Hey, PC! When did you get so attractive?
22nd Jul 2011 | 16:39
Theme Hospital and Settlers III are my fondest PC memories.
Throw in a bit of Red Alert, Blade Runner and Starship Titanic - a game that seems to have been shamefully forgotten these days - and you'll have a pretty good idea of how the ten-year-old me spent his time.
You'll notice none of the above titles are particular pixel-pushers (although Starship was a looker). By the time the likes of Crysis was making PC gamers sweat, I'd been bitten by the console bug.
I still took part in my RTS escapades on a daily basis. I was popping bloated heads as part of Bullfrog's brand of medical mayhem until my early-teens and I've been playing the same Football Manager career for about a year now.
But the simplicity of the console isn't something to be sniffed at. The notion of minimum specifications, hard disk space and progress bars that stutter to 100 percent over the course of two hours (nobody mention GT5) was incredibly daunting back in the day, especially when you're waddling around in your single digits.
At the turn of the fifth-generation, 3D gaming on roomy CDs at the push of a power button was a far more appealing prospect for me. For years I've been content (and perhaps a little smug) slouched in a bean-bag playing stellar titles while my friends were out spending hundreds of pounds on another graphics card, thanks to what I dismissed as gaming snobbery.
"Why are you playing Crysis on console?" they said (in my head). "It's so hideous it burns my eyes."
For years I told them I'd take the hit for the added ease and comfort the console lifestyle brings.
And that's exactly why the rest of this admission a little embarrassing.
Recently, I've found myself glancing over at the HMS Personal Computer. Sure, it's got an increasingly dwindling crew, but look at those beautiful sails, those complicated carvings running along the hull.
Battlefield 3 looks great on console but, as hard as DICE will try for parity, it's something else entirely on PC. It's certainly the closest thing I've seen to photo-realistic gameplay as a lowly console dweller and, if I turn down the scrutiny just a tad, I can con myself into believing it's real.
You don't need to be a mammoth studio with millions in the bank to impress me either. Turns out I'll go for anything with a pretty face. Take the recent GTA IV mod that's given Rockstar's latest a complete makeover.
It's an absolutely stunning display, one that would make me play through the whole game again if my copy weren't for the PS3 - a machine that's about as keen on mods as leather-clad bikers on Brighton pier, cira 1976.
It makes you think; where would we be if so many of us hadn't piled on the console, if developers were free to focus on the all powerful PC?
If that photo-realistic GTA mod is an example of what some unknown (but incredibly talented) co-operative can do then what could Rockstar do without commercial constraints?
That's part of the problem. Because the world has wrapped its arms around console so tightly, it's a platform that developers are forced to focus on. Not only does that mean resources have been taken away from PC development, but that the potential of a game will always be capped to keep the console in mind.
Yes, there are developers out there like id Software and Crytek who will put out PC versions that are significantly superior to their console counterpart - but I can't help feeling they will be held back by an anchor in console development.
Look at Epic's Samaritan, an eye-popping visual presentation, which only has more impact when you hear that it's actually playable on technology that is commercially available today. The galling thing is that Epic seems to have no intention to produce Samaritan as a game.
There could be a number of reasons for that decision, but one stands glaringly clear: the PC market simply doesn't justify putting resources into something that technologically advanced. Console is where the cash is, and we're a long way off achieving Samaritan on PS3 and 360. Judging by Microsoft and Sony's talk of elongated lifecycles, that dream is probably still years away.
The PC is starting to increase its pull with exclusives as well, if only slightly. The Total War series has always reached out to my corporal inner-child and Shogun 2 can be considered one of the best releases this year, nevermind a dominant force in the genre. There's more to come too, with BioWare's Ray Muzyka looking to make Star Wars: The Old Republic one of the top titles of 2011.
The plug-in-and-play set-up of the console still fits my lifestyle better than PC ever will - but as the current generation starts to plateau, as my itch for another technological leap remains unscratched by console developers, I'm increasingly interested in what an enthusiastic nose-dive into PC gaming could offer.
Announce a photo-realistic Theme Hospital - disgusting, ruptured spleens and all - and I'll dig out the Speedos right now.