BITMAPS 77: The PC Gaming Market’s Rebirth

Bitmaps

Too short

I’d always regarded the “You always get what you want the moment you stop needing it” proverb like an investment banker being offered a quarter from a homeless man. “No thanks, proverb,” I said, with a smug grin plastered all over my impeccably groomed face. “I think I know more about getting and needing things than you do.” Well, as the convention is with 25 year old men that contradict century-old aphorisms, I turned out to be totally wrong. On a personal note, the moment I stop needing a relationship, I immediately fall into a great one. Likewise, the moment I give up on the PC gaming scene, I am reminded that it exists as strongly as it ever has – and yes these two events are emotionally comparable. 

Cryostasis

I would never want to be impaled with ice. Just sayin’.

I purchased Cryostasis: Sleep of Reason out of curiosity more than anything else (the half-off launch sale didn’t hurt much either). After noodling around with the demo for ten minutes or so, I didn’t expect much more than a mediocre game with some nice ice and water effects. Instead, Cryostasis is an incredibly atmospheric game with a damned clever way of relaying story. The main character happens upon a wrecked icebreaker ship, and in the process of exploring the ghost vessel, finds hollow bodies of the crew. Once in contact with these bodies, the player can enter the past and re-enact the events that led to that person’s death with the goal of preventing it.

I could go on and on about how cool it is to unravel all these mini-mysteries but that’s the job of a reviewer. More topically, Cryostasis provides an experience that is altogether a summary of the PC gaming experience: technically excellent, clunky and complicated, but having soul and innovation. The fact that a game like Cryostasis can still release on the PC platform made me realize: the PC gaming scene never died, it never even declined. It’s what it always was; consoles just make it look different by comparison.

Conventional

PC gamers who tweaked their autoexec.bats and fiddled with IRQ settings in Windows 95 probably remembers the days that PC games were the biggest, hottest thing on the market. They were, but that’s only because consoles were inferior technologically. The PC is an experimental platform first and foremost due to the ease of entry for developers. Give a nerd a computer and a C++ compiler, and he can crank out a rudimentary videogame and put it on the internet for anyone to play. Give a nerd a console and tell him to make a game, and he’s one week away from getting laughed out of a publisher’s office.

Business Men

"And THEN he asked us for money! Oooooh man."

Plenty of PC gamers suck sour grapes that their platform is no longer the destination for the Gears of Warses, Gods of Warses, or any general of Warses. While understandable, this is a bit misguided. PC games are more about innovation and experimentation than technical splendor; technical superiority was really just a function of incidence. Games like Ultima Underworld, System Shock, Trackmania, and Thief would’ve had a hell of a time getting a green light from a publisher on a console, and yet the relative openness of the platform allowed for some of the classics.

I had always defined the PC platform by its relative scope to console games. PC games were bigger, better, prettier – and once they stopped being those things, the PC "died." I see now that the PC is a system defined by ease of entry and innovation, and the spirit of innovation and open development is still strong. Releases like the aforementioned Cryostasis, Plants vs. Zombies, Audiosurf, The Sam & Max series, XenoClash, and Glatic Civilizations show that the PC scene is as strong as it ever was. Were it not for consoles sitting there, earning loads of cash and boasting games with obscenely high production values, PC gamers probably wouldn’t have much to be bitter about these days.

Analogy

PC games are like that brother that comes home every Christmas to remind you of how awesome your life isn’t. You may be feeling pretty good when you step out of the car at your folks’ home: finally pulling five figures a year, got a new floormat for the hoopdie, and just yesterday someone that wasn’t your father or yourself cut your hair. As you go over your recent successes with your family, a low rumble gradually shakes everything in the house. Your brother, waving a handful of glittering jewelry, bounds down the steps of his private jet which has recently landed in the front yard. Suddenly your newly independent coiffure pales in comparison.

Private jet

Those mashed potatoes better still be warm.

So what’s a PC gamer to do in this day and age? Well, play games – and come to terms with the fact that the PC is an indie platform now. As such, PC gamers need to realize that their games aren’t the ones that will get prime time commercials or cover stories in magazines. The PC experience is now in the games that quietly release on Steam or Impulse with nary a review or pre-order event. You won’t already know about these games because the gaming media and advertisers don’t force-feed you information. If you want to truly experience the best of PC in this day and age, you’ll have to do a little experimental playing of your own.

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