PC gaming began on mainframes and research computers. It moved to personal computers when independent developers put their games on floppy disks, sealed them in Ziploc bags with Xeroxed art, and sold them in hobby stores. If it is going to have a future that is not yoked to console design paradigms, we are going to have to recapture those roots and start paying closer attention to the small developers who are designing with us, and not 14-year-old console gamers, as their primary market.
Ringu, the movie that kicked off the Japanese horror craze, scared me as much the third time I saw it as it did the first. It’s a moody, unsettling movie that still packs a punch and its signal image of Sadako, a creepy little girl with long dark hair and ashen skin, quickly entered the visual vernacular.
Monolith did a fair job of exploiting elements of J-Horror to create a genuinely creepy FPS experience with FEAR (2005). The developer understood that Ringu was successful because a) it used atmospheric, psychological horror to produce unease, and b) relied on fleeting images of horror, glimpsed as if in passing. This, coupled with the relative freshness of J-Horror and its stock images, made FEAR one of the few truly frightening PC games in recent memory.
I was somewhere in the second location of Tomb Raider: Underworld. There was a jump that needed to be made—there’s always a jump that needs to be made—and every time I tried to get the right angle, the camera disappeared into Lara Croft’s gigantic backside like a twitchy colonoscope. If I turned a little bit, Lara herself vanished into the rocks.
Twelve years on, and with Tomb Raider creator Core now little more than a stack of devalued assets, the problems that plagued the series are still haunting Lara Croft like the Ghosts of Polys Past. Underworld is a creaking old hulk of a game, building very slightly on Legend’s meager innovations but still delivering most of what fans expect: running and jumping, some combat, puzzles, and Dr. Lara.
Then I turned to Mirror’s Edge and could not imagine two more sublime contrasts.
There are a lot of things we could say about Fallout 3. Sure, it’s Elder Scrolls: The Mutant Years, but damn, it’s still a brilliant piece of role-playing design: a wide-open world with amazing sights and challenges at every turn.
Rather than descanting at length upon stats and perks, I want to talk about the single most mind-blowing part of the entire character creation system: facial hair. Fallout 3 opens a new era in beard and mustache design. You have never, ever seen such an assortment of whiskers in any game, ranging from the pathetic wisps of a teenager’s first attempt to huge Burnside sprouts and styles not seen outside of movies like Gettysburg or Tombstone. And these aren’t just the paste-ons from Oblivion: These are complete, textured moving models.
There’s a game that’s become part of my daily regime. It’s one of the first things I do after firing up the laptop over my morning coffee and the last thing I do before shutting down the laptop with an evening gin. It never takes more than a few minutes, and I do it throughout the day, like answering email. In fact, it is answering email, except with little lettered tiles.
Yes, I am completely addicted to Scrabulous (www.scrabulous.com). Email games are certainly nothing new, but good, well-supported, free email games that a wide variety of people can play without any initial purchase are pretty rare.
So is PC gaming hosed? That seems to be the case for games that a) are not massively multiplayer, b) don’t have “Sims” in the title, or c) aren’t played by your mom.
But it’s not really as dire as all that. Mass Effect actually made it to number 2, and Sins of a Solar Empire to number 9, on the current NPD PC sales charts.
Those numbers, however, don’t reflect where PC owners are really gettin’ their game on: with casual games. Remember when you would say you were a PC gamer and people would say, “Yeah, me too,” and you’d ask what they played, and they’d say, “Minesweeper and Solitaire.” And you’d chuckle. Good times!
We’re at a point in history when, if gamers are to maintain credibility, we need to acknowledge both the good and bad in our passion. Grand Theft Childhood ($25, Simon & Schuster) by Lawrence Kutner and Cheryl K. Olson is a fair and comprehensive study of games and violence, and we would do well to pay attention to its conclusions.