Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Watch_Dogs Graphics Controversy

In 2012, a short gameplay video of Ubisoft's Watch_Dogs was shown at E3. Touted as the next graphical step in the console wars, it was received extremely well by both critics and gamers. The hype for Watch_Dogs was very real, and to some, it was supposed to be the first truly "next gen" title for the X-Bone and PS4. Developed by Ubisoft Montreal, the studio who brought us the Assassin's Creed series, Rainbow Six: Vegas 1 and 2, and Farcry 3 and Blood Dragon, Watch_Dogs had the pedigree to be something special both in gameplay and, more importantly, graphically.

However, when it finally released on the 27th, it immediately became apparent that there was a pretty big difference between what was shown at E3 2012, and what we actually got in 2014. For those who haven't seen the difference, this image will give you an idea of just how different it is:
The lighting is different, textures appear to have been downgraded and the crowds in the world are less dense. Alongside the very obvious graphics downgrade, the PC version has been plagued with bugs. Players have reported strange frame drops, mouse acceleration issues, and a stuttering where the game seems to freeze for a split second. Before the game was released, people called out Ubisoft for the downgrade in some of the more recent trailers. A Ubisoft PR rep responded with a simple "nothing was downgraded" and left it at that.

But, this was proven to be a lie. Last week, a modder by the name of TheWorse posted on the Guru3d forums about some files he had found while searching for fixes to the stuttering issues on the PC version of Watch_Dogs.
After release and this stupid stuttering problems I started searching for fixes etc.
Then I saw many threads talking about the engine when I realized it was based on dunia 2 so I tried to unpack the files which obviously not worked.. so after searching so much for the unpacker I found it, started playing with it and after a long time of testing I ended up getting the E3 Bloom from 2012 working.
After studying how bin hex worked and downloading many tools to convert files etc, I was able to integrate and enable many effects. I told myself to keep trying and trying and that is what I have done.
 As you can see in the picture to the right, the config files still contained all the settings to activate the effects shown in the E3 gameplay footage. Some news outlets are calling this a "mod", but in reality it's a simple config change to activate what many considered the selling point of the game. To add to that, TheWorse was able to find fixes for the stuttering issues in the PC version, all within the files of the game. To add insult to injury, a picture surfaced of a line of code that had the comment "This is PC only, who cares" written above it (although this honestly could easily be a fake).

And the result of all this? Reddit blew up, twitter went crazy and Ubisoft went into damage control. PC gamers were/are obviously angry that a game that should have been a showpiece on our platform was seemingly hamstrung to bring it closer to what the modern consoles can do, and that we are getting no clear answers from Ubisoft at this stage.

The question remains: Did Ubisoft deliberately lower the settings to bring PC down to the console level, and if they did, why? There is no reason I can think of that makes sense. It's no secret that Ubisoft's history with the PC is full of controversy. In 2012, the CEO of Ubisoft Yves Guillemot made the incredibly uninformed statement that "only 5 - 7% of PC gamers pay, the rest is pirated". While I am a fan of the Assassins Creed series, they are some of the least optimized PC games on the market, and the always online DRM with Uplay has a history of dropping out and losing all progress.

But the thought that a company would deliberately hamstring a PC version of a game to make it run the same as the version on the consoles is disturbing. It's no secret that the PC versions of games are going to be superior to consoles as the hardware is better. The biggest downside would be because there isn't standardized hardware, they have to spend more time optimizing the game (and that's one of the big reasons PC ports can be bad, as they aren't optimized properly), but the vast majority of PC games will look and run better than a console. Why a company as big as Ubisoft wants the PC versions of their games to below their full potential is beyond me. Hopefully this isn't a sign of things to come from Ubisoft.

As always,


Edit: Ubisoft has replied. In a post on the news page of the Watch_Dogs website, they state:
The dev team is completely dedicated to getting the most out of each platform, so the notion that we would actively downgrade quality is contrary to everything we’ve set out to achieve. We test and optimize our games for each platform on which they’re released, striving for the best possible quality. The PC version does indeed contain some old, unused render settings that were deactivated for a variety of reasons, including possible impacts on visual fidelity, stability, performance and overall gameplay quality. Modders are usually creative and passionate players, and while we appreciate their enthusiasm, the mod in question (which uses those old settings) subjectively enhances the game’s visual fidelity in certain situations but also can have various negative impacts. Those could range from performance issues, to difficulty in reading the environment in order to appreciate the gameplay, to potentially making the game less enjoyable or even unstable.
Thanks for playing Watch Dogs and stay safe on the mean streets of Chicago.
-The Watch Dogs Team
So far the vast majority of feedback I have seen to this post has been negative, and people are quite obviously sick of the rhetoric from the devs over the graphics controversy. I personally don't think this is the end of the discussion, and with news about Farcry 4's possible graphics downgrade, I'm hoping this really doesn't continue to be the norm for the gaming industry.

Let's hope not.

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