Dear Publishers: 5 Easy Steps to Making a Good Console to PC Port

Big-name publishers have a checkered past when it comes to creating PC ports for their games. Throughout the console-dominated aughts, PC versions of AAA games were farmed out time and time again to third-party developers, with decidedly mixed results. Even when developers created ports in-house, they often committed blunders. When it comes to PC porting, there’s a clear right way to do it. You only have to follow these five easy steps:

1. Make Sure It Works

This seems like a no-brainer, but apparently it’s not. The Internet is full of stories about PC ports that shipped full of bugs, or games that simply arrived broken. One Tony Hawk port crashed every time you, well, crashed. For certain games, the PC port is cranked out at the end of the development cycle, which means that there’s not a lot of money left for careful testing. Still, there’s no excuse for selling people a game that doesn’t work right, even if publishers do have the option of patching it later.

2. Have Real Graphics Settings

PC gamers like to wring the best possible graphics out of their games. That’s why we shell out our hard-earned cash for the newest graphics card, or those extra GB’s of RAM. That’s why it’s so infuriating when we open up the graphics options on a PC port and see a single menu with three choices: “low,” “medium” and “high.” For a port to be successful, it should provide the full suite of graphics customization options: shadows, anti-aliasing, particle effects, depth of field — the works. Extra points if those settings can be accessed both before you boot the game up and from an in-game menu. Go to jail, do not pass go, do not collect my $49.99 if your game’s frame-rate is capped at some laughable, console-friendly ceiling.

3. Create a PC-Specific Control Scheme

You wouldn’t have a menu saying “press A to continue” in the Playstation 3 version of your game, so why is OK to include one in the PC version? Get rid of it. Not only does a good PC port remove all vestiges of the console control scheme before shipping, but it also finds time to take advantage of the PC’s inherent control strengths. That means including completely re-mappable controls, and support for fancy multi-button mice. Conversely, however, if I do want to play with a USB gamepad, that shouldn’t be a total pain in the ass either.

4. Create a PC-Specific User Interface

This problem often rears its ugly head as soon as you boot up a new PC port. That “press X to continue” screen? Might be nice on the consoles, but it’s completely useless on a PC. Every time I see one, I think “this game was not designed with my platform in mind,” which predisposes me to hate the game, the company, and all their future products.

Got long blocks of text? Make sure players can scroll through them using the mouse-wheel. Got a complicated inventory management system in your big-budget console RPG? Make sure that players can move items around using the mouse. Got a menu with lots of different options to choose from? I’m thinking of a word that begins with “m.”

5. If You Must Use DRM, Don’t Make It Soul-suckingly Awful

The DRM debate is epic and far-ranging — certainly too giant to be taken on in its entirety here. Still, it’s relevant to the PC porting discussion, because inexperienced, console-focused companies often saddle their games with unbelievable crap. To be clear, therefore: don’t require me to log in to your sluggish, unresponsive authentication server (that means you, Ubisoft). Don’t make me install anything that’s going to invade my privacy or slow down my computer. I understand the need to prevent people from pirating your game — just don’t be a dick about it, and we shouldn’t have a problem.

Think we forgot step #6? Got a PC port horror story of your own? Let us know in the comments.

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1 Comment on Dear Publishers: 5 Easy Steps to Making a Good Console to PC Port

neosematic

On September 16, 2011 at 3:46 pm

How the hell does a game made on a pc run like on a pc. I understand developer tool kits are very hindering, but games should be ported from the pc. Not sure what problems The Witcher 2 is having, but Crytek seemed to do a fine job with Crysis 1. Just hope bethesda doesn’t destroy Skyrim for me. I want the most out of my sli’d 580s. Quit f*ing me.