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Cross Platform Gaming

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In the current generation, costs have risen and cross platform gaming is on the rise. Noted designers such as Warren Spector have said things such as "gamers are gamers", thinking that a good game will be received well and sell to both console and PC gamers. Yet, pc gamers have rejected many sequels to popular franchises such as Serious Sam and Deus Ex, calling them "dumbed down" and "console ports". And on the console, they are always overshadowed by games that PC gamers tend to find mediocre at best, such as Halo. It seems to me that there is a clear divide in the gamer culture of PC and console gamers-- not that one is better or worse than the other, but that gamers tend to expect different things. I think it is important to identify what makes a game a commercial or critical success on each platform as we enter the next generation. Are the differences due solely to the difference in control? If so, how will the Wii complicate things? Does the social aspect of console gaming versus that of PC gaming influence what is acceptable on each platform? Or is it simply a matter of taste derived from history--the importance of adventure games, CRPGS inspired by D&D/Ultima, strategy games and FPS games to the PC and the success of games like MGS and Mario and GTA on consoles? What expectations have been derived from these successes? Can these gamer cultures synthesize to any degree? Or will the most profitable games be designed with one platform in mind?

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Many times I have played the sequel to a great game just to find that it is less enjoyable. For me to enjoy a sequel after playing the previous game, it must be at least as good as the prequel, but making a better game improves the hype factor.

Games in the PC often have more complex controls than consoles; sometimes part of the functionality of the game has to be taken out.

With the Wii, what I think that will happen is that with the other consoles the player will always feel that controls are harder and less accurate.

The fans of a platform will value more what that platform is good at. You can guess that games that usually work nicely on PC but not on a console and the other way around it's because the second platform isn't as suited for that game as the other.

For example, I find it terribly difficulty to enter my initials in a console, the reason is obvious. Most PCs have internet connection so it has a bigger community feeling. But consoles great joysticks, they are less confusing, you don't need to install something to play a game, and unless you have a laptop, you don't usually take your computer out.

Of course games that were hits on one console and flunked in another make an impact. But I don't think it is that much.

With more people playing your game, it will be more successful. Being able to target groups that do not overlap much(for example the DS gamers and the PC gamers), would be most effective.

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I'd like to note two divding factors between PC gamers and console gamers.

FIRST: Money
Maby console gamers, like me, are primarily console gamers because we can't afford to pay for every new graphics card every time a new game comes out (thus why I started a thread on graphics). Obviously most computer gamers have a steady enough income and hardware knowlage (How many programmers does it take to screw in a lightbulb?) to be able to keep a good PC. Me: not so much. Many of us console gamers feed off the bargin bin because it's the only place we can afford. This might be a reason the PS3's price is so controversial. And maybe also why many gamers felt cheated when Microsoft desided to make a core system for the 360 and force gamers to pay more for anything worth while, instead of making one standard packedge.

SECOND: Complexity
This was something that I almost went into denile about when I realized that most console games quivered in compairison of complexity to PC games. I had never imagined a bias between them, especially because the most complex RPG I'd ever play'd (Morrwin) did in fact have a console port. It also seemed that PC gamers had a vendata against the cosole gamers for "forcing game companies to make dumbed down games in order to acomidate a wider and more apathetic audience." I don't really know if any of this is true, I don't really care. I know that many PC gamers hate Halo because it was supposed to be a Mac game when suddenly it became an Xbox game; these people felt that the Halo PC was just a port of a port. But if Halo never moved from its Mac alignment, who would love it? Who would hate Halo then? Halo would have still been the same game and the only difference would be that the Xbox port, instead of the PC port, would have the slight improvements. I don't really think that there is a discrepency in complexity, I just think that many don't look kindly towards the few number of buttons on the consoles, and maybe rightfully so, but I just blame fanatic bias.

Although I would like to counter-note myself by noting a dumbing down of a game that even I noticed. Far Cry was a game I played at (see below under graphics). I played on the hardest difficulty level because I wanted an instant challenge, and I wasn't disapointed. The enemies field of vision and damage was realistic. with such realism as to creat a paranoia about what patrol had popped up behind me or how many gaurds would come to see my death if I was spotted. Then I heard the game would come to the consoles so that I could play it without buying a new computer (YAY). But the problem came when I actually tryied out a demo of it. The intense stealth action I had joyously endured had been turned into a typical FPS. I hate PFSs, but I had loved that someone had actually done it realistically and with amazing reasults - and then I get crap. I never bought the game, but I watched it's review on TV. The reviewers never even mentioned how it wasn't anything like its original, yet still gave this less innovative and stealth oriented FPS a 5 . . . out of 5. Was this a clear example of a game being dumbed down? Was this done to suit a larger and brouder audience? Does this happen all the time?

ALSO: Graphics
I knew this guy in my home town that ran . . . well it was sort of like an internet cafe only with PC and console games. He told me that the reason he loved PCs so much (he had built the ones there himself) was because there was so much realism to them. Console graphics just left so much to be desired, but PC games look almost real. Well that (becaue of the price) is exactly what keeps me from PC games, but I thought it was very worth mention.

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Cultures are slowly blending together. Issues which people stated such as price, use to be an issue, but are less of an issue today. Also, the perception of games are less of an issue.

Back in the late 70's, early 80's, computers ran roughly $4000-$5000. (My IBM PC with 1 5 1/4 inch drive, and CGA monitor was about $4500, whereas the Apple ][ was about $3800). That would be like buying a $10000 computer today. Now, I could buy a top end machine from Alienware or Falcon Northwest at that price. But most people would probably buy a $1000-$2000 system. On the other hand, the NES was $200 in 1984. That's roughly $400 today. So while PC prices have dropped significantly, consoles have remained the same.

And they were basically glorified type writers. For home computers, you probably either worked for a University to have access to one, or your business provided you with one. Unlike the tech toys of today, I really don't remember many people having a computer back then just to say they had one. And that pretty much defined the culture of people who played games. People who were more academic and didn't mind more complicated game play. The consoles were designed more for a mass audience, and never had any aspect of the PC culture. Also a thing to consider is that back then, because of the huge cost, PC gamers were more mature in age, whereas console gamers were viewed as more of a kids thing. Unlike today, you wouldn't want to be caught dead as a teenager or adult asking for a video game for your console. (I remember people made up excuses about kids they never had just so they didn't feel out of place). But yesterdays kids are todays adults, and whereas arcades might have been a fad, the console games stuck around, so the average age of gamers skyrocketed.

And when prices got cheaper, and technology better, more people came to PCs. But I think partly why this dumbed down gameplay excuse is used, is because it wasn't overnight. There are cultures. And the PC game culture didn't triple overnight (it use to be an excellent PC title was very lucky to sell 100000 copies). But because of consoles being kiddy, and PC gamers more academic, there was a rift, and part of the snobbyness was picked up with the new PC Gamers so they didn't feel like second class citizens of the PC Game community.

Unfortunately, such undesireable aspects of a persona don't disappear overnight, but they slowly are. And because the PC audience is expanding, the more academic games (adventure games, RPGs which use the whole keyboard, etc) are disappearing in place of games which reach this newer, broader audience. After all, game companies are companies, after a profit, and while I disagree with PC Games having less of an audience than they use too, they are less profitable. The costs of development have risen tremendously, and the older PC culture just doesn't provide the finances that the game companies are looking for.

I personally feel the original audience is moving more towards Linux or Macintosh, something more obscure which they can call their own, whereas the IBM culture is becoming more of a console culture every year. But unfortunately, I don't think the two will meld, so expecting a complicated game with superior technology is no longer feasible.

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You make a great point Nytegard. I remember reading that many of the people hired by Origin/LookingGlass were MIT people, or had experience with advanced physics. The DND nerd culture present here as well as their appreciation for the way the world works likely placed more of an emphasis on simulation, immersion, and world development than console gaming.

Another trend of the past seemed to be that most PC games were produced by the west and many console games by the east--if this is accurate, does this have an impact on the games produced? How will this affect the future?

As far as elitism goes, I don't think that plays a role in views of ports for the majority. For example, in Halo's case, I personally feel as a PC gamer, that 1) the PC had better shooters (Half-Life, Quake) and 2)FPS games do not port well, due to the controls. PCs with mice and keyboards can have more complex movement and faster movement than a gamepad. This is why I feel that cross platform fps games do not work very well-- Halo on the PC seemed to plod with its slow default movement speed. It PLAYED like a console game.
Same with DX:IW, but in a different way. Things like entering keycodes, browsing e-mail, and other details that made the world seem more alive in the original were eliminated (as well as things like I dunno. . . DIFFERENT AMMO TYPES) to simplify a game genre intended for the keyboard for the gamepad. Is it possible to keep such genres alive or will they inevitably go the way of adventure games because they are no longer profitable? Or will certain console-unfriendly aspects be "streamlined" to keep these genres alive AND profitable on all 4 major platforms? I'm a fan of minimalist interfaces, so a bit of experimentation in this area would not be bad--maybe if some solutions are found to make traditionally high brow genres more accessible PC gaming can regain some market share?

One point of convergence I see in this generation, however, is tech. While the PC will always have the inevitable lead in graphics, and they may diverge once physics take over, the PS3 and X360 can run the unreal engine 3. . . which along with Carmack's next engine can process massive maps and run the game in one seamless world without loading, while maintaining cinematic graphics in massive areas. The consolitis-syndrome of tiny maps and frequent load times is bound to disappear for a while.

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I'm not entirely sure if there really is that much of a difference in the cultures of gamers; many people I know who play games regularly as a hobby play both PC and console titles. There are certain game types that are best played on PC (i.e. large-scale strategy, hardcore FPS games) and some on console (i.e. beat-em-up fighters, many of the action types).

My take on the historical differences in game styles stem from the capabilities of the hardware involved. A decade or more ago, consoles had (relative to the PCs of the time) fast sprite capabilties but limited storage, which lended them to action based games and the cosole flavour of RPGs. Whereas PCs were primarly work machines with limited graphics, but with extra storage capability and with keyboards (and later on the mouse) as input devices, which let to adventure games and the heavy stat based RPGs and strategy game types.

These days the difference are blurring. The PC gaming market isn't as niche as it was. I don't think the money issue is a strong element in favour of consoles; budget gaming is much easier on the PC with a large variety of freeware and discounted titles, as long as you are prepared to be two or more years behind the "latest and greatest" of the technology curve. For the casual market, being able to use your work PC (Windows or Mac) for an occasional game is a massive chunk of the market. I think the main advantage of consoles over PCs is that of convienience; I don't have to worry about installing, patches, ensuring that my hardware is correct. All you need to do is put in the game and play.

But to stop rambling and get back on track to your actual question: the most profitable games will be those that best cater to a large target market, and cater to that market well. And a large part of that is designing the game around the system that it is to be used. For me, I find gamepads to be superior for twitch action games, but mouse-and-keyboard better for large scale strategy games. Similarly there are games that work better sitting in front of a TV than a work desk.

In that case, it is best to decide whether you wish to aim for PCs mainly, consoles mainly, or aim for both. If you decide to aim for both, you will have to deal with limiting factors of ensuring the interface of your game and memory requirements are suitable for consoles, while still being playable with a keyboard and mouse on a PC. This can be done in some instances, such as Sid Meier's Pirates! (only played the PC version, but heard it was good on the Xbox too).

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While not exactly on topic completely, this article is extremely interesting, and mentions some a few former companies that were great and fell. If read completely, you can see some of the culture that existed.

Trapper Zoid, people always talk about the how older consoles use to have better graphics than the PC's, but they're forgetting machines such as the Amiga or Atari ST, which at the time crushed all the consoles in terms of graphics, sound, etc. But lack of innovation, or willing to comprimise or move on with the times spelled their doom.

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I grew up with consoles. Non-stop Street Fighters, Earth Worm Jims, and Final Fantasys. But always envied PC players because of my strategy, role playing, and extreme-detail cravings. Once I owned a PC, I never looked back. I never will. Screw Final Fantasy and it's simplistic ways.

Anyone who believes a console machine can do anything a PC can not needs to explore a little further. You can buy a 2-player Playstation to USB controller port for $15. It works just like any other USB PC controller, and can be supported just as transparently as any other USB device (there's no need to program specifically for it). I've used my PS2 controller to play GTA3, GTA: SA, all of the Prince of Persias, etc. And also use it's left analog stick while playing Doom3, HL2, and other shooters. Nothing beats an analog stick for movement while aiming with the mouse for a shooter! Well, maybe a virtual reality suit.

The only two advantages that I will give to console machines is initial price tag and consistent hardware (don't have to worry about video card 1 and 2). These days, where even homeless people now own PCs, the first advantage is becoming more and more meaningless. Updating a video card and memory stick is much cheaper than paying $400 (+ $100 per year) for a whole new box every year. And with the smarter combining of technologies, companies working for uniformity, and great APIs that do the dirty work for you, the second advantage will also eventually vanish.

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