The PCG Q&A
Find all previous editions of the PCG Q&A here. Some highlights for you:
- Would you ever give up Steam as your main PC gaming platform?
- Who is your most hated game protagonist?
- What multiplayer games do you prefer to play solo?
In today's PCG Q&A, we're talking about the games we missed the boat on at the time. One of the best things about playing on PC is being able to access a vast archive of classics, so you can check out the games that were fundamental in the development of different genres. Sometimes, though, those games are just too old to enjoy in 2018, whether it's the controls, outdated systems or something else.
We're definitely showing our age a bit in our choices here: most of us were born in the mid-late '80s, hence most of the games mentioned were released during our younger years. Soon it'll be our turn to be appalled by people who thought Oblivion was too dated when they tried to pick it up.
Let us know your choices in the comments below.
Andy Kelly: Thief: The Dark Project
Man, I want to love Thief. Everything I read about its atmosphere and level design makes it sound like exactly my kind of thing. But when I try and play it, my stupid, spoiled modern brain can't deal with the archaic visuals and controls.
And I've tried so many times, even with mods that update the controls, and it still won't click. It makes me wonder if it's one of those games where you had to be there at the time to really appreciate how special and different it was.
I played Deus Ex when it first came out and I have no problem with its clunky idiosyncrasies. So I think I just missed the boat with Thief, which is a shame.
Philippa Warr: Thief: The Dark Project
I tried so hard to get into Thief when I came to play it a billion years later than everyone else. But without an existing fondness for it, I just couldn't lose myself in it, despite finding moments of enjoyment in the levels I did complete. Instead I had one of those experiences where you're super aware of how much time has passed, like receiving a job application from someone born while you were at university, or finding out that DJ Luck and MC Neat are no longer considered mainstays of the hit parade.
I caught up on some PC games from this era happily, but far fewer years had passed. Somewhere along the decades what we expect when we play changed slightly. The way A and D turn my character feel weird to my hands and I realise that I'd have been used to using the number pad instead, treating it as a kind of body compass. I can't remember the last time I used a number pad for movement. On the visual side, Thief's sharp corners feel weird in today's world of curves, and its textures seem more like strange stone-patterned giftwrap than convincing simulations of walls. These tiny touches join hundreds more and root the game firmly in 1998. It's a game language I no longer speak fluently enough to play Thief's stealth.
Phil Savage: World of Warcraft
When World of Warcraft was original released, I knew I'd love it, which is why I decided not to play it. I was just starting my final year of university, and figured that, for once, I'd put off instant gratification in favour of earning a degree. Years later I became a game journalist anyway. There's probably a lesson there somewhere, but I don't care to learn it.
Skip forward ten years and the Warlords of Draenor expansion is tempting my girlfriend away from Guild Wars 2 and back to her original obsession. I decide, hey, maybe now's the time to figure out what the fuss was about and... instantly I realise my mistake. Everything feels old and awkward. I'd played plenty of other MMOs in the years since, many of them shameless copies of WoW, but most introduced a few quality-of-life tweaks that made the original experience feel dated in comparison. I managed to push through this initial barrier, but even as I'd attuned to its idiosyncrasies, there was little that captured my imagination. I had no memories of this world; no nostalgia to draw me back. Like any great phenomenon, if you miss it the first time, it's nearly impossible to recapture that magic.
Tom Senior: Baldur's Gate
I have started the original Baldur's Gate so many times, and rarely made it past the first dungeon full of Kobolds. The idea that a companion might die forever in a fight freaked me out more than it should have. My hyper cautious approach to every damn screen slowed my progress to a crawl. Then I found out that companions could simply leave you if they decided they didn't like you. Not only was I afraid that some wolves are going to fuck me up on a random stretch of road, but I also had to be super nice to Minsk because he could take his rat and jog off at any second.
I got used to Baldur's Gate eventually, but instead ploughed time into the sequel. Baldur's Gate 1 will always seem a little too rough and cruel for my tastes, as silly as that sounds. Maybe I'll get over it and give it another shot, but I still have Pillars of Eternity 2 to play, and I'm a total mark for all that pretty, high-res art.
Wes Fenlon: System Shock
When I tried to play System Shock, I didn't even know what to do with my hands. That game uses practically every key on the keyboard, half the screen was covered with UI, and I believe by default didn't support real mouselook, so you'd click and drag on the screen to look around as you moved. I know there's an Enhanced Edition on GOG that probably makes many of these things more palatable to my soft modern sensibilities, and I do want to play it someday. But I don't think I got more than 20 minutes into the original version before deciding that I could enjoy all the games System Shock has influenced without actually having played System Shock, after all.
Samuel Roberts: X-Com: UFO Defense
I grew up with PC gaming in the '90s, and if I played a game back then, I have no struggles with it now. Hence being able to pick up Theme Hospital this year again, or all the old, decent Star Wars games like Dark Forces or X-Wing. I'd love to play Civ 2's busy and chaotic WWII scenario once more, for example. This year, though, I tried to play 1994's X-Com for the first time, which wasn't a series I sampled at the time, and I just couldn't quite get into it after a few hours of trying. I don't think I have the patience for '90s difficulty that I used to.
I've seen a few people complain that Firaxis's versions are a little too simple relative to the original, but I don't think there's any shame in modernising something that people loved so more people can enjoy it, not when that team has such obvious love for the original games. I'll just have to stick to those for now, but I was excited by what I played of Phoenix Point's backer build earlier this year.
Fraser Brown: EVE Online, I guess
I've been racking my brain all day and the truth is: I can't think of anything. I'll still play an adventure game with a text parser and find something to love. OK, maybe not a text parser. There has to be a line drawn somewhere. It's always a bit tricky to get into an established MMO, though, especially when that MMO is EVE Online. I've played quite a lot, but it never really clicked. I never felt like an insider. And catching up to all the people who had invested countless hours into it seemed like an insurmountable task. It's not too old, but its longevity does make it seem more impenetrable.