I don't know, I'm not a programmer; but it seems to me like there has been this trick that has been being played on the PC consumer for years now that I am utterly amazed no one has said anything about yet.
I'm talking about system requirements.
You know, I'm no spring chicken. I've been around for a while and I have seen a lot of video games of a lot of styles come and go. Without having to flex and drop down an entire list of things, I'll just say that my first console was freaking pong, in black and white, hooked to the television set, which had a dial and no remote, and I liked it!
So when I say that I have been around for a while, I mean that I've seen plenty enough to know what I am talking about when it comes to the topic I am about to discuss.
So I think back to some of the games and game systems that were cool when I was a kid, and no one between the ages of 45 and 50 can deny that the Atari 2600 was a hot system. The thing about the Atari though was that, from it's beginning to its end, it went through this kind of metamorphosis....well, I guess it would just be better if I showed you.
In 1978 Atari Football looked like this. 4 men on the offense, 4 men on the defense (you can't see the quarterback or the safety until after the ball is hiked, ten yards playable area available before the screen scrolled (which just made the player look like they had jumped back to the bottom of the screen) and motion was indicated by making the game look as though it was going to glitch out. And yes, me and my boys played the heck out of it. It was football!
By 1982 we had gone from the 4 and 4 formation to a fully visible 5 v 5 side-scroller with full player motion and field graphics. And the best thing about it? You didn't have to do one single thing to your good ole Atari 2600 console that your folks had dropped $200 dollars on back in 1978, or possibly $100 dollars on in 1981 except buy the the new cartridge and plug it in.
Other titles like....
Expanded on the systems capabilities even more. In fact, the Atari 2600 console was so hot, that in 1982 when the Atari 5200 console, a clearly more powerful and more technologically advanced machine in every way, was released, they could barely sell them because so many companies were still programming so many great games for the 2600 console that no one felt the need to upgrade.
And in this lies the root of this story.
Enter the Personal Computer, and more importantly the expansion bus. The expansion bus, for the layman, is the thing in your computer that allows expansion slots, those little groves in your mother board, to accept expansion cards those things that fit into those little groves like Video Cards, Sound Cards, (once upon a time) modems, and (increasingly rare) network cards. And all of a sudden the user was granted this belief that their purchase, now some $1500 dollars, would last for years to come.
Now understand, the Atari 2600 remained a viable console with very little competition for some 10 years, from 1978 to 1988 with the advent of the Sega Genesis (Colecovision was nice, but it was not ending Atari, discuss among yourselves). So with this awesome "Expansion Bus!" the hope for many a PC buyer was that their investment would last even longer, let's say some 15 or 20 years, with expansions of course.
My first PC was a 486sx 25 with a meg of ram. I had it for less than 6 months before I realized that I couldn't play Castle Wolfenstein on it because it was too slow. I upgraded it to a 486 DX 50 with 4 megs of ram only to find out that my video card was not good enough and that I needed one of the new fangled 3D video cards. And I have been upgrading and buying new and upgrading more freaking computers to play video games ever since.
This brings me to the topic of today.
I'm out there looking at some of the games that are currently available for entertainment, and I am noticing that a lot of the hotter items "seem" like they would be relatively low stress, considering that two of the games being played by more people than most others are simply clones of games that game out some 10 years ago and another one is actually A GAME THAT CAME OUT SOME 10 YEARS AGO. And lo and behold, I have been patched out yet again!
I purchased my laptop in 2008. I didn't buy it to game with, I bought it to have access to a computer when I traveled. I did however, make sure that it was upgradable enough so that, were I want to play a game or two, it wouldn't take much to pop in a few pieces and get moving. Coincidentally, 2008 was also the year that Direct X 9.c released within Windows SP3 for XP, in April to be exact, so of course, my laptop did not have a card that supported all of it as it had probably been specced out and manufactured about a year earlier than it had been released.
No worries right?
Are you kidding me that Marvel Online, Defenders of the Ancients, and even Eve Online are requiring a video card that is 100 percent shader 3.0 compatible? Holy cow, Eve Online? A game that has only been as successful as it has been because of its lower system requirements?
So yeah, this is when those certain people start to say things like "Suck it up cheapskate!" and "Hey, old man, 2008 wants its rig back!" And yeah, I get it, you aren't having this problem for whatever reason (you are well off, you live at home, you don't have any other responsibilities other than to spend your money on computer stuff, you are not cheap, you are willing to put yourself in debt in order to keep up with the jones, or you steal your stuff) but let's just do the math here for a sec.
2008 was 5 years ago. In five years a human can't learn to read. 5 years is not long enough for a freshman, in 2008, to have graduated and found a decent job that actually uses their degree. More intense degrees can't even be earned in 5 years. A lot of you haven't had to upgrade your underwear in 5 years, or your girl, or your look, or your attitude. It takes 5 years to become vested in a lot of workplaces.
But what the industry wants you to believe is that in 5 years, after taxing that 2600 from almost stick figures to full motion side-scrolling graphics, over the course of 10 years, is that they can't deliver you a better product with your existing system without you having to make an upgrade to that system that will range in the area of somewhere around $80 to $500, depending on whether you have a laptop or a desktop.
What is even more strange to me as well is that, after all of this time doing this same thing, no one has ever rallied around the idea of NOT buying into this kind of thing?
Don't get me wrong. I know how the economy works, and kudos to these guys for keeping each other in business. America loves you. But still! Wow man? They are making us buy upgraded hardware to play games that have already been out for 10 YEARS!
Is that not just a little bit crazy?
Here are some classic "Patched Out" upgrades that I recall having been forced to make, often times just to be able to continue playing a game that I had already been playing with an older system.
3D video cards.
Full Machine upgrades (because the machine could no longer be upgraded)
Rinse and repeat.
Modem Upgrades 2400, 14.4, 56k, Cable, Fios
Of course, Hard drive upgrades, because in spite of us being able to shrink just about everything else, programming languages just keep getting bigger and bigger.
Software upgrades, Dos, Windows 3.x Windows XP, Windows Vista or Better (for the 64 bit operating system so that I can access my latest ram and hard drive upgrade so that I can run my programs at reasonable settings and speed, even though I am still running in 32 bit mode).
Yeah, yeah, I know, this has all been one big waaaaa over finding out that my laptop can't run a couple of games, but here is the thing.....
For all of this upgrading and changing and money spending that has been going on, what has changed about the games and the way that we use our computers? I've certainly spent an easy couple thousand dollars, if not 10's of thousands of dollars, over the years upgrading and repurchasing and all of that mumbo jumbo, and I am still playing Guantlet, Everquest, Castle Wolfenstien, and Freaking Donkey Kong, only in some crazy, mixed up, wolf in sheep's clothing kind of way.
Oh wait! I can voice chat now! Oh wait again, people have been able to do that since 1949. Plus, don't even get me started on the whole phone thing.
All I'm saying is that it seems like system requirements thing has only been a means of provoking the PC playerbase into spending exorbitant amounts of cash randomly with each new cycle of releases. Meanwhile the returns on these investments have been minimal if even noticeable from game to game.
I do not recall what changed about Everquest when they forced everyone to upgrade from Windows 95 to Windows 98 but I do know that at the time Windows 98 cost, at a minimum, $100 per copy and that Everquest was in its heydey of subscriber base. I really haven't noticed the effects of the continually escalating amount of ram required on video cards in order to run the same 3D environments that I have been seeing since the early 2000's or how Shader 3.0 has "enhanced my gaming experience" in any other way than it has allowed me to play a game that some developer wanted to build using it, because it was the latest and greatest thing that would differentiate his product from the last version of the same product that came out the year before but I do know that I have not paid less that $80 for a video card since the very beginning and that early on that $80 was actually more in the excess of $200.
I don't know where all of this ram is being used, other than to power the new operating system and new video card that I had to buy in order to keep playing the same game I was playing on a lower spec machine. Nor do I know where all of this modem speed has been going when I am STILL getting lag in 2013!!!
In fact, I really don't see where any of it has really improved a whole lot of games other than, as I said earlier, in the most minimal of ways. Meanwhile there are piles of silicone, gold, and plastics being dumped into the earth at an alarming rate and monies being made hand over fist by those who support this lie that the only way to improve on an existing game is via some costly hardware upgrade to be made by yours truly and all in reading distance of this post.
And the worst thing about it all is that for all of that waste, for all of that expense and drama, for all of that saving and spending, and upgrading and repairing.
WE ARE STILL PLAYING THE EXACT SAME GAMES AS WE ALWAYS HAVE BEEN!!
Meanwhile, systems that are keeping track of your very life are being run on the same C.O.B.O.L. systems that were put together back when or before most of us were even born.
It's shenanigans at its finest if you ask me.
But don't let me be the judge. Ask yourself. What does Shader 3.0 do? What does Direct X.X really do? How have your various versions of Windows, various ram upgrades, various modem upgrades, and various this, that, and the other upgrades really improved your gaming experience?
The last thing I remember really making a difference to me was being able to drive with an analog wheel instead of a digital joystick or keyboard, and that was a downgrade if you really think about it.
But then, what do I know, I'm not a programmer. I'm just one of the many guys that keeps the programmers wife in the butter brickle.
At least, that's how it is in my understanding.