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Bob Muir avatar 6:18 PM on 01.25.2008  (server time)
Rantoid: PConsoles

Necros Says: Long time no see! After a four-week hiatus from Rantoid (and cereal blogging in general), I've finally forced myself to make some time for my neglected column. Being back at college certainly helps my work ethic too. Anyways, on to the article!

I'm not a PC gamer. Looking beyond my status as a dirty Mac user, sucking at the teat of Steve Jobs, relegated to the status of a second-class citizen by PC publishers, there are in fact other reasons why I refuse to become a master of the WASD keys. For starters, most of the major PC games that I would be interested in have perfectly serviceable console ports. In today's modern game economy, it's just not as financially viable to limit a game's audience to one console, and PCs are not exempt from this revised distribution model. Sure, I have to endure the comments of numerous PC snobs about how superior the controls/graphics/online/jubblies are on their gaming rig, but those statements are easily brushed aside with a brief STFUAJPG tirade. The fact is, there are now very few PC-exclusive games that I have to play.

Another concern is that PC gaming requires a beefy computer. Every PC gamer knows that buying a pre-built machine for gaming is either insufficient or far too expensive for the components, which is fine, because PC gamers are very adept at building their own rigs. My fingers, however, have all the dextrous precision of a retarded walrus on narcotics. (It's a wonder I can play games at all.) Opening up a computer terrifies me, because I'm so scared that, in the process of installing an additional 1GB of RAM, my hand will have a random spasm, short-circuit the CPU, spawn a bucket of honey to spill over the ports, and throw the casing out the window. While I realize that is horribly exaggerated, I know far too little about PCs to be messing around with components.

And that brings me to my biggest issue with PC gaming: upgrades. No matter when you get your rig, it will become outdated within a year. Some game will soon come out like Crysis which requires retardedly-powerful components from an alternate timeline 500 years in the future which has laws of physics we can only view in dreams. So even if you're building a PC for a somewhat affordable price, there's no guarantee that it will serve your needs a year from when you built it, forcing you to pay even more in order to keep up. Some may point out that you don't need to run the game at full specs, but should the PC version not even match what consoles can pull off.

Furthermore, in the process of upgrading certain components or an OS, older games may become incompatible with your new supercomputer. I remember when Windows XP came out, one of my friends found most of his gaming collection incompatible with his machine for months until he found a workaround. Nothing just works on a PC; you have to put a lot of effort into anything you do. Though it may be argued that this is what puts PC gamers above those dirty, backwards console users, it also complicates the enjoyment of what should be entertainment. I don't recall having to configure tons of options to watch a DVD.

So with all my issues with the complexity of PC gaming, it's no surprise that I've sided with consoles. Almost every major PC game has a corresponding console port, especially on 360, my current console of choice. Hooking up a console requires minimal effort and no complicated building process. And outside of silly add-ons that usually failed to become standard, there is no need to continually upgrade it; just pay the initial price and everything works. While some consoles like the NES may have developed issues with playing their old games, the games themselves continue to work with the system software, no matter the condition of the hardware. Apple's motto for OS X easily applies to a console: It Just Works.

Or at used to just work. As many have noticed, consoles are slowly becoming more and more like PCs. It's easy to point out the positives of this movement. With services like Xbox Live and PSN, we are finally seeing the realization of the potential first hinted at with the Dreamcast's modem. If a game accidentally ships with bugs, the developer can release a patch to restore it to full operability. And of course, more PC games are getting console releases than ever before.

But these aren't the only ways consoles are becoming more like PCs. Gone is the plug-and-play appeal of older consoles, replaced by a tangle of high-def chords, user interfaces with too many options, and annoying internet connection screens. Even as gaming becomes more and more mainstream, consoles are drifting farther away from the simple nature of DVD players. And even more worrying is the actual retail strategy of consoles.

Gone are the days where there is a single configuration that will work with almost any game. Now, consumers are confused by numerous SKUs, of which only one will do everything the console promises to do. It's easy to target where it went downhill: the launch of the 360. By releasing the Core unit, Microsoft removed developers' confidence in crafting games with the hard drive in mind. Then, they released the Elite unit, which included the much-desired HDMI port. In the past, the only updates a console received were a streamlined redesign in its golden years, as a way to entice the few people who hadn't purchased the console yet; the features remained the same. However, the 360 destroyed this mentality, leaving previous 360 owners disappointed and let-down. They were being punished for being early adopters. The only way to get HDMI was to buy a new unit; essentially, they were buying a new PC. I'm glad that the so-called "Ultimate 360" was just a rumor, because being locked out of built-in WiFi, high-def audio, and IPTV by my hardware was not something I was looking forward to.

Instead of seeing what a bad idea multiple configurations was, Sony stumbled into the market with two PS3 configurations. Within one year of the system's life, it had already upped their SKU list to four. What's worse is that, among these configurations, there was no clear winner; each one had its strengths and weaknesses. The 80GB unit might have seemed like the clear winner, but the 60GB unit had full backwards compatibility. The 40GB unit is cheap and has a decent amount of memory, but the 20GB unit has more USB ports and backwards compatibility. Needless to say, the only way to get a "full unit" would be to buy a 60GB unit and upgrade the hard drive and, once the DualShock 3 is released, the controller. Essentially, you're upgrading a PC instead of buying a console.

Maybe this sounds like unnecessary whining, but I don't like the idea of buying a system that is supposed to continue to serve my needs throughout a generation and then having to worry about it being replaced by anything more than an aesthetic redesign. Not only do console upgrades cause unease amongst consumers, but the lack of a console set in stone can limit developers' creativity; look at how many developers have made comments about the lack of a built-in 360 hard drive. So to this end, I would like to applaud Nintendo for their Wii distribution decisions so far. Unlike the 360 and PS3, the Wii is available in a single, rigid SKU; there are no plans for a update/redesign and there probably won't be one, considering how hot the current sales are. Perhaps part of the Wii's appeal is its simplicity of use; no bigger than a DVD player, it is the definition of plug-and-play. Apparently, I'm not the only one who values this trait in consoles.

Necros is a child trapped in a man's body, one reason why he's unemployed. He is a student at Syracuse University and a regular on Failcast.

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