Of late, the issue of the porting of games to the PC has become as hot-button an issue as any come in video gaming: Ubisoft has refused to port games, most notably the grim bluff -’em-up I am Alive, due to high rates of piracy on the platform (recently reported by the company to be in the region of 95%) and there have been constant nags about the quality of the PC ports – those fans of the platform complaining that the ports do not make full use of the power available to the platform over consoles.Whether these gripes be ones over the degree to which the graphical detail of the game can be customised to fit the specifications of the machine it is running on or the preferences of the player, or whether they be more to do with the fact that the translation of controllers from gamepad to keyboard and mouse is somewhat ham-handed to use and the developers have offered no way to change the controls, they tend to share an underlying assertion about the reasons for these faults: developers simply do not care enough about the PC market to tend to producing quality ports for the platform.
Indeed, there does seem to be a fair amount of evidence that would support such an assertion: Rockstars ports of the Grand Theft Auto series have been universally poor, with odd graphical glitches and the simple terror that was the GTAIV PC port, sporting higher system requirements than any research computer at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider, with this further being insufficient to run the game smoothly at any passable resolution. To add insult to this injury, the game ran perfectly smoothly on hardware three years old at the point of its release, and it was current mid-range PC hardware that could not run the game well: the problem then was with Rockstar’s undertaking of the port. Another open-world crime simulator was a victim of bad-port-syndrome in THQ’s Saints Row 2: again, runs fine on hardware that Moore’s Law has weathered, but suffers either extreme slowdowns or an odd speeding up depending on the exact configuration of hardware and software being used to run the game on. The multiplicity of the PC hardware and software ecosystem will always be a problem for ports of games, but to see such widespread and wide-ranging issues with the game does prompt questions as to how well and how thoroughly playtesting had been undertaken.
On the part of Rockstar, however, it must be said that progress has been made: the PC port of Max Payne 3, while weighing in at a hefty 29GB digital download if bought from Steam, has done a lot to improve on Rockstar’s track record. Given that the previous games in the series had been PC games originally, later ported to consoles, the business case for a priority on the PC port of the game would have been stronger: people would have had better expectations of the port. While Rockstar’s hand may have been forced, they did provide a wide range of graphics options and the controls were the same old controls of previous Max Payne games – it was a solid port, with much thought clearly put into the final experience, rather than just seeking to open a new market for sales.
If this was to mark a trend for the future of PC ports, the long-awaited port of FROM Software’s Dark Souls to the PC in it Prepare to Die edition marks are downturn in the quality of ports. It’s fixed internal resolution of 1024×720 is something generally unheard of in current PC games, and something that will hamper the experience of the game on LCD screens. Further to this, the frame rate of the game is locked to thirty frames-per-second – something that is again uncommon in current games, if only due to the fact that the hardware limitations that such locks are intended to work around no longer form important restrictions. Again, this is an example of the limitations of an increasingly elderly console generation interfering with the quality of games on technically superior PCs. The easy response to explain why this happened in this instance would be to say that FROM simply did not wish to dedicate the resources to improving the PC port as they are a small developer and would not wish to incur the expense in essentially redesigning a game that has been out for around a year on the PS3 – this easy response would be incredibly myopic.
FROM Software are unusual in the current industry in that they actually listened to fans: there were no concrete plans for a PC port prior to a fan petition that asked for a PC port of the game in order that a wider audience should play it. Such is that cult appeal of the ever-so-rare difficulty to be found amongst current generation games found within Dark Souls that people who had not even played the game signed a petition to plead for its release on a platform they could use. To say that the port is technically poor due to the indifference of the developer would be nonsense: if it was something for which they did not care, its development would not have occurred. The port, even in its current state, is a labour of love in the honour of their product.
FROM’s port’s deficiencies are much better and much more fairly chalked up to their relative inexperience with the platform. They held their hands up and said “we don’t know what we are doing” regarding the port and asked for perople’s patience with them in resolving any issues that would be present. Given that the port is an act of fan service (notably, an expensive one) such patience, especially given the discount afforded to the PC version over the PS3 version at release, should only be fairly granted. The port is lacklustre, yes, but the PS3 original was also in its slowdown at Blighttown – the difference is that the PS3 was a platform well known to them and they clearly were getting the best they could out of the hardware. Given that they have produced only three games for the PC in their twenty-six years of developing games, perhaps some slack should be cut for them not being completely proficient with optimisation techniques for PC software.
PC ports of console games do tend to suffer from some shortfalls. The simple answer to this, in my mind, is that low-quality ports shouldn’t be bought. There is a thriving PC development scene around, especially given Microsoft’s provision of XNA development tools at no cost. Acts of fan service such as that on the part of FROM Software should be commended and encouraged, with hope for better quality ports through more experience with the platform and updates fixing some of the issues with these new ports, such as that released by Peter Thoman this week. Hopefully by the PC gaming community will not act like spoiled children over a slightly sloppy port of an excellent game and show FROM that the PC should be in consideration for the primary platform for one of its games sometime soon.