Our new fea­ture ex­plains why mak­ing games is so hard.

PC GAMER (UK) - - CONTENTS - Xalavier Nel­son Jr

Porting games is a dif­fi­cult task for devs, even if they’re porting to the same plat­form they make their games on: the PC. As Dis­par­ity Games co­founder Ja­son Stark points out, “Gamers ask, ‘Why can’t they just re­lease the ver­sion they de­velop with?’ Then, when de­vel­op­ers do just re­lease [that] and it’s a buggy mess, they ask: ‘Why are de­vel­op­ers so lazy?’ Well,” says Stark. “It’s be­cause they re­leased what they had.”

Think about how many com­po­nents that make up your setup. Each runs on driv­ers that may or may not be up to date and in­ter­act with one an­other in com­plex ways. Throw a game that hasn’t had much trou­bleshoot­ing into this soup of soft­ware and hard­ware and it’s no won­der tweak­ing game set­tings is a foun­da­tion of PC gam­ing. In this con­text, the dif­fer­ence be­tween a ‘good’ and ‘bad’ PC re­lease can come down to how much time and money you can throw at your ti­tle. “Bring­ing a game to con­soles is dif­fi­cult,” Stark says. “But at least you know that a bug that hap­pens on your Xbox One is go­ing to hap­pen on ev­ery Xbox One.”

When you port your game, you’re es­sen­tially cre­at­ing a unique ver­sion of it. This means ev­ery plat­form a devel­oper de­cides to launch on ef­fec­tively mul­ti­plies their present and fu­ture work­load. When you launch on mul­ti­ple plat­forms, your abil­ity to re­act to sug­ges­tions or com­plaints slows. You have to test up­dates and patches on ev­ery plat­form you sup­port be­fore re­lease. You’re con­stantly en­sur­ing some­thing you did to im­prove one ver­sion doesn’t break an­other. And, after all that, you still need to go through the ar­cane se­ries of checks and bal­ances con­sole man­u­fac­tur­ers re­quire.

Cre­at­ing a PC port of a game from a pre­vi­ous con­sole gen­er­a­tion also has its prob­lems. A ti­tle that pre­vi­ously ran at 30fps can’t mag­i­cally run at 60fps. Games half a decade old or more won’t sud­denly look re­freshed at 4K res­o­lu­tions. In fact, the logic un­der­ly­ing a game may have to be bent in or­der to ac­com­mo­date higher fram­er­ates. In Van­quish, this re­sulted in an bug that caused 60fps play­ers to take twice the dam­age of those capped at 30fps. And a bug caus­ing weapons to de­grade twice as quickly in the 60fps PC port for Dark Souls II took a full year to fix. Full-scale em­u­la­tion, a metic­u­lous re­build of the game in a new en­gine, or en­tirely re­vamp­ing por­tions of the vi­su­als could be nec­es­sary, as with the re­cent PC re­lease of Ty the Tas­ma­nian Tiger. And in the case of games like Icewind Dale II, the source code is lost, mean­ing it’s im­pos­si­ble to re­build the game for an ‘en­hanced’ re­lease.

“You don’t get fea­tured by Unity by com­plain­ing about them”

The Sup­posed ‘Butt on’

The ease of porting a game can be af­fected by a mul­ti­tude of fac­tors. No mat­ter what com­plex­i­ties you en­counter dur­ing this process, you’re also un­der pres­sure to make sure that the ef­fects look func­tion­ally sim­i­lar. How­ever, it’s dif­fi­cult find­ing peo­ple will­ing to speak on record about the de­tails of these fac­tors, what makes cer­tain plat­forms dif­fi­cult to de­velop for, or what role en­gines play. There are le­gal rea­sons for this, but, as Ja­son Stark puts it, “You don’t hear neg­a­tive things about porting, be­cause it’s not in a devel­oper’s in­ter­est to an­tag­o­nise plat­form hold­ers. You don’t get fea­tured by Unity by com­plain­ing about them.”

Aside from these dif­fi­cul­ties, there’s an­other fun­da­men­tal re­al­ity of de­vel­op­ment if you want to live off of your work: sell­ing your game. Ac­cord­ing to Ni­cole Stark of Dis­par­ity Games, each port you cre­ate in­volves a new piece of out­reach. New YouTu­bers to con­tact, new com­mu­ni­ties to man­age, and new art and de­scrip­tions to match the plat­form. As Im­age & Form Games CEO Br­jann Sig­urgeirs­son tells me, “It’s harder to re­lease games for many plat­forms at the same time.” His stu­dio has 20 peo­ple ded­i­cated to de­vel­op­ment, just three of which han­dle the pub­lish­ing, mar­ket­ing and sales of its games. For smaller teams, many of which have to han­dle sev­eral re­spon­si­bil­i­ties along­side de­vel­op­ment, you can imag­ine the strain these du­ties can take.

Pos­i­tive Progress

How­ever, by ty­ing the move of Armello out of Early Ac­cess to a con­sole re­lease, League of Geeks di­rec­tor Trent Kusters found, “It changed our launch from ‘Hey, Armello is com­ing out of Early Ac­cess,’ to ‘Hey, Armello is launch­ing on this day.’”

De­vel­op­ers face an au­di­ence frus­trated by cash grabs, ex­pect­ing ever-in­creas­ing ef­forts in search for the ‘ideal’ port. De­spite these ob­sta­cles, many are still de­cid­ing to tackle the many chal­lenges porting poses and pro­vide their play­ers the best ex­pe­ri­ence pos­si­ble. When you see a decade-old con­sole game top­ping the Steam charts, it’s a sign. It shows that play­ers can ap­pre­ci­ate the end re­sults of a good port, and they’re will­ing to pay for it.

ABOVE: ArkhamKnight is the poster child of ports that weren’t given enough time or re­sources. RIGHT: The PC ver­sions of Van­quish and SteamWorld Dig both had sig­nif­i­cant de­lays – a de­ci­sion that al­lowed for the best re­sults.

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