Opinion-Bytes: So Much For Unity In The Community

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So much for unity.

If you’ve ever so much as glanced at next-gen console news, you’re probably familiar with Resolution-gate. For the rest of you, it goes a little something like this:

Just prior to the PS4 and Xbox One launch, bloggers and news outlets made a big stink over Call of Duty: Ghosts’ resolution. While the game ran at 1080p natively on the PS4, it was only pushing 720p on the Xbox One (and subsequently upscaled after the fact). Needless to say, the internet erupted with cries of, “EHRMAHGAWRD! The Xbox One is a hunk of junk! Game over, man! GAME OVER!” In the months that followed, Microsoft were continually barraged with negative press, as nearly every cross-platform title showed similar disparity. Of course, gamers and press alike continually fussed over resolution and frame-rate, and now, they’re pretty much used as marketing tools… and we, as a community, allowed it to happen.

What happened to playing video games for fun? Forget the numbers: 1080p, 960p, 900p, 720p… who cares? If resolution and frame rate were the only two things that mattered, shouldn’t I be tossing my last-gen library in the trash? Of course not, because resolution doesn’t tell the entire story. RYSE is still up there as one of the most impressive looking next-gen titles to date, and what was its resolution? 900p. The bottom line, is that games and features should determine the outcome of any ‘console war’ – which is a ridiculous term, in and of itself – NOT resolution.

Well, apparently, gaming communities across the net don’t agree.

Yesterday, news broke that Assassin’s Creed: Unity was locked at 900p/30fps on both the Xbox One and PS4. Here’s the actual quote from Senior Producer Vincent Pontbriand (as reported by Videogamer.com):

“We decided to lock them at the same specs to avoid all the debates and stuff,”… while explaining that it’s the consoles’ CPUs – not the GPU – that prevents Ubisoft Montreal from improving the game’s performance.

“Technically we’re CPU-bound,” he said. “The GPUs are really powerful, obviously the graphics look pretty good, but it’s the CPU (that) has to process the AI, the number of NPCs we have on screen, all these systems running parallel.

“We were quickly bottlenecked by that and it was a bit frustrating, because we thought that this was going to be a tenfold improvement over everything AI-wise, and we realized it was going to be pretty hard. It’s not the number of polygons that affect the framerate. We could be running at 100fps if it was just graphics, but because of AI, we’re still limited to 30 frames per second.”

Of course, the gaming community immediately went into knee-jerk reaction mode. The most popular theory is that Microsoft paid Ubisoft to maintain parity across the board. Also, for whatever reason, Ubisoft may have their own incentive for console parity. Another idea is that Ubisoft are so lazy and hungry for money, they didn’t feel like optimizing the game for each platform. Yet another possibility – and this seems to be the one that gets overlooked the most – is that because this is the first next-gen exclusive Assassin’s Creed, Ubisoft may have hit some snags in development, which in turn could have forced their hands into making some concessions.

Either way, it wasn’t a great PR move. For wanting to ‘avoid all the debates and stuff’, they managed to shoot themselves in the foot in spectacular fashion.

Ubisoft then attempted to clarify the situation a short time later:

“We understand how Senior Producer Vincent Pontbriand’s quotes have been misinterpreted…” Ubisoft said in a statement to Kotaku. “To set the record straight, we did not lower the specs for Assassin’s Creed Unity to account for any one system over the other.

“Assassin’s Creed Unity has been engineered from the ground up for next-generation consoles. Over the past 4 years, we have created Assassin’s Creed Unity to attain the tremendous level of quality we have now achieved on Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC. It’s a process of building up toward our goals, not scaling down, and we’re proud to say that we have reached those goals on all SKUs.

“At no point did we decide to reduce the ambitions of any SKU. All benefited from the full dedication of all of our available optimization resources to help them reach the level of quality we have today with the core Assassin’s Creed Unity experience.”

It’s the highly sanitized PR babble you’d expect when a situation like this erupts, but this, too, backfired on Ubisoft. Mere months ago, a Level Designer for AC: Unity told GamingBolt that ‘they are indeed targeting 1080p resolution and 60fps for both consoles.’

Oops. So much for achieving those goals… BLAM! Aaaand there goes the other foot.

You should never lie to your customers… ESPECIALLY while they’re parading #PS4NoParity on Twitter, with the hopes of getting next-gen console owners to boycott the game.

Feeling the rug sliding out from underneath them, Ubisoft provided another update, this time to Eurogamer:

“Final specs for Assassin’s Creed Unity aren’t completed yet,” a Ubisoft spokesperson explained, “but we can say we showed Assassin’s Creed Unity at 900p during our hands-on preview event last week. We’re confident that gamers will be thrilled with the gorgeous graphics and how Paris is brought to life in Assassin’s Creed Unity.

“The development team has been hard at work delivering the best Assassin’s Creed possible on next generation consoles. Regardless of which platform you’re playing on, Assassin’s Creed Unity will answer what an Assassin’s Creed game built from the ground up for the next generation of gaming looks like and will be the best looking Assassin’s Creed game ever developed.”

So, what are the facts?

Well, it’s basically just a bunch of PR nonsense that’s inconsistent at best. Nobody REALLY knows what happened. That said, I’d like to dissect some of what the various representative at Ubisoft have said:

“We decided to lock them at the same specs to avoid all the debates and stuff,” and then goes on to explain why AC:U’s performance isn’t better than that.

Personally, I don’t see the conflict here. They aimed for parity (at 1080p), and they achieved parity… at a lower resolution and frame rate, yes, but parity WAS achieved.

‘They are indeed targeting 1080p resolution and 60fps for both consoles.’

People REALLY yanked their ‘jump to conclusion’ mats out over this, all while ignoring the most important word of all: TARGETING. Ubisoft may have set their sights on 1080p/60fps, but that didn’t mean it was going to happen. And by the way… did ANYONE complain when those parity numbers were 1080p/60fps? Of course not. Now that the numbers are lower, however, people are assuming the worst and passing conjecture off as fact.

“To set the record straight, we did not lower the specs for Assassin’s Creed Unity to account for any one system over the other.”

There is literally ZERO evidence to show that the decision to go 900p/30fps was to accommodate one console over the other. Parity was in the cards before making the decision to drop resolution and frame rate.

That’s not to say there isn’t anything worth complaining about. Ubisoft lied and hoped nobody would notice. It upsets me, and it should upset you, too. There’s a blatant lack of transparency in this industry, and when publishers make up whatever they think we want to hear just to shut us up, it’s insulting.

Everything else though – from Xbox moneyhatting to whatever – is merely conjecture. As of right now, nobody ‘knows’ why Unity has the same specs on both consoles. For all we know, Ubisoft could have bitten off more than they could chew – keep in mind, the game already had a minor delay – leaving themselves little time for optimization… but that’s just it. We. Don’t. Know. It’s also worth noting that Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag launched at 900p, but was eventually patched to 1080p on the PS4.

Me? I’m still going to buy Assassin’s Creed. Why? Because I like Assassin’s Creed.

As Andre Gide once said:

“Believe those who are seeking the truth. Doubt those who find it.”

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