The Lure of Consoles

Oh look, another “rant”. Let’s file it under “filler”. I’m right in the middle of waiting for my new laptop to get here, so I can’t post the review I’ve got prepared just yet. In the meantime, here’s an incoherent rant.

 

I’ve been a PC gamer since I was old enough to game. For me, PC gaming wasn’t just about playing games, it was about learning about games too. When you’re a PC gamer, you need to know about computers. You can’t NOT know, at least on a basic level, how they work. It’s practically essential for you to diagnose problems, know about what your hardware does and when it’s time to upgrade, know a bit about how games work and how to change video settings to get them to run as well as they can… there’s a hell of a lot to learn about it, which is probably why when it comes to computers PC gamers probably rank up there as some of the more literate users. But this comes at a cost.

I’ve played all 3 major consoles; the 360, the PS3, and the Wii. Out of the lot my favourite is the 360 mostly because it’s essentially a PC dressed up in a console box. The PS3’s Cell architecture is impressive, but it also suffers from the "too hard" basket; the similarities between the PC and 360 make it easy for developers to develop for it, while the PS3 is a different platform entirely, which is probably why PS3 ports tend to be inferior. It’s not so much a lack of power, but lack of time to really use it. The Wii is just an underpowered gimmick, and seriously Nintendo you’ve been using Mario and Link and friends since the 1980s, can’t you come up with some new IP once and a while? Every goddamn platform is filled with Mario games, or if it’s a mobile platform it’s Pokemon games. Jesus, start doing something different for a change.

Anyway, during the xbox/PS2 era (I won’t even include the N64 there, it’d be unfair, it was fighting the PSX) I didn’t really understand the lure of consoles; games on PCs were just plain better, end of story. But with visual trickery (usually efficient trickery) and support for HD displays, consoles have been closing that gap without severe performance loss. Yeah, PC games will always look better, but really the differences come at a major premium in price; you need to have the best hardware, or a hell of a lot of patience and skill, to get those awesome visuals to run at an acceptable framerate. Or, if it’s a shit port, it doesn’t matter because it will act like a slideshow regardless of your box.

Back in 2006 when Oblivion came out, I experienced my first brush with console rage. Oblivion hit the streets at the same time as the 360 here in Australia (it was out the year before in the US, we’re always getting shafted here), so while I was picking up a box with a disc in it for the PC, all these console gamers were walking out with both Oblivion and a white box under their arms. When they got home, the put the disc in the drive and started playing. When I got home, I sat there waiting for the game to install. I took this opportunity to read through the manual and the neat little book that came with the Collector’s Edition. Then I flipped the coin a few times. Then I stared at the wall. When it finished, I could finally play it. The default video settings looked like absolute ass, and my rig at the time was above average, so I figured I could push it further.

About an hour later I was still fiddling with the video settings so that I didn’t end up with a slideshow in different areas. In fact today Oblivion is still notorious for random performance drops, and Fallout 3 isn’t much better. I’ve come to the conclusion that the Gamebryo engine, which powers both games (and Civ4 for that matter, which also has random drops), is really just a piece of shit. But still for ages I, and plenty of others like me, spent time looking for settings to tweak, delving into the INI file to play with stuff that we couldn’t touch from the menu, bitching on the forums, and comparing hardware profiles to figure out whether nVidia or ATI had the edge in this game. Meanwhile those console assholes were playing the game without concern. They didn’t even have to install the bloody thing. Their only problem was the longer load times, but even then some of the lower end PC gamers were still losing out.

In recent times, where multi-platform releases are becoming far, FAR more common (in fact just about every game is released on all platforms on the same day), PC gamers are at a clear disadvantage. Normally our releases are poor ports, with terrible control schemes, or poor menus, or stupid performance issues that dog even the most powerful of systems. While we’re struggling with that, some console gamer is playing away without a goddamn care in the world. And at the end of the day, what do PC gamers get out of it? Nothing. We get some higher res textures, which we can’t use because the engine’s poorly optimised, crippling menus, controls that are forced onto a KB+Mouse combo which clearly don’t work, and no real incentive to buy it. Given that most games today don’t support mods, and given that the mod scene is already under major stress thanks to demanding engines requiring higher quality art and less forgiving gamers, it’s no wonder that PC gamers are one of the least liked.

We do have a few advantages, with the absolute biggest being multiplayer. For a start, we live in the land of dedicated servers, a BIG plus in anybody’s books (well, anybody who knows what they’re talking about). Next, ultimately a PC does a shitload more than a console, but for the price of a beastly gaming PC you could get a 360 and a decent work computer (assuming you knew where to look). Also we’re always on the cutting edge of technology. Finally, we have access to the indie game market, where people write their own games (like Minecraft) for fun, and minor profit. Although indie games make their way to consoles eventually, some of them never will (like Minecraft), and they usually start out on the PC. Actually I think modders are dying and becoming proper developers now, especially with the rise of tools like Unity for rapid game development.

Apart from that though, we end up with pretty much nothing. Some ports (like Dead Rising 2) manage to be passable, but others end up with problems. And really, we sit here and spend so much on our boxes, often for very little gain. There are a few exceptions (Valve games, I seriously pity anyone who bought TF2 on the 360 or PS3) but they’re not very common. Really it’s hard not to envy the console gamer (at times) who simply drops in a disc, farts on their couch and plays the game while we’re sitting here waiting for the fucking game to install and run at an acceptable framerate.

After living on both sides of the fence I can say that both sides have their good and bad points, but I’m starting to get tired of all the issues that come with PC gaming. Sometimes it just isn’t worth the extra drama for higher res textures, AA and AF. When I buy a game, I want to play the game, not play with the settings. Ultimately the consoles have succeeded in capturing that experience while the PC keeps on with this insane video card war which is ultimately making this harder as much as it makes things better. Still, I love PC gaming and more needs to be done to support it, but I don’t think just removing texture compression is the way forward. It needs to be more accessible, not just "bigger" (or in some cases simply the same game on a different platform). The grass isn’t always greener on the console side, but it’s often a hell of a lot easier to walk on.

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