Friday, May 9, 2014

Could disc limitations hurt us this generation?

Yesterday, in an interview with Edge, Naughty Dog stated that The Last of Us on PS4 was only really limited by the PlayStation 4's disc. Well, this got us thinking... Could disc size cause issues this generation? It sure did last.

As games continue to advance and graphics continue to improve, the amount of space required for a game also continues to grow. What used to take up anywhere from a few MB, to a GB or two of disc (or cart) space, now can take up anywhere from 10 to 25 times that--if not more. This caused quite a few issues last generation, and it could once again this gen. During the seventh generation the Xbox 360 used DVDs, the Wii used its own type of disc based off of DVDs, and the PlayStation 3 used Blurays. While the Xbox 360 and Wii's disc held roughly 9 GB (9, and 8.5 respectively), the PS3's disc could hold up to 50. Due to the PS3's disc size, developers were able to make much larger games, and have better graphics as well, but the very same games on the Xbox 360 typically had to be split. Games such as Star Ocean 4 (which was originally Xbox 360 exclusive), and Final Fantasy XIII had to be put on three discs, while others had to be put on four. Because of this, some games were unable to be developed for the 360, and ended up on the PlayStation 3 or PC instead. Hideo Kojima is just one of the developers who wanted to bring a game over to the Xbox 360, but just couldn't. According to him, he would like to see the PS3 exclusive Metal Gear Solid 4 on Microsoft consoles as well, but it would have taken at least seven discs to port it. (Although, truthfully it could have been optimised and compressed, but it would have still taken up quite a few discs either way.) In order to attempt to free up disc space, Microsoft did release an update; however, that update alone could only do so much. Originally some of the Xbox 360'd disc was used for audio purposes, so not all of the disc's space could be used by developers. The update Microsoft released moved such files over to the Xbox 360 itself, but that didn't change the fact that the 360 was still limited to roughly 9 GB. As for the Nintendo Wii, they didn't have quite as many issues with space. The Wii was not an HD console, its games did not take up quite as much space. While the console was limited in hardware, games never had to be split between discs.

So, now what about this generation? Well, the Xbox One uses Blurays, the PlayStation 4 uses Blurays, and the Wii U uses a disc based off of the Bluray. Each disc can hold up to 50 GB worth of data, and that gives developers a lot of room to play with; however, it still may not be enough. While the Wii U's hardware is similiar to the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3, which in theory shouldn't have issues with disc size and the size of its games, The Xbox One and PS4 are a major improvement over their predecessors. During the PlayStation 3's life cycle, developers were already producing games that were larger than a Bluray would hold, and now they have grown even more. The newer PlayStation 4 title Killzone Shadow Fall was actually well over 200 GB when it was in development. To make the game work on the PlayStation 4, some aspects of the game had to be cut back, and it had to be compressed and optimised for the PlayStation 4. Now, this is fine and all, the game still looks great, and it still has all of its original content; however, what will happen as time goes on? Killzone was created early on in the PlayStation 4's life, and games are rapidly progressing on both consoles and PC. What happens when the file size gets to 200 GB and we can't compress it? Will developers start making cuts to lower that file size, or will they start breaking them up into more than one disc? Possibly both...

Now there is another side to this. While discs are important to consoles, most games can now be bought digitally as well, and most PC games are digital. Thanks to this, developers can make games as large as they want, and players do not have to worry about switching out discs! At least, not in the same sense. In reality, the size of games can be an issue for PC gamers as well. In today's world the average Hard Drive is anywhere from 500 GB to 2 TB. While this may sound like a lot of space to an average computer user, this is nothing to a gamer. Gamers fill up HDs in no time, and are forced to either delete older games, or buy externals all the time. While this still works fine with most of today's games, what happens when we do hit that 200 GB mark? A single TB is just a little over 1,000 GB, and if you do a little math, you will see that a 1 TB Hard Drive will only hold about 5 games (maybe 4, depending on how much of the HD is used up by the OS and other programs). With a 2 TB HD you could store up to 10 games, and with each external you can store another 5 or so. If we get to this point before technology advances, and the standard size of a Hard Drive increases, gamers will be running into issues no matter what their platform of choice is. Console gamers will fill up their console Hard Drives in no time, and PC gamers will be forced to either delete games they may still play for newer ones, or drop cash on new externals.

So, what will happen to games in the future? Really it is too early to tell. The consoles of today will have to stick to their limitations, there is just no way around that. At some point the digitally released games may be larger than the discs, or possibly discs will require you to have internet access to download sections of games which just couldn't fit on the disc. There's also the possibility of using the cloud, but that wouldn't solve the problem for everyone. Really, when it comes down to it, it all depends how the rest of the technology out there advances. Hard Drives will get better over time, sooner or later a new disc format will enter the market, and cloud technology will improve as well. Also with the new fiber internet connections slowly being rolled out, some people will be able to download these 200 GB games in no time. So, the bottom line is, we will get this worked out sooner or later. It's just for the time being, there may be some road blocks.

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