411’s Games Feature 03.26.09: Sloppy Seconds for the PC
*Disclaimer: The opinion presented in this feature belongs to Jonny Richardson, and don’t represent 411mania.com as a whole, so please don’t think that all the staff here are gnarled, bitter, twisted, console hating, shells of human beings.
Before I get started, I’d like to apologise for being such a darned slow writer. Things are hectic as heck in my neck of the wood; living in the shadow of copious University deadlines which loom over me, threatening to squash me like a Fat Chocobo. As such, if the writing is disjointed and all over the place (more so than usual) then it’s because it’s exactly how I’m feeling!
I’m not sure if there was ever a time when the PC was considered the quintessential platform developers would cater for. As such, I’m not really in a position to bemoan that things were better in the past, or if the problems this feature discusses are new or not.
What I am sure of, however, is that I’m sick of it: I’m sick of PC gaming taking a backseat to consoles. I’m tired of eagerly anticipating a game that received rave reviews on a console, only to discover it’s been lazily converted to my format of choice. I’m fed up with PC gamers having to wait 6 months extra to be able to play a game that’s already out for all the consoles, and I’m upset when I go into stores and see elaborate display areas for the PlayStation 3, Nintendo Wii, Nintendo DS, XBox 360 and PlayStation Portable, only to find the area for the PC is roughly 4 shelves big, and consists of all the games they never sold from the 2001.
A depressingly familiar sight. Credit to: truxtertech.com
The long and short of it is that I’m disgusted at some of the choices developers make regarding the PC.
PC Gaming and Me.
I’ve been a loyal subject of the PC since I became a gamer, aged 6. This probably has more to do with the fact that my father brought home a PC from his workplace than it does any innate dislike of consoles. My devotion to the most pragmatic of all the games platforms is entirely down to my early experiences. DOOM, Commander Keane, Quake, Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, Big Red Racing (anybody remember this?), The Incredible Machine and Wolfenstein 3D were just some of the games that captured my attention and helped my imagination blossom, grow, and be infested with strange ideas usually involving bad Irish accents, pogo sticks and guns.
|In Keen we Trust!|
The results of this digitised love affair are that I’ve never really had a console. PC games have always been my source of entertainment when skies were grey, or sunny – it didn’t really matter. I used to have heated debates with friends, all of whom seemed to be kitted out with the latest electronic goodies from Sony, Nintendo or Microsoft, regarding which was the better gaming platform – their plastic fantastic boxes of no-instillation necessary or my insanely slow, difficult to use computer. In retrospect, I suppose the reason these arguments went on for so long and got so heated is because it’s something nobody will ever be able to determine.
The PC is like Benjamin Button. It’ll be around pretty much forever. It’s seen the rise and the fall of gaming greats which will forever alter the gaming landscape. It stays youthful by constantly reinventing and being upgraded. PC’s have better graphics, better control systems, have unlimited memory, can be upgraded, play DVD’s, play music, have internet connection, run office style documents, run applications, are more versatile and have solitaire — a game which has become a staple part of Western Civilization. Providing for a platform like this should be a no-brainer! PC’s can do everything a console does and so much more!
Yet it’s consoles that receive all the attention. You’d have to be an idiot not to recognise that the collective console market is worth a hell of a lot more money than the PC games market.
Before launching into the inevitable “Why is the PC so unpopular” part, allow me to expand on exactly where I feel PC gamers are being unfairly treated.
The Winter of our Discontent
Two days ago I decided against a healthy balanced diet, and spent this weeks grocery money on Codemasters Rise of the Argonauts (think a cross between God of War and Jade Empire). I merrily skipped home, booted up my trusty PC, and began to install the game. That’s right – PC gamers have to install their games first! I’m a creature of habit, and while the game is installing I like to get to know what it is I’ll be playing. I read the manual (A document which is fast losing its significance. This is a point made by 411’s Chris Vicari in his most recent PC Spotlight Column! Check it out by clicking here ). It can tell you a lot about the game. Rise of the Argonauts’s manual told me one thing – the developers were lazy. I’d picked a page at random, and opened it. It was a colourful page depicting weapon techniques and combos. The first line I read was “You change weapon by pressing the left trigger button or the right trigger button.” Ah. It was written in Xbox 360 language.
In a strange respect, I can see their line of thinking. The game was developed primarily for consoles. PC’s are compatible with Xbox 360 controllers, and as such using a 360 controller for Windows would possibly enhance the game experience. If this is the case (and I hope it is, because the alternative is that Codemasters are idiots), did they consider that the reason I’m buying the game for the PC as opposed to the Xbox, is that I don’t own any Xbox 360 equipment? Could somebody please tell me where exactly I find the right trigger button on my keyboard?!
|Things I don’t own: #612|
In fairness, the manual does include a page for ‘Keyboard + Mouse’ controls — right opposite the Xbox 360 controller for windows page. The rest of the manual completely ignores the fact that the product you’ve purchased is for the PC as opposed to the Xbox. It makes me a little mad, it does, because you just know that the level of laziness will have transferred into the gameplay experience.
I wasn’t wrong. The title screen asks you to press the ‘START BUTTON’ to continue. Last I checked, the PC doesn’t have a start button. Obviously, it doesn’t take a magician to work out that you can press any button in its stead – likewise it takes just a little experimentation to translate the controls mentioned in the tutorial into PC language. But it isn’t just the buttons. You can tell with the camera and movement system that it’s been designed specifically with analogue stick directional control in mind. The mouse feels overly sensitive and badly in need of tuning. Despite my best efforts, I can’t help but like the game – but it’s impossible to get over the feeling that it would probably be a better experience if you were playing on a console.
What I’m trying to put across is that I and countless thousands spend a decent chunk of money on PC games (this week I’ve been mostly eating: Plain Pasta and Carrots) which play as though the developers couldn’t care less. From Joe Roche’s positive review of The Last Remnant (411’s own ace attorney, who recently reached the 100 edition milestone of his excellent Xbox 360 news report column, ‘The Full Circle’ – Congrats mate!) I decided to download and try the demo of the game on Steam. I installed it, and started off, with no explanation, in a nicely rendered room, with distinctly JRPG looking characters. I walked toward one such character, and a message popped up:
“Press ‘A’ to Talk!”
|This picture has absolutely nothing to do with this feature.|
The ‘A’ button I was being instructed to press was green. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t look just a little like the Xbox 360 A button. On the off chance that this was an elaborate coincidence I pressed ‘a’ on my keyboard, anyway, only to strafe into a wall. It feels as though developers are dropping these controller cock-ups into gameplay to remind PC gamers how pathetic we are for not owning an Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3. I’ve played a lot of bad console ports, and every one of them feels like a hand-me-down. It’s like getting a brand new jumper for your birthday, only to find it has your brother’s name sewn into the label.
Bad console ports make me angry. I vowed when I got this writing slot at 411mania that I wouldn’t descend into rants about why I dislike this, that or the other. I’m too relaxed to get worked up about anything, and as such my fury is as intimidating as a kitten. However, there are, as Jason magnanimously declares in the opening stages of Rise of the Argonauts, “exceptions to every rule”.
It’s a slap in the face when you buy a game for £30 pounds only to find out that developers didn’t have you in mind when they created the game. It’s like seeing a friend wave happily at you from a distance and to start waving back, only to notice a few, awkward seconds later that they were waving at somebody behind you.
I said it would come! You wouldn’t believe me. It’s coming though. Don’t pretend like you’ve forgotten:
The inevitable ‘Why is the PC so unpopular’ part
• It just doesn’t add up
Money. Money. Money. Money. The first answer would surely be money. Money makes the world go round. It allows us to eat, travel, secure a home, enjoy ourselves and gives us shiny projectiles to throw down wells. It’s extremely important. When you take into consideration the initial price differences between consoles and PC’s, its no wander that the average man on the street will go for a console. For around $400 you can get a top of the range next-gen console. If you instead put that money toward a PC, you’d get a decent enough machine (providing you could build it yourself), but it would be out of date from the instant you hit the power button for the first time. If we’re being realistic, you’re going to need to splash in excess of $900 dollars in order to get a computer which graphically performs better than a console, and will continue to do so for long enough for the money not to feel a waste.
It’s clear that PC’s do hold a distinct advantage over consoles, but is it worth the price difference?
PC’s and consoles do have one thing in common: Both break — and break frequently. Red Ring of Death? Blue Screen of Death? Terrifying primary colours aside, I couldn’t say whether or not PC’s are more reliable than consoles. However, I am fairly confident in saying that the potential for mess ups and mishaps when gaming on the PC is far greater than it is on the console. For starters, no two PC’s are alike. Developers don’t have one uniform platform to create for – they have to adapt their product for a range of different PC processors, graphics cards and operating systems. It’s a tricky business to be sure.
The more complex a device gets, the more prone to breaking it is. The reason for this is simple – there’s more to go wrong. You never hear anybody complaining about a virus in their digital watch, do you? Then again, the digital watch seems to be a relic from the 1980’s. As people use PC’s for jobs, everyday tasks and homework – there’s a lot of crap on the PC that isn’t needed for gaming that could potentially go wrong.
May just outlast time itself.
I’ve always looked at consoles as being ‘My First Computer’ type devices. All you need to do is press the shiny power button, and put the game into the machine. It’s much easier to instantly be in game, and it’s this speed which you pay for, in much the same way that you pay expensive parking fees for city centre parking. You could park a little out of town and walk in for cheaper – but that’s not the point.
• The Family Friendly Console
Since the very first tele-consoles were mass produced back in the 1970’s, consoles have been marketed as family friendly devices – electronic fireplaces which proudly sit at the forefront of the family lounge area. Times have changed, but the family and social attributes of consoles have not. In the modern era, it’s stranger to go to a party and not see a group of moderately drunk people huddled around a TV screen showing Super Monkey Ball on the Wii, or co-op Halo 3 on an Xbox than it is to see it.
We’re living in an era of gaming where we want to play with other people. PC’s aren’t practical to this end. Some games, such as the excellent (but rapidly diminishing novelty that is the) Lego [Insert Film Franchise Here] series, do offer co-op play on the same PC. Unfortunately this means two of you sharing one keyboard, one chair, and with one of you having to learn how to move by using the power of punctuation alone: “;,.’#;/.”
PC games have always had the upper hand when it comes to online gaming, but I recently read that consoles have now overtaken PC’s in this respect too. Worrying times?
• Living in the shadow of Pirates
The world we live in is one fuelled by supply and demand. So far we’ve looked at why people pick consoles over PC’s, which results in a developmental bias in favour of consoles. Now let’s quickly look at why developers may not want to put their masterpieces within the PC’s grasp.
A lot of high profile developers have snubbed the PC as a gaming platform due to the fear of online piracy.
Yaaar! Digital Loot!
It’s estimated that developers lose millions of dollars each year because people download their games for free instead of coughing up the cash to pay for them. This is a problem which has given PC gaming a bad name. As a result, it’s generally considered far safer for developers to focus their attention on console games that won’t be pirated. Yet what a lot of people don’t seem to realise is that console games can be downloaded too. A quick browse through the gaming section of leading BitTorrent sites will show you that business is booming.
That being said, it’s far easier to pirate for PC games. Also, due to the fact that we don’t have any services like GameFly, where we can rent a game for the weekend to see if it’s worth buying, people are encouraged to try the game before buying it – you know, on the off chance that it’ll be shit.
And that is all I’ve got to say about that.
…that’s a lie. I could talk more, but I fear for the quality of it. I’m so worn out that I feel how Donavan looked at the end of the Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. I also realise that I’ve effectively persuaded myself not to be angry at the lack of support the PC gets. Curses!
Now you. Yes you! Over there! With the Mule! What do you think about PC gaming? Is it on the blink? Will it be around forever?
…I’m going to go and lie down now.