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A Remedy Fan’s Speculation on How Quantum Break’s TV Series Should Be Presented (Part 1: Technical Issues) August 17, 2015

Posted by Maniac in Editorials.
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There is no game coming to the Xbox One that I’m looking forward to more than Quantum Break.  As you know, Quantum Break is going to have a live-action TV series included with the game, and we got to see a short preview of that series at this year’s Gamescom.  From the short preview we saw, the production values on this series looks incredible, perfect for viewing on the Xbox One.  The best part is its story is going to be fully incorporated into the game, and the choices you make while watching it will affect the game in lots of different ways.  The Xbox One can output video from a Blu-Ray Disc or streaming video service in native 1080p so it’s reasonable to assume that Quantum Break’s video content was theoretically produced at that resolution.  However, producing and delivering HD video content can still be a technical challenge due to a myriad of problems including disc storage capacities that I will elaborate on later.  Hypothetically, Remedy is going to need to deliver this HD video series to us in a package that is also going to include an entire Xbox One game. How are they going to pull this off, and what is the best way to present this series to the player?  Let’s talk about that shall we?

Now first off I want to preface this article with the fact that everything I’m going to be commenting on is sheer speculation.  With very few exceptions, we know very little about Quantum Break or its game length.  We only know for sure that the game is being developed by Remedy, who you may know from the hit games Alan Wake, Death Rally, and the first two Max Payne games.  They are one of the most driven and professional video game studios in the world, and I’m certain that their engineers have probably thought out all of the possibilities that I will be mentioning over the course of this article.  Most of what I’m going to be talking about here is heavily inspired by the work of other game developers who have already released titles on current consoles (Xbox One and PlayStation 4) and how they chose to present their titles given the rules and limitations of this new generation of hardware.  In a lot of cases, I think other studios have made the wrong decisions when designing their games for new hardware, and I will reference those titles and their bad decisions on a case by case basis.  My hope is that Remedy will learn from other’s mistakes and present the best possible game they can when Quantum Break launches in April.

Let me give a little background to explain what I mean when I say rules and limitations of the current consoles.  Xbox One and PS4 games require a game to be installed to your console’s Hard Drive before it played, even if you’re playing it off of a disc.  It’s really no different than what PC owners have had to go through over the past twenty years.  This installation requirement makes for improved load times and better overall game performance at a cost of your console’s total storage capacity and long wait times for the game’s initial installation and subsequent patches.  Since you can’t play a game on a modern console without installing it first, you can’t simply put in a game for the first time and start it without at least having to wait some time before you can play it.  Typically this installation time can range from a few minutes to an hour, and will eat up storage space on your console’s Hard Drive, something that you cannot upgrade on the Xbox One.

Without trying to rant too hard, I’ve noticed more recently that several games, especially ones on the PS4, will not perform a complete game installation when a game disc is first inserted.  Instead, the game installs a minimal amount of game content during the initial installation so it can get the player into the game as soon as possible.  The rest of the disc’s content would then install in the background during gameplay.  This might have been done as a response to a lot of people in the gaming media with either no patience or limited free time that complained they were unwilling to wait for their games to install, so in response some newer games have been designed to perform a small installation when the game disc is first inserted, and then perform the rest of the game’s installation during actual gameplay.  While this may sound like a great idea on paper it’s difficult for even the newest consoles, with all their processing power, to do a complete game installation and deliver a consistent game presentation at the same time.  What I’ve typically found is these forced background installations make for very poor gameplay performance, audio/video sync issues, and at worst, unforeseen errors and bugs.  Don’t believe me?  Try renting the disc version of The Order: 1886 and playing it on a PS4 that it has not been played on previously.  I remember hearing regular audio pops, seeing occasional lip-sync issues during cutscenes until finally I was hit with a pretty lengthy installation bar at the end of the first chapter.  It didn’t really make for a good initial impact on me.

If you really don’t want users to wait to play their games, you have a few options. I know the Xbox One’s OS allows a “Ready to Play” option, but at least it will continue to perform a game installation in the background of the operating system until the game is fully installed and patched to its latest version.  I thought the “Ready to Play” feature was used to an absolutely awesome level when I first used it on the game LocoCycle.   After the game downloaded a certain small percentage of the game’s total content, I was able to start the game and play the first levels while the rest of the game downloaded at a predictable pace.  At no point did I ever hit a wall where I had to stop playing because the game hadn’t finished downloading the rest of the next levels, and I thought that was really well planned out.  I was very happy with it because it allowed me to play this fun little title before it finished downloading from the Xbox Marketplace.

However, I’ve heard that “Ready to Play” isn’t used as well in other games. In Ryse, if you booted a game up when you were told it was “Ready to Play”, you were simply presented with a nice looking progress bar, nothing more.  Another downside was it would be nearly impossible to work well on a non-linear sandbox style game.  In Batman: Arkham Knight, a sandbox game, you cannot play certain missions until the mission’s content is installed off of the game’s disc.  Even if you want to play a specific mission you can’t until it is installed on your console, so you’ll just have to wait.  In the majority of titles that I’ve seen, even if you got the “Ready to Play” notification, at best you might be allowed to view the game’s menu, but all of the game’s options, including “Start Game”, would be grayed out.  You also don’t have the option to install the content you want in the order you want like you would in a PC game.  Games with lots of features would install exactly the way they were programmed to in the order the developers chose for them, so if you wanted to play a certain game mode first, you better hope that the specific mode you wanted to play was installed first, otherwise you would have to wait.

I guess I just want to say from all of this that I would rather wait however long it took to fully install Quantum Break on my Xbox One, than play a buggy game with poor performance for the duration it took for my Xbox One to install the rest of the game’s content. Even if it meant I could play my game sooner, I would rather wait until it would play perfectly. Trust me, I come from a PC background, I’m used to waiting to play my games.  Heck, it’s August 2015 when I’m writing this, I just installed Windows 10 on several PCs (which can take about 2-3 hours to download, install and tweak depending on your system’s hardware specifications) and I come from the age of dial-up, I have no issue popping my disc into the Xbox One and waiting. I can always just watch Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s “We’ll Always Have Paris” and have a few sodas while I wait.

If you want a poster boy in the case of what not to do, look no further than one of Microsoft’s major releases from last year. For those of you who may have picked up Halo: The Master Chief Collection, once you get past the game’s bugs you’ll see many other poor decisions at work. Owners of the game were given exclusive access to a five-part Halo TV series, called Halo: Nightfall. However, for some reason which escapes all logic, the series was not included on the game’s disc.  If you wanted to watch it, you would need to download an app called the Halo Channel, redeem a download code included in your game’s package (assuming someone hadn’t already copied or used it first), and then wait for the episode to be released before you could watch it.  Microsoft may have chosen to do this to save space on their game’s disc, but there was nothing stopping them from including the series on a second disc, especially since they would eventually release the entire series on separate Blu-Ray Disc just a few weeks later.

If you owned only The Master Chief Collection and wanted to actually watch Halo: Nightfall you had to stream it off the web on the Halo Channel. Typically this isn’t much of an issue, but when the game was released the Halo Channel suffered from severe performance and buffering issues even on users with good connectivity so video quality would frequently degrade.  I hate when my streaming quality degrades while I’m watching a file because when you’re sitting on a 105Mbit/s downstream service there simply should not be any buffering.  I don’t have these issues with other paid streaming services.  If I’m paying for a digital video service or using a digital service to rent something I expect consistent quality for streamed files.  If that can’t be guaranteed, the series should have been included on the game disc or a seperate Blu-Ray.  The worst part was you could not even binge watch the series until at least five weeks after the game was released, even though owners were promised the whole series and should have gotten all of it at the time of the game’s launch.

So what are the other options if streaming is a bad idea? Well, the series could be included on the game disc in its entirety. Quality would be GREAT and performance would remain consistent while you were watching it.  In fact, the experience watching it would be no different than if you were watching it off a pristine Blu-Ray Disc.   The downside is this option is that HD video files can take up a lot of space on both the game disc and Xbox One.  For those of you with first generation Xbox One consoles, you only have 500GB of storage for all of your content unless you plan to buy a USB 3.0 compatible external Hard Drive.  A large memory footprint could also increase the game’s initial installation times, making you wait a while before you could start playing it.

In the last generation, I remember a lot of people telling me that many Japanese game developers were adamant about using Blu-Ray Discs for their video games because the extra storage offered by the BD format allowed them to include high-quality uncompressed video files in their games.  DVD just didn’t have anywhere near the amount of storage capacity that a BD disc does, and that’s why several multiplatform games would ship on multiple discs for its Xbox 360 version, and only one disc for its PS3 version.  However, compression has gotten a lot better in the past decade.  Video files encoded in the MPEG4 format, the typical compression used by Blu-Ray Discs, take up much less space than DVD’s MPEG2 format did.  In this generation, it is fully possible for developers to compress their video files at the cost of some possible quality loss with the finished product, and this could be a good option for Remedy to cut down on Quantum Break’s overall storage requirements, but it might offend some video purists.  Of course this would all depend on which compression method Remedy chooses to use, but this might be a necessity.  As far as I’m concerned, as long as the game’s installation footprint can fit under 50GB and the live-action segments are visually on par with a Blu-Ray movie, I can live with it, but I know a lot of others might not be that generous.  As for installation times, I said earlier I can always watch some old episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation while I wait, so that isn’t as big a deal to me either.  Just to be safe, I would still recommend that anyone who hasn’t already picked up the Xbox One console yet and wants to play Quantum Break when it gets released next year take a serious look at the new Halo 5: Guardians version of the console, because at least that version of the console will come with a 1TB Hard Drive pre-installed inside it.

Okay we got some of the technicals out of the way when it comes to getting the series on your console, so in the next part of this featured article we’re going to speculate some possible options for the game to present its live-action series.  This is some really exciting stuff, and you would be surprised just how many options we may have to watch Shawn Ashmore kick some butt.  Stay tuned for that tomorrow, right here.  Thanks for reading and feel free to post a comment below on what your thoughts are about the current generation of consoles.

Quantum Break is coming April 2016 exclusively to the Xbox One.

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