Dark Souls and Resident Evil 4 – On Ports and Mods.

RE4 and Dark Souls side by side.

With the sometimes volatile feedback from the players over Dark Souls PC, I thought we could perhaps take a moment to remember a worse PC port of a console game – namely, Resident Evil 4 – and remember that sometimes it isn’t how a port starts life, it’s how the community finish it that matters…

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You’d think the PC Crowd would at least acknowledge that some console ports have been truly shocking.

This isn’t to excuse FROM Software of at least making some of the basic engine tweaks that have been doing the rounds for Dark Souls: Prepare To Die Edition, because they absolutely could have. But I digress for a moment because I personally think in the pantheon of PC ports, Dark Souls has actually ended up by default better than perhaps it could have been. I could wheel out some prime examples of PC Ports which were truly dire – Fable 3 springs immediately to mind here as the kind of port that should have been better but ended up repeating many of the same basic engine issues that plagued the 360 original. Rather than fix them, the game effectively ended up keeping them, which made it a truly shocking port. Moreso when you realise that it was one of Microsoft’s main Games For Windows Live sellers, and it did that pretty poorly from the off as well, creating a bug loop that made some missions impossible to finish.

But the one I want to focus on here as a comparison is Resident Evil 4.

I want to focus on Resident Evil 4 PC for a variety of reasons. The first was that we all knew very early on the PC port was going to be pretty bad and pretty sloppy. Capcom really have no good excuse not to do a decent PC port, because unlike FROM, they have studios dedicated to PC games. They have a lot of money, and Resident Evil 4 was one of their biggest and most prominent sellers, generating a wealth of communal loving that continues to this day. So when the PC port arrived with graphical glitches, low-end textures and no inherent mouse support, there was a bit of a muffled cry of anguish. How could Capcom do a crappy port of such a lovely game? The injustice was so thick you could practically swim in it. It was almost as if Capcom didn’t give a toss, and they really didn’t do much to fix it up either sadly.

The next reason is because of what followed in the intervening years. The community were despondent, but did not take it lying down. Unlike Dark Souls, with a community that has seen a degree of whinging that has been truly breathtaking, the Resident Evil 4 PC crowd soon set to work making the game they had paid for better in a variety of ways. They redid the textures, so that when cranked up to higher resolutions, it looked great (remember that Resident Evil 4 was not HD’d at this time, and even the 360/PS3 HD reworking was pretty dire). They added in new costumes and things to find and do. And they fixed the control issue – making controllers less volatile and adding in full mouse support, so the game played a lot like the superior Wii version. The results were spectacular – they had taken what was a shoddy PC port of a great console game and made it… a great PC game as well. It took time, but they did it, and throughout it all there was little blaming of Capcom for doing it badly in the first place – most just got on and did it, and enjoyed doing it, and others were thankful for them doing it.

It’s also notable to really distinguish here what constitutes a bad PC port. Resident Evil 4 WAS a bad PC port, because it was technically less accomplished than its console counterparts. It came with its own issues and bugs and glitches that weren’t in the console versions. And Resident Evil 4 PC also had no extra content to justify its existence. It was a dirty, quickly-done PC port that screamed more of trying to cash in than actually doing the right thing. There was simply no real excuse. Capcom had done PC games and even ports of their console games. They had experience. Even the earlier PC ports of Resident Evil games were technically superior to their console versions – Resident Evil 3 being a notable example. It was a very good port for the time. There were no complaints over it, because it was functional and the tweaks and changes were beneficial to it overall.

FROM Software had stated for months that they did not have experience with PC ports. They tried their best to lower expectations and generally tell the community that they were just trying to make it as good as the console versions, no more and no less. FROM did an admirable job of this – in some cases, they even exceeded themselves. Far from a generic port, the game engine – known to chug on the 360 and PS3 in areas such as Blighttown – was noticeably improved. The default resolutions – whilst upscaled – made the game much crisper. The lighting is better. The sound is better. For all FROM Software said, you’d have expected a pretty disastrous port, but instead we got… a pretty good port. Perhaps not specifically honed and refined for PC rigs, but compared to many ports we can mention, it was a much more competent performance than many of whom you’d expect better. Like RAGE. Or Fable 3. Or Saints Row 2.

Will Dark Souls get better? I’d wager yes. Unlike Capcom, who pooped out Resident Evil 4 and then mostly forgot they’d done it, FROM Software did this of their own accord because they were asked to. Namco-Bandai could have farmed the port out to another studio with more experience, but instead FROM Software did it themselves. Whatever you may think of that, this means rather than being “a port”, this is and has been a labour of love for them. The extra content is lovely, vibrant and on the PC, crisp and clean and smooth. Considering the realities, you have to doff your cap than a studio inexperienced with PC ports actually got away with making this one of the better technical examples of a PC port. That is, one that doesn’t come complete with a list as long as your arm of glitches and problems (the trainers, sadly, are a horrid reality of PC gaming and hopefully will be patched out to level the playing field).

FROM Software have the space and room to actually get better, it’s hard to tell from one port but undoubtedly I’d say there’s promise there if they were to grasp it with both hands. Capcom, unfortunately, in recent years has demonstrated that they may not really give a toss. The HD remakes of Code Veronica and RE4 on the 360/PS3 were not really true HD, their ports of the Chronicles games were okay but nothing spectacular and let’s not forget the furore over their DRM ambitions for the PC versions of Street Fighter 4.

Dark Souls PC is at least functional. Resident Evil 4 wasn’t. But both clearly have a passionate userbase, and as we saw with Resident Evil 4, there was enough talent in that userbase to take a bad port and turn it into a decent PC game. Dark Souls, at the very least, is a technically okay port. Now if there is as much talent in that pool as there was in the RE4 pool, think of what could be done with Dark Souls. It could and would be glorious.

Yes, I accept the argument that perhaps the community should not be fixing up shoddy ports. I really do, but this has been going on for a long time on the PC – we may love Oblivion and Skyrim, but it’s often the community mods and content that outshines the default content from Bethesda (not to mention outshining the pretty shocking Dawnguard DLC!). Maps made for the likes of Doom, Quake and Unreal Tournament are often much better than the defaults. Part of the beauty of the PC world is that there is always talent out there that can bridge the gaps, and often sustains games well beyond the reasonable time frame that an actual studio can dedicate (let’s be honest, FROM is a small studio. Sooner or later they will have to make another game and that will mean less time to maintain Dark Souls. Sad but true.). People do this because they want to do it. And if you don’t… why would you do it in the first place?

Eventually, the reaction will die down and I suspect people will eventually acknowledge that even if Dark Souls PC isn’t everything they ever wanted from a port – it could have been so much worse. And then we can watch as the community digs deep, starts tweaking the game and begins adding their own downloads to fix up the game to their own tastes. Perhaps like Resident Evil 4, someone will supercharge the textures. Perhaps others will add new equipment models, or start making the character creator a little more their tastes. Perhaps new classes and spells. These things ARE possible. Okay, admittedly we have an issue here of the game being a bit PvP heavy with random invasions and the like. But again, it would be foolish to deny the talent that is out there and probably will swarm to a game like Dark Souls, a game adored and adulated and renowned for its difficulty. You just don’t know, it’s been three days. It’s not like any of this is instant. People will want to play the new content first, see it, explore it, get a feel for it and then some who know what they are doing will think, “I think I’d rather change this…” – and they will.

The vocal portion of the PC Crowd may have this weekend made themselves look a right bunch of tits – but on the flipside, they will soon find a new target. If I’ve learned anything, these sorts of people look for the next thing to be outraged about and migrate accordingly. What will be left is a community that love the game for what it is and will seek to enhance it not because they feel the game should have been better – but because they want it to be better. And what they come up with will often reflect that love and respect they hold very dear to their hearts, and be what is remembered in the long term.

This weekend you’d think Dark Souls was the worst PC port ever. It’s far, far from that. And even the worst and most useless of PC ports have seen some miracles from the players who nurture them. Perhaps this should be what we focus on – rather than the horrid comments and nasty insults, remember that this isn’t the first time people have been disappointed and it won’t be the last time. Time heals the wounds, and some will just shrug and move on to a new fight, another game they feel deserves their wrathful tongue. Dark Souls has indeed had a turbulent first weekend, but if the sales are good and the hassle dies down, there is no reason to doubt that FROM will just shrug them off, call a spade a spade and sooner or later laugh off the pretty incredible comments that were leveled at them.

Dark Souls is still a bloody amazing game. Given time, I’m sure it’ll be more amazing. And all the fuss of this weekend will seem like a distant memory, as we enjoy and watch a great game blossom in the capable hands of its studio and/or its true fans. I’m sure there was a similar revolt at the release of Resident Evil 4 PC version. I just can’t remember it, because the fans ensured that games legacy would be they made it work where Capcom didn’t.

That’s a legacy to be proud of. Making the best of a bad situation. And it is one that so many of us could learn from.

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