Gaining Experience: The Pursuit

PC gamers have it rough. Not only must we build and maintain our hardware, cover all of the associated costs of ownership, we’ve got to wade through what is – in 2015-16 – an endless sea of game bundles, remakes and remasters, demakes and community made mods. Sometimes the game we want isn’t even on our preferred platform, and we need turn to a console, be it the Wii U, PS3/4 or XBox 360/One.

Where does the best experience live, and how do you find it?

As always, if you’re in a rush, you can skip right to my list of the best game vendors in the industry.

If your first answer is Google and ‘top games of XYZ’ then welcome to the club. It’s easy to find someone else’s list of well enjoyed digital adventures. Even easier, avoid shills; publishers don’t spend a lot of time influencing forum posts, they’re simply too numerous and nebulous to be effective marketing tools.

One of the perks of playing games on the PC is that your options are effectively unlimited. Naturally this is key to the platform’s appeal: PC users are the masters of their own destiny … mostly. Gaming affords a selection unlike any in the world. In fact, it is comprised of the best games in its history. DOS classics from the early 1980s are but a software download away, and in the current market, available in a digital retail space.

So how do we drill down to memorable experiences? Games are seen as time wasters, and when considering a trivial seeming match 3 like Candy Crush, that’s a harsh assumption to make. I’ve discussed the benefits of gaming before, and I won’t go into it here. I am a Tetris Master on the basis of hard work that affected every aspect of my life.

Forming Alliances
Research has said many things about games to the point of ambivalence. I say ask any one of them what toy they loved as a child and then you’ll have a solid starting talking point. As a gaming critic I’ll be talking about in his article repeatedly states, games are unique as a medium. They can move us with emotion with art, sound, action, abstraction, all of the above or any combination you might ever or never imagine.

I’m talking about TotalBiscuit, a sensible British critic with a no nonsense attitude toward quality and PC superiority. I differ in that gaming is defined by experience, not platform, and I know he wouldn’t argue with that point. Why does that matter?

Because his are some of the opinions I use to navigate the glittering, distracting ocean of computer oriented gaming. Increasingly ubiquitous, finding the game that won’t disappoint you requires more than just relying on inconsistent reviews and star-rated player feedback.

Games to Preference
Ratings are inherently misleading, as games are as subjective as any book, movie or song. Low budget Indie titles like Shovel Knight and UnderTale demand audiences as large as Tomb Raider (1997, 2013), and Mass Effect, which cost millions to produce.

The subjective nature of gaming means that quality is not the determining factor of its financial success, critical reception or public enjoyment. Many highly recommended games are deeply flawed and have met with mediocre reception by critics. Don’t be put off by average ratings by websites like MetaCritic.

GOG.com, otherwise known as Good Old Games, was founded on the idea that there was a massive library of titles that deserved to be played by modern audiences. They were right, of course, and have amassed the largest library of PC games in the world. A fine example is the debacle with DungeonKeeper Mobile which featured gouging micro-transactions to advance artificial paywalls. GOG.com retails the original Dungeon Keeper and its sequel, Dungeon Keeper II, which contain all of the fun and none of the hostage taking of your time.

That said, I’ve never been a fan of that series, and that is key to my point. You don’t have to know the ocean to know where the best ports of call are, you just have to know the right guides. Totalbiscuit, Markiplier, Pewdiepie and others are splendid tour guides. If you want to be freaked out in the way Pewdie is, by all means, pick up any of the survival games he plays.

Chances are you’re already watching someone else play games, but if you aren’t, now is a good time to start. Totalbiscuit, for example, critiques games but does not rate them. He presents an honest, unfettered viewpoint of the games strengths and weaknesses then offers a purchase suggestion, which range from ‘What are you waiting for, you moron, this is the best game of its kind’ to ‘after a few patches/content additions/mechanics tweaks this title will be worth its asking price’.

Hard not to appreciate that degree of pragmatism.

Knowing your tastes is the best way to enjoy games, and the rest is simply to get your feet wet. Whether your budget for games is zero, or effectively limitless, there are plenty games to suit your interests. To get you started, here is a list of major vendors

Open Source Games
OS Game Clones … Free, Open Source Games for Windows, Linux and Mac
Complete Open Source Games … A Wiki maintained by game developers

Free Games
Every major digital retailer has a selection of free games to whet your appetite for their service, but differ in function. Digital retailers are now required to notify you before download that a game features micro-transtactions, otherwise known as In-App purchases. Be advised!
Steam’s Free to Play games category provides titles from its genres
EA Origin’s Free Games category comes in three flavors: Demos of full priced titles, Game Time which grants temporary access to popular multiplayer games and On The House which discounts retail games to $0, allowing you to build up your library over time with some of the industry’s best
Epic Games has slim catalog pickings, but if you enjoyed Shadow Complex, it is currently free with registration of a new account
Playstation Network’s Free Games category serves up a handful of choice games including demos of current and up-and-coming titles
Microsoft’s XBox Marketplace and Windows Stores both offer wide selection of free to play games, though they are platform dependent. You’ll find access to those via your preferred platform (and chances are you’ll find their attempt to serve you personally really creepy … yikes)
GOG.com hands you a library of classic games upon sign up that are completely DRM free and top rated by players and critics alike. A fantastic way to start!
Indie Game Jams provide a unique sampling of game talent based on a theme and usually a time limit. Beware the quality varies wildly and stick closely to the voting system. Many professionals participate and have been known to test their skills in this wild arena.
Allegro.cc ships more than a free for all game development engine, the site also sports an archive of games developed with its engine. Puzzlers, shooters, remakes of classic games like Zelda run the gamut here. (Thanks to Paul for this entry!) Be warned that these are Windows only and vary in completion.

Honourable Mentions? Yeah, not really
UbiSoft’s Uplay rewards you with points and levels as you play, which you can then redeem for in game content. Great if you’re only going to be playing their games on their always on, DRM restrictive service. UbiSoft done a lot of damage to their reputation with unhanded deals, botched releases and nasty micro-transaction schemes, and their digital storefront leaves a lot to be desired. That said, they have an excellent variety of titles including the critically and player-ly acclaimed Rainbow Six franchise from the late Tom Clancy’s series of novels.

Most of their games can be had on Steam if you don’t want to deal with Uplay, which still sucks. Why is an article for another day.

Flash Games
While its easy to pop ‘free games’ into Google and turn up dozens of free, flash based games that provide a quick and dirty solution of generic game play. I don’t recommend them. Why? While they may not require registration, they can still profit from the blind metrics their visitors unwittingly provide. In the end it’s your choice, but when you don’t require anything of the developers and publishers, the quality of experience sinks to the floor.

Adobe did not blink when they announced that they were discontinuing Flash as a product in favor of HTML5-centric content. Developers of these games must look to other third party developers whose standards will vary, affecting the product you receive. Developers are accustomed to platform shifts, but Flash is unique in its ubiquity, enabling cross platform distrubution otherwise impossible. Game engines have since better bridged the gap, but will HTML5 transition as smoothly?

If there’s one thing HTML5 does better than Flash it is content protection and distribution.

Minecraft
At 22 million sales and counting, Minecraft is the game everyone can play, and the site hands you a free demo to try out, and some versions of the client are actually completely free if you have the right expertise. Clones have filled the void for the budget minded gamer, but beware of look alikes and scams that host malware and micro-transactions within.

For many, Minecraft was the first experience for those who’d never even thought of playing games on a PC before. Practically, though, you’re going to pay $25 (CDN/US) for a game that does it all. A single set of Lego can easily cost as much. The game can be modded, re-textured and has multiplayer functionality capable of emulating other franchises. From first person shooter, zombie survival to RPGs and exploration missions, this is a sure fire purchase. What it lacks in single player, players have built to share with each other.

Minecraft was a response to a need in gaming, fueled by a developer’s response to sales and feedback. His story is that of the Indie Made Big (and Decided to Sell Out) but the product is now a genre into which we slot its many clones. As a parent, responsibility means being involved: Play what they play, share your interests, know the market.

Gaming is a large part of our life experience, just as it always has been. A skipping rope and physical tag around a park are no less games. Consider it, and the experiences there are to enjoy.

Good hunting, friends.

hastypixels
hastypixels

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