Returning to PC gaming: A GamesRadar Editor's tale of madness, pain and wonder

It’s all Valve’s fault. I blame Valve for all of it. 

It was five-thirty. I was just about to leave the office when a friend’s Facebook status reminded me that the Steam sale was on, but was due to end that day. That update was to be the casually-thrown cigarette butt that hit the touchpaper that sent the whole firework factory up.

I was planning on saving money this month, and I hadn’t touched my aging PC for serious gaming since I finished Episode 2 in late 2007. But within a couple of hours, the resulting chain of events was to make me an obsessed PC gamer again. It was a messy and frenzied experience, and one which I didn’t come through entirely unscathed, but it was one that desperately needed to happen. Here’s how it all went down.


Twenty minutes after reading that status post I was hurtling through my front door, whipping out my wallet with one hand, switching on my rig with the other, and taking off my coat via a strange jiggling shimmy motion. There was no time for dignified motor control. There were games to be had.

The sale was ending soon very soon. My machine booted in 30 seconds, as it always has (it may have been neglected in attention, but it’s always been looked after in terms of file organisation), but then horror! The twitchy wireless connection wouldn’t say hello to the internet. Despite being RIGHT NEXT TO the router. Despite my laptop and 360 never having any problems connecting FROM A DIFFERENT ROOM. Head in hands. F*cking PCs.

Several unplugs, replugs, WEP keys and connection wizards later, we were in business, but with literally seconds to go. It was do or die. C’mon Steam, don’t fail me now. With the voice of a ghostly Gabe Newell echoing words of inspiration into my ear, Obi-Wan style, I fired my two purchases into the exhaust outlet of Steam’s checkout, yanked back on the stick, and pulled out, collapsing back into my seat as the galaxy-shaking retail explosion went off below me. F*cking PCs.

An hour later, I had summoned the strength to return.

It was gaming time, but first I had to take a proper look around Steam. It looked completely different to how it had last time I saw it (yeah, it had been that long), and I needed to plough its new furrows and find out what new treats were available in the store.

Suddenly I remembered what a really open platform can do. If you read my recent-ish article on the matter, you’ll know that I’m all about the full spectrum of games as a medium, with less care than most for flavour-of-the-month cool. I’d been conditioned over my last couple of PC-shy years to think that XBLA and PSN had me covered for the more experimental stuff. Pah.

Take away the platform holder and then you get a really healthy spread of game design. Not just that, but you get a really healthy spread of game design at insanely low prices, sale or not. That kid in that sweet shop. That’s who I was. Only with genre tabs instead of sugary jars. Already I was working out a monthly rationing system for purchases. A ban would just be unrealistic. This stuff was now vital, and had to be worked into my budget like electricity, water and food.

That decided, I started playing. First up was my newly-bought copy of Penumbra, Frictional Games’ storming little first-person adventure/survival horror. After years of drifting unwittingly away from PC gaming, it was refreshing like an ice-cold waterfall after a week in a warm mud bath.

A subtle and brief tutorial that hinted at things rather than pushing me around in a pram. A brutal, multi-pronged challenge that expected me to think creatively or die from the get-go. A narrative unafraid to take its time, with no fear of using, like, lots of words and stuff. Gratuitous physics going off everywhere, just because they could. But most blessed of all, most beautifully blessed of all, the mouse!

Oh sweet digital rodent, how I had missed your ultra-quick, razor-sharp, 180-spin-on-a-ha’penny-with-a-flick-of-the-wrist-ways! Screw motion control ‘innovations’. Penumbra’s focus on physics-driven, object-manipulating environmental exploration was the best possible reintroduction imaginable to the original daddy of 1:1 physical interaction.

‘HO HO HO HO!’, I cackled, as I threw planks and bounced ladders off walls with supreme tactility. ‘HO HO HO HO HO HO!’. Then I realised I probably looked a bit nuts and moved on.

Next: It all goes so wrong. But also, oh so right.


Steam Valve


  • gamingfreak - July 13, 2010 2:22 p.m.

    I wish I could be a PC gamer but I don't have the know-how or the money. Plus my PC is complete crap.
  • Metroidhunter32 - July 13, 2010 2:26 p.m.

    I can't afford PC gaming. I buy some games for the PC, but I can't buy the graphics cards and processers to keep on top of the heap. No problem with consoles.
  • leosalego - July 13, 2010 2:31 p.m.

    Living in Brazil, where you pay 100%+ taxes for a retail game, I'm pretty confortable with PC gaming (and Steam - oh my god, where would I be without it). And all this tweaks that PC gaming includes - messing with resolution and all that - I don't know, I've been using a PC since I got rid of my SNES, and so it is kinda like second nature.
  • db1331 - July 13, 2010 2:35 p.m.

    Welcome home Dave, welcome home. I can't even tell you how much money I save on games with Steam. I got Mass Effect for $5. I bought Dead Space for $10. I haven't played it yet, but it will be there when I need it.
  • db1331 - July 13, 2010 2:42 p.m.

    As for your graphical glitches, you did update your video drivers, right? I mean, if you haven't played anything on it since '07, they could be pretty damn old.
  • GR_DavidHoughton - July 13, 2010 2:44 p.m.

    Yep, I updated them, and GPU temp seems to be running at normal temperature. Next step is to open the case for a thorough dusting I think...
  • darkmagshin - July 13, 2010 2:55 p.m.

    try messing with the driver settings for your graphics card. toggling the vsync seems to help with some of the gfx problems on the games that i've tried. CAPTCHA: longest handgun
  • Bloodstorm - July 13, 2010 3:10 p.m.

    That sell was great. Grabbed Mass Effect for 5 bucks, Bioshock 2 for 14, and Borderlands and all its DLC for a sweet 22 bucks. I only wished I had had more money for the sell, I'd of been rolling in PC games.
  • Godz_Mercenary - July 13, 2010 3:12 p.m.

    You know I actually get a boner every time I fire up a new game and play with the video settings screen and messing with .ini tweaks just makes me climax.
  • infernox - July 13, 2010 3:25 p.m.

    all you need is a <£100 graphics card and the games will look better then the console counterparts. you should post the specs of your pc so we know how bad the parts are.
  • icbacomingupwithapropername - July 13, 2010 3:35 p.m.

    Lol I would love to use a pc for gamin but I have 0 money to buy an up to date rig so I have to stick to consoles
  • Doogan - July 13, 2010 3:41 p.m.

    Welcome back Dave, The PC community will be richer for having you and your machine back once again. Oh and remember TF2 is now fully up to date so jump in and check it out.
  • FriendlyFire - July 13, 2010 3:52 p.m.

    Welcome back brother, it's good to be home isn't it? Now go get broke so you can buy a new rig and experience the latest in pure gaming goodness :D Too bad you've missed out on the rest of the sale, so many good things there. I assume you didn't manage to pick up Trine or the Introversion pack? So many good things for cheap. Too many. Too... Many...
  • ninwiilink - July 13, 2010 4:08 p.m.

    Yea man, i built my pc for $450 and it runs all my games at max power! But my monitor only goes up to 1280x1024 and they still look better than 360 and PS3. I have to thank bittorrent for most of my games tho ;)
  • ZiegZeon - July 13, 2010 4:08 p.m.

    Ahhh yes. I went through this about seven months ago. I finally got a new pc, decent graphics card. And I played some, but it didn't really suck me in. Then came Steam's Holiday Sale (keep an eye out for it this year, its just like the summer sale!) and I was back. Sure, when a port comes out you need to make sure good, or not like Force Unleashed which wants 30 gigs of my hard drive, but its nice. Being able to adjust settings, go into config files and alter things, mods. About the only thing I can play on consoles anymore are a few Wii games that actually make ok use of the controls, or are light gunners, and fighting games. Welcome home.
  • Destruco33 - July 13, 2010 4:30 p.m.

    I should be getting a good gaming rig here in the next week. Ive never been huge into pc games cuz my old pcs were crap.
  • AngryAmoeba - July 13, 2010 4:37 p.m.

    My first and last console was the N64. Since then, I became a devout PC enthusiast and I haven't looked back. Still, it's been torture hoping and wishing for a PC version of Red Dead Redemption.
  • GrenadeJumper - July 13, 2010 4:48 p.m.

    Im a 360 gamer, and i have two pc's and my gaming one always crashed every 5 minutes, then I eventually decided to dust it out and it works perfectly, but it will rarely run games made anytime after 07, with the exception of Sins of a Solar Empire...
  • tayruh - July 13, 2010 5:07 p.m.

    I started as a PC gamer and now I'm a console gamer because of the very same issues that David mentioned in this article. It's *not* part of the game. When I purchase a game, it should install perfectly for whatever OS I'm currently running, and it should play without any issues whatsoever. I know that's not a reasonable ideal, but that's what I want. That's why I switched over to consoles for the majority of my gaming. I go out and buy a 360 or PS3 game, I pop it in and I'm playing right away. No need to worry about whether my system will handle it, or whether it'll hate my Radeon card while preferring a geforce instead, etc, etc. It just runs. And it runs as well as everyone else that owns the same console. That's what makes console gaming great. I actually like my copy of a game being the exact duplicate as everyone else's. On the flipside though, I do like the fact that (with a bit of effort) you can still get really, really old PC games to run on the newest machines. I'm pretty sure Wolfenstein 3D wasn't designed to run in a dualcore 64-bit Windows 7 with 4gb of ram, but it does. That's an 18 year old game. Stuff like that is why I still keep my PC up to date even though I do most of my gaming on console.
  • punkduck2064 - July 13, 2010 5:09 p.m.

    Welcome home, Dave. Welcome home. I recently had a PC gaming "rebirth" like you, and it was amazing. I still play some of my old console games, but I forgot how much I loved the PC

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