Upgradable hardware, tweakable software, a grandiose selection of games and myriad peripherals to play them with – compared to even the newest generation of home consoles, a modern PC offers the utmost amount of variety and flexibility to gamers. But when it comes to recent console-to-PC videogame ports, it would seem as though the average PC gamer's luck has run dry.
Far too often PC platforms are overlooked by videogame publishers and developers who short sightedly look to console exclusive launch windows for the fulfilment of their profit margins. And in the event that a formerly console exclusive game does eventually make it to PC, players are often greeted with limited configuration options, little to no post-launch support and no means by which to build or install user created mods.
These games are effectively “locked” to run a console experience on a PC, leading many to come to the logical conclusion that such PC versions are simple afterthoughts by those responsible i.e. sub-par software slapped together as a quick and easy cash grab following the decline of console version sales, but before the game fades into total obscurity.
There's examples aplenty when it comes to poor console-to-PC ports, but two particularly shoddy titles of late summarise this tacky publisher developer practise perfectly – Deadly Premonition and Dark Souls.
Poor PC Ports: Frustrating To Players, Embarrassing To Developers
Although both are very different games by different developers and publishers, the original console versions of Deadly Premonition and Dark Souls both rose to prominence through word-of-mouth and positive reception from players despite relatively small development and marketing costs – resulting in commercial success for both games.
But for Deadly Premonition (developed by Access Games) and Dark Souls (developed by From Software), that all happened on home consoles back in early 2010 and late 2012 respectively. But when PC gamers finally had their chance to get their hands on Dark Souls' 2012 and Deadly Premonition's 2013 PC ports, disappointment ensued.
Confusingly, both games had their resolution set to 720p, in keeping with the console versions, with absolutely no option to change it. This PC gaming blasphemy was righted by modder Durante who released mods for both games sooner after their PC releases. Thanks to Durante, players were able to alter the resolution of the games in question far above 720p – a must for most modern PC gamers – as well as tweak additional anti-aliasing, screen space ambient occlusion and depth of field options that weren't originally available.
Although the games' respective developers released bug fix patches, not all of Durante additional options were officially included. As such, Durante continued to improve and update his Deadly Premonition mod for several months and his Dark Souls mod for over a year.
But user created mods and patches shouldn't be a shady workaround that only well informed gamers can access and the existence of which is glossed over and denounced by developers. In fact, most PC gamers will remember the days when modding communities for numerous titles were not only commonplace, but were actively encouraged by developers. Why? Because user created mods increased the longevity of a game i.e. more people playing it for longer without additional cost to players or developers. The prolonged popularity of a game meant greater press coverage and public interest in the game itself as well as expansion packs and other future products by the same developer.
Some would call the aforementioned scenario a win-win situation, but as time has progressed, large publishers and the developers they manage have become less concerned with a game's longevity and more obsessed with its launch week returns. This being said, the benefits of strong modding communities can still be observed today, with the once PC exclusive indie darling Minecraft, which still sells copies years after release, being the best example. But a more appropriate example can be found in a rather unassuming multiplatform release with a particularly versatile PC version – Sonic Generations.
Lessons Can Be Learnt From Sonic Generations
Historically speaking, the Sonic the Hedgehog series hasn't had a strong PC presence, let alone an ambitious and surprisingly talented modding community. But this is certainly the case for the PC version of Sonic Generations, which boasts an array of configuration settings that allows users to increase the game's performance and graphical prowess above and beyond that of its console counterparts.
It also became apparent not long after Sonic Generations' release that the ease at which character and level data could be accessed and modified meant that a vast array of different mods could be created. Initial modding efforts were almost completely superficial and gave rise to extra playable characters – such as Mega Man, Mario, Batman and more – via skin remaps, model swaps plus altered sound effects. But it wasn't long until larger modding projects gained traction, such as the “Sonic Generations: Unleashed Project”.
The culmination of a multi-modder team's work, the Unleashed Project saw levels from the console exclusive Sonic Unleashed extracted, ported and upgraded to work with the Sonic Generations engine. The port was successfully completed in March 2013, but further efforts are under way to perform similar conversions with levels from Sonic Adventure, the Wii exclusive Sonic Colours, Sonic the Hedgehog 2006 and more.
After dabbling with a selection of these impressive mods, it's easy to forget that Sonic Generations came out well over two years ago. Nevertheless, many of those who followed or were a part of the Sonic Generations modding community at launch are still doing so today. Additionally, the game's built-in customisation options allows players to further enhance the performance of Sonic Generations as they upgrade their PC – holding back the signs of ageing.
Moddable PC Ports Mean Added Value for Players and Developers
Sonic Generations was developed by Sega's in-house studio Sonic Team, however the PC port itself was handed over to a small studio in Sheffield, United Kingdom, named Devil's Details. The reasons for Sega's decision to outsource development of the PC version are unknown, nor is it known if Sega gave Devil's Details any direction regarding the game's customisability and modifiability. Either way, the decision was a smart one as the PC version of Sonic Generations has greatly outmatched the console versions in terms of relevancy and longevity.
And even if large publishers and developers aren't interested in encouraging the formation of PC game modding communities, there's still money to be made in allowing for mods to be used in the first place.
With the industry-changing, upgradable Steam Machines just around the corner, gamers will begin to see their hardware and software purchases as long term investments. Whereas console videogames become practically unsellable – be that digitally or physically – once the console itself becomes obsolete, the PC version of the same games can be sold for many years longer via digital distribution. Therefore, a game renowned for its modding capabilities on PC will likely attract new buyers over a longer period of time, as their hardware will be able to support the game for much longer.
It's odd to think that if the PC version of Sonic Generations was handled by Sega itself, then the resultant game may have been “locked down” in a similar fashion to Deadly Premonition and Dark Souls. Fortunately, however, the unassuming Sonic Generations goes to show just how important an asset amateur modders can and will be to publishers and developers in the near future.
Modding The Hedgehog
05 February 2014 | By Michael_Westgarth