PC Gaming, I Tried

I’ve never taken a (serious) position on the whole PC versus Console debate and I have no interest in igniting a flame war on the issue, but I had an experience this weekend which reminded me why I do almost all of my gaming on consoles and have for years.

Civ V

Oh, Holy Gaming Gods, let me play! I beseech thee!

Not my first rodeo

If you’ve been living under a rock, you might be unaware of the fact that Steam is having its annual summer sale. Seemingly the entire catalog goes on sale in chunks on a daily basis for really, really absurd discounts (I got 2K’s entire PC catalog for ~$70.) With the recent exception of X-COM and earlier experiences with City of Heroes right when it came out, I really haven’t done much PC gaming in the last 4 or 5 years. However, Justin L. and Ethan are Steam Evangelical Acolytes and got to me so, on Saturday, I planned for some serious PC gaming.

The 2K package offered on Steam is pretty voluminous, but as soon as I purchased it, I knew what I was going to start out with: Civ V. If you believe the hype (and with Sid Meier, it’s not really hype, it’s just the facts), it may be the best strategy game ever, so I was psyched to start playing and lose track of time. I even sent out a text to the rest of the Cursed to request that they remind me to eat. A couple of hours later, Civ V had finished downloading and I cracked my knuckles in anticipation. I hit the “Play” button in Steam and…nothin’.

“Okay,” I thought to myself, “No big deal, I’m sure there’s some kind of work around or someone’s run into this before. It’s not like I’ve never had to download a new patch or clear my Temp file.” So, I started going through the forums on Steam and on Firaxis Games’ site. There were some work-arounds, but an hour and a half (and quite a bit of growled obscenities) later, not only was I not neck-deep in conquering the known world, I wasn’t even clear on why the game wasn’t launching.

To be clear, while I’m not (and have never been) a card-carrying member of the Tech-expert Party, I used to build my own computers and I know a little bit more about their inner-workings than your average bear. My RAM’s maxed out, the FSB is sufficient, I’m running a fully-updated version of Win7 and the GPU’s plenty powerful enough to run Civ V, but no dice. I’m sure I’ll figure it out tonight or the next, but it did get me to thinking about why I got away from PC gaming.

Consoles. Just. Work.

Like I said, I’m not a luddite. I understand that PC game developers have to deal with the same problem that Microsoft does (as the most popular OS) when it makes a new version of Windows – everyone and his mother has a different set up on their PC’s. Different brands, storage space, architectures, RAM, peripherals, GPUs, not to mention an equal number of different preferential settings and programs. They do their level best to take all of these variables into account, but let’s be brutally honest: there is no way they can account for everything. Sometimes, a computer is just inhabited by Satanspawn when it comes to running one program or the other and, well, holy water and electricity don’t play well together.

Take it one level down, to the legions of good-natured souls out there who spend their time writing on forums with suggested fixes for problems with launching, multiplayer, graphics issues…even there, if you’ve got a weird issue, you need to find someone who has not only had the same problem as you, they’ve had it with a similar setup, they figured out a way to fix the problem and their fix isn’t necessarily going to work for you.

Red Ring

Yes, I KNOW HAL-9000 ran on OS-X, that's beside the point.

Know how many times I’ve had a problem getting a game to launch on my Xbox360, PS2, GameCube, Nintendo64 or Sega Genesis? Any guesses? That’s right. It’s nearly zero. The only times I’ve had trouble playing a console game have been when the disc is scratched or the entire system is broken. There are patches galore now, but they download automatically and I’ve never, ever had one of them lock my system up (although I understand that some patches have caused problems, I haven’t had to deal with any.)

Problem with no solution

PC gaming has a lot going for it – the systems can produce better graphics, often times the mouse/keyboard interface is superior and, if you’re into it, you can tweak your experience without tempting the Moderator-Gods from suspending your account (I’m talking about CS-type new level design/skins, etc. modding, not cheating, which is for douchebags.) Unfortunately, those same benefits create the exact same issues that are endemic to PC gaming – because of the wealth of different system setups out there, it can be incredibly frustrating to get a game to “just work.” That frustration is compounded by the fact that I’m embarrassed that I can’t make it work. I have an imaginary crowd of Uber-Geeks jeering at me for failing to do so and making fun of me for being the equivalent of a dumb jock: a console-only gamer.

[Ed. Note: I’m aware that I have just publicly admitted to being stymied by this problem and, thereby, increased the size of the popcorn gallery significantly]

With all of that said, I don’t want our PC’s to be identical clones to ensure every program works every time on every system. I love the chaos of the PC world, the problem solving and puzzling through the problem to come upon a solution, even if it requires insecticide. Still, when a game I’ve been salivating over, like Civ V doesn’t “Just Work,” and I’m baffled as to the problem, it reminds me why most of my gaming time is assigned to my console.

One last thing…

If anyone’s got any brilliant ideas as to why every time I try and launch Civ V, either directly from Steam or from the shortcut, in Direct X 9 or 10/11 mode, it shuts down before launch with a Windows “Oh, we’re sooooo sorry, but your program had an error and won’t launch but we’re not going to tell you why :)” I am totally open to suggestions. I will pay in beer and/or pizza. See? I told you I’m not unversed in the way of the computer geek.


Giant Bomb (images)

15 Comments PC Gaming, I Tried

  1. Ethan Moses

    As a PC enthusiast, this is the sole issue that I can’t argue in terms of PCs being better. I see the comparison between PC gaming and console gaming as the difference between a race car and one that is street legal. Sure the race car will blow the other out of the water in terms of a race, but it does take quite a bit of tinkering to keep it running and it’s power is essentially useless outside of a race track (similar to the times I have trouble playing older games on my current system).

  2. Pwrglove

    As a nitpick, I don’t think front side bus speed has been a selling point in terms of computer specs in like 10 years.

    For me tinkering with my machine when it is my occasional time to fire up a new game is a point of pride for me- I’m not your average gamer though.

  3. GiffTor

    Pwrglove, just making the point that there’s no reason that the game SHOULDN’T run. And no, you’re not average. I finally got it to launch, though (5 hours of screwing around) but, of course, it still crashes every hour or so just for fun. Apparently no great fix for that…and I’m tired of looking for one.

  4. BarefootIguana

    Games not working after installation is definitely a bummer. Things used to be MUCH worse back in the day when the internet was still growing up though. I remember buying “Beavis and Butthead: Virtual stupidity” a week or so after my family had just bought a blazing fast 75mhz pc. Of course the bastard didn’t work, and I spent the next 3 days scouring the internet for just ONE person who had the same issue. I was so desperate that I was dialing up BBS’s (ahh the 90’s) asking random people in chat rooms to help… These days I can usually just cut and paste the error message and have things fixed in 5 minutes 99% of the time. IMO PC Gaming is much better with the exception of 3 things: rig price, multiplayer: (just as good or better quality, but most friends are on consoles), and many games console exclusive…..no trade ins sucks too…..

  5. GiffTor

    I really think that Ethan hit the nail on the head with the supercar versus normal car analogy. Everyone EXPECTS to have to screw around with their PC to get a game (any game) to work. That said, I DID get the program to run, but there’s a pretty high barrier to entry since the game doesn’t “just work.” (Now that I think about it, the further back I go in my gaming history, the more games would “just work,” on PC, too. Anyway, this article made me a little sad, but more pissed off that the only way to really fix the crash-issue is either drop $150 on a new video card or $300 on a new cpu. Or I could just buy a PS3.

  6. Hobbs

    As per your one last thing comment…”One last thing”
    You can fix that problem be installing the directx updates for 9c yourself. The problem stems from gaming companies having to support Directx 9c for much longer then it was originally intended because so many gamers being reluctant to switch from WinXP to newer versions (Net Heads, etc). Not for bad reasons as Directx 10 was pretty much a wash being all in Vista. However this is going to change very soon as software companies and game companies alike are closing the door on WinXP. Newer games like the much anticipated Battlefield 3 will require DirectX 11, so people must upgrade to play the latest and greatest. This “should” fix those types of DirectX problems from occuring, as long as you keep ur drivers up-to-date.

  7. Justin Gifford

    @Hobbs –
    I’m actually running DX11 that’s totally updated – you’re suggesting I roll back to 9c? Is that even possible on Win7 (64)? I’d heard the game runs fine in DX9, but…

  8. Josh Lee

    He’s talking about running the end-user runtime installer for 9.0c. It will place some older dll’s alongside your DX10 and 11 files. There is still no excuse for the steam installer not running this upon first launch of the game. Actually, come to think of it, it DID run when I was last installing at NH. The fact that it didn’t for you means that steam or the game did a shitty job of detecting what you did or didn’t have. This is all assuming missing DX9 files were the issue.

    Hobbs is right that the world would be a better place if everyone ran the same OS. If Windows upgrades were $30 like OSX’s, most people probably would. But we’ll never have system parity for a number of reasons. That really should be ok though. There aren’t that many different OS’s out there, and the hardware configurations aren’t so different in architecture (speed differences aside). The number one problem is outdated drivers (which nvidia now remedies with autoupdates), and those DX versioning problems are normally not an issue these days.

    If all game installers had the same hardware, driver, and direct x versioning checks, windows gaming would be pretty damn painless.

    Too bad that Games For Windows Live initiative was a 20oz Fail Sauce.

  9. Justin Gifford

    end user runtime installer for 9.0c. Gotcha. Now I have to see if I can make it work. Again. Er. Better. Sigh.Thanks JoshLeeDotCom!

  10. JP LaFrance

    I have to say that I am with Gifford, when I start up a game I expect it to work. That is the major reason I shy away from the PC. I go to the PC mostly for RTS and strategy games. The best RTS on a console so far might have been Halo Wars, but it was still a little clunky compared to a mouse.

  11. Copperskull

    I was having major issues getting the Shogun 2 demo and the Bulletstorm demo to launch from Steam. I’m not sure what made me think of it, but I downloaded and installed the latest Microsoft .net architecture. Now both games run beautifully.

  12. GiffTor

    Strangely, I had problems with the AI War: Fleet Command I downloaded; the build from Steam was like 1.X.X and they were on build 5.X.X, so I just downloaded from the AI site and applied the activation code from Steam. Annnnd I fixed my Civ V problems.
    @Copperskull, if you want to just borrow Bulletstorm on 360, you’re welcome to.

  13. Copperskull

    @GiffTor after playing that demo, I don’t think i really have much of an interest in the full game. First person shooters are starting to feel more and more stale to me. I played the Duke Nukem Forever demo the other day, too, and lost most of my faith in humanity.

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