REUPLOAD. This article was originally published on the now sadly closed down Coin-Drop.com website back in March of 2019. It has been reuploaded here so that it remains accessible to the public. Some of its content may now be out of date.
Console devs are taking the mick by treating us like children with the IQs of turnips. And this Has. To. Stop! How’s that for a cold open?
Nowadays I am almost exclusively a PC gamer. Why? Because PC game devs treat gamers as adults who are capable of making their own decisions and owning their mistakes.
My only contact with console gaming these days is when playing with the kiddies, which usually means the Wii, WiiU and Switch. Unfortunately, Nintendo are the worst offender when it comes to my biggest bugbear - restricting the player's control options!
Round One: Customisable Controls
As a PC gamer, I have become accustomed to utilising any control system I like. Gamepad, mouse and keyboard, HOTAS etc. The world is my oyster. What’s more, I am accustomed to fine-tuning these controls to my exact (if somewhat odd) specifications.
Assigning any button and key to whatever function I damn well please – Check.
Altering sensitivity, inverting axis, assigning macros etc. – Check.
So, when playing a ‘Marioverse’ game such as Yoshi's Woolly World or Captain Toad Treasure Tracker * where you have the option of two - count them, TWO button pre-sets, I was not impressed.
*I think it was these games, it has been a while since I played them.
Super Mario Galaxy 2 was even worse. The motion control was mandatory. What’s more, you had to point the Wii mote at the screen pretty much constantly. For most people, this is either fine or merely slightly irritating.
For my family and I - all of whom suffer from hypermobility syndrome - this is a problem. Either our wrists give out or our shoulders threaten to vacate their sockets. Not exactly fun. Presumably, no one at Nintendo thought about such disabilities when they created it.
But what about Sony and Microsoft, are they any better? Hardly. I distinctly remember playing Halo 2 on the OG Xbox. A great game in many ways, but it was marred by its control pre-sets. Lefty, Tactical, Southpaw etc. None of these was quite what I wanted. Therefore, I had to choose a control scheme that I disliked the least. Not ideal. (Still managed to beat it on legendary though 😉)
Sony was not much better. Somehow, I managed to play Devil May Cry 2 (DMC2) before playing Devil May Cry 1. If memory serves, ‘X’ was the jump button in DMC2. But for some insane reason, it was the triangle button in DMC1 - and there was no way to change it.
Therefore, all the muscle memory built up playing DMC2 - and pretty much every other game that used ‘X’ to jump (or the ‘A’ button on an X Box controller since it is in the same position) - was now working against me.
This made the game incredibly frustrating and thus unenjoyable. My solution - stop playing DMC1 and never touch it again. (Or play it via emulation - which offers total control configurability.)
What really ‘grinds my gears’ (sod off Griffin, I’m using it now) is that it does not have to be this way. There is nothing intrinsic about consoles that forces these limitations.
As evidence, I present exhibit ‘O’ - for ‘Orange Box’. All five games in this collection allowed total freedom.
Do you want to assign ‘down’ on the d-pad to ‘jump’ because… reasons? You go right ahead.
More sensibly, do you want to assign each button to the function you want it to be and thus create a set-up that feels natural to you? You do that.
If these five games can do this, then why not all console games? I suspect the fact that all five started as PC games, and that all five offer complete freedom over control set ups, is not a coincidence.
Round Two: FoV
My next big console bugbear is the narrow fields of view (FoV) many console games use. Thankfully, this does not affect all game types equally. For example, it tends not to cause a problem for your typical side scroller platform game, or top-down third-person action RPG. But for some games, it is a deal-breaker.
In particular, it is a big problem with First Person Shooters, or indeed any other game with a first-person perspective, such as Skyrim. A narrow FoV just feels ‘wrong’.
It is hard to put this feeling into words. The closest description I can think of is that it feels like your face is too close to the screen, which is very claustrophobic. It can also cause motion sickness. If an FPS has a narrow FoV and does not allow you to change it, then I simply will not play it.
On PC, this is seldom a problem since most PC games allow you to alter the FoV on the fly. Granted, some games - notably shoddy console ports such as F.E.A.R. 2 Project Origin - will require you to tinker with some of the game's files to fix the FoV problem, but at least it is possible.
I usually set my FoV to between 75 to 90 degrees which is comfortable. Unfortunately, most console FPS games lock their FoV to somewhere between 55 to 60 degrees, which is too low for me and is nauseating.
But this doesn’t have to be this way either. Bioshock on the Xbox 360 allowed the player to choose between a default and widescreen FoV, and this helped a great deal. If Bioshock could do it over ten years ago, why can’t all games do it now?
I know what some console apologists will say - “It’s because consoles may not be able to handle the demands of a wider FoV and performance may suffer.”
Whilst this may be true, it is no excuse. Why? Because of what I will be ranting about in round three, which I will get to…now.
Round Three: Graphics and Performance Settings
PC games are almost infinitely mutable in their settings. Pretty much every aspect of their eye-candy can be raised and lowered or turned off completely. This is vital, since each PC is pretty much unique, with its own combination of CPU, GPU, RAM, HDD, SDD ETC. (See what I did there?) Therefore, it is up to each individual user to tailor the settings to their liking.
Are you happy to drop the FPS down to 30 to go all out on 4K eye candy? You do that.
Do you need to maximise FPS because you are playing CS: GO and to hell with the textures which you will not be paying attention to anyway? You do that too.
Do you want the perfect sweet spot between visual quality and performance for your system? With a little tinkering with the settings, you can achieve this as well.
So why are console games so limited in this regard? Granted, all Xbox Ones are the same, as are all Nintendo Switches and PS4s, so there is no need to accommodate different hardware specs. But why not let the end-user alter it as they see fit?
Say for example the latest AAA game on a PS4 pro is too demanding to run at 4K with max textures and a wide FoV whilst maintaining a consistent 60FPS. Why not let the end user choose which aspects to prioritise?
They may be ok with 4K max textures and a wide FoV running at only 30FPS because they are playing a slow-paced game with amazing scenery.
Or they may be willing to lower the textures to achieve a wide FoV at 4K at a consistent 60FPS because they are playing a fast-paced online shooter.
Perhaps they are happy to play at 1080p so they can maximise texture detail, framerate and FoV. (Or because they may not have a 4K TV)
If total freedom was too difficult to implement, then perhaps offer a few pre-sets? Such as Quality - Standard - Performance?
I put it to you that there are two reasons this may happen, neither of which are acceptable.
The first is laziness. Adding options may create more work for the developers since those options would need to be tested. But if this happens as standard on all PC games it cannot be that difficult. Indeed, it may make the porting process for multi-platform games easier.
The second is ‘nanny-stateism’ - i.e. devs protecting you from yourself. The recent Red Dead Redemption 2 graphics downgrade debacle is a prime example.
Apparently, some models of PS4 were overheating due to the game’s hardware demands, so it appears that Rockstar in their infinite wisdom decided to force a graphics downgrade on all PS4 users.
Why not instead issue a warning and roll out the graphics downgrade as an option? If someone fails to heed the advice and their PS4 melts then that is on the consumer, not the developer.
Many PC gamers walk this tightrope all the time. Over clockers, in particular, will risk pushing their hardware to the absolute limit to get the best possible gameplay and eye candy experience. If they push too far, their PC might be forfeit. This is the informed risk they take, and they do so voluntarily.
Do console devs really think so little of console players’ wisdom and intellect that they cannot be trusted to do things for themselves?
If so, this is insulting, especially for games with 18 certificates. If you are old enough to play such a game you are also old enough to vote, join the armed forces, get a mortgage, marry, have kids, smoke, and drink** - but apparently not old enough to alter a video game's graphics setting. Hummm…. #gameindustrylogic
**Unless you live in the US, in which case you will have to wait three more years. Sorry to rub it in.
I’m hoping the console videogame industry starts to take ideas like these on board. I doubt anyone is going to listen to little ‘ole me, but if enough voices make themselves heard then, perhaps, we can see positive changes in the future.
2022 update: It is gratifying to note that at least some console games now allow different graphics pre-sets, which is an excellent step in the right direction. 😊
Well, that’s my rant over. What are your thoughts, or your big video game bugbears? Would you like to see more customisation options in console games, or are you happy with things the way they are? Let us know in the comments section below.
Overclocked PC image: BloodMotion, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
Iain is a 40+ author and gamer from England, who started his gaming journey on the Atari 2600 36(ish) years ago. His specialities include obscure cult classics, retro games, mods and fan remakes. He hates all sports games and is allergic to online multiplayer. Since he is British, his body is about 60% tea. He can be reached via email at email@example.com
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