Even though PCs can be highly capable from a technical standpoint, it’s not uncommon for the PC version of a game to offer a subpar experience when compared to their console counterparts.
Philipp Sonnefeld with the Ubisoft Blue Byte team is responsible for making sure that the PC version of Ubisoft Montreal’s sword fighting game For Honor doesn’t fall into the bad PC port trap. At GDC Europe in Cologne, Germany this morning, he explained the challenges of bringing a game to PC.
“Why is it so hard to get it right?” he asked. He identified three reasons:
PC and console platforms are very different gaming experiences
“The console promise is that of a hardware unified experience,” Sonnefeld said. … It’s good to have this.”
But players on PC often have a different cultural inclination that strays from the plug-and-play convenience of consoles.
“Some see the PC as a workstation, but to me it’s a tool” that you can adapt to your game, he said.
Sonnefeld explained that PC players want to be able to tweak their games, to have the freedom to adjust a PC game to their liking. On console, the developer defines the performance and the experience. On PC, players are the ones who ought to be able to define this, as well as have auto-detect settings for users who don’t want to deal with tweaking, he said.
Things like unlocking the framerate and offering a quit to desktop option, as well as various performance options are essential. In order to get to that point, Sonnefeld said it is crucial to have a strong relationship with the lead team on the game that you’re porting.
“You need to enter into the design process of your game as early as possible,” he said. The only way you can do that is by building a great relationship to your lead team.”
The lead team needs to think of you as the PC ambassadors, and include the PC team very early in the development process, he said.
Controls and UI
Blue Byte had to figure out how to take a swordfighting game that was conceived for a gamepad and bring it to mouse and keyboard. This is a particularly interesting conversion situation – the core of For Honor is a unique system that uses the right thumbstick of a controller to position a sword in three different positions, based on German longsword fighting.
“We asked ourselves how to make this work on PC, and how do we evaluate whether or not we’re going in the right direction,” Sonnefeld said.
The control scheme for For Honor, dubbed Art of battle, had to emulate the same feel as the controller. Blue Byte implemented player testing early in development, gathering player feedback and metrics. Blue Byte also gathered market data on controller usage among PC players.
“You first need to have qualitative data, and collect quantitative data,” he said. “Then you have to have that reviewed by experts. Nothing’s worse than drawing the wrong conclusion and going in the wrong direction.”
Sonnefeld addressed one of the most difficult aspects of PC game development: the fact that there are endless PC configurations out there on the market.
He said to keep two things in mind when it comes to hardware complexity:
- You want to give state of the art PC features to as many people as possible
- Target as many configurations as possible
Sonnefeld said that the PC team needs to test and iterate often. “[Poor compatibility is] nothing you can fix one month before launch.” Blue Byte is working closely with Ubisoft’s other studios, including an expansive Ubisoft-owned PC compatibility lab.
When it comes to hardware complexity, it’s crucial to get early versions of the game in the hands of players. “Putting your game in the hands of your players is the most valuable insight to this project as possible. … Fixing mistakes late costs more than fixing them early.”
He added, “Having such early test versions really helped us spot problems and fix them early on … Ship early, ship often.”