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The Problems With Porting Games 330

mr_sifter writes "There's a large lexicon of monosyllabic, four-letter words for describing something you don't like — but only PC gamers use the word 'port' with such a fervent degree of repulsion. Common complaints about console ports include meager graphics options, dodgy third-person camera angles, poorly-thought-out controls and sparsely distributed save points. In this feature, Bit-tech talks to developers of games such as Dead Space, Red Faction and Tales of Monkey Island to find out why porting games between the three major consoles and the PC is so difficult. Radically different CPU, graphics and memory architectures play their part, as do the differences in control methods and the rules Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo set about how games should work on their systems."
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The Problems With Porting Games

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  • Re:Obligatory (Score:2, Informative)

    by Andr T. ( 1006215 ) <> on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @10:59AM (#29105857)
    Sarcasm went waaay over the moderator's head.
  • by hansamurai ( 907719 ) <> on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @11:02AM (#29105895) Homepage Journal

    Hey man, let's use a more relevant example, like no blood in Mortal Kombat on the SNES while Genesis had the blood code!

  • by superphysics ( 1619033 ) on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @11:05AM (#29105933) Homepage
    And I thought port was just some kind of wine... :|
  • RE4 (Score:4, Informative)

    by wisnoskij ( 1206448 ) on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @11:27AM (#29106217) Homepage
    The PC port of RE4 did not even contain a option to exit the game and even though it was a FPS did not allow mouse control.
  • by El_Muerte_TDS ( 592157 ) on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @11:33AM (#29106299) Homepage

    Mac is also a PC.

  • by slyrat ( 1143997 ) on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @11:35AM (#29106319)

    If done right, almost any FPS should be portable from console to PC, and be FAR better on PC. (Mouse + keyboard is a superior control mechanism for FPS games.)

    Most RPGs aren't too bad either, especially if you plug in a joypad to the PC.

    Of course, frequently ports are NOT done right - the PC port of Final Fantasy VII is a notorious example of a port being done so lazily as to break compatibility very rapidly within about a generation of hardware releases. Nowadays it's often easier to get the PSX version running in an emulator than to get the PC port working.

    Even after you just use these game types you still end up with far too many good games that you can't change the controls. The most recent example of this is the pc version of Arkham Asylum (batman game). A standard usb analog stick logitech pad messes up and has the up be down, down be up. And there is no way to fix it. Every pc game should either have customizable controls or tested well enough so they know that all devices are going to work with it. Sigh...

  • PORT to Linux!! (Score:4, Informative)

    by notanatheist ( 581086 ) on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @11:40AM (#29106383) Homepage
    Am I the only one here wanting that? Seriously!! It's not like linux doesn't run great on high end hardware or anything. So, don't worry about the poor little consoles for a moment and PORT to Linux!!
  • by tlhIngan ( 30335 ) <> on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @11:51AM (#29106545)

    Actually these days middleware and the use of thirdparty engines is becoming hugely important. Thus the software part isn't an afterthought so much as outsourced to someone more competent. The biggest problem in porting tends to be when someone tries to bring a game developed for consoles to the PC, or vice versa. Essentially the console is dramatically underpowered versus contemporary PCs. So console games are developed "close to the metal" to gain as much power as possible from coding tricks, and therefore don't code well. PC games find themselves on a platform without the horsepower to run properly with a serious rewrite to add those sorts of tricks. Again, middleware can eliminate this sort of issue by dealing with the resource-squeezing in advance.

    Not so much on current-gen consoles, where you have multiple GHz level CPUs and somewhat copious amounts of RAM (I'm excluding the Wii for the moment). The Xbox360 has three 3GHz PowerPC cores and 512MB of shared memory (CPU-GPU), while the PS3 has 2 3GHz PowerPC cores, 7 DSP cores, and 256MB of system RAM plus 256MB of VRAM for the GPU. This is enough so that they actually run an OS. The original Xbox ran everything in kernel mode, but the Xbox360 is powerful enough that the kernel-user mode switching isn't a big deal. Heck, it's probably multiprocess capable too, though you probably only have your game application, and the OS shell application (the one that handles the Guide button when you press it). I would expect the PS3 to have a similar architecture as well - an OS ("GameOS") that runs the games but is effectively a multitasking OS and the game runs in usermode.

    Heck, horsepower wise, these consoles don't hold a lick to a gaming PC, but are probably fairly competitive to the usual sub-$500 PCs bought today, or more powerful.

    Which may be why PC gaming is as bad as it is right now - it's hard writing a game to run on a $300 netbook with Intel graphics. Or a budget $500 PC, again with Intel level graphics. You pretty much have to step up to a $700+ PC if you want the hint of ATI or nVidia graphics. That and the quality of drivers most of these computers have.

    The Wii is a special case - it's console design is similar to previous generations - software developers have full access to hardware, and its firmware basically is just hardware device drivers. It's why software updates are kinda wierd on the Wii - every game library release (IOS) isn't binary compatible, so when you start a game, it's gotta load the right version for each game, and your Wii has copies of every version up to that point. Honestly, I'm not sure why Nintendo doesn't just have the developer ship the IOS library with the game to save storage space in the flash.

  • Re:Obligatory (Score:4, Informative)

    by FCAdcock ( 531678 ) on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @12:22PM (#29107021) Homepage Journal

    No, the moderator just plays PC games and works for a video game store.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @12:26PM (#29107081)

    Wow, first time I feel old due to a whippersnapper like yourself not knowing history.

    A short description that glosses over many finer points and is probably a bit loose with terminology:
    in the 80's IBM came out with the IBM-PC (Personal Computer). This took off like a rocket, especially for business users. Unlike Apple, IBM allowed other companies to make computers based on their architecture- these were known as IBM-PC compatible, or "PC Compatible" for short. This was in contrast, to your Amiga, Mac, and several other incompatible systems that were available at the time. You could also not run "PC" software on Macs or any of the other systems, and vice versa, aside from emulation software that didn't work very well.

    You have an interesting point- that Macs are pretty much PC's these days, but its only partly anything to do with the OS, its roots are meant to distinguish between different hardware/software architectures and what software you can run on them (back in ye olde days, there were several vendors offering a DOS, or Disk Operating System). Since Apple now uses the same hardware as "PC's" and bootcamp put an end to any real barriers to turning your Mac into a PC, there really is no difference anymore.

    However, any reasonably experienced computer person will probably always call a machine made by Apple a Mac, until one can buy OS X and just put it on any old PC they have laying around without jumping through hoops.

  • Re:Obligatory (Score:3, Informative)

    by Desler ( 1608317 ) on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @12:34PM (#29107229)
    The big flaw in all this is an assumption that any video game publisher wants consoles to be killed.
  • by Desler ( 1608317 ) on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @12:36PM (#29107259)

    It does not, nor has it ever meant "Personal Computer with Microsoft Windows Operating System installed".

    You must be 2 years old then. Apple has been using a decades plus old campaign that says exactly that.

  • by tepples ( 727027 ) <> on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @12:42PM (#29107341) Homepage Journal

    Yes, it's really fucking hard to have redefinable keyboard layouts. I don't know much about console programming, but if there's an event loop capable of calling a buttonpressed routine, you have no excuse.

    Microsoft has a blanket ban on the use of USB keyboards as game controllers in Xbox 360 games; any game that does so doesn't get digitally signed for use on retail consoles. If step 1 involves hostilely taking over the parent company of the console maker so that it will make an exception to this ban, would that be an excuse?

  • by Sancho ( 17056 ) on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @01:12PM (#29107883) Homepage

    They're often called "rail shooters."

  • Re:Obligatory (Score:3, Informative)

    by Lord Ender ( 156273 ) on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @01:45PM (#29108423) Homepage

    I won't necessarily say that the Wiimote is better than a mouse for FPS games, because that is a matter of opinion and context.

    No, it's not a matter of opinion. It can be objectively measured. The measure of a good input device is how accurately it can transform what the user wants into what happens. Therefore, if skilled players using one device consistently outperform skilled players using another device in an FPS, we know objectively which device is better.

    Do you know any wiimote players who think they could take on PC gamers playing the same FPS head-to-head? I sure don't. I think that settles it.

  • by amoeba1911 ( 978485 ) on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @02:48PM (#29109465) Homepage
    "Apple Inc., incorporated on January 3, 1977, designs, manufactures, and markets personal computers..."
    From their company profile []

    Just in case you're too stupid to know: PC stands for Personal Computer [].

    Marketing is bullshit? Shocking!!! Bill Hicks was right? Sorry to burst your bubble.
  • by abigor ( 540274 ) on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @03:45PM (#29110305)

    Agreed, but targeting Wine is not "porting to Linux".

  • Re:Obligatory (Score:2, Informative)

    by coxymla ( 1372369 ) on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @08:21PM (#29113263)
    You don't even need to spend $300 on a GPU these days if your primary objective is "better graphics than a console." A Radeon 4870 is less than $150 and can display most modern PC games in greater than full HD resolutions with AF/AA and all the trimmings, something no console can currently do.
  • by NSN A392-99-964-5927 ( 1559367 ) on Wednesday August 19, 2009 @02:38AM (#29115591) Homepage
    Well I love all the old Williams arcade games and playing defender is very hard on anything apart from the layout on the old Arcade machine. The ergonomics of this can only be slightly improved. Bring back Williams arcade games. Every other games sucks!
  • Re:Obligatory (Score:3, Informative)

    by PyroMosh ( 287149 ) on Wednesday August 19, 2009 @12:30PM (#29120295) Homepage

    That's not the same thing at all. It just proves the old adage "A witty saying proves nothing".

    The perfect example is Halo, since it's more popular on the X-Box, and the X-box controller is usable on the PC, where there is also a port.

    A lot of players are really, really good with the X-Box controller. My ex girlfriend worked with one of these players who would decimate both of us whenever we went over to play him on the his X-box. He'd also be at the top of the ladder in online torments, etc.

    So I proposed an experiment. He'd come over and play a game at our place. One of us would play one one of our PCs with keyboard and mouse, and he would play on the other with an X-Box 360 controller plugged in. He could map the controls however he liked.

    He was unable to win a match, ever.

    The controller is simply an inferior tool for the particular job of controlling a FPS. It works okay when your opponents are similarly handicapped. But against a superior control scheme against a competent opponent (even a less skilled, but still competent opponent), you have very little chance, beyond the occasional lucky shot. Occasional lucky shots don't happen enough to win matches.

    The Wii makes for some fun Light-gun style shooters. But the control scheme... well I just don't see how you could move more efficiently than a keyboard / mouse setup. Circle strafing, yaw... they would be sloppy and slow. No way you would be competitive. I'll admit this is less clear-cut than a controller though.

To be a kind of moral Unix, he touched the hem of Nature's shift. -- Shelley