Category Archives: Brushing off the dust

We reexamine conventional wisdom and give you our take on a product.

This is Why We Upgrade (Part 3)

In the previous two posts, I talked about the first five “Epochs” of PC gaming. The usual disclaimer still applies that these are arbitrarily made up, but they gel pretty well with the way the PC gaming market developed.

The last Epoch listed was the end of an era in more ways than one. Looking through the history of PC gaming up until Quake 3 Arena, ID Software more or less dominated each generation. From Wolfenstein to Doom to Quake, hardware refreshes were linked to the latest ID title. Sadly, that doesn’t hold true going forward. ID lost its way with Doom 3: it was graphically impressive and certainly some people upgraded to play it. But it wasn’t DOOM. It was jump scares and monster closets, but none of the fun that made Doom so popular up to that point. Even so, it might still have opened up the next epoch if it weren’t for the massively successful release from another company.

The Sixth Epoch (Half-Life 2)

Half-Life 2. While later the Half-Life series would become the butt of jokes revolving around the number “3”, Half-Life 2 was a nearly perfect game. The long-awaited sequel to a solid first release, Half-Life 2 redefined what could be done in a video game. No longer were were merely fawning over graphics or frame rates: Half-Life 2 was an experience. Physics-based puzzles. A gripping, cinematic story. The gravity gun.

Oh, the gravity gun.

Half-Life 2 also brought with it some hefty system requirements. You could scrape by with a Windows 98 machine at 1.2Ghz and 256MB of RAM, so long as you had at least a DirectX 7-compatible GPU. But if you wanted all the effects (you did) and you wanted to be able to focus on the story without dropping frames (you did), you needed at least a 2.4GHz CPU, 512MB of RAM, Windows 2000/XP, and a DirectX 9 GPU. If the last time you upgraded was when Quake 3 came out, it was time to open up the wallet.

But oh, it was so worth it. Half-Life 2 became the basis for so much of later Valve titles. CS:GO runs on a modified version of the HL2 (Source) engine. Same with DOTA2. And Team Fortress 2. The engine was extensible, fast, and reasonably good looking even as it aged.

This is also the first Epoch that had a signature title that is just as easy to install/play today as it was back then (actually, it’s easier). Half-Life 2 brought with it a requirement to use Valve’s new software delivery platform, Steam. At the time of release, games came on CD. Big games may have multiple discs. While much maligned at the start, Steam allowed for digital game distribution at a time where it just really hadn’t been done before. Ultimately, Valve made more money off of the delivery service than the game itself. Say what you will about Steam (no, seriously…I want to hear it), but it has stood the test of time.

The Seventh Epoch (Crysis)

Can it run Crysis? There is perhaps no greater proof of a game being tied to hardware upgrades than Crysis. Released only 3 years after Half-Life 2 (no…that can’t be right), Crysis was the first game that essentially required you to travel to the future to buy PC parts. True, there were minimum requirements that might let you play. 2.8GHz or faster CPU. 1GB of RAM. An Nvidia 6800GT or ATI Radeon 9800 Pro.

Ignore those.

The recommended specs were almost double those. Dual-core CPU. 2GB of RAM. A Geforce 8800. And even THEN, don’t expect to max out graphical settings and get playable frame rates. This game’s longevity on the PC upgrading treadmill is amazing. It took until 2012 (five years after release) for hardware to catch up to Crysis. Even today, low-end GPUs and CPUs struggle with running this game. This is truly impressive and I wish that I could say that what followed lived up to it.

The Interregnum (Waiting for a Hero)

It’s not that there haven’t been great games since Crysis. Not at all. But the market changed heavily. Consoles caught up. Mobile gaming took off. Indie gaming hit its stride.

There were plenty of graphically impressive titles, to be sure. Some may say that GTA V or Metro 2033 deserve a spot on the wall. Both had high requirements, to be sure, but as the market showed, upgrades and system sales didn’t follow. You could get decent performance in GTA V on a console. Metro 2033 was never a must-have title.

We’ve all heard that Star Citizen would be the game that needed more horsepower. And when it releases in 2072, that may be true. VR required upgrades, but it hasn’t sold especially well. The new Microsoft Flight Simulator needs CPUs that don’t exist yet to run at its peak. Interesting, but it’s too niche to cause a broad swath of users to upgrade.

And another trend has presented itself: scalable performance. Doom (2016) can run on a potato. So can a great many other new titles. True, you may not be able to turn up all the effects, but you also don’t have to limit yourself to 720p and shut everything off. Because games are console-centric, there’s not a big incentive to require a behemoth of a PC. If the garbage CPUs in an Xbox One or PS4 can run the game, so can yours. Yes, the PS5 and Xbox Series S|X have better CPUs, but good luck buying either of those right now. Time will tell if it leads to a new title that brings our PCs to their knees.

The timing is also bad right now. You can’t find a GPU (even a slightly older one) at any reasonable price. Until things change, we’re stuck here waiting on a new era. This sounds more like a complaint than it really is: there are tons of great games available right now that you can pick up and play. Maybe the age of upgrading is over; maybe it’s not. I, for one, long for a day when a new king is crowned and we can go back to arguing about a 1-2 fps gain.

Have I missed anything? Would you swap the titles above for others? Is there a game that rises to the top of the current malaise? Let me know!

This is Why We Upgrade (Part 2)

In the previous post, I talked about the First (Wolf 3D) and Second (Doom) epochs of PC gaming. To reiterate (or make clear for the first time), these are arbitrary. These aren’t official epochs or eras. These are just the world as we see it. Which means that it’s completely correct.

We ended the last post talking about the 486. Depending on your age, you may have very fond memories of that processor. So many people in my age group really cut their teeth on the 486/66. It was a great CPU and is great nostalgia.  However, it wasn’t good enough for the Third Epoch.

The Third Epoch (Quake)

Quake Nightmare 2
A difficulty so brutal it was hidden.
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This is Why We Upgrade (Part 1)

One of the most wonderful things about gaming on a PC is that, unlike consoles, you’re not locked into static hardware. You can upgrade to your heart’s content, swapping in new processors, video cards, hard drives…all sorts of stuff.  However, this strength also means that the system requirements for new games are always a moving target.  I would argue that this is less of a problem in modern gaming, as we’ve reached a point where monumental improvements in hardware don’t happen at a fast pace anymore.

There was a time, though, when processors and video cards seemed to double in speeds every year or two.  The shiny new computer you got for Christmas in 1987 was no longer adequate for the games of 1989. Sure, businesses upgraded because of spreadsheets and number crunching, but for gamers, each little epoch of hardware seemed to be dominated by one or two games that needed a higher performing system or a new operating system to run correctly.

Let’s go on a journey through these epochs, focusing on the requirements and, more importantly, the games.

The First Epoch (1987 – Wolfenstein 3D)

I’m going to arbitrarily start the clock in 1987.  The fastest x86 CPU of the day was the 80386.  4MB of RAM was a lot.  And the PC game you had to have was Wolfenstein 3D.

Screen Shot 2018-03-09 at 5.20.05 PM
On a 386/16, I tended to run the screen smaller to improve frame rates.
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Google to enter the console business? And other related musings.

Hey all! Time for me to finally write another article! I’m going to place this one under “Brushing off the Dust” because not only will this be news, but I’m going to dig back a bit and talk about similar stories to the one I’m about to report on.

Yeti

So.. BIG NEWS folks, or that’s how everyone is spinning it. Google seems to have plans to release a console. The codename as of now? YETI. ( you can find info about this at The Information , but beware it is subscription based. Unlike a website that Yours Truly may be typing on.) I guess I shouldn’t say they intend to release a console for sure, more just that it seems very likely. What the report really spells out is that Google for sure appears to be gearing up to offer a game-streaming service that when all up and running will be accessible on at least the Google Chromecast device. That seems to leave room for there also being a more dedicated item just for the gaming, but we’ll have to see.

What does this mean? Well, it could mean anything or it could mean nothing. My personal thought is that this plan will go the same way Nvidia’s Shield platform did. Though Google recently hired Phil Harrison of Sony fame, so there might be bright glimmer on the horizon? Who’s to say? All we know right now is its supposed to be a cloud-computing based gaming service that will offer top notch content without a lot of hassle. Sound familiar? Microsoft’s Xbox division touted much the same type of technology for their dedicated Xbox One console when it first launched.

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Problems with a delayed entry to 8th gen.

So I’ve decided to take a up a quick response to my counter part. Their article, entitled: “Xbox One vs. PS4 : Out of the box experience in 2017” has some things in it I felt like nitpicking or bringing light to. The piece can be found at https://abortretryfailshow.wordpress.com/2017/10/

Now, without further ado, Let me begin. ( There was some ado)

I can’t say I’m a fanboy of either console myself. I used to be an avid fan of the Xbox brand and still have strong feelings towards the Xbox 360 and original Xbox, but that’s died off in recent years. For the most part I just have the Xbone because that’s what my connections all have. I waited a short bit to get into the 8th generation myself. I found little reason to hop on board the hype train.

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Xbox One vs PS4: Out of the box experience in 2017

By: Cody Kelly

I’m going to be honest:  I had no intention of ever buying either of these consoles.  From the moment they were first announced, I was pretty underwhelmed.  I’ve been a console gamer since the days of the Atari 2600.  I’ve watched each successive generation get more powerful and more exotic (from an architecture perspective).  I was impressed by both the 360 and the PS3 and remember well my enthusiasm for both when they launched.

My lack of desire for either the Xbox One or PS4 stems from the perception that I had that both were low to mid-range PCs.  Nothing fancy, nothing interesting.  So, I held off.  In the meantime, I purchased both a Wii U and a Switch.  I’ve had a lot of fun with both consoles and I’m looking forward to what Nintendo has in store for us with the future of the Switch.

Last weekend, however, I came across a steal of a deal on both the Xbox One and PS4 at a pawn shop.  Curiosity got the best of me.  I took the plunge.  I took them home, cleaned them up and factory reset them.  What follows is my impression of the end user experience upon firing these up for the first time in 2017.

This is not a comparison of the hardware.  I may get into that at some point, but this is primarily about the software, as that’s what I’ll be interacting with on a day to day basis.  I also want to point out that I’m not a “fan boy”.  I owned both the PS3 and Xbox 360 and loved them both for different reasons.  I’m signed up for both PS Plus and Xbox Live Gold, so YMMV with either of these consoles if you’re not.

Without further ado… Continue reading