Saturday, March 18, 2017

System Saturdays: Am I Joining the Darkside and becoming PC Gamer?

If you were to set the current gaming world against the Star Wars universe console gamers would see themselves as the rebels and Jedi, against the PC gamers Sith and Imperials (as for the arcade game purist I could only suggest another sci-fi franchise, Dune perhaps, “Tell me about the environmental cabinets of your homeworld Maud’Dib!”). After all modern PC gamers do see themselves as a little superior with better systems and graphical capabilities than console gamers. Console gamers on the other hand see themselves the direct descendants of true home gaming, and as those who experience games as they should be played. Of course there is no real clash of light sabers here, since console gamers would rather argue over XBox vs Playstation than go head to head with PC gamers, but none the less the rivalry exist. Over the past few years the phrase “PC Master Race” was jokingly tossed out by console gamers, and the world of PC gamers have adopted the phrase as an endearment by their console brethren.   




So it’s official, on Monday afternoon of last week the large box containing my gaming PC arrived. It was the culmination of several weeks of research on modern systems, and something that had been in household discussions since last summer. The last time I’d looked into gaming systems had to have been around 2002 when I had to buy a simple laptop for grad school and drooled over Alienware’s latest gaming laptops. In those days 100 GB hard drives were considered massive, and having a microprocessor putting out nearly 2 Ghz was extremely high speed. Over the past 15 years the game has changed a little, but many of the old rules remain. There’s a wider variety of microprocessors than ever, although they are still made by the same two manufacturers AMD, and Intel. Graphics cards have also become an absolute must and there’s a huge variety of them as well, yet like microprocessors they’re only manufactured by two makers, AMD again, and NVIDIA. Lastly, as always the more RAM and hard drive space the better. The only differences between now and how it was back in the day, is the use of SSD’s (Solid State Drives) in gaming, and the technique’s of water cooling, and/or overclocking.


If you’ve read my blog before you may remember I mentioned that in the 90’s while the “Console Wars” raged on I was a PC gamer, above and removed from Nintendo’s and Sega’s (and also as I mentioned a few weeks back Atari’s) petty console arguments. Of course I didn’t start out with anything as grandiose as a gaming type computer back then, but rather a low to medium powered student special meant to help me write reports for school, and occasionally play games on. For the most part that old Packard-Bell Legend 126 held it’s own, and I got to experience many great games on it. With that said though games like Strike Commander and Subwar 2050 however, did vex me and made me wish I had something a little more powerful to play them on. Once I turned 16 and got a job I eventually added a sound card and CD-Rom drive, and opened up my systems potential a lot more. Although the RAM and hard drive space would elude me for a bit longer, until I turned 18 and was able to work a little more a get a credit card to help me finally build up the system. From there on I began to have software issues.


After a few years of hardware and software issues I will admit that I missed the simplicity of console play. Being able to plug a game in and just play without booting up, messing with memory allocation, and the other joys of PC gaming in that era, seemed like a more enjoyable way to play games even if the games at that time weren’t as complex and fulfilling. By 1999 I would return to console gaming thanks to the PS1 and a little game called Gran Turismo, but I didn’t completely convert back to console gaming. Thanks to a new PC, and a laptop I would experience The Sims, Command & Conquer: Tiberium Sun, and many other great PC games of the late 90’s and early 00’s.  


When the PS2, and it’s generational little brother the original XBox would arrive on the scene momentum would shift to console games representing the best gaming had to offer. Since then the descendants of the PS2 and XBox have had almost as much power and gameplay capability as PC’s of the same era’s, and many so called AAA titles (i.e. the hottest new titles) appear on all three platforms. In the past few years though PC gaming has began to make an unanticipated revival. Services like Steam, GoG, and Origin have given PC gamers access to game play opportunities that console gamers don’t. In addition to this PC’s are beginning to once again prove to be more powerful than console systems, and upgrading systems is proving to be more user friendly than ever.




For PC gamers though the main argument that PC’s are making a resurgence is in the area of performance. One of the key terms in this debate is FPS, or Frames Per Second, which tends to be higher for PC games, and delivers a smoother and more movie quality like form of game play. Although a lot of console gamers seem to have doubts over the validity of this argument, side by side comparisons do tend to show PC gamers might just be correct. As the combination of multi-core microprocessors, and graphics cards grow ever more powerful the frame rates grow larger and game play smoother and even more real looking.


On top of that PC gamers also point out the upgrade difference of PC’s versus consoles. Their argument is, and rightfully so, that consoles such as an XBox One or PS4 can’t really be easily upgraded and/or modified later on down the road. Modern console users have the options of either getting modifications done professionally and a great cost and risk to the base system, or waiting to buy an upgraded system like the PS4 Pro or the XBox One Scorpio. As to where video cards, RAM chips, hard drives, and microprocessors can be switched out throughout the life of the gaming PC, with relative ease.   




So why did I decide to buy a gaming PC? Although I game more heavily on consoles nowadays, the new and wider variety of game types on PC now is fantastic, as is the access to classic game types such as RTS’s and space flight combat sims. Some of these games do have console versions available, but having been originally designed for PC they can sometimes be limited in game control and features. Game’s like Minecraft for instance have huge features and mods only accessible on the PC. My late Fall time thief Star Trek Online, also has many features available on PC play that couldn’t be ported over to the XBox One and PS4 counterparts. Although I loved STO on the XBox One, watching PC gamers play the same levels with better gameplay features and options did make me a bit jealous. Admittedly though, one of the reasons I wanted a gaming computer was to get Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak which is the newest entry in the 3D RTS Homeworld franchise, and prequel to the first Homeworld game. It’s also a game that requires a fairly powerful PC to operate correctly, and smoothly.



Of course many of my reasons for getting the gaming computer aren't totally self motivated. Last summer when the idea of a gaming PC entered household discussion, it was as a possible birthday present for my eldest son, who wanted a slightly more powerful system to play Minecraft and Space Engineers on. Space Engineers, Minecraft as well as the still fairly new Kerbel Space Program are all great programs for kids of a certain age, and often help bring kids more fully into the STEM and STEAM programs offered by schools to advance science, mathematics, and technology skills. Since first playing Space Engineers last year on my slower office computer, my son has learned a lot about space and physics, and I know on a proper system he can learn so much more from it.


So will getting a gaming PC change me as a gamer? I honestly have to say, No! Perhaps I will see the graphical virtues of the gaming PC in action, and what PC gamers have been talking about this entire time. When it comes to games though there is one thing writing this blog and collecting have taught me and that is that when it comes to gaming every system and game-play method has something to contribute that makes gaming a little better as whole. I've seen console games derived from old PC games, and vise versa. Halo Wars and Halo Wars 2 despite being tremendous hits on the Xbox 360 and One consoles have roots in RTS’s that started out and still mostly inhabit the world of PC gaming. On the other hand many PC gamers can thank consoles for helping to flush out and build up many of the shared AAA franchise titles, especially since the PS2 era. Shared XBox, PlayStation, and PC titles have gotten to be the major productions they are now days thanks  to the massive amount of funding studios have coming in for these titles from all three sources, and that money has been poured into better production quality and game-play. Windows 10 PC’s can also that their XBox cousins for access to the XBox’s controllers which allow many gamers to experience a hybrid of console and PC gaming for better overall game-play.


I will admit that there is a bit of a culture shock with the lighted gaming monster on my desk, and the sudden ability to return to hardcore PC games after years of being away, but I’m ready.

Monday, March 13, 2017

8-bit Fridays: The Website

Hey All,

I very excited to announce that The Grand Emperors Retro Video Game Blog, is going to be moving off Blogger soon and on to it's own website at 8bitFridays.com . If you've read my blog then you know I've been trying to move to a full fledged website for a while now. Right now we are under construction but hopefully we will be up and running within the next two weeks.

8bitFridays.com will not only be home to all my original gaming content, but I will be bringing in content from my vinyl record blog Diary of an Amateur Record Collector, as well as my Route 66 blog Route 66 Family Fun & Fresh Perspective. I will also be partnering with Minecraft and Space Engineers legend Zorro900 to bring in content from his blog Zorro's Minecraft and Beyond. I also hope to eventually feature content on classic toys of the 80's and 90's as well.

I look forward to seeing you all there. 

Saturday, March 4, 2017

System Saturdays: Welcome to Generation 9 - An Outsiders View of the Nintendo Switch

Yesterday March 3rd, 2017 Nintendo launched the Switch, a next generation version of its WiiU, but with the portability of a 3DS. I wasnt' lucky enough to get into the pre-order for this system, and feel ever so slightly left out. It’s not a complete downer though, since I heard a podcaster make a good point yesterday that it may be best to just wait and let the early system overcome it’s growing pains. In a way I can see the logic in that since the WiiU had a lot of battery issues with its display system after coming out. At the same time though I can’t but hope to run into a Neon Switch this weekend.


Anyway, as I posted on Twitter a little while ago this weekend, while everyone else is opening a Switch, I’m opening a PS4. And while everyone else is playing Breath of the Wild I’m playing Halo Wars 2. Please keep your smart ass comments to yourself about “just getting a Gen 8 system now” or “how a XBox One game won't work on a PS4”, I’ve had a XBox One going on two years now, and a WiiU a few months longer than that.


With that said the question that needs to be asked is if the Nintendo Switch is the first entry in the ninth generation of home consoles? The Wii and WiiU for instance heralded the start of their respective gaming generations, even though in both instances Microsoft and Sony would put out superior systems within a year or so of the launches of the respective Nintendo systems. So are we expecting the same out of Microsoft and Sony within the next year or two now? It’s hard to say but I have a feeling we will get a hint of things to come for both manufactures at the 2017 G4, and/or CES. Considering that Sony launched it’s VR add-on for the PS4, and Microsoft it’s XBox One S in the last half of 2016 one has to question if either is ready to move into the next generation yet. Microsoft's Project Scorpio, which has a projected launch near the end of 2017, may provide us with clues as to when we will see the rise of Gen 9. So far the Scorpio is just said to be a highly powerful full 4k XBox One, but could the success or failure of the Switch change the course of the Scorpio before it’s released? By that I mean to say would a modicum of success on the part of gen 9’s first system, the Nintendo Switch, cause Microsoft to turn the Scorpio into it’s ninth generation entry. So far the Scorpio only promises to be an overpowered XBox One, which in a way seems almost pointless and begs for next generation gameplay.


As long as I’m talking about power, there is something else I’m a bit curious about. Before the Switch was formally announced, and before it’s true nature was leaked to the general game playing public Nintendo hit us with something different called the NX. I don’t know if you remember this or not but the NX was suppose to be Nintendo’s, XBox One, and PS4 slayer. Like Ford with its F1 “Ferrari Slayer”, Nintendo was going to return to its powerhouse SNES days and give languishing Nintendo fans a serious system to shut down Microsoft and Sony fans with. When I first heard the stories on the NX I too was excited to see what Nintendo would do, since Nintendo hasn’t really been taken seriously by hard core gamers since the SNES. So when the NX project turned out to be the Switch it was a bit of a let down, since the Switch just turned out to be a minor evolution of the WiiU.  


Of course I still wouldn’t mind getting a Nintendo Switch with all that said, and the more I read and watch about the Switch the more intriguing I find the thinking behind its development. I myself believe the Switch is the vanguard of ninth generation consoles, however I don’t expect Sony or Microsoft to take any lead from it since they haven’t with regards to past systems.

If you got a Switch yesterday or today, I hope your having fun with it, and I also hope you provide the rest of us with your honest opinions on the system.