2014 was a particularly difficult year for Ubisoft thanks to numerous scandals that rocked the company throughout. Just when the storm seemed to be over, the unthinkable happened: Tetris Ultimate for the PS4 had serious frame rate issues. The issue was first made public in an IGN video that directly demonstrated the issue reliably or, more accurately, the unreliability of the frame rate on December 17th. The Tetris Team immediately proposed a fix as demonstrated in the IGN follow-up video on the same day that relied on validating the legitimacy of the game on-line via PSN before immediately disconnecting. The oddity is that the issue with frame rate is absent from the Xbox One version despite the two consoles sharing similar x86-64bit architectures. The proposed solution, combined with the main distinctions between the two consoles points in one direction: the friend lists. The Xbox One friend limit is 1000 people, compared to the PS4’s 2000. As both videos present, the IGN console is at its friend cap of 2000.
How in the world does the friend limit affect the frame rate in Tetris? The following is a stated feature of the game from the Ubisoft website for the game in the ‘Stay Connected’ section.
“Stay Connected with Friends –
Social Feeds keep you up-to-date with events from in game, and allow you to track your friends’ scores. Tetris Ultimate captures and saves your play-style allowing you to always be able to play with or against your friends, even when they are offline. If your scores get beat, view your friends’ strategies via their in-game replays, then challenge and beat them!
I don’t profess to have the technical knowledge necessary to diagnose and fix a game from an AAA developer. As such, my hypothesis should neither be taken with a grain of salt, nor be taken as expert opinion. Anyone who has played on a PC before knows what happens when they attempt to run too many background processes on limited hardware: stuttering in-game and program crashing. Background processes, such as the operating system, take up RAM and CPU resources before optional services like Twitch, additional resource consumers, are even activated. Normally, a game would be able to operate in this system without any problem. The Ubisoft games seem to struggle in particular because of the social integration adding an additional layer of involuntary background processes. Ubisoft’s service, Uplay, has been an infamous layer of digital rights management in most Ubisoft releases since last 2009 across all platforms including but not limited to the PS4 and Xbox One. In other words, the increase in background processes has a direct effect on game performance through taking away finite resources.
The Eighth Generation of consoles is the first generation that allows for true multitasking. Overzealous utilization of this feature may be partly responsible for this rocky first year. There isn’t a ctrl-alt-del or command-option-escape on either console that allows for closing down the programs eating up resources. As the generation progresses, the games will need more and more resources available at their disposable to achieve optimal performance. Barring a revival of add-ons, consoles are locked hardware where the solution is a mix of optimizing the use of hardware and scaling back other features. If compromises need to be made in the first year thanks to features like ‘social integration’, then that aspect seems to be fated for the axe. As seen with cross-platform play between the Xbox 360 and PC last generation for the FPS Shadowrun title and PS3 Linux support, features can be removed at anytime for whatever reason Microsoft or Sony feel appropriate.
The tale of Tetris Ultimate would seem to end here if it weren’t for common issues between the PS4 and Xbox One. Ubisoft has stated that a new patch is coming to address the general issues for both versions such as game crashes, issues with the leaderboards and general problems with the multiplayer. A game releasing with errors this egregious on a console a decade ago would have sparked major outrage. Unfortunately, ‘it will be patched, promise’ has become the norm for games ranging from small releases such as Tetris Ultimate to major titles such as SimCity and Driveclub. Compatibility patches are a reality of PC gaming resulting from the near countless hardware configurations possible in conjunction to various proprietary technologies such as PhysX and Mantle. The Seventh Generation wasn’t immune from broken launches and the necessity of patches by a mile. However, the number of games requiring major patches from launch of the PS4 and Xbox One doesn’t bode well for the rest of the Eighth Generation.
Only time will tell if 2015 is better for Ubisoft and other publishers who had problematic launches in the last year. Wish them the best because the consumer suffers the most when any game is released broken.