When Valve and IGN revealed last Thursday that the new Steam Deck handheld will target 30Hz gameplay, not everyone was impressed with that low bar — but Valve’s Pierre-Loup Griffais has taken to Twitter to clarify his original comment, and reveal a new feature of the portable console.
First, he says 30 fps is more of a minimum bar than anything else:
“The ‘30 FPS target’ refers to the floor of what we consider playable in our performance testing; games we’ve tested and shown have consistently met and exceeded that bar so far,” he writes.
In other words, when Griffais said in that IGN video interview that “We haven’t really found something that we could throw at this device that it couldn’t handle,” you shouldn’t take it to mean that every modern game runs at 60 fps. Expect less.
Intriguingly, a 30 fps mode will be something you can proactively turn on to get more battery life, too. “There will also be an optional built-in FPS limiter to fine-tune perf vs. battery life,” he writes. The company’s already said you can play Portal 2 for up to six hours at 30fps, compared to four hours normally.
Will it be a good 30 fps mode, though? That’s TBD. In the replies, Digital Foundry’s Richard Leadbetter says Valve confirmed to him that the Steam Deck doesn’t have a variable-refresh-rate (VRR) screen, and eludes to the idea that V-sync might wind up creating some nasty frame pacing issues if you try to lock games to 30Hz on the Deck’s screen. (Digital Foundry would know; it's covered the issue many times across PC and console. Dark Souls and Sekiro developer From Software is notorious for inconsistent frame-pacing, for example.)
A 30fps setting will be fine for demanding games, but with v-sync active please ensure that a new frame is synchronised with every other screen refresh (typical on consoles) to ensure consistency. 30fps capped but delivered unevenly at 16.7ms/33.3ms/50ms is not a great experience— Digital Foundry (@digitalfoundry) July 25, 2021
Griffais hasn’t replied yet. We’ll see!