This is an old time dilemma in the gaming world. And I want to be the first to say, and please dont feel offended, that we gamers are many times big fat idiots (notice how I included myself).Perhaps, PC gamers are more accostumed to this "battle", since we have to decide what to do. Shall we improve the graphics and lower the FPS, or increase the FPS by lowering the graphics? A really hard question, that can only be adapted to our liking in PCs, but for consoles, oh boy, thats different.
So, lets start with a tiny bit of history, or more likely quick briefing.
There is one thing that has been selling games over the past 20 years, and that thing is graphics. The big breakthrough of the NES was its 8 bit graphics, moving from the bland squares in the Atari, to some really detailed sprites like in Super Mario Bros for example. We later moved on to the SNES era, with an even better graphic system, and normally, the fights of that time are depending if the Sega or the Nintendo had the best looking version of certain games.
So, we now reach the era where cartridges died, with the N64, fighting the PlayStation. The PS introduced the discs format (though they were not the first, they were the most succesful so far). Nintendo introduced full 3D games. Sony tried to do the same, but many games could not handle that much power, since the PS was lacking it. So, we saw the beginning of the battle of the devs, to either reduce the performance for better graphics, or reduce the graphics for better performance.
Since the PS/N64 days were times when 3D was strong and good, its hard to judge it, but some things we can remember, games like Zelda that had some stutters. Resident Evil with it Bitmaps as scenarios, and so on. Depending on what they were looking for, sacrifices were already being made.
Then, we have the DC/Xbox/PS2/NGC era. Now, here, we really did see this thing strongly. Lets take for example Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner; perhaps, one of the best looking PS2 games, and one of the best mecha games. ZoE 2, did a lot of amazing things. For starters, we could have many enemies on screen at once. Some destructible objects left a lot of particles when, duh, destructed. All this new quirks, hurted the game performance, with many fps's drops. Specially during the big battle scene.
Or lets go with God of War, we played the games, we loved the games, but we cant say that they were flawless. Graphically speaking, the team at Santa Monica did an amazing job, pulling so much potential from a console like the PS2. But, for doing so, we got lots of screen tearing (its even worser in the second game where the vistas are bigger) and many drops in the level of fps.
On the Xbox side, we got the Doom 3 port, which made many cuts on its graphical side to not only fit the console, but also run properly on it.
So, to make things shorter, lets skip the past era and lets go to the current era, the infamous "Next Gen" (yep, people still call it like that).
I will eliminate the Wii from this part since I dont have many Wii games, and the ones I have, with the exception of the Umbrella Chronicles all run marvelously.
So, PS3 and 360. First, Im not comparing any console here, to say "Yo, this one is da bomb". Nah, leave that stuff to the folks over at System Wars. I just prefer gaming and playing games like in the old days where internet was not popular and we could avoid all the nasty fanboyism.
So. I will analize them toghether.
PS3 and 360 are both powerhouses in terms of "potential" power. Specially the PS3 as many devs have said. But, this power comes with some drawbacks. For example, the PS2 could output faces with the same details as the current gen ones, but the thing was, that the whole machine was working to achieve that. Both PS3 and 360 can do images with the same quality as a maxed Crysis. But this means that the whole console is working on achieving this image.
So, a developers job is to take that potential, and start doing cuts. Decide what is more important given the game and work on that.
For example, games like BlazBlue need to run at 60fps. Why? Because they are games where each frame counts towars a victory. The same for games like Devil May Cry. The higher the fps count, the better. Stutters in this games can mean that the game is broken severely and could cause many headaches for us players.
So what do devs do to achieve this? They cut on other things. For example, Draw Distance, FoV, texture quality, polygons, etc. Whatever works on enhancing the game performance.
Of course, that after some years, devs know much more about the console and can squeeze it much better, but the basics still apply.
So, now, a game that drew many controversy last year. Resistance 2 and Halo 3 (this last one on 2007). Both games are not graphical marvels. Quite the contrary if you were to count the texture quality or the resolution. But why is this?
In both games, the graphical quality was not dropped only to increase the performance, but it also helped in creating more things.
Better Draw Distance. Seriously, the DD in R2 is breathtaking. Better lightning, just look at the light and shadow changes in Halo 3, Bungie really did a nice job there. Consistan fps rate, both games do this perfectly. And for example, in Resistance, you can have over 30 enemies, on screen at once, all shooting bombing, etc and no drops on the fps department.
Other games, like Uncharted or Gears of War, prefer to have an fps rate that can vary sometimes, aside from screen tearing and texture pop up. But in exchange, you get a game that looks like a Michaelangelo. So, a sacrifice in performance, enhances the graphical output. The same with games like GTA, Age of Empires and such.
We cannot expect Crysis level graphics on every game. Or that every PS3 game from now on will look like Uncharted 2 and every 360 game will look like Gears of War 2. Its basic development and basic management.
So, after this, you may ask yourself. What is this guy point? Well, its simple, we cant judge a game for how many polygons it has, for how detailed its textures are, etc. Games are a result of many variables (DD, FoV, fps, etc) factorized. So, when we say: Resistance 2/ Halo 3 looks like turd, we should take into account all the other things they have that no other game had back then, or even now. How many FPS of the same caliber as R2 do you know that can run online with 60 guys firing Pulse Guns all the time with no drops?
Thought so. So, that would be it. Judge a book by its content, not by its cover.