Thanks to some recent sales, I have been playing a good number of games on PC that have also seen major console releases in the past few years. These games include quality titles such as Driver: San Francisco, Darksiders, Batman Arkham Asylum, Fifa 12, Dirt 3 and Saints Row 3. Taking Metacritic as an indicator, all of these titles gain high scores, all above 80 out of 100. However, in spite of the general high quality of the game content, there is a very noticeable difference as a PC gamer between the games that have been ported to PC properly and those that have not.
My recent experience with these games has highlighted the problems developers need to overcome when porting games to the PC. What follows is a guide to the elements I think are needed to have a successful PC release of a console game.
1. Video settings
This is above all my biggest problem with some of the games I have played recently. Most games that are developed for the PC have an extensive list of graphics options, screen resolutions, anti-aliasing settings, texture quality settings and so on. However, when porting from consoles to the PC, some developers do not allow this kind of customization. Games such as Arkham Asylum, Dirt 3 and Saints Row 3 do implement a variety of graphical options, and are therefore good quality PC ports. However, Darksiders does not implement any video options besides resolution and v-sync on or off, and likewise, Fifa 12 suffers from just three generic ‘low’, ‘medium’ and ‘high’ settings, and one fairly limited anti-aliasing option.
This means bad news for all types of PC gamers. A low-spec PC user will have trouble getting games like Darksiders to run because they are not given the option to lower the graphics settings properly. A mid-spec PC user (such as myself) has less options with which to refine the graphics and get the perfect balance between frames-per-second and graphical quality. A high-spec PC user is unable to get the best graphical experience, simply because the game does not provide the option to use better looking settings and higher resolution textures.
Clearly, video settings are irrelevant for console gamers, as each player will have exactly the same system. However, for PC gamers who all have different systems, the more customization that is included, the better.
As mentioned above, PC gamers all have different systems, and that is why optimization is key to creating a good PC port. A properly optimized game allows low-spec PC users to enjoy the game as well as those with better systems. This means that the game has a much wider potential audience, and would surely mean more revenue for developers. However, poorly optimized PC ports are often the norm. Driver: San Francisco suffers from a well-publicized memory leak on PC which causes the frame rate to drop significantly at various points in the game no matter what the graphics settings are. This makes the game unplayable for the low-spec PC user even if they meet the advertized system requirements. Similarly, for me personally, Darksiders suffers from occasional slowdown even though the graphics look fairly weak compared with recent PC games that I can run perfectly such as Battlefield 3 and Skyrim. These kind of problems make PC gamers feel like they are being sold a lower quality product than is available on consoles
One way to solve the optimization problems would be to adequate patch games. Most PC games (especially those using Steam) are automatically updated frequently, and this is a great step in the right direction. However, the games where this is less successful seem to be those that are ports from consoles. Driver: San Francisco has been released on PC for 10 months now, and successive patches have failed to solve the memory leak problem. This is clearly not the highest quality port. Similarly, Fifa 12 on PC suffers from a problem with downloading user-created content which has not been corrected via patches.
Also, it is often the case that outside the initial release window, developers stop supporting the game via patches. PC gamers are used to regular bug fixes and patches from PC publishers like Valve who continue improving their games long after release. When a PC port of a console game fails to continue this trend, it loses a lot of quality and potentially loses a lot of customers.
This final point applies to some dedicated PC games, but is a particular problem with console ports. Some games, such as Fifa 12 or Dirt 3, are much better when played with a control pad like on a console. While I believe a keyboard and mouse control option should always be available, I do accept that many console experiences do require a controller in order to fully enjoy them on PC. Therefore, it is baffling that so many games have limited controller support or require the use of third-party software to play with a generic control pad. The official Xbox controller for Windows is the most widely supported device, and so out of necessity I have purchased one. However, the price is roughly double what you can pay for a generic control pad. Just as how all PC gamers have different systems, most PC gamers will have different control pads, and it is deeply frustrating to not be able to use whatever controller you like.
All of this boils down to one simple fact; a PC gamer has different expectations to a console gamer. We are so used to greater customization, greater flexibility and quick patches that anything else feels like a lazy, rushed attempt to ‘cash-in’ on the PC market by developers and publishers. If developers do invest the time into making a quality PC port, it should be a win-win, as more people will be able to enjoy the product and provide more income for developers to keep bringing games to PC.
Have you had any experience with poor quality ported games? What would you add to my checklist for a good quality port? Let us know in the comments below.