Spot the difference: Infinity Ward’s Mark Rubin on next gen Call Of Duty’s resolution disparity

Mark Rubin

It almost seems a little cruel for the disparity in native resolution between the Xbox One and PS4 versions of Call Of Duty: Ghosts to have overshadowed the release of the game. It’s not easy to release a game across PC, Wii U, Xbox 360, PS3 plus two new next gen consoles, Xbox One and PS4, in one month.

Though the average man on the street might not notice, among more discerning players that resolution difference has become an important indicator of PS4’s power over Xbox One. And it would have been easy for Infinity Ward executive producer Mark Rubin to dodge the difficult questions surrounding the relative performance; but he’s is far from evasive on the subject when we speak this morning. He seems keen to set the record straight, though clearly cognisant of the need for diplomacy when speaking about the two platform holders’ consoles.

Though of course he must watch what he says to the press, he offers no plea to Sony for a change in system architecture or an update in SDK – that’s something for Microsoft to chew on. Here, he tackles why there’s a difference in native resolution, and what that means for studios working with PS4 and Xbox One hardware.

Can you personally see the difference between the PS4 and Xbox One versions running side by side?

If they’re running side by side, some people will, some people won’t. The 720 on Xbox One is upscaled to 1080p as far as resolution is concerned – some people have noticed and some people haven’t. I think it’s an individual call. Maybe it’s a close call and maybe it’s not for some people. It really depends on how hyper-aware you are of things like that.

Do you think most people will notice?

If you bought one version or the other it looks great, and that’s how most people will experience the systems – they’re going to buy one and they’re not going to buy both, necessarily.

So I think people will see the new game and think ‘wow it looks great’ – tons of new graphics features, all next gen and that’s how I think it’ll happen. As far as, like, if people start doing side by sides, I don’t know. I mean, I’m sure once the game and next gen launches and people start doing the comparisons – you know, like making YouTube videos – but I don’t know if people will really be able to tell that much difference.

To be honest, we’re kinda gonna have to wait and see. We’ve never done, specifically, a comparison of any sorts. So we have both systems and we can set up those at any time, but it’s something we didn’t purposely try to compare, we’re just concentrate on making each one, not trying to compare each one.

So the big question is why the difference?

When it came down to optimizing for each system, in order to maintain 60 frames per second, which is something we absolutely positively did not want to encroach on, that happened, basically. It was over a period of time and it wasn’t some, like, event sort of thing. It was just happening.

So does that suggest that it’s easier to get that higher level of performance from PS4 than it is Xbox One.

It might. It also just might be the path we took, you know? This is the first game on the console and there’s a lot for us to learn with the new hardware so it’s a long-running process – you compare COD 2 to COD 4 it’s a massive leap forward in graphical fidelity. So I think we expect the same thing on both platforms.

A lot of people are taking this as confirmation that Xbox One is the weaker console and PS4 is more powerful. Is it that simple?

It’s a much more complex answer – there’s so much to it, it’s a balancing act when you get into optimisation – we need more time with it all, basically. It could be years from now until we get to the point where we feel like we’ve maxed out what we can do on both platforms.

And it’s not just hardware physically, the amount of resources that each system is allowing the game developers to use isn’t the same. So from our standpoint that’s something that could change, y’know? We might get more resources back at one point. And that could make things change dramatically for the Xbox One, for instance. It’s a long complicated road that will take years to develop, and I think at the end we’ll have games looking very similar, usually, on both systems.

Some are also asking if you’re able to patch the game to bring the two versions in line with each other – is that something you’d consider? Is that actually possible?

I don’t know if it’s possible to be honest. It’s not something we’re going to look at right away because we have higher priority items we have to hit first. Launching, especially with a whole new backend and so many different changes to our networking etcetera – there’s a lot for our engineers to do post-launch but I don’t know if they’ve even thought about where we could go with a patch like that. I actually don’t even know if it’s possible.

So if you had all the time in the world, would you be able to get the best from both consoles and each version would be equal?

Potentially, yeah but it takes years and years and years to get there. Modern Warfare 2 looked better than COD 4 and Modern Warfare 3 looked better than Modern Warfare 2. With every game that comes out the jump become smaller and smaller but it always looks a bit better every time. Again that’s part of learning the systems and getting better at using them.

So you see this being a continuing trend? Will PS4, being the easier console to work with, end up getting the better looking games in this launch window?

I don’t know but overall I do know that other companies have been saying that they’re also 720 on Xbox One – BF4 was 720, Titanfall has already said they’re going to be 720 on Xbox One so it seems to be the dominant direction at the moment, but so much can change.

By the way, it’s also not just us learning the systems better, it’s Microsoft developing more from the systems as well so if it improves the SDKs on their side we could see improvements, or if they could patch their software then all of a sudden we could get a performance boost out of that. It’s a very complex ecosystem.

COD is very much tied to the Xbox brand – has this caused problems between you and Microsoft, given that the PS4 version is better looking? 

[laughs] It makes us tread lightly, obviously. Regardless of the situations, we never want to really be negative towards any of the consoles so yeah it is obviously a tricky situation. But it’s not one that’s specific to this incident or specific to our relationship with Microsoft. We always want both the systems to be good and actually from our perspective having the two systems, having them compete and drive themselves to be better through that competition…we’ll see a lot of cool stuff come from both sides of the fence because of that competition.

Also, in general, the studio itself is pretty removed from the business aspect of Call Of Duty so we’re not always necessarily engaged with anything like that, the relationship stuff. We try to keep that stuff as separate as possible.

So you’re the Call Of Duty guy among your circle of friends, right? Which version are you recommending to your friends as the best one to get, given the resolution difference?

[laughs] It depends on the friend actually – to be honest it’s really not about which version you think is better, it’s more about which version you think is going to have the better experience. For instance, if I buy one system and all my friends are on the other system, that’s not as good an experience.

So for instance I do have their friends, they’ve made up their mind which system they’re getting, and I’ve had a few friends that have asked for codes who are PC guys and that’s where they’re playing and that’s where they’re going to stay.

Some people really like the Microsoft experience and some people really like the Sony experience. I don’t know how much we’ll see of people crossing over from their preferred family. I’m actually really curious to see how that plays out. But I couldn’t recommend a specific console over another, I think people will figure that one out.