Platform Preferences

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Chris
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Platform Preferences

Postby Chris » Tue Aug 21, 2007 2:47 pm

If you’re interested in games you’ll no doubt have played the Bioshock demo by now. It’s certainly one of the best demos I’ve ever played – dripping with atmosphere and potential, offering a brief glimpse at an astonishingly beautiful and detailed _world_. Graphics, visual design and art style, Audio, all are top notch. I feel like I’ve been to rapture, and not in the videogame sense of visiting a set of levels, but actually visiting a real location, and I’m really looking forward to playing the full game on Friday.

We shall save the inevitable rant about Americans getting the game 3 days earlier than us Brits for another time – I understand retail releases in America are always on Tuesdays, and retail releases in England are always on Fridays, and I understand that means us Brits can’t even _download_ the game from an American run Steam Service because of that, but lets just be thankful and remember things could have been much worse. The game could have been released by Sony, and we’d be waiting nine months instead of 3 days.

So only one important question remains – PC version or Xbox360 version? Rewind just a couple of years and i’d have slapped you in the face just for asking. I’d have gone as far as to state that I was a “PC Gamer”, and consoles could never match the fidelity of PC. But the Bioshock situation has forced me to have a think about it, and I’m just not so sure it’s true anymore. Having now played both the 360 and the PC demos, let’s weigh up the differences.

The Bioshock demo came out first on Xbox360. Whether this was the Devs genuinely struggling to get the PC demo ready in time, or whether it was Microsoft pulling strings to get a few days of exclusivity, or whether it was Nvidia rushing to get some driver fixes released for the game, we’ll probably never know. But all that doesn’t matter – I played it first on Xbox 360. More to the point, the whole demo integration thing with the 360 is wonderful – downloading demos is as easy as it could be. No installation issues, no bittorrent, no searching for a download mirror that doesn’t cover my screen in adverts and make me click “yes download this file now” and “no I don’t want an account thank you” fifteen times in a row before giving me the file. All these things happened with the PC demo.

And then of course, there is the driver issue. I happen to be running Windows Vista, which means most things work about 75% as well as they did under XP. This includes recent games like STALKER, which refuses to render anything other than a skybox when I try to run it now. STALKER always was a buggy mess, but even Bioshock suffered low frame rates on my PC until I installed Nvidias latest BETA drivers, released yesterday. Yes, NVidia have now released a set of beta drivers specifically optimised for Bioshock play. You can blame Windows Vista for throwing away the old graphics system (seriously breaking openGL and every Introversion game ever made in the process, thanks a bunch), or you can blame NVidia, or you can blame Irrational themselves, but it really doesn’t matter. Xbox360 – works like a charm, no effort on my part. PC – its amateur hour, I have to work hard to get things running well. Xbox360 – I click the green button to run the game, sit back and enjoy. PC – I’m crossing my fingers.

I have an 8800 GTS and a Core 2 Duo 6600 PC, with a couple of gigs ram, so pretty decent. PC and 360 both connect in to my monitor, a lovely 24” flat panel, so there’s no difference there. I actually ran the versions side by side for a while, just to compare. (I have a feeling Bioshock is going to be one of those games, and I want to experience it in the best way possible, so I’m making an above-average effort). There’s really not much in it. PC runs at higher resolution and has slightly more texture detail, but the frame rate is less regular, alternating between 30 and 60 fps regularly. Removing Vsync steadies things around the 50fps mark, but gives you the screen tear, which can make things feel less solid. FSAA would give the PC a visual advantage but it isn’t really an option because it savages the frame rate too much. PC gets my widescreen resolution correct (16x10 ratio), but my Xbox insists that widescreen must be 16x9, which means I either put up with one-inch black bars at the top and bottom of the screen, or I deal with stretching. PC deals with very dark areas better, a result of DVI input rather than component video. There’s no doubt it looks better on the PC, but not by much, and there is something to be said for the consistently high frame rate on the Xbox.

And maybe I’m getting old or something, but the whole graphics options thing is starting to wear thin for me. I honestly don’t want to have to decide if Anisotropic filtering is worth turning on or not, or if I’d like to see DirectX 10 shaders or go with DX9, or if 1920x1200 is too high and I’d be better off with 1280x800. It’s all a tradeoff that’s impossible to judge – better looking but lower frame rate. You can spend hours fiddling with graphics options trying to get the perfect balance, and then you walk into a different room and the balance is suddenly all wrong again because the particle density is twice is high or something. Xbox 360’s graphics options are fantastic – there aren’t any – it runs at a fixed resolution, with fixed graphics settings, at a solid frame rate.

The controller issue is surprising for me. This is the area I’d always have said PC wins at, hands down. You can’t beat mouse and keyboard for First Person Shooters right? Normally perhaps, but Bioshock might be the exception. Bioshock gives you two simultaneous weapons to use – Plasmids on the Left arm (essentially magic spells, but with a Jules Verne twist) and conventional weapons in the Right arm like Pistols etc. It fits the 360 controller perfectly. Left trigger uses the left attack, Right trigger uses the right attack, and you’ve got a left bumper button to cycle plasmids and a right bumper button to cycle conventional weapons. I wondered how the PC demo would cope with this, and they’ve designed it so tapping the right mouse button cycles between plasmid and conventional weapon (ie left arm attack or right arm attack), then left mouse button actually does the attack. Not a bad solution, but you really can’t beat having separate left and right triggers.

Looking around with the mouse is more accurate, headshots are definitely easier, but not by much. This isn’t a multiplayer game – this isn’t CounterStrike, so pixel perfect headshot accuracy isn’t such a massive deal for me in this case. And the PC has its own tradeoff – WASD keys are digital inputs, meaning you either move full speed or not at all, but movement on the 360 is analogue, meaning you can walk at whatever speed you want to. This makes the controls feel more restrained on the 360, more like you are exploring a world gradually, and less like you are running through the level like every other first person shooter. I also find playing games with a controller more comfortable, mostly because I sit back a metre or so away from my screen, but on the PC I sit very close, hunched over the keyboard and mouse. Sitting further back genuinely gives a better view of the world, allowing me to take more of it in as a _place_, rather than inspecting the quality of their surface bump mapping algorithms. Exploring the forest, rather than inspecting the moss on the trees, if you’ll pardon the mixed metaphor.

There have been reports by some that PC gaming is in decline, and that consoles are taking over, and of course there are arguments for and against. But looking at my shelf now, I’m struck by something strange – all of my favourite gaming moments from the last year or two – every single one of them – has occurred on a console. Gears of War, Crackdown, Okami, Final Fantasy XII, Zelda, Guitar Hero, Shadow of the Colossus, and now Bioshock. Whats recent in my PC section? STALKER, which I’ve already mentioned I can’t play anymore, and Defcon.

In the end, the solution to my dilemma is pretty obvious to me, although it does make me laugh. I’ll be buying the PC version, but I’ll be playing it with a 360 Joypad. This gets me the better graphics and the best controls (in my opinion), but also gives me the option to change my mind later if I decide I’ve been talking crap for this entire article.
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Postby NeoThermic » Tue Aug 21, 2007 2:55 pm

The fact that the 360's joypad works with XP And vista is one of the best choices MS made. I think you made a great choice there. Now to upgrade my PC so I can actually get a decent framerate out of it...

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Postby KingAl » Tue Aug 21, 2007 3:00 pm

I'm with you on the gamepad. Part of the reason I like buying PC versions is that I know that in future, if I come back to it, I'm more likely to have a compatible computer than a particular type of console - I quite often go back to play kinda-not-really-retro games like Deus Ex which run fine (beautifully) on my current machine, and if I had to dust off a console to do it I just wouldn't bother. Hell, I can still play Gods or Floor 13 with little hassle, and I can't say the same for Super Mario Bros. (unless I run it on PC...). If I were the type who just churned through games, buying them then trading them in, I'd have much less of an incentive.
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Postby Cooper42 » Tue Aug 21, 2007 3:19 pm

In the console world, a new generation of consoles tends to mean very good games for the new consoles in order to establish reputations, alongside games which are making complete and full use of the old technology, creating new experiences (some of the best PSOne games were around the PS2 launch, and with the PS3, we're now seeing games such as FFXII taking the PS2 really far)

In the PC world, a new iteration of windows, which, in this case, comes with the added difficulty of some quite radical changes in GPU architecture and graphics delivery, tends to result in a stall in game quality. XP was never sold as a gaming platform, and it never performed as one until the first service pack. Even now, it stubbornly refuses to play some pre-XP games. Windows have had the cheek to sell Vista as a gaming platform - seemingly just as long as you play games designed for Vista...

The biggest threat to PC gaming is the profit incentive. Developing for the console is cheaper and makes more money. Casual games are cheaper and make more money. The creative, detailed, fuller, occasionally experimental world of PC gaming does not generate equivalent revenue...


Anyhoo - 360 controller and PC is the way to go for BioShock. It's what I went for - the games' clearly been desgined for the 360 controls, but with a good enough machine, it just looks better on a PC.
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Postby xander » Tue Aug 21, 2007 4:21 pm

Platform preference? Um... I have a Mac and a PS2... How's that? :P

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Postby Pentadact » Tue Aug 21, 2007 4:23 pm

INFIDEL!

Analogue movement is nice, I'll admit, but the robotic turret-like turning and stiff-necked vertical looking makes it feel a lot less natural to me. A 360 player was watching me play on PC earlier, and was amazed to discover there was a huge brass statue of Andrew Ryan above the "No Gods or Kings" banner - he'd never looked up.

Also, you can configure the PC controls so that left mouse fires weapons and right mouse fires plasmids. Scroll wheel cycles through whichever you used last. And the PC quick-switch menu is invaluable when you've got twenty odd ammo types and plasmids to choose between.

Also, hacking.
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Postby Chris » Tue Aug 21, 2007 4:54 pm

Yes well, I noticed the huge brass statue above the No Gods or Kings banner. In short, I know how to look up on joypad :) You can't really hold that against the 360 controller. I've played some more and caught a glimpse of some sort of ammo select screen in the PC version, which is going to be interesting on joypad, but it plays no part in the demo so I can't comment until Friday. I guess Americans get the game before Brits, but journalists get the game before everyone.

The audio is definately better in the Xbox version. It's taken me a few play throughs to pin it down, but the PC audio always sounded a little unbalanced somehow - the voices are too quiet, and the radio guy sounds muted and distant. But its hit me now, they're doing some processing on the radio voice to make it sound "in-ear" on 360, which makes a much more intimate sound, but on the PC it just comes out the speakers at a low volume. I've found the overall sound mix is more atmosheric and better balanced on the Xbox.

Having played the hacking mini-game in all setups, Pc definately wins that one. The hackings a bit poor though, like playing a free Flash web game plugged in to your directX 10 shaded world. Hacking is quite hard to do well without it seeming utterly trivial, but i'm sure one or two games have managed it.

Of course, you can fiddle with all these options on the PC. What the PC always gives you is choice, which you don't get anywhere else. So maybe it's a simple question - do you want that choice - Anisotropic filtering? FSAA? Right mouse to cycle or Right mouse to fire? Voice at volume 10 or volume 9? Mouse or Joypad?

Or, like me, would you prefer the game designers to make the best choices for you.
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Re: Platform Preferences

Postby Varsity » Tue Aug 21, 2007 6:13 pm

Chris wrote:More to the point, the whole demo integration thing with the 360 is wonderful – downloading demos is as easy as it could be. No installation issues, no bittorrent, no searching for a download mirror that doesn’t cover my screen in adverts and make me click “yes download this file now” and “no I don’t want an account thank you” fifteen times in a row before giving me the file. All these things happened with the PC demo.

Download it from Steam next time. It's just as good as Live, plus the benefit of a mouse-driven interface.

Chris wrote:You can blame Windows Vista for throwing away the old graphics system (seriously breaking openGL and every Introversion game ever made in the process, thanks a bunch), or you can blame NVidia, or you can blame Irrational themselves, but it really doesn’t matter. Xbox360 – works like a charm, no effort on my part. PC – its amateur hour, I have to work hard to get things running well. Xbox360 – I click the green button to run the game, sit back and enjoy. PC – I’m crossing my fingers.

I don't disagree in principle, but in this case it is Nvidia at fault. Their drivers were found to be the root cause of all kinds of system-level horrors - if only I could find the article!

I have an ATI Mobility card with Vista, and my system is the same or better as it was under XP. The catch is that I have to install softmodded drivers because ATI aren't allowed to release laptop drivers for reasons I can't remember (again, I will try to find links).

Chris wrote:In the end, the solution to my dilemma is pretty obvious to me, although it does make me laugh. I’ll be buying the PC version, but I’ll be playing it with a 360 Joypad. This gets me the better graphics and the best controls (in my opinion), but also gives me the option to change my mind later if I decide I’ve been talking crap for this entire article.

This is now my plan as well. I do find aiming a complete pig with the controller, but then Bioshock isn't really an FPS, is it? I'll learn.
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Postby shinygerbil » Tue Aug 21, 2007 6:28 pm

Chris wrote:Hacking is quite hard to do well without it seeming utterly trivial, but i'm sure one or two games have managed it.


Hmm, can you think of any examples...? ;)
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Postby xander » Tue Aug 21, 2007 6:47 pm

shinygerbil wrote:
Chris wrote:Hacking is quite hard to do well without it seeming utterly trivial, but i'm sure one or two games have managed it.


Hmm, can you think of any examples...? ;)

There was this game that came out in the early 2000s -- Upload? Downlink? Onlink? Something like that...

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Postby shinygerbil » Tue Aug 21, 2007 6:59 pm

Pretty sure it was Onlink. That sounds about right. I think it was about the FBI.
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Postby Montyphy » Tue Aug 21, 2007 7:48 pm

Fools! It was called Darwinia.
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Postby The GoldFish » Tue Aug 21, 2007 8:18 pm

And this is why I have a 10 button mouse...

no complicated right mouse button decisions for me... mine's bound do jump!
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Postby martin » Tue Aug 21, 2007 9:26 pm

10 buttons on a single mouse?! good lord, I haven't even figured a use for the extra fourth button on my mouse :/

Anyway, can anyone tell me how scary/gory the bioshock demo is? I don't really like gory games, but if Chris thinks it's that good...
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Postby ewanm » Tue Aug 21, 2007 10:15 pm

xander, I beat you, 64bit linux, PS2, PSone and Sega MegaDrive II.

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