Here’s how I learned to stop worrying and learned to love the console.
For years I’d thought it was a sucker’s game to buy a dedicated machine when you could play on your multi-use PC. I looked on the proliferation of PlayStations in the ghetto as electronic malt liquor: sure, it was only $300, but you paid for it later in games.
But my anti-console bias has been worn away, bit by bit, by video-card makers and game developers forming strategic alliances that are benefiting both, but screwing over the gamer.
Video cards are a necessity for playing games on a PC — they handle the intense computation with a dedicated chip set and memory. Video-card makers routinely upgrade their product, and game developers have to keep abreast of these changes if they want to stay competitive. There needs to be some relationship between video-card makers and the game designers, but things are getting a little too cozy. For a while I’ve been seeing the brand and slogan of the biggest video-card maker on a bunch of games: “Nvidia, The Way it’s Meant to Be Played.”
Recently, I tried to install Silent Hill 3 (Konami, 2003). It’s bloatware to begin with: five CD-ROMs as opposed to the usual two or three. But after the hour-long install, I was told that I needed to have a video card with different features to be able to play the game. Overlooking the idiocy of not doing a system check before the install, there was something else wrong with this picture.
I’m 31 years old. I’m not a teenager who’s embarrassed by how unfashionably out of date his gear is, easily shamed into upgrading by a stern warning message. I may be obsolete, but my hardware isn’t.
I checked to make sure, and yep, my PC’s hardware outclassed the PS2 by several orders of magnitude. So there really was no excuse for my system not being able to play it at all: most games allow you to knock down the resolution, details and frills until it plays smoothly on your machine. In this regard, I’ve been impressed by Rockstar releases: almost everything they release runs fine on low-end machines. Despite their unabashed capitalism, at least they aren’t in the pocket of the video-card cartel.
I’m not joking about the cartel stuff. Electronic Arts and Nvidia signed an exclusive deal, and another video-card maker, ATI, has an advertising/ bundling deal with Valve for Half-Life 2. What all this backroom dealing really adds up to is a lot of disappointed kids realizing that the PC they bought with their part-time job money won’t even play the games they bought it for. Well, kids, it’s called bleeding edge for a reason: if you get tired of shelling out every couple of months, buy yourself some well-supported old technology. And really, that amounts to a console, which uses Nvidia and ATI video cards that are obsolete in a PC context but still plenty powerful.
I’ve spent some time with all three of the main consoles, and their beauty is their stability. When designers know exactly what hardware they’re dealing with, they can do more with less: getting some lush visuals while not sacrificing frame rate. Crashing is pretty much non-existent, too.
They’re all capable of the same things, as far as throwing polygons at the screen: their graphics and sound are pretty equivalent, viewed from the couch. (If you were up as close to the TV as you would be to a monitor, the Xbox’s higher res might matter more, but the couch is a great leveller.) The Sony PlayStation 2 ($219) is undoubtedly the king in terms of game selection. You can get an online adapter for it, and it plays DVDs out of the box. The Microsoft Xbox ($229) also has online capability and plays DVDs (but only after you spend $50 on their glorified remote control) and has the cool feature of an internal hard drive for saved games. The neatly-designed Nintendo GameCube ($139) recently dropped in price, and if you can deal with the limited selection of games, it’s a great deal.
Of course, consoles aren’t immune to obsolescence, only more resistant because of their market share. Any way you slice it, you pay to play. Remember the good ol’ days, when they only took it from us a quarter at a time?