The Watch Dogs graphics downgrade isn’t the real problem
After yesterday’s dump of Watch Dogs information, an image has started going around that compares footage from the new trailer to footage of when it was announced at E3 2012. The differences between the new and old footage are very apparent, mostly through the lighting as the player in the video races down a city street. Since then, people, rightly so, have been very vocal about their confusion and fear that the game might not look as good as it was shown before.
There’s a few problems with the GIF and the footage it compares, though. For one, the original 2012 demo was likely running on a high-end PC to let the developers include as many graphical bells and whistles to grab your attention. Developers do this often because they’re trying to sell the game at E3, which is now a widely-broadcasted event. Secondly, it’s still unclear what platform the game was running on in the new trailer–to me, it looks like it might be Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3. So, the comparison might be unfair, although Ubisoft hasn’t clarified it despite engaging with the controversy today.
But aside from that, there’s a much bigger problem we’re running into here. Watch Dogs was delayed last year, which could mean a variety of things internally at Ubisoft Montreal, where the game is being created. One of those things could have been that the game needed to include more or different gameplay systems which could have forced the game’s graphical fidelity to be reduced. Maybe some of the design changed and had to do away with certain particle affects and lighting. Or it could have just been optimizations as the game gets closer to launch. The point here is that so many things can happen during game development that we usually don’t hear about–something I hope will change in the future–whether they’re related to graphics or not.
That doesn’t mean it’s wrong to feel cheated that the final product is different than what was shown. It means there needs to be a better understanding of how games are made, and better handling of disclaimers that early demos aren’t always concrete. Games, unlike other mediums, take a long time to create and are shown in various stages until release. It’s why we aren’t reading second drafts of novels, but we are playing betas of games.
What needs to happen is more transparency in game development, things like Kickstarter and Early Access are helping with that, but it’s going to be harder to get that information to the people who only buy blockbuster games. We might never know why Watch Dogs looks worse if it does turn out that way. That lack of information is the real problem. If developers and publishers can’t solve it directly, then it’s on the gaming press to try to inform people who might have pre-ordered or plan to purchase the game based on early gameplay videos. Because this problem has happened before and it needs to stop.