I had months ago resigned myself to not playing the Black Ops 3 multiplayer beta. It came with the pre-order, and I’m leery of pre-ordering anything these days. Sure Black Ops 2 ran pretty well on PC, but it had a rough start with multi-core systems, and besides, I couldn’t predict how my life would be come the summer, or November.
Then I learned that the beta was actually open to owners of Black Ops 2, and just today, it became open to anyone. Go try it if you have an inkling of curiosity (that would be curiosity as measured in units of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien). I tried it, and am inherently an unreliable narrator as to the experience, seeing that my PC is just under the minimum requirements (a 6850 when a 6870 is the lowest level), but I played it on the Potato settings. Everything low or off, resolution set to almost half the native, and the frame rate capped at 30 FPS.
These substantial compromises resulted in a nearly playable experience, barring the frame drops which everyone seems to be having, at the cost of an aesthetic akin to Impressionist painting on the mixed medium of recycled cardboard and rejected plaster samples. But this is multiplayer, it’s about the combat.
The topic of consoles versus PCs is something which comes to mind for me rather often. I see the subject surface in strange little ways across a myriad of discussions, and once in a while in a big way. It is regularly debated in practically every place it can be, but it is always from the angle of the gamer, rather than the game. My issue with consoles isn’t one of value (though I do find them to not be a good value), but rather that when you develop for a console, it comes at the cost of the game. The hardware restraints, the common user setup, available input devices, and the garden wall structure all impose costs on the design and development itself. I don’t want console games on PC, I want the best games that can be designed and developed, and that won’t happen when a console is being considered.
The dedicated hardware of a console was for a very long time, the advantage of a console. Where PC gamers had to run a game on top of an operating system, consoles were comparably leaner, and the game had more resources at their disposal. The trick there was the different architectures between the consoles, so even if a developer had the freedom to release on the leading platforms, they rarely had the fiscal freedom to do so. Consoles were faster, but inflexible, and PCs were growing in both strength and selective standardization.
With the Xbox 360 and PS3 we saw more defined operating systems, and thus some actual overhead to the games, while at the same time PCs were immensely powerful. Sure the 360 and PS3 had some muscle behind them on launch, but that muscle was fixed. Over time, developers learned the systems and the games looked better and better. Competition naturally set in, and more of that processing power went toward the environments and effects. Games streamlined toward gated stories as we see in things like The Last of Us, where it is easy to control what a player can currently possibly see. As expectations of detail levels increased, larger and more open (in terms of choices and exploration) environments decreased. With the fixed hardware, the two could not coincide. Meanwhile on PCs, you simply need to raise the minimum specs some, or advise the user disable a more costly effect. The design wasn’t encumbered. When a game is being ported to PC from console, I expect more limited environments, and being forced down certain areas with no ability to backtrack. Continue reading →