And for some PC gamers this last month, the don't just blow--they blow hard.
First came Supreme Commander 2, a truly great game that represents a streamlining of an extremely broad and complex formula. Unfortunately, this changes don't sit well with a strong-willed Supreme Commander community, who see SC2 as a "dumbing down" or a "console-ization" of the original. And it's easy to understand; They don't just see a game--they see a representative of something to be feared and loathed: the end of PC gaming as we know it. Supreme Commander 2's quality is secondary; it has taken on a much more sinister meaning. The vestiges of PC gaming, the complex mechanics of a beloved game, the shift to a more casual audience--if Chris Taylor isn't immune, they worry, then no one is. Who's left to take the reigns?
This is actually a great game, but was it what you wanted?
I don't think things are all as drastic as that, and I don't think the mostly excellent Supreme Commander 2 deserves all that baggage, but the baggage is heavy and we're looking for scapegoats. Who's to blame? Where do we turn? How do we unite against the evils of the game industry, which we perceive as abandoning our PCs and focusing on the larger console audience? We've watched our respected PC-focused developers leave our platform of choice behind. Epic; id; Ensemble; Digital Illusions. We cling to what's left, to the developers and publishers we still feel understand our plight, even just a little--the Valves, the Stardocks, the Relics, the Biowares.
If you're a PC gamer, you know that feeling. The one you get when you're playing the game and you see Xbox 360 button prompts pop up. When there are few graphics sliders, if any at all. When you can't use the mousewheel to switch weapons, when the interface takes up half the screen, when you need to use the keyboard to navigate menus. Trust me: we feel that pain together. I felt it playing Assassin's Creed 2 and I couldn't play a single-player game because Ubisoft's servers were down. I feel it when I play Dawn of War II and I have to load up Steam and Games for Windows both. And like you, I don't know what to make of it, but I'm not giving up. I'm not willing to accept that Farmville is the future of the PC.
Did this gamble pay off?
The Internet tantrums I watch unfold don't work, but I struggle to provide an alternative. They give us a sense of camaraderie (we're in it together after all), but they don't lead us to solutions. I feel bad knowing that Command & Conquer 4 has joined the list of scapegoats. It isn't an awful game by any stretch, but it too represents that feared change. "Another one bites the dust," some might say. Again, a revered series becomes fodder for ridicule. It's actual quality is secondary; like many developers so often do, EALA took a gamble. But for those anxious to see the series close with a massive explosion, the few brief fireworks they got instead was a letdown. And so the masses speak, spreading their displeasure by going to our gamespace, to IGN, and to Metacritic and spamming review scores of 2s and 1s. I wish it was the quality of the game that mattered most, but these games aren't just games anymore--they're false idols, to be cast into the fires of hell. And it stings me that it's become such a concern, it stings me that good games get saddled with bad raps, it stings me that we feel our voices are so insignificant that we have to scream so loudly.
I'm not so pessimistic. I can't be. I've lived 37 years--amongst gamers, I'm an old man, what with my balding head and my growing collection of wrinkles and nose hair. I've heard about the death of PC games before--and adventure games, and god games, and city builders and other odds and ends. Much of the hate is unreasonable, the standard mountains we make out of molehills when we face change. But even I get disheartened at times. So when I see my sisters and brothers banging their fists against the walls that are closing in, I understand. I wish I knew where to direct our energies. I wish I knew how to deliver the message in a meaningful way--a way that doesn't make matters worse rather than better.
Well, I guess things could be worse!
What do we do? How do you and I keep PC gaming alive? We speak with our money of course, but that too is a double-edged sword; do we give money to the publisher that just saddled an anticipated game with crazy DRM, or delivered a half-hearted console port that doesn't support the mouse, let alone anti-aliasing? How do we make the message--PC gaming, and PC gamers, matter!--heard, without rewarding those that make the decisions we hate?
I'm hoping one of you might have the answers, because I'm out of them, myself.