As hard as this statement will be for many readers to accept, the PC is the ultimate gaming platform. It allows for the widest variety of controllers customisations and configurations thereof to ensure that the input methods and UI are appropriate to the game and the person playing it. There is an expanse of games and genres which put every other platform to shame. In terms of multiplayer, I have yet to see any console title introduce the kind of comprehensive and functional server browsing features as those which PC has had since the late 1990s. And in terms of pure, unadultered power - nothing, absolutely nothing on the console side can come close.
But for all this, there is a huge disadvantage to the PC. It is probably the single most fractured market in the world. People worry about some XBox360s lacking a HDD, or certain PS3s not having backwards compatibility, this is nothing compared to the incomprehensibly large number of potential configurations that exist for PCs in the world. And developer's must try to ensure that their games work on a large a cross section of these as possible. Within reason of course.
There's no point in getting Bioware to ensure that Mass Effect for PC has Windows ME support. No point in having Introversion spend some of their precious time trying to sort out compatibility issues with an OEM, no name, no brand USB soundcard that perhaps 0.01% of the gaming community in Malawi have. There's no hope in Crytek even trying to get Crysis to run on an S3 Virge.
But for all the issues that developers face, there is one that is more important in that it is the bane of every single last PC gamer: "Can my box handle this?"
You go to the store and buy an console and you are guaranteed that any game which comes out for that console will run on it, even if the game is a total dog, at least you know that the dog will run. There are no such guarantees for a PC owner.
The game might have an issue with your drivers for any number of devices, with your OS or service pack level, with a particular piece of hardware or another piece of software. But the issue for many games (myself included), which rises above all of these quibbles are the lies (minimum spec), damned lies (recommended spec) and statistics (both) which constitute the system requirements. Such bald-faced falsehoods if uttered in any civilised setting would usually result in some form of criminal charge, or at the very least a civil suit. But somehow, having a set of meaningless numbers and words hidden on the bottom of the box has more credibility than the developers and publishers simply admitting: "We have no goddamn idea what this will run on, although having a card which supports SM3.0 is essential. Until we patch it that is."
People wonder why piracy is such an enormous issue for the PC. In my humble opinion (humble, heh - this is on the Soapbox). It's because people are unwilling to drop money on a game which they have *zero* guarantee of working on their system. And should it not work? Well, lets just say that most game retailers have a chronic aversion to accepting returns on PC games. You can't trade them in. Or if you've purchased through an online store or digital distribution channel, then even the already slim chance of a return is pretty much gone.
And don't for a minute think that demos are an acceptable substitute. The number of demos which come out and bear no resemblance at all to the final product in terms of quality are legion. The greatest offender in my mind was Dark Messiah of Might and Magic. This had one of the most brightly polished demos I have ever played. It ran like a dream on my PC of the time and the gameplay was so smooth that a gecko wouldn't have been able to clamber up its perfectly shaped learning curve. Yet, the final product ran like an arthritic amputee sloth. It appears that they'd spent all their time and money on making a good demo and then failed to include any of the graphics optimisations or performance tweaks in the final product. Then, when they finally started patching it, I was one of the lucky ones for whom the patches managed to completely destroy the game, leaving me unable to even load the menu screen. Even following an upgrade Dark Messiah of Might and Magic continues to be the bane of my system - at least I can play it now, for a few short minutes, before my system inexplicably shorts itself out, not just rebooting, but turning itself off, along with the power to whatever section of my home it happens to be plugged in to. I'd be worried, except it is the only game that has ever done that, and to be quite fair, I wouldn't really expect anything less from it. Maybe after my next upgrade, it will be able to turn my monitor into bridge to the hell dimensions. Again, welcome to the wonderful world of the PC.
So lets move on and look at that great bugbear of PC gaming at the moment: Crysis. A game which at every level appears to be a system hog beyond reproach. The developers continually state that it isn't (and to be fair, they have proved this point), but people are unwilling to risk their hard-earned on something which they aren't sure will run on their PC. As demonstrated by the rampant piracy of this game versus its (to be honest) crap sales. Have no doubt that I will buy Crysis. But by the time I have a system that can do it justice it will be in the "EA budget" range.
And that's the big problem with Crysis - most gamers have a PC that can run it. But they don't want to "make do" with the low-end graphics options that they'd have to deal with. I have been looking at movies and screenshots of it at insane resolutions, and even played it for a few minutes on a system which I may be able to afford if I spent the better part of six months pay on it. So, suddenly playing a game that looks like 2004 due to my system being rubbish just wouldn't be the same. When the time comes, Crysis will take the place of Far Cry in my line-up of Far Cry, Doom 3, Lock On: Modern Air Combat and Half Life 2: The Lost Coast in the list of games that I keep on hand just to see how well my upgrades are treating me.
On another front in the constant battle between PC gamers and their systems, I'm struggling with Call of Duty 4 at the moment. Following Activision's outrageous pricing adjustments on Steam, I decided to purchase the box copy of the game (prior to discovering that those of us in Australia can still get it for the actual price via the WarCry digital store). However, my DVD drive fails to read the full disc. I can install the game by copying the game folder to my HDD, but a full install eludes me. And even with the folder copying - some files remain inaccessible. It's all enough to make me download an ISO just so I can install the damn thing properly. And yes, I exchanged the disc, just in case that was the issue. So, because of this issue with my DVD drive, I cannot complete the campaign, at least not until I upgrade.
And here is where the PC really falls down, upgrading. In the relentless arms race between NVIDIA and ATI, Intel and AMD and so many other groups all with their own concepts and designs, the humble gamer is left sitting by the side of the road, watching advancements rocket past at breakneck speed.
How hard was it for you to justify the purchase of your 360 or PS3? Now, imagine for a moment that you take the cost of both of those, put them together and there you have a pricepoint for a reasonable gaming PC. If you want a fairly powerful one, add in a Wii and another 360. But the issue is that in commiting to that purchase, you are commiting yourself to something which is outdated the moment you buy it. In the graphics card and CPU stakes we're seeing generational upgrades every 12 months at most and multiple iterations and updates within that single generation.
Hence, every PC owner becomes a master procrastinator. They'll always upgrade when the next iteration hits the shelves. But the problem is, that by the time that new iteration arrives, the test benchmarks for the next one have already been released. And they're better.
For those of you without experience in this brutal climb up a greased ladder with missing rungs, imagine that you are looking forward to buying the PS3. But then, just days before the launch of the PS3, Sony announces the PS3.1 and says it will be here in three months and will be better in every goddamn way than what's just about to hit shelves now. And then of course, there's the leaks about the PS4 which will be out at the start of next year and will blow away even the PS3.8GTI-SS500 which will have been released by then.
That's the PC experience. So, you say to yourself: "why spend the money now, when I can save up a bit more and get the newest thing in a few months time, after all - I'm already well behind the curve, a few more months won't hurt." But as always, those few months pass and suddenly you delay again because a new CPU or MoBo or GFX card is due later.
It's like being on of those poor evil legionnaires from God of War trying to climb a ladder with Kratos ahead of you. Every time you start to catch up he grabs you by the scruff of your neck and slams you face first into the wall over and over and over until he tosses you, bleeding and broken down to the bottom, where you can start your climb all over again.
Now, this all sounds like a bit of a whinge. And it is, and it is not over yet. I have one major point left to get to.
Many (not all) PC developers are cash-strapped or lazy or both. They can't afford to spend time or effort, or worse can't be bothered optimising and tweaking, so they just release a product to market that will only run properly on the most monstrous of computers. Thankfully, most games worth playing on PC have had a lot of effort go into their optimisation. But the problem is that so many haven't. They get tested for 30 seconds on an Alienware-type beast provided by some company in order to get a 10 second splash screen at the start of the game. And the developers and publishers, based on the fact it works on an dual CPU octo-core, quad SLI system with more gigabytes of DDR3 RAM than most people have in HDD space then it's deemed to "be in releasable condition" and off to the printers it goes.
Then, of course, the game eventually gets about a 5000:1 ratio of pirated to legitimate copies, because no one who owns a PC that can run it actually has any money to buy games with following their constant upgrades and a power bill which rivals a partical accelerator's because their PC draws enough juice to brown out several city blocks. Anyone who you play with online is going to be cheating in some way, due to the innumerable hacking and "adjustment" options open to them. And then, just when you think that you are getting somewhere in the game a patch will be released, which once installed will remove all your savegames and if you are really lucky, format your HDD.
Now, with all of this in mind, most people would ask: "why bother with the PC?"
And I return to my original point. Because it is the best gaming platform that you can get. And despite all the downsides, the gaming experience always wins out.
P.S. And also because the majority of PC gamers realise that just because a game has voice chat, screeching homophobic, racist insults in their best pre-pubescent tones is not what they should do with it.
P.P.S. As for that bit about DMoMM shorting out my PC and breaking circuits in my house. It's 100% true. It has done it 3 times now. After testing several other Source Engine games and mods as well as many other games and programs, I can confirm that it is indeed that game which is causing the problem.