Friday 7 October 2011

I have seen the future, and it is fuzzy

I haven’t bought a PC magazine for a while now. They used to be invaluable for news and reviews, packed with adverts (in a good way, when they were one of the few ways of finding hardware and software and comparing prices), and cover discs were mysterious emporiums of delight and temptation in an era when getting online incurred the wrath of the rest of the household for disconnecting the only phone, stretching a tripwire of a cable down the stairs, and running up enormous phone bills just to see, slowly appearing line by line, a very low resolution image of… I mean, just to download some terrible game you could’ve typed in quicker from a magazine listing.

For some people cover discs might still be a last lifeline to multi-gigabyte demos and the like, but the rest of us have progressed a fair way through the 101 Uses for an AOL CD (remember them?), so the latest issue of PC Gamer magazine has dispensed with the DVD in favour of additional content plus a couple of gifts for readers, a Team Fortress 2 hat (very snazzy, but I haven’t played TF2 for years) and 30 days free access to the OnLive PlayPack.

I don’t think we’ve covered OnLive here on KiaSA, barring one aside if the search function isn’t lying through its teeth, as frankly it sounded too good to be true. Playing a game over the internet? Inconveivable! The service has just launched in the UK, and after listening to the discussion about it on the latest PC Gamer podcast I was intrigued, and picked up the magazine. You can sign up for free to OnLive, the PlayPack just gives full access to more games, but I figured it was a bit rude to keep enjoying the PC Gamer podcast for nothing.

Obviously a magazine can’t rival the quantity and timeliness of gaming internet sites, but with so many of them worried more about the frequency that keyword-littered posts can be cranked out than what’s actually in them and an ever-filling news feed then cherry picking the best stuff and “printing” it on some “paper” suddenly seems like quite a good idea. Of course you lose the benefits of a “Comments” section, but you can always leave a blank pad of paper and some crayons in a pub around closing time and sellotape the results under the articles if you really want (of course contributors to this little corner of the web are fine, splendid and valued for their wisdom (especially you), and on occasion comment sections can enhance or even supplant the story under which they reside, but every now and again it’s nice to have a little bit of quiet time). I don’t think I’ll be subscribing to PC Gamer, but I’ll be keeping more of an eye out for it, especially if they’re giving out more hats.

OnLive, though; it seems to actually work. Fire up the application, connect, click a couple of buttons, and within moments you can be playing American football with dogs (I may devote an entire post to Jerry Rice and Nitus’ Dog Football, but first I have to check it actually exists and wasn’t the result of feverish hallucinations). No download or installation (apart from the very compact client), no patching, straight in there. It might just be the future. Not the present; running the application at full screen everything is rather fuzzy around the edges like a low resolution YouTube clip, you’d want a rock-solid internet connection with decent bandwidth and usage allowance before contemplating OnLive as your platform of choice, and the library of available games isn’t that impressive (dog football aside), but that it works as well as it does is undeniably impressive. For one thing it’s the ideal replacement for a magazine cover disc as a mechanism for demos; instant access, easily controlled by either available time or content, giving you a good idea if a game is worth picking up. As with PC Gamer, not something I’ll be subscribing to just yet, but well worth keeping an eye on.

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