Jul 29 2010

Why I Want to be a PC Gamer, but Can’t

Published by at 4:15 pm under Editorials,Video Games

sony-vaio.jpg

(I touched briefly on this issue yesterday in my Starcraft 2 review, and was writing this column for another site, but I decided to post it here instead. Enjoy.)

Starcraft 2 came out this week, a game that I’ve been looking forward to for what seems like eons. And that’s barely an exaggeration. The original title was released in 1998, and I remember in 2000 thinking they were waiting an awful long time to announce a sequel.

Well, in that ensuing decade Blizzard was a little busy buying up people’s souls with a little game called World of Warcraft, but finally they did get around to their long lost project, and now that it’s here, it’s glorious. Well, at least it is for some people.

A year and a half ago, I bought a Sony VAIO laptop. It’s always been fast for everything I’ve needed it for, the screen has been extremely sharp thanks for a Blu-Ray player and 1080p resolution. It’s been the perfect PC for me, outside of a few pixels that decided to commit suicide for no reason.

But after buying Starcraft 2, I now see that my laptop is complete and utter shit. Due to my 2.0 Ghz processor (far below the required 2.6) and my Intel “I don’t know the number but it’s not good enough” graphics card, I’m forced to play the game with graphics and texture settings on low. And when they say low, boy do they mean low. The game looks completely last generation, with blocky polygons and muddy textures, a far cry from the 1080p glory I’ve seen in broadcasted YouTube matches. I can’t even see death animations, my units just instantaneously disappear when killed.

I haven’t bought a PC game in years, so I shouldn’t be surprised about this fact, but it is rather disheartening to learn that A) a computer I paid over a grand for isn’t capable of even playing this game on “medium” and B) the experience of a game I’ve been looking forward to for 12 years is being tainted by incredibly shoddy graphics.

Now, I know that by writing this post, if it gets to PC gamers, I will surely be lambasted. “You moron, all you need is this processor and this video card and of course this game isn’t going to work on your piece of shit VAIO.” I’ve looked into a new processor, which runs about 50 bucks, though I have no idea if it’s compatible for my computer or how to install one. I had even worse results with searching for a video card, as the internet tells me it’s hard or impossible to upgrade one on an already-built laptop. The advice was generally to return the computer for a new one. A year and a half into this one, I think it’s a bit too late for me.

starcraft2a.jpg

My computer would probably blow up if there was this much stuff happening at once onscreen.

So if upgrading my current “piece of shit” is impossible, what is my other option? Buying a whole new computer? I really need a laptop to be mobile for my writing gigs, but looking online for a computer that meets the system requirements, prices get really expensive, really quickly for so-called “gaming laptops.” The other option is a desktop, which has greater power at a lesser price, but that’s still anywhere from $600-$1000 when you consider accessories like a decent monitor. Any of these purchases just aren’t worth it for one game.

Surely many will persuade me to come over to the glorious oasis of PC gaming for good, but I’m alright with my console for most games, I really am. I can’t think of one other PC exclusive title I actually want to be playing until say, Diablo 3 comes out. I don’t care about dedicated servers (or lack therof) in Modern Warfare, I don’t want a level 80 World of Warcraft character and I don’t need to join a Team Fortress 2 clan. I like my console, and I’m not going to apologize for it.

It’s just sad to me that if I truly wanted to enjoy Starcraft 2 to its fullest, I’d probably have to spend hundreds and hundreds of dollars to do so, not to mention how much three expansion packs will add up to once those are all released. I guess I’m just used to the theory of “if you own a console, it will play games” but that doesn’t translate to “if you own a computer, it will play games,” not even if it cost four times what you paid for your Xbox 360. If this was another console exclusive, I might even consider shelling out $200-$300 just to play it with good graphics, because that’s how much I’ve been looking forward to it. But buying parts and cracking open my laptop or the more likely scenario of buying a new rig entirely, it’s just too much.

If there’s some magic fix I don’t know about, please, let me know. I realize that when it comes to PC gaming, I’m a complete noob, but if there’s no way to fix this outside of an ass ton of time and money spent, this experience certainly has turned me off to the concept of PC gaming in this day and age.

I guess will trudge on through Starcraft 2, ignoring my graphical shortcomings and trying to enjoy the gameplay, but there will always be the feeling that I’m only getting a half-hearted version of the game. In the end, it’s probably my fault for not knowing better. I played the beta and knew this was coming, but I just couldn’t not buy it. But I’m having fun, and hopefully someday, in the decade before Starcraft 3 comes out, I’ll own a machine that can play this game in all its glory.





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27 responses so far

  • Guy Incognito

    Sorry to say, but there’s really nothing you can do but buy a new computer. Your cheapest option is a desktop and you can continue to use your laptop for work. Judging by your writing, you don’t know much about computers which is too bad, because building your own desktop is by far the cheapest way to get a good one.

  • Beha

    Unfortunately, the only way you will be able to play StarCraft 2 on high settings is to purchase a new computer. I cannot suggest buying a new laptop, it’s just too expensive to buy a powerful enough system. Although, powerful desktops are getting cheaper, and if you’re serious about playing the game, you could probably get away with a kick-ass machine for $500 (excluding a monitor). Here is a performance article on different video cards and SC2.
    http://www.techspot.com/review/305-starcraft2-performance/page2.html
    Always shop NewEgg!

  • Icecream

    I agree with your sentiments completely, despite having a father in the biz when i was growing up, and nearly always having the latest kit, i’m not sure i ever got to run a game on it’s highest resolution settings.

    Then came my original Playstation, and i found out there was no disappointment between opening the game box and playing, i’ve been on consoles ever since . . .

  • s3ntient

    Playing modern games on a laptop with an integrated graphics card is close to impossible. You need an nVidia or ATi graphics chip, Intel just won’t cut it.

    You can find second hand/refurb Lenovo T61p (the p is important, a T61 is less powerful) laptops that aren’t too expensive, not sure how it will handle SC2 since I don’t have that game, but it’s a fairly powerful laptop (depending on the specific build of course) that’s built like a tank. There is a newer generation (T400/T500) but they are more expensive. I work in IT and Thinkpads are the only laptop brand I can recommend in good conscience having used most of the other brands and been utterly disappointed. Gaming laptops are overpriced gimmicks, avoid Alienware.

    You could try running at a lower resolution than the native resolution of your screen. If the game gets blurry due to the non-native resolution, you might be able to disable scaling in the options of your graphics card utility. Of course that means your game wouldn’t be full screen, you would have black bars on the sides but it would probably run faster and the picture will be as crisp/sharp as at native resolution.

  • MrSelfdestruct

    PC gaming requires some research before you buy. That is what “scares off” some people about it.
    A friend of mine had the same problem than you. He bought a laptop and a console and the he got interested in STALKER: shadow of chernobyl. He tried it and he couldn´t even start the game because his graphic card wasn´t supported.
    Then, he got interested in another PC games and he decided to upgrade his laptop, wich was pretty much impossible.
    I´d recommend buying a desktop. Like Beha said, prices of PC components get cheap really fast. A top of the line graphics card is affordable in a year or so. Of course that means that it isn´t top of the line anymore. But the difference between that one and a newer model is that you could play a game at massive resolutions, wich is not really important imo.

  • MoD

    There is nothing better than playing FPS games with a mouse (pad auto-aim bs is just awful). Also – there is no way of playing RTS games on a a gamepad. This is why PC’s are still gaming platforms – and they still will be for a long time.

  • http://nerdaverse.com theButterFly

    As others here have already said. Unfortunately Paul with your laptop you are probably out of luck as far as upgrade options go. The previous suggestion by another commenter to get a desktop and keep the lappy for your writing is probably the most practical solution to your owes. Your article pretty much hits the nail on the head of the one true advantage that a console will always have over the PC Gaming sphere.

    I must admit that I am a bit shocked that the performance on your somewhat new laptop is as bad as you say. Not because I think that you’re complaining, but because I am surprised that Blizzard did not esign the game to scale better to lower spec machines. One of the true hallmarks of most Blizzard games in my opinion has been their ability to be played across a wide array of hardware. In fact, if you look at their most successful games one of the hallmarks of WoW and Star Craft is just that. You could run them on anything. In fact, I have long believed that outside of the excellent design behind the game this wide reaching level of hardware accessibility is one of the factors that has driven their popularity.

    As a full time PC gamer, I accept that the problems you are describing come hand in hand with my platform of choice, and most PC gamers I know consider the hardware dance to be an intergal part of the experience. (I am already dreaming of the day I get my next video card.) However, it is without a doubt the single biggest weakness of the PC in the PC vs. Console debate. I hope that you can continue to enjoy the game in spite of your tech woes. Maybe you should ask Nattyb to buy you a new desktop? For um…work purposes of course. ;-P

  • Uncoolaidman

    I would highly recommend building your own desktop, compiling parts from newegg. I just did that not long ago, and I’m very happy with the results. A lot more options than just customizing one from a retailer. It cost me roughly 1k for a good gaming rig. I don’t think I will ever buy another laptop for gaming.

  • Bandit

    Laptop is for work.
    Desktop is for gaming.

    Sorry, but that’s the world. I wouldn’t even think of playing a PC game on my laptop and it has all the juice to do it.

  • David Dean

    PC gaming has long since been relegated to the relatively small market of people who have either an interest in the machines they run their games on, or have a ridiculous excess of money to spend replacing entire machines every year.

    Laptops? Never a good idea for gaming. Ever. You didn’t screw up buying your Vaio. You could’ve spent 3g’s 2 years ago and have a machine today that doesn’t run a lot of stuff well. Hell, you could run out today and spend a G on a machine that doesn’t work well for many games.

    It’s just that laptops are good for mobility, bad for gaming.

    Desktops are obviously no good for mobility, but the only realistic option for PC gaming. Even here, the amount of time and money you spend will have an impact on how well your games play.

    Consoles “Just Work” (until they die), are inexpensive, lure developers by offering unmatched control over both the client and server side of each title, and keep the playing field (mostly) level for the players.

    These are just some of the big reasons why the PC gaming market isn’t what it used to be, excluding the big MMORPGS.

  • Alex

    Easy solution. Find some friend and give him 50$ to monopolise his PC for a few days so you cna play your heart out with Starcraft:)

  • joe

    Well it just goes to show you that being a PC gamer does pay off once in awhile. Sure you’d be hard pressed to even find a PC game in a modern day game store… but when it counts we get to play really kick ass games, that will never appear on a console.

  • mrsachmo

    Go console for everything but strategy games. And by strategy, I don’t mean real-time. TBS games don’t usually care about graphics.

  • Arthur

    I think a lot of you are missing the point.

    Paul has a laptop that works fine for his regular activity. It’s extremely hard to justify $700 (with a monitor) on a new desktop for ONE game. That’s more than two xbox/ps3s.

    I, for one, am in the exact same boat. Starcraft 2 is the first PC game I’ve been excited about in probably five years and I have a laptop.

    It looks like utter shit when it’s on low settings.

    I don’t know why but I expected Blizzard would find a way to optimize the game for lesser-computers but I guess you can only do so much with small graphics cards and worse, integrated, ones.

    It’s sad but I honestly think the original Starcraft might look a little better than Starcraft 2 at its lowest settings.

    I wish the console makers would get their shit together and release a keyboard/mouse combo so everyone could play RTS games.

  • Velovan

    Not too long ago – say 5 or 6 years or so – PC gaming was worth the headaches you got from hardware upgrades and installs and all that shit. It was THE place for online gaming, as well as the FPS, RTS, MMO and Strategy genres. It also featured kick-ass ports of most console games (such as GTA III and its offspring).

    Now… well, now there’s only two developers still pushing out PC-exclusive content; Maxis and Blizzard. Valve used to be PC-only but realized that they wanted to make money, hence Portal 2 on XBox and PS3. PC games only get 4 feet of shelf space in your average Wal-Mart and only see one major exclusive release a year. If that. This year it has SCII and All Your Soul Are Belong To Us: Cataclysm. Next year it maybe – maaaaaybe – gets Diablo 3. That’s it.

    I think it’s safe to say that PC gaming is pretty much dead in the water. It has its diehard enthusiasts, of whom I was one for a long time, but money and ease and number of releases and easy to use XBLA/PSN service and the ability to rent games and buy used games have all combined to make console gaming the place to be. Not to mention that the 360 and PS3 can pump out some kick ass graphics. Sure the PC may be a little prettier, but you could buy a 50+ inch HDTV for what it would cost to run Starcraft II in ZOMG PRETTY mode.

  • http://manoalada.deviantart.com Vamp

    meh, you want a dvd to run on a vhs player, and you are surprised to find it won’t work as expected.
    i understand, but your laptop isn’t built for playing , and if
    someone sold it to you saying it was, well…they really lied to you.
    i don’t get the point of this article ; you say you don’t want to buy a desktop to play a game now, when you know that another game you will like to play is coming shortly and you won’t be able to play it either.
    then you mention the price of your laptop as if it was something relevant when it is not, as many people mentioned already , laptop is for work , not to play.
    and then you answer your own questions , your options :
    buy a new laptop or buy a good desktop for less money, or play the game horribly as you are playing it now destroying an experience you’ve been expecting more than a decade and stick to your console, and reading how much of a hassle it is for you to keep up with your hardware i would suggest the last option.

    so what was the point of this?
    to rant about pc gaming?
    to rant about console gaming?
    to rant at your laptop?
    to rant at your console?

  • NY not NYC

    Paul,

    Grow a pair. Build your own desktop.

    NY

  • johnnty

    Read this article and the original from techspot about what computers work and what is a good rig to buy.

    http://gizmodo.com/5599785/whats-the-best-graphics-card-for-starcraft-ii

  • http://www.unrealitymag.com Paul Tassi

    Question for the group: if I did get a new computer, could I install my same copy of SC2 on it, or is that not allowed due to anti-piracy bullshit and such?

  • Matty

    As far as i’m aware, you could indeed install the same copy of SC2 onto a new computer since Blizzard ties their games to the battle.net account rather than to a specific computer

  • Mumu

    I know exactly how you feel. For a long while I didn’t have a desktop and had to play games on my laptop with intergrated graphics card. It is painful to say the least. I would really advice building a desktop and using your HD TV as a monitor, which is what I do. Building hi-spec ones work out cheaper than buying the whole rig, at least here in england it does. I still play the forgiving games like Guild wars on my laptop but stuff like Aion has to be the desktop else, I won’t even know when I get ganked<.<

  • JohnC

    Another victim of planned obsolesce. The PC scene has some worthwhile exclusives, but I can count those on one hand.

    I feel your pain though man. Your voice is marginalized if you don’t conform to the standards of the PC Gods.
    So here’s what I suggest:
    -Set the resolution to 1024X860.
    -Go with the lowest settings possible.
    -Tweak everything except the shader settings (which sucks due to how much of a difference there is between low and medium).

    I’m at pretty much the same processing power with 4GB of RAM. The minor tweaks in character models (and their inevitable deaths), as well as the effects raise it to a manageable level.
    It’s just a shame that you have to dole out fat wads of cash in order to enjoy one game.

  • MR

    I am studying to be a certified IT technician. I sent an e-mail with all my advice and suggestions.

  • Levi

    I can’t think of one other PC exclusive title I actually want to be playing.

    One word for you:

    Crysis.

  • funkymarlon

    QQ “I don’t know what to do with my money!” QQ moar

  • Smithy

    A used Gaming PC costs around 100Usd. I got a 3ghz Pentium 4, 2gb ram and a Radeon x1600 xt pc for my sis. (both StarCtaft 2 & Mass Effect 2 run smooth and look fantastic)

  • ***

    another option after buying a used PC, is searching for a docking station with a CPU.

    note that i’m not an expert, so i can’t recommend any model or check if it’s compatible with with laptop, but a quick search in google, turned the following results (they’re old, but good for the example).

    http://www.engadget.com/2007/01/08/hands-on-with-the-asus-xg-station-external-gpu/
    “turn that wimpy laptop of yours into a somewhat capable gaming rig”

    http://www.pclaunches.com/other_stuff/asus_rog_xg_station_is_the_worlds_first_vga_and_multimedia_docking_station.php
    “Lab experiments made on a notebook based on Intel 945GM and 965GM graphics connected to the XG station with an ASUS EN8600GT graphics card showed an astounding 12 and 6.7 times faster graphics acceleration”

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