Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Art of Porting and Remaking Games: Part 1 - Porting

*This is Part 1 of a two part series dealing with remakes and ports

Video games have been around for over 30 years now, but have only really started evolving at a rapid rate in the last 20 years or so. Along with this growth comes an abundance of hardware, thus game companies do everything in their power to try and get their games in as many homes as possible. Not only is there many home consoles on the market at the same time but every 5 years or so the consoles go through an upgrade in order to update technology and gameplay. With this constantly moving atmosphere, gamers see the same games appear numerous times, either across the platforms or remade years later.


When a developer makes the same game for multiple consoles at the same time these are called ports. Most of the time ports try to be identical to each other. Not only is this much easier on the developer but the public tends to prefer the idea that the game they are getting on their console is just as good as the game on their friend's console. However, no matter how similiar the games are it is impossible to expect that the games will be identical. Every console has different capabilites and hardware and it is impossible to perfectly emulate the experience across a wide range of consoles.

The controller

As I stated in my previous blogs about controllers (part 1, part 2, and part 3) every system has their own unique control scheme and every single one of them can change the way their games are played. Currently the Xbox 360 and the Playstation 3 are the closest in graphical capability so many games do cross over. The PS3 controller has motion control built into it, while the 360 does not. This leads to some developers adding some extra gameplay mechanics that use the motion controls of the PS3.

In Dark Sector the lead protagonist has a glave which can be thrown. The PS3 allows you to control your projectile by tilting the controller. It actually worked quite well.

Currently the Nintendo Wii has the most radically different controller out of the three consoles. However, because its hardware is so different it cannot handle ports of PS3 or 360 games. But, still some developers have tried to bring 360 and PS3 games over to the Wii. Since Wii games cannot look as good as its counterparts, developers had to rely on the unique control scheme to sell its games. This has led to many games with unneeded motion controls tacked on confusing the player and making the game more uncomfortable to play, and this always happens when the game was not intended for motion controls. Just look at these reviews for an example of what I am talking about (Marvel Ultimate Alliance Wii 360, The Simpsons Game Wii 360)

One of the unique examples of the Wii game being better than the 360 counterpart was "Ray-Man Raving Rabbits." The game was originally designed for the Wii and had a great deal of motion control used in a fun way. The 360 had no motion controls and most of the fun and charm was lost on the port. The 360 tried some things using its camera but it was mostly an afterthought and not fully realized. Wii reviews, 360 reviews.

In the 90s, when the Super Nintendo and the Sega Genesis were competing, ports across the platforms found themselves in a unique predicament. The original Genesis controller only had 3 buttons while the SNES had 6. For platformers this was not an issue since most of those games only used 2 or 3 buttons on average. The real problem came with fighting games, most notably the Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat series. Street Fighter had 6 attacks (strong, medium, and weak kick/punch) and so did Mortal Kombat (high, medium, and low kick/punch), both of these control schemes mapped perfectly onto a SNES controller. Players using the Sega Genisis had these games stripped down to just kick and punch (in Street fighter to pull off the extra layers of attacks you had to press the start button along with pressing the others, it wasn't the best control choice). Luckily all of these issues were erased when Sega upgraded the controller to 6 buttons.


No matter what generation of consoles are out each hardware has different capabilites. Developers that are making ports have no choice but to use one console as their lead system and upscale/downscale to the other consoles. Sometimes the graphical changes are barely noticeable while others suffer from not being able to keep up with the lead system.

Star Wars: The Force Unleased is a recent game that came out on all 3 consoles (Wii, 360 and PS3). Therefore it is a good example of how developers are porting to all consoles. The order of the pictures (top to bottom) 360, PS3, Wii. You can see how the PS3 and 360 game looks only slightly different, while the Wii game looks much worse.

Ghostbusters: The Video game was released recently across all 3 main consoles. The developers did a smart thing by changing the Wii port drastically. Rather than struggle with creating the realistic graphics on the Wii, they went with cartoony character models. It is much better to have the game look stylized than outdated. Cartoon models also work perfectly with Ghostbusters since it is a humorous game with strange events. They also changed the level design to better suit the Wii controls.

Overall the Wii suffers the most from ports since both the hardware capabilites and the controller are too radically different from the competition. When developers are creating games for all systems it is impossible to fit the lead system's experience (either the PS3 or the 360) for the Wii. Before this generation the PS2 had games looking slightly less polished than the Xbox and Gamecube ports (but it was still very playable and the difference was very slight). The same could be said for the SNES and the Genisis (the SNES was a more powerful system but Genesis owners weren't losing much with their ports). The Playstation/Nintendo 64 generation had less cross platform ports since the Nintendo 64 and the Playstation were very different. The few ports that did exisit were not drastically different since they were created with both systems in mind.
Check back again Tuesday Part 2 - Vide Game Remakes.

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