Page 28, press hold, and reveal. Digitiser's founder speaks out
Edge #136, May 2004
I have to confess that over the past year and a half I have fallen in love with a PC. No, no, you ludicrous poltroon - not Police Constable Pulip of Scotland Yard, but a personal computer. Yes, I know that sounds as likely as NASA discovering Mars is a big ball of wool, but it really happened.
Like unearthing a hitherto unsuspected sensitive side to a long-term partner, or - more accurately - being forced to confront why you stayed with your previous lover for so long, this is PC's willingness to cooperate with Call of Duty, Freelancer, et al convinced me that perhaps it wasn't a spiteful little ingrate like all those other bitches. It switched on and off. It hardly ever crashed and rarely slowed to a crawl. Basically, it played the games, man, and was a joy to spend time with. And then, somewhat inevitably, it all went horribly, horribly wrong.
Having been something of a fan of Deus Ex, I rushed out to pick up the sequel upon the day of its release. That's right - I bought the bugger without even consulting a single review, such is my love of the original. Not to mention my utter disdain for all game reviewers who, let's face it score games based upon who took them out to lunch most recently. Nevertheless, just to be on the safe side, I browsed a couple of magazines on the way home. They assured me that - after a dodgy opening level or two - I'd be treated to a quite spectacular experience worthy of the Deus Ex title. By the time I got home I'd whipped myself up into an unsightly fervour. My legs and parts of my chest were spattered with a ghastly paste, which pulsed erratically from my excitement duct.
Game goes in drive. Autorun. Game installs. Game doesn't start. I was faced with the blankest of screens. Heck, I couldn't even do that Ctrl/Alt/Del thing, and had to switch the computer off. The same nonsense happened twice more, before I thought to compare the minimum specifications on the packaging with those of my hardware. Processor and RAM-wise all was fine. The problem: I had a GeForce4 MX card and it didn't have a pixel shader, whatever that is, so even though I only bought the thing 13 months ago for £1,000 and it had run every other game perfectly ever since, it was suddenly obsolete. The only PC game I'd wanted to play in the last four months wouldn't run. Because of my hardware. Or rather, Ion Storm had chosen to exclude a large percentage of game buyers from playing its latest title because it made development easier.
Resisting the urge to ram a chair through the screen (or, at the very least, up Warren Spector's bottom), I considered my options. I could take the game back to Safeway (in the real world people do buy their games alongside their groceries and wetwipes) and lose a 30-minute argument at the customer services desk. I could flog it to Computer Exchange, or go and buy a compatible graphics card. I figured, what with Doom 3 and Half-Life 2 coming along, that now was as good a time as any to upgrade. Three-and-a-half-hours later (one in traffic, 15 minutes installing the card and the rest on the phone to PC World's premium-rate support line) I had a brand-new GeForce FX card in my machine. The guy at the shop ASSURED me it would work.
Incredibly, it looked like the sunken-eyed twerp may have been right. This time, instead of being confronted with a sneering message telling me my graphics card was a pile of steaming horse eggs, the game loaded up. Here were corporate logos! And menu screens! And an almost bearable opening animation movie thing! And then a blank screen. A screen so blank and black and cancerous that it could've been laughing at me hard enough to feel the spittle flecks on my buttocks. I tried installing again, to no avail. I tried downloading the latest drivers from Nvidia with no result. I tried ringing Eidos' customer support, but after 14 minutes I learned they had all gone home for the weekend. It was only when I went to the Invisible War message boards that I found any sort of solace, in the company of my fellow gamers.
The thread titles spoke for themselves: 'Really bad problem!', 'Sweet Jesus, help me!', 'Crash problem!', 'Big problem!', 'Why can't I get this game to run?!', 'Game crashes as soon as it loads!' And so on and so on, ad infinitum...
It's now Sunday night. After a long week of work, I'd hoped to have taken this weekend off and spent much of it glued to a game I'd been really looking forward to. A £30 game I can't take back because, apparently, there's not actually anything wrong with it and I might be an evil pirate. That's £30 I could've spent on scotch. Or bloody loads of pick 'n' mix so I could sprawl on the rug, filling my awful gob with junk, for 48 hours.
The thing that really scared me wasn't that I had problems with Invisible War, or the fact that the folk on the Eidos forum had problems with it, but the fact that in Safeway the game was number one in their PC chart. Potentially, it had been bought by tens of thousands of gamers. Ordinary, massmarket gamers who, like me, had a basic machine with the wrong graphics card. Who, because they'd just spent nearly 30 quid on a game they couldn't return, went out and bought a new graphics card, costing £160, and then invalidated their warranty by installing the card.
Then the game still wouldn't work because, basically, Ion Storm and Eidos had rushed out something unfinished to meet some sort of deadline set by the financial markets and their accountants. They couldn't take the card back, as the shop wouldn't accept it after they'd opened the anti-static bag, or something. Maybe they'd only bought the sodding game in the first place because some 14-year-old reviewer in 'Super Spaz Games Monthly' had given it 9/10 purely because Richard from Spunk PR said he might be able to get him over to CES this year if he did.
It sucks, friends. It's an insult that the games industry works in this unsightly, incestuous fashion with one purpose alone: to ruin our lives. Oh, all right, that's probably a bit melodramatic. The one consolation in all this is that, for once, I'm not blaming my hardware. In fact, I'm having unnatural, repulsive sex with it even as I type.
Mr Biffo is a semi-retired videogame journalist. His views do not necessarily coincide with Edge's
Do you know of any important moments from the annals of Digi history that have been omitted? If so, then mail me (firstname.lastname@example.org) right now, man. Credit will be duly given for anything that gets put up.