PC Gaming: A Personal Lament

This blog entry serves two purposes: one,  I'm writing this to give you a bit of background to my gaming life thus far, as I am hoping to start blogging far more, and two, to talk about something that has been on my mind for some time now. It is a bit of a text wall, so I won't blame you if you don't finish it, but I promise that most entries won't be like this. To time consuming mainly. Anyway, hope you like it. Constructive feedback would be greatly appreciated. :)
 
 

PC Gaming: A Personal Lament

   

 Like many people around these parts I have been gaming for most of my life. I remember the good old day of playing the DOS version of Space Invaders when I was five or six years old on an ancient cast-off PC that dad no longer wanted, and being mesmerised by the green and white pixel critters and the pops and crackles in all its 16-bit glory. It's easy to impress a six year old, sure, but still, it WAS the greatest thing ever back then! Thankfully, things stepped up a bit when a friend of mine was given a SNES for his eighth birthday, and as we were effectively joined at the hip, what was his was also mine, or at least that's the way I saw it. Many classic characters came into our lives as we wandered the Mushroom Kingdom, soared through the skies of Corneria, battled countless xenomorphs on Zebes, and quested through many Fantasies that always promised to be the last (lies!). This love for Nintendo carried over to the Nintendo 64, where we became the undisputed kings of Golden Eye in the local area, and later Perfect Dark. None could stand before us! We also discovered the Legend of Zelda in the form of Ocarina of Time, a game that we still both consider one of the all time greats. And who could forget the joys of Mario Cart? Consoles like the Playstation, Gamecube and Dreamcast also played their parts in this ongoing craze, but to save time, I was simply say that they had many good and memorable moments as well. 'Nuff said really.

To summarise, these were happy times, but there has been one thing, that to my mind at least, has had the biggest influence of all on my gaming life, and that was the good old desktop personal computer

 
 My first love, or one very similar to this.

It was a more solitary hobby than the consoles, as most of the games were either single player, or because of a notoriously poor internet connection (something that I am still battling with to this day), the early smash-hit multiplayer games and mods, past me by. It was games like Wing Commander III, Crusader and Descent that really hooked me and although my parents put quite strict limits on my game time, I loved every minute of it. As I got into my early teens (is it tweens now, or something stupid like that?) my interest in gaming almost became an obsession, and it was the PC that lead the way. If you look at my Top 20 favourites list that influence should be quite obvious, with games like the original Call of Duty, Rome: Total War, NHL 2002, and of course, the big daddy of them all, Baldur's Gate II, which is still my undisputed favourite game of all time. It was games like these that played a huge part of my life, and eventually turned from a simple hobby to a passion when they helped get me through a period of serious illness, which I am only just recovering from now. They were my one outlet at the time and were no longer just a simple distraction, something to waste-away an afternoon every now and then. They were far more than that. They were a source of inspiration, of joy, of sadness, and all the emotions that I had previously only associated to films, books, and of course, real life. I don't mean to sound overly sentimental or anything, but I do truly believe that games have the same power to move people as those more established forms of media. Perhaps even more so eventually. Who can say?

  
So why have I titled this article, "A Lament"? Well, the answer is quite simple really. This isn't another article about the decline of the PC gaming market, something which I personally don't recognise for the most part. One only needs to look at the MMO market (or should that be the World of Warcraft market?) or the likes of QuakeCon, and the various interesting looking upcoming titles, both main stream, indie and mod, to see that there is still a thriving PC community. No, it's more martial than that. The long and the short of it comes down to one important factor: money. Anyway you look at it a good quality gaming rig, whether you buy it whole or as parts, is pretty damn expensive, and I have just reached a point in my life where I have other commitments that need to be addressed. I no longer have the my monthly allowance so generously given by my parents over the years that I used to save like a dragon protecting it's horde, so although I can still afford a few purchases a year, it is no longer in the quantity I used to enjoy. Time is also a big factor. I'm at university now and, perhaps unusually for a student (or at least many that I've met), the course comes first, so I simply don't have the time to sink hour upon hour into a game. I'd like to keep my grades up, thank you very much. This isn't a situation that is unique to me of course. I'm sure many of you, perhaps even most of you, reading this now are in a similar position whether because of studies or work (and if you have got this far in this wall of text then well done, and sorry for taking up so much of your time). It is only the luckily few, and the sad loners, that can truly delicate both time and money on this hobby, and I am no longer in that position. 
 
The thing that prompted me to write this was actually the imminent release of Civilization V, the latest addition to one of my favourite series. I actually preordered it, a very unusual occurrence for me, even in my hardcore days, but guess what happened a few days ago. The PC, which had been doing a lot of weird stuff lately, decided it no longer wanted to live and died in a pretty spectacular way. Typical really (although those weren't the words I used at the time). So now I'm looking at replacement parts (I don't think this is a software problem), which I'm dreading. Even a fairly modest fix is still going to be a drain on my already limited funds which means that I'm probably going to have to limit some future game-related purchases, thus adding to the annoyance. 
 
Why must you break now? Why?!
  
Despite these problems and despite the expense, I just can't let the old girl go, not yet. My passion for gaming is definately still there for sure, it's just having to compete with more stuff, which, I suppose if you look at in another way, isn't necessarily a bad thing. It's just sad that those carefree days of PC gaming, and gaming in general, are over for me. It's a rather melancholy thought. We all have to grow up sometimes though, I guess. Heavy man. The sooner my student days are over and I making HELL OF money I'll build me a computer that overclocks so hard it'll tip the Earth of it's god-damn axis! (just a little bit) A man can dream.
 
I suppose the main bullet point of this article is this: adult life, why are you killing my buzz? I hate you, and if you had a face I'd punch it. Repeatedly. Good day.
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Black Screen of Death!

Throughout my life I have always had a knack for buying temperamental PC's. It's an underrated talent but one that I seem to excel at. I can't remember the last build that work flawlessly from the word "go" and even if one did it probably broke within a year like the rest of them. Why they all insist on committing electronic hara-kiri is a total mystery to me. When it comes to computers I'm definitely a minimalist, only installing the bare essentials (and a healthy splash of games, of course ;)), never the junk that many people seem to plague their machines with. It never helps though; before too long the blue screens of death start appearing signalling the slow painful demise of that particularly piece of hardware. These aren't always fatal but even so it normally takes a few days out of my life fixing them up so it's just as inconvenient.


True to form my current PC decided that I had had a long enough run of mechanical good fortune and last Friday it rebelled and began to sulk in the corner. Basically, I was just updating my anti-virus software when it asked me a restart the computer for the effects to work. That I did, but when it got to the welcome screen the infamous blue screen of death appeared and after it had restarted again all I had was a black screen and an idling hard drive. It wasn't even loading into BIOS, so for the last few days I have been trying to fix the problem. Thankfully the hard drive was undamaged by this event (the thought of losing my photograph portfolio was unbearable!) so now that it is fully backed up I can really start fiddling around. My hardware knowledge is not outstanding not I've narrowed it down to 3 possible things: memory, CPU, and power unit. It may not be any of those things but I won't know until I test them. That's my afternoon gone.


It's particularly annoying from a gaming perspective as two of my most anticipated games of the next few months (Dawn of War II and Empire: Total War (see last journal entry for more details)) have both had to take a back seat until everything is fixed. And I was just starting to get into them too. I hate computers, and they hate me. :(


Oh well, hopefully this will all be fixed soon. I'll let you know what happens.

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Anticipation to the max!

It's been a while since I’ve blogged anything game related so I thought I’d bust out the ol’ keyboard and get crackin’. There’s quite a lot to say really, far too much to put into one post, so I’ll keep it as brief possible (not very likely though ;) ).

 

Let’s face facts straight away; I’m a PC gamer. It’s been my main platform for many, many years and even though I have been getting into the 360 a lot recently (and, to a lesser extent, the Wii) I’m still a PC gamer at heart. A good thing too, because it actually sounds like it going to be quite a good year for the PC market. Gaming like Diablo III, Operation Flashpoint 2, Dragon Age are all looking pretty good, to name but a few, and show that there is still life in this supposedly “dead” system.

 

Strangely though, most of the games that I’m most excited about are from a genre that is still predominantly PC only. I’ve always loved strategy games, both turn based and real-time, and this year’s batch is looking very tasty indeed. Things like Starcraft II and Demigod are looking very promising but there are two others that I’m going to focus on here, mainly because I went out completely out of character and actually pre-ordered them. That may not seem like a big deal to many of you but for me it is very unusual. Before these two I can’t actually remember the last game I pre-ordered. It must have been years ago. Anyway, on to the games.

Dawn of War II 

Dawn of War II, the sequel to Relic’s massively successful Warhammer 40K title, is a game I’ve been waiting for with eager anticipation for many months. I have loads of happy memories of playing the tabletop version years ago so the franchise has always held a special place for me. The original Dawn of War’s mix of fast pace, tactical gameplay was great and consumed more hours of my life than I care to admit, so when I heard that a new one was being made the adrenaline really started to pump. It will be really interesting to see how the developers have shook things up, particularly with the lack of base building. I know that a lot of the purest are upset about that but I’m actually really excited to see how it works. I’ve always thought that style was more fitting for this universe anyway. I won’t have to wait long to find out at any rate, as the postman put it through the letter box about 10 minutes ago so once I’ve finished this I’ll be giving it a good shake down.


Bring on the greenskin hoard!













Empire: Total War

My anticipation for DOW II is but a fraction when compared to this however. I many have been waiting for DOW II for a few months but I’ve been anticipating Empire since 2002. Let me explain. The original Medieval: Total War was one of those defining games in my life. It showed a scale and scope which I had never seen before and the massive battles were captivating. It was truly epic and I loved it for that. It was also the first game I ever modded as well and there was one in particularly by the name of “Napoleonic: Total War” which really stood out. It was developed by a team known as the Lordz and focused on of the rise and fall of Napoleon during the late 18 and early 19 centuries. Being the sad history loving freak that I am this mod was extremely engrossing. The level of care and detail that they put into it was breathtaking and really caught my imagination as few games ever had before. I started wondering what would happen if an official game was ever made and as the series started to evolve with Rome and Medieval 2 those hopes kept building. Finally, almost six years later, Empire was announced and my excitement levels went through the roof. The more I saw of it the more I wanted to get my hands on it. It’s been a real obsession over the past year, as sad as that may sound. I know that there are a lot of people who are rather lukewarm about it because of its complexity, scale and general bewildering qualities but it’s for those reasons that I’m so eager to try it. As soon as it was available I pre-ordered it because unless the reviews are absolutely devastating I can’t see any reason why I would wait. I’m not a religious man but I’m praying with every fibre of my being that this will be everything that the developers claim it will. They have certainly been hyping it up, but any man and his dog can talk a big game but the proof is in the pudding. Creative Assembly hasn’t let me down yet though so I’ll keep the faith. not long to wait now! :)


Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more!
















I could write pages and pages about Empire but I’ve waffled on far too long already. :) I’ll try and keep my entries shorter from now on.

 

Thanks for reading!

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The New Mii and Xbox Live

Well, I might as well jump on the band wagon and talk about my latest experience on the new Xbox experience. First of all though, say hi to the new Mii!

I know no one in GS land knows what I actually look like so you'll just have to trust me when I say that if I was a cartoon character this is what I would look like. This little guy is almost exactly like me. Even the cloths and hair are as near to spot-on as you can get. Nice one Microsoft!


As for reactions to the new layout I'm probably not the person to talk to about that mainly because this update was one of the first times I'm brothers 360 has been online. This isn't because we never wanted to until now, it's simply because the internet connection around here is rubbish and this is the first time it actually worked. As such, I can't really compare the old and the new (there are plenty of other people doing that already) so all I can really say is that so far I'm liking what I'm seeing. The interface and presentation seems really slick and well thought out and ability to install games on the hard drive sounds like a pretty nifty feature (I do wonder why it's taken Microsoft so long to release that though). I'll have to play around with it a bit more before I can really pass judgement but so far so good.


The main story here, as far as I'm concerned, is that I finally been able to get online and see what all of the fuss is about with Xbox Live. Like I said, I haven't been able to go on it before so all I really knew about it was the stuff that I'd read/hear about. First things first, I registered my gamer ID so now the whole world can see just how pitifully small my gamer score is (everyone has to start somewhere, I guess ^^). I also had my first look at the marketplace and discovered just how much I have been missing. The selection of games on there was impressive to say the least and with the promise of things like Street Fighter 2 HD Remix just around the corner then I think my bank balance may start taking a beating. To begin with I bought two games that I knew I would like; Geometry Wars Evolved 2 and Ikaruga. I'm loving both of them and will most likely write more about each when I have some more time. There was also a selection of trailers and demos that deserved a  look so all in all, my bandwidth has been pretty busy over the last few days. Good times all 'round! :)


So yeah, lots of stuff to explore still so I'm sure I'll be writing more about it very soon, especially when uni is out and the Christmas break begins. The excitement is building already! :D

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EA causes choas in £20,000 fuel giveaway!

 

Massive traffic jams were seen outside Last Stop garage in Finsbury Park, North London this morning. The reason? No not the everyday hustle-and-bustle of England’s vibrant capital. Electronic Arts were promoting Mercenaries 2: World in Flames by giving away £20,000 worth of free petrol. Seriously, I’m not yanking your chain here. Take a look for yourselves.

Unsurprising the locals were not best pleased with this and started complaining to anyone who would listen. Even the political got in on the act.

Lynne Featherstone, MP for Hornsey and Wood Green, said: "Whilst a lucky few might have got free petrol, hundreds of residents have faced misery".

While the Liberal Democrat said: "Trying to recreate Venezuelan-style fuel riots on the streets of London is completely irresponsible and downright dangerous.”

Oh those crazy politicians and their relentless logic!

The thing that strikes me most about this story is EA’s audacity to pull something like this off. Basically crippling a busy at of London just to promote a game that is expected to sell very well is totally insane! But you know what, I tip my hat to you EA. You guys sure do have some guts, that’s for sure. And, by the sound of it, it worked like a charm. Many people in line to get their free fuel were saying that they were going to get Merc 2 as soon as it came out. Now that’s what I can marketing!

Kudos, EA, kudos, you crazy bastards you!

Fuel sells games! Apparently.
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