Greetings, fellow XP4Ts. As we approach the end of yet another year, I thought it might be fun to look back and see how far our shared passion, PC gaming, has come over the last decade. To this end, I’m digging through my gigantic collection of PG Gamer magazines (UK edition), beginning with my earliest issue – No. 106, from February 2002. Every now and then, I’ll fillet another for juicy details and we’ll do the Timewarp again. (Just so you know, I am in no way affiliated with PCG, Future Publishing, or anything like that. I’m just a long-time reader with an attic full of back issues).
Reviews and Previews
So, 2002. Outside our virtual playgrounds, Osama bin Laden was still very much at the front of the news, the Queen Mother saw her own personal Game Over screen at the age of 101, and NASA’s Odyssey probe found large deposits of frozen water on Mars. Meanwhile, our friends at PC Gamer magazine in England made Unreal Tournament 2 their cover girl, frothing excitedly about its “huge potential for mods, levels and mutators”. At the end of the year, UT2 would release as UT 2003, thus beginning a legacy of online sci-fi shooting that is still going strong today (with UT 2004 CE remaining the definitive version). The PC Gamer team also promised us a review and demo of their Game of The Month, Medal of Honour, calling it “Better than Wolfenstein and Half-Life!” and awarding it 95%. Originally developed by Dreamworks Interactive, and with a strong emphasis on historical accuracy and honouring the memory of those who fought, who would have thought then that the series would run to 14 instalments?
Other reviews in the February 2002 magazine include well-received sequels Serious Sam 2, Silent Hunter 2 and a MechWarrior 4 expansion, plus some new titles: Aquanox, Frank Herbert’s Dune and Gothic. Interestingly, most of these are now arguably classics of their genres. The Gothic, Serious Sam and Silent Hunter franchises have all stood the test of time incredibly well, and Aquanox and its sequels rank highly on many gamers’ favourites lists (see gog.com and Steam). Only Frank Herbert’s Dune is a stinker here – this is not Westwood’s legendary, genre-defining 1992 RTS sequel, but an awkward Third-Person Action game from Cryo, who were still grimly hanging on to the Frank Herbert license.
Previews of upcoming games, twelve years and eight months ago, include Soldier of Fortune 2 (with its headline-grabbing gore system and real-world merc adviser John Mullins), and Unreal 2, the dedicated single-player companion piece to Unreal Tournament 2(003). Back then, there were two kinds of fraggers: those whose first love was Quake III Arena, and those who had fallen for the slender charms of Unreal Tournament. Have any other engines since inspired such loyalty? I don’t think so. SoF 2’s devs, Raven, were in bed with id Software, and so it was the Quake engine that they chose to modify with a custom SDK that let them blow off limbs and excite the tabloid press. Raven have a long and mostly brilliant history, ranging from Heretic and Hexen in the 1990s and the legendary Star Trek: Voyager: Elite Force series and Jedi Knight games, to Marvel: Ultimate Alliance – itself the progenitor of numerous top-down Marvel ARPGs, most recently Gazillion and Human Head Studio’s MMOG Marvel Heroes 2015 – as well as various parts of the Call of Duty series. The Marvel connection dates back to 1997, when Raven was ‘acquired’ by Activision and most of the original devs left to form Human Head.
It wasn’t all blood and guns though, as we were treated to an excited look at a now much-loved paean to comics and superheroes, Irrational Games’ Freedom Force. Featuring “pause-time” combat and a cast of colourful heroes partly created by Robb Waters, an Irrational artist who also gave us both System Shock and the original Thief’s cast too.
News and Gossip
The news section places the PC gaming of 2002 firmly in its historical context. The lead article looks at Operation Bucaneer, a 2001 anti-piracy action that saw 62 people around the world raided, equipment seized by the authorities and “a number of warez sites shut down”. Elsewhere, a sequel to the highly regarded RTS Battle Realms was unofficially announced by its lead dev, which would go on to be Battle Realms: Winter of the Wolf. A quote from Valve’s Doug Lombardi assured us that “TF2 is in full development here at Valve.” Five years later, we’d finally get it as part of The Orange Box… Codemasters announced that they would be publishing what we now know is The Bitmap Brothers’ (Speedball, The Chaos Engine, Xenon etc) last unique game, the exploding-robots RTS, Zed. The “hotly anticipated” Neverwinter Nights was still without a publisher, after Bioware cut their ties with Interplay in December 2001 following a D&D licensing bungle, while on the RTS front we’re informed that 2002 will bring us Medieval: Total War (remember when Shogun was the absolute shit?), and Warcraft III. Ending on a sexy note, the tits-n-ass vampire game that eventually spawned a sequel, several comics and *cough cough* an Uwe Boll film, Bloodrayne, was also announced for an autumn 2002 release. Oh, the excitement.
By 2002 the days of MUDs and BBSs where you could spend your 56k laboriously downloading a multi-part MIME file of a black and white scan of a topless model were a fast-fading memory. Ultima Online and EverQuest had been going strong for a while, and Anarchy Online had just launched (somewhat messily, as tradition dictates for MMOGs) the year before. As networking tech advanced and we started really getting to grips with broadband (I remember almost weeping for joy when I got my 512k cable connection in), the potential for online shooting also began to be more fully realised. Although the awesome spectacle of SOE’s Planetside was still a year away, there were only a few months to go before Battlefield 1942’s June release, and we still had the original Team Fortress for Half-Life to satisfy our turret-building fetishes. Also of interest to the online gamer (as well as fans of giant spaceships) was a two-page interview with a small Icelandic outfit about their as-yet-unreleased, single-server MMO space sim…
If this ever becomes a regular series of articles, I can imagine many of you scrolling through to get to the hardware section first. Nothing dates us or our hobby as well as the actual components of our beloved machines, and February 2012 doesn’t disappoint in this respect. Tellingly, the prize for the best reader’s letter, which at PCG is always traditionally a top-of-the-line hardware item (usually a graphics card), was a Sparkle GeForce 3 TI 200 (valued at a wallet-smashing GBP 200!). In the ‘Money Pit’ section of this issue (the hardware reviews, in other words), Sparkle’s TI 500 was awarded a 92%, while Creative Labs’ TI 500 earned 89%. The technical difference is not entirely clear from the review text, although the Creative is priced at GBP 50 more than the Sparkle, which is labelled “Bargain!” in a big red flash, so that’s probably it. Of the GF3 chipset, the magazine says various interesting things: “Cards based on this chipset, combined with the new XP drivers from nVidia are monstrously powerful…”, and “It’s worth remembering that, for the average gamer, the GeForce 2 MX in your machine is still going to be doing the job that’s required of it for some time.” Despite all this, back in the news section we have the exciting announcement of… *drum roll*… the GeForce 4! “Suggested specs for such a beast would include 128mb on-board RAM [and] a core chip speed of 300MHz…”
PC Gamer’s “recommended hardware” in February 2002 consisted of the aforementioned Sparkle GF3 TI 500 (“High End 3D Card”), a Creative Audigy Player (“Recommended Sound Card”), a Hercules Prophet 4500 (Budget 3D Card”), and a Cyborg 3D Gold USB (“Recommended Joystick”). Other hardware reviews looked at the Radeon 8500 (90% – “Great … if lacking the raw punch of the GeForce 3 cards”), and the “wallet-annihilating” Inspire 5.1 Cambridge Soundworks Digital 5700 speaker setup (85% – “Bring the noise!”).
Bits and Pieces
While we did have broadband at the time, most ISPs were still figuring out what to do with it and how to charge for it, and overall, broadband penetration (at least in the UK, where I’m from originally) was still limited to high-density urban areas. As such, the tradition of cover-mounted CDs (or DVDs if you were both rich and lucky) was still strong. Sticking a CD full of demos and stuff to a magazine may seem laughable now, but sometimes you’d buy a crap magazine for a good disc. February 2012’s CD had both SP and MP MoH demos, a Battle Realms demo, and Serious Sam 2 and Ghost Recon (the first one!) demos, amongst others. Essential patches (another good reason to buy the CDs pre-bband) were for Civ III, AvP 2 and Monopoly Tycoon, as well as various tools and utilities unlisted in the mag itself.
Finally, the top-ten bestselling games in the UK for the month were:
1) Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone, 2) The Sims: Hot Date, 3) Return to Castle Wolfenstein, 4) Championship Manager: Season 01/02, 5) The Sims, 6) FIFA 2002,
7) Civilisation III, 8) Empire Earth, 9) Zoo Tycoon, 10) Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds*.
*Age of Empires with Star Wars graphics. Remember that?
That’s it for now. See you next time!