Fallout 3: Do Consoles Dumb Down?

It's a bit tempting to have a nuclear war, just to see if this stuff would happen.

I’m not quite sure what I think about the debate over “games are dumbed down for consoles”. I think games are made more accessible, certainly have their controls simplified, but I’m not convinced this means the game necessarily becomes more dumb. It seems that Bethesda agree, and while there’s always a sizeable baying crowd who will squeal, “Oblivion was rubbish because it was also on 360!/wasn’t identical to Morrowind!/I didn’t play it but I love having an opinion!” they have rather proven they can make a dumbed-up game for multiple formats.

Bethesda’s Emil Pagliarulo, project lead on FO3, certainly agrees, after the jump.

This is the man who wrote the Dark Brotherhood storyline for Oblivion, and designed the rooftop sequence in Thief 2. Officially liked. Talking to Edge yesterday, he explained,

“I think we’re starting to find that there is a market for [hardcore ‘PC RPGs’ on consoles]. People like myself and some people that work here actually grew up as hardcore PC guys, and now we’re older, we have kids, we don’t have that much time, so we’ve transitioned. We’re console players now. But we still have those PC game sensibilities. Those are the games we like. So I think BioShock has a little bit of that too. You can definitely feel the old System Shock roots in that game. So hopefully there’s a trend there.”

Parties are understandably subdued after 99% of the world's population have been killed.

In fact, Pagliarulo goes a bit further. His current concern is that Fallout 3 is too complicated for consoles.

“I look at Fallout when I play it every day, and I sometimes think that there’s a lot of old-school hardcore PC stuff in there too, and part of me thinks, ‘God, is this too inaccessible for console players?'”

I wonder if this thought is any longer valid. Perhaps there was a time when the console player could be characterised as the grunting buffoon, wanting only to deck out his simulated Mazda with blue LEDs… wait, no, that’s not true at all! This sub-section of console gamers seems to drag the rest down with them. Sure, without the million buttons of a mouse and keyboard a lot of options aren’t open to you, but have console games ever been inherently stupid? I’d say not.

What I suspect he means is, “Is this too inaccessible for the less hardcore players, thus decreasing our potential market?” Which is fair enough, but not quite the same.

So for goodness sake, settle this one. Is there really a giant divide between the PC gamer and the console owner? Are console games necessarily dumbed down? Meanwhile, you can read the rest of the interview with Pagliarulo here, where he discusses my favourite subject: narrative in games.


  1. Ian says:

    What I’d say is that greater complexity in control systems is handled better with keyboard and mouse. If you don’t like hotkeys so much it’s still much quicker to drag your cursor with a mouse than with an analogue stick so I think to an extent consoles make playing very complex games more difficult. It’s not necessarily a reflection on the gamers themselves.

  2. Kevin Lee says:

    Screw console gamers, Fallout is a PC franchise. They should feel lucky that Bethesda has no excuse not to make it for consoles as well.

    Seriously though, Even the most complex pc games can be made to work on consoles… My boss has even come up with a way to do so for Eve Online… You just have to be really smart with the UI.

  3. Nick says:

    I think a lot of the anti-Oblivion crowd have perfectly well reasoned and justified gripes. Morrowind was on a console and wasn’t dumbed down, which would prove a much better point about that. Like the perception that things need to be made more accessable when they clearly don’t.

  4. John P (Katsumoto) says:

    Trouble is, I read another interview with Hines in some random Playstation magazine I picked up whilst waiting for a train, and the first question they asked was basically “Fallout is an old school PC series for nerdy twats who sit at desks – the ultimate horror! Are you going to put a load more action in this to make it good?” And he was like “This is something we think about”. Shrewd response! What I hope he meant was “go away”.

    Ahem, anyway, I don’t know about “dumbed down”, but the fact is there are a lot fewer buttons on a gamepad than on a keyboard and this has to take its toll somewhere. Also, PC gamers will get a bad impression of console games when the port has been done shoddily and the interface hasn’t been redesigned for a mouse. Using an interface designed for a pad with a mouse gives off a very “toy game” feel, which isn’t really fair.

  5. Larington says:

    The problem has always in my opinion been about controller interface issues between the different platforms. Games only ***seem*** dumbed down because the developers were forced to compromise on control mechanisms and damaged the gameplay during the process. Really, I think its a matter of not enough care being taken over keeping the core gameplay correct during the transition between platforms (This is probably often due to having to rush to completion)…

  6. Pavel says:

    Well, Bioshock is incredibly dumbed down versus System Shock 2, actually.So is Thief 3 or Deus Ex 2 versus Thief 2 and Deus Ex 1.So is Oblivion vs Morrowind, and so will be Fallout 3 vs Fallout 2.
    But on the other hand, other games, for example Hitman series, was made for consoles as well, and PC versions did not suffer in the least..or at least it wasn’t so visible.

  7. John P (Katsumoto) says:

    I never got why Thief 3 was supposedly “dumbed down”. I didn’t see a single area where it compromised compared to its predecessors. The best game in the series easily for me, and certainly felt very much like a “PC” game, imo.

  8. Howard says:

    Well, speaking as a hardcore PC gamer who ALSO owns (at last count) 11 consoles, I can honestly say that CROSSOVER games ARE dumbed down for console. There are simply some styles of gaming, most notably FPSs, that just suck on console. Sure there is the odd good example (I’m looking at you, Black) but for the most part these are games that CLEARLY would have benefited from being on the PC platform and from the control mechanisms that it offers.

    Halo is the shining (though in no way solitary) example of this. The AI in that game had to be made quite literally DUMB in order for it to be playable with a joypad. As an analogue stick is so bad at accurate aiming they had to increase the “think” time of all AI so that it didn’t just WTFBBQINSTAPWN you. This coupled with a drastic thinning of the plot (‘cos console gamers are, apparently, all illiterate), normally a decrease in scale and size and a catagoric reduction in the depth available and you can see why consoles get a bad name.

    There are other things that devs do in crossover games that I simply find baffling. Take the lastest Turrok as an example. Actually not a bad FPS on the whole. Sure it is derrivative, linear and filled to the brim with cliche, but I’ve played worse. On PC however it becomes a different story. The view port gets locked down to 60 degrees (PC normal is 90) so you feel like you are blinkered, the refresh/FPS gets limited to 60htz so our shiny, 100/120 htz monitors have a fit and the controls are filled with treacle so that you still feel like you are using a joypad.

    If devs would just for once get their shit together and NOT fuck up the really obvious, basic, fundamental details of a game when they “port” (read: drop from a great height) their software, console games would stop getting such a bad rep with us PC gamers.

  9. Butler` says:

    This is a tough one. There’s two sides to the same coin: the accessibility and player interactions, and the actual depth and scope of the game itself.

    All in all, though, I liked Oblivion (PC), so I’d have to say no.

  10. Butler` says:

    There again, perhaps it lies within the specific genre. After all, the console version of UT3 (by everyones favorites developer) is slowed down by X%.

    Can you call that ‘dumbed down’ – or just brought in line with the limitations of the input method?

  11. Will Tomas says:

    The problem to a point is that pre-Playstation consoles were aiming at rather a different market to PCs altogether. The popularisation of consoles you got with the Playstation, and the mass market who bought it did lead to some dumbing down when games were transferred across, purely on the basis that the new market was, despite being broader, young males. Although in the new market they didn’t see themselves as geeky. Which led to dumbing down.

    For the present I think the dumbing down argument doesn’t hold too much. Particularly since the PC isn’t seeing any exclusives as far as FPS/RPG games go at the present, and everything has to be multiplatform. It goes both ways – yes, they have been “streamlined” but compared to console games of yore they’re far more complex entities.

  12. MisterBritish says:

    Is this reader-baiting week or something?

    Sometimes the ‘dumb-down’ is just a streamlining of a concept and can help get rid of silly entrenched ideas. Going back to the combat changes from morrowind to oblivion, the ‘dumb-down’ removed the ‘to-hit’ roll when you attacked someone; in my view a good thing; it made combat more responsive and rewarding while still taking on board your character stats. So consolitis produced (again, my veiw) a superior system.

  13. Jim Rossignol says:

    “Is this reader-baiting week or something?”

    Now there’s an idea… It’s got to be better than Space Week.

  14. Pavel says:

    John P (Katsumoto) : Look at the scope of locations in T3 and T2.Look at the loading times every 20 meters.Look at climbing gloves vs rope arrows..etc etc.

  15. Malagate says:

    “Dumbing down” between PC and console ports is almost entirely due to restrictions between the two platforms and how much effort the developers are able to put into it. For instance many games that were originally on a console that were ported to a PC don’t have a quick save/quick load function, instead you have to use save points like a console can be restricted to. Similarly PC to console ports suffer from sluggish controls that need compensatory additions like slight auto aim to give a console game a chance. The best results are when a console and PC version are developed simultaneously, like Oblivion, where admittedly some console restrictions leaked into the PC version (like huge inventory screens) but still retained lots of PC functionality and of course could be modded.

    I would certainly take a PC version over a console version though, even if it’s a bit of hassle to install sometimes and maintain upgrades, as I’ve yet to see any kind of modifications freely available for a console game.

    Oh and John P (Katsumoto), I think the reason some people consider Thief 3 “dumbed down” compared to Thief 2 is that some things were made more accessible than in the previous game, for instance the way loot shines in 3 to point out where the valuables are. I personally thought it was better, as sure it makes it really obvious to see where the loot is, but it also saves time and annoyance from having to try picking up all the identical plates and cups just to see which ones are loot and which are junk. However I’ve yet to finish Thief 3, got it over steam but it seems to like crashing after every second load screen in game, as such I cannot enter the clocktower without it crashing to desktop.

  16. AndrewC says:

    There’s a tremendous sense of ownership when you learn how to control a PC game that has a million sodding buttons. Vertical learning curves, when you conquer them, creates an extremely protective mindset towards that game. Partly this is the indoctrination of being punished and punished until you ‘become’ the game, internalise the controls, and get muscle memory of the keys.

    PC gamers, used to this idea of there being almost no middle ground between being utterly lost and being a complete expert, start to associate this surface complexity with genuine depth. Ungainly PC UI’s are as much a symptom of the natural human instinct to spread out over the space you have. PC’s have loads of keys, so they end up getting used, whether the same options could be handled with less or not.

    So yes, I’m suspicious of cries of dumbing down, as elitism-borne-out-of-a-need-for-identity and the beaten dog’s loyalty are very human traits. but then i’m very much on the side of simple interfaces that reveal depth and subtlety over time, so i too am biased; in my case against the micromanagers.

  17. arqueturus says:

    In general I thought that Bioshock was all the better for ‘dumbing down’ that console co-development brought it. The controls and presentation was incredibly slick and accessable.

    I’ll concede that an Inventory screen might have been handy but that was about it. The meat and gravy of the game mechanics (plasmid and weapon selection/use) became second nature after the first 10 minutes of play.

    So, more of that please. Accessable and slick not ‘dumbing down’

  18. Taxman says:

    Yeah I don’t buy the dumbing down argument either, I’ve played my fair share of PC/console games over the years and Japanese strategy games can be extremely hardcore and complex (check out the Operation darkness demo on Xbox 360 for an old school turn based combat ala X-Com).

    It all depends on what your interested in I guess, for one I don’t like the Devil May Cry games because I find them too complex with the myriad of combat moves you have to perform, same goes for God of War along the same lines and I’m sure there are certain elitists who would brand those games as simple or dumbed down because of the genre they occupy.

  19. tacticus says:

    Oblivion deserved many of it’s complaints due to the absolutly frakking horrible ui that was foisted on PC players so that those who choose to cripple themselves with a controller could play it.

  20. DosFreak says:

    “I never got why Thief 3 was supposedly “dumbed down”. I didn’t see a single area where it compromised compared to its predecessors. The best game in the series easily for me, and certainly felt very much like a “PC” game, imo.”

    Greater system requires,
    Lower resolution textures
    Smaller levels
    Having to enter a portal to enter a new map
    Loading screens

    Can’t remember all of the issues since I only played Thief 3 once.

  21. Janek says:

    Taxman: I think the thing is with those games you mention, is that they were designed on a specific console first, and then ported elsewhere. I don’t think anyone’s making the argument that “consoles = dumb” but what is worth considering is games which were always designed to be cross-platform.

    It’s a matter of targetting a niche, really. Hardcore Japanese strategy, po-faced flight sims, whatever. The moment you decide to maximise profits by spreading it over several formats, you’re walking a tightrope – either the experience is spoiled on platform X due to its limitations, or you make too many compromises and end up with something fairly mediocre – a Jack of all trades, if you like.

    For the former you end up with, effectively, shoddy ports. The latter, you get people moaning about “dumbing down.”

    Bioshock is (IMO) a good example of a game walking that tightrope rather well, regardless of what you think of other design issues in there.

  22. John P (Katsumoto) says:

    Greater system requirements because it came out 4 years later or something! Had a much more advanced engine. Lower resolution than what? Surely not than Thief 2. The levels, from what I recall, had one loading portal at most, I really didn’t get the fuss about them. As for “gloves rather than rope” – so what? It’s just a stylistic change, has nothing to do with dumbing down.

    Whereas, the “city hub” was something that neither previous game had, and was utterly brilliant. Thief 3 wins for me over 1+2 because it makes you feel more like a THIEF. Far fewer stupid monster levels, far more breaking into rich people’s houses, and you could do this in between levels too. I felt like a thief, not a monster-slaying rogue hero.

  23. SwiftRanger says:

    “Oblivion was rubbish because it was also on 360!”

    Poor levelscaling, poor visual variation, poor dialogues, etc., theoretically these aspects are all not platform exclusive and I don’t really believe that Bethesda executed those things in such a way to “please” the console crowd. I think even console gamers realised the game became “rubbish”, useless would be a better word, after a while (due to the aforementioned reasons). In other words, a PC exclusive Oblivion probably would have had the same mistakes.

    One thing you do have to say is that the interface should have been a LOT better on PC. That’s one of those points even Bioware “forgot” in KotOR’s PC port (awful inventory management, game just wasn’t as good as BGII but that’s for plenty, plenty of other reasons as well). Oblivion’s HUD is proof that some companies don’t take the effort to tailor a console experience to a PC experience. Of course, the modding abilities saved the interface aspect a bit but it shows that Bethesda were too lazy, disrespectful of the PC audience even.

    Seeing those Fallout 3 shots of that armband PipBoy and the character screen it looks like it’s going to be same story again… big and bulky to show it clear enough on a HD tv but for people sitting behind a desk it’s not gonna cut it.

    EDIT: in all honesty, I don’t even think a proper isometric, turnbased RPG would be a hassle for console gamers. But of course, Bethesda doesn’t want you to believe that.

  24. Albides says:

    Hrm. People seem to be discussing user interfaces and control schemes, while my experience with dumbing down has more to do with either the accessibility of the fiction itself or the complexity of the game mechanics. This was evident in the transition from Morrowind to Oblivion, where spears disappeared, axes fell under the blunt weapons skill, and the rich fiction of the game was jettisoned in favour of wider appeal. Then there were the stupid quests. Though Pagliarulo’s were really quite good, some of the others, like the Mages Guild subplot, were just awful.

    I’m aware both titles were also available on the console, but many see that progression as a consequence of continuing to attempt to appeal to the console market.

    It’s as if console games can only be the arcade games on your television while PC games should ideally be thick, meaty and have lots of stats or complicated controls. I don’t think it’s a reflection of gamers from console or PC backgrounds, but a reflection of what certain developers think will sell, rightly or wrongly. See, for example, some of the reactions to this prototype trailer.

    I’m all for accessible controls and user interfaces, though, and otherwise liked some of Oblivion’s refinements, like the combat and the journeyman-apprentice-master skill bonuses. But the shallow nature of the game meant I spent far longer in Morrowind than in Oblivion.

  25. Bozzley says:

    Piracy is amazing and yet also sucks!

    Erm, sorry :D

  26. araczynski says:

    like was said above, my main gripe with the system is the controls, less buttons = less options, and unequivocally, less precision.

    losing options/precisions and touting being ‘next gen’ is just gay, m’kay?

    i have all 4 options (the 3 consoles and the pc), and i will always pick a pc version of a game over any console’s. First and foremost for the superior controls, and secondly, for the superior graphics/resolutions.

  27. MeestaNob! says:

    I guess BioShock is the big example of recent times. Compare it to its forebears such as System Shock:
    *smaller levels with no scope for backtracking.
    *no inventory for an ‘RPG’ game?
    *bleeding obvious paper rock scissors gameplay (shoot big daddy with armour piercing round, meat bags with anything else).
    *inane ‘puzzles’.
    *weak mini games masquerading as ‘hacking’.
    *the illusion of choice with no choice at all. I’m not talking no choice as was the point of the storyline, but no gameplay choices (I don’t WANT to take control of the city with the DNA key, I didn’t WANT to kill a little sister that one time but cause I did – even if only ONCE through life and death necessity – I get the ‘evil’ ending).

    It just goes on, but it only cuts deep cause the ending is SO bloody awful.

  28. eyemessiah says:

    And I was just debating getting a WII with my flat-mates last night.

    My concern was that I would be contributing several £100s and end up with 3 games I would play for an hour or two every few months.

    I agree with Albides, I don’t think the problem is that control schemes on console games aren’t sophisticated enough. The problem is that I think of console games as glib, generic, crass, unintelligent and unsophisticated. I worry that even something as mighty as a Zelda game will have me doing repetitive, boring stuff with little or no plot justification. I imagine that this is just the standard quality that undiscerning console gamers are used to.

    Of course the vast majority of PC games are total drivel, but the top 2% – where awesome presentation, innovation, intelligence, maturity and deep complex gameplay mingle – have always seemed well ahead of the curve compared to AAA console games.

    My experience of trying to get into high profile console titles is nearly always the same as when I tried to get into Halo. The levels seemed small and endlessly repetitive. The writing was appalling. There was very little to learn. It just seemed like if it had been a PC exclusive it would have been B list rather than A.

    So yes, I do worry that even a top 2% console game is going to be more glib, crass, and unsophisticated than a top 2% PC title.

    I would love to be proved wrong!

  29. Ginger Yellow says:

    There’s definitely a danger of dumbing down for consoles, but it needn’t be that way. What I like about console updates of PC franchises (or console led versions of games that would traditionally have been on PC) is that they push developers to change the format. In the same way that console MMOs promise to open up a whole new world of non-grind MMOs, console influences are starting to liven up other genres, KOTOR being a classic example. While I’m very skeptical of RTS games on consoles, the limitations of console controls are forcing developers to look afresh at the fundamentals of strategy games. Sure, a lot of the initial games will be rubbish or just flawed, but in the process the range of possibilities, even on the PC, is being expanded.

  30. Jochen Scheisse says:

    Console games are generally simpler and more arcadey than PC games. There are no flight simulators that originate on consoles, almost no sim games, manager games or RPGs with actual depth. There are exceptions, but the trend is just so bleeding obvious that I won’t waste my time with examples. Heh. Anyways, the trend for PC games goes into that direction for years now. Also some exceptions here, nevermind. But all in all, there are no big budget flight sims, the number of simulation games has drastically decreased, RPG companies continue to produce shallow beautiful hack and slays for the reflex impaired or go out of business. Why do I call this the console trend? Because console games have always been like this.

  31. Mr Pink says:

    Let’s not forget that some games can benefit from the control simplification that cross platform development results in. The Hitman series certainly benefitted in opinion, for example.

    In my opinion, the two biggest areas which usually receive compromise are:
    1. Interface- It’s one thing to lazily remap the controls from Xbox to PC, it’s entirely another to ignore the superior screen resolution available (a la Oblivion Inventory) and not bother to include mouse support.
    2. Level size- Consoles have less RAM. Therefore, levels simply have to be smaller. This doesn’t seriously impact all games, but in something like Deus Ex, the sprawling levels were a huge part of what made the game great.

  32. Cooper says:

    I somewhat standby the BioShock argument, if only because I actually enjoyed how inaccessible SS2 was. It was fiddly, stubborn and difficult and was sometimes an unforgiving challenge. Not necessarily the hallmarks of a commercially successful game.

    Unfortunately, making a game more accessible (a good thing) can occasionally equate to making it less challenging (not a good thing) and reducing gameplay options (not a bad thing, per se, but usually so). I think BioShock fell into this trap. Serious Sam 2 did as well. In similarities, they both felt like an FPS-for-console rather than an FPS-for-pc, which can be very different beasts, partly because of the different skill sets for the control schemes. But also, not that the players are necessarily different, but because, at a guess, publishers abide by the console stereotypes of instant gratification and short attention?

  33. Sören Höglund says:

    I fucking hate this discussion to the point where spotting the words “dumbing down” leads to a red mist descending over my eyes and I have to go outside and take a couple of deep breaths in order to calm down.

    That said, the whole thing has its roots in the control methods and GUI limitations. A gamepad’s simply not nearly as precise as a mouse, so games have to be designed to take this into account when it comes to targeting, vertical movement, UI navigation etc. Because of the resolution limitations of televisions, and the fact you don’t have your nose glued to the screen makes it impossible to present the same density of information on a console as on a PC.

  34. Joe Law says:

    I can remember the whole wave of ‘dumbing down’ accusations when KOTOR and Invisible War came out. Some of those accusations were justified, some weren’t. Some really get on my wick though. While the UIs for I.W and (later on) Oblivion are perhaps dumbed down a bit too much, I seem to remember Morrowind and Deus Ex were, for all their versitility, extremely fucking clunky. Controls, whilst simplified, no longer required hotkeys that dislocated the fingers of my left hand. Gameplay has been dumbed down a hell of a lot, but that seems to be commonplace in an industry that now focuses more on graphical flash than depth of experience, rather than merely simplifying gameplay for ‘them dunces that own consoles’.

    (Apropos of nothing, it always seemed odd that Bethesda and previewing journos sexed up talk of Oblivion’s Radient AI when Ultima VII did it better some fifteen years previously (and had an awesome UI)).

  35. Turin Turambar says:

    I don’t have to theorize: I have friends in RL, some of the console players, some of them pc players.

    Believe me, the most casual and mainstream group is the first one. It’s not exactly consoles fault, it’s more that console players represent more accurately the average person.

  36. Kieron Gillen says:

    Soren: Ditto. Mentioning Dumbing Down instantly dumbs down any argument.


  37. gromit says:

    So, when can we expect an article from RPS about this? With real life examples, industry heads (with the marketing filtered), etc.? Be it the “dumbing down” or the control scheme, there are clear differences that affect PC players. Specially when cross platform games are involved and less PC-only titles are getting made.

  38. Turin Turambar says:

    Also, his thought is now more valid than ever. With the introduction of a more mainstream public in the consoles and with the reduction of pc players to the real hardcore, now the distinction is stronger.

  39. Moorkh says:

    “He who gazes too long into the TV screen fighting with a dumbed-down input device in dumbed-down games and watching dumbed-down TV shows might take care lest he becomes dumbed-down himself.”

    If you have decided to switch from playing on a PC to playing on a console, you conciously chose the easier, more comfortable option. But there is a cost. The loss of an open system and a precise and versatile input device forces you to take what you get. Distancing yourself from the screen onto a couch distances you from the game as well, making you become more of a consumer and less of a participant.

    Game designers should be doubly aware of this. PC designers are bound to suck more at designing for consoles than for PCs and vice versa. What they lose will never make up for what they gain, design-wise.

    Kids growing up on consoles, on the other hand, have never known the depth and complexity of a previous generation of PC games. Sure, one day, they will reach a similar level of sophistication, but until then progress in this medium is thrown back a dozen years.

    This, however, is not the real problem. Oblivion would have been a better game for its audience if it would have been designed exclusively for consoles, or, even better, for a single console, as would any multi platform title. Designing for the least common denominator is the curse of commercial game design even on a single platform, and this grows exponentially worse with every additional one. Reconciling the different audiences may be the goal of many in the industry, but this will only be possible if both sacrifice something of their own respective cultural achievements. In other words: dumbed down.

  40. dhex says:

    “dumbing down” is a weird way to put it because it does suppose that complexity correlates with some sense of intelligence. WOW strikes me as fairly complex (as someone who has never played it, so i may be wrong in that) but it’s obviously played by the smart, the dumb and the average, and everyone in between.

    that said, cross development often – but not always – means bad things for the pc port. but this is the future we have to live with. crysis may have been the last big shooter to be pc only; it may not have suffered had it been developed for multiple platforms, but i can’t think of any way that it would actually improve the pc experience either.

  41. Kieron Gillen says:

    My basic position: It’s always about gains and losses. These sort of arguments tend to lean heavily on the losses, taking the gains as a given. Except the only way to make a game that has the budget to create those games is to sell across multiple formats. It’s a direct trade off.


  42. spd from Russia says:

    “giant divide between the PC gamer and the console owner” – definately not anymore. All the major titles are multiplatform. Even the shooters got pretty good on consoles (but I still much more prefer mouse for the aiming,) The only genre I dont see coming to consoles is RTS, in its current state atleast.
    There is a big hardcore console-gamer audience ofcourse, hence you dont have to make your game dumbed down.
    Making an easy user-friendly ui and controlls is alwasy hard, but its a must, for any game hardcore or not. Nothing good if it causes you pain or makes you refer to the manual many times, istead of being intuitive. On the other hand ‘1-button for everything’ is a bad example or no-brainer design

    In the end i belive today games have to be accesable and easy to get into. Avoid confusion and frustration. Buts still have enough depth and options.

  43. Nesneros says:

    I have the feeling that consoles basic hardware performance is either fundamentally more limited than PCs, or that programming tools or programmers haven’t caught up with optimizing their architecture yet. I remember the early videos of Beth’s Radiant AI for Oblivion, and what shipped in the final product was much, much less “Intelligent” (or More Dumb, take your pick) then what they showed. I had the feeling that dumbing down the Radiant AI was a decision made to acomodate the 360’s performance limitations.

  44. spd from Russia says:

    dhex that said, cross development often – but not always – means bad things for the pc port.
    actually the current gen PC ports are much better than those of the ps2 era. and often come out faster. Partly thnx to the cross-platform engines, like UT3, partly due to the xbox being more similar to the PC and having good dev tools.

  45. mittel says:

    There’s only one way to settle this:

    RPS vs PS3fanboy.com Brain Training throwdown!

    Seriously though, stereotyping console vs PC players is something people should avoid – who here doesn’t have at least one console or handheld? Anyone who cares about games enough to hang around on a gaming blog ought to at least have a DS or a PS2…

  46. Stick says:

    Seeing as how “dumbed down” apparently means…

    * Removal of time-honoured exploits (FPS, TF2 being the prime example)
    * Less arbitrary complexity (DeusEx2, BioShock, 3e D&D)
    * Inability to slaughter bystanders at a whim (later Bioware games)
    * Non-turn-based, non-isometric (everything)

    … I find the phrase less than useful.

    For me, Oblivion’s main fault was resembling Morrowind too much.
    Invisible War? Yeah, claustrophobia.
    BioShock? Oh no, my weapons don’t break every twelve seconds.
    TF2? Gee, your arcane mousewankery no longer lets you bypass game balance? How unfair.


    I’m apparently full of unvented rantings. Sorry about that. Highly inaccurate blanket buzzphrases get on my nerves.

    Can we discuss “nerf” next?

  47. Chaz says:

    If a game gets “dumbed down” then generally I think it’s done more to appeal to a broader audience to maximise sales, regardless of the platform. I guess when a company spends 10’s of millions of £’s on a game’s developement, then they’ll want to cast the net as wide as possible for a target audience. And really who can blame them?

    As a PC and a console gamer I would love to see more PC games make it to the consoles, how about Trackmania and the Witcher for a start. Indeed some are making the cross over such as the upcoming Arma2, which is being developed for the 360 as well as PC, and it’s been promised that it won’t be dumbed down. Infact a slick console interface would be a blessing for a game like Arma, who’s old OpFlash interface is just bloody dreadful.

  48. Kadayi says:

    I wouldn’t hold that development for a console necessarily results in a dumping down with respect to the audience. I’d say problems occur with the fact that as a developer you have to take account of hardware limitations which often causes technical problems. Microsofts moronic decision to sell a budget 360 devoid of a HD being a classic example. By doing that they effectively hamstrung developers who want to maximise sales across the market place to build for the weakest model.

    I don’t think consoles are all bad though. That the designers have much greater constraints on them because they have to design for controllers rather than mouse and keyboard tends to focus game GUIs more often than not, and often with a degree of imagination. It’s all too easy if your a PC developer to just assign a command to ‘yet another key’ and bloat out your interface completely. The more you can keep the interface in the game space the better I say (GTA IV being a notable example).

    Depth to a game is never a bad thing, but as a developer the thing you probably least want to hear is how few people actually completed your game. Certainly there is always a market for 80 hour RPGs (The Witcher rocked), but that’s not something that most people have the time for. Albeit I’m what people would class as a serious gamer, I probably manage to pack in between 18 – 25 hours a week of game time max, given other commitments (like earning the money to buy the games). Which means something like Mass Effect is probably going to occupy me for 2 weeks, maybe 4 if I decide later on to replay it, which sounds about right in terms of how much time I want to put into it before moving onto the next big thing. Ultimately time is as much about quality as well. CoD4 took me a couple of nights to complete, but it was an awesome ride and well worth the money. If they’d stretched it out to 16 hours I wouldn’t of complained, but if it wasn’t as tight as the 7 hour version it probably wouldn’t of been that much fun.

  49. Grant Gould says:

    I’m a PC gamer who’s in the process of switching over to console for most of my gaming, so this issue has been on my mind a lot.

    First of all, half of the reason I’m switching over is that I tired of the PC upgrade treadmill. The latest games requiring the latest graphics card and so forth simply became too tiring; the console notion of a reference platform to which games are implemented is simply better for the customer.

    That said, the performance compromises show. The Thief 3 / DXIW thing is perhaps the most blatant (The next developer to require a loading screen in the midst of an otherwise open level should be shot). The simplified controls seem to me to be if anything an improvement — games designed for smaller control sets are forced to be more elegant and accessible. The lack of mouse control hurts for twitch shooters, but the trend has been toward less twitchy shooters for some time now. All of this, in this era of simultaneous development, leads to some improvement on either side.

    The downside is that there has been much less room for certain older styles of game on the consoles. Turn-based games (which I love) rely so heavily on the keyboard-and-mouse world that there’s not much hope there at the moment.

    Some clever souls should get together with Steam and build a PC gaming “console” — a reference platform for Steam-distributed keyboard-and-mouse games, along with some nice UI standardization layers, to keep the PC style afloat even as the old model of PC gaming falters. Being a PC gamer simply can’t mean having to know video card specs in the future, or else the PC gamer market isn’t going to last long enough to have a future. Indeed, I’ll go further: figuring out how to work within the console paradigm is the only thing that can prevent more “dumbing down.”

  50. Muzman says:

    To the question ; is consolisation necessarily ‘dumbing down’ games, I’d say no, not necessarily. I think grabs for cash and the Flow Theory zeitgeist are as much to blame. I think the main problem, outside of design trends, is that making games teach people to play them is something game designers generally aren’t very good at yet, so at the moment it just means cutting stuff out or simplifying things and thus the DD moniker. If they get a handle on this then complex games that are broadly appealing shouldn’t be a problem, but it’s an art in itself. Bioshock did pretty well, all things considered, but it didn’t reach the giddy heights of complexity its forebears had, but I think they probably could have gotten players there had they the time and inclination.
    The other side is that the games world is a richer place because of games that are maddeningly obscure and basically do everything “wrong” according to ‘notfun’ theory; like say The Hacker or Pathologic. So we’ll never reach some sunny upland of every game being playable by everyone because what a game puts you through is so much a part of it. I doubt it System Shock 2 would be anywhere near as memorable if I didn’t start out feeling like I was hopelessly alone and doomed. I don’t think you can separate that feeling from its relative ‘inaccessability’. I’d be interested in other views on that.

    John P (Katsumoto) says:
    The levels, from what I recall, had one loading portal at most, I really didn’t get the fuss about them. As for “gloves rather than rope” – so what? It’s just a stylistic change, has nothing to do with dumbing down.
    Whereas, the “city hub” was something that neither previous game had, and was utterly brilliant. Thief 3 wins for me over 1 2 because it makes you feel more like a THIEF. Far fewer stupid monster levels, far more breaking into rich people’s houses, and you could do this in between levels too.

    Thief 2 didn’t really have many monster levels at all. I think the same amount as 3. If you really didn’t notice how much less complicated and how much smaller the architecture was compared to the previous two I don’t think you paid that much attention to them. It makes a stunningly profound difference to the game and their collossal game areas are pretty essential to what made them what they are and vital to the emergent flow of the gameplay. Wandering around an actual fully featured, contiguous, mansion sized mansion is paramount for feeling like a thief. The third game settled for implied space more like traditional FPS games.
    However this isn’t necessarily dumbing down, some are engine restrictions (climbing gloves aren’t a stylistic change but a concession to the fact that the engine didn’t like rope and the size of the maps made rope arrows pretty pointless). But given levels in Thief DS like the Museum, even with the split in the map it’s clear they could have made them generally larger and more complex. So I’m calling simplification for accesibility reasons (false and harmful ones), which I think is dumbing down. The most telling concession of the lot is the inclusion of third person.

    The Thief series is an exemplar of another sort of simplification, the reduction of ‘distracting’ content. The first game is rich with incidental detail about the lives you are intruding on and the background in the city, while giving some clue to reaching your goals. Provided you read between the lines you can build a wonderfully suggestive picture from a shopping list and some off the cuff remark two levels apart. The assemblage of scraps of information, I’ve oft argued, is totally vital to the game yet I’m sure amuses focus testers not a jot. Thief 2 has a lot less of this stuff, preferring to sequester off pertinent info from non pertinent optional background and ‘easter egg’-ish documents containing funny little stories. Thief: DS has has practically no non gameplay pertinent information at all (ironicly, if I hadn’t played the first two, I’d probably think the setting was very shallow with a couple of interesting ideas.) I’m as sure as I can be that this is because the amount of information in the first game is commonly held to be confusing in the biz and a barrier to entry. Just as Bioshock (purportedly taking place in a city) has far fewer characters than System Shock 2, and the same people’s logs turn up all over the city; it’s simpler and easier to follow. I’ve got no problem with the characters in Bioshock; the writing was very good (I got that tingle of common character archetypes being useless to me that I get from few pieces of fiction besides The Wire. Serious moral murk, I’m talking about. Great stuff), but Rapture is a shallow (har har) and small place with no resonance.
    This is a terrible trend and I hope it’s over and done with. It’s the kind of thing that is why people say games are a minor and stunted art. I suppose, theoretically, it’s possible to have a complex world rich in information and still make it accessible, but I have my doubts the prevailing wisdom allows for it. It’ll be cool to see how Fallout does.