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Submitted by Chris Leyton on February 27 2004 - 00:00

Warren Spector addresses the differences between console and PC games in this frank chapter to the Developer Diary…

4. - Consolitis. Compare the expectations for the PC and Xbox versions relative to their separate audiences. Discuss differences among the versions. Lessons learned from the PS2 version.

Answered by: Warren Spector

>>Warren Spector (Studio Director): True confessions time - I'm not just a PC gamer. Never have been and doubt I ever will be. I've always owned every gaming platform available, always played both console and PC games. What's more, I've always wanted to work on a console game. There. I said it.

At Origin, I talked about doing something on the Genesis. Didn't happen. "We're PC developers," everyone said, "not console developers." When I left Looking Glass, I wanted my new shop's first project to be a small, actiony console game (a game I still hope to make someday!). That didn't happen either. The publishers I talked to all said, "Make a big PC roleplaying game - that's what everyone wants and expects."

Man, it's tough to shed a reputation as a PC-only developer!

Finally, after years of being a platform agnostic player and a wannabe console developer, Eidos gave me - and Ion Storm - a shot at taking Deus Ex to the PS2. That project taught us a lot. And now, with the benefit of that PS2 experience, we get to bring Invisible War to Xbox AND PC players.

I went into console development genuinely believing that games are games and gamers are gamers. I never quite believed or understood people who said platform or player differences required a radical rethink on the design side. I mean, everyone I KNOW plays PC and console games. We're all gamers, right? We all like good games, don't we?

Now that we've done DX on the PC and PS2, and Invisible War on PC and Xbox, I still think the goal, hardware willing, ought to be to deliver the same experience to people, regardless of their platform preference. Do that, and gamers (most of 'em, at any rate) will "get it."

I don't think you have to dumb down the experience or make a game more action-oriented or less thoughtful for console gamers (as I've been told repeatedly over the years).

I don't think it's true any longer (if it ever was) that console games have to be aimed at a younger audience than PC games and THAT forces you to make different design decisions.

And I still don't see the huge difference in playing a game on a TV, in a living room, while sitting on the couch as compared to sitting inches away from a computer monitor somewhere else in the house.

Maybe I'm just dim but, from a player experience standpoint, I STILL believe games are games and gamers are gamers. And I'm proud as hell of the Invisible War team for delivering virtually the same game on both PC and Xbox. The only differences worth noting are the UI, texture resolution and overall resolution. Other than that? Same game. PC, Xbox, we don't care - it's Invisible War. (Guess we'll find out soon enough whether I really am dim or whether I get to thumb my nose at all the folks who said we should change the game to suit the platform!)

However. Hmph. Well. Yes. There are some significant DEVELOPMENT differences when you're talking PC versus console. The limited memory available on consoles, as impressive as the current hardware is, DOES impose some limitations. And let no one doubt that the user interface differences between the two platforms ARE huge and significant. And they, too, force some design decisions.

Let's start with the obvious:

There just aren't a lot of similarities between a PC keyboard/mouse combination and a console controller.

The keyboard and mouse give you near instant response and near exact control. The controller is a far less precise, far more...well...leisurely input device. That has huge ramifications, particularly with regard to combat tuning. In particular, player character turning speed has to be tuned completely differently depending upon what input device you're using and auto-aiming, crucial to a successful action game on console, isn't even necessary on a PC.

To address that, we spent a lot of time tuning turning speeds so mouse users could exploit the pinpoint accuracy people expect. (Frankly, we screwed up a critical mouse setting in our initial release, causing the mouse to feel "laggy" -- PLEASE download the Invisible War patch to address that problem! The game will feel a LOT better if you do!)

Then there are the user interface challenges associated with making a relatively complex, relatively deep game like Invisible War playable given the limitations imposed by a controller that has just eight buttons, two triggers, two analog sticks and a d-pad. Heck, we're spoiled, on the PC, what with a (minimum) 3-button mouse and 100+ key keyboard! So what do you do? Do you simplify controls for console players, and risk disappointing PC players? Do you craft different games that exploit the available input device(s) to the max?

We decided that some of the complexity associated with the UI in the first Deus Ex game actually didn't contribute to our core gameplay AT ALL. And we decided to eliminate what we considered to be unnecessary UI complexity. So, I suppose you could say that we chose the path of simplifying the controls for Invisible War. But it's critical that people understand -- though the UI decisions we made clearly benefited the console version, we made no decisions that we thought would compromise our core gameplay. And we would have made the same decisions even if the game had been PC-only.

We eliminated the unnecessarily complex spatial reasoning game associated with the DX inventory screen. Did the "inventory slot" approach make the game more "cerebral" or more "PC-ish?" I don't think so (though it certainly made the game more Diablo-like!). The whole idea behind the original DX inventory design was to force players to make decisions about what they would and would not carry. We didn't want you to be able to carry everything. When we did the PS2 version of the game, we realized that we could force the SAME decisions simply by limiting the number of inventory slots you had. The goal was to limit the number of items carried â?“ the shape of those objects was never the big issue. The end result of this was a simpler system for players on console AND on PC that accomplished exactly the same design goal we'd set for ourselves in the original PC title. Total win.

We made it so you don't have to find a medbot and go to a separate screen to install a biomod or heal yourself. I suppose there are players out there who thought it was cool to walk around with a character upgrade but NOT be able to use it. I wasn't among them. Why delay a reward? The player has discovered something cool, either by exploring the gameworld or expending resources to solve a game problem. Why NOT let them install a biomod immediately, without having to find a medbot or go to a separate UI screen to do so? Happily, this decision allowed us to eliminate a UI screen.

We rolled the augmentations and skills systems of the first game into a single "biomods" system, eliminating the UI subscreen associated with skills (and all the classic-RPG number-crunching associated with that system). Yes, we did this to make the game more accessible. We didn't WANT players worrying about ways to increase their marksmanship by 10%... We wanted players playing the game, making choices about who they wanted to be and how they wanted to interact with the gameworld. And combining the two systems had the added benefit of eliminating some particularly silly decisions (like forcing players to decide whether they wanted to increase their aquatic capabilities by upgrading the aqualung augmentation or by spending skill points to upgrade their swimming skill -- I mean, why NOT roll a choice like that into a single, reasonable decision?). This wasn't a console-specific decision, per se, but a gameplay decision. The biggest benefit we derived on console (other than increasing immersion on both platforms by not forcing players to a static UI screen...) was the elimination of the UI elements associated with that static skills screen. Again, though, we would have made this design decision even if we'd been a PC only game.

Among the more controversial decisions we made, one some players see as making the game more consoley and less PC-ish, was to go with a single ammunition type (rather than unique ammunition for each weapon type). This eliminated the need to track "shots" and "clips" for each weapon, individually. It also had the added benefit of ensuring that players have to manage their ammo resource throughout the game, instead of blasting through all of their ammo for one weapon, secure in the knowledge that they have a max loadout for every OTHER weapon in the game to fall back on! Some people have assumed that this change 'simplifies' strategic gameplay. In my experience, it actually makes the game more difficult, maybe even more hardcore! Players who've objected to this decision (which we justified fictionally, for what it's worth) have said, "You've eliminated the choice of switching from one weapon to another in different tactical situations!" How so? Players still switch from one weapon to another when a combat situation invites this decision -- they still use a rocket launcher or a sniper rifle, for example, at the appropriate times. But now, they really have to think -- hard -- about that decision. I mean, that rocket is going to eat up ammo you might need later for a sniper rifle shot. Do you REALLY want to expend that resource? In Deus Ex, if you were low on ammo for your primary weapon, the game encouraged you to switch to something else (say, the shotgun), even if that was a mismatch for your style of play. In Invisible War, as long as you have ammo, you can use your weapon of choice.

Now, your decisions are completely based on the functionality of the weapon (the shotgun is short-range with a spread... the railgun does EMP damage...). This is significant, because the designers were able to tune the unified ammo globally, ensuring that you have enough during the game. This frees you up to use the right weapon in every situation, as opposed to saying "Man, the railgun would be great here, but the designers haven't dropped any railgun ammo recently, so I'll have to use a crummy weapon." This decision was all about supporting player expression.

Another aspect of the Invisible War UI that's met with mixed response is the SHAPE of it! (Who'd have thought anyone would care? I'm truly amazed.) Personally, I love our circular HUD -- it's frighteningly close to the HUD I envisioned for the first game (which was conceived as a PC game from the get-go). Way back then, I wanted the player's HUD to look as if it were mapped on the player's eyeball. I thought that would be unbelievably cool, very "nanotech" and unlike anything else anyone had seen. (Obviously, I failed to communicate what I wanted to the DX team, because we ended up with a conventional, rectangle dominated HUD!) The fact that a circular HUD didn't match the shape of a monitor screen or that it would "eat up screen real estate" didn't occur to me and, in practice, in Invisible War, doesn't bother me, especially given that you can adjust the opacity down to nothing.

I love our circular HUD. However, in response to comments from some PC players, we're looking into a patch that will move the UI elements all the way to the outer edges of the screen, to free up some space in the center of the screen, where most of the action is.

So that's some of what went into the UI and HUD. A bit of compromise for consoles and controllers but, mostly, design decisions made to enhance the elements of Deus Ex gameplay we thought were important.

A little less obvious (and a little less clear-cut) is how we dealt with memory limitations. This really did involve some console compromises. And, as is always the way with compromises, that meant accepting some bad with the good...

Basically, developing a single game for PC and console meant designing maps to meet the more restrictive platform -- that is to say, the Xbox. Powerful a piece of hardware as it is, the Xbox has only 64megs of RAM, putting some significant constraints on map size, most notably, which means the PC version probably has more map loads than it might if we hadn't concerned ourselves with the Xbox (or if we'd been willing to create, tune and debug two radically different games).

Where's the good part of that compromise, you ask? Well, quite simply, we've had a mantra around here for some time that goes, "smaller, deeper maps... smaller, deeper maps..." We're not ABOUT huge, sprawling maps, sparsely populated, spiced up with random encounters. We ARE about small, deep maps (hence the mantra...), with lots to do on them, lots of objects to interact with, lots of problems to solve and ways to solve them, lots of nooks and crannies (if not magnificent vistas!) to explore. Minimizing our map size was less of a problem for us than it might have been for a lot of other games.

But let me be clear -- map size DID involve compromise. Man, what we wouldn't have given for a lousy 128 megs on the Xbox! But the tradeoff we made for more map loads and smaller maps was a better balanced, better tuned game -- because we only had to tune, balance and debug once. Given the complexity of a game like Invisible War, that's not to be minimized... Are we where we want to be with our smaller, deeper maps? No. Of Course not. But we HAVE found that making maps smaller and tighter made them more fun to play. (Someday, we're going to make a "one-block roleplaying game" and we'll prove once and for all that smaller is better!) Again, though clearly a compromise designed to make the game console friendly, smaller maps work from a gameplay perspective, too.

Fundamentally (and not to sound like a broken record), we WANTED to offer players the same game on both platforms. We embraced the limitations of the Xbox, focused on the player experience and, yes, made some compromises. In the process, I think we made a game -- for both platforms -- that offers players more freedom than ever before, more opportunities to create their own, unique experiences, more options to customize their characters and their story... More, in other words, of everything that's central to the Deus Ex experience.

By the time you read this, the game will soon be out and you can determine for yourself if the compromises we made (on Xbox and PC) were worth the tradeoffs required. But (and now I'm talking to the PC players out there) do me a favor and download our patch before you pass judgment!<<

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