Why PC Gaming?
As a regular reader of ours may have noticed, Mana Pool is deliberately and exclusively a PC gaming website, and we like it that way. That’s not to say we have anything against video games which are played on consoles or console gamers, but we are very fond of the particular features of the PC which are not present on consoles. If you are not typically a PC gamer, you may ask why and, in fairness, this is a perfectly reasonable question.
Lots of the time, as is the case on many issues in life, it seems that one must fall decidedly into one camp or the other – console or PC – and dedicate oneself solely to that platform to a degree just shy of religious fervour. Rarely discussed beyond knee-jerk flames and reaction to flames, however, is the reason why many gamers prefer PC gaming, as well as a serious look at some of the pros and cons surrounding PCs and PC games. Herein, dear reader, I shall attempt to enlighten (enrage) you. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.
Controllers and Interface
The standard input method of the PC is the keyboard and mouse, although joysticks and other means are sometimes available. For many games, this combination is fantastic, and there have yet to be serious contenders, especially when it comes to the precision of a mouse. Not only that, but the keyboard allows for a great many different hot keys/buttons, allowing the player to quickly and easily have access to a large selection of abilities or options.
Take many MMOs as an example. In a game such as World of Warcraft, by maximum level a player can easily have dozens of different class abilities available to them, as well as racial abilities, mounts, items, macros, pet abilities, targeting buttons and so on. Attempting this on a gamepad, wii remote or other controller for a console would be at once a hilarious and miserable experience, as there simply aren’t enough buttons available.
Similar advantages are present in other genres, RPGs and strategy games especially, where one wants access to a large number of available abilities or variety of unit groupings, to a degree that is made much easier with a keyboard + mouse than other forms of interface.
The mouse plays a similar role in terms of precise movements and pinpoint targeting. In FPS games on the console, players need some nudging of their fire when targeting enemies, and other gameplay elements are made less destructive due to having a less suitable input mechanism, as discussed in more detail below. Attempting to select units or pinpoint precise locations on the screen is simply far easier with the mouse.
Of course, this is not to say that the keyboard and mouse is always superior. I would say that some kinds of racing games greatly benefit from the joystick/thumb sticks of console controllers due to the ease of smooth turning, for instance. The games which benefit from the keyboard and mouse interface of the PC happen to be the games I prefer playing, thus it is only natural that I gravitate towards the PC.
One may ask at this point why there is any form of conflict between PC and console. If PCs do some games better than consoles and consoles do better than PCs than others, why do some PC gamers complain about console gamers and gaming, typically with phrases such as ‘dumbed down’, ‘consoleification’ and worse, the dreaded ‘casual’.
Take a game, such as Oblivion, which was made for the console and then ported to the PC. In the standard game, the interface is a pain. Whilst the player can have dozens and dozens of spells available, along with different weapon/shield options, one can only ever have one spell ready for use at any one time, and can only hotkey up to eight items/spells. A whole eight. On my keyboard, I can hotkey a few dozen different abilities, and that’s before I make use of Alt, Ctrl and Shift modifiers, yet I am limited to a mere eight options.
This is even worse when one takes a game such as Fable, where the selection of different spells is done via scrolling of the mouse wheel, despite the fact that one has dozens of unused keys which could have been used.
Other parts of the interface have clearly been designed for the console user as well, such as the layout. All of the display is huge, which is required for the console where one might sit on a couch a considerable distance from the television screen. In the standard Oblivion, I can make out 4-5 items per screen within my inventory, meaning that I have a massive amount of wasted screen real estate.
Another game which does not take into account the keys available on PC is Assassin’s Creed, which requires the holding down of several different keys at once, especially depending on whether one wishes to perform low profile actions (subtle, small movements such as blending in or stabbing someone discretely with a hidden blade) or high profile actions (such as leaping or slashing someone with a sword). On the console this is fine, as controllers are designed ergonomically with the expectation that players will have their fingers on several buttons at the same time. On the PC, there are so many keys available that one could have made high profile actions use completely different keys entirely, making it a far more comfortable interface.
Many more issues are present in games featuring less than optimal ports from console, such as endlessly nested menus to make up for the limited number of keys/large icons. Ultimately, this problem could be fixed by simply porting the game well, or designing the game from the beginning with the understanding that some things should not be fixed in stone to accommodate the eventual port to PC.
When it comes to the mouse, the comments from John Comes regarding the desire of PC players of FPS to be able to play against console players speak for themselves. PC games have, I find, a far more immediate feel to them because my input is so precise, and none of my commands are being massaged by the game. What I do translates directly into what happens next.
‘Casual’: the slur
Part of the problem, then, is due to porting, which harms PC gaming by granting an inferior experience when games are ported poorly from the console. What of the dreaded casual?
First, it must be pointed out that this is an apparent insult bandied about by people to others on the same platform, but it is one I have seen used by some to describe console players as a group. I have also seen the reverse, with some console zealots describing PC gamers as being far too focused on their games, as with the recent PC World article.
I’m of the opinion that this derives partly from the more immediately social nature of console games. When playing on a console, one can sit on a couch with friends and hand out controllers and play for a little while, in a way that is far easier than attempting to arrange a LAN party. Even when not doing this, the fact that consoles typically take less time to boot up, and can be played on a couch, makes for a different gaming ethos. This is a fine way of playing much of the time, however it lends itself to a far shorter game experience which assumes that people will come and go, in which there isn’t much continuity and in which people can dip in and out of easily.
Long have PC gamers been portrayed as those who will sit in front of their grey towers and the eerie glow of their monitors until the early hours, and in part this is accurate. The significant difference is that PC games are often quite lengthy affairs, designed to suck one in for long stretches of time, rather than providing quick relief in between other tasks. Playing an RPG or a TBS can be quite a lengthy engagement, and not to everyone’s tastes.
Console games (along with flash games and games hooked into social networks) are typically designed for a different audience, and their apparently shallower gameplay is something that has a place, but is not something I would wish to see dominate the gaming market. I like my all-consuming PC games which last for dozens of hours.
Another reason to play PC games is the customisability present from mods. In the above example of Oblivion, for example, a judicious use of mods can fix many of the problems with the interface, and much more besides. On top of that, they can extend games in many other ways, such as new areas, quests, graphics, radically altered gameplay, bug fixing and so forth.
In addition to mods, strategy games especially benefit from large amounts of additional content developed by the community in the forms of maps, often of even greater quality than the official content. A PC game is rarely limited by the budget or failures of the developer, and a community can vastly improve on a game, as well as extending its life cycle. Until console games offer anything like the options available to PC games, they’re not a serious contender.
The PC Price Myth
Often it is said that PC gaming is far more expensive than consoles. After all, one allegedly needs a PC of more than £2,000 to play computer games, compared to a few hundred for a console! That’s not really the case, and I am of the opinion that PC gaming can actually be cheaper than console gaming.
Firstly, let’s take computer price. For about £700, one can acquire a PC more than capable of playing contemporary games on reasonable settings. It’s possible that the graphics won’t be quite as pretty as on a console for some games at that price, but they should still be good looking. One can spend considerably more, of course, but I expect that many people don’t, and they certainly don’t need to. We’ve now shaved off a large chunk of money, and the price is a bit more reasonable, but still more expensive.
Next, though, consider that many, many households will already have a PC. I know that even if I didn’t play many computer games, I’d still have one, as they’re pretty useful for watching films, browsing the internet, writing documents and so on. Just as people typically don’t factor in the cost of the television when discussing console prices, including basic PC costs into the price of a gaming PC seems pretty disingenuous. So, of that £700, probably at least £400 is either already paid for, or will benefit the owner in many ways beyond just gaming. A major difference between a normal PC and a gaming PC these days is the graphics card, especially as processors and RAM are becoming cheaper every day, and £300 can make for quite a good improvement in graphics card, RAM and processor.
Of course, upgrade costs are a factor. After a while, the console owner must purchase the latest console, and the PC gamer must upgrade PC. The costs are probably better for the PC gamer here, as buying a new graphics card will often yield sufficient improvement for the PC gamer, and will generally be cheaper, but will also likely need to be done slightly more frequently than upgrading a console.
Now the costs are pretty much equal. But wait, there’s more! When I buy new PC games, I typically acquire them for about £25. Sometime as high as £30, sometimes as low as £20. Steam often has incredible sales, Amazon normally has fantastic discounts available (especially for pre-orders), and even the standard price of PC games is pretty low. When looking to the price of console games, however, the price can easily reach £50 per game. Thus, not only is the platform roughly the same cost for PC gamers, the games are far cheaper too! Even if one didn’t have a PC to begin with, buying about 16 new games would already recoup the costs of a PC compared to a console.
Beyond that, there is greater backwards compatibility for PC games than there are for consoles, with PC gamers able to play games a few decades old thanks to the wonders of DOSBox, so over time the savings become even more significant, as old games don’t simply become unplayable on the new device.
Then, of course, there’s the view of some others, such as Crytek’s boss, Cervat Yerli, who believes that the PC is “a generation ahead” of console formats. Whatever your reasoning, PC gaming has a lot to offer, and I hope that I have managed to convert some people out there. Ideally, some of you might even be developers, who will realise that PC gaming is far from dead.