Blowing Off Steam
After my (hopefully) last encounter with technical issues of the soft or hardware kind I reverted back to my initial theory that PC Gaming is equal parts gaming and being a computer technician. I also denounced all the voices claiming Steam's superiority over X-Box Live and that their prices are unmatched unless you've never even bothered doing a price comparison with Amazon. I finally recalled on the initial reason I wanted to become a PC Gamer, in order of importance 1)Console Emulation 2) Real Time Strategy and 3) Technically Superior Experiences.
One of the big draws for becoming a PC Gamer is based completely on having access to my console gaming yesteryears. My goal of playing games in their most visually powerful format is far outweighed by the dream of having an arcade of my historical gaming pastime. Maintaining older hardware is quite difficult even for the seemingly immortal Nintendo consoles. While discussions on piracy make this a touchy subject I simply feel like “If I own/owned it, I'll download it.” The problem comes with games I never purchased and having a non-existent or inconvenient method to obtain them. A real life example would be I want to play Shadow Complex, but would like to play its great grandfather Super Metroid first. The problem is I'd have to buy a Nintendo console and pay more then if I purchased a physical copy at a flea market so Nintendo makes it hard to justify not pirating their games. Sounds self entitled, but I'd never have to pirate a Sonic the Hedgehog game because I can get nearly every 2D Sonic game for $20 on any console in a single well made package. Nintendo, some would say rightfully so, has an extreme value to all their legacy titles that I'm sure some people will buy, but most aren't willing to. You'd think with the years of handheld emulator hardware being sold they'd at least give the option to download their full library to a 3DS at a fair price.
So I install the emulator and fire up Killer Instinct. I run into a hardware issue that I've misunderstood for years. I've never been able to get a 360 to communicate with any PC of all variations. As I later discovered, from Arthur Gies over twitter, you need a 360 controller with a built in USB port and not the detachable one. The other option is to have it communicate wirelessly through the PC dongle which I had and got to work, but for some reason wasn't able to make any of the emulators communicate with the controller. This time around I got it to work, but it worked better with the older 360 controller and not the newer one that has the adjustable D-Pad. I've been considering getting a hardwired controller since I hate using batteries, but the fact that a version with an adjustable d-pad isn't made makes it a less justifiable option. Maybe when Windows 8 with the supposed high level of XBL integration will invigorate Microsoft into re-supporting the 360 controller for PCs. So after busting out a few ultra combos off of memory I played some TMNT Turtles In Time for old times sake reminiscing the false echoes that old beat em ups don't work in modern day.
I then put down the controller and picked up the keyboard and mouse to play the hotly anticipated 2007 RTS Supreme Commander. Unlike most gamers I like games that challenge me as much physically as it does mentally hence why my genres of choice are action/fighters (Ninja Gaiden Black, Soul Calibur, WWF No Mercy), FPS (Modern Warfare 2, Perfect Dark, Turok 2), and arcade racers (Midnight Club 3, Burnout 3, Trials). I find most modern games to be too hand holding and full of mechanics for the solitary purpose of making you feel like you're winning at everything forever. I like frustration, difficulty, and a game that respects me enough to assume I will learn the mechanics and how to properly play instead of flashing button icons, regenerating health, and quick saving every 15 seconds. I thought that was what the casual games were made for, but they're just time wasters and most $60 titles don't feel much different. While casual and phone gaming is all the rave I really only could find interest in the, claimed to be overcrowded, genre of tower defense. The only reason I even love tower defense is because it so closely mimics a stripped down RTS.
Growing up with terrible PC hardware limiting my gaming options, the extremely low barrier to entry RTS games were my savior. I barely could run Age of Empires, but with the settings low enough I got an experience I would lose my life in. As my hardware got slightly better I would go back and play really old strategy games and that became my casual gaming. Sometimes hours of Unreal Championship or Capcom vs SNK 2 would leave your nerves fried from the constant tension you experience meanwhile playing an RTS is a way to have a very hardcore experience without the extreme reflexes. Thanks to the slow pace its very much a casual game because you have no choice, but to gather resources, wait, and plan.
The best part is I'm pretty bad at them! I don't mean bad compared to the Korean kid with the Nike sponsorship wearing a diamond encrusted Zerg medallion, but I'm probably on the lower rung of even a casual RTS player since I only play the AI. Much like fighting games getting good at beating the AI is in no way a realistic set of skills you can take in player versus player battles as I learned when many years later I faced a human opponent. I use no tactics or, ironically, strategy as I simply amass a huge amount of resources and brute force it with the largest army the game will let me unleash. Some may wonder if I have a new PC why play such an old game and not something like Starcraft 2 and to them I'd respond Starcraft 1 seemed overwhelming to me so I doubt the second iteration I'd fare any better. When RTS games introduced flight I was dumbfounded by Empire Earth 2 and Rise of Nation's aerial rules of engagement.
Luckily my instincts on Supreme Commander being the futuristic successor to Age of Empires was proven right with text boxes describing every aspect of gameplay. I've even got flight combat down since it requires no flight pattern micromanagement instead replaced by a simple fuel gauge determining the length they can battle in air. The 1000 unit cap was a dream come true since I later in life found a brand new level of joy playing Age of Empires 2: Age of Kings with my 600 unit strong Spanish army ravaging my enemies thanks to a mod that altered the population cap. I then installed Unreal Tournament 2004 for the sole purpose of reminiscing of the never ending LAN parties with my friends Benitron and Burger. I played some bombing run and became depressed knowing that UT3 was missing that game mode and instead deciding some modern gaming seemed like the next logical activity.
I clicked on the recent demo tab on Steam and saw the Grand Theft Auto inspired/ripoff True Crime Hong Kong canceled to become Sleeping Dogs game from Square Enix. I had no real interest due to its featured two terrible game qualities of having the Batman: Arkham Asylum hand-to-hand style combat and being a GTA clone that isn't GTA. However my curiosity over the superiority of current PC game ports compared to console was enough to try it out. Sleeping Dogs was specifically called out for their excellent PC port so I tried out the demo and surprisingly hated it more then I assumed I would. Ignoring the boring combat, bad third person shooting, and general lack of inventive gameplay reveals a decent looking game. Then I fired up the X-Box 360 and played the same demo. Wow! I hadn't felt this way about a game's visual difference since the 360's launch line up compared to the original X-Box's similar titles.
Though neither impressed me into purchasing, it did make me have to deal with something that before was an obvious conclusion. What system do I buy GTA V for? There are plenty of external non-game reasons to make the choice difficult. Microsoft has more then likely paid for content be it exclusive or timing based, the friendlier as well as consistent experience of XBL for online features, and the fact the PC version may release a month or more after their console counterparts. However it boils down to one game experience being superior and it goes beyond visuals.
With my dual SSDs the loading and streaming of the game world would benefit most a title like GTA V. How often have you had game progress ruined by a car or world structure magically spawning in front of you as you speed down a street? Having visual fidelity on par to the cutscenes is nice, but when there are gameplay benefits it becomes a problem much harder to ignore. Games like Bioshock Infinite have no multiplayer so why not get the slightly better and sometimes cheaper PC version? Though I'm mostly a 360 player I'm not blind to the higher quality imagery produced by the PC and even the PS3. Despite graphical quality being last on my checklist of why I enjoy games, it can't be ignored once the game experience is improved even slightly by hardware.
The reason I play Modern Warfare 2 with a wired connection, a wired controller, and a plasma TV with all the settings for the fastest refresh is to gain any and every possible advantage available. A consequence of becoming a PC gamer is that I now must decide where I prefer to game based on what would provide the optimal experience. I just assumed my PC would be the emulation and RTS machine that sometimes played games too weird or too small to arrive on console. What'll happen when I buy a game for 360 and end up hating the multiplayer and wished I got it for PC? Or getting a PC game that down the line receives multiplayer as DLC, which all my friends are playing to death on console? All these questions are important to me, but may be completely changed or nullified if Microsoft pulls the trigger in 2013 and announces their next console. Then the unpredictable Valve could, Apple style, announce and release Half-Life 3 for their steam box console/PC hybrid at E3 and make gaming a confusing, complicated, and expensive hobby.