I Should Use My Computers More
The grand battle of backlog versus nostalgia
I currently own two decent computers. Neither one is equipped with the latest processors or RTX video cards, but they can both still run circles around just about any game.
My desktop has an i7 6700/1070 combo, and my laptop is running an i7 8750H and a 1060.
I own these because I am, theoretically, a hardcore PC gamer.
The more time that goes on the more I’m realizing how the sheer depth of gaming content available at any moment has changed my play habits.
Buying these PC’s was exciting at the outset.
“This is the time! I will install The Witcher 3 and Final Fantasy XV and all the expansions! And Path of Exile! And many other backlogged games! And I will finally play them and finish them!”
I’ve finished maybe ten games on my PCs in the last two years. And many of those were older titles.
This week I’ve been making my way through 2004’s Sacred, hardly a bastion of technological might even when it was released. It was a favorite of mine on launch and I’m still enjoying it now.
And although it’s a little hard to get it working properly on modern machines, even the integrated Intel GPU in my laptop can run it flawlessly without breaking past 40 percent usage.
I have these solid computers, and most of the time, their power goes unused.
Sometimes that’s because I’m busy with work, or using consoles during my gaming time. More frequently, it’s because I’ll get bored with the latest thing or that title in my backlog after a few hours, and go back to a classic I know and love.
I’ve played so many different games over the last thirty years that it only takes me a few hours to deconstruct something, see everything it has to offer, and decide whether I want to keep going.
Part of the excitement of PC gaming is the hardware lust, a pull that I know all-too-well from the world of headphones. I’d argue that its pull is even more dramatic in the gaming world though, due to how dramatic the upgrades are.
For those looking to play truly cutting-edge experiences, the gaming industry is in a bit of a dip right now. And that makes it even easier to want to revisit older titles.
Both of my PCs perform around the level of the most powerful current consoles, and that’s plenty of computing power for me, someone who still hasn’t upgraded from a 1080p monitor.
Until new console hardware launches next year and disrupts the expectations for performance at the low end of the tech spectrum, it’s not worth the risk for companies or indies to spend money developing games that might necessitate a hardware upgrade on the PC side.
I’m sure Cyberpunk will be that game for a lot of people, and some of the other games adding ray tracing support do look very nice.
But all major games still also have to run on a base PS4 or even a Switch, and thus, will still look just fine on even a mid-range PC. So there’s no rush for me to upgrade again.
That’ll hold back graphics in games for at least the next two years…if your definition of “hold back” is that they don’t have the latest graphical technologies.
PC gaming’s flexibility is also a bit of a double-edged sword.
Sometimes I don’t want to have to install a graphics wrapper to get Sacred’s old DirectX calls working right on my modern hardware, I just want to push a button and go.
I’m still very happy that the capability exists to flawlessly run a 2004 game on a 2018-era PC and thankful to the hobbyists that make said wrappers, but even the modest struggle of getting through that isn’t always synonymous with fun.
And so, because of a combination of lack of time, a growing backlog thanks to sales, and a strong fondness for classic RPGs, I continue to waste many percentage points of the potential power in my PCs every week.
I’m still excited about them even if I don’t use them to their fullest, and even when I’m writing articles about being afraid of sugar, some small part of my brain is thinking about how amazingly powerful the relatively small laptop I’m typing on is.
The quality of a gaming experience is more inextricably-linked to the playback hardware and its relative power than other forms of entertainment media.
We’ve had pretty good home music, movie, and text viewing devices for quite a while now. Computer tech evolves at a relatively faster pace. And at least for now, it shows no signs of bucking this trend.
More tools also means a wider breadth of experiences, which means I’ll have a harder time deciding what to play.
I have just as much fun playing a classic PC game as I do playing something new. Often, I have more fun, because the longer than the industry goes on, the more new games play it safe and end up being derivative works.
Many of those games are great, sure, but my jaded brain picks things apart so quickly that I’d sometimes rather play the first example of something, and be impressed by its relative capabilities for the time, than play the newest example of something.
And so it is that I’ve been perfectly happy playing Sacred for a week at an eye-watering “high” resolution of 1024 by 768, its 4:3 aspect ratio not even close to filling my laptop’s screen.
After I’m finished, I’m rolling right into Sacred 2.
Sorry computers, your capabilities are going to sit for just a bit longer.
Hopefully I get around to using you before I fall pray to chasing the hardware again in a year or two when ray tracing becomes a mainstream-priced technology.