Now that the Xbox One X has arrived alongside the PlayStation 4 Pro, we have well and truly entered the era of 4K gaming. Sure, many of us still have one foot in the not-so-distant Full HD past but the march onwards has begun.
Technology is advancing and gaming is changing for both players and developers as a result. As players we know we get incredible gaming experiences from these advancements but what are things like on the development side?
Game developers are being encouraged to seize upon the technology with greater urgency. There’s no point in 4K consoles if there aren’t any 4K games to play, after all.
More often than not we hear developers praise the visual quality these more powerful consoles enable. The word exciting is used repeatedly. But it seems unlikely that everything is rosy when working with new technology – there must be challenges.
A recent interview TechRadar had with Final Fantasy 14’s director Naoki Yoshida confirmed that’s indeed the case.
When we asked Yoshida how he felt about the new 4K and HDR capable consoles as a developer he told us that they actually make things “quite challenging.”
When comparing 4K to HD, he explained, there are four times as many pixels to work with and this “seems like four times more details you have to put into the game.” While this is an exciting prospect for any creative medium, for games it’s slightly more challenging as “you have to make sure everything can be seen from many different angles, so the cost is tremendous.”
To explain further, Yoshida approached the wall of the room we were sitting in and gestured to some smudged handprints on the white paint. “For example, you see these handprints on the wall? [In games] you wouldn’t have needed these before. But now to try to show the reality in the game you have to start drawing those in.
Previously you’d say you won’t see it so don’t worry about it, but now you need to make sure it’s there because that’s the kind of reality that people start to expect.”
The devil is in the detail
That’s a lot of extra effort both financially and creatively, and Yoshida admitted that “sometimes you wonder if the player is actually noticing all these details.” Turning back to the handprints he said, “would all the players stand in front of the handprint and appreciate the detail? It’s not like everyone’s going to buy the game just because there’s a screenshot of all the details we put in the game.”
Even more challenging than achieving the level of realism that people expect, though, is making sure you don’t surpass it because this could mar the gameplay experience just as much: “what you’re seeing on screen is becoming closer to what you actually see in the real world [...] if it’s too pretty or too clean people think it doesn’t look realistic.”
Despite all of these challenges, however, Yoshida still views the console technology very positively: “Being able to work with the new tech and having the investment to allow us to work with it is an honor [as an] engineer it’s very challenging and exciting at the same time.”
It’s because of the challenges and rewards that come from them that Yoshida is certain “we can’t stop” developing for these new consoles. “It keep us going.”
What about VR?
It’s not just 4K consoles that are changing the gaming landscape, however – virtual reality experiences are continuing to flourish.
Final Fantasy 15 is delving into the technology with its Monsters of the Deep experience but when we asked Yoshida if this is the kind of thing we should expect to see for Final Fantasy 14 he told us no.
A test case for made for Titan Battle in VR at Tokyo Game Show in 2014 and Yoshida said that he was happy to see that “feedback was very positive.”
However, developing the experience required working with Sony to create “special graphics and special UI” to “make sure players have the best gaming experience.”
This kind of customisation would be untenable for a game like Final Fantasy 14, Yoshida reasons. “When it comes to 14, considering we have such a variety of content would we make it for such a small userbase? I think the answer would have to be no. It doesn’t make sense from a business point of view.”
That’s not to say Yoshida is against virtual reality technology: “I do believe that in maybe the next 15 or 30 years' time all the games will be VR” he told us, “but today I’m not actually sure how many people will play the game with that heavy device so I think the hardware needs to evolve a bit more.”
Would he be interested in working with the technology in its current form? “If Sony SIE says we will invest, please make it so, then I might consider it.”
Keep an eye out for our full interview with Naoki Yoshida and other directors from the Final Fantasy franchise over the next couple of weeks as we celebrate the series’ 30th birthday.