I dug out my old TV (in truth a 23 inch 1680 x 1050 widescreen monitor with an aerial input I’dused until I saved up for a proper HD set), shut down my rig and plugged it in. Windows failed miserably to provide me with adequate resolution settings and it all looked a bit fuzzy and distorted, like a jumper that had been left un-ironed for too long. (F*cking PCs) But a quick turn-it-off-and-on-again and we were away. My eyes virtually popped. Icons had never looked so beautiful.
Only one thing to do now. I was going to get my Freeman on.
Half-Life 2 fired up. I cranked it up to full native resolution and nearly cried with joy. But now it was time for the tweakening to begin. I didn’t know if I my old rig could cope with all the new pixels, but I was bloody well going to find out. Once more unto the video options, dear friends, once more.
But after so long of only having to deal with console game brightness sliders, bloody hell there were a lot of them.
And bloody hell, they were beautiful.
Anti-aliasing. Bilinear, trilinear anisotropic filtering. Colour correction. Texture quality. Dynamic range. Every one was an old friend rushing up to meet me, open-armed, to make me part gamer, part mechanic, part graphic designer. We ran towards each other through the romantic, sunlit meadow of graphical customisation and embraced passionately.
It took me half-an-hour and God only knows how many trial-and-error, frame-rate-guaging walks around City 17’s railway platforms (by the end of it my reawakened instincts had me counting the FPS like Neo seeing through the Matrix), but I nailed it. Whatever anyone says, this stuff isn’t an awkward chore. It’s the joyful first part of the game. Half-Life 2 looked amazing, but not just amazing. It was my amazing, intricately balanced to my own specifications ona machine I had designed to my own specifications all those years ago. You just can’t put a price on having your very own graphics.
But then something went wrong. H-L2 went crazy and started losing polygons, allowing me to see through Barney’s head. It started throwing in extra pols with stretched textures, draped over objects like lazily organised washing. No amount of extra tweaking fixed it, and it happened on all the Source engine games I tried. It could be a weird glitch, it could be my graphics card packing up (if anyone has a suggestion, please let me know), but the rest of the night was dedicated to fixing it.
But I’ll omit the now-customary ‘f*cking PCs’, this time. Because at this stage of my re-found love of PC gaming, it wasn’t an irritating technical failure. It was an awesome boss fight. Because that’s the thing with PC gaming. All the things that non-PC folk thinkare an unnecessary ball-acheare actuallyfar from it.They're all part of the fun.They're part of the eternally exciting, work-and-reward pay-off that comes with having your own personal system, completely under your own command. It’s part of the culture. It’s part of the game itself.
I could go on. I could bang on about how clodden 360 games now feel after half an hour playing around with Doom 3’s console commands, gleefully turning myself into a 200 MPH, fish-eye-lensed Xenomorph with a plasma rifle. I could tell you about the near-fatal adrenalin rush I gave myself playing a Quake 3 railgun match with cranked-up game speed and borderline-illegally twitchy mouse sensitivity. But I won’t. Instead I’ll round off with a phone call I received from a more techy friend after making my glitch woes public.
‘Could be your GPU packing up, mate. It is a pretty old rig’
‘Sorry about that. But hang on a minute, I’ve got a bunch of spare parts knocking around. Fancy building a new one?’
The parts were far in advance of the ones I’m currently running. And cheap. But I’m trying to save money this month. And months ago I vowed not to make any big splurges until I’ve got myself a PS3. My plan was solid and unwavering.
‘Let me look into finances at the end of the month’, I replied. ‘I’ll get back to you as soon as I can’