In Defense of PCs

Don’t worry, this is not another post bashing Apple. Those are just too easy. No, this has to do with games.

There has been this recent view that PC gaming has gone the way of the Dodo bird, and I am not sure why.

I’ve heard this directly from two sources, actually three. Two are colleagues from a newspaper I used to work for, all of which shall remain nameless.

When I called them out on it they gave a good argument: Piracy. On the PC it is rampant, and difficult to control. However consoles are virtually pirate-proof, because any sign of piracy, Sony, Microsoft or Nintendo can brick your console remotely.

It’s a good argument…for the developers. But it’s not such a good argument for the consumers, in fact it’s the opposite of an argument. Especially if you become the victim of a false positive. Where they think you pirated, but you really didn’t, you tell them that, and they don’t believe you. So if you’re spending $300 on something, it’s probably not a good idea to get a product the manufacturers can disable at a moments notice. What else would we allow this on? Oh, Apple products, right.

Although apparently only Microsoft actually does it. The other two merely release updates every time a new piracy method comes along that eliminates the problem, as well as support for third-party accessories apparently.

The next person I’ve heard claim this was Carlos Rodela on a recent CrankyGeeks.

Failing to provide a fluid argument why gaming doesn’t work on a laptop, he simply proclaims, “PC Gaming’s Dead” as if that’s a fully coherent sentence.

I always have a tendency to call bullshit if I fail to hear a dissenting argument. However he was the only gamer on the panel so the other three panelists can be forgiven for not calling him out on that.

However, it seems this is not a new argument. People have been proclaiming this almost as long as people have been setting dates for the apocalypse.

...and they've always been wrong.

PC gaming is certainly not dead, nor will it be anytime soon. To say so is most provably wrong.

Now, I want to be clear, what I am going to do is argue the viability of PC gaming. However there is always the human factor to consider. People have a tendency to be stupid and continue doing one thing, ignoring all arguments that say it’s a bad idea. So keeping that in mind, let’s move on.

I am an almost exclusively PC gamer. I say almost because I did own (I guess technically still do) a PSOne, an NES, SNES, and every iteration of the Game Boy, and I still use the Nintendo DS. But since I never use them (outside the DS) I don’t really think those count. So I always say I’m a PC gamer.

Now, the reason for this is accessibility. I already own a PC, as do most people, in fact almost every one I know, and all my favourite games are all available here. Why would I bother with anything else? I honestly can’t think of a reason. There was a time when you could pop in the cartridge, press the power button, and in a matter of seconds would be playing Super Mario Bros. 2, ready to select Princess Peach because she was the only one of the four who could fucking fly. Why were the others even available?

Anyway, nowadays you put in the disc, start the console, wait a minute for the menu to load, pick your save game or new game, wait five minutes for the level to load, start playing, then suddenly have to wait another five minutes for the next level to load. It’s not smooth at all, and this whole thing started in the days of the PSOne. Even more recently, with the advent of consoles that are perpetually connected to the internet, it’s become okay for games to check the internet for updates first, adding more time to the loading screen.

As a great man once said:

This is supposed to be animated I swear

(If you didn’t see the animation) Now, we can deal with that, it’s really no big deal, waiting a while for the data to get from point A to point B within the friggin’ system. But consoles used to have a major advantage over PCs, no loading screens. But they lost that a long time ago, so really it’s barely worth mentioning.

But there are other arguments, such as the idea that consoles have more power. While some may say this is true when they look at their current browse-the-web PC. If you have the money, somewhere in the thousand dollar range, it is possible to get your hands on a high-end system that can kick the ass of any console currently on the market. But who in their right mind would spend that much on a gaming computer? The same kind of people who would purchase all three current-generation consoles. Of which there are many.

Now I know what one might say: But if you buy all three consoles, you have a much larger game library. Possibly, until you realize that the PC is backwards compatible with games from the 80s. Something no current generation console can boast. All you need is a copy of DOSBox and you’re all set. Backwards compatibility, as well as inter-compatibility with all kinds of games from all over the world, and all kinds of platforms (thanks to emulators and virtualization and I don’t just mean the illegal kind), are what the PC does best. Current generation consoles (with the exception of the PS3) won’t allow you to play games from other countries on their hardware. They can be modified to do so, but as I mentioned before, the manufacturer can brick the console remotely if you try.

Plus, only authorized software can be used on a console. Microsoft doesn’t have to give its seal of approval on all pieces of Windows software, and thank god for that. If they did, they’d do nothing else because there is so much available on Windows. Which is kinda my point.

Now, I know there is some software that is only available on consoles, but there is also some software only available on PC. There’s Crysis and Far Cry; Microsoft Flight Simulator; Myst V; Spore; System Shock 2; Civilization III through V; Alpha Centauri; et cetera; as well as every game from the modding community.

AH Yes, Mods. As I’ve said before I’m not really a fan of user made content such as mods because as the same great man once said:

“I don’t want to have to wade through waist-high rendering plant runoff to find the good levels, especially when I can do that just by playing the story mode. You know, the levels designed by professional fucking level designers.”

(Damn, I’ve been quoting Yahtzee a lot haven’t I?)

However, that being said, within the modding community there are a small number of gold nuggets that I find quite interesting…and others which I would find interesting if it featured a single-player campaign.

To name a few: Rock 24, Portal: Prelude, Portal TFV Mappack and to a lesser extent Riot Act (Why aren’t there more grenades? Especially since you need them to take out the sterilizers!). Also, if you’re into multiplayer, may I recommend: Dystopia, Stargate: Legacy, or Neotokyo. I’ve played around with them a bit and they have a unique flare that I find quite interesting.

Now if only mods like 7even: Episodes, and Black Mesa Source would get their act together and release something, even if it’s only a demo, I could mention those too. Though they do seem to have a lot of effort put into them, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Black Mesa Team gets hired by Valve, if only for their Face Creation System.

Most of the innovation in gaming is coming from the bedroom programmers, that includes modders and, for example, students. The game that inspired Portal, Narbacular Drop, came from students at the DigiPen Institute of Technology, as was the game that inspired the Gels from Portal 2, Tag: The Power of Paint. Both of which are PC exclusive titles.

Now, I’m not saying consoles lack innovation. The PlayStation Network and the Xbox Live Arcade has allowed indie developers the chance to get on consoles with little to no hassle, but thanks to Steam, a service with an almost identical library, it’s just as easy on the PC.

Another major criticism for PC gaming is the lack of compatibility. Some games don’t work with some hardware. I know this to be the case, and there is one case which I would like to bitch about. Froggle.

Invisible textures

I thought it was a glitch at first, so I sent several screenshots to the developer and they responded by telling me it was because I was using the wrong graphics card.

The game requires a card compatible with shader model 3.0 whatever the fuck that is, and mine used shader model 2.0. They would have went with 2.0, for higher compatibility, but performance was a priority. Which I will call bullshit on. You see, it has a cel-shaded art style which makes the GoldSource Engine look state-of-the-art.

My face may be a square, but at least I'm not cel-shaded.

Although the game’s technical director was really polite about the whole thing, so I’ll give him that.

But whatever, the irresponsibility of one group shouldn’t frame the whole platform in a negative light. Besides, the good games out there have a tendency to alter the graphical settings to what works best on your computer, and they let you disable features if your system is having a hard time with it. Very customizable, and it’ll work assuming you bought a computer with a graphics card that is not shit.

Now, moving on, it’ll be very easy to say that consoles are only for the unwashed masses and stupid people, while PC gamers are by default, smarter, more educated and into more challenging games…because that’s the stereotype. But I don’t like that, for one, I like to challenge myself, for two, it smells a bit no true Scotsman, and for three, I don’t think it’s true…by default.

But there is a reason this rumor persists. That is because generally, the PC has featured games of a more complex nature. The reason for this is not random, it’s because of the controls.

Over time controllers have gotten more and more complex. Originally the NES featured a controller with 4 buttons and a D-Pad, and that number has grown to 12 buttons, two joysticks, a D-Pad, and a motion sensor in the latest PlayStation offering. The increasingly complex controllers has allowed for increasingly complex games. So in that respect, consoles fail when compared to PCs, with several dozen keys, including arrow keys, and a fucking mouse. What else do you need?

Yes, most games only use a handful of them, so there’s not much change. But the multiple keys on a keyboard allows game makers to avoid the biggest hazard of gaming, contextual controls, where one button has twelve different functions depending on the situation. Which is fine in some cases, but can occasionally result in misinterpretation, which is easily avoided by using different keys for different actions. Plus the PC does have one thing that makes it kick the ass of most console games…mouses…mice?

Anyway, the mouse allows for precision control that an analog stick can’t match. No real-time strategy game has been successful on the console, and for good reason, keyboard and mouse controls simply work better. You move your mouse three inches to the left, your cursor will do the same. Plus, there isn’t a single first-person shooter on the console that doesn’t have to resort to auto-targeting, or as some people call it, “bullet magnetism” which any FPS player worth their salt would go without.

Now, I can’t accurately state first-hand that this is the case, but from what I hear, on gaming forums and the like, is that controls for first-person shooters are better on the PC.

But, let’s assume you prefer controllers for some odd reason, you freak. Then congratulations, all you need is Bluetooth, which many computers have built-in or available as a USB dongle. You see, both the Wiimote and the DualShock 3 controllers both use Bluetooth, which means getting them to work with your PC is easy if you have the right hardware, and Microsoft released a device that allows the same thing with the Xbox 360 controller. Not only that, there are a number of native USB game pads available for the PC that you can use to your heart’s content. Why would you use a console if that’s the case?

But there is one last point that I think is important to make. PC games will still be playable for decades to come.

Art, like anything, can last generations if you take care of it. The Mona Lisa is still as pristine as the day she was painted. But the biggest injustice to art is when it’s lost because the creators didn’t give a shit. This is more of a modern problem than anything else, but several of the early episodes of Doctor Who have been lost, likely forever, because some asshole at the BBC didn’t think it was important enough to archive. Console games suffer from the same problem, because the moment they stop making the hardware, it becomes an endangered species.

What do I mean by that? Well let’s look at the NES. Imagine you have a few dozen games you really like for it. Games you play again every once in a while because you enjoy them that much. Now imagine your NES broke. Good luck getting a replacement. You’ll never play those games again. Now imagine any old-school PC game for DOS. You can still play it on current generation hardware, it just requires a bit of ingenuity, resourcefulness and Virtualization.

The same is true for modern video games. In a few decades the Xbox 360 will be replaced a few more times by the Xbox 720, the Xbox 2600 and the Xbox Jaguar, meaning all the Xbox exclusive games won’t be playable on official and legal hardware, unless you still have that old console in storage. Meaning the next generation will be incapable of experiencing it, and that breaks my heart.

Now it’s true the old games aren’t typically played anymore, but kids at least deserve the opportunity to experience these articles of gaming history.

Now I know people will start talking about backwards compatibility and how modern games will likely be playable on future generation machines because of it. But you have to realize that console manufacturers seemingly don’t give a shit about backwards compatibility anymore, either by half-assing it or slowly yet surely eliminating it. I doubt they will care about it in the future.

Of course thankfully people found a way to play the old console games by emulating the old hardware on PC, however the legality of such a thing is questionable and will likely continue to be for future generations as well.

But of course that doesn’t apply to certain other games like MMOs, where all of the fun comes from playing with others and you need a server filled with awesome levels to get the most out of it. In twenty years all those servers will be down and no one will be able to play the game regardless. Though someone might try to archive all the level data and post it online so people can set up their own server if they really want.

Regardless, posterity isn’t much of an issue when it comes to MMOs. So why aren’t they on any console?

Okay, there are a few, but none have been really successful…at least not since World of Warcraft was released on the PC. Hell, I didn’t know any even existed until I looked it up.

Now, why is this? Well, I can’t honestly say. I have only played one MMO in my life, and that is Myst Online: Uru Live. A game that I wrote about before saying I never got a chance to play it, but was resurrected back in February, and I recently found out about it last month because I am slow on the uptake.

Anyway, one of the reasons could be that consoles lack keyboards. Keyboards are an ideal method of communication online, and without them, online games suffer. Now, I know some may mention voice chat, but these people probably have never heard voice chat. I have, and to say it sounds like shit would be charitable. People, if you are going to use voice chat, I suggest you get a decent mike. Otherwise, it sounds like you’re mumbling.

Next, I go back to my complexity argument. MMOs are generally more complex than most single player games, and therefore require more complex controls. But I have a hard time believing it’s impossible to port these things to console. I know one company did. Blizzard released a single player campaign on console back in 2008. The Molten Core…for the Atari 2600!

Yeah, it was just an April fools joke. But it’s funny as all hell, and it seems some bint thought it was funny enough to actually make it a reality. I don’t care enough to actually play it, but it’s probably good, in an ironic retro sorta way.

But I’m not sure why MMOs have become a PC exclusive. If I was a game developer I might know. But I’m not.

Nonetheless, my point is not simply to say PCs are better gaming platforms. I’ll let others do that for me. There are major developers saying consoles suck. So it’s not exactly a difficult thing to argue. But I’m not that arrogant or pretentious.

All I’m saying is similar to what other developers are saying.

PC gaming will never die because people will always have PCs. As a consumer, I will say, I already own a PC. I bought it with gaming in mind. I do a lot of other things on it, but the specs I picked were specifically chosen for gaming. Why would I buy a console? There is no reason. It’s kind of a waste of money when you already have hardware that can do the job.

Also, if I was a developer, I would think: why would I develop for a console, when statistically, more people own PCs? By default, if you own a console, you probably also own a PC. It’s unlikely anyone would be unable to play any PC game assuming their hardware isn’t over five years old, however if one develops for console…

So my point is, PC gaming isn’t dead or dying, and to say so is most provably wrong. So stop it!

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