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On The Cusp: Retiring From PC Gaming?

I haven’t played a game on my PC in quite a while. The last thing I played was the F.E.A.R. demo. I’d really like to get the full version when it arrives next month, but the truth is, that kind of stuff doesn’t feel like a priority anymore. There were days when I used to salivate over the impending release date of titles like Duke Nukem 3D and Quake II, but now I almost dread it. Because buying and installing a new game means the possibility of jacking with the system for hours trying to get it to work reliably. It means having to take the lid off my case, point a box fan at the mainboard and shut down all ambient incandescent light sources every time I want to play something, just to minimize what I call the “space heater” effect. And then if I’m lucky, I’ll get to play something for a couple of hours before the machine crashes and I have to leave it in a cool, dry place for a while so the components can recover from heat soak. It’s like an LS2 engine baking under a black hood on a Texas dragstrip on a 110-degree day.

With that said, I feel that I may be on the cusp of giving up PC gaming altogether. Or at least for the most part. Hell, I’ve already given it up for the most part. I seem to recall posting similar sentiments about a year or two ago when the selection of new games was looking pretty bleak, and then recanting when some hot new titles arrived. But my feelings now are for different reasons…not reasons of boredom, as there are lots of games I could be playing if I wanted to, but for reasons of pure exasperation. I’m tired of keeping up, of paying hundreds if not thousands of dollars for top-of-the-line components, of worrying over driver versions and which ones are still beta and which ones will hose my video overlay or which ones will cause conflicts with some obscure piece of software that I just happen to use religiously. I’m tired of PCI Express 2, of outboard physics processors, of filling a box with screaming 60-CFM fans just to keep it from melting. My personal seesaw of “Amount of crap I’m willing to endure” vs. “Amount of rewarding fun I have actually playing games” has been tilting to the opposite side lately.

Of course, this is a personal decision — which I am making because I no longer feel I have the time or money to devote to being a PC gaming enthusiast. Like modifying your car to wring the fastest quarter-mile from it, it’s a hobby which almost needs to be mutually exclusive of any others. In the PC gaming world, I never liked to settle for less than the best. Unfortunately, the best is costing too much, progressing too fast. Since I can never be satisfied, it makes more sense from a sanity perspective to scale back, to focus more on something else. But since I am still a gamer at heart, I am moving my focus to my consoles instead of my computer.

Part of this has to do with what I use my PC for these days. Until recently, I didn’t really do much work on my computer at home. But now I am working on it full-time. I’m doing all kinds of development on it, from code to graphics, even getting into Flash and video processing now. I’m running HTTP servers, database servers, ASP.NET and PHP. You can’t run a lean and mean gaming machine with all of these bloated services running. I put two gigs of RAM in this machine and when I’m busy working, literally all of it is in use — and then some. When I put this box together, I figured that as a gamer, a dual-core processor wasn’t for me. Now I’m thinking about getting one, because I’m doing audio encoding, DVD burning and trying to Photoshop all at once. It isn’t pretty. Maybe it’s because I have three monitors now — I find myself doing a ton of things at once, on a level I have never previously achieved.

So now that I’m trying to keep my PC optimized for work and productivity, it seems quite convenient that the next generation of video game consoles would be about to arrive. I’ve had an Xbox360 bundle on order for a while now, including the 20 GB hard drive, wireless controllers and four games. I plan to primarily ask for more titles for the 360 for Christmas, whereas I might normally be asking for PC games. And next year, when the PlayStation3 ships, I’ll pick up one of those if I can. And with console hardware having advanced to the point where truly satisfying and realistic games can be produced, unlike the watered-down kiddy stuff that was the norm until just a couple years ago, I won’t feel so bad about it. In fact, I’ve been spending far more time playing console games lately. And in the first such instance of moving from PC to console, I actually bought the Xbox version of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City even though I already own the PC version. After installing the latter, I experienced texture glitches that made the game truly ugly. When I sit down to play a game, I want to play the damn game — not hunt all over the web for a solution to a freakin’ texture glitch bug. I gave up and bought the Xbox version the same week. Haven’t looked back.

So, in the switch to console gaming, will I miss the PC’s high resolutions? Not likely, since the next-gen consoles all support HDTV — and beyond that, all of their titles will actually make use of it. High-def gaming on a 57″ TV I will take any day over a 22″ CRT, even at a 1600×1200 display resolution.

One thing I will miss, though, is full screen anti-aliasing — assuming the new console titles don’t make use of it. I haven’t seen much FSAA (if any at all) in console games yet, presumably because the horsepower just isn’t there. My opinion is that games either have to be ultra-high res or utilize FSAA, else they look like crap. I haven’t looked at the Xbox360 or PS3 enough to know whether anti-aliasing will be possible with that hardware, but I sure hope it is. One consolation, at least, is that modern PC games require so much horsepower to use FSAA that it’s almost not worth thinking about, when what you’re really trying to do is get the freakin’ games to run and little beyond that.

And now, the obligatory statement of non-committance: This may simply be a phase I’m going through, just like last time, and that when a couple of slam-bang PC games hit the shelves, I’ll be recanting like a spanked baby. But for the moment, it doesn’t look like it. I’d much rather play games that don’t crash on a huge TV, lounging on a big leather recliner, in a cool and dark room with a ceiling fan over my head — as opposed to a blurry PC monitor, in a superheated room that’s 10 degrees warmer than the rest of the house, with the only fans in the room blowing on the computer instead of me.

Because after all, playing games is something I do for fun. If it’s not fun, why do it?

2 thoughts to “On The Cusp: Retiring From PC Gaming?”

  1. I totally hear you, man. With a lot of PC games, it’s like “what new and exciting way can x game break my system?” Hunting for drivers, tweaking this, modifying that…it really doesn’t seem worth it anymore. Not to mention that with a system like mine, several new games are out of my league off the bat. Like the new Battlefield 2 game — I remember Forster telling me that you essentially needed a brand new nVidia card to even play it. Wow! That’s a way to sell a lot of games — completely cut out a large portion of the populace who can’t even look at your game!

    So yeah. Consoles may not look as pretty, but I don’t experience any of the problems that I do with PC games. And in a lot of cases a lot of the best console games can’t be found on PC, while the reverse if often not true. Would I rather play (say) KOTOR or San Andreas on my Xbox, or dork around with my PC for hours trying to figure out a way around some weird bug or flaw to play the same game, only with thrice the hassle? I think you know the answer to that.

  2. Well said. Not that I’m knocking PC gaming for everybody, it’s just no longer the right thing for me. I guess we grow impatient in our old age, eh? But of course there is more to be said than that; the landscape truly has changed. I mean, in 1993 you didn’t need to know what kind of video hardware was in your box. (I had a 1 MB onboard Cirrus Logic 5428 array, for the record — and I didn’t even need to look that information up, so where’s my “ludicrous geek” prize?) Although, I guess the argument could be made that back then you needed to know instead how to construct batch files, manage TSRs and UMBs and juggle a different boot disk for every game, so that may be six of one and half a dozen of the other.

    So yeah, I’m pretty much on this bandwagon now — I’d rather game with consoles if only because it’s less hassle. But there’s one thing PC games definitely have (and probably always will have) over consoles: a superior savegame system. Save or load anywhere, anytime, with the tap of a key. Consoles still seem to be leaning toward the “save points as a strategy” device. Ah well, it’s typically a minor quibble.

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