Monday, 30 April 2012

Developers, if you're going to port a game - port it right.

'Binary Domain' quietly appeared on Steam recently.
Earlier today I was heartily surprised. The game 'Binary Domain' had appeared in demo form on Steam - a game published by "SEGA" and developed by "Devil's Details", and it's been a good while since I last knew of a triple-A game releasing a demo. After reading a brief description and watching approximately 50% of the trailer on the Steam page, I decided that it could be worth my bandwidth - at least to give it a try.

I was wrong.

After several gigabytes of downloading, I found myself ready to play, and double clicked the game. Two options appeared 'Play Binary Domain' and 'Configuration'. Seen as it was a new computer, I wanted to ensure all my graphics settings were adequately high. They weren't. It had autodetected the settings to be 'Low'. Scratch that, I shouldn't have used the plural. The setting was set to 'Low'. The separate configuration dialog appeared a bit bare - an interface that a twelve year old could've put together in two minutes with minimalist settings:

"Resolution" - sets the game's resolution.

"Shadow Setting" - sets the quality of the games shadows (at the highest settings, it was bad, I have no idea what low would have looked like).

"Motion Blur" - with this setting on, there was little to no motion blur to be seen.

"Use Vsync" - this didn't appear to work with my run through.

Needless to say, I was really doubting this game was going to be of any quality at this point. I soldiered on though, and found to my displeasure a phrase I had never wanted to read again in a PC game: "Press START to continue". After button mashing, I realised that the pressing of 'START' directly correlated with 'SPACE'.

There were no mouse controls after the intro screen, only jumbled controls assisted entirely by a picture of Xbox buttons at the bottom right of the screen. I couldn't give a monkey's if I have to push 'Y' to go back, I'm using a keyboard, and the letter 'Y' doesn't do anything - you didn't even have the courtesy to make it even partially obvious!

Good luck playing Binary Domain without one of these plugged in.

I went to turn down some audio settings - the separate configuration window didn't appear to have any options in there, and I ended up getting stuck in the menu with no way to get back. I ended the task and booted the game again, I'd have to play with my headphones turned down it seemed.

I managed to get into the game, where there didn't appear to be any keyboard or mouse button for shooting, running or taking cover - with the supposed 'running' button making me (literally) spiral in confusion. Sixteen prompts to push the Xbox equivalent of 'Y' later, I'd given up and plugged my Xbox 360 controller in, shaking my head in disapproval.

After this came a world of framerate issues, stutters and stammers as the game failed to compensate for everything that I was trying to do, despite the relative newness of my machine and the fact that the game looked like it had consulted a time-traveller on instructions to get to 2004 to 2012 in a day. It was not using 100% of my RAM, my HDD, my CPU or my GPU. Bad optimization: tick.

I wasn't particularly gutted by this discovery, and I still hope that the Demo saved some unfortunate souls from shelling out on this piece of junk, but why do developers still think it's acceptable to release a game on multiple platforms with controls that are not standard is beyond me. Surely developers don't think that they will be able to pull a fast one on the community and get the money, because they won't. Those that do buy it will feel gutted, those who try the demo will not buy it, and those who read the reviews will inevitably avoid the game all together.

My prediction is that the game will never receive any updates - with the disregard to DLC - there will be an outcry from players, people will claim that the game is unfinished, unplayable or disgraceful - at least words to that effect, and there will be refunds and very few purchases, followed by many-a-Steam sale and the inevitable blaming of the poor sales on piracy, because it obviously can't happen on any other platform.

What I don't understand is why game developers would make a port of a game specifically to make a tiny bit more money, surely you'd get more money for making a solid game for one platform than a shaky one that causes varied public image across all major platforms - imagine if Bohemia had made a shoddy Wii port of ARMA 2 where you had to wiggle the Wiimote in increasingly intuitive ways to issue orders. It just wouldn't work. The problem there would be nowhere near enough buttons for people to push, but on the case of 'Binary Domain', there was more than enough buttons but it felt like the developers lacked the knowledge or effort to even make it playable on the PC platform, and third-person shooters have been made perfectly playable on third person shooters before - so they can't use the old "it was designed for consoles and can't work on keyboard", because it can.

Looking at ARMA 2's controls makes you realise why it never received a console port.
A few bugs and optimization niggles are to be expected these days, but if you're going to port a game - why port the game to barely accommodate the native controller scheme, with optimization issues and a niggling stutter around every corner, as well as including limited graphics options for those with lesser computers before slapping a ridiculously high specification on a game that looks like it's straight out of 2004 and selling it on Steam for more than most PC games even retail for? Surely they realise this is going to result in failure? Right?

I don't know, I do not see the point in smearing your public image scrounging for a few more sales on a platform you obviously can't be bothered to support, but if you must port the game, they should at the very least make sure it's a good enough port to play.

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