Coding for the Lowest Common Denominator

Back in the 80’s (the 1980’s not the 1880’s) a trend began where technology was diffused not based on what was best, but by who had the biggest market share.

To my memory it first started with the VCR formats. On the one side you had Betamax (from Sony) and on the other VHS (from JVC). Both were developed by massive Japanese companies, but technically Betamax was the superior format. We had a Betamax VCR and my older brothers enlightened my young mind to not only piracy, but also The Evil Dead. It was a shockingly awful copy, but none the less it did have an impact on how I viewed the world, and particularly trees, for quite a while later.

You all remember Betamax right? Okay, let me rephrase that: all of you who are over 30 remember Betamax right? The rest of you are probably going Beta…who? Well here’s Jimmy Wales’ link for some background. In a nutshell what happened was that Sony were so confident that they had the superior product they were sure it would sell itself. JVC on the other hand embarked on an aggressive marketing campaign.

The result: prior to the DVD generation pretty much everyone had a VHS VCR and Betamax was mostly forgotten.

My second eye opener for better format/technology being trumped by better market share was with my first computer – the Amstrad CPC464 (and I know that good buddy Hypermole had one too). At the time the competition was the Commodore64 and the ZXSpectrum, however, the Amstrad and Commodore were both superior to the ZXSpectrum in graphics and general capability (a bit like PS3 and Xbox compared to the Wii today), but the ZXSpectrum had a much larger market share and as such many game developers coded for the Speccy and then ported them to the other formats.

So for many games played on full colour machines were made to suffer the four colour blocky graphics of the ZXSpectrum. Even then, in my young mind, I felt that I was being short changed. I had this machine with all these capabilities yet I was being denied the opportunity to fully experience them because games were being coded for a lesser machine. I could never understand why they weren’t coded for the better hardware and then ‘dumbed down’ for the other formats rather than starting with the ‘dumbed down’ version and….. leaving it at that!

Then we had HD-DVD versus BluRay. Thankfully, this time around the better tech won the day!

Now we’re in 2010 and it’s the same shit…. different decade. But this time it’s a more closely matched thing. I’m not getting in to a format war here. I have both Xbox360 and PS3 (and a Wii) and the PS3 is technically the most capable machine. Yet we’re still seeing the ‘start dumb and hope no-one notices’ approach to product releases.

Black Ops…. I was talking to one of the guys I game with and he said that it was clearly coded for the Xbox and ported to PS3, the Xbox experience being much better as well. And it seems that he’s not the only person to have noticed this as there is now a petition doing the rounds relating to the sub-standard service that the PS3 community is receiving from Black Ops and Treyarch compared to Xbox360 users:

I don’t have Black Ops, and after seeing this news I think I’ll be definitely be giving it a miss. I didn’t mind so much back in the 80’s when people for the most part didn’t know what they were doing, but I don’t accept this now. It’ll be interesting to see what the excuses are this time….. if Treyarch responds at all.

Peas and loaves.

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David Nicol is Articles Editor for, YouTube gaming commentator and blogger based in the UK.

7 thoughts on “Coding for the Lowest Common Denominator

  1. Had a look at the petition at and the majority of comments are along these lines:

    “Name: Chris Smith on Nov 19, 2010
    Comments: I bought the game for the PS3 first and after playing it and seeing how bad it performed went and bought a Xbox360 copy. The Xbox copy is superior in every aspect. Very disappointed that I had to buy 2 versions of the game. Also, the game has been out for over a week and I still cannot group with friends due to the “Error: This game session is no longer valid” bullshit.”

  2. I haven’t played the xbox version but so far the biggest fault I have with the PS3 version has been getting everyone in a party into a game of TDM or domination. Not that I’ve tried too often, I seem to have less and less time for gaming..
    Besides that, the lack of skill matching and split screen players get put on opposite teams for combat training. No choice given. That really really sucks, but I presume that’s the same on Xbox.

    PS. I never saw a betamax video recorder. It was the late 80’s before we got a VCR. Not much point because we only had 2 channels!

  3. I’ll own up to it, I said it. Matchmaking and things like that are annoying problems but problems I think can be fixed and probably will be fixed and also things I can sort of look beyond for the time being.

    What I can’t look beyond is the PS3 version runs at a lower resolution and a lower frame rate. The frame rate in all multiplayer maps is sub par and on some maps is down right unplayable in my opinion. The maps that come to mind as being the worst offenders are Jungle and Firing Range, the game runs at what has be less than 30 FPS. On other maps there are certain spots you can go to and see the frame drop. An inconsistent frame rate makes a twitch shooter like this completely broken, not to mention the headaches I get from the choppy motion.

    I will give them to about Christmas to fix the frame rate issues before I sell my PS3 copy but honestly I don’t think this problem is even fixable with a patch. This game was clearly designed and programmed badly for the PS3.

    With respect to the PS3 being clearly more powerful than the 360, I would actually say that is more debatable than you make it out to be. I think Sony made a mistake going with the Cell processor, at this point it seems video game developers do not have the know how to program properly on parallel architecture.

    • Ah, I wasn’t trying to make out that the PS3 was light years better than the Xbox, only that it is technically better. Even that is pretty much a moot paper exercise as there are many aspects of the Xbox service that puts PS3 to shame (messaging, chat, dashboard, and party options).

      For most games you can’t tell the difference between platforms (unlike the Spectrum vs…. anything else) which would seem to indicate that games are coded to be compatible with the Xbox first and foremost.

      I just feel that us consumers are being shortchanged when it comes to how products are designed for the equipment that we buy and support. We’ll only really see the full capabilities of the consoles exploited by the developers when they are about to be superseded.

  4. According to EUROGAMER, the PS3 version of Black Ops runs at 960×544 while the XBOX360 version runs at 1040×608, and still manages to pull better framerates.
    So yes, there is no doubt in my mind the game we developed for the 360. My PS3 copy looks terrible on my 1080p display, even worse than MW2 did.

  5. I’ve only seen Evil Dead 3, but just watched the trailer for the first one. Looks crazy 🙂

    I’m not quite 30, but I am aware of the elusive Betamax, as well as 8-tracks and something called “The 70s”.

    Black Ops PS3 servers are pissing everyone off. Matchmaking is atrocious. Getting booted into theater or combat training mode while in a party and thus ending the party is the worst offender. AND even after the recent “patch” nothing has really changed -including not being able to hear the enemy.

  6. The first 3 on the list are the ones I care about:

    • Resolved several issues with PS3 parties getting disbanded for next patch (1.04)
    • Investigating reports of “Transmission error” message on PS3
    • Investigating PS3 hard freeze reported to happen for a small number of users in multiplayer
    • Investigating reports of VOIP icons not always appearing for some PS3 party clients
    • Prevention of Valkyrie rocket exploding upon release under rare conditions
    • Prevention of Gunship failing to give player full control under rare conditions
    • Prevention of a rare issue where a player will get teleported outside the map boundaries under very specific circumstances

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