On the Download Issue 33: What's a System Requirement?

1/4/2012 at 3:00 PM

Re-introducing myself to PC gaming.

Today we have a special guest writer for our monthly "On the Download" column.  Me.  As you can probably tell by our Release Date Calendar, there's not a whole lot to look forward to in the month ahead.  Way to drop the ball, January!  For this edition of "On the Download" I'll be offering my thoughts on PC gaming, or more specifically, my experience with a handful of co-op games I recently purchased from this fairly popular digital distribution site called "Steam."

As you may or may not know, I'm a bit of a PC gaming novice.  Okay, I'm not really a novice.  That would imply that I dabble in the dark-mouse-and-keyboard-arts.  I don't dare to dabble.  I don't play games on a PC.  I've never had a gaming PC, and the last time I was exposed to PC gaming was in college, which was way back when years started with the numbers "1" and "9."   I actually embarrassed myself at E3 last year when I was at a behind-closed-doors session of Battlefield 3.  I had to ask one of the developers how to move my character forward.  I'm not kidding.

Screw it. Go on without me.

This edition of "On the Download" is for those not-so-computer-savvy console gamers who may want to try out some PC games, but they don't know if their system can handle it.  I'm in the same boat as you.  I decided to spend a few bucks and try my luck with my Windows 7 HP Pavilion g4 Notebook.  I'm just making this up as I go, so PC gurus, feel free to point and laugh, if you want.

As this current console generation cycles to an end, I've noticed many of my friends are neglecting their twin-sticks and triggers for a mouse and keyboard.  I can't blame them.  Quite a few PC games caught my eye this holiday season.  Three titles in particular stood out to me, mostly due to high recommendations from the Co-Optimus staff.  Magicka, Jamestown, and Serious Sam 3: BFE each scratched a different itch, and I was left wondering if my meager laptop could run them.  System requirements be damned!  When I saw these games on sale I had to see exactly what my little baby could do.  

I spotted Jamestown packaged with a Humble Indie Bundle a few weeks ago.  I plopped down $15 bucks for it, because, hey, I like doing nice things for charity, especially if it involves something as simple as clicking a mouse button.  I looked over the system requirements, and I didn't see any numbers higher than my own mysterious "System Properties" digits.  I started it up, and lo a behold, my little-laptop-that-could managed to run the game without a hitch.  I was in local co-op heaven. 

.

This is a stock screenshot of Jamestown...

...and this is how it looks on my laptop.  Hooray!

Next on my list was Magicka.  I had heard that the unique spell mixing mayhem was a blast to play with friends. When the game went on sale on Steam I picked it up.  I think I got all of the DLC as well for under $10 bucks.  I checked the requirements, and I saw that my setup was NOT RECOMMENDED.  Nuts to that!  Recommendations be damned!

Here's a stock image from Magicka...

And here it is on my laptop.  

I had to sweet talk it a little, but I got it running.  The resolution is set at 800x600, and every effect is turned "off." It's a small sacrifice for the chance to melt your friends' faces with Heal spells that somehow turn into Arcane Lightning.  Yes, that's me in blue up there, killed by goblins.  I managed to save the lady on the left, while at the same time dying a tragic hero, set aflame by my own fiery balls of destruction.  I'm extraordinarily bad at this game.  On a positive note, I didn't kill my teammates in my brief co-op experience.

Finally, I picked up Serious Sam 3: BFE for $20 dollars.  I checked the system requirements, realized I didn't understand a bit of them, and downloaded the game anyway.  Once I installed it and started it up, my meager laptop passed the initial test: it didn't explode.  I used the game's Autodetect feature to, well, autodetect my "optimal system settings" for performance.  My CPU Speed was set to "Low," and the GPU Speed as well as the GPU Memory were set to "Lowest." 

Which turned this...

...into this.

I know what you're thinking.  No, I didn't go blind. I grew up on the Atari 2600, so these graphics don't phase me. The game actually runs pretty smoothly, aside from a hiccup whenever it autosaves.  I've played with three other people cooperatively online without any problems.  I haven't jumped into a 16 player match yet, and I'm curious to see if my laptop can handle it.  Now if I can just figure out how to move forward...

I do not suggest buying a game first, then seeing if it will run on your ancient desktop or bare-bones laptop.  That's not the most efficient way to test your system.  Luckily, sites like Steam have demos for many of their downloadable titles.  Try them out.  If you're reading this, you may be sitting in front of a whole new co-op gaming experience.