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Ports should be better than the original, says Bastion dev

DICE 2013: Supergiant co-founder says ports can be more than cynical, disappointing cash-ins

The word "port" has a negative connotation in the game industry, but Supergiant Games co-founder Amir Rao says that shouldn't be the case. In a presentation at the DICE Summit today, Rao explained his company's approach to bringing the Xbox Live Arcade hit Bastion to new platforms.

Rao started by acknowledging that nobody likes ports. Developers find them creatively unsatisfying, gamers have likely experienced the game already, and platform holders don't jump at the idea of reheated leftovers on their system. As a result, too often the ports are afterthoughts churned out to make a buck.

"We shouldn't be surprised when we do things in a cynical and disappointing way, that they produce disappointing results," Rao said.

For Bastion, the team was determined not to let that happen. Rao wanted Bastion to get better with each iteration, in the same way he felt that Plants vs. Zombies improved when it went from PC to Xbox Live Arcade or iOS. The solution for the team was to redesign the game around a touch-driven interface. Rao said conventional solutions like having a virtual gamepad displayed on the screen were "deeply unsatisfying," and the self-imposed design constraint that the game had to be playable with just one hand nearly killed the project multiple times.

Eventually, the team hit on the idea of automating the combat, using touch to move the main character around the screen while having him automatically choose targets and fire away at them when appropriate. Fans liked the idea as well; Supergiant included a virtual gamepad option in the iOS version of Bastion as well, but only 40 percent of players tried it out, and half of them reverted to the team's specially designed touch interface.

Rao compared the porting process to a band going on tour. The original game release is the album launch, and as the game makes tour stops on new platforms, it changes and refines the experience.

"What fans really want is for you to put the same creative energy that went into making the original game into reimagining it," Rao said.

It worked for Bastion. Rao said that the team's approach to porting it had given it longer than expected legs. To date, Bastion has sold more than 1.7 million copies, with more than 90 percent of those sales coming after the game's first month on sale.

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Latest comments (5)

Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development8 years ago
Complete disagreement. If I buy a game on one platform and like it so much I want to get it again on my new platform, then I want it to be as similar as possible. We make our stuff so the crucial data can even be swapped across formats.

Of course you need to change certain things as relevant to fit the new platform, but that's part of the job and doesn't need any spotlighting.
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Adam Campbell Product Manager, Azoomee8 years ago
It depends on the time-scale I think.

I actually like the idea of making improvements in a new version of a product. Though I also think that they should ideally be transferred to the original product in an update if possible.

I really wanted some of the technology and nanosuit changes for example in Crysis 1 for consoles to be put into the original PC version or I would have like to see an all new and improved edition with superior graphics and performance but it doesn't exist as far as I can see!
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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.8 years ago
When you completely change the game mechanics and the way the game is played on a new console, it's no longer a port.

I like his better the game with each iteration. But it's an unrealistic expectation. Between time, budgets, hardware and software library differences, etc...sometimes just making it as good as the original is an accomplishment all by itself.
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James Prendergast Process Specialist 8 years ago
I think Chrono Trigger and Zelda Ocarina of time have been good examples of a mid-point between "change the mechanics completely" and "do nothing". I think they're awesome and their best versions are the ports to the DS and 3DS - along with the enhanced capabilities those brought.

I agree with him that ports shouldn't be just a direct transition - they should add something of value to the game for the specific platform - even if it's just resolution and mouse sensitivity options ;)
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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 8 years ago
For me, EDF 2017 on the Vita is an excellent type of enhanced "port" that looks the same and initially plays the same as the Xbox 360 game, but under closer inspection, ends up a very different bird thanks to the new weapons (many added for online play), seven new maps, a few new enemies and a character that wasn't in the original that makes the game an entirely different experience.
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