Porting console games to PC (Deus Ex Human Revolution)

It's not secret that games publishers are frustrated by the PC market. The pirate side is quite active and the publishers see every download as lost revenue. Whether that is true or not is heavily debated but one obvious effect seems to be that game publishers focus more and more on game consoles (PlayStation 3, XBox 360 and even Nintendo Wii) and if they want to release the game for PC, they port the console game rather than doing a full development effort for PC.

That must not be bad, but it turns out that many development teams are not very good at porting games and the PC game ends up a failure in many respects (and the sales are low and the publishers confirm their believes that they should not focus on PC). Sometimes, such as with Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, fans do UI mods that fixes the most obvious problems, sometimes (Knights of the Old Republic) the game is just weird.

The most common mistakes include not taking full advantage of the PC hardware, like mouse and keyboard, also common is to not take advantage of screen resolutions higher than 720p and just stretch the UI or put the UI in a corner where it looks strange.

So when Eidos Montreal a couple of weeks ago said that they had worked on the PC version of Deus Ex Human Revolution to make sure it was good, it was with a mix of anticipation and doubt I listened to it. I didn't really know if I should buy the PC version or a console version that would let me sit in my coach so really needed reassurance the PC version was playable. In the end I choose the potentially superior PC version rather than the coach and I now have the answer. It's a fair PC port, but it is a PC port.

They let you use mouse and keyboard which is fine, but everywhere there are small details that make me think "console game". Choices in dialogues are limited to 4 (to match the 4 directional buttons on game consoles I think) and if there need to be more choices, it's implemented as a tree choice. It is also not obvious what you can click and not. It took me a while to figure out that you can click the rhombus symbols, though you can not click the options themselves.

Mouse actions are also made harder by the "select on hover" functionality that I also suspect is an inheritance from the console versions. It means that if you are careless with the mouse movement you might activate something different than you expected. For instance in the Media Log you will activate the different entries by hovering the choices, though you have to click on some things to activate them. Inconsistent and slightly annoying.

More annoying and actually close to being a UI bug is in the Augmentations screen, if you want to click the "More Info" button to the right, you have to navigate the mouse through the rest of the augmentations carefully to not accidentally hover something else.

The game (hacking screens and inventory and places) is full of popup menus. These do not open on right click which is at least the Windows convention, but also more and more common in other operating systems. Instead they open on left click, probably from consoles that only have one "activate" button. Right click is instead mapped to "cancel" or "back" which means that instead of advancing your choices you abort them. That is another place where console limitations made the PC version less good.

There are also UI elements that almost forgot about a mouse completely. I'm thinking primarily of the map UI. Most maps contains different levels and you switch between them with the + and - keys, or by carefully clicking the small small clickable areas in the level display. There are a lot of other potentially clickable symbols around them that don't work, which I think is again a console game inheritance, since you there navigate with keys, you can't have too many options. That is a limit that PC games shouldn't have since mouse makes it possible to move quickly from one edge of the screen to the other.

I mentioned another problem being screen resolutions, and I don't think Deus Ex does too badly here. I play with a 1920x1200 screen and I would like some on-screen symbols to be smaller and more detailed (I thinking of quest directional pointers) and some screens (hacking screens and maps) are always zoomed in too far so you have to start by zooming out but that is all.

So in conclusion, game publishers are still treating the PC platform badly and even when they do a focused attempt to make it good, the miss many small things making it obvious they are doing a port. In Deus Ex not enough to make unplayable, or inferior the console versions, just enough to annoy you.