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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

No Force Unleashed PC ... Why Again?

Anyone buying this?

The Force Unleashed takes place between Star Wars Episodes III and IV and puts players in the shoes of Darth Vader's secret apprentice and is due out in September for the PS3, Wii, DS, PSP, PS2, and Xbox 360. Suey elaborated why there will be no PC version of the game in an interview with Videogamer.com.

If LucasArts had delivered a PC version, it would have been based on the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions of the game, which feature new technologies that LucasArts has either licensed or helped to develop, such as the Euphoria for emotion-based character actions and Digital Molecular Matter for destructable materials.

"The PC being the gaming platform that it is, someone with a $4,000 high-end system would definitely be able to play the Euphoria, the DMM and really technical elements of the game. But someone with a low-end PC would have a watered down experience, they would have to turn all the settings down and it wouldn't be the same game," said Suey.

Suey believes that developing the game to reach a more mass market will hinder the potential of killer rigs. Therefore, no matter how you cut it, only "a select few people" can enjoy the game as it was intended.
-- IGN: No Force Unleashed For PC

Um. Wait. There's a version out for the Wii and the DS but the PC version got cut because the majority of PC hardware isn't powerful enough?

And does it really take $4K to play a game designed for the PS3 or the 360? Four grand? That's a top notch rig right there. You can get a pretty powerful one for under three two grand and most of the older boxes out there could be upgraded for a few hundred.

I think what Suey isn't saying, but he might actually mean, is that the power PC gamer market is of a size that is hard to justify the cost of the port. This is similar to the story that we've heard from other game houses, like longtime PC developer Epic. It's piracy, it's QA and it's support costs. These are all much larger factors on a home computer running a standard DVD drive with parts of a dozen or so manufacturer than it is with a console running a custom format made in one consistent manner.

It's a very bad sign for the PC game market in general when they start losing even the cross platform titles.

12 comments:

sterno said...

It's QA and Support costs. The talk of a "watered down" experience is saying, people will call them up and whine about how the frame rates are stuttering, etc.

If I was going to develop a video game, I'd definitely avoid PC's. Way too many combinations of hardware to deal with and their weird interactions. I'd stick to XBOX/PS3 and perhaps do a Mac port because at least there, it's a consistent environment. Otherwise it's a BIG hassle.

Josh said...

Exactly.

Another interesting point is that if they based on say the Wii version instead of the PS3/360 version - which will have less physics, etc, then PC gamers would have a whole other thing to raise hell about.

I can't necessarily blame LucasArts for avoiding the mess.

Thomas said...

Seriously?

I mean, the last time I actually had a driver issue stop me from playing a game was... let's see, Simcity Enhanced Edition, running on a 486. Had to figure out how to get the boot disk to enable VESA graphics and XMS memory.

Frame rates are stuttering? There are detail settings for a reason. I played through Halo on a low-end PC--it was a little blurry, but I still enjoyed myself (and when I didn't, it had more to do with Halo's design than with the platform).

I think it's kind of fascinating that some people have such a raw deal on PC gaming--nothing but trouble--and other people aren't even aware that there are issues. I'm not saying that those issues can't exist. But they always seem awfully anecdotal to me.

As far as I'm concerned, the problem is not the variety of hardware. The problem is developers that consistently aim for the bleeding edge, instead of following the line that Stardock and Valve have followed and aiming for something that a regular consumer can run.

It's a vicious cycle for the Epics and the Cryteams and (apparently) for Lucasarts. They're so paranoid about the PC that they make a game that can only run on a monster machine, and they load it with DRM and copy protection that drive the vocal minorities on the internet crazy. And then the game doesn't sell, and they blame piracy--so clearly, the only choice is to make BIGGER games loaded with MORE DRM.

But the PC is still the only platform where you can build a game yourself with a half-decent machine, a free compiler, and some spare time. It's still the only place where Introversion could do their thing, or where you could get something like Audiosurf. It's not going anywhere. It's ALWAYS been dying, but somehow it's always still here.

sterno said...

I think it's kind of fascinating that some people have such a raw deal on PC gaming--nothing but trouble--and other people aren't even aware that there are issues.

But that's just it. As a PC game developer, you end up having to spend a lot more time and money dealing with outlier technical problems. If 90% of the people run a game without any problem, it means 10% do have problems, and it could be any strange combination of hardware and software that's the culprit.

Furthermore, before you release the game you have to test out a lot of different permutations. You test XP and Vista. AMD and Intel. You test low end and high end systems. Different motherboards. Different video and sound cards. It makes it very difficult and expensive to isolate problems.

With consoles, it's a controlled environment. When you test, you test on a single platform, with maybe an HD and an SD display. You can go through test iterations much more quickly because you have less permutations and it makes it easier to isolate problems.

Once the product is released, if there is a bug, the odds are that it will effect everybody and that a patch to correct it will behave the same for everybody. This means lower costs, less hassles, etc.

Josh said...

The PC market definitely victimizes itself. Last year's graphics are never good enough and despite DRM methods having little effect on piracy in general, they seem to only get more and more draconian. The latest snafu with Mass Effect is a good enough example of that.

I will say that I'm not sure your luck is exactly a baseline, though. I once had Half-Life refuse to run past the splash screen and the ensuing DirectX nightmare actually fragged the box (granted, these days XP would handle it much better). My presence on the Sony support forums for PlanetSide was enough of a bother that it actually got me banned from the game.

And sure, I'm willing to agree that the PC market is evolving as indie titles become more viable. But Audiosurf is hardly a LucasArts title. There will always be a casual PC market (just as there's a casual Mac market) - but I don't think it counterbalances the loss of developers like LucasArts and Epic.

Thomas said...

But let's remember: Epic used to be that small company. 15 years ago they released Jazz Jackrabbit as a third-rate Sonic knockoff. And now they've reached the point where they can complain and move exclusively to consoles. But there will be someone else to take their place.

Still, whose luck do we use as a baseline? The kids whose first generation Playstations would overheat on carpeting? Or hell, the ones today on PS3 whose backwards compatibility is a crapshoot, depending on whether its hardware or software, based on the hard drive size? Or the XBox and its RRoD, where some people never see one and other people go through seven or eight units? It's all still anecdotal, as far as I can tell. And we should know better than to use anecdotes as data. Do drivers cause more broken games than the ring of death? My Rock Band drumpads are defective--do I get to count them against consoles?

I'm not trying to be defensive or attack your point of view--I'm really not. I do understand that it's frustrating for some people. I'm just not entirely sure that those experiences are really definitive, or that they're as dire as they've been made out to be. Nor am I sure, in these days of middleware (which Epic helped create, I might add) that the cost of testing and QA on PCs is a legitimate excuse. A lot of console games have been released buggy and patched later this generation.

Someone in the Ars forums made the point, and I think it's a good one, that if you look at the numbers for the PC as a single platform that competes versus individual consoles, it starts to look pretty competitive. It's only when you lump all the set-top machines together--and particularly when you include the runaway success of the handheld market, which has nothing really in common with either PC or Xbox/PS3--that the PC market looks moribund.

sterno said...

Still, whose luck do we use as a baseline? The kids whose first generation Playstations would overheat on carpeting? Or hell, the ones today on PS3 whose backwards compatibility is a crapshoot, depending on whether its hardware or software, based on the hard drive size? Or the XBox and its RRoD, where some people never see one and other people go through seven or eight units?

That's exactly the point. Notice that in all of what you just described, that's a hardware issue. Now sure, issues like the RROD do harm the end user experience, but from the perspective of a game studio, so long as those problems don't add costs to you, it doesn't matter.

When it comes to PC's, there's all manner of wierd combinations that can obfuscate whether a problem is a user's hardware problem or a software issue. So they have to put a lot of resources into just figuring out the cause of a problem, let alone solving it.

Thomas said...

So they have to put a lot of resources into just figuring out the cause of a problem, let alone solving it.

Or, judging from Josh's experiences with Steam tech support, they ignore you completely and only grudgingly refund your money when threatened with quasi-legal action.

BaZING!

sterno said...

Touche :)

Josh said...

Zing!

The recent rise in console defects is an interesting point. The PS3 and 360 are way more like boxed computers than any previous console (aside, I suppose, from that bizarre Amiga thing - but that was relatively stable because nobody played it). There's even multiple SKUs and hardware configuration for the PS3 ( which might be the cause of freezing in GTA IV for some ).

But I won't swap my PC out for a 360 until they get a hardware revision. Course, I haven't actually played anything on it since that whole Club debacle.

I think the numbers is very difficult to discern. The PC still has a stranglehold on the MMO market and goodness knows that sells more than a few every month or so.

And I should clarify. I don't think the PC gaming market is going to just up and die. There's always going to be some kind of market. But I think the glory days are coming to an end. Performance won't be the PC gamer's edge anymore because nobody is going to make a game which really challenges that quad SLI rig. The saving grace of the PC will be controls. FPS gamers who refuse to give up the mouse. MMO gamers who need fifteen function keys to function. RTS and simulator gamers who know all those macros by heart.

But it will become more and more of a niche market that also happens to get the occasional decent console port.

Thomas said...

Well, that's the glass-half-empty way to think about it.

I tend to think of it like the Wii. It's a separate, unequal platform that may not be suitable for a lot of games. But it's got its own must-haves that won't appear--or won't be as good--on the other platforms (I'm thinking of Sins of a Solar Empire, WOW and every other MMORPG, Stalker, TF2, etc.)

jeremy said...

..and don't forget the genre that is dominating the PC market and can't be ported to a console. I'm talking of course about massively moddable open world RPGs. At the forefront of this revolution sits Bethesda and they will forever dominate this market. That is unless other developers follow suit. Rockstar is poised to do just that with the PC release of GTA IV later this year but somehow I doubt that will happen. Shame. I really hope Bioware takes the success of The Elder Scrolls into account when making KOTOR III but again, somehow I just don't see it happening. When will other game developers see that this is the future of PC gaming? Probably not until Bethesda has so much of the market on lock that they will have no chance of competing.

Please Rockstar, do yourself and us a favor, release an SDK with GTA IV. You'll thank me later.