Archive - Jan 2011

PCWorld has for some illogical reason published a troll "article" titled "8 Reasons to Hate PC Gamers." I can't figure out why they would try to destroy their own fanbase (the comments are all sensible and angry -- nice to see), but despite it being obvious provocation, I thought it would be a good opportunity to debunk some myths about PC gaming.

Myth 1: PC gamers are elitists



There is some truth in this, but you must first understand PC gamers are as varied in this respect as any other audience. You have some that couldn't care less about the PC vs. console gaming debate, some "casual" players, some who just prefer the PC for their needs, some who feel strongly it's a better experience but aren't snobby about it, and then some that do feel strongly it's better but are snobs about it. I'm guessing the better/not-snobby crowd are the majority, but there's a lot of each.

Bottom line: 'enthusiast' is generally a more accurate term than elitist. And while elitism has negative connotations, for many, it just means they appreciate a more involved experience.

I'm cool with consoles. I recognize not everyone has the dedication and technical knowledge PC gaming more or less requires. Consoles still have a lot to offer, and they have their own advantages. No snobbery necessary.

Myth 2: PC gaming isn't a sport

I'm not much into semantics, so don't take this one to the letter, but I will say competitive multiplayer gaming on PC poses some of the greatest challenge for any gamer, particularly when we're talking FPS. What you want to call that is entirely up to you.

Myth 3: PC gamers are pirates

Pirates don't count -- I personally don't consider them gamers, just entertainment seekers with no consideration or passion. The majority does typically pay, especially if you treat them properly. While I'm here, between plentiful digital sales and quality freeware, there's no good reason to pirate.

Myth 4: PC gamers make console gamers look like nerds

Another semantical argument, but I consider us all nerds -- something many of us have embraced.

Myth 5: Graphics over gameplay



Oh yes, we're graphics whores, alright. But the sensible ones (the majority), know great graphics aren't worth a damn if the gameplay isn't there to back it up (Lost Planet 2 and Crysis are two games that understand this). By the same token, plenty are into the independent/digital scene and are willing to spend on smaller, cheaper titles with great gameplay and minimalistic graphics (VVVVV, Super Meat Boy, World of Goo, Bionic Commando: Rearmed, and Dungeon Defenders, to name a few of hundreds).

Myth 6: We overspend

Plenty do, for sure, but it's a misconception perpetuated largely by advertising. I've been told manufacturers, retailers, etc. typically aren't willing to advertise budget PC components and builds because profits are lower. Not sure how much truth there is to that -- I think that's a largely untargeted audience that really needs targeting.

In any case, I got into PC gaming specifically because I couldn't afford a console (I'd sold mine earlier) or TV at the time. There's a good chance if you're reading this, you can play PC games. Certainly not the latest and greatest on maximum settings, but some of it with some lowered settings and/or tweaks (Valve, Blizzard, Stardock, etc. are amazing at optimizing for the 'average' PC), and definitely some independent/digital only stuff, not to mention games from a few years back.

I got my start with Fable and Doom 3 running on integrated graphics and terrible hardware even by standards back then, and there's plenty more to choose from now.

That said, the ideal situation is to spend a fair chunk of change ($500-1000 about, depending on your needs and budget) on a solid "future proof" build, with the goal in mind of running the latest on maximum settings at high framerates for many years. Doing this, you'll have many, many great experiences and will in at least one sense save yourself money.

Depending how far you're willing to stretch it, this can actually be cheaper than console gaming, especially with the $50 vs $60 price points and aforementioned sales (they're more frequent, steep, and readily available than console sales).

Of course, you also have to factor in the added functionality the PC offers -- web browsing, Netflix, Skype, and so on. An all-in-one box for a grand or less is an amazing deal if that's what fits your needs.

MMORPGs

I'll take that one, though they're not all a drug -- Guild Wars comes to mind.

Myth 7: We're always complaining



Console and PC gamers both make a lot of noise -- I don't think one much more than the other. We do become upset when a game is poorly ported, but the same happens in the less common cases of poor ports to consoles (Lost Planet 2, Dragon Age). What's so awful about wanting a game properly tailored to one's platform of choice?

In the end

Nowadays PC and console gamers have more in common than ever. We're playing a lot of the same games and doing a lot of the same things (online connectivity, web browsing, multiplayer, etc). We each have our own needs and preferences, which is how it should be. With that in mind, it'd be nice to see more respect and tolerance going both ways.

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Sometimes it takes me years to start on something -- a game, a record, a film -- simply because I have to be in a specific state of mind for it. That hit recently with Mass Effect 2, which I finished last evening.

About one year ago I completed Mass Effect, having enjoyed it immensely. It has a solid blend of tactical and TPS-style combat complete with cool powers, a grand sci-fi story, characters you become attached to, and a hefty serving of RPG elements -- just my cup of tea.



Being the RPG nut I am, having heard reputable folks speaking ill of the changes to the mechanics in Mass Effect 2, I was worried. While for my tastes, there are some negative changes, I wouldn't call them drastic, and for the most part the experience is overall much improved over Mass Effect, great as it is.

Allow me to get the negative stuff out of the way first.

The big change for me is this: no more looting (in the traditional sense), and no more weapon stats. Project Director Casey Hudson seems to think of these elements as tedious, which is strange to me -- they're surely some of the selling points BioWare fans have loved since Baldur's Gate, and in tons of other popular games today.

In any case, this time around you find upgrade unlocks throughout levels -- storming a Geth base, for example, you'll find an unlock for a Geth Pulse Rifle which you can then research back on the Normandy. It's a fun and realistic take on looting, but the lack of weapon stats offsets it.

This is even more puzzling to me because armor has stats. It's not that you need it -- there are 2-3 choices per character per weapon type -- but giving one a calculated boost over another makes it more exciting. Certainly, some more weapons and armor added to the pile would've helped matters all around, too.

This is something I really do miss from Mass Effect -- nabbing a really cool looking and effective piece of armor for example was thrilling. Here it's just click, click, click and you have your new stuff. You can pick up a few extra things like helmets and whatnot, but it's nothing terribly significant. Most everything is unlocked from the beginning, including color customizations. A major downside however is the lack of armor customization for squadmates -- after completing each one's 'Loyalty mission' (some of the most exciting and compelling parts of the game), you can alternate with one other color set, and...that's it.



The other change is a 'streamlined' talent system. In Mass Effect, you could customize your character to a greater extent. Although the points you can put into a given ability is greatly reduced, I don't think the difference is truly significant or a great benefit. However, each character is limited to four abilities maximum this time around (except Shepard, who can borrow an additional ability from any squad member later on). In Mass Effect, you could theoretically have a jack of all trades build with 10+ abilities. Not practical, perhaps, but the point is there were more options.



Mining and hacking receive a pretty big overhaul as well. I love these new systems -- the problem is there's far too much of them. I know mining was altered so less of it is required to achieve all upgrades, but that leaves you with maybe 50 planets you never need to touch. Certainly I'd rather that, because mining does get very tedious after awhile, but it'd be nice to see a properly balanced system. Perhaps some planets could be greyed out or something and not be mined, or just a lot fewer planets overall.



Hacking is cool the first 50 times, then it's just boring and annoying as all hell -- unfortunately it doesn't let up, and you'll be hacking in every stage at least twice about until the end of the game. The fact there's no real challenge with it to begin with worsens the situation. Yeesh.

If these sound like huge downers, they're not. As an RPG fan, you may find yourself disappointed, but for me the rest of the game is so great I didn't mind the changes much. That and in some ways I found them enjoyable. So enough with the bitching -- onto the good stuff.

Graphically, this game is absolutely beautiful -- one of the finest examples of what PC gaming can do. BioWare put a lot of love into this version as always, and the results are just wonderful. Note I added Trilinear=True to the GamerSettings.ini file for improved rendering. Unfortunately I could not force AA, as recent AMD drivers don't allow it.



Performance wise, I've read it actually runs better than Mass Effect on the same hardware. I kept the framerate locked, and maxed, it never dropped below 60fps. It's a real treat to play a properly optimized PC game with a steady framerate all the way through.

The 'feel' of combat I've read has been tweaked. It's hard to pinpoint what exactly was changed, but whatever it is, for the most part I couldn't get enough of it. Not big on the regen health thing, but I can deal.



If you're the sniping type like I am, you'll fall in love when you pick up the Battle Rifle. This lovely piece of work lets you nail enemies repeatedly from far distances, without reloading or having to zoom out. The Widow rifle is even more intense, but its ammo capacity is severely limited in comparison, so I leave that to a certain other squad mate.

There were a scant few levels that devolved into zombie shooter mode. Sometimes this worked (it can be really fun to survive a wave of enemies with smart use of powers and guns), and sometimes it felt mindless, but mostly it's slick as hell, and varied, too.

Note I played on Insanity -- I would recommend this to very skilled players, and Hardcore to everyone else. Insanity has a few fights and moments that might make you want to throw your keyboard (it can feel like you've been cheated), however largely I felt it was a formidable challenge, but nothing over the top. Really you just have to watch your ass and think fast and clever.

The music is more amazing than ever -- I particularly love the club music this time around. Really wish I'd picked up the Deluxe version for the soundtrack alone. I'll do this at some point -- probably when a GOTY edition comes out and is on sale, as I want the DLC but not in its current form and price point.

Mass Effect 2's strongest point I think though is the dialogue. I firmly believe this is possibly BioWare's best writing yet. Below is my absolutely favourite scene, perhaps in all of gaming (if that sounds hyperbolic, well, it's not). No spoilers per se. Click the YouTube icon if you want to watch in full screen.



In short, this is a big improvement over Mass Effect, though in a few smaller ways, inferior. Bottom line is I can't wait to see what's to come in Mass Effect 3 (hopefully some new RPG elements to offset to minimization of the old ones), both in terms of story, mechanics, and gameplay.

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