If someone would come up to me and asked what is the single most important aspect of the real-time image from the aesthetic point of view, I would say frame-rate. Without blinking an eye. It’s so important that I’ve uninstalled a game only for the fact that it was arbitrarily locked in 30 frames per second, a decision that made little sense to me.
Interestingly, frame-rate hasn’t always been an issue in video games, and I believe the discussion of it really fired up with the introduction of simulated z-axis, that is the 3D graphics. The thing was, even the most rudimentary 3D was such a struggle to the early days’ hardware, likes of Commodore 64 and Amiga 500, that it took relatively long time before one could see fluent 3D in a home environment without all the rendering errors and hick ups. And I’m not only talking solely about polygons here, but other methods to depict z-axis, too.
That been said, one could only imagine the pure bliss that was to see completely smooth frame-rates in arcade-games, like Outrun (1986) or Chase H.Q. (1988), back then with, I’d say at least, 40 frames per second sprite scaling. As a matter of fact, it was exactly those games that taught me the value of high and steady frame-rate, and how mesmerizing it really can be to see an image simulating the z-axis so smoothly in real-time.
So, I believe it was not until the 3D hardware acceleration revolution in the late 90s that truly changed the paradigm for frame-rate in a way that people started to expect smooth frame-rates from games in a home environment. Seeing Jedi Knight: Dark Forces 2 (1997) rolling on a 3Dfx Voodoo –card in our home PC for the first time with no stuttering whatsoever, was something that I will probably never forget. In fact, most of the jaw dropping experiences in general have usually been related to high frame-rate, in one way or another.
Now that frame-rate in real-time imagery is steadying in about 60 frames per second, it’s funny how old mediums, like film or television, are still pushing only 25-30 frames onto the screen per second. It baffles me why film industry is concentrating to the obnoxious 3D technology, and totally ignoring the very problem (besides the mandatory and horrible glasses) why the contemporary stereoscopic 3D is failing: the low frame-rate. James Cameron acknowledges that, but apparently that seems to be not nearly enough.
All in all, frame-rate is in the core of real-time image, and if it fails to deliver, everything else falls apart, in my mind. That is especially true in modern games. There really are no excuses for bad frame-rate, at least ones that I’d be okay with.