Switch to PC gaming
Some people don't like video game consoles for whatever reasons. These might include lack of variety due to restrictive developer criteria and major publishers' focus on sure bets, the lack of mods, or just the lack of games that use a keyboard and mouse. So to ease a family's transition from console gaming to PC gaming, it's useful to find PC equivalents to popular games for other platforms.
What GPU do I need?
The characters and props in a video game are made out of a mesh of triangles. In modern PCs, the CPU doesn't do the entire job of turning these triangles into the dots that make up images on your screen. A separate chip called the GPU (graphics processing unit), which is specialized for handling lots of dots at once, does most of the work. In laptop PCs, video game consoles, and low-end desktop PCs, the GPU is usually "integrated", or included in the memory controller on the motherboard. Most integrated GPUs don't have dedicated RAM for graphics; instead, they use part of the main memory, and the CPU and the GPU have to take turns accessing it. You can upgrade a PC's GPU by buying a "discrete" GPU that comes on a card, opening the PC's case, and inserting the new card. All discrete GPUs have a separate VRAM, or video memory.
When you play the PC version of game that also came out on consoles, you will want to have a GPU whose capability is at or above the corresponding console's GPU. Intel chipsets include the Intel GMA GPU, which can run Flash games and emulated handheld games but really isn't qualified to run most 3D games from the past six years. An AMD or NVIDIA chipset comes with a far more capable integrated GPU.
A ranking of GPU capabilities published by Tom's Hardware may confuse console fans new to PC gaming, so here are some points of reference: The original Xbox (2001) used a GPU based on NVIDIA's GeForce 3, and the Wii's AMD Hollywood GPU has fillrate close to that of the Radeon 9000 per the chart at Wikipedia. According to the chart, the GeForce 3 and Radeon 9000 are roughly on par with Intel's GMA X-series integrated graphics from 2010. Among the batch of consoles that came out in 2006, the PLAYSTATION 3's RSX GPU is based on a GeForce 7800 (Ars describes it as a "cut-down G71"), and the Xbox 360's GPU is about the same as a Radeon X1900.
If you're buying a small-form-factor PC to play video games, the best option is probably anything with an AMD CPU. AMD motherboards have integrated GPUs made by AMD or NVIDIA, which are far more powerful than Intel integrated GPUs. AMD nettops like this ER1402-55 slim PC by eMachines are fine for games with graphics roughly as complex as World of Warcraft. A GameCube-sized Dell Inspiron Zino can be customized with a discrete GPU for more graphically intense games and a Blu-ray Disc drive for watching high-definition movies. (See also discussion with hairyfeet on Slashdot.)
Some desktop PC owners who regularly upgrade their PCs might be able to build a secondary gaming PC out of spare parts. Or for people who lack the time to build a PC themselves, one option is to find a kit you like on TigerDirect or someone's blog, like Jeff Atwood's 2013 build, take the parts list into your local mom-and-pop PC shop, and pay someone to build it for you.
As of the fourth quarter of 2012, guides for how to build a PC for use with Steam games have emerged. In April 2014, Hairyfeet of Slashdot gave a parts list for an AMD hexacore with Windows and a Radeon HD 7790. GameSpot has videos about Intel or NVIDIA or AMD.
Or you could buy a "desktop replacement" laptop with both an Intel GMA and an NVIDIA GPU supporting Optimus: the GMA runs most of the time, and the NVIDIA GPU turns on when you play a game. This way, you get playable graphics performance in Windows games when the laptop is docked to your TV, USB game controllers, and AC power, while retaining decent battery life while unplugged. But one obvious advantage of a dedicated PC by the TV is that one gaming laptop won't support one person playing a game and another doing homework or Facebook at the same time.
|Q: What does Intel GMA stand for?|
A: Inside Intel, "Graphics Media Accelerator". Outside Intel, "Graphics My Ass".
How to connect the PC to your TV
PCs need not be stuck at a desk; they can also use a modern television as a monitor. Even columnists for parenting web sites have begun to recognize the value of connecting a PC to a TV.
Alternatives to console games
Some people might resist switching due to lack of PC games with similar game play to console franchises. But some have been suggested:
- Classic arcade-style games such as those available on Virtual Console or Xbox Live Arcade
- Midway Arcade Treasures, Namco Museum, and other publishers' similar compilations
- First-person shooters such as Halo
- These are plentiful on the PC; they're just less likely to support gamepads or split-screen cooperative play. However, see Serious Sam and Left 4 Dead.
- Weapon racing like Mario Kart
- Sega and Sonic All Stars Racing, Blur
- One-on-one karate in a flat ring
- Street Fighter IV
- Platform fighting like Power Stone or Super Smash Bros.
- Super Smash Flash, Multi-Hero, Super Mario War, Liero, billybacs recommended Soldat (none of these have been evaluated)
- Platform puzzle using team members' individual skills like The Lost Vikings
- Cartoonish social simulation like Animal Crossing
- Cartoonish platformer like Super Mario
- Minigame collection like Mario Party
- Castle Crashers
Hairyfeet on Slashdot claims that the Steam service by Valve Software has plenty of games supporting single-screen multiplayer, including a large selection of indie games. The infrastructure to search for these games was not quite in place as of the fourth quarter of 2012. But by 2014, once Valve had made progress on Big Picture mode, SteamOS, and Steam Machine hardware, Steam's search had progressed to add a category for indie local co-op.
- ChoGGi recommended blur, split second, shadowgrounds, dynasty warriors 6
- KahabutDieDrake recommended RAG DOLL KUNG FU (4 to 6 mice) or Cortex Command
- Anonymous Coward recommended Dungeon Defenders
- Another AC recommended Trine series, Jamestown, and Shank
- Yet another AC recommended the LEGO $MOVIE series
- wikthemighty recommended several more
- Endo13 recommended lists of controller-friendly PC games on Giant Bomb and Overclock.net
- RivenAleem recommended Castle Crashers and Magica
- Pubstar recommended a bunch of games that support XInput (Xbox 360 wired controllers on Windows)
- nschubach recommended a list at co-optimus, but someone else disagrees that it's extensive enough
- Anonymous Coward recommended lists on reddit and co-optimus
- Another Slashdot AC's favorite controller-friendly games
Check out PlayDeb, a repository with games.
- Don Woligroski. "Graphics Card Hierarchy Chart". Tom's Hardware. 2010-04-19. Accessed 2012-05-03.
- Peter Bright. "An x86 PlayStation 4 could signal a sea-change in the console industry". Ars Technica. 2012-04-02. Accessed 2012-05-03.
- Evan Rodgers. "Forget the PS4 and the Xbox 720, build your own Steambox on the cheap". The Verge, 2012-11-30. Accessed 2012-12-03.
- Jo Harris. "Technology needs for school". Kidspot, ca. 2011. Accessed 2013-12-25.