Sunday, May 01, 2005

Why Half-Life 2 is ruining Desktop Gaming

Half Life 2 Logo 

  Writing this article makes me very sad, but I fear it is the truth.  The busier I become, the easier I want things to be.  I want gaming to be easily accessible, and instantly accessible.  See my last article to understand what I mean.  Half-Life 2 is a beautiful game, in every which way, from the graphics to the story, to the wonderful physics.  I fire it up, and can play it for hours and lose track of time completely.  All of this experience has been marred by long load times and glitchy gameplay.  I am one of the lucky HL2 players to have the "stuttering sound issue", which affects both sound and graphics to an extent that has become unbearable.  You see, I have spent countless hours reading, and searching, and tweaking under the hood to make the game work better.  I am not talking about squeezing additional FPS out of my graphics card, I am talking about eliminating the glitches that are ruining it for me.  The other day, I tried to continue my adventure after a month long hiatus from the game, only to find out that the glitches I spent so much time trying to mitigate were back in full force.  I noticed that Steam updates the game practically every time you load it, and with it, resets a bunch of the tweaks you apply to the configuration file (or at least after my cursory look at the config file).  I just wanted to play for a hour or so, not have to go back in "under the hood" to change things around again.   Thus, I just exited the program, and walked away.  

I imagine I will tweak again at some point, and finish the game, but I am wondering if this will be the last desktop computer game I will play.  I have a pretty beefed up gaming rig, with an AMD 64 processor, and GeForce 6800 graphics card, so I know the horsepower is in there!  I just can't figure this out, and I frankly don't want to.  There are other games I know play fine (Far Cry, Doom 3, etc), but HL2 has broken my heart.  Like a beautiful woman who plays "hard to get" so much so that you can't ever get her.  I do not have time and money to tweak, update drivers, update hardware, and invest money into the "box" anymore.  I bought a GeForce 6800 because of HL2, and now I feel like it was money down the drain.  I can't blame Valve for this outright; the vast numbers of unique systems they must try to make a game compatible on is a daunting task.  Like a chemist, us gamers in the PC world have to mix and match components, drivers, tweaks in a way to enjoy our games to the fullest, and there are simply too many combinations to sift through.  I just want to play!

With next-generation consoles on the horizon, and touted hardware that will eliminate the advantage PC games used to have over consoles, I have a feeling that I won't be using my desktop for gaming much anymore.  The controlled environment of the console allows developers to make glitch free games (outside of frame-rate slow downs) that I can simply just play, without tweaking and frustration (if it works on one box, it will work on all of them).  With high resolution graphics shining cleanly through my HDTV and sound pulsating through my surround sound setup, I can't see an advantage a desktop rig will have over the new machines.  There won't be any prohibitive costs either, consoles will cost $300-$400; which while sounding expensive, is far less than I invest in my PC to play the latest and greatest (nVidia's flagship graphics cards cost a VERY prohibitive $400-$500 dollars!).  I am sure a year or two after the next-gen console's release, new GPUs and CPUs will be on the horizon that will dwarf the technical specifications of these boxes, but this will again cost PC gamers a prohibitive amount of money, nor guarantee to actually improve the gameplay experience because compatibility is always in question (did you mix and match the components right?).

So while I may finish HL2 someday, I am facing a choice, and wondering if it will indeed be my last game on my desktop.  I also, with critics who have said this for many years, question the future of desktop gaming in general - will it survive the next generation of consoles?  Computer games have been on the deathwatch every year, and so far have survived...but they may have to march on without me.

I must say though, Age of Empires 3 is coming along nicely... ;-)

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