Error 404: Patience Not Found

In strict computing terms, I’ve never been ahead of the curve. I think the one time I had a better computer than anyone else was when Dad bought the Amstrad 286 and that was because nobody else had one. It’s been a hard slog trying to coax that model, and subsequent, PC’s I’ve owned, to play the games my friends would happily potter around with on a whim, though it did provide the impetus to learn something about the hardware and software I was wringing for memory and harddrive space. Also, I suppose, some measure of patience with regard to loading screens.

My involvement with computer games has waned; mostly over the last three years. Things just haven’t been the same since the days of SCUMM TM and Sierra’s *BLANK* Quests. I learnt what I needed to in order to give a good showing at various LAN parties but kinda moved on after the dominance of the First Person Shooter model. Right around that time I ended up buying a Playstation 2 console and, I think, the City of Villains MMORPGGER was the last real foray into anything serious on the PC gaming front.

Late last year, I went about playing, or rather trying to play, Bioshock on the PS3. I say ‘trying’ in that while I grabbed some actual playtime before heading off to Canberra with the parents, it was time truncated by downloading a 200MB update, followed by installing that, and other game components on a console (!) before finally getting a shot. I had the nostalgia of PC days swimming in my head, but it wasn’t until last night that I realised just how good I had it, as well as just how far behind the curve my little PC shuffles.

One of my X-Mas gifts was Left 4 Dead; a game given to me by Liam who, ‘coincidentally’ also received the same game from me. Deciding to install it earlier in the week, I’d forgotten that my DVD Drive was no longer working. Liam generously provided me with a spare SATA DVD Drive and I set about the task of replacing hardware– a chore I hadn’t undertaken since 2006.

Swapping DVD Drives was no challenge. A quick flick of the screwdriver, unplug this, plug in that and I was ready to go. In my history of PC building, I don’t think I’ve ever had things go so smoothly. Turns out I still haven’t. Upon rebooting an ugly error message emerged informing me that the new drive didn’t like my copy of DVD Region Killer (And frankly it can suck out my farts if it thinks it can censor what I can and can’t watch) but I acceded to its issues (resolving to sort it out once things were up and going) and uninstalled the program, but that wasn’t good enough it seems. The drive announced it would go ‘invisible’ until such time as *it* was assured that no trace of the blighted program remained to spoil its pristine features.
Everything short of formatting the harddrive and then salting the remains was employed but no DVD drive could be found. BIOS was zero help and a night of frustration, tempered only by taking the time to watch HBO’s Mad Men, was the only result. Abandoning the chore, I decided to tackle it the next day.

The next day saw me placing Liam’s DVD Drive carefully to one side and then taking a screwdriver to my old drive either to get it to work or serve as a demonstration of my wrath to the neophyte yet recalcitrant hardware. Just before I had to leave for work, persistence and brute force was rewarded and after plugging the old drive back in, the computer switched on and read DVD’s like it had simply been waiting for the opportunity all along. After testing it with the installation of some camera software that was both useful, yet expendable in case the drive had a change of heart and attempted to dissprove Mythbusters by shredding me to bloody chunks with shards of DVD plastic, I turned my attention to the installation of Left 4 Dead.

The installation worked and that’s right about when the good times stopped. Launching the game I noticed the audio wasn’t synching with the video. Still this was only the intro and it least the game was running so I wasn’t concerned. Concern came and was quickly upgraded to cursing when, upon selecting a widescreen resolution, the screen went black.

Audio of zombies rambling and moaning taunted me behind the message “Mode not Supported” splayed across the monitor. Now, it’s a bleak day when I have to hold Windows up as a shining example of anything but at least it returns display resolutions to more humble settings after accidently, or with hubris, daring to touch the face of God at higher rez than 1024 x 768, but even after uninstalling and reinstalling the game, the damn screen stayed black as the cavity where once I sheltered a spark of hope. Learning that the only way to actually *see* a menu so as to correct the error was to run the game in windowed mode; an exercise in further frustration as to do that meant going into Steam’s Launch Settings, where all that can be seen is “This is for advanced users” and a blinking dialog box. Obtaining the arcane command by which I might run a windowed copy I was finally met with some kind of success and finally managed to see the interface and restore the settings to improved (Read: Visible) conditions. At last, I was going to be able to play– granted the settings weren’t super and the game was still in windowed mode but at 11:30pm, I was able to taste the fruits of my labour.

I’m not sure if anyone has tasted the fruits of black polygons obliterating all but peripheral views of a First Person Shooter but let me spare you the experience by saying they taste like ashes soaked in brine. Take what disgust this sentence leaves you with and you may appreciate what I felt when I hit ‘Exit’ for the last time and instead vented frustration by playing Bioshock on the PS3. Safely ensconced in a world where games are built for the hardware, not the other way around, have left me somewhat more naive than I was when I was 10 and messing with Autoexec.BAT and Command.SYS but the consumer in me feels it’s not wholly unrealistic to keep labouring on something that will ultimately disappoint when you’re unable to feed it cash or parts to keep up with beasts like Far Cry 2 or likewise. Or maybe I’m just bitter. One of the resolutions for 2009 is to upgrade the computer so this could all be nullified in a future post about the glories of games not throttled by hardware constraints but right now, I’m just happy to be able to be frustrated by playing a game than to be frustrated by not.

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2 Comments

  1. I’m right there with you. I’m always behind the curve, but I usually have one good enough to just play the games I want to play. My PC can play Crysis (albeit on the lowest settings).

    Thankfully, aside from the occasional lag, Left 4 Dead runs pretty well. You have my utmost sympathies in not being able to play it. Though apparently there’s a new net cafe type place in the valley, and they have it. Worst case scenario, you could play it there.
    Actually, they’re holding a Left 4 Dead evening on February 6th. 4 hours for $10. Info here.

    • I too know the joy of scrambling to stay a mere half-decade behind the curve. A few years ago I decided I wanted at least a few-month period of “My Computer Is Better Than Yours” and shelled out a month’s income on what I still refer to fondly as The Red Brick, a gigantic ATI Video Thing that was, for the rest of that week, the Best As Can Be Buyed. Then settled in for the depression as The Red Brick’s moment in the sun would inevitable fall in the wake of Progress.

      At least it ain’t the early 00’s with the gallop of technological advance assuring any piece of hardware more than a month old wasn’t worth the honour of a paperweight to hold down the installation instructions of the next upgrade. Two years on The Red Brick can still play Fallout 3 with 4xAA, HDR and most of the textures intact. But his days are numbered.

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