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Xbox 360 vs PS3: Which is closer to maxing out?

by John Kirby on March 15, 2011


ps3 vs xbox 360

What does maxing out a console really mean?  Is the 360 maxed out yet?  How about the PS3? Now on to my point: Have you noticed that every year some game developer announces that their upcoming  game has “maxed out the console,” yet games continue to look and perform better every year?  It doesn’t make much sense, we can agree on that.   Still, such comments never fail to get gamers into a feeding frenzy. It works. But wait a minute! Didn’t they say the same thing a year ago?  To help address my questions, here is an old, well used, yet great quote by Naughty Dog:

“Any developer who gives you a “percent of system used” answer is blowing smoke. The truth is that every developer uses 100% of the systems power on every game. Some just get more out of that 100% than others. And game after game, we ALL get more out of systems than we did on the previous title.

Think of it this way. If the system is a glass, some developers pour in rocks till the glass overflows and then call it quits. They would claim that they use 100% of the systems space. And it is true that no more rocks fit. Some will even put in a rock too many and the game plays slow or runs funny. But there is still some space left for smarter developers. They pour pebbles into the cracks left by the rocks, and they get more into the glass. Then they call it 100% full. But some Developers will then pour in sand, to fill the cracks between the pebbles. They get even more out of the system, yet it is still just 100% full. Some developers go the extra distance, and they pour in water. Then the glass is truly full, right? Sure, but just for this title, because some of the rocks can be replaced with pebbles that do the same thing, if you work hard at it. And some of the pebbles can be made into sand. And some sand can be pressed to water. No developer ever gets a glass filled with only water, no developer has that much time, so no developer truly fills the glass

We just get more and more out of the 100%.”

So in the end it is not a matter of how much system power you have used, but how efficiently you use it (that’s what she said…). Hardware is not getting better on the PS3/360/Wii, but knowing how to write code to more optimally use the set hardware resources is improving constantly.  That being said, when you hear people claiming “Killzone 3 uses 100% of the PS3’s power” or “No other engine could handle Crysis 2″, stop, take a deep breath, and don’t believe the hype.  Resist the marketing jargon. Maybe the hype machine is right, maybe their title is using “100% of the system,” but remember that this is an empty statement and coding can always be improved.  Judge the game/graphics for yourself when the game is ACTUALLY RELEASED.

One last thing to think about is the hypothetical situation where all code is fully optimized on a console… thus truly “maxing out a console.” As time goes on this gen, I fully expect developers to get closer to this goal. I expect Killzone 4 to outperform Killzone 3, Crysis 3 to outperform Crysis 2, Gears of War 3 to outperform Gears of War 2, and Uncharted 3 to outperform Uncharted 2.  But as developers get closer to this hypothetical limit, the improvements will be evolutionary, not revolutionary. I suspect developers are pretty close right now. For example, don’t expect anything to blow Uncharted 2 out of the water (although the hype machines are in full force at the moment…), even if they do top it.  Also remember that in this hypothetical situation, there would be limited resources to spread between things like resolution, AI, frame rate, textures, lighting, effects, sound, etc.   One game may very well be tops in graphics… but at a cost to other elements. And we all know that graphics aren’t everything.

Now that we have all (hopefully) learned something, or at least had a refresher, I will finish with a controversial question: Which console do you think is closer to being “maxed out,” the 360 or the PS3?

My opinion is that the Xbox 360 is closer to being maxed out.  Why?  Because historically it has been the easier console to develop for.  Architecture for the 360 was easier to wrap heads around, and thus developers had more early progress on the 360, thus it was closer to “maxing out” and optimizing code earlier in its life cycle.  I would argue that history supports this view because on average, early multiplatform titles had the graphics/performance edge on the 360.    Developers struggled with the PS3 early on (especially multiplatform), so they were far from maxing out.  Plus, it is my subjective opinion that first party titles on the 360 have made less progress over the years as compared to PS3 first party titles, thus suggesting that code may be closer to optimization on the 360 than the PS3.  Remember, 1st party exclusive games really SHOULD be the benchmark for state of the art coding at any given time.

To throw salt in the wounds of the 360, I also predict that once we approach the hypothetical point of 100% code optimization (“true maxing out”) on the 360 and the PS3, you will find that PS3 games are more impressive overall in the numbers game.  Why? Although the 360’s graphics processor appears to be the stronger of the two, the Cell processor of the PS3 appears to have more headroom than the 360… at least as far as theoretical number crunching goes.  Thus, assuming a hypothetical optimal coding situation in both cases, the PS3 should win due to pure hardware overhead.  People have predicted this for years.

But lets slow down… things are not that simple.  So why are the 360/PS3 games still at comparable levels these days?  As mentioned above, I would argue that the PS3 is lagging in code optimization compared to the 360 (less so in 1st party AAA titles) in relation to the theoretical “maxed out” limit of the console.  The 360 has not been full optimized either, but again it is closer to that limit… I think.  How close?  I don’t know… and just when we think things can’t get better, I am sure that programmers much smarter than I will surprise us all.  But again, assuming hypothetical optimal coding in both cases, the PS3 should win due to hardware… eventually.  The big question is, how long will it take to get to that point of optimization?  I suspect we will see a new Xbox (and shorlty after PS4) before either console is allowed to fully “max out.”


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  • loller

    by fuck you can talk some shite, son.

  • Dmastur1010

    Great post

  • Ahmed

    Yea, great read. Although I never came about that quote. That’s truly inspiring.

  • Ray

    “So why are the 360/PS3 games still at comparable levels these days? ”

    LOL! They’re not. Not one 360 exclusive game even compares to Uncharted, Killzone, God of War III. I haven’t even seen a 360 game that looks as nice as Ratchet and Clank A Crack in Time. Even CliffyB said they maxed out the 360 with Gears of War 2 and Uncharted Drake’s Fortune looks better than that.

    “But again, assuming hypothetical optimal coding in both cases, the PS3 should win due to hardware… eventually.”

    As I read this I look over the right as see the Uncharted 3 screen shot and ask myself why you made this statement. It’s been clear since Killzone 2 and Uncharted 2 that the PS3 has already won. God of War III, Killzone 3 and Uncharted 3 are just icing on the cake. There isn’t even a game on the 360 that looks better than Metal Gear Solid 4 and that game came out in 2008.

    • oshe3m

      i agree with Ray…there shouldn’t be any debate anymore as to which console is more powerful or capable of better graphics…it’s obviously Ps3, regardless of whether or not either of the consoles have been maxed out yet

    • schuka

      Really? From my understandings both main stream games are boring, games are going down the shitter anyway, all the mainstream wants is stupid as war fps’s, nothing creative, add guns, decent gameplay, and you can get millions of fans as well. God of war’s hack n slash style as well is pretty bad, Uncharted is actually good, Halo is also good, older ratchet’s and clank’s where fun, but honestly the only thing keeping me from both, are the idiotic fan base who has to bitch about which is better. So no thank you I would rather take my Playstation 1, 2, super nintendo, nintendo 64, etc any day

    • Ray

      You’re not making any sense. Calm down, have a glass of water and take a nap.

    • Joe_Hogan

      HAHAHA I love stupid fanboys. Yea I like PS3 more too. Sooooo your saying Metal Gear Solid looks better than Gears of War 2? Killzone 3 barely looks better than 2, and it pained me to say that about my favorite PS3 shooter, but it’s true. Now Gears 3, on the other hand, while it’s not out yet, looks up to par with God of War 3 and what I’ve seen from Uncharted 3. There’s no #2 console because each has their own flaws. For ex, having a party for friends on xbox is a godsend when comparing the lack of service that ps3 gives out. And not just that, you’re talking about a single concept. There are numerous games that have more than graphics. Halo is currently on top for multiplayer, and that game looks HORRENDOUS.

      And not just that, but Xbox has a much larger online community despite having to pay. Now I’m sure, being a little fanboy, you’ll find a few ways to say why I’m wrong and you’re right. I love both systems, I enjoy both systems, and most of what you said is pretty accurate, God of War 3, currently to me, is the best looking game out, and yea not many games, Gears aside, looks better than PS3’s roster, but I will say that I don’t think we’ve seen what Xbox is capable of because if they had a few more developers with the drive that Epic games had when they made Gears, then I’d have to side with Xbox just because I love their online services. But currently PS3 does look better.

    • Jawknee1

      Read your stupid comment again and then rethink who the Fanboy is and get back to me.

  • Somalia99

    I agree, it seems pretty clear that the PS3 has a graphical edge but I’m interested to see Crytek’s new exclusive for the 360, Codename: Kingdoms. Maybe that will be up there with PS3 exclusives. You never know, but you can only doubt. It looks eerily similar to GoW just off the known footage. Can’t wait for Gears 3, and Forza 4, I hope they can hit unknown peeks.

    • Ray

      When you say “GoW”…do you mean Gears of War or God of War?

    • Ray

      Oh…and I don’t know if I would get your hopes up. Crytek squawked day in and day out about how they were maxing out the PS3 with Crysis 2 and it looks like crap in my opinion. Especially compared to Killzone 3.

    • Ray

      “and I don’t know if I would get your hopes up”

      drrr…..grammer is my friend!

      I meant to say, I don’t know if you should get your hopes up. Sorry. :=P

  • oshe3m

    i agree with Ray…there shouldn’t be any debate anymore as to which console is more powerful or capable of better graphics…it’s obviously Ps3, regardless of whether or not either of the consoles have been maxed out yet

  • Alex PS360

    If gaming was all about graphics, the Nintendo would have never sold soo many consoles. Its about the overall experience. Uncharted and God of wars are the best ps3 games.

    • Duke

      The Wii sold so many consoles due to its price, being family friendly and being something for the casual gamer, its price would of been higher if its processor and graphics card were the same quality of PS3 or 360s and would of had people not buying it.

    • schuka

      @duke i take it a casual gamer in your definition is people who only play for a solid 10 minutes, yes indeed that is casual, but from my knowledge so is most mainstream players… *sigh* what happened to those years when you where insulted for being a gamer?

  • Duke

    Great quote by one of the greatest developers out there.

    Although i would imagine that somewhere in that quote should be a mention of glass size, the bigger the glass the more space which basically means the more powerful the hardware the more that can be done as is the case with PS3.

    This was a great article to read and i cant wait until GreenRIngs has a whinge about this not being true and that PS3 is gay etc, because we all know how that guy is.

    • John Kirby

      The bigger glass size is indeed a very good analogy.

  • jorge

    I think Mass Effect 3 will be the best

  • Fist

    Let me first start off by agreeing with your basic conclusion that the xbox is probably closer to that theoretical ‘maxed out’ point. But I think a strange thing happened on the way to the next-gen consoles, while the platform makers are biding their time. The interim solutions, Kinect & Move were released with very different receptions and at this point it looks like it is the Kinect that has captured the imagination of game developers and hackers alike.

    So I would posit that though at a pure pixels and polygon level the Xbox may be closer to saturation there appears to be much more potential for interesting games on the Kinect platform. It isn’t very sexy, but as the Wii proved earlier (and arguably the touch interface games popular today) gaming potential is not only bound by the technical limits of the CPU/GPU, but also by game mechanics and interface as well. So in that regard I do believe that the Xbox has the advantage there.

  • Mornelithe

    While I agree with most of what you say, I think the reason that the PS3 isn’t as close to maxxing out as the 360, is due to several factors. One, the 360 did have a lead and is the easier of the two to design for, however, I think another major factor, one that actually has ramifications in the industry, is developers lack of desire to optimize for the hardware they’re on. By which I mean, this incessant desire to have every game delivered ‘exactly the same’ on both (or more) platforms, rather than delivering a game that’s designed specifically for the architecture they’re working on.

    Granted, this is an additional expense to them, but given the ludicrous amounts of money they make off of games these days, I don’t see it as something that would hurt them in the long run. Far from it, I believe fully that gamers would recognize and appreciate the effort made, and reward it with loyalty. Sort of like what happens now when a PS3 game is identified as being a shoddy port, or a PC Game is nerfed into the ground so that it can function on consoles also. It’s not really about which system is better, honestly, to them, it’s about how much money they can make off you.

  • The Comfy Chair

    Which punto goes faster? the 1.1L or the 1.2L?

    Who cares? they’re both puntos in a world where veyrons (PC’s) stomp all over both of them for about £100 more (and it’s not like you didn’t need a PC anyway). Squabbling about which game looks marginally better is just pointless when games like shogun 2 total war and even the original crysis are just laughing at all the silly people squabbling about killzone 3 and gears of war :)

    For the record, though, the ps3 is the 1.2L punto.

    • John Kirby

      I like your analogy. Coding optimization would be equivalent to the skill of the driver.

  • Prozac

    These arguements are subjective, and the quote from a Sony owned developer makes me question the integrity of the author.

    • Duke

      So it was a quote from Naughty Dog and yes they are owned by Sony, but to question this authors integrity because of that is just ridiculous. The quote was used because its one of the smartest and best ways to describe maxing out a console.

      This author talked the complete truth in this article and it was a great read, well done to him as its great to read about something good for once instead of just boring repetitive junk.

  • Fetid Jahafagoli

    I’ve been saying this for ages…
    It’s like John Carmack said, given a theoretically infinite development time, a PS3 game could be more technically impressive, but with a realistic, finite development time, since the 360 is much easier to develop for, games will generally look better.

    • Mornelithe

      No, actually, they won’t. Games developed multiplatform will…for a time (That started stopping as the PS3 dev tools became more robust, and as developers started wrapping their heads around PS3 development). But, games developed exclusively for PS3, simply have more resources to tap into. People can call it’s processing power ‘theoretical’ as much as they want. It’s not theory, if it’s there. They’re simply wasted resources, until they’re used.

    • Ray

      I’ll wait to see what he does with Rage on the PS3 before I believe anything that guy says. He complains that the 360 is limiting his game then he says its the better of the two consoles? He doesn’t make any sense.

  • Somalia99

    @Ray
    God of War, and Yea but, you can only hope.
    @Mornelithe
    You couldn’t be more right. Hopefully companies like SuckerPunch don’t leave. And fuck Konami. MGS Rising on 360? You gotta be kidding me.

    • Ray

      Crytek is making a a God of Warish game? Interesting.

    • Duke

      Sucker Punch is a Sony owned developer, Konami is multiplatform company and MGS’s rights are owned by Hideo Kojima and not Sony. But i wouldn’t worry, Kojima productions know how to very well make games for PS3, just look at MGS4, i wouldnt be too suprised if Rising is being developed on the PS3 and then being ported to 360, instead of the other way. That way PS3 doesn’t get shot down like always with multiplatform games and you wouldn’t want to anger all the dedicated MGS fans who have stuck by Sony the entire time.

    • Jawknee1

      ACtually Duke, SuckerPunch isn’t owned by Sony…yet. :) But Sony does own the inFamous IP.

  • Somalia99

    Why are my comments being deleted?

    • William Schwartz

      They arent being deleted. They are getting caught by our filter for profanity. They need to be approved manually. If you post links, or swear, or post certain things they get filtered.

    • The Future of Sega

      It’s because of me lol. No seriously I was spamming and so I caused the damage of filtering. I’m sawweee :-(

  • BranchOfLight

    Thank you for looking at code optimization and not just what system has “pertier pictures”.

    Answering this question is a ****. You could say optimization, but then there’s the argument of poorly coded games. Maybe GAMEA took up a lot of HD space, looked good, and had to be toned down because of the system denying any more speed, but maybe it was coded like crap.

    It’s a tricky question and the only way to get one true answer would be to look at code for many, many games and have experts look at how optimal each set of functions, classes, scripts, and lines really are.

    Oh, and that quote you found was rad as well.

  • James Douglas Morrison

    It’s obviously PS3! The ONLY video games I ever play are Uncharted… I look for quality when I choose to waste my time playing a video game. Uncharted 3 is the most realistic game I’ve seen! I don’t even care about God of War, or Killzone, so there’s no way I’m going to give a fuck about any dumb Xbox game! When you want a good quality video game, it comes from Naughty Dog! I mean the gameplay, graphics… Detail! In Uncharted 3, (where Drake and Sully are running through a burning building) you can see the wallpaper curl up when it starts on fire! Even in the first Uncharted there was amazing detail! I was intrigued by Drakes clothes getting wet after in water, I’ve never seen that in any other video game before! Another quote from Naughty Dog talks about ‘six lane freeways’ (SPUs)… Uncharted 1 used two of the six freeways. Uncharted 2 used all six, but with ‘regular cars’. Uncharted 3 is using all six also, but with the power of ‘Formula One cars’. I imagine when Uncharted 4 comes out, instead of freeways, there will be six skys, and instead of ‘Formula One’ cars, there will be jet airplanes to power it! I just don’t see the 360 ever having this quality! “It would take several discs for Uncharted 2 to work on the 360, and it still wouldn’t run right.” -Another Naughty Dog quote.

  • ber

    Except for naughty dog’s quote, what a load of shite, this article is.

  • R_DuB

    Its all BS. People, you can say whatever you want but do to abstraction in computing, we are never going to see anything maxed! The main reason for more powerful hardware is to use higher level languages that at times can really bloat. Even though its not impossible, but very seriously impractical, you could write a 3D game at the assembly level or machine level. You would be surprised how fast a application can run at the bare minimum. Hell Demoscene people pulled off real time 3D and a z-buffer on a Commodore 64 in assembly language! At that level, skill, imagination and lots of patience plus time would be

  • m3g4l337h3r0

    lol lets all notice how the boxer that has the helghast helmest has more muscle… hope that doesn’t have to do with anything.

  • Bunie

    they both “maxed out” years ago. Have you seen the textures on some games? AWFUL! 512MB of ram? Consoles need like 4GB of ram. DX9? DX11 is needed. ancient GPU, low ram. CPU is “Ok”. CONSOLES ARE OLD! CRAZI OLD! Developers have to take their epic looking games, and take out the “Epic” in order for them to run.

  • jake

    if graphics realy materd the ps2 wouldnt of beat the cube or xbox

  • sinn1

    Ridiculous my posts got filtered out as well. I didn’t curse sure they were stupid and off target. However it was designed to make light of the situation. People put to much time and effort in this my console is better than yours. I know that this is supposed to all be flame bait, but come on. Consequently after Crysis this whole argument that the 360 is bad and holding everyone back blah, blah, blah. I have played the sp campaign for a complete day. I bought mine for the 360 and my room mate got his on the Ps3. We got it at a Wal-Mart, no I am not telling you which one. I have a friend that works in electronics and an assistant manager friend there as well. Any way the 360 version looks better that Uncharted 1+2, and Killzone 2+3. O own them both I don’t care what you have to say. It look better on the 360 no question about it. News flash to Ps3 only people your system is aging horribly to. They both are junk in the eyes of PC’s, but it is still amazing that they can still hold their own after 5 and 4 years respective.

  • sinn1

    Wow I have got to stop using my Droid for this, its like bad grammar and punctuation, ooh here I easily offend heck…… Don’t moderate me I substituted a word for a curse word.

  • Elcido6

    Programmers have had an extra year to learn to code for 360, that may have a something to do with it.

    Also, I’m sure new games will be coming out for the PS3 and 360 for at least 3 or 4 years after PS4/NextBox come out, continuing to test the limits, as there will be many people not ready to make the jump to a new console immediately, especially if next gen consoles end up in the $500-$700 range.

  • zeno

    the early reviews of new vegas had me thinking maxed out consoles until high spec pc users were having the same graphic and game play issues.
    ok bring on the next gen with much higher specs and the given of awsome graphics but there needs to be a big leap in the overall technical quality of the games. oh yea great graphics are good but come on the story and characters are important too. load times need shortened and last but not least all games have full custom mapping controls.

  • saban

    Come on PS3 is an emabarasement, it has been since the begining, first it is 1 year late to xbox360 ofcouorse it has stronger hardware, imagine PC that has 1 year advantage.
    And latelly my opinion on all sony products has become even worse – they are not the best at almost anything anymore.

    And what is with this fucking move :))))) come on give me a break, either do somethoing like kinect or dont do it at all. Come holding that stupid Ice cream in hand :))))
    move is different than wii – not idiots it is not it is just more accurate because camera is tracking the stupid icecream and wii has IR receiver which is from stone age.

    Give it a break PS3 fanboys because your PS3 consoles are reaching its potential since it came out ))) but nobody has seen that potential yet :))) I guees it will always be like some uncut diamond :)

    • Jawknee1

      Xbots level of denial never ceases to amaze me.

  • Larry

    both the same

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