Alright, students, let me pitch a hypothetical at you. You're in charge of developing the PC port of a console game, and you've done all the hard coding work and are now deciding how to package it all up. Menus, launchers, maybe some Steam Achievements, things like that. You've heard it repeated in the faux-upbeat business webinars you've been forced to attend that First Impressions Are Important, so you're concentrating on just what the end consumer will see when they click 'Play' in their Steam library for the very first time. Now, do you:
A - Auto-detect the player's monitor resolution and start the game in a borderless window. Make all your Nvidia, RAD Game Tools, Speedtree, blah blah blah logos skippable, so the player can hammer Escape to power through them and get to the Options menu more quickly. Let them choose their graphical settings and turn subtitles on or off before starting the game.
B - Default to 800x600, which no monitor has used in actual decades, but stretch it so it fills up the whole screen anyway. Make publisher logos unskippable, and have them transition directly into the game's opening cutscene. This cutscene is, of course, available nowhere else, and is totally unwatchable because you haven't let the player turn on V-Sync, fix the resolution, turn on subtitles or change volume levels to lower 'SFX' until dialogue is actually understandable. Ensure the game crashes if the player ever tries to Alt-Tab, and ultra-bonus points if you put the Graphical Options menu in an external launcher so the player has to start up the game seven times (watching all opening splash logos every time, of course) to get their settings dialled in just right.
It's an interesting question, to be sure. Personally, I have a theory on the correct answer, but my choice is picked so infrequently that I have to imagine there's something drastically wrong with it. What intrigues me more is how many developers come up with their own unique Option Cs. Take the developers of Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands, for example. Lemme give you a quick run down of what happened when I clicked 'Play' on this occasion:
1 - Installing DirectX whatevs: Step 1 of 376, of course
2 - Installing Uplay (no 'do you wish to install Uplay?', of course)
3 - Updating Uplay
4 - Updating Uplay(but in a different coloured window now)
I'll skip a few steps here, because this Uplay updating goes on for a while. Multiple seemingly identical messages ensue, making me think that the game comes with some outdated version of the Uplay client that needs to be patched, but every patch just daisy-chains into the next patch instead of just looking online for the most recent one.
9 - Installing Uplay
10 - Please log-in to Uplay. Nope, your log-in ID is your e-mail address. Nope, wrong password (oh right, you made me change it when YOU GOT HACKED LIKE A WEEK AGO)
11 - Updating Uplay some more (seriously?)
Skip some more...
15 - OK, so the Uplay client I didn't want on my computer after doing a clean Windows install a couple of weeks ago is up and running, bloating my SSD with the forty patches it had to download instead of just installing the current version. I wait a while, thinking my game is probably starting in the background and will pop up any moment. After a little while longer I decide to click the 'Play' icon in Uplay to see what's going on, and it tells me "Launch the game from Steam!"
Did I not do that in the first place? I mean, it's been like half an hour, but I'm pretty sure I remember that's how this whole thing started. I clicked the button that I took to mean "Play this Prince of Persia game", and it turned out it actually meant "Install Uplay on your computer". At this point Uplay is like one tiny step above those installers that sneak in a step saying "Would you like to install this awful browser-hijacking toolbar while you're at it? It's totally awesome! Look, we even pre-checked all the 'Yes' options!"
Anyway, I've forgotten what step we were up to, but that bit wasn't funny any more anyway. I start the game through Steam again, at which point I'm allowed to start it again through Uplay, and eventually I'm playing the game. It autoplays a pre-rendered CG intro video, of course, but, to my enormous surprise, it actually did auto-detect my resolution! I was so stunned that it took me a minute to realise why: the game doesn't have a Graphical Options menu. Not even a Windowed mode toggle or a V-Sync option. Nothing. I didn't realise it at the time, but this was to become something of a theme for the game.
So I decide to get it over with and start a new game. It didn't look terrible, and it survived a couple of worryingly-hitchy Alt-Tabs that let me force V-Sync on through my graphics card drivers, so I forged ahead. I was barely thirty seconds in before hitting a spot where I died about twenty times in a row. The gap between platforms where you perform your first wallrun is just a little bit longer than any other wallrunning gap in the game, so you need to know that you should hold the wallrunning button after your wallrun in order to wallrun straight up the edge of the platform you weren't quite able to reach, but of course the game doesn't tell you that. It's a terrible thing that shows that the developers didn't care enough about their product to even playtest the first moments of it, but at that point I was so happy to actually be playing a game that I ploughed through it.
This game's actually pretty good. It's the one that came out at about the same time as the Jake Gyllenhaal movie, but it's actually set in the Sands of Time universe rather than the movie's continuity. I mean the Sands of Time game, not the Sands of Time movie. I think this game, The Forgotten Sands, is meant to slot in between Sands of Time and Warrior Within, acting as the belated explanation for why the happy-go-lucky Prince of the first game transforms into Angsty McBroodersulk in the second. Or... I guess it's now the third. Anyway, it barely matters because this game's story is totally forgettable and laughably predictable. There are exactly three named characters in the whole game, one of whom is an incorporeal exposition lady, so it doesn't take a leap of logic to figure out how things are going to play out.
It also doesn't help that they just copied the whole setup of Sands of Time but did a worse job of it. Stop me if this sounds familiar: you castle is being attacked, better jump around a bit! Oh no, somebody unleashed a thing that makes a bunch of sandy monsters appear and grimace at everyone! Luckily you have the power to rewind time when you fall off the things you jump from, and a sexy foreign lady to help you in your adventures. Boy, there sure are a lot of monsters to kill, so why don't you go and find the magic sword that kills them all in one hit near the end of the game, then do one last huge platformy climb and then fight a bad final boss. Forgotten Sands switches it up a bit by having you earn your time-rewinding juice through smashing pottery strewn about the levels, instead of sucking it out of bad guys, so you spend a lot of time just swinging your sword at vases. They also decided to forego the memorable, bittersweet story with clever writing and likeable characters in favour of a generic video game 'save the guy, or whatever, I guess' setup. Oh, and you kill things to earn XP to upgrade your abilities, because this game came out in 2010
The part I do like is the platforming, which is a nice mix of the rhythmic nature of the Nolan North Price of Persia and the actual challenge of the old PoPs. You start off just jumping, climbing and wallrunning, but before long the game introduces you to the Water Freezing mechanic. Essentially, the palace is full of waterfalls, fountains and spouts, and when you freeze time these become walls, poles and swingy things for you to leap around on. You just hold the left trigger to freeze and unfreeze time, and it's just a really wonderful addition to the standard PoP platforming. There'll be times when you'll have to let off the trigger between jumps to splash through a waterfall, then get back on it to swing from a spout, then dodge a spiky thing and keep going. A bit later you'll learn a move that warps you to enemies so you can cross large gaps, and another ability to call in destroyed pieces of the environment, so by the end of the game you have these fantastic platforming runs where you're constantly freezing and unfreezing between walljumps, calling platforms into existence moments before you land on them, timing your leaps over traps and blasting around environments with your warp thing.
And then, before you even know it, it's all over. This game is four hours long. Maybe you could stretch it to five or six if you played it on Hard, but you'd only be spending more time with the incredibly basic combat. There aren't even 101 collectibles to find to pad things out, just the occasional poorly-hidden glowy thing that's full of XP. There's no multiplayer, nothing to be unlocked by finishing the game (other than an Ezio costume to play it through again with, because this is a Ubisoft game). The 'Challenge mode' option in the menu only leads to a wave-based combat mode (no thanks) and something called Time Trial mode, which was greyed out. I thought it might lead to some more platforming, so I spent the Uplay points to unlock it, but it turned out to just be fighting guys with a time limit. So, again, no thanks.
I did enjoy it for what it was, though. I did only pay $2.49 for it. But, jeez, this game cost sixty dollars when it was new. It feels like it might have been intended to be a proper-sized game at some point, with more powers to unlock and more challenging platforming, maybe more than one five-hit combo to do against what might have been more than a couple of different enemy types, but Ubisoft just pushed it out the door to coincide with the movie release. Ah well, one more game to sort into the 'Played' category of my Steam list. One'a these days I'm going to get on top of this Steam backlog.