Confessions of a console convert

I’ve been a PC gamer for as long as I can remember. Those memories begin with “LOAD *.*,8,1” on a Commodore 64 in elementary school. At home, it was Space Quest, King’s Quest, and inevitably, Leisure Suit Larry on an IBM PS/2. I have fond memories of Commander Keen, Stellar 7, and Wolfenstein, particularly my jaw hitting the floor when I first played the latter. Then came Doom, Command and Conquer, and Need for Speed, solidifying a holy trinity of franchises that would dominate my gaming for years to come.

Before long I found myself living in a university dorm routing a string of coaxial cables out windows and across hallways to link about a dozen computers together for the sole purpose of Doom 2 deathmatches. And porn. Playing against human opponents without being hamstrung by a dial-up connection changed the way I looked at games. Deathmatches were intense, almost frantic, and we waged Red Alert battles of such epic proportions they slowed our systems to a crawl.

Then Quake hit, opening a new dimension to the first person shooter. Quake dragged me kicking and screaming to the mouse, and I must have played every shooter that followed, from classics like Duke Nukem to curiosities like Shogo. I was there the day the first Counter-Strike beta was released—we played it until 4 A.M. on a small LAN in a friend’s living room before eventually succumbing to exhaustion amid a sea of empty pizza boxes and beer bottles.

So began a string of small LAN parties. A few times a month, and sometimes as often as once a week, I’d hole up with a few friends behind an Internet connection to take on the rest of the world. Battlefield 1942 became a big hit on those nights. We spent months just playing the one-level demo, and when we finally tired of Wake Island, the full game and mods that followed captivated us for years.

Reviewing hardware is a sweet gig for a PC gamer. There’s never a shortage of fancy graphics cards or fast new processors to liberate from test systems for gaming sessions, and you can even justify some gaming time as professional development, or something. But over time, spending countless hours benchmarking left me less and less eager to spend even more time in my office playing games. The cooler confines of my living room beckoned, along with the comfort and slouching potential of my couch, and I timidly tip-toed over to the dark side by picking up an Xbox.

Believe it or not, the Xbox was the first game console I’d ever owned. I’d had plenty of exposure to everything Nintendo, Sega, and Sony had to offer over the years, but it was always through friends. At home, my PC was always the only gaming platform I’d ever needed.

The original Xbox was a perfect gateway drug for my first real taste of console gaming. It came from Microsoft and was built from what were essentially standard PC components, so it was safe and non-threatening—the perfect bait for someone who had snubbed consoles for years. Our relationship took some work, though. I tried to jump into Halo right off the bat, but was immediately turned off by the lack of a keyboard and mouse. As comfortable as my couch was, shooters were definitely out. But there were plenty of other titles to choose from, and we’d soon traded Battlefield for Burnout and deathmatches for fighting games.

Need for Speed: Most Wanted was the first title to really pull me in on the Xbox. It didn’t suffer from the control problems that plagued my experiences with console shooters, and I probably spent more time with that game on my couch than I did with Doom 3 and Half-Life 2 on my PC. And I played a lot of Doom 3 and Half-Life 2.

Soon I felt my allegiances slipping, as additional console titles started to dominate my gaming time. Forza Motorsport, Ninja Gaiden, Splinter Cell, The Warriors, and Lego Star Wars were all more enjoyable on the couch than the best my PC had to offer at the time. Some of those games were even available on the PC, and at higher resolutions with better eye candy, but I played every single one of them from the couch with an oversized Xbox controller in my hands. In fact, were it not for a tryst with Battlefield 2—a game whose squad support is perfectly suited for smaller LAN parties—I might have abandoned PC gaming entirely for my Xbox.

Before long, Microsoft unleashed the Xbox 360. This was a proper console rather than a PC hybrid, so there was no questioning my love for consoles when I picked one up. That love has only blossomed since. Unique titles like Rockstar’s Table Tennis, Gears of War, Crackdown, Geometry Wars, and most recently Forza Motorsport 2 have had me captivated ever since. I can’t even remember the last time we had a small LAN party. These days we’re happy taking turns at the wheel, watching each others’ backs in Gears of War, trash talking in Table Tennis, and seeing who can last more than five minutes in Geometry Wars. In fact, apart from benchmarking, I haven’t touched a PC game in more than six months.

A big part of my shift to console gaming is the fact that I already spend entirely too much time in front of my PC working, but for broader audiences who don’t happen to work out of a benchmarking sweatshop, consoles remain alluring. System costs are much lower and there’s no need to fiddle with drivers, patches, or inconveniences that tend to complicate PC gaming. Online gaming is a snap, at least with Xbox Live, and console life cycles tend to be longer than typical PC upgrade schedules. Games don’t look quite as good as they do on a high-end PC, of course, but Gears of War proved that even first-generation titles can look spectacular, especially when you’re ten feet away on the couch.

Console gaming tends to be more social, too, and perhaps it’s that atmosphere that makes non-gamers more likely to pick up a controller. The fairer sex, at least in my experience, also tends to be more open to console gaming. Perhaps that’s more the nature of the games themselves, though. Consoles tend to offer a greater array of mainstream titles with relatively simple gameplay mechanics that are easy for casual audiences to pick up. The best of those titles, such as Rockstar’s Table Tennis, also offer enough depth for hardcore gamers to master.

For a while, I thought I was pretty much finished with PC gaming. However, I’ve been logging a number of hours playing PC games—the life of a hardware reviewer is a tortured one indeed—and it’s pulled me right back into the PC. First-person shooters just don’t translate well to consoles; the controller’s all wrong and sitting that far away from the screen leaves me feeling incredibly removed from the action. On the PC, though, the genre delivers a visceral satisfaction that rivals the best moments I’ve had with console games. There’s just something about nailing a perfect head shot or well-timed rocket juggling that pushes all the right buttons in my brain. With new titles like Quake Wars, Team Fortress 2, Crysis, and Unreal Tournament 3 on the horizon, there will be plenty of new PC fragging arenas to enter, as well.

So perhaps I haven’t completely deserted the PC as a gaming platform after all. I’m certainly converted to the virtues of consoles, but the keyboard and mouse are still capable of captivating, particularly when genres don’t translate well to controllers.

Comments closed
    • JoeKiller
    • 12 years ago

    I felt the same way until TF2 came out. This game is SUCKING MY LIFE AWAY again and I love it!

    • FubbHead
    • 13 years ago

    The computer for FPS and RTS, and some RPG. The console for adventure, sports and RPG aswell. That’s how I see it. I cannot for the life of me understand how someone can appreciate an FPS with joypad over mouse+keyboard. No friggin way..

    And like herothezero mentioned, there’s the flexability of the PC platform, like mods and such. Worth a ton.

    • Knuckler
    • 13 years ago

    I’m pretty much a console gamer. For PC gaming, I only play Counter-Strike. I have other games (Supreme Commander, World of Warcraft, Battlefield 2), but I’m not into those games as much as I thought I would be. For me, it’s hard, if not impossible, to keep up with how the PC platform advances. Staying on top of whats out and about is hard. With console gaming, everything just a bit simpler (except with this generation – having to deal with HD stuff). No drivers to worry about, no installation issues. Just play. Being more into fighters, racers, jrpgs, and action adventure games also makes me more inclined to game on a console than on a PC.

    • herothezero
    • 13 years ago

    I must be too old, because don’t find myself particularly engrossed in any console game (some X360 experience). I dropped probably nine hours into STALKER this weekend, and I’ve already played that through once, but changing of mods makes it a different game–something I can’t do on the console.

    I can see where sports games would be great on a console, but the auto-aim and sloppiness of controllers turns me off to any FPS, and forget about any strategy games like CivIV (not that upcoming hatchet job port) on a console.

    • Sargent Duck
    • 13 years ago

    My first, and only console was a Super NES. And then I got hardcore into PC (RTS and FPS). But lately, over the past 4 years, I’ve been gaming less and less. Gone from part time to full time, and I spend a lot of time on the golf course and playing paintball, and catching up on tv shows. (somehow I missed 10 years of Stargate. What kind of geek am I?) Now I only game for a few hours at a time.

    Then I housesat/catsat for a friend for a while, and he had an xbox 360. Playing GoW, Crackdown, Dead Rising were very fun, and if I ever get the extra cash, I’d pick up a 360. Of course, I’m in that transition phase between student/real job, and I don’t have a tv, but I do have a 2407. So if I play xbox, I’m still sitting in front of my monitor.

    And here’s the funny thing. I’ve always driven better with a keyboard than with an analog stick. Always. Can’t explain it, but I’d much rather play racing games on my PC with a keyboard.

    • provoko
    • 13 years ago

    FPS games are fine on consoles. I’ve been an avivd PC FPSer for decades, since Wolfenstien 3D to FEAR.

    In the early days, Wolf, Doom and Duke3D keyboard ONLY was king. When Quake, Half Life and Unreal came out, it took me a while to get used to Keyboard and MOUSE. Infact I rejected it at first. I thought it was annoying to use the mouse, felt like I lost control, but I got used to it and now I’m a pro.

    After playing Halo, it was a little weird using the console controller. But I got used to it to the point I kick ass in Halo 2 and Gears of War.

    A console controller doesn’t have the precision of a mouse, but it has it’s advantages in FPS games like Splinter Cell.

    • Brian27
    • 13 years ago

    I have been a Hardcore pc gamer for a long long time shuning those who even tried to compare a pc to a console. Now as console graphics get better and the spiking costs of gaming pc hardware. I am ready to get an xbox 360 as my first console since nintendo. I will probably never leave my pc gaming behind forever, but at least buy the xbox for the great games it has and use my pc for those deathmatch/RTS gravings.

    • derFunkenstein
    • 13 years ago

    Aside from Supreme Commander, I’m right there with you. I could also have saved a ton on PC purchases if not for that.

    of course, I started with a VIC20 (which due to its cartridge nature I treated like a console with some typing features) and an Atari VCS

    • kitsura
    • 13 years ago

    I been a huge console convert these past few years too. The last PC game I remember spending serious amounts of time on was FFXI.

    Once I started on the Dreamcast it was downhill for PC gaming from that day forth. These days I have my Nintendo DS, Gamcube, Wii, PS2 and PSP to keep me occupied. Going to get a PS3 soon when MGS4 arrives.

    • Bensam123
    • 13 years ago

    That’s what happens when your passion becomes your job. After awhile you just start associating the idea of work with entertainment, and you start to lose track of what really made you like it in the first place; all you end up seeing is the work, or the feel of work, or the notion that you should be working.

    Entertainment helps you escape from reality; a job makes you realize how much you’re tied to it. The two don’t mix well at all. You either need to completely remove yourself from the fact that you sit in that room everyday working mentally, find a different sort of job, or perhaps a different room with a computer in it so you can associate one with being the “office”.

    I believe there is a psych term somewhere in here for what you’re experiencing, I just can’t remember it at the moment.

    This is why I got out of networking. I found myself hating something I liked doing more and more the more I did it.

    • IntelMole
    • 13 years ago

    I came from the other side to PCs. Then again I’m a relative young ‘un to some on this site.

    My console history goes something like: NES, Game Gear, Game Boy, Mega Drive, 32X, Saturn, a massive hiatus, then an Xbox, and I first got interested in PC gaming … probably somewhere in that hiatus.

    Frankly I’m a little burned out on new stuff right now. I’ve seen nothing the Next gen consoles can do other than make more pretty (thank you in order throughput-computing-before-their-time processors) and finding new games for an Xbox is like finding needles in a haystack.

    The Wii intrigues me, but none of my friends have one, and I don’t know that I have the money for one atm.

    Right now, I’m playing old school stuff like CS, and Geometry Wars on my PC (top score of 1.3 million btw Geoff 😛 go hunt down some videos on google, one or two top 100 million 😮 ).

    • flip-mode
    • 13 years ago

    Nice post Geoff. Consoles have been calling to me. The new ones are too expensive so I’ll have to wait or else pick up the old Xbox. I still love me some FPS on the PC though.

    First order of business is convincing the wife to let me get an HDTV.

      • Corrado
      • 13 years ago

      Its really not too hard if she watches ANY TV at all. My gf was against it till we went to the store and actually WATCHED some HDTV and then she said ‘Why haven’t you gotten one yet?’

    • whoster69
    • 13 years ago

    I feel your pain Geoff about spending too much time in front of computers already and I too have eyed consoles like the XBOX 360 with couch envy but like willyolio, I like to play FPS and RTS games and these just don’t work well on consoles sadly. I wish they did.

    I may break down and get my first console still for other games, but I have yet to see enough games that I really want to play (and in truth, I haven’t had the chance to look).

    I’ve also heard alarming failure rates on the XBOX 360, so I’d want to check this out more before taking the plunge….

    • willyolio
    • 13 years ago

    FPS and RTS are two of the main types of games i play, and i find neither playable on consoles. right now i only have a PS2, and that’s because it’s got loads of RPGs.

    • Pettytheft
    • 13 years ago

    Damn, you just more or less mirrored my gaming experience as well. I did own a Playstation but PC gaming was always far better. Since the Xbox I’ve shifted to about 90% console and 10% PC gaming. I love my wireless controller, plasma screen and ultra comfortable couch. Plus these days I typically ony have time for maybe 30-45minute gaming sessions if I’m lucky. With PC games it usually takes that long for me to start getting into it.

    • Corrado
    • 13 years ago

    I haven’t touched my PC for gaming in probably a year… coincidentally, when I got my 360. It just works. Same reason I went to a Mac for my laptop. I have no real reason to upgrade my desktop anyways, so it will probably remain a PC unless I pick up a used Intel iMac in a few months.

    • Spotpuff
    • 13 years ago

    Consoles have issues too, a la 360 rrod’s and firmware patches that can brick consoles.

    I think 2 genres that consoles will have issues with are FPS and RTS, however the Wii’s control scheme may be more conducive to those games, although mouse precision is hard to beat.

    • Usacomp2k3
    • 13 years ago

    My first console that I owned was the xbox 360 elite the week it came out. I honestly haven’t gamed on my PC since (apart from tower defence and other flash-based games).

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