Remember the good old days of id Software and Epic Games? Their constant battle in the PC FPS graphics arena? - Quake, Unreal. Quake 3, Unreal Tournament. Back in those days we had the ah-mazing 3dfx Voodoo range of video cards. Those things were unstoppable for smooth gaming at the time.
3dfx ushered an entire new unseen era that just didn't seem possible at the time and really pushed graphics to the edge of imaginations for both gaming developers and gamers alike. But, we always needed the gaming developers pushing envelopes and PC seemed to have the exclusives virtually every year.
We could always count on another release of an FPS every year or so which blew the previous top FPS out of the water. Do you remember Doom? After Doom was released, the floodgates were open - FPS was the new king of gaming. We had Doom-clones everywhere. Then all the games that followed, they were great but never really pushed those boundaries.
Then we had Duke Nukem 3D which even had 3D in its name, but never really gave us a 3D environment. Duke brought with it crude humor, insanely fun multiplayer and still lives on in gamers hearts today, over 15 years from its release. Then there was Quake. Quake brought with it frantic gameplay, one of the most amazing graphics engines at the time and the onslaught of modding from the online community.
Quake grew very quickly and with Glide patches coming out, we were able to run it smoothly in 3D with a $400 video card. Quake 2 cemented id Software's position as king of the hill, but Epic Games finally debuted Unreal. Unreal had epic outdoor areas which seemed to be the bizarro-land compared to Quake and its indoor frenzy.
In the middle of all of this we had some ex-Microsoft guys create Valve Software. You may have heard of them. You also may have heard of their little smash hit, Half Life? Half-Life ran on id Software tech, featured amazing AI for the time, great story telling, immersive environments, characters you felt for and most of all, set the game up to have sequels. It was games like this that made you proud to be a gamer.
Gaming's place in our lives
Gaming wasn't mainstream at the time. We of course had Nintendo and Sega fighting it out in the living room, but they knew their place in the market.Their market was different. It appealed to every gamer. The mum, the dad, the young boys and girls, the older boys and girls. It appealed to a huge audience, where PC seemed to deal with the "mature" audience.
In the 90's, arcade games were still a booming business with SEGA really dominating. Games like Daytona USA, Virtua Racing, Street Fighter, etc. all duking it out in the actual, physical arcade. Consoles were just not capable of running these high-end games. So the market was split in three.
Arcade gaming, home entertainment (Sega, Nintendo) and PC gaming.
Those who could afford to buy a $1000 - $3500 system while enjoying not just game use, but multimedia, office work, internet access, creativity work and high-end gaming.
PC games were being built by gamers and by passionate developers. The games had so much depth, character, difficulty, and expandability (through mods). Games back in the 90s now feel so nostalgic, just because of how much charm they seemed to exude.
Even games like Under a Killing Moon, Day of the Tentacle, Space Quest, Leisure Suit Larry, Commander Keen, Zork, Myst, Sim City. These games again, still live on. They're still remembered; this is the power of gaming on PC. Some of those games were almost unbeatable because of their difficulty. Gone are the days of requiring hints to finish a game or a walk-through - games now do this job FOR you.
What's the last absolutely mind-blowing game you remember on console? More specifically, FPS gaming or gaming that pushed boundaries and started a new trend in graphics, physics, gameplay, etc. - Goldeneye 007 on Nintendo 64. Remember being able to shoot a TV or computer monitor and it blow up? Or shooting a lock off a handle? Shooting a person in the knee and then reacting to being shot in the knee. Shooting them in the nuts and having them hold their nuts in pain? Remember boys and girls, this was done in the 90's on a relatively basic platform.
But it was the guys and girls at RARE who brought us an amazingly detailed world within Goldeneye 007 and shot them into a real of bringing FPS to consoles.
Gaming takes a turn, enters our hearts & wallets
Another great FPS game on console that broke boundaries was Halo on the Xbox. Microsoft knew this was going to be the next big thing - Bungie originally coded games for the Mac and Microsoft then purchased them to acquire Halo and make it an Xbox exclusive.
Halo introduced high quality gaming to a console that had to fight tooth and nail to survive against the ever-so-amazing Sony PlayStation and PlayStation 2. Both PlayStation consoles never really had an FPS that took off, so Microsoft had a way into the market.
Microsoft now have a very, very successful console and market to sell hardware, games, accessories, XBL, Xbox Live Market Place, etc.
But in this fight for console supremacy, has Microsoft forgotten what made the Windows platform so great for gamers? - Pushing new Direct X versions every year, bringing new features and functions for developers to take advantage of?
Microsoft recently has promised to "double-down" on PC gamers, but we've had the same promises from AAA based gaming developers promising their next AAA title will not be a console port. Cevat Yerli of Crytek recently bragged about how good the PC version of Crysis 2 will be, yet it is simply not even a shadow of its former self.
What a trip in history, eh? I haven't even touched some huge titles such as Quake 3, Unreal Tournament, Far Cry or any of the other games that debuted on PC and went on to live right up until now as games that are still getting sequels, and if not, they're still loved by fans all over the world.
Multiplayer wise, it was mods like Counter Strike that shot multiplayer gaming to the point it is now. Without it, we may not have the competitive multiplayer world that we do now.
Hardware, the beginning of the end?
As for graphics card companies, 3dfx may have failed, but without them, where would we be now? NVIDIA and ATI (now AMD) have been dominating the previous years with GPUs. Years ago we had games that pushed our systems, games that (when released) could not run at full detail on our systems. They were built to scale over time.
It represented great value for money. A gamer could buy games such as Quake 3, Half Life 2, Far Cry, etc and run them on a standard PC at the time in low quality graphics. Once upgraded they could replay the game in higher detail and again and again as upgrades were done, the game simply scaled higher and higher.
This was in a world without anti-aliasing and anistrophic filtering. Once you added that on top, VGA memory became in issue. 3dfx cards had 4MB, then we started seeing 16, 32, 64, 128MB and games grew and grew and grew. There seemed to be no stopping the usual 12 month new game engine cycle that PC gamers were used to.
Until the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.
As for graphic quality, think of it like a movie. Yes, there are great movies out now and we have a constant flow of great movies from various directors. But again, how many do you remember from the past 10 years compared to 20 - 30 years ago? The classics...
If that doesn't tickle your fancy, how about thinking of it like a picture. Take a picture from your camera phone and look at it on the screen - looks great, doesn't it? Now look at that picture on a full HD screen or better yet, 30-inch 2560x1600 screen. Not so great now, hey?
But, if you used a DSLR camera to take the shot, it would look great on both high resolution displays and low resolution displays, because the original asset is a high-resolution picture. Why can't games be the same?
Why can't multi-platform games be designed and created on PC first with high-end, multi-GPU setups and then scaled down accordingly? Once the assets were created, they could be kept for future games. Games now have $100 million budgets, this cannot be hard. The blame? Consoles. More specifically? - Next page.
Marketing, the Agent Smith of the gaming world?
This is what is killing gaming.
Years ago, games were marketed, but not to the extent we have now. We have Call of Duty clones that are pumped out year after year, yet still require $50 - $100 million budgets. If the assets are there, textures, map creation programs, sounds, developer console, etc. then why would it require an entire new budget?
Wouldn't developers just build on-top of the assets? It's not like every COD game is getting a new built-from-the-ground-up graphics engine; it's still running a very highly-modified Quake 3 engine that was debuted in 1999... Yes, 12 years ago.
But, there is a $100 million+ advertising campaign that goes along with it. Marketing the game to every single person will eventually win as you're convinced you want it. It shows the best bits of the game, but underneath it's no different.
Look at the latest Call of Duty title, Black Ops. It runs a poorer graphics engine than Modern Warfare 2. How can this be? It's a year newer. Shouldn't newer games look BETTER? Do you go to see the latest Transformers movie expecting the special effects to look worse? No.
Consoles appeal to the everyday person, the person who isn't really interested in gaming, but does it because it's quick fun. How many games now feature press-the-button action scenes? Falling from a ledge? Press X at a certain time and you'll be OK.
Need to kill that final bad guy? Press Y to finish him. I paid for this game, why am I being told when to shoot? Why am I having my hand held throughout the game? I'm not a child - I'm very capable of shooting or playing by myself.
Over-simplified gaming, it needs to end
This even happens in the latest and greatest Crysis 2 where you're a super soldier who uses a next-generation Nano Suit which makes you a faster, stronger, invisible, virtually invincible soldier. In the original Crysis (PC exclusive) you were dropped in a luscious, open-world where you could do anything. Shoot trees down cutting them in half, blow up buildings, throw containers at a wall and watch it break apart. You chose how to use your Nano Suit powers.
Run in guns blazing? Stealth in undetected? Drive in with a car and start firing at everyone? You could adapt to any scenario and change the suit powers at any time. What does Crysis 2 do?
Just as you get to a battle or see some bad guys, the suit tells you to activate stealth or armor, letting you know there's a battle that is about to begin. The suit talks to you now, telling you what to do, where to go, what power to use. I don't want that; why am I having my hand held throughout the game? I don't want this. I want the open-ended gaming that the original games from Crytek offered in Far Cry and Crysis.
Games these days don't want you to struggle. They want you to enjoy your time and finish the game, usually cut down which allows DLC (downloadable content) to be released (for a charge). If the game comes out and 2 weeks later there's DLC, why not ship the game as a whole, instead of cutting it off and releasing more content which you get charged for.
But, we have all heard the stories of parents returning games to stores like EB because their children couldn't finish a level because it was too hard. This is a huge, huge market. People underestimate just how powerful that market is. Game is too hard? Game will be returned. Returned games don't make money.
Games with a decent play-through make money, games with easy multiplayer and unlockable weapons make money. You paid for the game, why are you having to play for 60 hours to unlock all of the guns in the game?
This makes games unfair to the casual market who wants to jump in and have a quick game, not for those who want to sit there for hours and hours unlocking all of the guns and accessories.
Gaming has potential, it just needs the right developers love
PC gaming used to be the pinnacle of gaming, where developers were proud to push the latest engines every 12 months. Now we're having technological leaps and bounds every 3 - 5 years. The last time a developer did something out of the box and pushed the boundaries that I can remember were in three instances.
Valve with the release of Half Life 2 and their amazing physics and facial animation - 2004.
Crytek with the release of Crysis and their amazing destruction and open levels - 2007.
DICE with the release of Battlefield: Bad Company 2 and their amazing DX11-based title (which was still a multiplatform release) - 2010.
To finish, I put a question out to NVIDIA, AMD and Intel.
NVIDIA and AMD both make bucket loads of money selling hardware to Microsoft and Sony (NVIDIA powers the PS3 and AMD powers the Xbox 360) and both companies are constantly pushing the boundaries of GPU hardware every 6 - 12 months right up to the last two weeks with the release of dual-GPU based solutions in the form of the AMD Radeon HD 6990 and NVIDIA GeForce GTX 590.
But why do you need these behemoths of technology? NVIDIA and AMD push new GPUs every few months for really, no reason at all. A GTX460/6850 will run every game out right now at 1920x1080 at 30 - 60fps (depending on the game).
Consoles render at below 1440x720 and upscale to higher resolutions like 1280x720, but there are hardly any AAA games on consoles that actually render at 1920x1080. Yes, the console is capable of 1080p, but 95% of the games on it never get close to that resolution. Yet, all games are developed on consoles with these limitations in mind and thus, pushed onto PC gamers who have PCs that are capable of far higher detail, resolutions, maps, etc.
Is this sending a warning to NVIDIA and AMD? - The development of games on consoles and the requirements for PC hardware on the latest games not being that high? - What happens next year? In two years time? Three years time? When the latest AAA titles are capable of being run off of integrated or APU-based graphics?
Intel's Sandy Bridge is making this path happen and will only get stronger as the years go on, and the same goes for AMD with their APU. Why would you buy a $300 GPU, let alone four $500 GPUs if you could just run the games at full HD at 30 frames per second on integrated graphics?
There goes the big towers, requirements for motherboards with PCIe slots, PSU requirements, etc. There are so many companies down the food chain that will be affected and are being affected right now.
We will never get honest answers out of game developers; they have sold PC gamers out for the quick cash of console gaming. Hardware companies are in cahoots with them as they're providing the hardware and I'm guessing next-gen console hardware is being developed as we speak.
What happens to high-end PC gaming in the next two years? I think we're seeing it being watered down heavily now - the damage is done. DX10 and 11 have both passed us without much change in gaming. We're still in a DX9-based console driven world and I for one, am sick of it.
I don't buy CPU's to overclock them to 4GHz+, SLI builds, 1200W+ power supplies, 3 x screens for Eyefinity or Surround Vision to put up with console ported games. But, like an out-of-control-spending-like-crazy-signing-blank-cheques-for-wars-that-they-shouldn't-interfere-in government....
I am powerless. WE, are powerless.