So I was bored the other day. Nothing new there. I'm frequently bored. I'm afflicted with the ennui of the criminally intelligent. Luckily I have a stockpile of entertainment supplies for just that reason.
On this particular day I felt like playing a game, and had a hankerin' for something spacey. I was also feeling nostalgic besides, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity to enact the Lobo Doctrine, and actually finish a game that I owned.
So into the game vault I went, and after glancing through my PC space sim collection, I settled on Starlancer. A fine game, which I'd never finished. Just the thought of playing it again made me giddy. It seemed like the perfect remedy for my dead-of-winter malaise. If all went well, in just a few short minutes I'd be doing my favorite thing in the world, flying through space, blowing s**t apart.
Sadly, all did not go well. Instead of spending the evening zooming about the galaxy, I spent it typing. Typing this article as a matter of fact. Because that's what I do when I'm really, really angry.
I'd had a premonition that the evening would end in disaster. You could say, perhaps, that I "Had a bad feeling about this." But that would make you a geek. So don't say that if there are potential sex partners around. Unless they're geeks, too. In which case you can say whatever you want. Just be yourself and you'll be fine.
My PC had been acting quirky of late (Hence the premonition). In 2001 my PC was amazingly awesome. Now: not so much. I've tried to keep it upgraded, but I've been forced to replace a few key components over the years with lesser-quality back-ups due to the inversely proportional relationship between my attachment to members of the opposite sex and my control over my own money. That and my house seems to attract lightning better than that guy with the wicker hat in Big Trouble in Little China.
Nevertheless, determined to fly through space, I ignored my misgivings and my sadly underpowered PC and proceeded to reinstall the game. I'd wiped my hard drive several times since I'd played it last, erasing the game files, and sadly my save games as well. I also hadn't reinstalled my joystick since my last system purge, but luckily, with WindowsXP that sort of thing is a snap. I plugged in my Wingman Extreme and WinXP detected it, installed the "necessary drivers" and that was that. For old times sake (I was feeling nostalgic remember?) I fired up the game controller console and calibrated the joystick, but that too went off without a hitch. So far so good.
I popped in the disc and left the room to pour a glass of wine. When I returned (having stopped to peruse the post-holiday cookie assortment along the way), the game files had been installed and I saw a little, blinking icon on my desktop just begging me to click it and thus start the game. So I did.
The game started and I remembered instantly why I'd never played PC games without installing a NOCD crack first. For those of you unfamiliar with the NOCD crack, it is a hack written by criminal-minded youths that will enable you to play a PC game without having the game CD actually in the drive. This makes it possible for one to play a game that one does not technically "own," per se, but it also allows folks like myself, who sometimes have lots of games installed, to play them without having to first find the damn CD. This is especially useful in my case, because my CD-ROM drive is very loud. Especially while playing games that have lots of movies and music that run off of the CD, like Starlancer.
As soon as the game cranked up it sounded like I was sitting next to one of those giant saws you see in action movies that take place near a lumber mill. You know the ones that the good guy is always strapped down to but somehow manages to escape from before he gets sawed in half. Just like that.
So I closed the game and re-installed, this time checking the "full install" option, which would save all the stuff on the CD to my hard drive. Naturally the install took a lot longer this time, so I went off for more wine (and more cookies), then came back to swap out discs, watch the progress meter inch towards the 100% mark, and decide whether or not to pass the time looking at pr0n "… and it finished. Okay! I then installed the NOCD crack and we were back in business.
I clicked the blinking icon, the game started right up (sans giant saw), looked great and I blazed through the opening Wow aren't we cool? We're Digital Anvil! crap, (suppressing a chortle and simultaneously commenting to myself about the heights from which certain hubristic developers can fall) and hopped straight into the campaign to begin blasting the hell out of the Whomeverites. After some juicy-looking ship-launching graphics, I got my orders, prepared my bowels for battle and then "… nothing. My spaceship wasn't moving. Joystick left – nothing. Joystick right – zilch. Throttle – nada. Buttons – zippo. Crap! Joystick isn't reading. How fun!
So I clicked about a thousand buttons to exit Starlancer and then went back to the WinXP game controller console to see WTF was going on now. Everything looked fine. Plugged in – check. Turned on – check. Great. Definitely a software problem. Time for the plumber's helper of IT tools: The reboot!
An electrical engineer, a chemical engineer and a software engineer are riding in a car (Skip to the next paragraph if you've heard this one). Suddenly, in the middle of a bridge, the car stops. Just stops. No power, no nothing. All three engineers look at each other questioningly. The electrical engineer surmises that there must be an electrical problem, seeing as the car has electronic ignition, and requires a spark to run. He recommends replacing the battery. The chemical engineer disagrees. He suggests that there's a problem with the fuel system. Since the engine needs gasoline to run and seeing as how it currently isn't running, he deduces that it must be out of gasoline. He recommends filling the tank with gas. The software engineer says that he knows exactly what the problem is. "All we have to do," he says "is close all of the windows and restart the machine!"
So the machine restarts and I look at the clock. Two hours have passed since I picked up the Starlancer CD, and I'm still not playing the damn game. Two mother freaking hours.
My urge to play is suddenly gone, sucked into a swirling vortex of rage, and I fire up the Typemaster2000 to vent. That's what you're reading now. We are now caught up to the present. Gosh, this is awkward. Now I have to transition from story-telling to actually having something to say. Okay then. Watch me transition. Here goes "…
Were this an isolated occurrence I would be willing to let it go, but the fact is that over the years I have already let this go hundreds of times. Almost every time I've installed a new PC game there's been something that's needed tweaking or patching or configuring. That's the burden of PC gaming. Any PC gamer who claims to not mind going though this rigmarole is lying. Period (See, I typed a "." and then typed "period" as if I were speaking and not typing. I wanted you to hear my voice in your head saying "period" in order to further accentuate the point. Did I hear someone say "genius?" Ah yes. Thank you in the back.).
Don't get me wrong. I love PC games. PC gaming is as much a part of my identity as any one thing can be. Since 1984 I've been jumping through fiery hoops in order to play PC games. Hell, once upon a time I used to write batch files for every game I owned just to get that last mega-whoozle of oomph out my machine. I've even bought really expensive pieces of hardware just to play one game! No more.
I'm older now and I have a life. I no longer have the time, the patience or the money to upgrade, patch or reconfigure my computer when I want to play a game. I used to say that I would never be solely a console gamer, but the simple fact is that I can buy games for my consoles (for the same price as a PC game or cheaper) that look good, sound good, play well and fire right up every time. No searching for drivers, no installing hardware, no upgrading. I buy a console game, put it in and I'm playing it before the PC version would even be installed. That's a hard fact to ignore, especially when I now spend more of my time making my money than spending it.
So, I hate to say it my friends, but I've gone over. After more than twenty years of PC gaming, I am officially done. I've already cleared out the PC game vault and the closet full of spare PC parts and traded in my Thunderbird Gaming Machine for a newer model, with a smaller engine and room for a car seat. I have willingly entered the land of people who sacrifice bells, whistles and shinier pixels for convenience.
That is to say, I have ordered the Code Red. That's the truth. Can you handle it?