Why Blu-ray Is Still Not Needed For Games
This is my first blog post in a while - and this time around I'm dealing with an issue that's been in the news a lot lately. Both Rage and Final Fantasy XIII are said to use more than one disk for their 360 versions, as opposed to only one blu-ray disk.
Many blu-ray proponents are celebrating these facts as justification for the format. But I see it from a different perspective - these games are clearly capable of running on the 360, and by recent developer comments Rage seems to already be running smoother on the 360. It seems the DVD format hasn't held back Rage's performance at all - and why should it - after all, DVDs are actually capable of being read faster through the 360's drive compared to the slightly slower blu-ray drive in the PS3.
Is it needed already?
Let's take a look at past PS3 games that, it has been claimed, would have been hampered were it not for the blu-ray disk they were burned onto.
A few games come to mind. Heavenly sword is one:
Metal Gear Solid 4 is another:
In Heavenly Sword's case, by simply compressing the audio, a great deal of space could be saved. The fact that it was uncompressed didn't really add to the quality, it was just because it could be left uncompressed. Localising the game for different regions rather than including all of the multilingual content on each and every disk could also have pushed it easily under the 8GB limit. Remember that this was just a short 6 hour game.
As seen in the image above, MGS4 takes up just shy of 30GB. It barely needs the dual-layer blu-ray. By my count, even by leaving in all of the uncompressed audio, it would only require 4 disks on DVD. Now this may be a big deal for you, but remember that swapping disks isn't nearly so much of a pain in the neck as having to install the game 5 times on each playthrough. The required installs are akin to disk-swapping, only a lot more painful. In this game's case, swapping disks as well as installing wouldn't be much more hassle.
Unfortunately my computer's blu-ray drive refuses to read PS3 games, but I believe certian things that were said regarding the disk space usage of Resistance 2 and LBP were exaggerated. Especially considering that all of the expansion packs for LBP (the data for which have actually been included in the free patches) have taken up very little space and provided a load of new content.
99% of games this generation can quite happily fit onto one DVD. You may wonder why this is, when games were filling up whole DVDs last gen, but actually DVD-9s can store 8GB - nearly twice the storage space of most games last gen. You also find that there is a limit to how much data you can actually create for a game - games aren't going to be getting any longer, because it's simply not economically feasable to make a 20-hour game and sell it for the same price as an 8-hour game, especially if it's an action game which would require huge amounts of attention to detail in every part.
Now let's move onto compression. A major argument in favour of using blu-ray for games is that you needn't compress assets for your game, resulting in higher quality. This is also one of the reasons that a PS3 game might take up more space on the disk than its 360 counterpart.
The first point I wish to make is reagarding lossless compression.
A losslessly compressed file, when decompressed, is bit-for-bit identical to an uncompressed one. Since all in-game assets need to be loaded into memory anyway, this is a small step which may actually improve loading times if reading from the disk is especially slow.
My second point is that often it's very difficult to distinguish between a raw, uncompressed image and a lossily compressed image. The same holds true for audio; and MP3 at a sufficiently high bitrate is nearly indistinguishable from a losslessly compressed sound file. And who's to say which one sounds better? This image is stored in a lossless file format (gif), but one of the pictures here has been compressed first using lossy JPEG compression. Can you see the differences?
My third point is that when you're focusing on playing the game, the fact that a texture has, under close scrutiny, very slight artifacts won't impact your gaming experience in the slightest. It won't even affect the graphics. Even the most obsessive videophiles on the planet wouldn't be able to spot these 'bad' textures from a distance.
What's stopping Final Fantasy XIII from being 100 hours long instead of 50?
What's stopping Halo: ODST from looking as good as other games in the genre?
It's not the limitations of the DVD format, that's for sure. The main reason games aren't longer than they are is simply time constraints. It takes a lot of time and effort to make a high-quality game, and each extra hour of gameplay is going to mean more work and costs. As I said before, it makes no sense to needlessly increase the length of your game just because you have a lot of disk space to fill. And hey, if you absolutely NEED to make a lengthy game, go ahead, and use more than one disk.
Graphical bottlenecks come primarily from memory constraints, as well as the power of the graphics card. It's all very well having 50GB of data, but you've only got 256MB of graphics memory in which to put it. Going back to compression, this means that if you want to pack your massive uncompressed textures into the video memory, you're going to have to compress them anyway!
It's not as though blu-ray itself doesn't have limitations; the slower read speed of the drive means that if you have more data to read, it's going to take longer. This is a major cause of required installs - otherwise it would slow the load times to unbearable levels, and streaming would be impossible. It's not as though these difficulties can't be overcome - but then, the issue of disk space is more easily overcome.
Do we mind swapping disks?
Because I don't. After all, if I want to play the game in the first place, I have to insert the disk. I've never heard anybody really complain about that. If Final Fantasy XIII ships on 3 disks, and is 50 hours long, that means I have more than 15 hours of gameplay before I have to spend 20 seconds swapping the disks over. Not a big deal at all really.
Rage supposedly will ship with multiplayer on one disk, and single-player on another. I can't see any reason that anybody would be flicking between single- and multiplayer more often than they would flick between playing one game and another. I may be playing a single-player game, and fancy playing multiplayer on another game, and this forces me to swap disks. But I've never had a problem with this, and neither has anyone else. Single-player and multiplayer modes are effectively two different games anyway since they are so distinct.
Of course, the fact that blu-ray isn't yet needed for games doesn't mean it won't be needed in the future. Of course there will come a time where 4 blu-ray disks are needed and at that stage DVDs aren't sufficient. But that day is years away. For now, there really is no compelling evidence that games are being held back by the limitations of the DVD format, so blu-ray is still not needed for games.