"It helps if you think of InstallShield as a very long, boring, linear game."-- Real Life, Greg Dean
I bought a new computer. I have been getting by on cobbled together hardware since someone broke into my house last fall and took my laptop and my Wii. This one's different than all the other systems in my house - it's a gaming computer. I fell off the PC gaming bandwagon several years ago due to budgetary issues and a couple of my favorite franchises dying. I knew when I decided to do it I was quite a ways behind and the learning curve was going to be bad. The obligatory BSOD level at the start of each new installed game is only the start of the problems facing someone trying to get back into the PC game.
I get the beast home, wrestle it into position under my desk and crawl around behind. I grab the bundle of cables and start trying to fit the ends into the proper slots. Power cord goes into the power jack. CAT 5 goes into the network card, not the onboard jack. It's not like this is rocket surgery. Or wait. Maybe it is.
What the heck is a DVI connector and why do I care? What genius decided to put two on this graphics card and not label which one was In and which one was Out? Wait. Maybe one isn't In and one isn't Out? Maybe there is some dastardly purpose for the other one that I don't understand. Maybe signal doesn't go In or Out anymore? Philosophical musings aside, one of these has got to be where you plug the monitor in. But I'm trying to hook this thing up to a standard CRT and that jack is nowhere to be found.
I get on the phone with the guy who sold me the system. I ask him what the heck did they do with the standard VGA? I hear the other guy who works there start laughing in the background. The guy who picked up the phone puts me on hold for a second. He comes back on and with a barely perceptible giggle in his voice, he tells me that the motherboard I chose doesn't have one and neither does that card. I should have got the older model if I wanted that. Seriously?! I wasn't aware that they even made a motherboard that didn't have native VGA. If I'd even dreamt of the possibility you better be damned skippy sure I would have bought the other board.
He says don't fret. If I come back down there he can give me an adapter that will allow me to hook my clay tablet, uh, I mean CRT to the video card. Back out to the car and back down to the store. I get two, figuring if I need it for one I'm probably going to need one for the other one at some point. In retrospect that's probably not good logic; I imagine the other one is supposed to be hooked up to a conflabulistic furmulator or something and that probably doesn't use a DE-15. Before I go I ask some questions to make sure there's nothing else I think should be there that's missing. On the way home I realize that this means I paid more for a piece of hardware missing what I consider to be a vital component. Nice.
I get back home and keep at it. I'm starting to feel like Doctor McCoy confronted with a warp core breach and no Scotty in sight. Every problem I knock down spawns more. I end up having to use all my puzzle-solving powers to the rise to the challenge of opening the box. It comes into four pieces like the Black Lotus. I sacrifice a chicken and the skin off three knuckles to get it off, get the numbers and jumper settings I need, and then fumble the case back on. The thing is staying on there forever unless I have to save the life of some wildlife that was attracted by the neon backlighting and crawled through the huge dust-bunny ports on the front or something.
The whole time I'm under the desk I'm wondering out loud why the heck am I doing this. I've got a lot of gaming resources that don't put me through this hassle. I'm up to my eyebrows in console systems. My living room has so many wires and blinking lights it looks like a power substation. But under all the grumbles and unlady-like descriptions of it's ancestry and personal habits, I know why. I still remember.
I hear the boys bragging to their friends about some great move or other, and a little voice in my head reminds me that I once shot down Manfred von Richthofen while flying what amounts to a kite with a lawnmower engine. No HUD, and no parachutes. Top that. You think you had a slog to take Sal Kar for the three-hundredth time last night? Try a real challenge. Let's take 3 heavy companies of the 2nd Sword of Light up against McSlattery's Volunteers, two squads of Wolf's Dragoons and a stray lance or two of the 1st Kathil Uhlans across Pacifica to open a Dropship corridor to block a Capellan reinforcement brigade that kept them from taking New Avalon. Oh, and note to anyone who's only seen that cinematic brain-cramp entitled "Wingcommander": a Kilrathi Gang-Bang isn't a joke, Broadsword fighters don't look like biplanes, and the Kilrathi themselves aren't bunraku puppets shouting gibberish from the smoking section. I used to be a PC Gamer. I want that part of me back. I want to go back to my rivet-counting roots and you can't do that on a console.
Even when I try to catch up with the Joneses, I'm still a step behind. I bought my new system based on Bioshock, but now I want to play Crysis. Bioshock came out at the end of August, but just take a look at the system requirement creep since then. Uhhhhhhhhh....... Okay. That would make all of my enterprise application web-servers sniffle and whine. My previous machine would have screamed and cowered in the corner if I so much as walked into the house with the box. I might be able to run it with the minimum system requirements on the new machine, but the graphics card is marginal. I don't really want my reentry into PC shooters to play like a FlannelGraph.
So maybe no Crysis for now, but that doesn't stop me. The machine is setup and I'm playing. I love Sam and Max. Sins of a Solar Empire is going to eat my life and I'm going to love every second of it. I've got Starcraft 2 on the way, and the oft-delayed Spore. I'm going to be catching up with Civilization and maybe I'll give Supreme Commander a try.
Besides, it's time to start the next quest - finding a joystick that doesn't suck.