I’ve been playing PC games since I was 14, and every time I’m infected by that awful nostalgia that tells me gaming has never been as good as it was 1998-2005, the same realisation washes across me: we are on the cusp.
What cusp? THE cusp. Well, another cusp in a long line of cusps, but the most interesting cusp thus far: the freedom cusp.
People forget that when John Carmack was working on Wolfenstein that the PC was no match for the graphical computing power of consoles. Despite the range of gameplay available it was extraordinarily difficult to bring the visual breadth of machines dedicated to gaming within reach of the Personal Computer.
They forget that the cost-effective GPU is only, really, ten years old; the Accelerated Graphics Port pulled GPUs out of the comparatively slow PCI lanes at a time before PCIe, when GPUs outpaced the interface.
PC gaming has revolutionised and evolved repeatedly, and here we stand at the forefront of another revolution.
The revolutionary time we are now in defies the proclamations circa 2007-9 that PC gaming is dead; it defies the idea that a PC is for a desk and a console is for the lounge; it defies the idea that virtual reality belongs in science fiction.
It brings with it the most interesting gameplay and storytelling opportunities ever available.
It’s a combination of imagination and the overwhelming power of the PC - and the great cost efficiency of it. Bang for buck is at the best ratio in the history of gaming, and Oculus Rift, SteamOS/Big Picture (and the controller and streaming they bring) Intel’s RealSense and a number of other interface technologies are providing opportunities to play games wherever you like at home with wonderful immersion.
The combination of streaming technologies with Virtual Machines running on your main PC with tiny boxes at each monitor will allow you to share the power of your PC like never before; as you game on your TV someone else can browse the Internet, watch Netflix or curate their photo album or even play another game at another monitor.
The possibilities have me more excited than any single game.
I’ve been using Big Picture since launch, and I’ve chopped and changed my setup. I’ve tested streaming across devices, Android, OSX, Linux, Windows 7, 8, on a netbook. The freedom it offers my in my gaming is phenomenal, and it was the missing link in a long transition from console back to PC.
As I spent a number of year as an OSX and PS3 user, I lost the temperament for sitting at a desk to play games. As I began working in the tech media in 2010, the possibilities of PC gaming outstripped anything consoles could offer. By the times those possibilities started to come into beta - namely Big Picture - I was already a loving PC gamer once more.
The ease of access of consoles is what holds PC gaming back from an audience more broad than ever before, and Valve in particular are working to eliminate the issue. The key hurdle is making the PC ubiquitous in the lounge room - even if it’s a dedicated streaming receiver or HDMI micro-PC. The availability of the Xbox 360 controller on Windows made strides into this world of opportunities, and the slow but evident push toward Linux, and in turn SteamOS, support by hardware manufacturers and game developers will help greatly. Although there is a fairly loud minority that believe the continuing monopolization of PC gaming by Steam to be a huge negative, I put it to them that they’re the ones providing an opportunity for everyone; for those doubting, I’ve been doing tests on various GoG and other non-Steam games in Big Picture and it’s working brilliantly. Those on the outside need to find streaming options and controller support desperately.
The next title I will be playing heavily through Big Picture - and testing across a range of systems - will be Grand Theft Auto V. As I’ve refrained from going ‘next-gen’, my PS3 account will be pulled across for what I’m anticipating to be many, many hours of multiplayer gameplay. For me Grand Theft Auto belongs on the TV; it belongs with my surround sound and controller. That’s probably because I hate playing third-person perspective games with a keyboard and mouse, but whether or not you feel the same way at least we have choices.
The key thing to take away from the discussion of future methods of PC gaming isn’t the cosmetics nor is it merely a matter of interface. Where and how we play games dictates the breadth of possibility for developers; how can they utilize the input device? How can they increase immersion through the TV, Oculus or Augmented Reality device? The same can be asked of technologies like Kinect and RealSense, which could be used to read your facial expressions or monitor biometrics to change gameplay depending on how you’re reacting physically to a game.
These aren’t gimmicks if implemented well, and there is no shortage of talented development houses up to the task. For games that don’t require such devices, but support them, we will have the choice. A freedom to absorb our gaming as though we are back with our consoles - but without the lock in or the nerfed hardware; a freedom to customise and fit our devices into our own customised ‘ecosystems’, rather than ones dictated by Sony, Microsoft, Valve or Nintendo.
This is an exciting time where soon, if even for a short time, things will settle down and those who are no longer satisfied by sitting at a desk and using the traditional inputs will feel totally comfortable with the way we play our games because of all the incredible new technologies.
Although gaming enthusiasts will almost always be looking toward the very hints of a new dawn, stumbling toward the horizon for the next literal game changer. It is now, more than ever, I feel that we will actually see a sunrise.