Porting - The Good and the Bad [03/02/02]

Porting is the process by which a game developer takes a game they have made for one console and decides to create another version for competing console. Economically, this is often a good idea for most game developers as they can get extra mileage out of their game development (character design, scenario structure and basic coding). But, this is not to say that porting is all good things. Often, ports come packaged with flaws, as detailed below.

As a point of clarification, I've seen a number of scenarios confused with porting. When a developer creates a game for multiple platforms at the same time, this technically isn't creating a port of an original game. Most often, the developer creates a generic base from which to create all of the different console versions. Also, there are times when a game has started production for one console and then finds itself shifted to another in mid-creation. They is a grey area around this process, because often, most games that suffer this fate look like they were meant for the previous console.

Pros:
Allows gamers who don't own the console the game originally came out on to play it on their console of choice. If you play games on a budget or just didn't care to buy a competing console for one reason or another, a promised port of a game coming to a console you own may make you happy you waited.

Remakes/Classics revisitied - There's nothing like a little boost of nostalgia to make you pick up a copy of a re-editioned game from the NES and SNES eras of videogaming. Both Square (Final Fantasy Anthology, Chronicles) and Nintendo (Super Mario Advanced) have recently re-editioned previous hits for the newer generation of gamers. And, it's not unheard of for other companies (Namco) to re-edition their older games in collections.

Making a better game - Porting a game to another console often allows game developers the opportunity to fix flaws in the original game. Also, certain games are given additional features, new story sequences or all new parts to the game. The Xbox version of Silent Hill 2 has an additional side-quest starring Maria and the PS2 version of Resident Evil Code: Veronica X has some additional cutscenes. The PS2 version of Rez actually benefited from a porting from the Dreamcast, allowing the game to run at a better framerate. If you own a number of these competing consoles, it's up to you as a consumer to decide if the wait is worth it for new material.

Cons:
Often games that are ported are built specifically for one console, utlizing that console's graphical abilities. When the game is ported over, it has to be rebuilt to successfully work well on another console. If this conversion isn't performed successfully, the port is often inferior and flawed. Most times, ports are compared to the original as a benchmark of whether the game looks good or not. While this is often not a bad thing, sometimes it can be unfair, as certain consoles are better at certain things (texture maps, ambient light effects) than others.

Console exclusives - One of the strong selling points for consoles nowadays is the games that are exclusive to that console. Games made by the console maker (like Nintendo's Mario series) and by 2nd party developers (companies like Rare who are owned by the parent company Nintendo) are always exclusive to that console. What makes the difference is when third party developers make deals to have games be exclusive to that console. Even when these deals prove to be limited time-wise, the fact that a game comes out on a console first often helps in sales. Some people just don't want to wait 6 months for a port of a game when they can get it for another console.

Comparison - It's inevitable. People are going to make comparisons between versions, stating that console A is inferior because console B's original version of the game looks better. Meanwhile, console A's version comes with extra, justifying the purchase of the new copy of the game. There have been a handful of times where ports have been different only because of the hardware it's running on and people will still argue about which version is better. It's all a matter of taste. Of course, this doesn't excuse games who obviously don't make the transfer successfully. Unfortunately, a larger percentage of games that are ported don't look as good as the original or suffer from flaws.

Consumer cost - Sometimes porting an older game just doesn't seem like a financially smart thing to do. Games like Half Life can be bought for the PC at a far cheaper price than the version that was recently released for the PS2.

Impatient gamers - Is it worth the wait to get a game you could buy on another console? While you're sure that the game you want to play will look better on console A, it's already out for console B and won't be ported any time soon. What do you do? Wait it out or just buy both versions.

What it boils down to is that porting is a decision made by game companies to earn more money to make new games. The process may fuel arguments between console fanboys (see The Console War - Facts and Myths) about which system is better based on the game selection and flaws of similar titles. For those who just want to play games, porting can be a hit and miss deal. You just have to balance out the pros and cons and hope you get the best version available.

- - Kinderfeld

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