Porting A PC Game To Console Is Not Always As Easy As It Sounds

Illustration for article titled Porting A PC Game To Console Is Not Always As Easy As It Sounds

Or at least it wasn’t for Hawken, as the developers have shared in a surprisingly interesting timeline of how the mech shooter made the march from PC to Xbox One/PS4.

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Yeah, I know, Hawken, right? What was once a very promising mech shooter kinda sank out of the wider consciousness once it went free-to-play (and indeed had to be saved by Reloaded Games in 2015). Hearing its name come up this E3 (for the console ports) is the first time I’d heard about it in years!

Accompanying the port announcement was some background from the development team on how the console ports have actually come about, and it’s good reading since we rarely get to hear about some of the hurdles a game has to clear to go from one platform to the other.

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Here are some examples:

July 2015 – Initial code merge for PlayStation 4 port

This involved merging some 26,000 files. I’m sure you can imagine how mind-numbing that can be. Our tech director had done this a number of times before, so when he finished, the game was surprisingly close to running. Things generally compiled, but, as you can guess, it becomes a hugely painful process of addressing every compilation problem, adding more logging, iterating, and generally going into super-focus mode for hours and hours and days and days. If you don’t mind doing that, then, well game dev may be for you.

November 2015 – UI proves to be far more of a problem than anticipated.

The problem essentially boiled down to pretty old tech debt. The UI code had had to be structured to handle a lot more than ActionScript 2 was really well-suited to handle, so there were added layers of complexity that made work very slow for people unfamiliar with all the context behind where and why things were coded the way they were. Clean, well-engineered code, yes, but very complex.

December 2015 – Started a UI rebuild; winter illness

The idea behind this was that we could not get satisfactory console controller input. Shifting focus between all the elements on the existing UI was proving near impossible. So, we sort of had no choice but to try rebuilding a new UI framework using all the experience of past console port work and current best practices. This process was very time consuming, and I’m sure our publisher can emphasize how worrisome it all was ;)

See? Not as easy as snapping your fingers and making the game magically appear on consoles! That’s just a sample, too; the full breakdown talks about stuff like internal reviews from Microsoft and changes that had to be made to the way the game communicated with servers. You can check it out here.

Below is the port’s E3 2016 trailer:

Luke Plunkett is a Senior Editor based in Canberra, Australia. He has written a book on cosplay, designed a game about airplanes, and also runs cosplay.kotaku.com.

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DISCUSSION

Man I wish Hawken had been a better game. I tried it shortly after launch, and while it was kind of neat, it was just built so that it was hard to get to the fun stuff. The basic mech was dumb-looking and clunky, you got some trials of other mechs pretty quickly but they were limited time only. Generally speaking someone in a superior mech would smoke you every time in 1 v 1 on even terms unless they were terrible and getting better mechs and other pieces of equipment took a while. Add in that there were, I think, 5 maps and I lost interesting pretty quickly.