Serotonin: On the plus side of pushing hardware

February 14, 2014


I’m not a hardware guy. If somebody asks me what my computer’s specs are, I’ll admit I have no clue. It runs Dota 2 perfectly, and that’s good enough for me. I couldn’t care less how much RAM the PS4 has versus the Xbox One, or how much anti-aliasing the Wii U can handle. I say this without trepidation, because I know the power of hardware is irrelevant if it doesn’t have the software to match it.

The only time I really notice hardware differences is when I’m playing games on consoles. It’s usually not a good sign. I’ll notice if the game has to install itself onto the hard drive, or download some update at a speed that would make a sloth impatient.  All the talk about how glorious modern technology is goes out the window when the frame rate sinks to an intolerable level. I’m not even going to bring up the dreaded “red ring of death” of the Xbox 360 or reports of first-generation PlayStation 3s failing after a few years’ worth of play.

However, some games stand out and get a pass from any complaints I have about the hardware.  I’m much more patient with any technical shortcomings because I can feel the development team maximized the potential of the platform it was working on. It left nothing on the table. You can’t point at the game and wish for something more. It may not be fair, but when you look at a game like Grand Theft Auto V on consoles, it gets immunity from hardware shortcomings.

Grand Theft Auto V is a marvel. It’s the first game in the series I’ve played since Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, and the first one I intend on completing. The other games were revolutionary, particularly the third entry. The sheer scope of the city and the hundreds of cars and pedestrians that inhabited it fostered an encouragement to experiment and explore. The fifth entry is a whole new kettle of fish. It could be considered the swan song of its console era. There’s not one aspect of the game that I’m not immensely impressed with.


Any imperfections are mainly the hardware’s fault. It’s not fair to blame it on a system that’s approaching eight years old, but it’s true. Los Santos, the city you traverse in GTA V, is about as close a rendition of Los Angeles as you can get; the Santa Monica beach and pier is nearly identical to real life. The contrast of landscapes is true: deserts, forests, beaches, lakes and a massive concrete jungle are all within a few hours’ drive of each other. The detail that went into creating this world is scary, from the way a car bumper will rattle if it’s damaged to the shadows of aircraft in the sky. Add to that thousands of NPCs going about their day, billboards of satirical television shows, more side streets to explore than ever before and a variety in the main campaign that makes most missions a thrill to play through.

Sadly, the PS3 is showing its age. The frame rate drops are not frequent, but certainly occasional enough that you’ll notice, particularly when you’re flying or swimming in the ocean. Add in rain effects, giant waves and a phenomenal draw distance and you can practically hear the PlayStation 3 trying to keep up. Landscapes will shift in detail depending on how close you are, shadows will go from pixelated blobs to slightly less pixelated blobs and you won’t be able to appreciate the fine detail flying at thousands of feet.

But you know what? You won’t care. I certainly didn’t and was surprised since this is normally a huge pet peeve of mine. Instead of seeing it as a shortcoming, I saw it as an opportunity. I was so impressed with Los Santos that all I could think was how well Rockstar did with the technology given to it and what can the team do next? If I’m giggling with joy at parachuting out of a plane and looking out over a desert city under a brilliant, blue sky and a blazing hot sun, what can I expect from Grand Theft Auto VI? I can only imagine what this game will look like when it comes out for PC and is modded to the nines.


Any time a game pushes the hardware to its limits, it’s a good thing. It means the creators are comfortable with their own vision and have extensive knowledge of the platform they’re developing for. I’m reminded of Perfect Dark for the Nintendo 64.

Perfect Dark was a first person shooter that came out late in the N64’s life cycle. This could also be considered a swan song, as well as a spiritual sequel to Goldeneye 007, another landmark title. It was superior in many ways and literally too big for the hardware. The developer, Rare, advertised that to get the full content in the game, users had to purchase an additional expansion pack. Other N64 titles used the expansion pack, but none came close to the quantity of content that Perfect Dark offered.

The list puts some modern shooters to shame: a massive single player campaign with different difficulty modes and achievements. A co-op mode, bonus challenge levels (co-op with four players) and even a “counter-op” mode which enables a second player to try and stop another player by inhabiting the bodies of numerous enemies in the regular campaign. A fantastic feature that I haven’t seen duplicated. The multiplayer content was intimidatingly large and even featured bots, something some modern games can’t even handle.


Most reviews said that Perfect Dark was too big for the N64, and I totally agree. Looking back, the frame rate really suffers. The textures and character models don’t hold up. Rare packed in (almost) too much. It sounds like a criticism, and it would be, if the game weren’t phenomenal and a success all across the board.

Developers should be held accountable when they haven’t tried to use the system in every way they could. The first few years of a console’s lifetime is a grace period; it obviously takes time to feel comfortable making games for it, not to mention how immensely expensive and complicated games are to make. I’m always thrilled playing high-quality titles near the end of a console’s life cycle; it means potential is fulfilled, the designers have figured things out and players get to experience the absolute best a system has to offer. If you ever read a review that claims a game is “too big” for a console, I recommend it wholeheartedly.