Game crazy

Publication date: 11 April 2011
Originally published 2010 in Atomic: Maximum Power Computing
Last modified 03-Dec-2011.

 

Consoles keep trying to catch up with PC games, but they're never going to manage it, in two important areas:

Technical problems, and total insanity.

Oh, the modern Internet-connected consoles make it possible for developers to release broken games and then try to fix 'em in patches. (If, of course, the known-to-be-broken game sells well enough!)

But the PC has a huge lead on the console world in this department. The Red Ring Of Death is nothing compared with its sibling, the Blue Screen.

While console gamers were arguing about SNES versus Mega Drive, PC gamers had been wrestling with config.sys and memory managers for ten years. Network gaming in the good old Win95 days was something of an adventure, too. And this honoured tradition continues today.

"You tried to run Saints Row 2 even though you have TWO MONITORS! You IDIOT! How could you EVER expect that to work?!"

"How DARE you run the Gamebryo engine on a computer with MORE THAN TWO CPU CORES!! It crashed at the start of your 10th birthday party because quad-core perverts like you don't DESERVE a Pip-Boy!"

(Note that both of these examples are games whose console versions worked pretty well. Once again: Unreliability advantage, PC!)

And then, there's the total insanity.

PC gaming has no gatekeepers. If you don't mind getting zero-star reviews from a thousand teenagers, or not being able to sell your game in shops, you can make a game about whatever you want. It can be as big as you can manage or as small as is necessary to convey one idea. And your game can be as mystifying or disturbing as you like. And modern PCs are so fast that you can write even quite complex games in extremely user-friendly languages, without choking the system with your clunky code.

The result of this is a snowstorm of indie games of all shapes and sizes, most of which are free downloads. Many fit in standard genres - FPSes, text adventures, scrolling shooters - but there are also numerous completely demented games.

Which I love.

This is partly because I prefer nutty games to "realistic" ones. Give me Saints Row instead of GTA, or Just Cause instead of Stalker, any day.

But mass-market games are almost never truly, astonishingly, entirely batty. Rico grapple-parachuting up mountains in Just Cause 2 like an inverted Spider-Man does not begin to approach the oddness I seek.

I want a game that looks like something from I Get Your Fail (Jeff Minter has made about a thousand of those). I want a game with ASCII graphics that uses more CPU power than Quake III (that game would, of course, be Dwarf Fortress). I want a multiplayer game in a sandbox space-station that usually ends up uninhabitable (Space Station 13!). I want turn-based Doom and steampunk air combat (DoomRL and SteamBirds!). I want art-games that exist only to make a point, or a joke (like Passage, You Have To Burn The Rope, Achievement Unlocked or p0nd), and RPGs that are just imagination-augmentation devices (Sleep Is Death, from the same author as Passage).

(I've shamelessly plundered many of these links from the PC-games blog Rock, Paper, Shotgun. So here's another bunch of 'em: WarioWare as re-imagined to be a cry from the bottom of an existential pit, Gravity Bone, light-hearted siblings Marvel Brothel and Beautiful Escape, Dinner Date, the upcoming Rock Of Ages, Space Funeral, The Infinite Ocean, and, of course, Octodad and "Icarus Proudbottom In: The Curse Of The Chocolate Fountain"!)

There are things a bit like this on consoles. Katamari and the regrettably lousy Muscle March look particularly nutty to Western eyes, but are clearly peculiar by any nation's standards. Electroplankton's another candidate - actually, I think Guitar Hero and its descendants qualify, because they may be vastly popular, but they're also quite deeply weird.

But until someone makes a console with an un-moderated download function - which Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo don't want to do, partly for security and legal reasons but mainly for financial ones - the PC will still win the strange-game race, by a very large margin. (Games that allow user-created content, while often amusing, are a poor substitute.)

If you play games on a PC without ever visiting the psychedelic odd-game buffet, you're like someone who buys a DSLR but only ever uses the kit lens, or someone who buys a Caterham but never goes to a track day. The crazy stuff is what makes crashes, glitches and bugs worthwhile.

Take a walk on the weird side.

Other columns

Learning to love depreciation

Overclockers: Get in early!

Stuff I Hate

Why Macs annoy me

USB: It's worth what you pay

"Great product! Doesn't work!"

The virus I want to see

Lies, damned lies and marketing

Unconventional wisdom

How not to e-mail me

Dan's Quick Guide to Memory Effect, You Idiots

Your computer is not alive

What's the point of robot pets?

Learning from spam

Why it doesn't matter whether censorware works

The price of power

The CPU Cooler Snap Judgement Guide

Avoiding electrocution

Video memory mysteries

New ways to be wrong

Clearing the VR hurdles

Not So Super

Do you have a license for that Athlon?

Cool bananas

Getting rid of the disks

LCDs, CRTs, and geese

Filling up the laptop

IMAX computing

Digital couch potatoes, arise!

Invisible miracles

Those darn wires

Wossit cost, then?

PFC decoded

Cheap high-res TV: Forget it.

V-Pr0n

Dan Squints At The Future, Again

The programmable matter revolution

Sounding better

Reality Plus™!

I want my Tidy-Bot!

Less go, more show

In search of stupidity

It's SnitchCam time!

Power struggle

Speakers versus headphones

Getting paid to play

Hurdles on the upgrade path

Hatin' on lithium ion

Wanted: Cheap giant bit barrel

The screen you'll be using tomorrow

Cool gadget. Ten bucks.

Open Sesame!

Absolutely accurate predictions

The truth about everything

Burr walnut computing

Nothing new behind the lens

Do it yourself. Almost.

The quest for physicality

Tool time

Pretty PCs - the quest continues

The USB drive time bomb

Closer to quietness

Stuff You Should Want

The modular car

Dumb smart houses

Enough already with the megapixels

Inching toward the NAS of our dreams

Older than dirt

The Synthetics are coming

Pr0nBack!

Game Over is nigh

The Embarrassingly Easy Case Mod

Dumb then, smart now

Fuel cells - are we there yet?

A PC full of magnets

Knowledge is weakness

One Laptop Per Me

The Land of Wind, Ghosts and Minimised Windows

Things that change, things that don't

Water power

Great interface disasters

Doughnut-shaped universes

Grease and hard drive change

Save me!

Impossible antenna, only $50!

I'm ready for my upgrade

The Great Apathetic Revolution

Protect the Wi-Fi wilderness!

Wi-Fi pirate radio

The benign botnet

Meet the new DRM, same as the old DRM

Your laptop is lying to you

Welcome to super-surveillance

Lemon-fresh power supplies

A>B>C>A!

Internet washing machines, and magic rip-off boxes

GPGPU and the Law of New Features

Are you going to believe me, or your lying eyes?

We're all prisoners of game theory

I think I'm turning cyborg-ese, I really think so

Half an ounce of electrons

Next stop, clay tablets

A bold new computer metaphor

Won't someone PLEASE think of the hard drives?!

Alternate history

From aerial torpedoes to RoboCars

How fast is a hard drive? How long is a piece of string?

"In tonight's episode of Fallout 4..."

How hot is too hot?

Nerd Skill Number One

What'll be free next?

Out: Hot rods. In: Robots.

500 gig per second, if we don't get a flat

No spaceship? No sale.

The shifting goalposts of AI

Steal This Education

Next stop: Hardware piracy

A hundred years of EULAs

The triumph of niceness

The daily grind

Speed kings

Alt-tCRASH

Game crazy

Five trillion bits flying in loose formation

Cannibalise the corpses!

One-note NPCs

Big Brother is watching you play

Have you wasted enough time today?

The newt hits! You die...

Stuck in the foothills

A modest censorship proposal

In Praise of the Fisheye

Filenames.WTF

The death of the manual

Of magic lanterns, and MMORPGs

When you have eliminated the impossible...

Welcome to dream-land

Welcome to my museum

Stomp, don't sprint!

Grinding myself down

Pathfinding to everywhere

A deadly mouse trap

If it looks random, it probably isn't

Identical voices and phantom swords

Boing!

Socialised entertainment

Warfare. Aliens. Car crashes. ENTERTAINMENT!

On the h4xx0ring of p4sswordZ

Seeing past the normal

Science versus SoftRAM

Righteous bits

Random... ish... numbers

I get letters

Money for nothing



Give Dan some money!
(and no-one gets hurt)