Your monster of a gaming PC with a power hungry GPU can hit 60 FPS on every game there is. The same can be said of the current generation gaming consoles. But, why is it that some games “feel” better than others while both run at 60 FPS? The answer lies in frame pacing. In this article, we will answer the question, “what is frame pacing?”
Answering the question, we will understand why frame pacing is important for gameplay and experience. This is a beginner friendly article that could explain everything about frame pacing to even beginners.
Moreover, in the backdrop of the game patch maker, illusion0001 releasing frame pacing patches for From Software Games (Elden Ring, Bloodborne, etc.) on PS4, this article was mandatory. So, enjoy!
What is frame pacing?
Let us not break tradition and go straight to the actual understandable meaning of the term framepacing or frame pacing. First, we will look at the definition as given in Android’s developer documentation. Here it goes:-
Frame pacing is the synchronization of a game’s logic and rendering loop with an OS’s display subsystem and the underlying display hardware.
Well, that’s it! I hope you enjoyed the article and I am sure now you know what frame pacing is. And, you are prepared to go patch every game that suffers from game pacing issues. Bye bye!
Just kidding, I know the one sentence sounds gibberish to most of us. Now, let me explain it in a language that every one of you could understand.
Frame pacing for Dummies
Well, don’t worry! I am a dummy myself and if you are a dummy like me, with unquenchable thirst for unlimited knowledge, you will love this. Let me warn you though. This does include basic mathematics. If you hated maths before, you are gonna love it for the next 5 minutes or so.
Before we understand what framepacing is, let us take a quick minute to revise our concept of FPS or frames per second.
What is FPS (frames per second)?
See, every video (motion picture) is a collection of images. I am sure you all are aware of it. So, video is nothing but multiple images glued together. Interesting, right? Following that knowledge, the next question is how many images does a video have then? This is dictated by the FPS, also called the framerate.
To understand this concept much better, I am going to show you a few different GIFs here. Each one of these GIFs have a different frame rate or FPS. Below, you will see the Intro logo of PS4Linux as a GIF.
Now, this GIF runs at 60 FPS. For a second, let us replace the term “frames” with “images,” to understand this better. Going by that method, the animated GIF above consists of 60 images glued together being shown in a second. I hope now, it is clear.
Next, we have the same intro logo running at 30 FPS. Here, it is:-
It goes without saying that, this one has 30 images glued together being shown in one second span. I know, many of you are confused, because you don’t see a lot of difference between the 60 FPS and 30 FPS GIF. And, it’s understandable. Most humans can’t tell the difference between 30 FPS and 60 FPS without a much closer look. But, to move forward and understand frame pacing better, we need to know what kind of a difference FPS makes in games.
For that, here is a quick comparison of the above GIF running at close to 15, 30 and 60 FPS.
I hope you now see a clear difference between 15 FPS and 60 FPS, if not between 30 FPS and 60 FPS. If you notice, as the FPS reduces, stuttering increases and the video loses its smoothness. Why is that? Let me explain. Here is a meme showing Mr. Bean (Rowan Atkinson) stuffing chicken legs in his mouth.
First, of all let me tell you that, this GIF has 10 frames (or images) glued together to total for a 1 second meme. This means, it is running at 10 FPS. In the meme, we see Bean’s hands going towards his mouth. Now, let us try reducing the frames in the meme to 4 while keeping the duration same. Here is the result:-
In the GIF above, we see the same 1 second meme but the movement has become jittery. Why? Because, we have reduced the frames or rather, skipped some frames. On comparing with the meme above, we see some images or rather frames missing, right? This would have nicely explained to you, what happens when framerate is reduced.
Now, that prepares us to understand what frame pacing is. So, without further ado, let us get into that.
What is frame time and how does it cause frame pacing issues?
Framepacing has everything to do with the frame time. What is frame time then? Linus Tech Tips defines it simply:-
Frame time is just the time between frames.
Now, a gamer ideally opts for 60 FPS. So, each second should have 60 frames in it. We have discussed this earlier. But, what about the spacing between the frames, what should be the ideal duration of each frame before which the next frame is rendered? This is what we call frame time. Let me explain. See, we know that a second = 1000 milliseconds (ms). Thus, we have 60 frames which have to be displayed in 1000 ms. So, each frame should be displayed for 1000/60=16.66 ms in a 60 FPS video. This would make sure that there is a uniformity in the video, making it buttery smooth.
Let us quickly rewatch our 60 FPS intro logo.
This GIF has a frame time of 16.66 ms, which is uniform, i.e., each of the 60 frames being shown in a second’s span are shown exactly for 16.66 ms. In other words, the frame pacing is uniform throughout. Now, here is the same 60 FPS intro logo.
Do you notice any difference? Yes, right! There is slight sluttering in the second one. If I hadn’t told you that the second one too was a 60 FPS GIF, you would have most probably jumped to the conclusion that the second one stutters because it is of a lower FPS. But, that’s not the case. This, my learners is the perfect example of frame pacing issue.
See, in the first GIF, each frame lasted for 16.66 ms (or 0.01666 s) exactly. But, in the second one, each frame has a different frame time. So, if one frame lasts for 0.02 seconds, the other would last for 0.04, while the next one 0.01 and in between, we also have some lasting for 0.08 seconds even. Regardless, the second one too has 60 frames. But, the thing is the total frame time of each of the 60 frames combined comes out to be 1 second!
See how that works? You now would have understood that low FPS isn’t the only thing affecting your gameplay experience. Frame time or consequently, frame pacing also has a role to play. I hope now you have a better understanding of what frame pacing is, and how issues arise.
Frame pacing chart: Uniform vs variable
If it’s still ambiguous, check this chart below taken from Reset Era.
See how the blue line representing uniform frame pacing is. This simply means each frame has a duration of 16.66 ms. On the other had, the orange one has variable frame pacing. But, like the example above, if you were to sum all the orange points (frame time) in the chart, you would still reach a total of 999.6 ms, representing 60 FPS!
Now, let’s move ahead.
How to fix frame pacing issues in games?
From what you have learned in this article, it’s pretty clear where the solution lies. We have to adjust the frame time of the game, right? But, there are other variables at play too. We will quickly go through a few steps that you can take to fix frame pacing issues in games.
Reduce FPS (frame rate)
This is pretty obvious. See, if you are trying to play a demanding game at 60 FPS, you are probably facing bad frame times, because your hardware doesn’t have the capability to render the next frame with the speed required. In other words, playing at 60 FPS, your system will have to render each frame every 16.66 ms. The frame time is increasing above that limit, probably because your hardware isn’t capable of rendering frames at that pace. So, if you were to cap your FPS at a playable 30 FPS, this reduces the demand on your system. How? Simply because at 30 FPS, the frame time increases. As opposed to 60 FPS’ frame time of 16.66 ms, 30 FPS has to render each frame after 33.33 ms. See how it works?
Use a good monitor
See, you can’t expect to have good experience playing a game at 144 FPS on a 60 FPS monitor. That is a topic for discussion for another article. But, understand that your monitor should be capable of meeting your gaming desires.
Patch the game to reduce frame time
In some cases, it’s the developer’s fault. As I have already mentioned, many awesome games like Elden Ring and Bloodborne struggle on a PS4 due to this frame pacing issue. On such systems, the only option is to find the file that contains the settings for frame time and then reduce it. The best example of such a patch is the recent set of patches released by illusion0001 for many games from the developer From Software. While building such patches require expertise, many popular games already have the patches available.
Did I miss anything? Comment below and let me know.
I hope you enjoyed the article and got to learn a lot from it. Concluding this, remember that frame rate and FPS are the same thing. Frame time is different from these. While a higher FPS is desirable, a lower frame time is expected. In a nutshell, FPS should be inversely proportional to the frame time. Stay tuned for more of such awesome articles, guides and what not.