In terms of home video games, the PC is the oldest gaming platform still in use today, having an established library of tens of thousands of games. Chances are, you're probably reading this wiki on a PC right now. While there were various different personal computer platforms in the past (from manufacturers like NEC, Apple, Hitachi, Fujitsu, Commodore, Sharp, and Microsoft), the modern PC is largely descended from the IBM PC, which originally released in 1981 for $1561 (nearly $4000 in 2013 dollars).
The first electronic computers were created between the 1930s and the 1940s. The first binary computer was the Z1 Computer, created by the German inventor Konrad Zuse. Other electronic computers would be created throughout the time period, including the ENIAC and the Harvard Mark I. Many of the first computers were used during World War II by both factions and would be later used for scientific research. Early computers were large enough to fill a room, making them unusable for practical, personal use. Later it would be used by banks and large businesses for economic calculations. Companies like IBM have supplied many businesses with computers years before the personal computer .
It wasn't until the 1970s where computers usable for the average person were being made. Invented in 1970 by John V. Blakenbaker of the Kenbak Corporation, the Kenbak-1 is considered by the Computer History Museum to be the world's "first personal computer". Starting in 1971, it was sold for $750 and only 40 machines were ever built and sold. In 1973, Kenbak folded and stopped production. However, it was based on TTL (transistor-transistor-logic) discrete circuitry (much like the Magnavox Odyssey and Pong) rather than microprocessor technology. As such, it wasn't until the late 1970s that the first "true" personal computers began appearing.
Several revolutionary inventions would later pave the way to the modern personal computer, most importantly the microprocessor. The project originated in 1969, when Japanese calculator manufacturer Busicom proposed the idea to American manufacturer Intel, and both soon collaborated to produce the first microprocessor. By 1971, Intel's engineers Bob Noyce and Gordon Moore, and Busicom's engineer Masatoshi Shima, succeeded in creating the world's first microprocessor, the 4-bit Intel 4004. The microprocessor helped in creating a more powerful central processing unit than the ones used in computers at the time and shrunk it so computers could be smaller. The microprocessor was the major invention that gave birth to the microcomputer, or the personal computer as it is known today.
The first microprocessor-based personal computer, i.e. the first microcomputer, was the SMP80/X, released by Sord (now Toshiba Personal Computer System Corporation) in 1974, utilizing the 8-bit Intel 8080 processor (its unreleased 1972 predecessor, the SMP80/08, used the first general-purpose microprocessor, the 8-bit Intel 8008). It was soon followed in 1975 by the Altair 8800, which also used the Intel 8080 as its CPU; since the computer's main language was binary code and only had an output of flashing lights, the computer was unusable by the common person. A similar microcomputer was released by NEC in 1976, the TK-80, which used the Intel 8080A.
It wasn't until 1977 when two California college students, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, created the first personal computer with a monitor, the Apple I. Thanks to the monitor, programming became much easier and programmers could see exactly what they were doing. Also, it helped the average user see the programs people created. This sparked a new revolution in the computer industry, bringing the creation of Apple Computers and starting the personal computer market. Other competing desktop computers with CRT display monitors soon followed in the late 1970s, including the M200 by Sord (now Toshiba Personal Computer System Corporation) in 1977, Hitachi's Basic Master in 1978, and Acorn's System 1 in 1979.
After the release of the Apple II, many competitors formed in the early 1980s, including the IBM Personal Computer, which would later dominate the market in the 1990s. The IBM PC was also one of the first 16-bit home computers, along with Mitsubishi's MULTI16 in 1981. Other leading competitors in the 1980s included Commodore, Atari and Amiga in Western markets, and NEC, Sharp and Fujitsu in Eastern markets. Due to the gaming crash of 1983, many computer manufacturers focused on the business aspects of these machines, leaving gaming as an afterthought.
However, there were many computers that were well-known for their gaming libraries. The leading 8-bit gaming computer platforms in the 1980s included the Apple II in North America, the Commodore 64 and Atari 400/800 in the West, the ZX Spectrum and BBC Micro in the UK, the MSX in Japan and Europe, the high-resolution NEC PC-88 in Japan, and the high-colour FM-7 and Sharp X1 in Japan. The leading 16/32-bit gaming computers in the late 1980s to early 1990s were the NEC PC-98 in Japan, the Amiga and Atari ST in the West, the MS-DOS Compatible computers worldwide, and the more powerful (near arcade quality) Sharp X68000 and FM Towns computers in Japan. The best-selling computer models of the 20th century were the Commodore 64 (17 million units sold worldwide) and NEC PC-98 (over 18 million units sold in Japan). By the 1990s, companies like Origin Systems and EA became leading PC game developers.
In the mid-1980s, the graphical user interface was implemented on new PCs. Now it was easier for people to see what they were doing with computers thanks to computers like the Macintosh and the DOS extension Windows. The GUI was first created by Xerox in the 1960s, but the company was not interested in entering the computer market. Apple was given the rights to use GUI for the Macintosh, however, Microsoft was able to trick Apple into lending them prototype Macintosh computers to create programs for the new machines. They used the coding of the operating system to create Windows, an extension to DOS. Thanks to the cheap $100 price point and its compatibility with all DOS computers, Windows became a success, becoming the new standard of computers by the mid-1990s.
The 1980s also saw the emergence of portable laptop computers. The world's first laptop computer was the Epson HX-20 in 1981. The first commercially successful laptop was Kyocera's Kyotronic 85, originally released in 1983 and re-branded by Tandy as the TRS-80 Model 100, selling 6 million units worldwide. Other competitors soon followed, including Sharp's PC-5000 which had a touchpad pointing device in 1983, and Commodore's SX 64 in 1984. The first mass-market laptop was Toshiba's 16-bit T-1100 in 1985, which they followed with the T-3100 (the first with a built-in hard drive) in 1986. Other competitors soon followed, including NEC's PC-98 LT and IBM's PC Convertible in 1986 and Apple's Macintosh Portable in 1989. The first notebook computer was released in 1989, NEC's UltraLite, which they followed with the first colour TFT LCD laptop in 1990, the 32-bit PC-9801 NC. Apple soon followed with the PowerBook series from 1991 onwards, further popularizing laptop computers in the 1990s.
In the 1990s, the Internet was released to the public after originally being used to connect college computers and military computers to different networks. Since the Internet was introduced to the public, it became a major part of modern society. Now the average computer user is able to access files from many different servers, and have the ability to communicate with people from around the world. This new technology was a revolution in gaming, with online gaming becoming a standard on the PC by the mid 1990s.
Another important revolution for PC gaming was the introduction of 3D graphics accelerator cards in the late 1990s, which allowed the PC to take the lead in cutting-edge 3D graphics technology by the 21st century. The first 3D graphics card for a home computer was NEC's PC-FXGA, released for their PC-98 platform in 1995, which could produce 3D graphics surpassing the PlayStation console and rivaling the Nintendo 64 in terms of polygon rendering performance. The first 3D graphics cards for IBM-compatible PC's soon followed in early 1996: Creative Labs' 3D Blaster, NVIDIA's NV1, and particularly NEC's PowerVR. While the 3D Blaster and NV1 (with the first game to support them being PlayStation port Toshinden) were unable to rival the PlayStation, the PowerVR surpassed the PlayStation and even approached arcade quality graphics, with a near arcade quality PowerVR demo of Namco's Rave Racer (though this PC port was later cancelled). Similarly, the NV1 card received PC ports of Sega titles Virtua Fighter Remix and Virtua Cop (which surpassed the Saturn versions, but couldn't rival the arcade originals). In late 1996, 3dfx launched the Voodoo line, which rivalled the PowerVR in quality and would soon become the most popular PC graphics cards of the late 1990s. Fujitsu soon introduced the FXG-1 "Pinolite" geometry processor, the first GPU with T&L (Transform & Lighting) hardware capabilities, in 1997, paving the way for NVIDIA's GeForce and ATI's Radeon, both of which would later dominate the PC graphics card market in the 21st century.
Today, more than a billion people around the world use the PC platform, with the majority of them being connected to the internet. A majority of PC gamers today are located in Asia, with China alone accounting for nearly a third of the worldwide PC gaming market, the growth of which has largely been fuelled by the rise of online gaming.
Before operating systems, one had to learn complex coding in order to get something to work. With the creation of operating systems, computers became more accessible to the public.
Windows was originally an extension to Microsoft's own coding system MS-DOS back in 1985. With Windows, people could easily browse through their files and do other simple functions much more quickly. Windows has grown in popularity and became the most popular OS in the world, having the support of PC makers like Dell, Gateway, and HP. Windows has gone through many iterations, starting with the MS-DOS days having Windows versions 1.0, 2.0, 3.0, 3.1, and 3.11. Then came Windows NT 3.0-4.0 and Windows 2000 (oriented toward business) and the Windows 9x operating systems including Windows 95, 98, and ME (oriented toward home users). The 9x line was dropped and later versions of Windows have been based on NT, continuing the line from 2000 through XP, Vista, and now Windows 7 (released on October 22, 2009).
The preferred platform for modern PC games is a Windows PC running either Windows XP, Vista, or 7. Windows XP does not support DirectX 10 but does not suffer from incompatibilities with older games like Vista and 7 may. Vista and 7 have the advantage of DirectX 10 or 11, and some exclusive games tied to the OS such as Halo 2. Because of the negative feedback that came from Vista, game developers were reluctant to make DirectX 10 only games. Thanks to the success of Windows 7, more DirectX 10/11 only games are being made, most notably Shattered Horizon, Just Cause 2, and Battlefield 3.
The newest edition, Windows 7, provides gamers with a games browser that notifies the user of patches and updates for some games as they become available. Windows 7 is generally faster than Vista and fixes many of the issues people had with that OS such as intrusive Security settings and sluggish performance, Windows 7 also comes with DirectX 11. Dirt2 was among the first games to support this.
By the end of 2012, Microsoft will release Windows 8. It will be a more tablet-friendly operating system than previous Windows installments, including its own app store. Rumors also speculate that Windows 8 will be a more gamer-friendly platform and will support 128-bit processors.
In 1977, Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs made the Apple 1, Apple's first computer. They later gained popularity with the Apple II. In 1984, Apple released the Macintosh, which was the first Apple computer to have an operating system. The Mac OS lineup was born. Later, Apple switched to Unix-like coding, creating the Mac OS X lineup, which is still used in the new Apple computer lineup today.
The main issue with gaming on a Mac OS is that almost all earlier Mac PCs were not compatible with Windows based video games. More recently however with the creation of applications such as Boot Camp and Parallels more games are able to be run. The development of Intel based Macs also helps reduce this barrier by lifting some of the hardware restrictions.
In May 2010, Valve released Steam for Mac OS X, and ported all of their Source games to the Mac platform by the end of 2010. Valve is hoping for the expansion of Mac gaming in the near future.
Linux is a Unix-like OS licenced under the GPL. Unlike Windows and Mac OS, which require specific hardware for the OS to work properly, Linux is a software-based OS, which can be installed on a variety of devices, including devices which are not PC-based. Linux comes in various distributions, or "distros," such as Ubuntu or Gentoo. Being an open source OS, the Linux community actively develops open source software, including games, for the Linux platform. However, there is no requirement that Linux software be open-source. You can get many Windows applications to work on Linux using specific Windows coding software for Linux (such as WINE) but it is generally not a preferable way of playing Windows games compared to running them in Windows on the same machine. Furthermore, WINE is not compatible with PowerPCs including PS3s with Linux installed. A popular option for overcoming Windows compatibility issues is to multi-boot the Linux distro with a version of Windows so that both operating systems are installed on the same PC at once and the user can switch between them.
There has been increased development for Linux games in recent years, with many indie games, such as Minecraft, releasing a Linux version. The Humble Indie Bundle typically includes Linux versions of games in addition to Mac and PC. Valve released the beta of their popular Steam platform for Linux (Starting with Ubuntu) in Nov. 2012 after their founder Gabe Newell expressed support for the platform. Valve has also indicated that their "Steam-Box" will run Linux by default (though it will be able to dual-boot), presumably intending to encourage devs to make more games for the platform.
The most popular Linux-based OS on the market right now is Android. It is a growing, open source mobile operating system with a growing gaming library. However, it is important to note that most Linux-PC applications are incompatible with Android and vice-verse (without a significant amount of effort).
Components of a PC
There are many replaceable parts in a PC, which is a main aspect separating them from consoles. PCs may be upgraded and maintained as time passes to keep up with the latest games, and a user's configuration will affect which games they can play. The main parts of a computer are as follows:
- CPU (Central Processing Unit) - The processing unit that executes operations in a computer. It consists of an integrated circuit built of many transistors that runs on binary code. The CPU communicates with the rest of the computer through the Northbridge via a front side bus. Most medium and high end processors are 64-bit and have several cores which is known as parallel processing. The CPU creates a lot of heat and as a result requires its own dedicated heatsink or waterblock even on a low end computer.
- GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) - The dedicated graphics rendering device, very important for games. The GPU generally has its own circuit board which is slotted into the motherboard, the processing unit its self is also made up of many transistors and is heavily based on parallel processing. The GPU also uses its own dedicated RAM for storing texture data to be processed. Current generation GPUs are capable of rendering shader model 4.1 processes as part of the DirectX 11 package. Many graphics cards are also compatible with OpenGL.
- Motherboard - The main circuit board in a PC that all the components connect to. Its through this board that all other components may communicate between each other and is run by a set of North and South bridge chipsets, though newer CPUs actually include an integrated nothrbridge.
- RAM (Random Access Memory) - Volatile dynamic memory of a system. Data can be temporarily loaded here to be accessed much faster than from the hard drive or even a solid state drive so not to slow the calculations made by the CPU. The current standard is DDR3.
- PSU (Power Supply Unit) - Supplies power to the PC. Needs to have high enough power (measured in Watts) to run all the components in the system under high load.
- HDD (Hard Disk Drive) - The main storage device of a PC.
- SSD (Solid State Drive) - A type of storage similar to a hard drive, but contain no moving parts. Because of this, data stored in solid state drives can be accessed and written quicker than hard drives.
- Sound Card - An expansion card that processes audio on a separate chip. Most motherboards provide integrated sound chips making sound cards an optional upgrade.
- ODD (Optical Disc Drive) - The peripheral device that reads optical discs such as DVDs, BDs, and CDs.
- Case - Houses the components.
- Monitor - The visual display unit of a computer.
- Input Devices - Mouse, keyboard, microphone, etc. Because of the uptake of the Xbox 360 most games from 2005 onward will work with the Xbox 360 controller. This is also helped by the fact that the Xbox 360 has a USB connection that allows game developers to easily port the control system from current console games to the PC
- Cooling - Commonly either water or air based. With standard cooling devices the lowest possible temperature is the ambient temperature, that of the room the system resides in. To further lower the temperature elaborate devices such as Peltier coolers, liquid gases or phase cooling may be installed, though this is best left to the extreme enthusiast due to the risk of most of these options.
Unlike their console equivalents most PC games have the ability to vary the graphical settings. This feature is inherent to PCs as few systems bear the same hardware and so the user must tailor the game's settings for optimal performance and visual quality. With modern hardware PCs can often surpass their console counterparts in terms of technical graphics. Recent titles offer the option to set the ideal configuration of a game automatically. Such settings include:
- Resolution - The number of pixels along the x and y axes to which the game will render.
- Anti-Aliasing - Raises the quality of the edges of polygon based models using smoothing algorithms.
- Anisotropic Filtering - Raises the quality of textures viewed from obtuse angles.
- Texture Quality - General resolution of the paint scheme of each model.
- Model Quality - General number of polygons used for each model.
- High Dynamic Range lighting - Allows for dynamic tone mapping in games.
- Shader Model - Technology a game can use to render advanced visual effects.
- Vsync - Reduces an artifact known as tearing by synchronizing the frame rate and refresh rate of the monitor.
Computers first featured simple titles similar to SpaceWar! or simple text-input games such as Adventure but have since evolved to become the leading platform for cutting-edge game development in the 21st century due to their seemingly limitless potential.
Old computers such as the Commodore 64 and NEC PC-98 featured a built-in controller port, for C64 controllers as well as Atari 2600 and other controllers. Many games supported both keyboard and joystick input. Since mice have become standard, they have become the preferable method of input for many games, with various manufacturers branding mice specifically for gaming. Joysticks are still widely used via USB. Early games were simply saved onto floppy disks by a publisher or even the programmer themselves. These disks were sold in Ziploc bags and Vinyl slips; they generally had a bland manual and had nowhere near the shelf-presentation of a modern game. Modern games are distributed mainly on optical discs in hard plastic cases or cardboard boxes There has been a large surge in digital distribution as well.
Evolution in the 1990s
In the early days of computer gaming, most games were developed by a single programmer, and were often simple text adventures or downgraded ports/clones of more powerful arcade games. PC gaming has since evolved to encompass a wide variety of genres, some faring better than others.
The most popular genres that have evolved on the platform are the CRPG (Computer Role-Playing Game), RTS (Real-Time Strategy), and FPS (First-Person Shooter).
CRPG's were largely inspired by pen & paper role playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons. The genre spans early ASCII adventures such as Rogue, action RPG's such as Dragon Slayer and Diablo, and MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online RPGs) such as Lineage and World of Warcraft. Freedom is a main element that has evolved with CRPG's. The earlier games were more linear in their approach, sometimes even approaching level design from a distinct "stages" standpoint. CRPGs evolved to have 3D dungeons, real time combat, and huge multiplayer, non-linear worlds.
Real-Time Strategy games, such as Starcraft and Command & Conquer, is a genre that was at the heart of PC gaming in the 1990s and continues to remain a dominant PC genre in Asian countries like South Korea and China. The genre requires fast-paced clicking using a mouse, making implementation on consoles very difficult; ironically, the game often considered the first RTS, Herzog Zwei, was a Sega Mega Drive / Genesis console game. The genre has certainly seen evolution, but the premise of collecting resources, spawning an army, and sending it into battle, has remained relatively constant throughout RTS history.
The third, and arguably most popular, PC genre is the FPS. After being popularized with iD Software's Wolfenstein 3D, the genre exploded into popularity with Doom. The use of mouse a mouse to look around was later popularized by Duke Nukem 3D and Quake. It's a genre that has been ported to consoles, but still controls better on PC due to quick, precise aiming with mice. Landmark PC FPS games include Doom, Quake, Counter-Strike, and Half-Life.
The PC game industry has seen a steady push towards consoles for many years now, due to low sales numbers. These sales are often attributed to illegal downloading as well as the cost of upgrading one's system. The PC industry is largely kept alive by the convenience of having many games at ones fingertips on a PC as well as the superiority of certain genres on the platform.
However, even with retail PC game sales slowing, digital distribution has been expanding within the last few years. Popular digital distribution services like Valve's Steam, Stardock's Impulse, and IGN's DIrect2Drive helped in boosting the sales of PC games and have helped in making many indie games popular. Other digital distributors, like GOG, sell older PC games that either don't sell in retail anymore or are too old to be compatible with newer operating systems. These services allow you to play older games and usually sell them for less than $10. These type of services help in having an easy way to play PC games and having developers keep in touch with their communities.
A primary issue with PC gaming is the barrier to entry due to cost. A modern computer can cost upwards of a $1,000 which is many times what a game console may cost, and if one is having a PC built by a company it can cost much more. Computer components in general need to be upgraded roughly every 2-3 years to keep up with the modern demands of the latest games. The cost of maintaining a high-end system is comparable to owning the popular consoles of a generation of gaming. However, there have been ways to get around this. If you are able to build your own computer and know where to get computer parts for cheap prices (such as Newegg or TigerDirect), you can build a gaming computer that will play many new releases for around $500.
The ability to selectively upgrade hardware also gives PC gamers a flexibility absent in console gaming. Users can upgrade RAM, GPU or hard drives to make their computers more powerful as the games become more demanding. In turn, this flexibility and constant increase in performance allows developers to create games that can fully utilize the latest hardware, often leading to more complex or better looking games.
Piracy and Digital Rights Management
One huge problem reported by publishers with PC gaming is the excessive piracy of games. Bootleg copies of games have been a problem since the introduction of the personal computer. Many computer experts were able to copy floppy disks and distribute them to either share with friends or profit off them. Since the introduction of the internet, it has been easier to distribute pirated software than ever before (including games). Bittorrent sites make it easier for people to put up game files where everyone can download and play.
Although piracy ranges across the world, the areas with the most piracy are third-world countries. These are areas that either have poor game distribution or have gamers that are too poor to afford many games. Piracy has also gone up since the economic crash of 2008.
There are many measures that game publishers use in attempts to prevent piracy. CD keys, unique codes to identify legitimately purchased games, were the first anti-piracy tactic used by PC game distributors. Sometimes CD keys are used to access certain parts of a game (like multiplayer, Games for Windows LIVE games). There have been many issues with CD keys. If you were to lose your CD key and needed to reinstall a game, you had to buy your game all over again. This type of security did not last long because pirates were finding ways to create fake CD keys that they could use to play pirated games. Digital Distribution has made CD keys mostly obsolete.
This led game publishers and various third parties to develop forms of Digital Rights Management (DRM). DRM is digtal software protection that prevents the user from using copied game discs and downloaded disc images or installing games on multiple machines. Some early forms of DRM may interfere with some applications such as disc drive emulation software used for mounting disc images.
There have been controversial uses of DRM within the last few years. In 2008, EA announced that they are going to use a new version of SecuROM DRM that limits the number of simultaneous activated installs, for all of their new PC games (starting with Mass Effect and Spore). Since then. there has been a huge controversy over DRM, even questioning the legality of it.
In 2009, Ubisoft introduced a new DRM that will require you to be online at all times when playing a game. If you are disconnected from the internet for any reason, gameplay will stop. The first games to utilize the new DRM were Assassin's Creed II and Silent Hunter 5. As of 2011, Ubisoft decided to discontinue and retool their online DRM system with the release of Assassin's Creed Brotherhood, and was relaunched with the release of Driver: San Francisco.
Common complaints about this type of DRM are losing game progress and not being able to play when an internet connection is unavailable. Other companies are using similar DRM including EA with Command and Conquer 4 and Blizzard with StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty and Diablo III. Both C&C4 and D3 require a constant, active connection to the host servers, but Blizzard's implementation in SC2 allows offline play of the single player campaign and AI versus modes with achievement functionality disabled.
Many digital distributors feature their own DRM. Steam requires users to connect to their servers at least once and enable offline mode before playing games offline. In Steam's offline mode, achievements are deactivated. Microsoft's Games For Windows Live has similar restrictions.