PC Gaming: Why I'll Never Console Myself with Second Best
Not going to happen
We've all heard the news by now, gaming on the PC is dead; the console has won.
This declaration has left a few people, including myself, scratching our heads.
Mark Rein from Epic Games, who was in charge of the development team on Unreal Engine 3, as well as being responsible for the creation of titles like Unreal Tournament 3 and Gears of War has pointed out the cost problems of developing DX10 games. The price of a higher end DX10 compatible PC graphics card does not compare favourably to the price of a console, in some extreme cases you will pay double the amount for a graphics card than you would for a console. More to the point, a console is ready to be plugged into a TV and played, whereas you have just gotten started on building a gaming PC by purchasing a graphics card, there is still much work to be done and money to be spent.
id Software has declared the same outcome. The PC will become second fiddle to the console; their programmers will focus on developing games primarily for the console and then port them to the PC (maybe). They are so convinced that this is the way to go that they have attached Xbox 360 controllers to every single PC at id, to get their programmers in the console mindset. This move reflects their new philosophy; where once they focused on pushing graphics cards to the utmost limit, now they will focus on gameplay, and ensuring the games will run on any system, not just high end systems.
The Good(?), The Bad and The Ugly
It's hard to spot the good in this move, unless you own a store that sells games. Less PC games is certainly not a benefit to the PC gamer, nor is it likely to improve console gaming to any great extent, except to speed up the release dates for sequels and provide more retail shelf space. Console gamers don't demand groundbreaking new experiences in gaming as vocally as PC gamers, unless you are talking about certain, very specific new features. The console experience benefits more from being able to pick up a game and master the basics in a very short amount of time, allowing the player to get to the meat of the game, usually the fancy graphics and powerful bosses. There are certainly exceptions, mostly published by SquareSoft or EA Sports, that can require more from the casual gamer than your average console game, with either a lot that needs to be learned before you are proficient at the game, or with a huge memorable story line.
It seems unlikely that id Software or Epic are planning to devote most of their development teams energies to that type of game, when many console gamers would be happier with a Gears of War sequel. The PC gamer enjoys having a huge learning curve as long as the game is immersive enough. When the rewards are there, either through the storyline or the sheer joy of the challenge presented in taking over a city, country, planet or universe, a PC gamer will quite happily invest serious amounts of time to be able to complete the game. In certain games there is no set ending to your play, the games leaves you in an open environment once the main storyline has been completed where you are free to do whatever you wish. Many PC gamers thrive on the complexity that goes against the basic premise used when programming a top selling console game.
Making a game that is playable on the console requires sacrifices to be made on the PC version, as no company can afford to design every part of the game twice, once for the console and once for the PC. It makes economic sense to develop as much code as possible in tandem, so that it works on both systems, with a bit of time at the end to see if any extras can be added to the PC version. The original Halo was brilliant on the Xbox, showing off what the new hardware was capable of and offering features never before seen on a console. If you played it through on the PC, eventually you ended up wincing as you crossed the same bridge over a chasm for the umpteen billionth time, and the multiplayer couldn't compete with any of the other First Person Shooters on the market.
If remembering the first Flood seems a bit too far in the past, then go out and buy the PC version of Lost Planet: Extreme Conditions and compare it to the Xbox 360 version. You can even turn on DX10 if you want. The Doom series and the Deus Ex series are similar in that they are both First Person Shooters, but that is where the similarity ends. When the focus moves from the PC to the console, the result is Deus Ex 2, a game which could only be described as well executed by someone who missed the point playing through the first installment.
A quick lobotomy and you're out the door
Another likely casualty of porting to PC was Oblivion's A.I, named Radiant AI. While Bethesda was having problems with certain Non-Player Character interactions, one can't help but wonder if the AI was lobotomized to make it play well on the Xbox 360. If you never saw Bethesda's pre-release demo videos they displayed at the 2005 E3, you can find them on YouTube. I would suggest the 5th video on which details the complexity of the Radiant AI specifically, as it shows the breadth the original version of the AI would display. If you never played the game, you can see the final implementation in many of the other videos on YouTube, from bizarre domestic violence to the death penalty for stealing bread. One of the most rabid fan bases for a PC game are having a collective convulsions in dread of what Bethesda will do to their favourite franchise. Fallout 3 is going to be released on the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 as well as the PC, and will use the Radiant AI system. Go check out the forums at Bethesda's Fallout 3 site, or No Mutants Allowed to see how this news is being taken. Be sure to wear sunscreen, asbestos underwear and JooJanta 200 Super Chromatic Peril-Sensitive Sunglasses.
SimCity 4 for DS or SimCity 4 for PC?
Complex micromanagement systems don't work on consoles to the degree you can manage on a PC. Even when the hardware reaches parity, if it is ever allowed to, the controller limits the way the player can interface with the game. The move at id Software seems to declaim that it doesn't matter how much a feature would add to the gaming experience, the deciding factor is the console controller, and "Does it play in PS3-oria?" Imagine trying to implement X3: Reunion, with its roughly 162 sectors, supply and demand based persistent economy and its Artificial Life A.I. system in a console. How exactly are you going to manage two dozen ships and a half dozen stations, or more, with your Xbox controller? It won't happen; at best you will end up with something like Wing Commander Arena, which isn't even a passable space shooter, let alone an entire immersive universe.
You can buy an Xbox 360 controller for your PC right now, but somehow Razer and Logitech don't seem particularly worried that there is going to be a mass migration from the mouse and keyboard combo. Racing sim fans are so unlikely to toss out their joysticks, wheels and pedals for a gamepad that the consoles have to offer similar devices in order to satisfy those fans. That is a clear signal that it is the controller that will limit your experience far more than expensive hardware. It doesn't matter if you add force feedback, fans, rapid fire buttons and cool skins; you will never be able to sell a gamepad to a dedicated simulation fan, be it plane, car, or spaceship.
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