Top 5 Friday: PC Gaming Is Still Better.

I’m supposed to be this blog’s “PC guy” but in several of my more recent blogs I’ve given you plenty of reasons to be turned off by PC gaming (notably, here and here).  Where’s my smug, better than you attitude gone?  Truth be told, I’d like to think of myself less as a PC gamer and more just as a gamer overall.  That said, I truly believe that right now, the PC is still the best gaming platform around, here’s why.

5.  Better peripheral & controller support.

Console lovers, is that a collective gasp I just heard?  How dare me, right?  For the longest time consoles won the peripheral & controller category, hands down.  Like Bob Dylan said though, “Times, they are a changin’”.  As of right now you can use your Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, or PS4 controller to play PC games.  In addition, there are a plethora of other PC controllers out there, not to mention the Steam controller just got a release date. Then there are all the peripherals that are completely bonkers, like the high-end flight simulator and car simulator stuff or the mouse with 400 buttons.  Want a GameCube style controller?  Done.  How about a SNES controller.  Done.  There are so many options when it comes to using controllers on a PC, so much so that I’d consider the PC the go-to platform for peripheral choice.

4.  Better purchasing options.

Anyone can go to a brick and mortar store to buy a game, and that’s perfectly fine.  If you’re looking to purchase digitally though, nothing beats the PC’s range of options.  With a PC you’re not limited to one manufacturers store, like you are with a console.  A quick story…  Last week I was jonesing to play The Witcher 3 but I really didn’t want to drop the full $60 on it right now.  I got online and in 5 minutes I found digital downloads for $30.  By contrast, I haven’t seen a console version of the game for under $55, and I’d assume you won’t find a deal like the one I found on either console’s digital store.  Steam has great sales, and so does GOG.com.  There’s greenmangaming.com and Desura.com.  With all that choice it’s hard to argue against the PC in terms of purchasing options.

3.  Better hardware.

Ok, here it is, the age-old PC argument. Yes, PC hardware, specifically PC graphics hardware, is better.  Primarily it’s better because it evolves more quickly than the 6+ year cycle that the typical console does.  PC hardware is better for a number of reasons that go far beyond just graphics cards though.  Solid state drives are amazing and the typical PC hard drive is huge.  Sure, you can install those drives in your console, but we’re not talking about pulling stuff apart and replacing pieces.  If you’re going to do that you might as well be on a PC anyway.  PC’s come standard with massive amounts of HD space, large amounts of RAM, and graphics capabilities that can be tailored to your needs.  If you’re into this sort of thing, you can even play games across multiple monitors at absurd resolutions.  Try that PS4!

2.  PCs aren’t stuck to the desk anymore.

One of the biggest detractions for console gamers is the idea that they have to be tied to a desk.  For the longest time that was a pretty legitimate argument.  Hooking up your PC to your living room TV meant all sorts hassles.  HDMI makes it so simple though.  One cable carries the video and audio to your television.  PC’s have TV style remotes that work great, wireless controllers, and all sorts of slick interfaces to navigate content you’ve downloaded, stream-able content, and even content coming from  your cable box.  With very little effort your PC can be as versatile as your Xbox One.  Your PC is capable of everything a modern console is and a lot more.  It takes less set-up than you’d think, and it works better than you might expect.

1.  PC’s are the future, just embrace it.

This makes me chuckle.

Let me clarify my point right off the bat here.  I’m not suggesting that PCs are taking over, rather that consoles are slowly morphing into PCs.  Back in the day there was a huge divide between the console player and the PC player largely because PC gaming was a hassle.  There were driver updates to do and firmware upgrades.  Games had to be installed and “patched”.  Some games even crashed without warning.  All of that starting to sound familiar, console players?  I thought so.  In this respect PCs aren’t better they were just first to the ‘gaming is a big hassle’ party.  By the time the next generation of consoles have hit the market, they’re basically going to be PCs. Consoles are already plagued by the same issues that PC gamers have been dealing with for years.  Again, I’m not suggesting that this is a good thing, but it’s how things are in an internet-connected world.  The days of buying a PS1 game at BestBuy, bringing it home and having it work perfectly seem to be gone.  Today you have to install your console games, and patch them, often on day one.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of this, I’m simply pointing out that what you call a “console” these days is just becoming a PC anyway, so if you’re going to deal with all the same PC-centric hassles, you might as well reap the benefits of being a PC gamer.

An Open Letter To Steam From a Dev (and a gamer).

Dear Steam,

Before I make any remarks that you may consider offensive or inflammatory, let me first express to you my deep and undying love.  Since you came into my life all those years ago you’ve brought me joy unimaginable.  Your staggering game selection, incredible sales, and unmatched download speed have made purchasing games digitally my primary means of purchasing.  Plus, your willingness to support indie developers has made you the go to place for interesting games.  If you were here I’d wrap you up in my arms, gently caress you, and tell you how wonderful you are.  I’d want you to know that everything I’m about to tell you comes from a place of love and compassion, not of anger or hate.  I want the best for you Steam, but some of the decisions you’ve been making recently make me wonder if you’ve started running with the wrong crowd.  For years now, you’ve been not just my darling, but the darling of all PC gamers, and the envy of console players everywhere.   Before you lose your way completely, I implore you to simply listen to what I have to say.

First off, we need to address your recent loss of self-esteem.  You are beautiful; there is no reason to feel like you have to accept every single submission made to you.  “No” is a word that you’re allowed to use.  Not every game needs to be on your platform.  Games that began their lives as free-to-play mobile games might be better off simply staying that way, especially when their mobile-centric controls haven’t even been retrofitted to work well on anything but a touch screen.  You’re better than this Steam.  You sell Grand Theft Auto V, and The Witcher 3.  You don’t need to sell all of these quick-buck ports.  It’s not that there is anything inherently wrong with mobile games, but we both know full well that you don’t belong with them.

These decisions are yours to make, I can’t stop you.  But your recent willingness to accept virtually any game submitted to you has some concerning implications for us developers.  Your new releases queue used to be filled with interesting titles, and we were all eager to see what you’d deliver to us next.  These days it seems like we need to weed through an endless array of demos, DLC, and mobile ports just to get to the good stuff you used to be so proud of.  Developers, especially small indies like me, are getting scared Steam.  We’re worried that our products — the hand-crafted independent titles that we used to see on the front page right next to the triple-a’s — are getting swallowed up.  If you want to see the destructive results of this behavior, you need only look to your mentally challenged little brother, the iOS App Store.  There you can still find more knock offs of Flappy Bird than any of us would ever care to play.  Look at the App Store my dear, is that what you want to become?  You’re no app slut, so stop acting like one.

I believe that the above problem is merely a symptom of your overall disease.  I’m sorry to say but you are being overcome by greed.  Your cavalier willingness to start charging money for mods seems to be more than enough evidence of this, but if you’re looking for more, consider the completely useless system of Steam Trading Cards.  Over the last few years you have seemed more than willing to add feature after feature that all aim towards bringing you more money; money that you clearly don’t need.  We love you, and we want to buy our games from you, so why not just stick to what’s always made you so perfect for us?  We need you to be the Steam we fell in love with, the Steam that was content to rake in boatloads of money by simply providing us with the best platform for our digital game purchases.

I understand that you removed the paid mod system, and it’s much appreciated that your father took the time to address the issue with us directly.  It’s still concerning though.  The things you do affect all of us, and you’re developing a reputation for being very sly and deceptive in the way you gouge customers.  Things like paid mods and trading cards don’t necessarily hurt anyone, we don’t have to participate after all.  They damage your image though, and by doing so they damage the community and the marketplace.  That has a very clear negative affect on my possible sales.  It makes me less likely to want to sell my game on your platform.

To be fair, you’re still leaps and bounds ahead of anyone else in the market.  You are most certainly still the belle of the ball when it comes to buying games digitally.  It’s because of this that I feel like this etter is so important.  It’s definitely not too late to change, and it really wouldn’t take much.  The recommendation and curator systems both work fairly well, and could be stellar with a bit of tweaking.  The review system is relatively helpful or at least entertaining.  Most of what you offer is pretty good, in fact.  You’re the big kid on the block now though, so every tiny thing that you do is analyzed, scrutinized and turned into the week’s biggest news.  You’re a bonafide celebrity, Steam.  You can’t sneeze without it making headlines.  Whether or not you mean to, these changes that you make have drastic impacts on the landscape of the digital distribution economy.

What you have to offer is amazing, and we all love you, but there is a growing darkness in you that we’re all beginning to sense.  Your greed has begun to motivate decisions that are hurting all of us, and though you tend to err on our side when those decisions turn out to be bad ones, I think we’re all on edge when it comes to how you’ll handle the next situation.  When you refund money for games that developers lied about, you go a long way to make us feel loved and wanted.  But when you subsequently flood us with unneeded games, and attempt to quietly implement new systems that pad your pockets even further we get nervous.  I’m nervous, Steam.  You’re great, and I love you, but it’s time for you to do a little soul searching.

Review: Cave Story+ (PC)

By: Steve Zachmann, contributor

I’ve developed a system that I really like when playing some of these more obscure games in my library. Here’s what I do: I boot up the game without any inkling of what it could be and I play it for however much time I feel compelled to.  After my initial reaction, I then read up on the game, if I feel compelled to do so.  Obviously with a game like Call of Duty there’s already a predisposition about what I’m getting into, and not much I could gather from reading other material about the game, but games like Cave Story+ or Spelunky, it was really interesting to see how my uninitiated opinion of the game was different (or the same) as the rest of the world’s.

This time around, my opinion was relatively different than that of the world at large.  According to Wikipedia, Cave Story was met with huge praise back when it was released in 2004.  One of the pioneers in the indie “Metroidvania” craze, it’s probably responsible for a lot of those types of games that we still see pouring out today.  I liked what I played of Cave Story+ (I’m not sure what the + means).  I didn’t love it.  I didn’t hate it.  It was fine.  I love Metroidvania style games, but Cave Story just didn’t really click with me.

There were certain points during my time with the game where I thought, ‘Oooh, that’s a really cool idea’.  The way the weapons level up is a good example of this.  For every moment like that though, there seemed to be a sigh of, ‘Ugh, what is this about’.  A good example of that would be the music, which I found to be terribly grating.

Two of the major reasons that Cave Story got such good reviews were story, and game length.  Because I wasn’t able to spend 8+ hours with it, neither of those things factored into my opinion.  Had I stuck with Cave Story for a significantly longer period of time, perhaps I’d have eventually come around more.  It also doesn’t help that I missed the zeitgeist on this game.  I feel like some of the more popular indie games kind of have a coolness bubble that inevitably pops, and then all of us who weren’t in on it when it was cool get left in the dust.  For me, I know that I’m more likely to stick with a game if I see people tweeting or talking about it on a podcast.

As a small aside, doing reviews for this blog has had the additional effect of making me seriously question my prior purchasing habits.  Most of the games in my library fall into one of two categories.  Either I was really excited about the game and bought it at launch, or I bought it during a Steam sale when it was 75+% off.  In this regard, I don’t feel terrible about buying things like Cave Story.  At the very least I supported a dev who did something that most people think was cool.  By buying his game, in some small way I help encourage him to make more games.  Perhaps his next one we’ll be my favorite game of all time.  On the other hand though, you wouldn’t flush $5 bills down the toilet, right?  While it’s not a lot of money, it’s not an amount you’d just give away just because you didn’t care.  So when I spend even $5 on a game that I end up either not playing, or not enjoying, I’m essentially just flushing that money away.  Playing through my backlog makes me realize that I’ve handed out a lot of small amounts for a lot of games I’m not likely to play or like.  Silver lining though, every time there is a Steam sale, there is less for me to spend money on because I own so much of it already.

Reviews: Escape Rosecliff Island (PC); Toki Tori (PC); Eldritch (PC)

By: Steve Zachmann, contributor

Escape Rosecliff Island

I’m not even sure how I came to own this game, or what I’ve done to find myself in the predicament of actually having to play it.  Let’s be clear up front, Escape Rosecliff Island is not a good game.  It’s barely even a game, really.  That might be too harsh I suppose, but I have a bit of a chip on my shoulder when it comes to hidden object games, which is what this is.  If you’re not already aware, a hidden object game is pretty much exactly what you’d expect.  It’s a game where you get a static image filled small objects and you have to click on them to “find” them.  Your goal is to find all of the items listed at the bottom of the screen.  It’s as boring as you might imagine…and yet, I played it for almost two hours.

I can’t tell you exactly how this came to happen, but I believe it’s some form of hypnosis.  I say that Escape Rosecliff Island is bad because I don’t really care for what it is, but the fact remains that it engaged me enough to play it for way longer than I expected.  I can see a use for these type of games for people that have cognitive impairments like dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.  They might also be useful for anyone interested in improving their cognitive function as these games are good memory trainers.  Still, after every level I couldn’t help but wonder what I was doing with myself, and when I finally couldn’t take it anymore I exited out of the game and immediately uninstalled it.  Thanks for the fun Escape Rosecliff Island, goodbye.

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Toki Tori

Toki Tori is a game that succeeded very quickly in making me feel really stupid.  It only took eleven levels, to be exact.  It’s a puzzle game wherein you play a bird attempting to collect their eggs while using different abilities to navigate a level (read: puzzle).  It seems like a fine puzzler, but after about 45 minutes, I had completely had my fill of it.  Sometimes you run across a game that just doesn’t resonate with you at all, and I suppose that was Toki Tori, for me.  I’m sure Toki Tori isn’t a bad game.  It has good reviews so it must connect with some people.  In fact, it may very well have connected with me on some other day.

This brings me to a realization about this whole backlog project.  It’s challenging to play these games so randomly because you never know what you’re going to end up with.  If you’re caught off guard by a game that you’re simply not prepared to dive into, you’re more likely to have a bad time with it.  That might be all that was wrong with my experience with Toki Tori; I wasn’t really feeling like playing a puzzle game that day.  I’m going to continue the format as-is for now, but if I find that there are too many games that I should be enjoying but am not, then maybe I’ll go back and reformat the structure such that I play games when it feels right to play them.  I like idea of randomly choosing games though, so I’m going to stick it out a bit longer.

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Eldtritch

Eldritch.jpg

Eldritch is an interesting little game.  Part Minecraft, part Resident Evil, part Spelunky, it feels like an odd mix of genres.  The gameplay loop goes about like this…  You wake up in a strange library wherein some of the books have magical symbols that, upon reading, transport you to new areas.  Inspired by Lovecraftian style horror, these new areas are filled with all manner of creepy enemies.  Eldritch purports to have “roguelike elements”, and it certainly does.  These magical areas are all randomly generated each time you start a new game, and you’ll start plenty of new games because like any good roguelike, Eldritch is pretty hard and doesn’t come with a lot of hand holding or explanation.

I definitely played enough Eldritch to understand what it is, and I feel like the game is actually pretty good.  My problem with games that lean into the roguelike aspects is that they’re very time consuming.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the experience, but it takes a very long time really get a feel for what’s going on in the game world (unless you resort to FAQs and such).  Games like Spelunky and The Binding of Isaac are both rich experiences that I simply don’t care to spend enough time to understand.  For me, I believe Eldritch falls into this category, although I think I’d be more willing to spend time with Eldritch than either of those other games.