What is PC gaming? Don't laugh; it's an important question. The point of playing on a PC is to experience variety, at your pace, in your own way.
The PC isn't dominated by a big hardware manufacturer. It doesn't depend on a single box. And it's open for all to be a part of. Anyone can build a PC using any hardware they like. Its development community stretches across the globe, from massive 120-man teams with multi-million dollar budgets, to a guy in his bedroom. Anyone can play a PC game. Anyone can make a PC game. And they often do.
As we began our search for the great games of 2008, we realised the scope and scale of what lies ahead. Put simply, the industry that supplies us with so much pleasure is rapidly diversifying. At the top end, the big names continue to pump out huge, technically sophisticated blockbuster titles.
At the bottom, one-man-bands create something fun and release it without fanfare. And in the middle, newcomers, chancers and developers bored of the status quo get together to upset the balance, searching for new audiences and new ways to grip players. We have the casual MMO developers. The indie graphic adventure artists. The puzzle professionals.
2007 saw developers stretching themselves a little with a smattering of new ideas and fictions: BioShock, Stalker, Portal, Tabula Rasa. Mainly, though, they fell back on the same old series: the Command & Conquers, the Unreals, and the Quake (Wars). In 2008 there's a different feel: like the PC's biggest developers want to force a change across the board.
Games like Borderlands, Left 4 Dead, Rage and Spore all have the potential to be huge hits, both critically and commercially. But they're examples of big developers rejecting their old franchises and producing something new. It would have been easy for Maxis to knock out another Sims: instead they want to produce SimEverything with Spore. id Software could have pumped out a new Wolfenstein or Doom: instead, they're going mad for Mad Max in Rage.
In 2007, the platform's most inspiring and playful moments came not from mainstream, big-budget action shooters, but from the weird and the obscure. Games like Peggle, Switchball, Garry's Mod, Armadillo Run and Toribash.
This year, we think we know two major indie hits already: Multiwinia (the multiplayer sequel to '80s-inspired strategy shooter Darwinia) and Braid (a brilliant Mario-esque platformer in which manipulating time plays as much a part as jumping up and down).
And then there's the game which kicks off our monstrous preview of the year: Football Manager Live. Not the most glamorous, the most high-tech or most fashionable game out there, admittedly. But just about the most British, and one that has a fearsome potential to build a gaming community (and rake in the sort of cash) only World of Warcraft can match. If even one in ten football fans try it, it'll become absolutely enormous.
And who knows, we might even see Duke Nukem Forever...
PC Gamer UK has picked out its hottest games of 2008, the list totalling an impressive 110 titles. The carnage commences with the first ten below, and we'll be adding to the list over the coming days.
The Agency (ETA: Winter)
An online espionage-themed shooter, promising co-op play and persistent character development. If they make it as fun to be an enemy ParaGON as a goody UNITE agent, this could be the PC spy game we've all been waiting for.