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

I dug out my old TV (in truth a 23 inch 1680 x 1050 widescreen monitor with an aerial input I’d used 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 on a 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 think are an unnecessary ball-ache are actually far 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’

F*cking PCs.

If you've been affected by the issues raised in Dave's article, and would like to talk to someone about it, there is help available in the comments, or on our community portals on Facebook and Twitter.


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  • 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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