Revelations: How PC gaming allowed me to be born again

Friday, 13 January 2012 13:31 GMT By Johnny Cullen

Previously a console elitist, Johnny Cullen makes the jump to a gaming PC and details his experience so far, the inclusion of PC games in his routine and why consoles may be facing the biggest test of their history.

The arrival of my PC has enabled me to broaden my gaming – personally and professionally – in a way I haven’t experienced since I bought my first non-PlayStation console, an Xbox 360, in 2006.

While I’ve been gaming since I was a wee wain, I’ve only used consoles. I got a PSone for Christmas 15 years ago this year; I was six. Up to that point, I shared a Master System, SNES and GameBoy with others.

And while I’ve owned new hardware since then, I’ve never had a gaming PC. Sure, there was a computer in my parents house, but it was never “enabled”. PC gaming was unheard in the Cullen household.

All this changed last week, though. After three years of working for VG247, I bought a gaming PC to sit alongside my PS3, 360, Wii, Vita and 3DS.

The specs are in the box-out; it runs like a dream. It cost £830. I picked up copies of Skyrim, Battlefield 3 and Star Wars: The Old Republic before I bought it. While I’ve yet to try Battlefield 3 as of writing this piece – thanks, Origin! – I can run Skyrim at the highest setting with no problems or glitches. It looks stunning.

Then there’s the older stuff I’m playing in a completely new way. Case in point: I first played Half-Life 2 back in 2007 as part of The Orange Box for Xbox 360. And while I love it, it was always in 30FPS with a console controller.

To play it in 60FPS with keyboard and mouse on a HDTV is a godsend. It’s unbelievable.

On top of that there’s Steam. It’s changed the way I give and receive. I’ve had games gifted to me since I bought my PC. Nathan gave me S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and its expansion as part of an internal Secret Santa thing; Brenna gave me Audiosurf for my birthday; and Alex gifted me Cthulhu Saves the World, Breath of Death VII and VVVVVV.

My hardware specs

Processor – Intel Core i5-2400 Quad Core (3.10GHz, 6MB Cache) + HD Graphics

Motherboard – Asus P8H61-M LE/USB3 (NEW REV 3.0): M-ATX, USB 3.0, SATA 3.0Gb/s

RAM – 4GB Samsung Dual-DDR3 1333MHz (2 X 2GB)

Graphics Card – 1GB NVIDIA GeForce GTX 550 Ti – DVI,HDMI,VGA – 3D Vision Ready

HDD1 – 120GB Intel 320 SERIES SSD, SATA 3 Gb/s (upto 270MB/sR | 130MB/sW)

HDD2 – 1TB SATA-II 3-Gb/s hard drive with 32Mb catche (7,200rpm)

Disc Drive – 24x Dual Layer DVD Writer ±R/±RW/RAM

Memory Card Reader – Internal 52 in 1 Card Reader (XD, MS, CF, SD, etc) + 1 x USB 2.0 port

Power Supply – 450W Quiet 80 PLUS Dual Rail PSU + 120mm Case Fan

Processor Cooling – Intel Socket LGA1155 Standard CPU Cooler

I did already own some Steam games – such as The Orange Box, bought when I got a decent Windows laptop a few years back; Left 4 Dead and the sequel in the hope it might run on my Macbook (it does, barely); Portal 2 from when I picked up the PS3 version; and Torchlight, the only game I’ve found that works on my Mac without any issues – but now I finally understand what all the fuss is about.

The arrival of my PC has enabled me to broaden my gaming – personally and professionally – in a way I haven’t experienced since I bought my first non-PlayStation console, an Xbox 360, in 2006.

Dark side

It’s also introduced me to a genre I’ve never touched before: MMOs.

I’ve always had a keen eye on MMOs, but I haven’t touched them on console because I can’t be bothered waiting 200 million hours for a client download and all the updates known to man. Even with its F2P status, would I honestly see myself wait for DC Universe Online on PS3 to install itself, download updates and then get myself signed up? You figure out the answer to that one.

Star Wars: The Old Republic on my super-PC is different. There isn’t too much hassle besides installing the client through the retail copy and downloading the two most recent updates. It took 10-20 minutes. All set to go.

Except, and this is where I discovered one of the harsh realities of PC gaming, I still need to use some sort of payment – credit or debit card, or pre-pay – before I can play it. So much for those free 30 days.

After popping into GAME and getting 60 days playtime, I’m now set for 90 days of MMO action. BioWare’s storytelling in this is brilliant, which is probably going to go a long way in my justification of triple-dipping Mass Effect 3 come March.

I’ve been bitten by the MMO bug, thanks to owning a PC. Now I’m really keen on other upcoming MMOs, particularly The Secret World from Funcom and NCSoft’s Guild Wars 2.

The Star Wars playtime thing, in hindsight, was just an inconvenience. My second ‘harsh reality’ is one gamers get very upset about. I didn’t really understand the fuss about DRM until last week.

On Saturday, when I picked up my SWTOR playtime, I also picked up a Games for Windows Live copy of Grand Theft Auto IV. I thought I may as well give one of my favourite games this console generation a spin on PC.

The PC version’s notoriously awkward. An install attempt went successfully, but when it came to verifying the game things got hairy.

I was told my serial was invalid. Even using Rockstar support guides resulted in fruitless results. After two hours of re-inputting, I gave up.

So I bought it again, this time on Steam. I try to play: Rockstar Social Club, needed if you wanted to play online. Rockstar’s since removed it in order to make it easier to play the game as part of update 1.08. I didn’t realise this until after my computer decided to say that GTA IV “had stopped working” and that Windows was working on a fix. This maybe more of a computer issue than a Rockstar thing, but still; I can’t play it.

Niko Bellic’s American dream turned into
my worst nightmare.

Pleas on Twitter and Facebook didn’t go unheard, so I’m going to try some advice today.

Making the jump

Besides not being to actually play a game I bought twice, though, my rebirth as a PC gamer has been more than a pleasant experience.

Console will always be a big part of my life. I’m not going to get Uncharted, Mario or Zelda on my PC. And there’ll be some things I’ll keep playing on console, regardless of a PC release, for nostalgia’s sake; F1, FIFA and plenty of others.

But. There’s a “but” to all of this, and it’s a big one. We’ve already noted it here, but it’s worth reiterating. An increasingly large section of the core market is drifting towards PC gaming as a result of the extended hardware cycle of Xbox 360 and PS3.

For the early-adopting gamer, this console generation is running on fumes. Yes, Wii U will be out by the end of this year, but we’re still likely at least two years away from any new tech from Microsoft, and probably longer for Sony.

A good indication of the trend can be seen in a couple of pertinent software examples.

Exhibit A: despite being announced as a PC and Xbox 360 exclusive, Alan Wake initially launched on console, with the PC version canned. Since then, Remedy’s said the PC version will be self-published with Steamworks support in early 2012 alongside American Nightmare on Xbox Live Arcade.

And then there’s Exhibit B. While nothing’s been confirmed or announced, a petition to bring the Namco-published From Software superhardballs console RPG Dark Souls to PC has seen 65,000 signatures.

If this does get the greenlight, everybody’s a winner. Namco will have nothing to lose after seeing the great reception the game got at release, critically and saleswise with 1.5 million units shipped, on PS3 and 360 last October. The console lot will have had a timed exclusivity period, and PC owners who’ve been clammoring for it will finally have their wish.

The question is this: has Sony and Microsoft sat on hardware for too long? That may well be the case. PC gaming is accelerating. I don’t see any slowing.

I, for one, welcome our new PC overlords.