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Subpar PC Ports Hurt Everyone

Matt M / October 21, 2014 at 10:00 AM / Gaming, Gaming Opinions

Square Enix’s announcement of the ‘Lightning Trilogy’[Final Fantasy XIII, XIII-2 and Lightning Returns] coming to Steam a few months ago was cloaked in speculation and rumor until the first title in the trilogy dropped onto consumers’ laps on October 9th. Final Fantasy XIII is a grossly unoptimized port that manages to clock in at a whooping 60GB with a locked 720p resolution because of what seems to be a lazy port from the Playstation 3. For quick comparison, I took a screenshot of the Steam port and compared it to a screenshot of the same point in the PS3 version. Can you tell the difference?

FFXIII editorial PS3 shot

FFXII editorial PC shot

The second shot was from the Steam version from the game and I can’t blame you for not seeing a difference. The 60 fps performance in game, with a few hiccups, is nice, but it should be a standard for a port of a game from 2010. This lead back into the inherent issue of the lock at 720p: the looming standard of 4K. Square Enix went out of their way to show how accessible this port was to low-end consumers still with GeForce 8-Series cards and Core 2-Duo CPUs, yet they ignored future resolutions entirely? The stock game looks incredibly zoomed in full-screen mode on my 1440p monitor and the problem becomes worse on even higher resolution screens. No official patch or indication from Square Enix has come to suggest that they will address the fan concerns about the port anytime soon.

Have no fear! The PC Modding Community is here! Durante, the Dark Souls PC port modder, brought out Final Fantasy XIII compatibility in GeDoSaT up to 4K resolution within 36 hours of the game releasing onto Steam. The mod allows for dynamic resolutions, anti-aliasing and other cosmetic options unavailable in the stock version. For the purposes of my review in the coming days, I will disclose now that I used the mod from the second chapter onward. My intention with the review will be to spread awareness about the effectiveness of the mod in an effort to improve the experience of PC users playing the game both now and into the future.

Let’s take a look at all the difference the mods make:

FFXIII editorial mod image

It’s amazing what difference anti-aliasing, shadow scaling and resolution can make on a game. Granted, the mod is still in beta and these visual improvements can only do so much to mask blemishes that Final Fantasy XIII has tried its best to hide since it originally released in Japan back in 2009. Unfortunately, no amount of modding can tackle the glut of prerendered cutscenes that inflate the game’s hard drive space demands to such ridiculous levels. As it stands, the game is the first part of a trilogy and its release, as imperfect as it may be, is out of obligation. The question is whether the future holds any possibility for improvement or if another pair of lazy ports is inevitable.

The good news is that the other ‘Lightning Trilogy’ games render the cutscenes with the in-game engine to reduce production cost and, consequently, necessary data for a title. Both of these additional titles were able to fit onto a standard 360 disc, so it is pretty reasonable to project that the Steam ports of Final Fantasy XIII-2 and Lightning Returns will be in the 12 – 15GB range. This also means that the quality of many cutscenes would drastically improve if another set of mods is rendered necessary due to an absence of PC options. Here’s the real bad news about the other games: they have a lot of DLC. For example, the true ending of XIII-2 was a $2.49 epilogue episode. Will the PC releases be treated as ‘Game of the Year’ versions with all of the DLC, apart from the cross-licensed outfits, included?

Square Enix doesn’t have to be the bad guy here. In fact, they still have more than enough time to recant indirectly for the errors of the XIII release. It is entirely within their power to approach Durante to natively mod the remaining games prior to release sometime before Spring of 2015. Alternately, they could have someone from the team responsible for the 2013 Tomb Raider PC version create the options if they want the developer from inside of the company. They have many options that will address the issue without losing face or needing to attract more attention than necessary.

All of this rambling leads into one question: who suffers the most from subpar PC ports? Everyone in the industry eventually suffers. Gamers are left with an inferior version of a game while the publishers may see high yields at first based on name only to have it dwindle due to negative word of mouth and infamy. There was the Saints Rows II port job so awful that even the modding community couldn’t fix it. Inversely, amazing ports such as Devil May Cry IV and Alan Wake are favorites of Steam sales to this day thanks to their reputation. Given their age and Capcom’s failed reboot of the former title, it is pretty reasonable to argue that a strong PC port can endure the test of time better than a hackneyed cash-grab based on the title alone.

Rumors broke out on Reddit last night concerning one Ubisoft engineer’s statements regarding company policies towards PC as a platform. Discussing what has been alleged before solid evidence is presented to confirm the situation would not be reasonable. Rather, it would be more effective to regale my experience with the game Watch_Dogs. Who could forget that initial 2012 reveal trailer? That game became the poster boy of the next generation of games in the blink of an eye. I purchased my current graphics card just as Watch_Dogs was being cycled into the Nvidia game promotion, which gave me the opportunity to see if my card could come anywhere near the E3 presentation. Nope. TheWorse mod unlocks advanced rain and other environmental features that bring the game closer to what was originally shown. It just begs so many questions since the majority of the mod’s fixes simply revealed content hidden in the game.

Someone shopping for PC parts gets the impression that Ubisoft is trying to play both sides of the fence at the risk of looking like a ninny. My motherboard came with an Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag code for some reason; now, a few months later, ‘parity’ has people wondering if Unity on the PC will be stuck at 900p/30fps. A company can’t act in a way to appease the crowd that is obsessed with hardware one month and then claim to have the capacity to make Far Cry 4 run the equivalent of PC ‘Ultra High spec’ on the PS4 and Xbox One without looking suspicious. They attempt to catch everyone with the same net unable to see the imperfections developing over time in this strategy.

I invite Square Enix and Ubisoft to contact me via the administrator if they wish to offer a counterpoint.

Matt M

I'm a contributor to the tech and gaming sections here on TechRaptor. I hold a B.A in English from University of California at Davis. It took me this long to realize just how much of a buzzkill my 'bio' makes me come across as. My hobbies include accumulating more games on Steam than I'll ever have time to play and discussing everything apart from video games on video game forums. Feel free to add other things expected in a corporate news letter blurb. I like long walks on the beach to escape from my video game backlog.

  • It’s a shame that these crappy ports keep getting released but there’s a catch 22 in that if people don’t buy them then the companies just quit porting the games to PC altogether.

    On a more positive note I must say that Durante is awesome.

  • Pablo Hernández

    Don’t worry PC gamers this game is a bad FF game anyway. You won’t be missing anything.

    (edited post)

  • No, its more like average.

  • Honestly, if this is the kind of quality I can expect they don’t have to bother porting any console games at all.

  • Pablo Hernández

    You’re right, maybe I was too harsh with the words I chose.

  • goodguya

    I think you should have used more comparable screenshots to, uh, compare. Completely contrasting the dark muted greens with an exaggerated blue background does not give us a standard basis for viewing higher graphical fidelity.

  • You are correct. My post could be construed as recommending that people buy these shoddy ports but that’s not what I was going for.

    Can you think of any way that we can demand better, and actually be heard, aside from just not buying them?

  • Gotta agree here. I mean, I could sort of see the point being made, but at the same time the higher spec screen also looked a lot more pleasing to the eyes from an aesthetic standpoint and I have no doubt that colored my perception of it. Aside from that, good article.

  • Though it does have my favourite FF soundtrack. Masashi Hamauzu did a damn fine job on the score.

  • Brad Sherard

    Worst port of all time for me was GTA4. It wasn’t like dark souls where the devs explicitly warned people that they wouldn’t optimize their port for the PC. Rockstar tossed PC gamers a dismal token effort stamped with their brand’s seal of quality.

    All the goodwill and trust they had gained with me was lost that day. I don’t trust them at all now.

  • Red Lagoon

    Not surprised! It seems like Japan doesn’t like PC very much. I have seen this with DMC3, Dead Rising 3, FF8, and many more…

  • sprawlghost

    My thoughts exactly. I’ve played just about every FF game out there, and picked up XIII at a midnight release. The fact that I could spam a single button, while facing away from the screen, and still beat multiple bosses in that manner really just points to lazy game design. I feel they’ve moved from games that actually had substance to essentially creating hours of interactive cutscenes more so than a game with any merit. Hopefully they step it up in the next iteration – but I didn’t really get anything out of XIII and definitely won’t be buying an inferior port on PC. To be quite frank, I don’t even know If I’d accept this one for free.

  • vikeyev

    I gave up on Square Enix when they F’d me over on the FF7 re-re-re-re-release on their website. Bought the game, downloaded it, played it, loved it.

    A year later thought, I wanna show my missus how awesome this game is. Went to redownload it……it’s not in my account…..

    Apparently the link from their website expires after 30 days, meaning you have to re-buy it from them if you want it legally again. Bought it on steam and that is the last Square Enix game I ever bought.

  • Sarusig Musicman

    Can someone savvier than I (read: anyone) explain to me why this type of things happen? Why does an unofficial modder have the ability to do in 36 hours what an entire team (probably not a large one for a port, but still) could not do in a few months?

    In the same vein, how is it that with a game like say, Skyrim, the original textures look terrible after 5 years + in development, but a month later we already have mods that make it look as a 2011 game should? Are amateurs THAT MUCH more dedicated? Is that the organization of game developers that put shackles on the technical staff?

    I’m confuzzled.

  • Pablo Hernández

    Wow that’s fucked up, but for some reason it doesn’t surprise coming from square, They worship the dollar now, they don’t give a fuck about their fans.

  • Cerxi

    This is, unfortunately, a major trend in AAA gaming; because of the millions of dollars sunk into game creation, the audience needs to be absolutely /massive/. There simply aren’t enough core gamers to make it worth playing to that audience anymore, especially given only a fraction of them will actually buy the game (whether it’s due to not enjoying the genre, fanboying for another system, or simply pirating the game instead).

    So they have to pander to the casual crowd, or, in the words of Shigeru Miyamoto, “the sort of people who, for example, might want to watch a movie. They might want to go to Disneyland. Their attitude is, ‘okay, I am the customer. You are supposed to entertain me.’ It’s kind of a passive attitude they’re taking, and to me it’s kind of a pathetic thing.”

    So games become trivial walks down long corridors built of flashy setpieces, constantly telling you how great you are at them, because that’s the only advantage such things have over films; the feeling of accomplishment. But, and I don’t know about most people, the sort of games we’re getting lately don’t give me a sense of anything but loss. That, and maybe nausea.

  • Cerxi

    Basically, it’s not “worth it” for the game company to devote the extra resources. Having professionals do these changes, properly, complete with bugtesting, would cost them probably several months of work. (Remember that this mod is very, very beta.)

    You may or may not have noticed, but AAA game graphics on the PC more or less languished for the entirety of the previous console generation*. So many games were ports or simultaneous releases, the companies simply created the games to console spec and that’s what we on PC got too. 120fps 4K is of questionable value when the majority of their userbase is on 30fps 720p, and so they just don’t do it.

    *(Even now, since the step up in console generation is only to 60fps 1080p, which PC gamers have been comfortably running for somewhere around a decade, the specs really aren’t increasing much,)

  • sprawlghost

    I agree with the statement, but disagree with the premise. The problem is that most of the AAA publishers follow trends set by Hollywood. One of those trends is the belief that increasing your budget will increase the demand for the finished game.

    Unfortunately this isn’t the case – take LA Noire for example. It was a great game, but unfortunately the cost of developing it far exceeded how much the game made. Of course, I can imagine the thought was “Hey, if we can create a game like Grand Theft Auto but throw even more money at it, we’ll make so much more money…” The end result though was the opposite, IIRC the studio was closed because they never recouped the cost of making the game.

    The problem I think is that the industry has decided that niche isn’t worth their time and effort, and instead they should try to mass market games. While this might work in a very short term setting, there’s also the possibility of it backfiring completely due to uninspired gameplay (among other factors).

    Taking a look at the Final Fantasy series alone, VII holds their record in sales numbers at 9.8 million, followed by XII (5.2m). XIII pulled in 4.95 million, XIII-2 pulled in half that, and Lightning Returns is sitting at .93m as of this month. Opening sales numbers for XIII were sitting at 1.5m. This dropped to 1/3 of that for XIII-2 for 524k. Lightning returns halved that, and sold 277k.

    I think it’s pretty clear what those numbers are telling us. There was something about the newest iteration on the series that fans did not like. They bought XIII, but weren’t compelled to continue (which to be fair, is not unlike what happened with the sequels to XII). Meanwhile, again like Hollywood, they feel compelled to release remakes. Of course, when doing so they targeted some of their lower selling titles of the entire Final Fantasy series, yet as of yet have not considered revisiting their highest selling title of all time.

    So while they may be attempting to follow a trend, I think it’s pretty safe to say that it isn’t really working out all that well for them. I for one will not be putting any money to future titles until I know they’ve gotten their act together. Flashy graphics and spamming a single button might open your market up to toddlers, but it creates a title which will bore the majority of the gaming market (average gamer age is in the 30s) to tears. You can’t make the game compelling to everyone – the simple fact of the matter is that tastes are diverse, and what appeals to an 8 year old won’t appeal to a 37 year old.

    There might be some exceptions, but there isn’t really any magic all-inclusive formula out there (despite this apparently rampant belief). The average ages by console, again, backs this up. Simply ignoring this known fact because we have more gamers around just isn’t going to do it. If this is the only concern with studios and their publishers, then I’m really not surprised that there are some facing serious issues.

    As you said, they’re taking an attitude that really doesn’t work. Square-Enix has been particularly bad about this over the last few years. As a result, I as a diehard fan of many of their older titles will never preorder, and will never purchase another one of their games until it has been out a month or two and I’ve seen more than a handful of /reliable/ reviews. At this point I just simply know better.

  • Alex White

    No, you were right, its terrible, I’ve played most FF to death (except 9) and this was just bad in nearly every way.

  • Alex White

    I gave up on Squeenix when they took tomb raider to xbox one with that kind of bullshit exclusive/not an exclusive/timed exclusive nonsense.