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Games Entertainment

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:Punchline: (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Smidge207 ( 1278042 ) on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @10:58AM (#29105837) Journal

    Making an interface that actually works properly on both Mouse+keyboard and gamepad(never mind wii stick) falls into the "squaring the circle with world peace" pile.

    Sigh. See, now this is exactly the nonsense that pisses me and millions of other PC owners off. You don't hear Ferrari execs saying that they will start making sensible 4-door saloons with 80bhp because 99% of the roads in the world won't even allow you to go over 120km/h.

    I have no objection to some studios producing games for mainstream (afterall, we do need Kias and Volkswagens), but the problem is that nobody is making a Ferrari anymore. The last one was Crysis, released in november 2007. Game developers have the advantage over car manufacturers that they can produce a Ferrari for the same price a Volkswagen would cost, yet they keep being held back by investors that seem to be hellbent on mainstream. If there is nothing at all to be starry-eyed over, the mainstream will lose it's appeal too.

    As far as games go, the performance crown is still held by Crysis, which was released almost two years ago. On the hardware front, we were just marveling at our q9400's and eagerly awaiting the new g92 cards from nVidia at that time, look how far we've progressed! Meanwhile, on the software front nothing has happened to be starry-eyed about.

    We want a game that doesn't run again, like Crysis did the first time we subjected our poor socket 939 rigs to it. I don't understand that nobody is doing this at all, and i havent heard of any plans in the pipeline either, which basically means that Crysis will at least be able to celebrate its 30th month on the throne before it is replaced.
    The saddest bit of gamenews for me was when i read about CryEngine 3, that isn't built to finally step forwards again, but to be able to run on Xbox and PS3.


    BUT: Direct X 11 is coming. A grand total of 6 (six) games have announced that they will be using it. Only one of these games is PC-exclusive, and that is a BattForge, a game that's been out for a while that will receive a graphical refresh. If I understand the article correctly, this means that all the others are watered-down for consoles. Cheers.

  • by Sockatume ( 732728 ) on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @11:28AM (#29106231)

    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.

  • by malevolentjelly ( 1057140 ) on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @11:41AM (#29106393) Journal

    It's very important to point out that the porting task has everything to do with where you start. The PC is simply not the best development environment anymore, the Xbox 360 is-- and even Carmack would agree with me, here. You can get a game going really fast on 360, then it's a bit less difficult to go to PC. We can call this the best case scenario. Rapid time to market with superior development tools on 360 with familiar API's for cross-platform development on PC, along with similar TCR requirements between GFW and 360.

    Let's say you started on the PS3, though. Maybe you took the time to learn the architecture and really take advantage of the cell architecture, so your game is basically hardcoded around the flexible pipeline and mass pararllelization, now it does things that even PC games cannot. Porting it to the 360 might not be so bad, but going to the PC is going to be a rough letdown. It feels like a dog when porting a console game.

    So maybe your game started out nicely organized and clean in design, but in that last few months before release while your publisher is driving you up a wall to release, you're going to have so many hacks and messy revisions to the model to ship within your ridiculous timeframe- plus all the devs are tired and need vacations and such. Suddenly, the game is not so portable. It's the same for any platform, really- you go balls to the wall optimizing our game for the platform and you're going to spend a lot of your smooth portability.

    Pay no attention to the "specs" of consoles vs. PC, it's basically meaningless. Consoles often run games almost directly, plus they have all sorts of architecture enhancements and little hardware tricks you don't find in PC's. A PC needs to have brutally more power to really match the sort of speed and power you can squeeze out of a console.

    Let's say you developed on nintendo wii first... well, it's game over already, you just developed a last-gen, almost Xbox-looking game and tied it to the wiimote. Good luck porting that. That's part of why American studios don't throw big games at it, because it's too limited in power and the publishers just don't want to risk it. There are too many "hardcore" games, which need to push the envelope. The Wii is basically doomed to casual games and childrens' games because of this, because the marketing figures will always point it in that direction--and that's what really runs the game industry.

    Technically speaking, you can probably see why people like the Unreal Engine or Source Engine, given the fact that all the porting work is done for you... well you still have to deal with the insane, i mean ABSOLUTELY insane requirements each console has for release... everything from trademarks to menu formats to the way control is expressed in the interface. The amount of attention to detail necessary blows away months of work. Consoles are not a free-for-all, you have to use the hardware in a very specified way.

    In short.. yeah, it's rough. More difficult than most people will ever really know.

  • by tylersoze ( 789256 ) on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @11:54AM (#29106601)
    I confess I'm a game porter, I'm deep into the bowels of finishing off a port of the original Call of Duty to Xbox 360 and PS3 at the moment. Most of the time the ports are outsourced to companies like ours rather than developed in-house by the original developers. We usually have a short development schedule and are pretty much stuck with the code as is, as excellent or crappy as it might be, and we do our best to make what we can from it. I actually find it very intellectually challenging and fun. The schedules are short, and there's always a new project to look forward to while being stuck in the muck of the current project. :) I get to look at a lot of different source code from a lot of different games and learn something new each time usually. Each project is different, sometimes it's easy (if the code is designed well or uses middleware that's available on the platform we're porting to) or a complete nightmare (very platform specific or the middleware it's using isn't available for the platform). At this point I've ported to or from just about every platform out there. Xbox -> PC, PC -> PS3,Xbox, DS -> iPhone, PC -> Mac, etc.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @12:24PM (#29107035)

    I'll back you on that. I worked on a port of a PC game to the DS a few years ago. Basically the budget and schedule was the minimum possible to get a successful project. For about half the project we were doing 70+ hour weeks. The lead programmer did significantly more than the rest of us. The final candidate milestone was about a week after the beta milestone. We basically got everything working in the minimum acceptable state just days before we hit the beta milestone. We had enough time for just a little bit of polish after that. We were happy with the end result, but even just another 2 weeks on the project would've made a huge difference in the final quality.

  • by tepples ( 727027 ) <{tepples} {at} {gmail.com}> on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @12:54PM (#29107573) Homepage Journal

    The big flaw in all this is an assumption that any video game publisher wants consoles to be killed.

    Some people develop video games but do not do so as a full-time day job. They want consoles to be killed because console makers (especially Nintendo) have an overt bias against teams who work from home. This means games developed in part-time have to be self-published for PC. And even among major labels, there have been a couple stories on Slashdot over the past couple days about publishers whining about console makers' fee structures. See, for example, this story [slashdot.org] and this story [slashdot.org].

  • Convergence. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MaWeiTao ( 908546 ) on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @01:45PM (#29108421)

    I find it amusing that the final paragraph states that PCs is being taken at least as serious as consoles for gaming. Remember when this generation of consoles was first introduced? The talk then was that PC gaming was doomed.

    It's been the same sort of nonsense the last few generations. People get excited about these new consoles and because they offer a technological leap over the previous generation they start expecting some sort of revolution. Once the consoles have been around a while people start noticing PCs again.

    Consoles naturally have to offer a clear technological leaps given their relatively long life expectancies. PCs, however, never stop progressing so that within months they surpass anything consoles are capable of. And actually, at least with this generation it was more consoles caught up to the capability of PCs than that they actually surpassed them.

    I expect that eventually the market will move towards a more unified platform. Given how complex games are getting developers will be pushing hard for something like this. And hardware makers are being put into a difficult spot where they basically have need to be confident their console will be successful because if it isn't developers will abandon them. Look at the challenges facing would-be competitors the handheld market. And it's almost pointless to even compete on hardware at least for consoles. I say competition will come from the games themselves and motion-control peripherals. Perhaps not for the next generation of consoles, but eventually.

  • by fyrewulff ( 702920 ) on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @02:41PM (#29109351)
    Except Xbox/Playstation games are more censored than GameCube/Wii games. GameCube had the only uncensored version of BMX XXX for example, and Conker's Bad Fur Day was 10x more censored on the Xbox re-release than on the N64 original.
  • NOT just games (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dpbsmith ( 263124 ) on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @03:36PM (#29110151) Homepage

    The problems with ported software exist with all software, they are just much harder to hide in games.

    An awful lot of software that appears to be available on more than one platform is smooth, sweet, and stable on one of those platforms, and weird, clunky, and unreliable on another. Things like odd screen refresh bugs. Sometimes, applications that just don't look or act like good citizens of the world then run in. Sometimes, the application will seem to run all right but there's some difference in buffering or caching or memory management strategy, and on the "bad" platform it will have a tendency to freeze up mysteriously for unpleasantly long periods of time, or crash. Or work fine when installed in the exact place the installer puts it by default but act funny if you put it somewhere else. Or fail to follow the proper OS conventions for where preferences and configuration settings and other persistent program "state" should be placed. Or show you a literal view of your disk volume and directory structure instead of the slightly abstract view that "normal" programs show (e.g. "Desktop" at the top, root level in Windows).

    I think it's wonderful that gamers are able to yell and scream and try to exercise some market discipline about this. I think it's because a game you don't enjoy is valueless. Alas, when it comes to "productivity" software it's hard to quantify things like "feels klunky."

"The way of the world is to praise dead saints and prosecute live ones." -- Nathaniel Howe