Friday, April 21, 2006

The 360 version

This Xbox360 should be dubbed the Frustration Machine of Death. I know there's an awesome hardware configuration in that box, but the platform is 0 for 2 so far in providing me with games that don't have glaring bugs which should have been caught with rudimentary beta testing. It's like having a car with an amazing engine, but finicky transmission or poor brake response... and the worst part is that I can't get in under the hood to mess with it.

To anyone with the PC version thinking about getting this version to play on your couch, don't bother unless you have a recent HDTV. It looks comparatively terrible in 4:3 in normal interlaced mode. The gamma has been made incompatible with these televisions (way too high), and the color saturation is much too low. Gamma too high + Saturation too low = a washed out, bland looking, mess. You can adjust RGB gamma manually in the game and turn it down, but this tends to make it too dark, without the appropriate black level, and the saturation is still a problem. And to make things worse there's a screen refresh glitch causing the image to 'stagger' when you turn or move quickly (called 'screen tearing'), making it look like you're playing FFXI through a junky emulator. If you have a nice HDTV, then go for it, and I envy you... it seems to run fine on those.

To anyone with the PS2 version, if you have the expendable $560-$570 and no PC that can play the game without sinking $700+ into it, then the resolution boost on this version is worth it (no more flickering artifacting 10 feet beyond your character), but with some major caveats:

If you have a recent HDTV, by all means get this version. HDTV users seem to be very happy with it. Colors and gamma seem to be OK, and the screen real estate you save by running this in 720p is considerable (you can actually see what you're doing during an EXP party without the chat log taking up 1/3 of the screen).

If you don't have a recent HDTV and plan to play on a monitor, hold on there bucky.

It doesn't matter whether your monitor has been able to handle higher res games before, even other 360 games. SE has not made this game completely compatible with the VGA cable. What's frustrating is that beta testers were able to run things like 1280 x 1024, or 1024 x 768, through their VGA cables with no problems... until the release went live, and for whatever reason SE changed something without testing it (hello...what's the point of beta?). All the other problems that I mentioned about the interlaced TV mode are here: the gamma, the saturation, and the screen tearing (which actually seems worse, but is probably just more noticeable when not interlaced). Mind you the machine you're using is far above spec for this game. It runs circles around most of the machines that have been playing this software for the past 2 years. Yet it ends up looking like you're gaming on a rig that can barely handle it. As Gilbert Gottfried would say in those "I love the 80's" shows: SquareEnix. W...T...F?!

Edit (4/26/2006):
I've tested other resolutions, and there are tolerable alternatives that seem to ameliorate the tearing, but still don't fix the framerate. The key is to stick to the 'intended' HDTV resolutions of 480p and 720p (latter recommended). The 720p equivalent in VGA res is 1280 x 720. This results in letterboxing on a 4:3 and the pixel density isn't exactly spectacular, but the tearing is nowhere near as noticeable. I can see this looking much nicer on a 16:9 or 16:10 monitor or an HDTV with adjusted saturation & black levels.

If you only play PS2 on a normal 4:3 interlaced TV, and just want the resolution upgrade on the same TV... it depends upon whether getting rid of the jaggies and distance compression are worth $560 to you (as well as the trade-off for the screen tearing). You won't gain much real-estate (the fonts and text boxes are still huge in 480i), and will have to deal with the color and refresh problems I mentioned above, but the image will be much more crisp and the environments do look a lot nicer when you're not peering through flickering PS2 compression artifacts.

OK, now I'm off to file a bug with SE and be thoroughly ignored. Hopefully they'll fix the problem in some distant patch months from now.

I'll put up another post later about my first actual day back. I just had to unload this one... after taking 2 hours to install this thing and getting this kind of performance, I was fit to be tied.

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