Revolutionary: Hz So Good

hertz (hûrts)
n. pl. hertz
Abbr. Hz
A unit of frequency equal to 1 cycle per second.

Arcade kings like Sega and Namco packed some cutting edge hardware inside those cabinets to draw and redraw complex scenes up to sixty times a second. Some of the companies that designed that hardware also had military contracts and built the simulators used to train soldiers and pilots on vehicles and weaponry. Most of those simulations look like cuts from a Dire Straits video compared to the detailed characters and vistas in our video games, but one thing they had going for them was extremely high frame rates.

Arcade CRT monitors didn't have the ghosting and low response times of today's mainstream LCDs, so when they were refreshing graphics at 60fps, the rapidly flashing screens were enough to turn your head and keep your eyes affixed to whatever was running. In the home, there's no need for the games we already own to attract us, so 60fps rendering has got to have some other merits to make it a selling point worth advertising. In this week's Revolutionary, we'll examine why 60fps is so desirable.

Because Wii and DS games aren't selling by the screenshots on the back of the box, Nintendo can do what the other guys can't. Many PS3 and Xbox 360 developers cram a scene with detail at the expense of frame rate. It's often disregarded that a smooth frame rate can enhance our appreciation of the graphics.

Enthusiast PC gamers generally shoot for a frame rate of 60fps (frames per second) when building and tweaking their setups, but the optimal frame rate will vary depending on the game, the resolution, type, and size of the display, and the speed objects and scenery are moving across the display. When an object skips over several pixels on the screen between each redrawn frame, it doesn't look smooth, and that can sometimes even happen at 60fps.

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Click image to download video

It's not all about aesthetics. Technical fighting games reward the player for mastering the timing of attacks and counters that are tied to the frame rate. The Virtua Fighter series, running at 60fps, has some moves that only advanced players can use effectively because they require lightning reflexes and perception sharp enough to distinguish single frames.

Likewise, champions of the FPS (first person shooter) genre reap the benefits of high frame rates in improved accuracy. I once watched Jonathan "Fatal1ty" Wendel playing some Quake 4 matches against random challengers. The challengers were allowed to change the graphics and control options before each match, but most of them limited their changes to keyboard mapping. When the match started up, Fatal1ty's screen showed the game with blurry textures, blocky objects, and relatively poor graphics, while the challengers had all the eye candy turned up. What the challengers didn't realize was that they were saddling themselves with an artificial handicap. Fatality's screen was refreshing blazingly fast, and he never lost track of his opponents. The challengers, however, hardly ever saw what was killing them.

This is your game at 30 frames per second.

This is your game at 60 frames per second. Any questions?

On the HD consoles, 30fps is passable for FPS games, because the controller doesn't allow you or your opponent to make quick movements. But the move to HD and bigger screens meant that those skipped spans of pixels would be greater and more noticeable. Halo and Halo 2 struggled to maintain 30fps, but Bungie pushed the new console a little harder and got it to hit 60fps at times. In other cases, fluid motion is expressed through motion blur. With that effect we may not be able to clearly see a moving object on screen, but it is at least being represented on some pixel space (so you can shoot at it).

GLaDOS prefers it if you can't see clearly

The Wii Remote does allow for quick movements, but doesn't have the horsepower to apply motion blur all the time. Metroid Prime Corruption runs at 60fps, and we couldn't be more grateful. Hopefully, The Conduit has some tricks up its sleeve to keep us from losing sight of the bad guys when they're running around at 30fps.

Super Mario Strikers looked pretty good, but thanks to the increased power of the Wii, Mario Strikers Charged looks even better. The difference isn't apparent in screenshots, but it's evident in person because the first game didn't run that smooth, while Mario Strikers Charged runs at a silky 60fps. Play on Wii titles may also see a boost in frame rate if their Gamecube counterparts didn't already run at 60fps. Don't expect this of Pikmin, though, because the surrealistic clarity of 60fps is counter to the game's semi-realistic styling. Some other candidates for a frame rate increse would be Wave Race: Blue Storm and Luigi's Mansion.

The other guys are trying to make games more realistic, but Nintendo has always been focused on fun. Recreating the arcade experience is a sure way to do that.. With the Wii and the DS essentially sitting out the graphics battle, Nintendo is in a prime position to set a standard for the next generation, and we hope that standard will be 60Hz.

Every other week, Mike Sylvester brings you REVOLUTIONARY, a look at the wide world of Wii possibilities.
As the Gamecube episodes of the Rogue Squadron series showed, having a high frame rate isn't the only trick to crafting a visually-stunning game. Factor 5 used nearly every trick in the Gamecube's playbook to build those beauties, and we've managed to snag a few pages ourselves in Revolutionary: Special Effects, to tell you what you should expect of Wii graphics .

This article was originally published on Joystiq.