With digital entertainment systems as powerful as they are today, we might think that creating port jobs of older interactive experiences would be easy. This is rarely the case, however, with many major efforts by big names falling by the wayside, making enormous and obvious mistakes that fans could point out immediately.
So, what are the examples of good and bad port jobs, why do issues occur, and what solutions could be adopted to make players happy?
The Good and the Bad
The best ports are those which mirror the feel of the original, with some standout examples turning back the clock to generations past. One such port that we constantly see gamers praise is the Mega Man Anniversary Collection for the PlayStation 2 and GameCube, which was released back in 2004. This collection included the first eight games in the Mega Man series, which were originally released from 1987 to 1996 on the NES, SNES, PS1, and Sega Saturn.
What made this collection great wasn’t just that it was faithful to what the original games offered, nor was it the value that players could get in one game disk. The standout feature for many was that these games had truly been rebuilt, leveraging the power of the PS2 to eliminate the slowdown that many of the titles experienced on their original platforms. In other words, these games didn’t just feel as good to play as the originals, they played better, and could accomplish what the originals intended.
For an example of a less fantastic port job, we need to look no further than Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic 2. This was released originally in 2004, with the poor-quality port hitting the Nintendo Switch in June of 2023. Despite being a hotly anticipated title, this port included a slightly concerning bug, where the game will always crash on a story cutscene, rendering KOTOR 2 completely unbeatable, as this article by Yahoo covers. While the team behind the port has promised a patch, the fact that this could happen at all raises some serious questions about modern gaming QA practices and the care they put into their releases.
Some of the best examples of how good ports are created can be found not in video games, but in the efforts of the online casino arena. This is a market where many games are shared over a huge number of casinos, which themselves compete by the likes of user experience, bonuses, deposit and withdrawal types, and more. Readers can visit Casinotopsonline.com to read more about the best online casinos on the market, but the general idea in terms of good ports comes from the complete redesign of online casino titles, which occurred following the death of Flash. Games developed in the Flash era had to be ported to the more modern HTML5 language, and in doing so they became much more future-proof, and this is a lesson that video games could learn.
Ports like online casino games are rare in the video game world, however. There is a good reason for this, in that most old video games are a lot more complicated than casino titles, so port jobs to newer and more flexible code bases can be an expensive investment. If a company is willing to expend this effort, then they tend to go a step further with a full-blown remake, as we saw with the Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy or the Spyro™ Reignited Trilogy. These might look a lot better than the originals, but they’re also different enough that classic fans can feel alienated enough to not care for the new ports.
Instead, the best port efforts for older games, both on console and PC, are often the result of fan love. On the simple end, this can come in the form of game wrappers or mods, which update older software to better work on modern platforms. As this blog by MODDB states, these ports often include upgrades like the option for better resolutions and framerates, which while helpful, still keep the spirit of the original, as we saw with the Deus Ex Community Update.
More pronounced full porting projects from fans have also been seeing massive public acclaim, with releases like the PC port of the PS2 Jak and Daxter game, according to this article by PushSquare. These accurately rebuild the games from the ground up and, like with casino titles, essentially give the titles a more evergreen type of playability.
Finally, the last major solution comes from proper emulation. This is the term given to programs that mirror old machines on new systems, in a complicated but potentially extremely accurate manner. Emulation has been adopted by major console manufacturers with systems like the SNES and PlayStation mini consoles, but these often fall short. Here, the developers often integrate the wrong version of games, and poorly tune settings to generate an experience that is again vastly inferior to those that fans have created for years.
Why Don’t Developers Try?
Ultimately, the answer is likely a matter of cost. While there are many diehard gamers out there who won’t be able to stand poor port jobs, the collective mass nostalgia of older fans means that developers will sell units no matter how much care they apply. This approach can ruin the long-term reputation of a developer, but since they tend to be more focused on end-of-year financials over longevity, this is still considered a win.
Like with any big business, the people working on the minutia often care a great deal, but those at the top tend to push for results without regard for the little things. To an inexperienced leader, for example, a game running at 25 FPS and a game running at 60 FPS might not appear any different. For enthusiasts, this could demonstrate a difference between a buy and a pass.
At the end of the day, it’s a matter of fans kicking up a fuss, and demanding that companies show respect to the properties and people that got them where they are. Rather than seeing older games as a quick means of cashing out, players need to push for classic titles to be considered the important cultural touchstones they really are. Though there’s no guarantee that the higher-ups will listen, the community’s effect is greater than ever, and might just make the difference between a faithful port, and an unplayable mess.