Battlefield 3 is perhaps one of the most anticipated games of 2011. It arrives in October and will likely see hundreds of thousands of sales on day one. As a AAA title, it behooves BF3 to debut on the 360, PS3, and Windows at the same time. But the last several years have seen troubling compromises in PC versions, obviously being made because of console restraints. Just recently I panned Dungeon Siege 3, a major production if I’ve ever seen one, for this exact problem. But it looks like the shoe is on the other foot with BF3: maps are going to be more “compact” and player counts reduced to from 64 on the PC version to 24 on console.
As a PC gamer myself, I believe I have a valid right to be smug here. The shoddy console ports we’ve seen have been so blatant that for years we’ve wondered why they bother at all. And here we have (as they promised) a game actually made for the PC and then scaled down for the consoles.
The consoles are years old and, although developers are managing to squeeze every last drop of performance out of them, it’s not an exaggeration to say they’re totally out of date with current graphics technology. Graphics doesn’t just mean things are shinier – it means making the graphical component of the game easier to implement, the art easier to apply, the levels easier to sculpt. More time can be spent designing the game and less coming up with a way to fit environmental reflection calculations into spare cycles.
And now is the crunch time. If we’re to believe industry sources, new consoles from Microsoft and Sony will likely come in 2013, perhaps with a 2012 announcement, but still some ways out. And until then the discrepancy in power between the consoles and PCs will only grow. If developers are planning a PC release, it makes much more sense at this point to design for the PC and then scale down, rather than vice versa. Because if they try to scale up, the results are so laughable that it should come as no surprise when port sales are low.
With the increase in downloadable and streaming game services, the PC is pulling ahead of the console once more, and it’s going to take time before they can catch up. The golden age of Half-Life and Everquest is over, but PC gaming get a second spring — if developers know what’s good for them.