Welcome Back

Welcome Back

After years in isolation caused by a hardware failure, Charlie Hall is stumbling back into the bright light of PC gaming. In Welcome Back, we will watch as Mr. Hall comes to terms with what he's missed, and how PC gaming has changed since 2005.

For me, Tuesdays are the pinnacle of frustration. It’s as though on occasion Monday needs a day off in the country, and Tuesday sees it as an opportunity to show its merits to the week’s management. I lost a job on a Tuesday, got an awkward letter from a college dean on a Tuesday, my dog died on a Tuesday, and so did my last graphics card.

My laptop had come with a free copy of Half Life 2. It had a burnished, blue metallic finish. It shone with beautiful, bright LEDs. It weighed in at a hefty 8 pounds. It was a dream machine. It tore through HL2, Morrowind, Gothic 2, Doom 3, Far Cry, WoW, Guild Wars, and scoffed at the system specs for niche titles like Combat Mission: Beyond Overlord. After years of limping along, I finally had a machine capable of playing the games I could only read about in magazines.

That lasted 2 brief years.

On the Tuesday night in question, as I tried to load into Guild Wars, the screen just went blank. I booted her again and again, then re-imaged the hard drive and started over. I spent at least 4 hours on the phone the next day with tech support. When she hung 30 seconds into 3DMark for the fourth time in a row, I knew it was over. I didn’t have the $300 for a new graphics card, nor was I willing to buy 2-year-old technology. You see, my laptop contained the last of the AGP graphics slots. If I had waited just 6 more months to buy my rig, waited for the next tech refresh, waited for just a little more performance, if only I had waited, it might have made sense to repair her. As a golden age of gaming came to a close, so did my time awash in it.

She was given the cruelest retirement, running Excel around conference tables. Her massive fans screaming, her garish paint job: She was like a drunken flamenco dancer on a Southwest flight. The final bullet in her brain came over lunch, when a Budweiser American Ale poured ponderously into her keyboard. No one wants a bright blue brick of a business laptop that smells like stale Bud as it heats up.

It was a dark time.

A year later, in a fit of passion, I broke down and bought a 360 on the rebound. The number on my Gamercard™ is 4—the number of years I’ve been a subscriber to Xbox Live, the number of years I’ve played amazing games and met amazing people and had excellent experiences. I don’t regret a minute of that time. But I never stopped reading about PC gaming, keeping tabs on it like some might casually glance at the Facebook status of a long-lost love. I never forgot about you, baby.

And so late last year I began to put aside some money—a bonus here, a spare twenty there—and piled up a little war chest all for myself. I weaseled a copy of Windows out of a buddy of mine, found a pair of matching open-box monitors, and just a week before Christmas I pulled the trigger on all the parts and pieces I needed to roll my own rig. After rebates, I bought an entire PC for $460, just a bit more than that old graphics card would have cost me.

During this time I spent away from PC gaming, it seems to me that the technology plateaued. Perhaps it’s the long life of the consoles we’re enjoying right now. Perhaps it’s the economy as a whole, but it seems to me that the technology of just a few years ago is perfectly capable of running today’s games. I don’t have the same agita I had in the days after my last graphics card died, the same regret and remorse for buying the wrong device. I have a PC now, same as any other mid-level gaming rig, and that’s all I need. I’m ready to catch up on all the gaming I missed in the last 6 years, all the mods to titles I’ve played through once or twice already, all the games too small to make it to the living-room's TV screen. And, in addition to this massive back catalog on Steam and the like, I’m confident I can make a passing attempt to run any new game that comes out.

With my one-year old sleeping in the room next to me, and my wife banging away behind me on some photos for her new portrait business, there is a nice sense of community here in my home. My wife is no longer sequestered alone, technically at work, while I watch re-runs of MASH downstairs. My daughter is no longer reduced to the hiss and click of a Sony baby monitor. We're all in the same space, doing important work. It's just that my work is resurrecting Morrowind mods, reskinning S.T.A.L.K.E.R., strapping on an anti-static bracelet, or calling out to LiquidMantis for help out of a jam on the Minecraft server. This feels more like working on a classic car while my wife knits on the porch. After such a long time away, it feels good to be back to my family and to this lifestyle I left so long ago.

Comments

Welcome to the front page, Mr. Bigshot!

"

With my one-year old sleeping in the room next to me, and my wife banging away behind me on some...

What an unfortunate place to wrap a sentence.

So Mr. TheWanderer now that you are back in PC land what are you looking forward to the most?

Strategy gaming, good old crunchy strategy gaming, like the new Combat Mission coming out, as well as their back catalog, and a lot of strategy games on Steam. I may try to get into some of the 40K titles as well, but my tolerance for RTS is low these days. Also I've just about OD'd on STALKER. Basically, all those titles you can't play on a console.

But I never stopped reading about PC gaming, keeping tabs on it like some might casually glance at the Facebook status of a long-lost love. I never forgot about you, baby.

I never do that! I swear!!! It's not stalking if it's on the internet!!!

Ahem. Welcome back to the fold.

Congrats! Nice article, and welcome to the PC fold again

wordsmythe wrote:

Welcome to the front page, Mr. Bigshot!

Seconded. This was a good way to start my Thursday.

Wanderer, there are some great deals on the latest Europa Universalis 3 bundles popping up these days. And don't forget Armageddon Empires, Gratuitous Space Battles, PvZ, Torchlight, Mount and Blade... All the indie goodness which underlies the AAA gaming space and makes pc gaming so rich these days.

DWARF FORTRESS!

Charlie great article, makes me itch a little for my PC rig, but just a little. I have found that i am overloaded with too many places to game already and that adding the PC back in the mix will just make it worse. But congrats on getting your PC groove back on. There is nothing like gaming on a PC while bouncing an infant on your knee in the middle of the night. Just beware of spitup on the keyboard.

Welcome to the front page, Wanderer. Just so you know, I always pictured you as a hobo, riding the rails and going wherever the winds take you. Or the voices in your head tell you to go.

Robear wrote:

Wanderer, there are some great deals on the latest Europa Universalis 3 bundles popping up these days. And don't forget Armageddon Empires, Gratuitous Space Battles, PvZ, Torchlight, Mount and Blade... All the indie goodness which underlies the AAA gaming space and makes pc gaming so rich these days.

These are all games that are on my radar, especially Mount and Blade. I take a more stately approach to my gaming, even as I do my reading. It usually takes me a month or more to "finish" a game. So, long story short: I'll be stocking up on the next Steam sale, and prolly playing from that pile for a year or more.

Certis wrote:

I always pictured you as a hobo, riding the rails and going wherever the winds take you. Or the voices in your head tell you to go.

Yes, the voices in my head have only recently turned into voices in my ear, i.e. those of my wifey and baby girl. The others have faded to the background somewhat.

Robear wrote:

Wanderer, there are some great deals on the latest Europa Universalis 3 bundles popping up these days. And don't forget Armageddon Empires, Gratuitous Space Battles, PvZ, Torchlight, Mount and Blade... All the indie goodness which underlies the AAA gaming space and makes pc gaming so rich these days.

And the one set in Hell with the archdemons and whatnot. I think from the same guy as Armageddon Empires?

She was given the cruelest retirement, running Excel around conference tables. Her massive fans screaming, her garish paint job: She was like a drunken flamenco dancer on a Southwest flight. The final bullet in her brain came over lunch, when a Budweiser American Ale poured ponderously into her keyboard. No one wants a bright blue brick of a business laptop that smells like stale Bud as it heats up.

Brilliant paragraph! Just brilliant.

Mixolyde wrote:
Robear wrote:

Wanderer, there are some great deals on the latest Europa Universalis 3 bundles popping up these days. And don't forget Armageddon Empires, Gratuitous Space Battles, PvZ, Torchlight, Mount and Blade... All the indie goodness which underlies the AAA gaming space and makes pc gaming so rich these days.

And the one set in Hell with the archdemons and whatnot. I think from the same guy as Armageddon Empires?

Solium Infernum.

And it shames me that Robear left out AI War.

Yay! *clap!* I love: drunken flamenco dancer on a Southwest flight.

Certis wrote:

Welcome to the front page, Wanderer. Just so you know, I always pictured you as a hobo, riding the rails and going wherever the winds take you. Or the voices in your head tell you to go.

Well, he is a Cubs fan.

duckideva wrote:

Yay! *clap!* I love: drunken flamenco dancer on a Southwest flight.

That colon is crucial.

wordsmythe wrote:
duckideva wrote:

Yay! *clap!* I love: drunken flamenco dancer on a Southwest flight.

That colon is crucial.

Otherwise there's poop everywhere!

Well, it's technically chyme. Much messier.

I, too, recently jumped back into PC gaming! I dropped off around the time Icewind Dale 2 came out (my computer at the time was struggling to play that one), and made the switch to Macs for school and now music production.

Haven't bought a new gaming rig, though, but have been enjoying the strange fruit that is Onlive. Although the game selection is rough, I've been able to get into a lot of PC games I've missed over the past fews years (DoW2, Supreme Commander, Tropico 3), and I've really been enjoying playing FPS' with a mouse and keyboard again (Bioshock, Fear 2, Borderlands).

Here's hoping that the service keeps adding PC games from the past 5 years so I can catch up!

Mount & Blade, definitely.
Civilization IV or V, depending on your leanings.
The Witcher.
Dwarf Fortress.
And were you around for Rome: Total War? Because that or Empire: Total War deserve some of your time.

Team Fortress 2... join us!

I promise you don't have to read all 35,000 posts to be up to speed.

Haakon7 wrote:

Dwarf Fortress.

Minecraft! While it may look like an old game, the terrible performance will fool you into thinking it's brand-spanking-new!

Mixolyde wrote:
Haakon7 wrote:

Dwarf Fortress.

Minecraft! While it may look like an old game, the terrible performance will fool you into thinking it's brand-spanking-new!

Which, really, is also true of Dwarf Fortress.

Shut up. Just shut up. You had me at drunken flamenco dancer.

Was GOG (good Old Games) around in 2005 ? Anyway check it out, there is a link from this page near the top left. Its like Steam but full of older games at real bargain prices.
If you liked the total wart series I would recommend you skip Empire and Shogun( unless you're a japanbuff) and get the Gold edition of Medieval war 2 Kingdoms - and them fan made mod up via the Total war center site, im right now have my Gondorian boots knee deep in orc blood via Third Age.

Is your pc good enough for Witcher 2? that's a great story and looks amazing.