Tales of a Relapsing PC Gamer

"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.

Comments

I can tell you've been out of the PC gaming circle for a while. There's not a single spec listed in the whole article!

You ain't missing much with Crysis. I bought it as eye-candy to make me feel happy my new system can run it and that's exactly what it does. It's also all it does. Seems it's what Doom III was back in the day; a tech demo disguised as a game.

Still, a pretty tech demo when everything hits max.

Also, this is why I bought my computer from Dell, Boogle.

Congratulations on the new pc, momgamer! I was in a similar situation just before Christmas, after not really having played any pc games in ages - bar WoW - due to system limitations. I got myself one of the new Commodore gaming pcs with a nicely over-compensating 22" widescreen monitor. I had the same problem with the lack of VGA port on the graphics card, but thankfully my system came with a little adapter in the box...

Still, your article made me smile, as they usually do. Thanks for sharing!

Dude, Wing Commander. I fired that game up and yelled "LUKE! Er, wrong game. Carry on, Mark Hamill!"

And Hobbes? Dude... Hobbes. You sort of saw it coming, but when it hit, I fell out of my chair. Good times.

I can't really recommend a good joystick (haven't used one since the time when PCs used to have game ports), but I use Xbox360 controller as a PC gamepad and it's fantastic, best PC gamepad I ever owned.

I enjoyed Crysis, but it's really nothing to get into a lather about missing. Bioshock, now, that's an experience, but Crysis is just a shooter. It's fun, but nothing that special.

It sounds like you might have been better off to buy a complete PC + monitor. They're pretty easy to set up... power for computer and monitor, USB cable to monitor, keyboard and mouse into monitor, video cable, network cable. Not too bad.

One thing....I don't understand why you're using a network card instead of your motherboard network port? It's very unlikely that it's going to be as fast as what's on the motherboard, unless you specifically bought a gigabit PCIe network card.

For those in a similar situation: Drop by "Tech and Help" with what you're thinking about buying and let us eyeball it for you. We can very often save you money and get you a better machine to boot... and we're not afraid to point you at specific premades, rather than a list of parts to build it yourself. We just got a couple people hooked up on a good Dell deal a couple weeks ago, for instance.

Yes, we do all like building our own PCs, but no, we don't think everyone does.

Oh and whoever it was that laughed at you... he's an asshole.

Somehow the idea that a Wing Commander reference produces a Mark Hamill comment rather than a mention of 'ole Blue Hair makes me feel old.

I'll second the plug for the Tech and Help forums here if you are interested in building your own PC. There are some very helpful people hanging out there.

I'm frankly just surprised that that adapter didn't actually COME with the computer. I have a 19 inch LCD and I still use one.
Also, if this adapter problem is the worst you have, you should honestly consider yourself lucky.

Finally, you have the right attitude when it comes to system requirements - so long as you don't concern yourself with the bleeding edge, you'll find there is a lot more gaming to be had then the naysayers would have you believe - and you might also find that often the games with the highest system requirements are unoptimized console ports (Assassin's Creed anyone?)

momgamer wrote:

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.

Both of these made me smile and chuckle with glee for my gaming roots. Such good memories.

You'll want the 360 pad. The wired version just requires you to plug the cable. The wireless version requires it's own little dongle. It's probably the best PC pad every made.

MomGamer, as always you make me smile. The switch to DVI and inability to include the $2.00 converter does not surprise me. Different industry, but same cost savings issue, I bought a piece of furniture the other day that needed to be screwed together. In the effort to save maybe a 1/4 cent if that per screw, it came with screws that had too soft a metal composition to screw in without stripping the head. Its unbelievable the corners companies will cut. So a DVI to VGA adapter, that has real cost. i.e., lets cut it from the box.

Thanks for the fun read.

This is a great read. My last two cards (8600GT and 8800GT) both had dual DVI outputs, but they came with the VGA adapter, so I thought it was standard to include it. I still have a CRT, which helps because I can get more out of games by playing them at a lower res than I would if I had an LCD.

I've had a ton of fun with Crysis. It might be the best game ever, but it is very immersive and I love the flexibility that the first half of the game gives you. I'm on my second go around, trying to play more ballsy (less sneaking around).

Great article!

cmitts wrote:

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.

What game is this? I've played every Battletech game since Mechwarrior 2, but this reference makes me feel woefully inadequate:(

momgamer wrote:

Besides, it's time to start the next quest - finding a joystick that doesn't suck.

They still make games that require a joystick?

I miss my Wing Commander/X-Wing/TIE Fighter/X-Wing vs TIE Fighter days. Someone really, really, really, really, really, really, really needs to get on reviving the genre.

Dysplastic wrote:

and you might also find that often the games with the highest system requirements are unoptimized console ports (Assassin's Creed anyone?)

Heh, Assassin's Creed is nothing compared to the mess that is Halo 2 for PC...

Welcome back to the PC gaming fold Momgamer. I've enjoyed it as much or maybe slightly more than console gaming for many years... If the graphics card had been bought separately it would have come with a DVI-VGA adapter as standard (at least in my experience) and you should be able to pick them up for around $2 or something similar (going on conversion rates over here).

I used to have a Logitech Wingman Extreme but when windows decided to stop backwards compatibility i had to upgrade to a Digital 3D Force Feedback which i have to admit i've barely used

Release a new X-wing, LucasArts!

I upgraded a couple of weeks ago, and lo and behold it all worked immediately. Well, except for the second DVD-drive, because ASUS decided to put the IDE port on the wrong side of the mobo. Anyway, I still can't believe my luck

It always gives me the warm fuzzies when someone falls of the wagon and back into PC gaming. Granted my own PC gaming is limited to nearly 3 year old titles due to my crap system. Congrats on a new rig.

I assume that the joystick is for some older games or hardcore aircraft flight sims, since that's all that uses a joystick any more.

It's been about three years since I last bought one, but I've been very happy with my Saitek Cyborg Evo. They've since been acquired by MadCatz, so I can't vouch for their current quality. The one I picked has no force feedback, but I am of the opinion that leaving it out makes for a more reliable and longer-lasting stick.

I can't recommend Logitech sticks; their PC sticks and their PC "Dual action" gamepads are notorious for quality problems, particularly in the area of noisy potentiometers that wear out after a week of use (at least mine did).

I also can't recommend Microsoft, as the one stick they made that I liked, they discontinued.

I have no experience with Thrustmaster, so I can't speak of them.

Hans

The Battlefield series still supports the joystick for their aircraft. Some people use the mouse for flying, I guess, which I greatly dislike.

You know you are a nerd when you are suprised when someone does not know what DVI is.

Every new game has such ridiculous requirements, you need to buy a new graphics card for every game. They might as well bundle each new PC game with the video card it requires to play it and charge you $300 per game. How many times have you paid $50 for a PC game and then gone out and spent $250+ for a new card because your old one wasn't hackin' it?

Forget it. I'll stick with my console games, thank you very much. Now if only they would support a mouse & keyboard on consoles...

You don't have to go all out and assemble the computer entirely. At least in San Francisco, you go to a friendly Chinese computer shop and they will assemble you a dirt-cheap PC which is missing only, say, hard drives and a videocard.

The broadsword and crossbow were my probably my favorite Wing Commander ships. The fight was that much more furious with the nimbler Kilrathi swarming your more lumbering ship armed with 3 mass drivers. (when mass drivers actually meant something) Picking off one or two with the neutron turrets was a blast too.

And my god, in MW4 the Katrina Steiner/Clan Wolf ending was a real bitch. I could always survive until the last guy, but had to change the difficulty to easy to best him... once. If you used the bigger damage burst weapons, you would run out of ammo. If you relied on energy weapons, you couldn't kill the mechs fast enough and would be limping into the last fight.

Kojiro wrote:

Every new game has such ridiculous requirements, you need to buy a new graphics card for every game. They might as well bundle each new PC game with the video card it requires to play it and charge you $300 per game. How many times have you paid $50 for a PC game and then gone out and spent $250+ for a new card because your old one wasn't hackin' it?

Forget it. I'll stick with my console games, thank you very much. Now if only they would support a mouse & keyboard on consoles...

I'm sorry, but your rant only shows that you've little knowledge regarding PC gaming. Each PC game requiring its own video card? Once you have a rig that will play X game, in this case Bioshock, pretty much every other game that comes out will be playable to some degree on it. Crysis is a huge exception, it's a game made to tax systems and be pretty as hell. My four year old computer running an ATI Radeon 9700 Pro could run new games like TF2 (or any Valve game), Neverwinter Nights 2, Overlord, and so forth. And I hadn't put a penny into that puppy in years.

I've personally never had to go and buy a new video card for a game because I can read the system requirements for that game and figure out how it'll run on my system. Most were on medium to low settings on my old computer, but then again it'd be hard to run Xbox 360 games on a base Xbox too, eh?

Don't get me wrong, if you're sticking to one console only it's almost certainly cheaper than PC gaming. But don't overstate the costs of PC gaming, it only makes you look uninformed.

Im not so sure about that though. Take a gander at the $1500 PC thread in the Tech forums. There is a very viable CPU and motherboard combo for ~$160. Then add in the $35 for 2 GB of RAM and it pretty much won't matter how old your graphics card is if you don't want super high resolutions. (greater than 1024x768)

For the price of a Wii you can upgrade your PC to play any modern game well. Now is an unbelievable time to upgrade your home computer.

I think the biggest problem in PC gaming is coming to grips with the truth. No matter how much money you drop on it, within a month, or two, or six if you're lucky, something will be faster and cheaper. Knowing that you aren't experiencing the game on the most absolute visually orgasmic level no matter how much you tweak your beast is kind of a kick in the pantaloons after spending a month or two of your salary.

Yes, games WILL always run at many resolutions, but lets be honest. For a niche market, we WANT the best. We want our 1920x1200 full screen 8AA 16AF 120FPS experience. For that 6 months stretch, we are gods among geeks. However, when the next mega-title hits, being told we have to dial back down to 800x600 and turn off f*cking shadows is again another blow to the pantaloons.

Still, I love PC gaming and all the little quirks. I grew up on it, and while it's not my main platform of choice anymore, I'll never give it up. But unfortunately that means either dialing back your expectations to some degree, opening up the wallet again, or delegating it to a few persistent titles that don't require a constant visual push (WoW, Source Engine.. etc etc). But I'll be damned if consoles will ever reach the level of complexity and personal configuration that can be done to a PC game. It's an amazing open platform

bnpederson wrote:

You ain't missing much with Crysis. I bought it as eye-candy to make me feel happy my new system can run it and that's exactly what it does. It's also all it does. Seems it's what Doom III was back in the day; a tech demo disguised as a game.

Still, a pretty tech demo when everything hits max.

Also, this is why I bought my computer from Dell, Boogle. ;)

I may have spent more on my custom, but most of that was needless waste on various case mods that make mine look like some beast from and urban techno jungle.

bnpederson wrote:

Don't get me wrong, if you're sticking to one console only it's almost certainly cheaper than PC gaming. But don't overstate the costs of PC gaming, it only makes you look uninformed.

So incredibly true. If you're smart about what you put the dollars into you can build an awesome rig for not that much money. Or you can order one like that Quadcore, 8800GT equipped Dell XPS that was on sale for like $950 recently.

boogle wrote:

I may have spent more on my custom, but most of that was needless waste on various case mods that make mine look like some beast from and urban techno jungle.

Posts like this always make me feel good. Mostly because it means I'm not the only one.

I had a very clear moment when I knew I'd gone overboard. It was when I looked at my computer case, a $250 Silverstone job, and then looked at the other two $200+ cases sitting on the floor in the closet a few feet away.

I have spare high end aluminum cases. You know. Just in case.

God help me.

If I'd detailed the entire story of my woes this article would have been something like 7,000+ words long. You're missing out on the sound card driver epic, the keyboard/mouse woes (no PS/2 jacks on this beast, either), and several others. We're up and running, but not 100%.

The reason I didn't spec-out in there is because I don't exactly know them all yet. I still have yellow triangles in hardware manager. The reason it has a netcard is because the onboard netcard had to be disabled to make the video card run properly. They didn't charge me for it, and yes it is a gigabit card. I may not know DVI, but network cards I know. No, I couldn't get a straight answer as to why from Mr. Giggles. Now that it's running, I do have to say it is awful purty for Photoshop and it cut the quick-render time in Maya almost in half.

I think Swat hit it out of the park, except for the six months part. I got the bad end of Requirements Rochambeaux in like a month. But I wasn't so married to Crysis; I'll play it on my son's box if I get bored. I'm not quitting playing other games, and I'm getting nailed this week between Sins of a Solar Empire, No More Heroes, Devil May Cry 4, and Lost Odysee next week.

And yeah Thin, the case is this ominous black tower that looks sort of like the obelisk the monkeys were jumping around in the beginning of "2001: A Space Odyssey", but with this huge chrome thing backlit neon green in the front. It's obnoxious. On the other hand it does keep me from stubbing my toes on things when I'm working late at night with the lights off in my office, so I guess we'll call it a feature.

Lex, that Mechwarrior reference was a mish-mash of stuff. The main battle (2nd Sword of Light vs half the Inner Sphere) was a tabletop Battletech reference which was a re-enactment of some battles in the 4th Succession War described in the books Warrior: En Garde, Warrior: Riposte, and Warrior: Coupe that was also modded into Mechwarrior 3 by a buddy of mine. I chose to say it because it was good for name-dropping, plus it's been a long time and I didn't want to get into heavy play-by-play and embarass myself. We ran Dr. Banzai and the Hong Kong Cavaliers in that one, too, as I recall.

Thanks for the suggestions on the joystick. I've got to go to Fry's tonight anyways and this is good information. Though I do have to say the concept that I didn't need one didn't even cross my mind. They're just part and parcel of a gaming PC to me.

And don't get me started on Hobbes and that (@&%()@ two-faced bastard Palladin.

Wow. You took a custom built PC home and it had yellow !s in the Device manager? Wow. I mean, what? Am i misreading? Or are "yellow triangles" different than what I'm thinking? Onboard network had to be disabled to make the vid card work...what? I apologize, and with all due respect I've never encountered a situation like that in 15 years of PC building. WTF mainboard/driver combo is causing that?

How could they sell you a PC that wasn't completely driver configured? I must be missing something.

Great writeup MG. I apologise if this sounds critical, but I'm a bit stumped. Or drunk perhaps.

Glad to see you getting back into the swing of things. I enjoyed it as I always do.