid Atari 2600 game was as basic as you can get, but it was Spidey’s first video game and it kept us entertained for awhile and it’s nothing compared to this. Here, check out Digital Foundry’s video for yourself:
Isn’t that amazing? The detail on his costume alone is something that would’ve been impossible 10 years ago. It’s also a detail you’ll probably notice once before your eye is overwhelmed by all the visual candy on display. Now we’re on the verge of having real-time ray tracing in video games that only looks to make for another big leap in visual quality as it’ll help to eliminate some of the limitations current games have to work around.
All of the reviews I’ve read for Marvel’s Spider-Man have it pegged as arguably the best Spider-Man game ever made. So quit yer bitchin’ and appreciate what you’ve been offered here. While you’re at it, get the hell off of my lawn!