Sleeping Dogs proves that an unlikely champion of modern PC games is… Square Enix?
The PC version of Sleeping Dogs isn’t just a good port. The high resolution textures, improved frame rate, and support for 3D displays and multi-monitor systems make it arguably the best way to play the game. We live in a depressing world filled with often disappointing PC versions of high profile console games, so what the hell happened here? I caught up Jeff O’Connell, the senior producer of Sleeping Dogs, to ask a question that can be rare in modern PC gaming: What went right? The answer, surprisingly, is the publisher.
Square Enix believed in the PC version
“Very early on in development, we wanted to create a PC-specific version. We always had that planned. When the game changed hands from Activision to Square Enix, Square was incredibly supportive of the PC version and actually wanted us to do more with it,” O’Connell said. “It was at that point that we began to focus more resources on the PC version and it became what it is.” Many developers outsource the work needed to create a PC version of their game, and that was the plan when Activision was publishing Sleeping Dogs, but United Front Games was able to keep the work internal due to the support of Square Enix. “That really meant that we had to have dedicated resources internally in terms of engineering, project management, and UI. We had to have dedicated testing, and we had to draw from our console team in particular in the rendering areas and the oversight of all the tech to make sure the PC version was everything it could be,” O'Connell explained. United Front Games kept a small but dedicated group of people working on the PC version of the game in parallel with the console versions.Something interesting happens when you begin to dedicate real time and resources to the PC version of your game: You end up with a game that looks much better than anything you could have accomplished on the consoles. That level of graphical fidelity is not only interesting to gamers, it can also help motivate the developers themselves. “It was particularly rewarding for them, they loved the results that they saw. If you play this on a multi-monitor setup or you play it in 3D, it really changes the game as well,” O’Connell said. “Once we made the decision and got started and jumped in with both feet, the [PC version] came along really fast, and seeing how good the game looked and seeing it on multi-monitors and seeing it in 3D, it’s really motivating for people to see that on the floor. It was busy near the end of our production and it’s been a long game, so a lot of people seeing the PC version got excited again.” While resources are often re-allocated during development, the level of excitement for the PC version kept those team members safe. “That made it easier to keep the PC work on track, because it was motivating people to see it. We thought the 3D stuff looked really cool and really different. It was almost as though that momentum kind of insulated our PC guys from anybody wanting to steal those resources.”
It’s good business
Creating a high-quality version of your game for the PC takes both time and money, and both of those things are usually in short supply while a game is in full production. That being said, the PC is a popular way to play games if you’re shooting for an international audience. “In some areas of the world, the PC version outsells the console version. If I’m not mistaken, Germany is an incredibly PC-centric market. [Publishers] make the decision on whether to do the PC version or not somewhat dependent on what they have in their sales forecasts for those particular areas,” O’Connell explained. The PC reviews and sales will surely come into play when looking at what to do in the future, but the response to the PC version has already been “overwhelmingly” positive. Square Enix also did their part to spread word of the PC version of the game; as with Deus Ex: Human Revolution, PC copies of the game were made available to press before the game’s launch, and many outlets (including PAR) reviewed the game on the PC. This is a rare thing when it comes to game reviews, and is even more evidence of Square Enix’s support of the PC as a gaming platform. O’Connell also claimed that a good PC version can help all versions of the game. “The PC gaming audience can be very influential. They’re very vocal, and I think they respect and appreciate when effort is made. I think Square felt strongly enough when they saw where our PC version was at, and even showed the multiple-monitor 3D setup at some of the trade shows prior to the launch,” he said. “That effort helped get the word out about the game, and not just the PC specific version of the game, but the game itself,” O’Connell said. Playing Sleeping Dogs on the PC, if you have a powerful system, is a better experience than the consoles, and the PC version was released on the same day as the console version, with the press being put in a position where they could vouch for the game’s quality on the PC. Dear everyone else: Take notes.