The history books tell it (part 5)

For some reason, my memory of the PCs I’ve owned gets worse as the systems get more recent, so after rambling endlessly on for the first few computers I’ll wrap up the last ten years or so in a single post.

After the 486 was a Pentium, maybe a P133, from another random box-shifter out of PC Plus (MJN Computers, as far as I recall), during the second year of university. I probably had this longer than any other PC, as after graduating and getting a job I blew all my money on fripperies like a house. I couldn’t really remember some of the subsequent upgrades, but my MMO pack-rat-ism extends to e-mail and electronic documents, so I poked around a bit and found records of a new PC pretty much every couple of years from 1999: first a Simply Computers Pentium II 350, then an Evesham Athlon 1400, a JAL Athlon 2800, and finally the bunch of components assembled into my current Athlon 64. It also turns out I don’t have the best luck with PCs, as half the documents I found related to problems: the estimated delivery date of the Simply kept slipping back to the point I was on the verge of cancelling the order, the Evesham machine fell over after about a week and needed a motherboard replacement, and the original graphics card of the JAL and my current system were both knackered and need replacing. Maybe I get overexcited when new machines arrive and start emitting electromagnetic pulses or something…

Games-wise, I don’t really have much of a sense of chronology either, so I’ll whip through the Wikipedia video game genres list and see what I remember, doubtless missing out a whole bunch o’ stuff…

I went on a wargame kick for a while, starting with a budget purchase of Panzer General (then on to others in the series, Allied General, Fantasy General, Pacific General, Panzer General 2, Hatstand General, Specific General, General Practitioner and the like, though the original was probably the best). That led on to the Steel Panthers series, and also the Close Combat games; I hadn’t been very keen on a demo of the first, but a friend lent me Close Combat II, and that was superb. III, IV and V were decent enough follow-ons without quite matching up to the Arnhem campaign. The same friend tried to get me into Combat Mission, but it just didn’t click, and I haven’t really played wargames since.

Overlapping with wargames in the real-time/turn-based/tactical/strategic fields, like I mentioned in the previous post, after playing Dune II, Warcraft, Command & Conquer and Warcraft 2 (plus various expansions/sequels and possibly a couple of others I’ve forgotten) in rapid succession I was about done with RTS games, up until Company of Heroes. Warhammer: Dark Omen was a rather excellent RTT game, I thoroughly enjoyed deploying siege weapons and charging around after undead in that, and the two MechCommander games were also fun RTTs. The sequels to UFO: Enemy Unknown never quite lived up to its heights, Terror from the Deep was more of the same only harder, and X-COM Apocalypse went a bit real-time (sort of, you could switch combat engines I think) and more futuristic. Strangely, despite loving the original Civilisation to bits, the only sequel I played at any length was Colonisation, maybe I should pick up Civ IV sometime.

I can’t remember particularly playing any flight-sims after the 486; space sims didn’t do too badly for a while, peaking with Conflict Freespace 2 which I even revisited recently. Tachyon: The Fringe was a fairly average game elevated by Bruce Campbell’s voice, X: Beyond the Frontier was interesting without being great, then there wasn’t much else until I picked up X3. I always liked giant stompy mecha-robot games too, which basically boiled down to a couple of Earthsiege games and the always splendid Mechwarrior series (the PC1512 hadn’t quite been up to the first, but I completed 2, 3 and 4 along with most of the expansions).

Driving games have never been my thing, though I had some compilation that included Driver and played that a fair bit. As a result, I’d never bothered with the Grand Theft Auto series, but then GTA3 got such plaudits I gave it a shot, and couldn’t get enough of cruising the streets to the sounds of K-JAH. Vice City and San Andreas were similarly fantastic, so I’m hoping GTAIV makes it to the PC before to long.

Adventure games gradually faded away, though I rather liked a couple before they all but vanished completely. Starship Titanic was an interesting attempt to bring the text parser back, quite frustrating, but with some fun bits. Discworld Noir I really liked; despite being a Pratchett fan, I couldn’t get into the first two Discworld games, but finished Noir, which was probably the furthest from the source material. I don’t think I even had to resort to a walkthrough.

In offline RPGs, it’s basically been Bioware all the way. After the Gold Box heydey, computer implementations of D&D had tailed off a bit, until the excellent Baldur’s Gate and the genius of Minsc and Boo. Planescape: Torment was the pinnacle of CRPG storytelling, Baldur’s Gate II a solid followup to the first. Neverwinter Nights had such great promise, but the single player campaign was a little disappointing, and though we had some fun with modules and multiplayer, it never quite worked out. Its expansions were good, though. Knights of the Old Republic was great, I missed out on the second having just got into City of Heroes then World of Warcraft instead, maybe that’s something else I should pick up. The XBox exclusivity of Mass Effect is a shame, but Dragon Age could be interesting.

First person shooters have been a constant throughout; Blood sticks out in the memory from the early stuff as quite a funny, freaky over-the-top mess of setting cultists on fire with a flare gun and playing zombie-head football. I never really liked the original Quake, but Quake II was good. That was the first FPS where I used mouselook and WASD to move, which took some getting used to from just using the keyboard, but is now as natural as turning my head… Half-Life and its various expansions and sequels, of course, not much more to say about those. Call of Duty and its expansion were very good, I really ought to pick the sequels up. I loved the first Unreal Tournament for its frenetic never-mind-a-story-just-shoot-stuff action, and Unreal Tournament 2004 was one of the first games I seriously played online. Most recently Crysis has been rather fun, but I’ll get onto that in another post…

Possibly the games I’ve loved most have been FPS/RPG hybrids; I’d be hard pushed to decide between System Shock 2 and Deus Ex for my Favourite Game Ever Of All Time (Probably, At The Moment At Least, Unless I’ve Forgotten Any Others). System Shock 2 was even better than the first, which made Deux Ex 2 all the more disappointing, I never got into it at all, though at least Bio(it’s really System)shock(3) was a worthy follow-up, if not quite as good as System Shock 2.

So there we go, the Fairly Incomplete And Rather Badly Illustrated History of PC Gaming by Zoso, aged 33 1/3. Next up, Back to the Present for a spot of Crysis!