...or, how I learned to stop spending and love my old rig
We’ve got a Core 2 Duo rig with an NVIDIA 8800 Ultra and 4 GB of RAM for our game reviews, and we’re quite happy with the situation. Then comes Crysis, which knocks the wind out of it with everything set to Very High. Suddenly, our world is plunged into darkness—we didn’t spend all that time harassing the Powers That Be for a gaming rig only to find out that we’ll have to settle for... ugh... lower settings. Do we go SLI? How do we explain the dunking of another Rs 30,000 (or thereabouts) to the Führ... er... boss?
That’s beside the point, actually. While our professional lives are brightened by the ray of sunshine that is the corporate budget, most of us game at home on fairly modest machines—a mid-range AMD64 (Socket 939 at that), an 8600 GT and 2 GB of RAM. Yes, we are content, and yes, we still call ourselves gamers. Our secret? Nothing complicated, just the realisation of a few simple truths...
The Early Adopter’s Caveat
This happens to us too often to laugh about—on day 1, we go out to our local electronics hub and blow a good portion of our salaries on an upgrade, and on day 3, prices plummet and we feel like complete asses. You don’t realise it, but we can see you nodding your head.
Now consider the plight of someone who sprung for an NVIDIA 8800GTX back when it was Rs 40,000—the newly-released 8800GT is only slightly behind it in performance, but costs half that much. If you spend the same amount today, you can use two 8800GTs in SLI and elicit a performance that surpasses even the 8800Ultra! The situation is the same in the ATI camp.
Our point is this: early adopters adopt early mostly because they can, not because they need to—they are fully aware of the fact that prices are going to fall soon; they just don’t care. With graphics cards today, jumping the gun comes at a price, so hang tight and buy a new card only when there’s nothing you can do to improve your gaming experience, or till your old card goes poof.
Ugly Is Beautiful
The most obvious—don’t lose heart if you have to play games at lower settings on your current PC. A good case in point is Crysis itself—even with all the effects turned down, it looks better than Far Cry, and that’s not bad at all. Turns out we won’t have to spring for that extra card after all—and even at home, we’ll get ourselves some visual joy.
Then there are the times when we just have to turn on all the special effects. To offset that, the strategy that’s worked beautifully—more on CRTs than LCDs—is to turn down the resolution, all the way down to 640 x 480 if need be (and if the game supports it, of course). In fact, if you turn down the resolution to 512 x 384, graphics even acquire an interlaced effect—reminiscent of cutscenes in old-school games.
Recent games won’t let you go below 1024 x 768, unfortunately; but why must we always talk about the latest games, anyway?
They’re Not Going Away
Just recently, this writer completed Max Payne 1 and 2 on his modest rig—which, incidentally, runs the game at 1280 x 1024 (probably more, if it weren’t for the monitor) with all the bells and whistles—and enjoyed it thoroughly. Today’s hardware lets yesterday’s games look much better than they did back then...
If you’re upgrading now and don’t have the budget for a high-end gaming machine, just invest in the best your budget gets you and take a trip back in time. Buy games that wouldn’t have had a prayer on your older PC and play them—it’s gameplay that makes a game enjoyable, so what was good then is still good now. The cherry on the cake is that these games are even cheaper now!
As for the latest lot, they’ll still be there when you’re ready for your next upgrade. For less money. If you wait for hardware prices to fall before buying, who’s to say you can’t wait for game prices to drop, too?
And then there are some things that you shouldn’t even consider buying...
The “Professional” Gamer
One of the biggest ploys that budding gamers succumb to is the “Made for professional gamers” tag on products. “Well”, they think, “if the professionals use it, maybe it’ll help my game too!”
It won’t—specifically in the gaming mice department. If you can’t strike fear in the hearts of your opponents with a run-of-the-mill mouse, forget about being able to do so with a 5000-rupee mouse and a 2000-rupee mousepad (yes, you get those). Sure, gaming mice are more precise and you can’t beat on-the-fly sensitivity adjustment, but nothing makes up for solid skill. The usual victors of our Quake III sessions are people who have some of the most awful mice in the office.
If you must get yourself a gaming mouse, get a Logitech MX518—it’ll cost you around Rs 1,300, and it’s a good mouse for general Windows productivity to boot. As for the mousepad, pick up one that’s preferably got a fabric finish and is a single solid colour—
it’ll cost around Rs 20. To hack up your own gaming mousepad, check out our June 2007 issue.
All this while, we’ve been talking about PC gaming—but the best way to save money as a gamer is to shift platforms altogether. The PS2 has been a viable gaming solution for nigh on ten years, so while we’ve been running to upgrade our PCs every time a new game comes out, PS2 owners have been pointing at us and laughing.
From the looks of it, the Xbox 360 and the PS3 do have the potential to last another ten years—games haven’t even begun to fully exploit the hardware—but we wouldn’t be surprised at a new console in five years, for marketing reasons if nothing else. Even so, you’ll be paying only once in these five years, and the cost of a next-gen (or current-gen, now that they’ve been around a while) console is less than what you’d pay for a killer PC (not counting the cost of an HDTV, though). The games are a bit expensive, but the wait-for-prices-to-drop approach will work here too.
Even the PS2 still has plenty of steam, and if you’re new to the platform, this is the best time to buy. You can get your hands on it for as little as Rs 7,000, and titles are finally going below the Rs 1,000 mark too. You’ll have a huge collection of legendary games—the God Of War duo, the Burnout titles, and many more—to keep you busy for a long time, and new releases are lined up till July this year at the very least.
If you’re a first-person shooter (FPS) or real-time strategy (RTS) fan, though, don’t go the console way even in a moment of weakness—such games are best enjoyed with a keyboard and mouse.
If all else fails—if you’ve already spent your life doing the same things we’re telling you to do here and can’t take it anymore, get those books out and brush up on your grammar. Then apply for a job here at Digit and start reviewing the latest games as soon as (and sometimes before) they release—that’s what we did, anyway.
The Stingy Gamer
...or, how I learned to stop spending and love my old rig