GSW%202.jpg['Alt Space' is a regular GameSetWatch-exclusive column by critic and writer Phill Cameron, discussing the relationship between the personal computer and gaming. Today, he's looking at the ever popular ports of console games to the computer, and how well they fare.]

Of course, it's night. The street is cobbled, but each stone is placed with the utmost precision and skill. The fa├žade of each building is created out of the browns, greys and blacks of a thousand office corridors and lonely wastelands, with the odd piece of artistically placed graffiti, the hand of a Mudoken, 'Our Day Will Come' stencilled underneath it.

In the middle of the street is a bar, 'The Mesa and Crowbar', written in slightly, somewhat intentionally faded writing, with a symbol that would seem more at home on a scientist's calculations than gracing the swinging sign of such an establishment.

Inside is a mixture of old and new; wooden barstools and a steel floor. Atari t-shirts are mixed with the new wave of existentialist glasses. These are the PC folk, everyone familiar with the ins and outs of The Black Mesa Complex, each one able to build military bases and command troops. We're not here for their skills, but their conversations, and their worries.

The voices in the pub are subdued, the inherent isolation of their hobby keeping their conversation clipped and quiet. The babble rises as a topic slowly slips through the assembled groups, flashes of contempt and dismissal slipping over each face. A few minutes ago, some naive patron asked the barman for some port. The images and experiences the word brought up sent the whole room talking, voices filled with anger and entitlement. Naturally, derision followed.

'Port' and all the connotations dredged up by the word, are as good as swear words in the PC community. Whether it's the baggage of the ill-advised payment plan of Xbox Live for Gears of War, meaning if you don't pay, you don't play (online), or just the sloppiness of something like Bionic Commando not removing the Xbox controller buttons from the interface of the game, ports have been, for the most part, pretty shoddy in the recent past.

GSW%203.jpgThe thing is, a game is only considered a port when it's been done badly; bring a console game to the PC well, and it's just another fun game to play.

It's only when you can tell a game hasn't been given the time and development needed to make it run nice and smooth, with nary a trace of it's ancestry present on the loading screens or while your playing, that you begin to look at it with frustration and contempt, wondering why this was spent another few months on at all.

This is perhaps most obvious when it comes to optimisation, something which the PC really does need a lot of, what with two different computers rarely being alike. The developers need to make it run well, and when the 5 year old consoles, which contain parts from half a decade ago, can run these games, then a high-end PC shouldn't have an issue. More often than not, they do, and it's just another cause for concern, and wondering whether you're getting your money's worth.

The misstep with Gears of War could easily be seen as indicative of the kind of thing that's common, but really that's just the worst excess. Usually it's far more pedestrian, with neutered graphical options, something PC gamers enjoy tweaking, to get the most out of their systems, or a half-thought out control scheme that gives you RSI. With the advent of the Microsoft 360 controller becoming so easy to just plug in and use, however, it seems those days are slipping back; some games, admittedly, do work better with a controller, and when a game can tell which controls you're using, and adapt the display accordingly, it seems like a revelation, when it should be the norm.

If a root cause could be named, it may be that double-edged sword that is the PC's greatest strength and largest weakness; by having no overarching company on it's lookout, the PC is a haven for originality and innovation, but at the same time, there's no one to line the pockets of the developers and make sure they do a good job.

It used to be the case that the PC versions of games were trumpeted as graphically superior, capable of doing more with the game because they've got more under the bonnet. Now, developers have to champion the console versions, for fear of upsetting the larger markets, and those who own them.

GSW%201.jpgThe sheer amount of PC games that have been pushed back from the console releases for fear of cannablised sales (people buying the PC version because it's cheaper, and, arguably, better), has grown over the past few years, to the extent where a game being released on all platforms at the same time is a novelty.

The problem arises, at least on the consumer end, when those few extra months we've had to wait seem to have been left unused, the game sold to us nothing more than the console version, sometimes without even taking the time to remove the Xbox buttons from the screen, let alone allowing us to mess with graphics options beyond resolution and gamma.

The question arises why developers even bother. The obvious counterpoint to that is that these games still sell, there are those still without consoles, or at least those preferring to have it on the PC, so they buy these poorly handled goods, because now they can experience that game their friends were talking about a few months ago, and find out why they loved it so. Only they find it to be a slightly frustrating, neutered performance that isn't the game the developers wanted you to play. If this were the norm, there'd be uprising.

Thankfully, that's not the case. More and more, perhaps due to the recently formed PC Gaming Alliance, ports on the PC are handled well, with clever, context-sensitive control displays, knowing when to present keyboard keys, and when to present controller buttons. They let you tweak the anti-aliasing, ramp up the texture detail and grin as you switch on post processing. As the number of bad examples dwindles, they'll be made more obvious, and be condemned far more. We're being shown an alternative, and anything less won't be accepted.

[Phill Cameron is a regular writer at The Reticule, a PC gaming website. You can contact him here, and follow him on Twitter here.]