Why your PC gaming experience is being throttled by aging consoles

Doesn't matter how powerful your PC is, doesn't matter how many CPU cores you have, doesn't matter how many GPUs you have.
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Senior Contributing Editor

Hands up how many of you have grabbed a copy of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3? Quite a few of you I see. How many of you bought the PC version? Again, quite a few of you.

Well, if you bought Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 on the PC then I've got some bad news for you. Your gaming experience on the PC is being throttled thanks to aging console technology. Doesn't matter how powerful your PC is, doesn't matter how many CPU cores you have, doesn't matter how many GPUs you have, your gaming experience has been degraded thanks to last-generation consoles.

Allow me to explain how ...

Let me introduce a concept called Field of View (FOV). FOV is the angular extend of what your eyes see in front of you. Normally humans have a FOV of around 180-degrees, give or take. When you look ahead, you can still see stuff happening to your left and right thanks to peripheral vision. FOV also applies to games, especially games like first-person shooters (FPS), but rather than referring to what you see with your eyes, in-game FOV is the limit of the in-game world being shown to you at any one time. In an ideal situation, you'd sit in front of a monitor or set of monitors that filled your field of view, and the game would than fill that field of view entirely.

That's the ideal, but most of the time things don't work out that way because the monitor doesn't fill your field of view. Depending on your setup, your screen probably occupies about 80- to 90-degree FOV. Because of this, the ideal in-game FOV for an FPS PC game is 80- to 90-degrees. This is because, ideally, the FOV of the screen should closely match the in-game FOV.

When you play a game on a games console, because the TV is further away from you, it usually occupies a smaller portion of your FOV, usually around 60- to 70-degrees. Now, this works to the advantage of the consoles. Think about it. The Xbox 360 is based on technology that's now more than six years old, and the PS3 on technology that's five years old. It's pretty amazing really that you can take a title like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 or Battlefield 3 and run them on technology that's so old. But in order to get these new games running on old hardware the developers have had to cut corners. One trick is to narrow the FOV down. Narrowing the FOV means the console has to pump out fewer pixels to the screen, which means less of a workload. Another trick is to keep the quality of the textures applied to in-game objects. Another trick is to cap the frame rates. These tricks are necessary for consoles, which are old and decrepit, but unnecessary if you have a powerful gaming PC.

Which brings us to the problem. I've taken a quick look at the PC version Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and guess what I saw? The in-game FOV seems to be to be around 65-degrees. Fine for a console, very bad for a PC game. And the FOV is locked. There's no way to change it. It's locked. The frame rate is also locked. This isn't too bad, but it's still annoying. Also, I can't help but notice that the texture quality is pretty poor, and there are claims that objects have been reused from previous games.

These limitations don't need to be present on the PC version of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 but, for whatever reason the developers decided to bake them into the game. That, ladies and gentlemen, is the 'consolification' of PC gaming.

Better get used to it.

Now, you might think that I'm being pedantic here about the FOV, but I'm not. Not only is the developer preventing PC users from getting a better gaming experience, a narrow FOV can cause other real problems. For example, anything below about 70-degrees for a PC FPS gives me motion sickness and eye strain. Increasing the FOV makes it go away. When a PC game prevents me from doing that, I'm unlikely to play it much. It's that simple really.

It's a sad state of affairs when PC gaming plays second fiddle to consoles.

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