The Perils of Porting

The Perils of Porting

So you're making a videogame. And let's say this videogame is planned to release on multiple platforms: The FunBox, the WizBang, and the PC.

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Manufacturers should make consoles free so every game could be made "exclusive"... problem solved.

New Troll:
Manufacturers should make consoles free so every game could be made "exclusive"... problem solved.

When the PS3 was released it cost about $600 but had about $1000 worth of hardware in it. Then people started building supercomputers out of PS3 hardware. A free console would have this problem even worse.

New Troll:
Manufacturers should make consoles free so every game could be made "exclusive"... problem solved.

You'd love my new concept art installation. It uses the cases of 10,000 PS4s welded together to make an arch, with a fog machine powered by the PS4 at the very top of the crown. Welcome to the city of Omaha! I hope Sony is happy about the million dollars they spent on this truly remarkable work of art.

Bad Jim:
When the PS3 was released it cost about $600 but had about $1000 worth of hardware in it. Then people started building supercomputers out of PS3 hardware. A free console would have this problem even worse.

The PS3 was an odd, overcomplicated and needlessly expensive machine that was as good at tying itself in knots as it was at multi threaded calculations and it was better at both than rendering graphics.

As an example of loss leading hardware sales it's a very poor one, Sony were essentially showing off and very nearly handed Microsoft market dominance in the process. The current cheap PC in a box set up both sides are using could be sold extremely cheaply even a year after launch, particularly if games keep rising in price.

Well played, Shamus. Well played indeed.

fix-the-spade:
The PS3 was an odd, overcomplicated and needlessly expensive machine that was as good at tying itself in knots as it was at multi threaded calculations and it was better at both than rendering graphics.

As an example of loss leading hardware sales it's a very poor one, Sony were essentially showing off and very nearly handed Microsoft market dominance in the process. The current cheap PC in a box set up both sides are using could be sold extremely cheaply even a year after launch, particularly if games keep rising in price.

Not completely disagreeing with you. Just a clarification from a software engineering viewpoint.

The CPU for the PS3 wasn't odd nor overcomplicated for their vision of the machine. That vision was overly broad and aimed at ... well, the wrong market. I would love to understand what they intended for this in the long run. It was a different solution to programming in general. Which was a problem when aimed at the less than capable hands of game programmers. The Escapist and other gaming sites have convinced me that there are few good programmers in gaming. Don't even mention software engineering.

IBM, Toshiba and Sony created the Cell BE and it was a fascinating ride. Why actually Sony decided it would use it for a game console is still puzzling to this day? So basically, your critic is accurate - in hindsight. The horrible financial situation it put Sony in led them directly to the AMD APU at a per unit cost so low that Nvidia didn't want to be involved. The net result was a win for the current consoles. They are useful, if limited, devices as even a mid-price PC can easily outpace them both. Their only actual advantage is the memory system(s).

From what I understood, the FunBox One, and the WizBang 4 are very similar machines so it wouldn't be as bad as the previous generations. I understand where you're coming from but the problem with Flying Rodent Male: Chicago Paladin was not that it was difficult to port to PC, but rather that the port wasn't made by BalancedStone but rather a group of 12 people... who didn't know what they were doing.... at all.

Darkness665:

IBM, Toshiba and Sony created the Cell BE and it was a fascinating ride. Why actually Sony decided it would use it for a game console is still puzzling to this day? So basically, your critic is accurate - in hindsight. The horrible financial situation it put Sony in led them directly to the AMD APU at a per unit cost so low that Nvidia didn't want to be involved. The net result was a win for the current consoles. They are useful, if limited, devices as even a mid-price PC can easily outpace them both. Their only actual advantage is the memory system(s).

The why of it is easy to understand if you have ever worked in a corporate environment where management and marketing is run by people with no experience or knowledge of the tech market and rely on buzzwords and hype but never consult with people with actual tech experience. They see the big, bad tech and think "we must have this" and give absolutely no thought as to how to use it, if its even applicable to the product they're trying to sell.
A personal anecdote has to do more with software than hardware but it fits within the sphere anyway: I worked for a decent but relatively unknown web design firm and my bosses were lawyers with no tech experience or knowledge of code except what they would hear tossed around on news outlets. This was during the dotcom bubble before it burst, and one of the dudes would come into my office each morning with fresh buzzwords on his lips, ordering us to implement the latest craze with no clue what to do with it or if it worked for what project we were working on. I remember one instance that exasperated the shit out of me, he walked in and said "Java, put it in" and walked out. Java? What do you want to do with it? Why do we need it? The site we're building is a basic information site that has no call for using Java in the first place, nor are any of our guys fluent in it as its fairly obscure... He didn't care, he just wanted to put on the site that it had Java because someone had mentioned it and he wanted it.
Suffice to say because of his idiocy and even though we warned him against some things he was doing (using a program to extract e-mail addresses from websites and spamming the fuck out of them for example) the company eventually folded when our ISP yanked the service from the office due to multiple complaints. I didn't miss the job, just the paychecks.
But anyway its people like that who run shit, people who've no frickin' clue or business being in a management position. Thats why you get hardware in products that doesn't need to be there.

"The FunBox and the WizBang..."

Did anyone else think lewd thoughts upon reading that, or is that just me?

Can I ask a dumb question?

How is it that the WizBang has less memory for loading levels, but more for graphics? I could understand if the graphics card of the WizBang was better than the FunBox, allowing a better-looking game, but isn't assigning memory to tasks something decided by the people coding the game? What if the game is DigBuild, which has very simple graphics; could they not reassign that memory to something else and get the maximum out of the console? Where is the benefit on putting that separation in place at the console level (and how much is the memory subdivided)?

Thunderous Cacophony:
Can I ask a dumb question?

How is it that the WizBang has less memory for loading levels, but more for graphics? I could understand if the graphics card of the WizBang was better than the FunBox, allowing a better-looking game, but isn't assigning memory to tasks something decided by the people coding the game? What if the game is DigBuild, which has very simple graphics; could they not reassign that memory to something else and get the maximum out of the console? Where is the benefit on putting that separation in place at the console level (and how much is the memory subdivided)?

The RAM and GPU memory are separate and used for different things, you can't use GPU memory as system ram unless the system allows it. PS3 is an excellent example, if I remember it had more memory than XB360 but it wasn't shared and as such games like Skyrim had issues since they couldn't allocate more memory from graphics (GPU) to RAM to deal with the open world unlike the 360.

fix-the-spade:

The PS3 was an odd, overcomplicated and needlessly expensive machine that was as good at tying itself in knots as it was at multi threaded calculations and it was better at both than rendering graphics.

As an example of loss leading hardware sales it's a very poor one, Sony were essentially showing off and very nearly handed Microsoft market dominance in the process. The current cheap PC in a box set up both sides are using could be sold extremely cheaply even a year after launch, particularly if games keep rising in price.

PS3 also had another reason to be as costly as it was. They delayed it to push BD as a format and win the format war. As such, it was a success. A shame for Sony that streaming got so big after all those years of investment.

fix-the-spade:

Bad Jim:
When the PS3 was released it cost about $600 but had about $1000 worth of hardware in it. Then people started building supercomputers out of PS3 hardware. A free console would have this problem even worse.

The PS3 was an odd, overcomplicated and needlessly expensive machine that was as good at tying itself in knots as it was at multi threaded calculations and it was better at both than rendering graphics.

As an example of loss leading hardware sales it's a very poor one, Sony were essentially showing off and very nearly handed Microsoft market dominance in the process. The current cheap PC in a box set up both sides are using could be sold extremely cheaply even a year after launch, particularly if games keep rising in price.

It doesn't matter whether the console is a good games machine. The issue I'm highlighting is that companies with no interest in gaming would buy them and program them to trade on the stockmarket, simulate chemical reactions etc. Because that's what happens when the cheapest hardware available is subsidised console hardware. So the manufacturer takes a loss on the hardware but cannot sell them any games. Making the hardware from PC parts only makes it easier to do this.

Also, shareholders were absolutely furious when they found out that millions of PS3s were being sold at a loss of several hundred dollars each. I think the 360 was also sold at a massive loss, with a similarly pissed off reaction from the shareholders. Neither company was willing to have that conversation with their shareholders again, so they made a point of designing machines that could be sold at a profit from day one.

Bad Jim:
I think the 360 was also sold at a massive loss, with a similarly pissed off reaction from the shareholders. Neither company was willing to have that conversation with their shareholders again, so they made a point of designing machines that could be sold at a profit from day one.

Very foolish, because a $100 dollar upgrade could mean an extra year of your hardware being viable in the future. Or have much better looking exclusives/better multi platform titles. Share holders are supposed to invest in the future, not want a big profit tomorrow... Right? Imperfect world...:\

Possible Solution: Make the PC version first as it is likely the most complex version with all the bells-and-whistles available as well as the ability to turn down specific settings. The latter of which is important because you then have different levels of settings you can port to the other versions and you already have a general idea of how the game functions under those settings. And if you delay the PC version release to make the others, few will really notice because the PC version usually comes out later anyway. Not like it'll surprise anyone if its delayed for any other reason (looking at you GTAV).

Kenjitsuka:

Bad Jim:
I think the 360 was also sold at a massive loss, with a similarly pissed off reaction from the shareholders. Neither company was willing to have that conversation with their shareholders again, so they made a point of designing machines that could be sold at a profit from day one.

Very foolish, because a $100 dollar upgrade could mean an extra year of your hardware being viable in the future. Or have much better looking exclusives/better multi platform titles. Share holders are supposed to invest in the future, not want a big profit tomorrow... Right? Imperfect world...:\

There is some sense in making the first consoles loss leaders, but the PS3 went way too far. The people who bought the first PS3s would have to buy dozens of games at $60 before Sony even started making money from them. And the people who won't buy an expensive machine are usually the ones who don't intend to buy many games.

This assumes the developers went into this without even considering the differences between the Hardware of the systems. A smart Dev should be less concerned with pushing the envelope of one system and more creating something that will run smoothly on the specs of both. Even if they are only developing on one its not a big step to consider the difference in specs and plan accordingly.

Kenjitsuka:

Bad Jim:
I think the 360 was also sold at a massive loss, with a similarly pissed off reaction from the shareholders. Neither company was willing to have that conversation with their shareholders again, so they made a point of designing machines that could be sold at a profit from day one.

Very foolish, because a $100 dollar upgrade could mean an extra year of your hardware being viable in the future. Or have much better looking exclusives/better multi platform titles. Share holders are supposed to invest in the future, not want a big profit tomorrow... Right? Imperfect world...:\

Consumers (especially gamers) regularly buy new hardware even if it is just an incremental and/or trivial upgrade that doesn't actually change any of the user experience. Having your console generation last another year is detrimental to long term profits.

SilverUchiha:
Possible Solution: Make the PC version first as it is likely the most complex version with all the bells-and-whistles available as well as the ability to turn down specific settings. The latter of which is important because you then have different levels of settings you can port to the other versions and you already have a general idea of how the game functions under those settings. And if you delay the PC version release to make the others, few will really notice because the PC version usually comes out later anyway. Not like it'll surprise anyone if its delayed for any other reason (looking at you GTAV).

Again, it goes back to the lack of a very big corporation acting as both the carrot and the stick in the PC. Steam might become this one day, but currently it only cares about getting as many games as possible on its platform to sell.

Meanwhile, publishers probably receive enormous commissions from the marketing teams of both Microsoft and Sony to make sure that the game is being developed primarily to their consoles, and the delegate that task down-wards to the developers (and yes, I'm well aware of the irony of Microsoft making sure their CONSOLE gets ahead while leaving the PC in the dust, but unfortunately, the market inside the PC is self-sustaining, the consumers for its hardware and software will exist regardless of the existence of games and it is hard to show the correlation between the gaming-related sales and any other kind of sales, so Microsoft to this day thinks it's OS exist in a market vacuum independent from the gaming market).

I presume this scenario is a hybrid of multiple games that had issues with porting; the elevator one sounds like a reference to Portal 2's abysmal loading screens. Either way, that one had an easy solution, assuming the elevator is enclosed: Just make the elevator itself a separate level as well, and unload the previous level and load the next one while you're in it. Boom. This is also what Valve should have done, for the record, as I've been saying for years.

 

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