Originally written in late 2009 by me, this essay still has a lot of really good points that still stand true today.
Porting a console game to a PC opens up a lot of opportunities to the developer, while also bringing up some interesting design choices. The first thing people think of when a game is being ported to the PC is that its going to have better graphics, but there is much more to a port than increasing the texture resolutions. There are several key system specific differences in consoles and computers such as memory requirements, increased graphic capabilities, and more powerful processors. Depending on the type of game being ported several design changes and adjustments may need to be made to maintain the same pacing as the console version such as, AI balancing, aim assist for shooters, menu navigation controls, and even accounting for the expectation of PC gamers.
The PC port of the game seems to start by making the game look crisper, mainly by increasing the texture resolutions across the board. PC version of games also can run at any number of resolutions which can result in a much more detailed experience for the player. Depending on the minimum system requirements for the PC port, the game can take advantage of more system and graphic memory. The Xbox 360 has 512MB of shared system and graphics memory, and a modern PC has many times that amount not shared, many PC games even provide a menu for the player to customize their game’s graphic quality. This level of customization and graphics improvements are things that PC gamers have come to expect when playing a PC game.
Porting to the PC is not all about making the game prettier, instead it brings up a ton of design challenges to help maintain the overall game play experience of the console version. Playing a shooter on a console is completely different from playing one on the PC. Shooters on consoles generally use some sort of aim assist to help the player, while the PC version may need very little aim assist since the mouse provides near perfect aiming. The only way to determine how much anything needs to change is by play-testing. Another part of the game that should be looked at is the AI, now that the player is going to be much more accurate in his shots, and the game has more processing power to utilize, there might need to be adjustments in the intelligence of the enemies or even simply adding more enemies in certain areas of the game to keep the intensity the same at key points of the game. Headshots should probably become more of a necessity to survive than a cool moment in the console version. As a decent FPS player, it’s much rarer for me to get a headshot in “Battle Field Bad Company” on the console, as opposed to “Battlefield Heroes” on the PC.
The controls of the game are probably the most important element to adjust. PC players are going to expect the ability to customize their controls as well, so that needs to be planned for from the beginning. The important buttons need to be mapped to easily accessible keys on the keyboard and mouse. For example jump is a very dominant feature in most shooters, so that normally maps to the spacebar, because it is the largest button on the keyboard. PC controls for platformer’s rarely transfer that well from the console, for example “Braid” on the PC is a much different experience than on the console. I feel like I have less control in the PC version of the game. So there isn’t always a perfect answer to getting a game to play the same on the PC as its console counterpart.
I don’t t know of many games that successfully maintained the pacing of their game when porting from the console to the PC. I think “Gears of War” did a good job of moving from the Xbox 360 to the PC. The pacing of the game felt intact, and the controls were very intuitive, especially the double tap feature to get into cover. I felt the game had very little aim assist, and that the AI seemed to still force me to use cover. I also feel “Mass Effect” stayed true to the console version. I played much more of the console version of “Mass Effect” than the PC version, but I was surprised with how well it mapped to a PC.