I’ve seen some upgrades recently.

Back in October, I jointed the cult of widescreen LCD owners. LCD monitors are one of those deals where, once you make the switch, you wonder how you ever got along with CRT.

Amusingly, I went back on some of the bold claims that I’ve made in the past. It occurred to me that I had spent a lot of money on a 20″ widescreen monitor (native res of 1680×1050) and part of the reasoning behind that was I wanted things on my monitor to look prettier. And here I was running the old, circa-1995 Windows 95 theme. So I gave the Royale Theme a whirl, and I wound up liking it – I think half of the reason is because it was designed with LCD monitors in mind. I also went ahead and tried out ClearType and, after getting over some of my prejudice, wound up liking it, too – again, because it was designed with LCD’s in mind. I had to apply a different font for my programming editors, but it wound up being worth it in the long run. Ironically, though, I now have less reason to upgrade to Vista (or will at least have less neat new stuff happening when I do) as a result.

I also got, for my birthday, a G5 Laser Mouse and a G15 Keyboard. I’m in the unique-ish position of being anti-wireless. In the same way that I now think people who “prefer” CRT over LCD are backwards, I’m in the position of thinking wired mouses are superior to wireless mice, which many people believe is backwards. The G5 has a wireless “cousin”, the G7, which is about $30 more and does not feature the removable weights cartridge that the G5 does. I know I sound like those people who refuse to move to CD’s and prefer vinyl because vinyl sounds slightly better, but I refuse to go to a wireless mouse because the wired mice are a little more responsive. I open up MS Paint and try to make circles with the mice very quickly. Without fail, the wired mice make better curves than their wireless cousins – the wireless mice always have straight lines as part of the curves. So for $30 more it’s a less accurate mouse and is missing the weight cartridge feature? Pass.

Of course the irony there is that it’s not like I’m such a meticulous hardcore gamer that an extra 1.4 grams on the right side of the mouse will make a huge difference, but it’s the principle of the thing.

The G15 keyboard is really nice but it’s another break from tradition for me. I’ve always viewed keyboards as these cheap, disposable devices and here I am spending $100 on one. It’s already made me less likely to eat at the desk – my last keyboard was so clogged with food and dirt it wasn’t worth the effort to save. But the illuminated keys are worth the price of admission alone. Ironically, I don’t tend to play a lot of the games the macro keys would come in handy for, but they have come in handy for testing things I’m developing – my main job has this project I’m working on where I have to fill in a form on a web page before continuing. Once I hooked this up to a macro, life was good.

The LCD screen is seen by some as gimmicky (enough so that Logitech sells a version of the keyboard, the G11, without the screen for about $30 less) but ironically for me it’s worth it for a lot of non-game reasons. I mostly play FPS games so the fact that it tells me how much health I have or how many bullets less is not that useful – that information is on the screen already (though it does still sort of come in handy in PREY since there’s an actual number on the LCD screen instead of just a meter) but the TrillianG15 plugin for Trillian Pro is sent from the gods – now I can answer instant messages without having to tab out of the game. I can also keep track of the time with the clock on the LCD and can check out performance settings with the performance monitor, check out what song is playing in-game using the media display, all from the LCD.

The only irony in all of this (other than the fact that it wasn’t until I got these guys home did I realize the shortcoming in that I didn’t own a USB KVM switch for my work laptop) is that I’ve had to adjust to them. I’ve never owned a mouse that could “tilt” the wheel so I keep screwing things up when I try to middle-click on something. And I never realized how much of my typing was based off of “where are my hands on the keyboard” until I got a keyboard that was much wider than any other keyboard I had ever used (side note: the G15 is just barely small enough to fit on my keyboard drawer, both in terms of LCD clearance and sheer width). I kept hitting macro keys (which, by default, are mapped to the F-keys) because I thought it was the edge of the QWERTY section. And while the rest of the keyboard is a standard 101-key affair, Logitech lays out their keys and sizes just differently enough that I’ve had to do some readjustments. I had a florescent lamp on my desk and, ironically, the light bouncing off of the black keys makes them harder to see – so that had to go. And though I used to be bad about not cutting my fingernails quickly enough, never again since whatever material these keys are made out of feels like crap when you hit it with a nail (in my opinion anyway, I have no idea what it’s like for women with longer nails). Overall though these are awesome purchases – that I can see the keys in the dark and ratchet down my mouse sensitivity in-game has already paid off in spades.

One of the things that comes along with newer technology like this is whether or not your games support it. The widescreen is the biggest X factor. If a game is sufficiently old and/or didn’t allow for minute tweaking, then it doesn’t work with widescreen, or at least not correctly. If a game can’t run in the native resolution then you have to run it non-natively, which causes some blurring due to the nature of LCD’s. Not a huge deal, and I’ve gotten to where I try to run older games in a window (which presents its own challenges if the game is a really old version of DirectX that didn’t get along with high color displays all that well). The Widescreen Gaming Forum has come in handy but if the game is old enough and no one can find a tweak that works, and it won’t run in a window, then you’re just sort of hosed. Old games like Quake 3 work with some work because the developers were freaking awesome but even some newer games don’t work. Neverwinter Nights works with widescreen but the newer game Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, which worked with the Neverwinter Nights engine, doesn’t work since the developers cut off support for the game before the functionality was grafted into NWN (either that or they just never bothered to re-graft it back in. Bioware developed both games, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it was just a matter of contract woes with Lucasarts – in any event the support can be hacked back in).

Ironically, one game that supports widescreen, multi-monitor gaming, the G15 keyboard’s LCD screen and and all of its function keys, and the G5 mouse, is World of Warcraft – aka, the game I refuse to play both because of my anti-MMORPG stance and also because I’m afraid that I’ll get hooked and like it. It’s kinda like those situations in college or high school where you’re at a party and there’s marijuana floating around – you don’t try the pot both because you’re anti-drugs, and also because – you’re afraid you might like it. So the fact that I just compared WoW to drugs says something about it.

But it does bring up something else I’ve noticed – one of the podcasts I listen to is the PC Gamer Podcast, and it’s one of the more interesting podcasts I listen to. These guys have been covering PC games for over a decade (though I don’t think there’s anyone who’s been with the magazine since day one) and the debate is lively (for example, they don’t like the 0-100% scale they use, either, but they’re stuck with it). One thing I kinda don’t like about the podcast though is that 1/3-1/2 of every show talks about World of Warcraft. If your only exposure to the PC gaming world was this podcast, you might not even realize there were other MMORPG’s out there. Sure, WoW has 8 million gamers now (or accounts, but that’s the current active number – not just over the lifetime of the game) so it’s not like something you can ignore. It concerns me because while WoW is something of a shining example of PC gaming superiority, there are a lot of people who believe their $15/month fee is a better investment than additional games, so they actually buy even fewer PC games because of the game.

But one thing World of Warcraft has for it that even other MMORPG’s don’t necessarily have is constant development. Sure, part of that is the fact that they need to keep coming up with new content or people stop paying and playing, but as part of that continuing development is that the game adapts to new technologies. When dual core came out, they adapted to it (I don’t know offhand if WoW exploits dual core but at least it doesn’t screw it up like it has with other games). When widescreen monitors came out, they supported those (it’s more than just a resolution change, it also requires a POV tweak). When the G15 keyboard came out they put support for it in the game. It was compatible with Vista from day one and heck, even the Macintosh version got a universal binary so the game runs natively on both PowerPC and Intel hardware in that universe. It’s just nice that the game continuously updates itself for new stuff. One of these days when everyone’s computer is more powerful, they’ll make new expansion packs that require beefier hardware and have better graphics (not that this is unique, EverQuest did the same thing).

Granted, this is from Blizzard, the same guys that are still issuing updates for Starcraft, so they have a tradition of setting the bar really high for support, and having 8 million people pay $15 or thereabouts each (I doubt China is paying that much per-head, and prepaid cards do get the price down some) does help. And it’s not like I have an answer here – without further sales and revenue coming in it’s not like there’s much of an incentive to continue development after the sales window (though as I say that, id came out with a DOOM 3 patch yesterday), but it’s the dirty little secret that while in theory the PC is eternally reverse compatible (as opposed to consoles where the Nintendo 64 doesn’t play SNES games and current consoles only begrudgingly play old games because optical discs means that the form factor argument is out the window) the fact is that sometimes getting the PC to run old games is quite the task. If the game is an old DOS game, DOSBox usually does the trick. If the game used DirectX then in theory with a tiny bit of hassle it should always work. But if none of these tricks work and some new technology breaks things (I wound up having to fire off Painkiller with XCPU because neither the AMD Dual Core Optimizer nor the MS Dual Core Hotfix would fix it) then you’re just sort of screwed.

World of Warcraft continues to grow over two years after its release – PREY sold over a million copies but it went from top dollar to cheap bin in seven months. I wonder if PC games would sell better if they had a definite commitment on development windows. No one (or at least not that many people) wanted to buy Quake 4 for fear it wouldn’t be supported as long as other games and when that happens, its a self-fulfilling prophecy since a lack of people playing the game causes it to be less popular and doesn’t encourage others to do so. To its credit, Quake 4 did release several major updates and I think could be the modern-day-technology successor to Quake 3 but I fear it’s too late to be given that chance. Battlefield 2 never saw all the fixes it needed (and literally one year later it was still unfixed while EA forced them to whip out Battlefield 2142) so confidence is important to gamers.

Anyway, I’m happy that I’ve got these nice new upgrades (I need a new hard drive and Windows Vista Ultimate but that’s a ways off) and when I can get the games to play along that’s extra awesome. But I do see the lack of adaptation as a problem. When you’re id Software and your 1999 game Quake 3 can adapt (or even your 1996 game Quake through the source code you gave away) that’s awesome. When you’re EA/DICE and your 2005 game Battlefield 2 can’t adapt (or tells me I’m a cheater if I try), that’s unacceptable. It’s almost tempting to try World of Warcraft just because they give gamers what they want instead of telling them. I still have copies of World of Warcraft sitting in this office with me. I’m tempted to install it. I can quit at any time, ya know.

Nah, I’ll just fire up Oblivion instead…