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Monday, 29 December 2014

Consoles Vs PC






"Don't bother with consoles, buy games for your PC instead", I was told recently; I laughed it off. You see, my time spent playing games on the PC has been somewhat of a roller coaster ride. Before I explain why, I need to refer back to my first ever home computer, The ZX Spectrum and games such as Ant Attack, Death Chase and Sabre Wolf, which left a lasting impression and pushed the machine to its limits. Later on, around 1984, I transitioned to the Amstrad CPC. There were some really great games, Prince of Persia, Operation Wolf, and Renegade, to name but a few. I ain't gonna lie, I developed a sheer hatred for Speccy ports and the amount of games that forced me to play out my survival tactics in a small restricted window. This, for the most part, we're told was an absolute necessity, because in order to get the likes of Operation Wolf and Wec-Le Mans running comparatively near to the standard of the arcade original, something had to give, and that was usually the screen size.

I can't help but concede that in some cases, this reduction in screen estate was mostly down to tight deadlines and limitations of the hardware, but the cynic in me, unfortunately, believes that certain programmers were either massively lazy b*stard’s or just plain f*cking bandits out to destroy the reputation of the CPC. Alright, alright, alright, I've calmed down now, nobody was hurt, I just had to vent because there were plenty of examples where a reduced screen could have easily been avoided. Admittedly, there were only a very small percentage of games that scrolled along effectively, sporting big sprites, and a much 'fuller' screen, but it was possible. In which case, why oh why did so many games, such as Darkman from Ocean (Quite enjoyed this little run and gun), require a small screen? It used a flick screen FFS! Then there’s Shadow Warriors, I mean WTF! A tiny little flip screen with ill-defined animation, a ten-year-old could've sketched faster, I know this because I was that ten-year-old! It could easily have used a much bigger screen, with far better sprites. I can, however, forgive Ocean for this, as they delivered on the money with ninety percent of their games for the CPC, but so many other developers were, in my mind, charlatans.
After the Amstrad, I moved onto the NES. I loved the games on this console, but admittedly, a part of me still missed d*cking around with the old 8-bit computers. For the next few years, I played classics such as Mario, Zelda, and one of my all time favourites, Rad Racer. I'd never experienced anything near the quality of Mario, it blew my mind! A year or so later, I inherited a Commodore Amiga, the 512K model; it was a good computer, but sadly the majority of games retained that border of which I thoroughly detested. Why couldn't they use the full screen? Regardless, by this point, I think it had seen better days in regards to commercial success. Still, I persevered, playing a handful of games, Sensible Soccer, Swiv, R-Type, Super Hang-On, Turrican, Cannon Fodder, and the excellent Dungeon Master! Absolute classics, but nothing prepared me for what came next. 

For a period of time, I knew very little about the SEGA Megadrive, I just imagined people were grossly over-exaggerating its potential, "just hype", or so I thought, "how could anything top the Commodore Amiga?" As it turned out, the Megadrive seemingly destroyed it. The first thing I noticed was how most of the games used the full compliment of the screen, as I had once witnessed with the NES where hardly any games had big thick borders. I played some amazing games on the Megadrive, Gunstar Heroes, Streets of Rage, Sonic, Contra, Golden Axe, Shinobi and Comic Zone. In my opinion, the quality and quantity of games were far superior, and game design had gone up more than a few notches.  

Several years later, a friend and I had just completed Super Star Wars on the SNES; we both marvelled at how wonderfully the Star Wars universe had been created within a 2D environment. I was particularly impressed with the quality of the end sequence. Later that week my mate casually enquired, "d'you wanna see something better than the SNES?" I subsequently found myself in front of his shiny new Olivetti PC; he’d just managed to scrimp enough cash together to afford it; he took pride in showing me Space Quest, Robocop 3, Blue Force, Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, and Alone in the Dark - with an intro where a frog jumps out in front of a moving car. It looked amazing! The best was saved until last, with a demo of two upcoming games 'MegaRace' and 'Star Wars: Rebel Assault'. I was hooked, sold everything console related and instantly got sucked into the world of PC gaming.
Every shop I visited, sales guys would try to flog me an SX model PC, but my mate was adamant that I shouldn’t buy anything less than a DX model. I waited and waited, and eventually purchased the newer Pentium model, the P66 from the Escom store in Birmingham - the German retailer that famously bought Commodore before descending into bankruptcy, and finally closure, in 1996. For a while, I played all sorts of freebies, and demos off of the front of magazines, games that were loaned to me, and anything cheap I could find. I had several games, Dark Forces being one of them, and a game called Hi-Octane, where once again I was forced to play in a reduced window just to get a decent frame rate. Déjà vu or what, it was like a trip back in time, my thousand pound PC appeared to be emulating a one hundred and ninety-nine pound CPC from yesteryear. It wasn't until I upgraded my PC several months later that I was finally able to experience these games in full screen, as originally intended. It made a massive difference for the first year, but several months into the upgrade, it seemed to me as if I was back to square one, when it came to newer games, and no matter what I played, the latest and greatest games struggled to run within a full-size display. This trend continued for quite some time, a game would be released, and then I needed to go out and upgrade, or purchase new hardware, just to play as intended. Only a fool would accuse expert PC programmers the likes of John Romero or Peter Molyneux of lazy workmanship, especially when you consider what they've created, but why are so many old school Computer and PC programmers seemly unable to achieve optimum results with existing hardware? In my experience, from as early as the 80's with the CPC, which is admittedly, massively subjective, there seems to be a distinct disparity between the quality of games produced for computers, when compared to those tailored for use on consoles. The minimum recommendation should basically state "don't bother unless you're willing to experience something that barely resembles the game you've forked out for".

The PC, even today, seems to play second fiddle to the Playstation and Xbox in the fight for exclusivity. For as long as I can remember, the PC has been playing catch up with consoles. It is my belief that this current situation is largely due to p*ss poor programming and trashy conversions. Don't get me wrong, there have been wonderful examples where people could easily say I’m way off the mark, but it seems to me that the only games that thrive on the PC, are strategy games, where mouse use and keyboard commands are essential, Age of Empires, the Command and Conquer series, and World of Warcraft are some good examples of this. However, on the whole, the PC and its programmers, never seem to focus on pushing the best out of existing hardware, forcing its gamers to make frequent upgrades in order to play newly developed games, and avoid becoming a member of the 'minimum recommendation club'. In the case of consoles, this has always been a different experience for me; most of the games I owned pushed the console hardware to breaking point. This is definitely true of the NES, Master-system, MEGADRIVE, and SNES. The PS3 and 360 also confirm this, by producing some of their most memorable games in the latter part of their lives, games such as GTA 5, Uncharted, and the Last of Us.

When considering a console, if successful, you can be confident that your investment could last up to eight years, as is the case with the PS3 and XBox 360, because the programmers work within the limits and restrictions of the hardware, usually squeezing out great results. With this in mind, for the serious gamer, my advice will always be, stick with consoles. They last longer, cost a fraction of the price and deliver a far greater experience. 


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