Strange Bedfellows

Enter the Xbox 360

Gaming is of course Windows' killer app, but Microsoft has ironically (perhaps cunningly) created a killer-app killer in the Xbox 360. While the 360's promise of free anti-aliasing has yet to be fulfilled, the graphical quality of this latest Xbox is acceptable to my PC-trained eyes. The simplicity with which 5.1 audio is delivered to my surround sound system, without the need to fuss over which components might break the digital chain, removes a huge headache borne by many PC enthusiasts.

That be me. Messages welcome, but I only accept "Friend" invites from people I already know.

Xbox Live, with its Achievements system, free game demos and slick interface, creates a gaming environment far superior to anything I've yet to experience on a PC. The one area where the latest Xbox clearly falls behind is its controller. While comfortable to hold, it just doesn't offer the level of finesse available with a mouse. Still, provided the other advantages the 360 has to offer, this is one sacrifice I am willing to make. And it seems that the Wii may be blazing a trail for superior control on consoles. Time will tell.

So now that I had a Macintosh computer sitting next to my Xbox 360, how was I to continue making visual walkthroughs? Capturing screenshots on a PC is a simple matter, but on a console it's a completely different situation. Without paying for a developer's kit, I would have to reduce the graphical quality of my screenshots to that supported by low-resolution capture devices. Or would I?

Epiphan to the Rescue

After much searching on the Web, I discovered that the marketplace for affordable, high-resolution console screen capture is woefully under served. Fortunately, I was able to find a single device that allows me to continue doing visual walkthroughs: Ephiphan's DVI2USB. At $1,000, this device is not cheap, but it's still within the savings I've made by not upgrading my PC for the multi-core, multi-GPU Vista generation. The DVI2USB connects to my Mac via USB, and captures every pixel of the frame at a rate of about 8-10 per second. Not enough for creating movies at full-resolution, but certainly enough to allow me to choose just the right screenshots to illustrate my walkthroughs.

So with a Macintosh computer, Xbox 360, and DVI2USB, I am ready to move this site in a new direction. I still intend to complete the System Shock 2 walkthrough, probably with the help of Apple's Boot Camp. I'll also be using Boot Camp if I can no longer resist the urge to return to EVE Online, which I miss terribly.

I'm kicking things off with Capcom's Dead Rising Walkthrough, a great game with a tortuous save system. As you can probably imagine, having a single save slot makes doing a visual walkthrough extremely problematic, but I've finally got it ready for you to see. I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed creating it. Hopefully it will be the first of many console walkthroughs on this site.

- Mike Mangold - 11/26/2006

My Switch From PC Gaming

Yes, you read that right. My long march of gaming platforms has adopted a new stride. After having graduated from a Magnavox Odyssey 4000 and a Coleco Telstar Combat (both featured here) to an Atari 2600 in 1979, I switched from consoles to computers in 1983 with the purchase of a Commodore 64. I would later follow up with a Commodore 128 in 1986, and then go all-out by putting my money on a Commodore Amiga in 1989. The Amiga purchase would be a drop in the bucket compared to my purchase of a Macintosh PowerBook 180 four years later. At $2,700, the 180 boasted a beautiful active matrix display (grayscale, of course) and a powerful 33 Mhz processor. An excellent workhorse at the time, the PowerBook was not much of a gaming machine, and with the exception of Sim City and a few 2D shoot-em-ups this was to be my gaming dark age.

Needing a return to the world of gaming (and color), and sensing that the tide was shifting from computers to consoles, I made the disastrous decision to buy a Sega Saturn shortly after its release in May, 1995. Oh, had I only waited until September for the Playstation. Perhaps then I wouldn't have felt so compelled to purchase an entry-level Compaq Presario in the Spring of 1998. The horrible experience with that Compaq drove me to build my own system in August, 1999. A 400 Mhz workhorse supported by a 3dfx Voodoo 2 graphics card, this new machine had enough power to introduce me to the world of online 3D gaming. This was the single largest leap in gaming I have yet to experience, fulfilling my dream of an online, fully-3D version of an old Amiga favorite, Stellar 7. Within weeks of installing Starsiege, I had joined a clan and was dutifully exacting justice upon the pad-camping vultures of the Starsiege universe. (Callsign Trax - Tip of the turret to those who may remember.)

And so my seven years of self-built gaming rigs began. Smoke poured forth from that first machine upon initial bootup, but I had it functioning properly within a few hours, and it was my creation, made with components of my choosing. Consoles during this time period were clearly inferior to their computer counterparts, just as in the days when my Amiga reigned supreme over anything from Nintendo or Sega (or IBM or Apple for that matter). Computer gaming was the place to be. The time has now come for that to change.

The next generation of this decade is now upon us, and it is a generation that is going to leave its mark. I should note that I left out a pair of acquisitions in my gaming pedigree above. I also owned an original Xbox and a Playstation 2 for a short while, giving both of these consoles their fair chance to entice my gaming palate. Ico, Silent Hill, and Rez were the games that spent the most time on my TV screen. The experience was underwhelming. High resolution PC gaming had spoiled me for something much more than what these machines could offer. A muddy, pixilated mess is all my PC-trained eyes could see. The game play of Ico and Rez, while noteworthy, couldn't overcome the huge gap between what these consoles could do and what their contemporary PC counterparts were capable of. I gave away the Xbox to my brother; the PS2 went to a friend. PC gaming had me for good.

Back to the Future with Apple

And then Apple switched from IBM PowerPC CPUs to Intel processors. Apple soon followed up by introducing Boot Camp in April, 2006 - making the urge to switch nigh irresistible. I had always pined for the days of System 7 on my PowerBook 180, giving in to the Windows way of doing things but never completely satisfied that Microsoft's attempt to cover up c:\ with a GUI interface was much more than a cheap knockoff of Apple's Real Thing. Having been reprimanded by IT security for having Napster installed on my work-issued laptop ("Just buy your own," they told me), I returned to the Mac OS, purchasing a MacBook Pro to supplement my main gaming PC.

I was won over by the new (to me) OS X almost immediately. You'll often hear Mac fans emphasizing the little things that make the Mac experience superior, and for good reason. The way that the dashboard fades into view, the elegant efficiency of expose, even the lack of stickers on the wrist rest underscore the realization that some very talented people have been paying attention to the user experience. The boot speed, shutdown speed, and system stability owe their advantage to Apple's practice of tightly coupling the OS to the hardware. Unlike Windows, which supports a much wider array of components, Apple makes a much smaller number of hardware choices available, then hammers out an OS that works predictably within those limited parameters. The result is a sleek, reliable, and useful tool. Within a few months I was a disaffected Windows user. I removed Boot Camp and my Windows partition. It was now time to confront the Mac's Achilles' heel, gaming.