Friday, April 2, 2010

On XBOX 360 and Console Gaming

I've recently joined the ranks of console gamers (defined to myself as spending more time per week playing on my console than my computer, which honestly is a feat in and of itself given my addiction to PC games), and I've noticed something that irritates me: Game programmers typically are sloppy with their code.

Now don't get me wrong, i know it takes a lot of work to create a quality game, but does that mean that every loose line of code needs to remain in it? Is this a DNA strand with left over bits of genetic information from thousands of years of evolving? No, it's computer code that is messy. Take, for instance, Assasin's Creed (the original). It played horribly on the PC because of the massive amounts of environmental detail that were loaded, but also because the code was far from optimized (note: my computer is a top of the line model, and more suited to playing that game than my xbox was at the time). When played on the console, though, Assasin's Creed played much more smoothly. Given the relative power levels of my PC vs my Xbox (my PC can run circles around my XBox) it is clear that it is the software that is inferior.

Game developers are limited with consoles. They have to conform to what the console is capable of in terms of processing power and memory. With computers, not so much. They can just slap a higher requirement on the label, and force their customers to evolve or die. Because of this, PC versions ship with looser code and more bugs than console versions.

Another reason for this is simple: Patches. PC games can be easily patched whereas until recently this was impossible for console games (many Xbox games now can be patched through XBox Live, but are still patched to a lesser extent). Patches give the feeling that things can be fixed later, and don't need to be optimized now.

In short, I feel that developers are getting lazy with PC games, and in lieu of quality they choose speed...and the idea that it can be fixed later. The industry is in great trouble if they think this strategy can go on forever. More and more players boycott games that are bad on release until they are fixed, and the internet, once a tool for distributing patches to fix these games, will soon become a gossip ground for avoiding bad games.

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