Console Games Ported to PC: Some Useful Info

Originally Posted by Onegai:

Console2PC

Resident Evil 4 was released on Playstation 2 quite some years ago and when I got my hands on it, I ended playing the game so much my damned thumbs looked like Arnold’s biceps did in Terminator. But that was back when I was still a Console-fag. I recently came across the PC version of the game (Sold under the name Biohazard 4 for some reason, perhaps copyrights or alike) and decided to buy it (It sells for 49 ZAR these days – That’s cheap for a game in South Africa).

RE4 on the PS2 had some beautiful prerendered CGI cut-scenes and some really stunning environments. But on the PC, the prerendered movie clips looked inferior to on the PS2 as well as the starting screen background and the still images of the treasures. Here’s where it doesn’t make sense (Until I explain it that is) at all. The in-game graphics were vastly superior to the PS2 version along with all the 3D sprites.

I’ve also played the PC version of Final Fantasy VII (Who didn’t love this game) and experienced similar inconsistencies. The sprites looked better on PC, the backgrounds and prerendered movies looked better on PS1.

If you’ve ever played a console game and then the PC-port, you’ve probably also had these problems – at least the fastidious gamers like myself out there have. Now I’m going to breakdown why.

Let’s start with prerendered cut-scenes. The operative word in that sentence is “prerendered” which means that it was rendered (drawn) on another machine and then exported to a video. This is because a lot of the time, the console in question lacks the graphical capability to render such graphics. Now most (if not all) console prerendered clips are exported at a fairly low-resolution. This is because most consoles run games at a much lower resolution than the average PC by the time the game is ported. Also, consoles (Especially the PS1) tend to change resolution one hell of a lot. Therefore, when running a console game, it’ll drop its resolution while running a prerendered clip. When the clip runs, the television blows the image up through analogue resizing which blurs more than pixelates. You don’t notice the mild blurring for two reasons: Firstly, because you sit naturally further from you TV than you do your PC monitor, secondly, because your TV has scanlines which hide a lot. In a way, an anologue television set is an automatic anti-aliasing device.

The same is true for prerendered backgrounds because there again, the word “prerendered” comes into play. The background was rendered on another machine and exported as a sort of image.

If you wish to test this theory you’ll need to go retro so get yourself a CRT monitor running at 1024×768 on a really crap video card, an anime video file of reasonable quality but much lower resolution (say 640×480 or thereabout) than your native resolution and Media Player Classic. Run the file as usual in full-screen mode (double-click the play window or hit Alt + Enter while playing). Watch it for a while. Now go into Media Player Classic’s setting and change the Fullscreen Playback Resolution to match your video file’s resolution (Right-click > Options > Playback > Change fullscreen resolution). Now watch it again. You’ll notice a serious lack of pixilation this time round and an overall better image. (PS: You can actually use the Media Player Classic resolution technique if your video card dies and you have to fall back on your onboard one!)

So we’ve dealt with the prerendered stuff. Now let’s discuss sprites. Why do they look better in the PC version? Well that’s because, unless you have a FAIL PC, your video card is likely vastly superior to the onboard card on a console. Your card is rendering the sprites. There aren’t prerendered. It’s like if you teach me how to draw a specific picture rather than just give me a drawing you did of that picture. I can’t do much with a ready-made drawing but if I have to adjust the size and I redraw it, I adjust the size accordingly.

The same rule applies to the environments because they too have not been prerendered (Excluding 2D backgrounds, they usually are e.g. Resident Evil 1, 2 & 3). This is why you’ll find that with PC games, they have graphics options and somebody with an nVidia 9600 is likely to get much better results than somebody running on a 6200. It gets a lot more complicated than that of course but this article’s here to simplify; not confuse so I won’t go into it.

I mentioned them briefly earlier and the fact that they help improve the appearance of prerendered graphics, but scanlines also have a disadvantage. Scanlines destroy detail in games on both prerendered and non-prerendered graphics alike. For example, in RE4 PS2 version, you can just barely read the large fonts on boxes of ammunition. On RE4 PC version, you can read nearly everything and even make out the pictures on the boxes.

Finally, we get to the one graphics filter that everything has in common. That is the human eye. You know that by scrunching your eyes when looking at an unsmooth image, it blurs and looks smoother. You also know that if something is further away, it looks smoother than if you sit close by. And as I mentioned earlier, this affects the appearance of games. Sitting further away gives a natural blur the, although you cannot see it, removes the smaller details and with it, the pixilation. All that in mind, think of a large 92cm HD television set. It has no scanlines and images look really nice, especially on Blu-ray. Do yourself a favour though and sit relatively close to that television and watch something. It will look awful. With sharp definition and high detail comes the price of smoothness, and that’s why you should not sit too close.

Basically, like all things, games ported to PC are a double-edged sword. They look better in some ways and worse in others (That’s ultimately why PC games look better on PC, because that’s what they were designed for).The only advantage of PC-ports over their console counterparts is that they’ll last longer. Consoles break and get outdated whereas PCs get upgraded and most old games will still run and even if they don’t, one can always do system tweaks, download patches or run in previous OS compatibility modes. Consoles on the other hand seriously lack that sort of backwards compatibility, PS3 included* (I was devastated to find this out). But, having said that, there are sadly many console games that were never and will never be ported to PC. That’s where Emulation comes in – a topic for another time.

*While some earlier models of the PS3 did offer greater backwards compatibility than the newer models, even these had some complications with a number of titles. I’m not saying no PS1/PS2 games work on PS3, I just mean their are plenty that don’t.

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