Ports have been around for many years and have allowed gamers to enjoy their favorite titles without having to buy a specific system. It also granted the possibility of owning a game usually only available on the arcades. Unfortunately, more often than not porting has drawbacks for the systems that aren’t the original. Some might say it’s a price to pay due to limitations from one console to another. Others, on the other hand, don’t consider that an excuse.
Ports are conversions of a specific game to different game systems. The most common ones were the arcade games released for home consoles. Nowadays it’s easy to see games that have PC and Xbox or PS4 releases at the same time, but those are far from the only ones. Portable consoles will have games of older systems ported so you can play them. These ports shouldn’t be confused with remastered versions of old titles.
When talking about remastered versions, some people might consider it a port of some sort. On one hand, it’s still the same game, with most of the story untouched. However, remastered versions include much more, starting with a complete overhaul on graphics and sound. Ports do have shifts of quality in both graphics and sound depending on the limitations of the console. Another thing remastered versions might do is change the User Interface to a more modern, easily accessible one. Ports focus solely on making sure the game runs smoothly on whatever system it’s translated into, perhaps adding something extra but nothing too dire most of the time.
Older games were much less complicated to port due to the simplicity, but there was another benefit. If a game isn’t developed by the very own company that owns the specific console, seeing ports is more common. Clear examples are Lemmings, with versions for systems ranging from Amiga to PS2, and Doom. The latter not only had a dozen different official ports, but fans have been able to make the game run on the most unexpected machines, from ATMs to printers.
From one console to another, many things can go wrong. Controls have to be relocated and depending on the system it can lead to limitations. Having many more options, PC games that get ported to consoles have to mash all actions in a more limited number of buttons. This usually resulted in some controls disappearing, like Doom’s console options of choosing a specific weapon. Instead of having the 1 through 7 numeric keys, non-PC players were forced to slowly scroll through weapons to find the one they needed. One strange example is the N64 version of Daikatana, which required to press both A and R buttons so the character could crouch. This comes as a nuisance despite being in the manual, for there was an unused button on the controller, the L trigger, which could’ve been used for that action.
Reduced quality of graphics and audio are almost always a given, even losing some levels altogether. That’s what happened to the SNES version of DooM, which suffered a big downgrade in the graphical aspect. Even with that, Sega 32X takes the cake of nefarious DooM ports, with terrible music and less levels than the original. This came as a huge surprise since the 32X was supposedly much more powerful than the SNES. Other ports, like the ones for the original Playstation and Saturn, had exclusive levels that no other port had, though they also ran slower. To make matters worse not only did these ports have fewer enemies. But the Arch-vile was completely removed because of RAM limitations. The final fight against the Icon of Sin was also absent, instead being a fight against many Barons of Hell and one or two Spider Masterminds. The music on these ones also changed drastically, with a more environmental, horror-like approach instead of the fast-paced, metal tunes of Robert Prince.
Sometimes ports will have differences that will affect the gameplay to unexpected extent. Elements that appear in one plain don’t appear on others, and the reason doesn’t appear to be for lack of space. Take Shadowman, a classic Acclaim game that was released for the Playstation, PC and N64. The most powerful weapon in the game was the Violator and of all the ports, only one of them had two copies of said firearm available. Opening the Coffin Gate that required Level 10 Shadow Power, which required getting all the 120 Dark Souls in the game, granted you a second Violator. This, however, only happened if you were playing the N64 version of the game. If you were playing either the Playstation or PC ports, you would find a book that showed concept art of the game. Other examples of this can be found in the different ports of the Soul Calibur series that include unique guest characters depending on the version.
One of the biggest surprises of recent ports comes with the total opposite: the lack of content. Nippon Ichi Software’s release of the PC port of Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, has been received with open arms. Even with the first issues with framerate that were shortly fixed, it seems like a solid port. The main problem is that it’s a port of the PSP version of the original PS2 title. The developers insist that it isn’t just a port, but clearly it is. The worst part is that it could’ve been much more. Nippon Ichi Software is well-known for having ports that include characters from the sequels. There was a later port for the DS that had slightly lower graphics but had more unlockable characters. Most of the secret characters from the PSP port became playable on the DS one once defeated, plus a unique NPC that joined your team if you talked to her in the second playthrough. Why they didn’t combine the powerful graphics of the original and the extra content of the ports is difficult to figure out.
Regardless of the issues ports might have, and the differences there might be, their importance is vital in the industry. Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft want to make sure that the best games are exclusive to their systems, and it’s understandable. There’s always that one game that makes you want to own their consoles. IF the same game is available for other systems, the appeal is much lower. Exclusive games are commonplace when video game companies work alongside the big game systems. Nonetheless ports allow players to enjoy games regardless of what they play with. In the console war that shouldn’t really be, game developers usually aren’t forced to keep a side. And when it comes to gamers, that’s probably for the best.