The week's highs and lows in PC gaming

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Tom Senior: Downgradegate
I have sympathy with players this week who have compared current screenshots of The Witcher 3 with years-old screenshots and video demos, and feel disappointed. That’s mostly because those materials are used to sell pre-orders, and players who don't care about the ins-and-outs of game development will understandably think that those materials are representative of the final product. Marketers love that assumption, and offer only the tiniest indications to the contrary. That’s why we see technical phrases like "target footage" and "in-engine demo" used, when the truth is: "in an ideal world our game will look like this in two years maybe".

Graphical changes are an unavoidable part of game development. Developers work hard in the run up to conferences and press showings to produce playable, relatively complete sections of a project that's still very unfinished. In my experience these are created with the honest hope and expectation that the final game will be of similar quality. However, no-one can predict where graphics drivers will be in two years, or where PC hardware will be. A billion unforeseeable problems can pop up and limit the scope of the original vision. Making games is hard.

I think The Witcher 3 is great, and taken on its own merits, still happens to be the best-looking RPG ever. The takeaways from this week's controversy aren't new. We've been here with Watch Dogs, I think we'll be here again if The Division ever comes out. Still, it's worth repeating: apply healthy cynicism before pre-ordering anything (pre-order discounts are often still available hours before release), and don't take E3 footage at face value when the game has years of development to go.

Chris Livingston: Doom Wads
Some pretty disappointing Doom releases this week, huh? An absurd teaser for the upcoming Doom that, despite only showing three seconds of footage, still manages to look kind of crummy. We also got some images and footage reportedly from the scrapped version of Doom 4, which looks like some kind of unimaginative Gears of War fan fiction film.

At least we can have fun speculating. For a detailed analysis of the new Doom 'teaser', see Tyler's excellent and insightful deconstruction of all three seconds of it. As far as the Doom 4 footage, it's sort of like when you hear that Christopher Walken auditioned for the role of Han Solo in Star Wars or that Dustin Hoffman was considered for the part of Deckard in Blade Runner. It sort of makes you cringe in horror, but doesn't part of you wish you could visit an alternate dimension and see the bizarre finished product?

Samuel Roberts: Need For Story
A year off was probably good for the Need For Speed series. This week EA announced a reboot of the arcade driving game, describing it as a “nocturnal open world street racer”, and revealing a collaboration with Speedhunters, a company I will pretend I’m cool enough to know about, in order to authentically capture street racing culture (is that definitely a thing? In the UK it’s middle class teenagers racing Peugeot 206s around a supermarket car park). Anyway, none of that constitutes my low of the week. I’ve liked the series in recent times, particularly Criterion’s efforts.

The part that made me pull an Alan Partridge face was the suggestion that there’ll be an ‘immersive narrative’ as part of this. I can’t recall a driving game where I’ve ever really played it for the story. Maybe the success of the Fast and Furious series has made EA believe there’s potential in this, but I’m not convinced anyone’s really invested in Need For Speed because they love a good yarn.

RBI Baseball Slide

Tyler Wilde: I want to play baseball on my personal computer
I really enjoyed Chris’ review of R.B.I. Baseball 2015 (I have a crush on Chris this week). He didn’t enjoy the game so much, but we all got to enjoy writing puns for the little red box of text that appears above the headline. Average batting. Errors. Major fatigue. A league of their groan. And my favorite from Chris, simply “balls.”

Anyway, the reason this is my low—and I know I’ve already griped about it here—is that there are so few good, modern sports games on PC. It sucks! 10-or-so years ago publishers started to view consoles as the primary, and then only, market for sports games. And true enough, I bet that made perfect sense at the time. But maybe it’s time for them to come back?

Hopefully even mediocre games like this one will prove there’s a hunger for sports on PC. I’m not saying to go buy R.B.I. Baseball just to encourage other publishers, to be clear… just think about buying it, hover over the button, and then go do something else. They’ll know.

Phil Savage: Losing track
This week I'm not going to bemoan any specific event or larger trend in the industry. Rather, I'm going to ask for help in fixing my own incompetence. Y'see, digital distribution is pretty great. At any moment of the day, from almost any location, I can choose to download and play Little Big Adventure 2. That's a pretty good state of affairs. It's also—if you're me—a pretty confusing one. I'm losing track of what I own. Sometimes I catch myself, like this week, when—spurred on by our overlooked RPGs list—I narrowly avoided buying a second copy of Arx Fatalis. Other times? I just hope there's a limit on the number of times I can accidentally buy Supreme Commander.

The other problem with forgetting I own a game is I don't play it, which, despite what Steam sales would have us believe, is the reason we buy games in the first place. Basically, I'm in need of a system. Some site, spreadsheet or database that can help me keep track of my collection. And so I turn to you. What's the best way you've found to catalogue what you own? (That is, beyond not being a forgetful clutz.)


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