A few days ago I bought Warcraft II on eBay, since I had never played it before, and I was really having fun. This made me think, what is it that is compelling me to seek out these old game boxes which by all means should be obsolete by now, and why are they so much fun? When it comes to PC gaming it boils down to a few key points.
== Eternal backwards compatibility ==
Warcraft 2 came out in 1995, that’s two decades ago, and yet it runs flawlessly on my computer, despite being a different operating system and computer architecture. Yes, I am using DOSBox for that, but the point is that I *can* use DOSBox. I am not forced to wait for Blizzard to make a remaster and sell it again. I do not have to re-purchase all my games when I change my hardware. Some games are better in that regard than others, but the general point stands.
== Customisability ==
Player settings are a must for every PV game at least since the 90s, since every PC is different. But to me it’s not just about the machine being different, it is also about the player being different. I like to finetune my game to my preferences, and if I want to control it with my feet, then I will do it. We can plug in mice, gamepads, joysticks, steering wheels or anything else we want. On a console you are limited to what has been officially sanctioned by the console manufacturer. On the PC even if a game does not support something there will be a tool or a mod for it. Speaking of which…
== Mods ==
Mods can range from little tweaks, over essential fixes that make the game playable in the first place, to completely new games. The Elder Scrolls games are prime examples of games I would not want to play without mods.
== Freedom ==
With console games there is only one way to play: the way it was intended. If you’re lucky you can plug in a different controller, but that’s it. With PC games you can do anything. Just look at how many systems Doom has been ported to, people are even playing it on their calculators because they can:
There is no one I have to ask for permission. I can completely break the game if I want. And game developers used to know to use that to their advantage. Models like shareware or spawning would never be possible on consoles. And even when Blizzard dropped spawning for Warcraft III we were still doing it by using cracks. Since I quit Windows I have been using Wine to play my games and it works. Good luck getting your Nintendo games work on a PlayStation or vice-versa.
== The games ==
The most important part are the games. The thing about PC gaming is that it is not bound to generations and there is no overseeing entity that has the final say. This leads to a lot of crap obviously, but on the other hand it allows the creation of games which are bold and go beyond everything else. The content of PC games is all over the place: I can be a space marine fighting demons, a mayor building a city, commanding an empire, be a space pilot fighting aliens or guide a civilisation through the millennia. I cannot imagine a game like Warcraft II, Civilisation, Dungeon Keeper, Wing Commander, Master of Orion, Theme Hospital or Rollercoaster Tycoon being conceived on a console, not just because of the controls. All of these games are wildly different and every one is so bold and proud of what it is. A real labour of love.
I don’t really know how to put this, but there is a certain rough wildness to PC gaming. Since there is no real standard to anything developers could go crazy. How awesome is it to be able to put your game CD into your CD player and be able to listen to the soundtrack? Big boxes with 100+ page manuals filled with lore? And I used to think that Nintendo manuals were special. Every game feels like the developers were in uncharted territory, so they just cowboyed up and did what they thought was right. No list of checkboxes with demographics, labels, marketing term or genres to fulfil. Do one thing and do it well.
== Indie games ==
I don’t mean the pretentious hipster crap, I mean games that can only be made in the wild environment of PC gaming. In a way the shareware games of the 90s were the indie games of their time, they were developed by small teams and used viral methods to spread when they could not compete for retail shelf space with the big ones. Companies like Id or Epic started out as shareware developers before they got big. While I despise the degeneracy that modern indie games are, without them we wouldn’t have games like FTL or Dungeons of Dredmor. And let’s be honest, the shareware CDs were filled with mostly crap as well.
Of course there is a flip side to everything as well, and sometimes if makes me want to break my keyboard in half.
== Technical problems ==
Console companies ensure at least a basic level of technical competence. When you buy a console game you know it will at least work. With a PC game pray it works, because if it doesn’t you are out of luck. I hope you enjoy reading logs and searching the web for information, because that’s the most fun you’ll be having. I would say it teaches you about how computers work, but sometimes I don’t want to be taught, i just want to play the game.
== DRM ==
PC games have always had some form of copy protection, but recently it has gone out of control. I refuse to use Steam, so pretty much all modern games are a no-go for me. At least with older DRM like CD keys the burden was on you to make sure it worked, so it was with my control. But with modern service DRM everything is in the hands of some 3rd party company. This ties directly into the freedom expressed above.
== The games industry and the Monogenre ==
The industry has been eating its way into everything an making it bland. PC games are no exception and most games are stuck in an awkward in-between spot where they are neither PC- nor console games. You said it best: PC gaming is at its best when it is doing something console gaming cannot do.
There is no craziness anymore, every game has a checklist of things it must do and the technology has been standardised towards the consoles. Every game has to be milked as much as possible. The soundtrack is an extra purchase, manuals don’t exist anymore, the box is an empty shell. Looking at my Warcraft II box is like looking at an artefact from a lost age, an age I did not witness myself, so I can only image how glorious PC gaming must have been back then.
Warcraft 2? Doesn’t the interface seem extremely aged? I find it hard to play Starcraft 1 because of it. However, Warcraft 2 is more cartoony and simpler so it might have aged better. I will have to try one day. Warcraft 3 is aging extremely well. When you are done with Warcraft 2, I insist you play through Warcraft 3. Fantastic package with great single player and multiplayer (people still play it).
You could get the Command and Conquer Collection and play a ton of C&C games. I tried to play some of the older Command and Conquer games. They are still very cool. However, they seem very slow. The music in them is divine.
Warcraft 2 is just pure awesome. I think I first came in contact with it from a demo. I just kept playing the demo over and over. WTF? I thought. It was just three stages. One of the secrets to Warcraft 2 is that the art designer insisted they design the graphics extremely brightly. They intentionally made the room dark. Blizzard also had console experience and, I believe, for TVs back then that the art had to be very bright and colorful.
The Orc ending cinematic is still awesome.
Warcraft 2 music is still being used. It plays prominently in Heroes of the Storm.
But that intro… oh… that intro…
BTW, on the thought of PC gaming, while I was rebuilding my computer I was playing Master of Orion 1 on my laptop. That game still surprises me. I had all races max out on technology. Never had that happen before. Lots of alliances and counteralliances being made. Taking Orion literally is the only variable that put me above my competitors. Damn Psilons!
OK, wow. That is a nostalgia rush. The unit sprites look GORGEOUS! Wow! So bright and colorful! I do remember that you had guys being produced and they would just stand there because you couldn’t move around fast enough! hahaha.
I played so much Warcraft 2 on Kali. Those were the days! My bottom Kali bar would read ‘Warcraft 2, Doom, Master of Orion 2, Red Alert, Descent 2’ and all the other usual suspects of classics.