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Earlier this week, we asked you to tell us the last physical copy of a PC game you bought, while sharing our own choices. Today, as a kind of sequel to that question, we ask, what was the first downloadable game you bought on PC?
In the PC Gamer Q&A, we ask the global PC Gamer team for their thoughts on a particular subject, then invite you to add your thoughts in the comments below. We'll also feature a few answers from the PC Gamer Club Discord, accessible to anyone who's a part of our membership program.
You'll find our answers below, and we'd love to hear what your first paid downloadable game was too.
I'll take the easy route on this one, because it's also true: Half-Life 2 was the first downloadable game I bought. I also played Counter-Strike 1.6 on the platform (including using the Steam beta), but that was a mod for Half-Life so I didn't pay for it. Anyway, HL2 required Steam, so what else was I going to do? I'm old enough that having a credit card and high-speed internet back in 2004 wasn't a problem, and I was luckier than some, in that Steam worked basically without a hitch for me. Sure, there were a few outages, but I don't recall them ever really affecting me.
I played (and benchmarked) Half-Life 2 all the way to the end in the first week or so after its release, and I thought the convenience of downloading a game was pretty awesome. Others hated the idea, but I don't think any of us could have guessed how huge Steam would become over the next decade. It went from a place where you bought Valve games and maybe a few others, to eventually becoming the virtual storefront for 95 percent of all the games I own. No wonder EA, Ubisoft, and Activision want a piece of that pie.
I kept buying boxed copies of games for ages because slow Australian internet made downloading them a hassle, until I got into small indie games that wouldn't bust my data limit. The first was Uplink, which let me live out the fantasy of being an elite computer hacker and also the fantasy of having really fast internet.
It's designed to make you feel like you're in the movie Sneakers, and for a while it did. Like every other hacking game I've tried—games like Hack 'n' Slash, and else.Heart.Break()—it eventually started to feel like work instead of fun. Now when I want to pretend I'm a hacker I just go to hackertyper.net. What it did get me into was playing more small, personal projects and I found plenty of those to love. The next two were Atom Zombie Smasher and Audiosurf, both of which became favorites.
Right when rhythm action games were blowing up on console, but tended to focus on guitar music that I didn't really like and plastic controllers that took up way too much space in a single person's bedroom, a friend explained how there was a rhythm action game where you could play your own songs. The novelty of this was huge to me. I was 20 at the time, working on a PlayStation magazine, and I didn't really have the cash for a good PC, having wasted hundreds of pounds on a PS3 I needed for work—which broke a year later. Sigh. At least I got to play Uncharted, I suppose. Eventually, my parents bought me an okayish laptop, and one of the first things I did was download Audiosurf on Steam.
It was pretty amazing, to upload my favourite tracks into the game and to have so many cool and challenging ways to play them, along with leaderboards. This was one of the first PC games of the modern era that really showed me why playing on PC was better—both in terms of the variety of games available, and the experiences that only PC could give you. If I wanted to play the theme tune from Max Payne 2 in a rhythm action game, I could do it, damn it!
Now I own close to 1000 games across Steam, GOG, uPlay, Battle.net and Origin, and I don't know why I've done that to myself.
Remember the short-lived SiN Episodes reboot? I can't remember why I chose to make that my first digital purchase rather than, say, Half-Life 2, but it was. It was this whole ordeal. I didn't have a credit card and Steam bucks weren't really a thing back then, so I went to a friend's house (hey, Anton, I'll find that copy of Kingdom Hearts and return it as soon as I can) just to ask their older sister to let me use hers. Digital game marketplaces were a new concept back then, and she didn't play many games anyway, so it 100-percent came off as a con.
Your little brother's good friend rolls in with wearing the edgiest Linkin Park t-shirt he could find at Goodwill, then asks, under his breath, to borrow your credit card to purchase something from "Steam" called "Sin". My ma had just started preaching at the local Presbyterian church and everyone knew it, so the look Anton's sister threw my way had me worried her eyes might pop out. Not sure why she agreed in the end, but thanks, Roxie. Only had dial-up internet at the time, so my parents paid for it next with a phone line that wouldn't put a call through for a day or two. And when I finally played Episode 1, the only episode ever released, I remember feeling like all the trouble was worth it. The novelty of a game floating somewhere in the ether that I could call mine and play from any computer was incredibly empowering. Bit of a shit game, but SiN Episode 1 got me hooked on Steam, and set me right in the path of innumerable indie games I would have missed otherwise.
I spent most of my 2000s dealing with a laptop that became too hot to handle after just 20 minutes of Command & Conquer: Generals. As such, the advent of Steam passed me by—if it wasn't a sedate isometric strategy game or RPG, I wasn't prepared to suffer the third-degree burns required to play it. In 2008, though, I got a real job and saved enough money to buy a desktop PC. I downloaded Steam, fully intending to finally play Half-Life 2. Instead, I ran face first into a Steam sale. Prey was on offer for about £3. I didn't know what it was, or if it was any good, but at that price how could I not immediately buy it?
It was good. Prey is far from amazing, but if you don't know any better—for instance if you hadn't played an FPS since Quake because your last decade had been spent ordering many sprites to gib many orcs in the various Infinity Engine RPGs—it looked spectacular. I also bought Audiosurf on the same day, because everyone bought Audiosurf in 2008.
My Steam purchase history only goes back to 2007 for some reason, but I have to assume it was Half-Life 2. I remember staying up late to unlock it. It launched fine, and I remember seeing those Combine metrocops walking around on the menu screen. Instead of playing, though, I decided to change a couple graphics options, and then had to restart. And that's when Steam completely tanked. I couldn't get back in. I missed my window to play a game I'd been waiting years for, and after about three hours of not being able to connect, I just had to give up and go to sleep because I had work in the morning. I'm sure glad that 15 years later games no longer have launch day issues, huh? Huh?
We got a few answers from the Club Discord, so thanks all who responded. "I'm pretty sure my first digital game was Mass Effect 1 &2 in 2010 because I'm old and until that point I always got games from a store," says user IronGnomee. "A podcast I listened to at the time was always saying how amazing Commander Shepard was so I finally tried it out."
"As far as I can remember, it would be The Orange Box," says user Buttface Jones in Discord. "I had played PC games before TOB, like Quake, Command and Conquer, and WoW but always from a disc. I bought TOB on Xbox and fell in love with TF2, despite how bad and limited the Xbox version was. I eventually got fed up and downloaded Steam specifically to play 'the real TF2'."
User Buttz says Garry's Mod on Steam. Imbaer adds, "Orange box in 2008 for me." Fellow user erdelf adds "Stargate Resistance honestly, before that I bought games in the store or played f2p online games."
Let us know the first downloadable game you bought below!
Most patch notes are boring. Fixed a bug that stopped a menu from opening properly. D.Va's Defense Matrix doesn't last as long. Wukong's attack speed is 10 percent slower. That's the usual stuff, chronicling important but dull balance changes across years of a game's life. And then there are patch notes like this: "Added cat butchery." "Made all undead respectful of one another." "Tigerman does not have ears."
That's the good stuff.
Those are the kinds of wonderfully crazy patch notes Dwarf Fortress has . Determined to top the absurdity of Dwarf Fortress's bizarre changelogs, I put on my deerstalker, grabbed my magnifying glass, and set out to find the strangest patch notes in the history of PC gaming. These absurdities are the result.
August 28, 2014
January 29th 2013
October 1st 2013
November 19th 2013
July 10, 2001
August 15, 2001
December 6, 2001
In Why I Love, PC Gamer writers pick an aspect of PC gaming that they love and write about why it's brilliant. Today, Phil explains why Uplink is the best depiction of hacking in gaming.
Films and TV shows have a patchy history when it comes to the accurate depiction of technology and computing. It's hard not to feel let down when a film like Inside Man uses invented over-the-top violence to prey on the worst assumptions of the gaming illiterate. It's hard not to roll your eyes when admittedly dumb shows spout streams of nonsense, safe in the knowledge that many viewers won't know any better. And that's just games. The more specialist the technical knowledge needed to understand a thing, the dumber its on-screen depiction seems. For instance, hacking.
But unrealistic depictions can be fun, too. Take the film Hackers, which I fully and unironically love. It's dumb, but in a way that lets everyone be in on the joke. It doesn't sneer like Swordfish; it celebrates. It invents a world of 3D operating systems and neon punks, and then works hard to make you want to be in that world. It helps that it was set in the '90s, and everything in the '90s was already ridiculous.
Uplink—the first game from Introversion Studios—creates a similar fantasy. You re a freelance hacker using a dial-up modem and an remote 8 gigaquad computer to work for a global organisation dedicated to cybercrime. To do so, you create long networks of connections and run various programs to break into a target server. It's absurd, but taps into the same feelings of excitement and subversiveness that are reason filmmakers keep unrealistically depicting hacking in the first place.
At their core these films are stories of a single person able to stand-up to and destroy an entire corporation. That same idea is at the heart of Uplink s campaign. It starts off small, asking you break into servers to delete specific files, but soon ramps up in scope. Once your skill rating is high enough you ll destroy research servers, track down rival hackers and frame innocent people for high-tech crimes. It all builds to a gloriously over-the-top technophobic finale, in which you're given the power to save or destroy the entire internet—Tumblr and all.
Uplink is great because it gets every aspect of this fantasy right. It's a tense sandbox of tools and possibilities that rewards initiative and punishes mistakes. It's a peerless lesson in how to make a game about hacking, and one I wish every maker of a hacking mini-game would learn from. Yes, it's unfair to expect a small section of an RPG or immersive sim to be as good as a game dedicated solely to hacking. I'm not saying these mini-games should have the same depth as Uplink, but there are some basic lessons that could be learned.
The most important lesson: tension. Too many hacking mini-games treat the hacking as a separate entity that's removed from the world of the game. Hack a shop in Bioshock, and the world stays frozen in place as you piss about with some pipe pieces. Break into one of Fallout 3's computers, and people politely wait as you play a word-based guessing game. This is pointless: hacking shouldn't be about the act, but the tension between the act and getting caught in it. (This applies to lockpicking, too. Automatic real-time lockpicking is inherently more tense than a convoluted mini-game in which the outside world ceases to exist.)
In Uplink, the tension is brilliantly realised through one of the game's most basic programs: the Trace Tracker. It emits beeps that mark the time remaining before a security system finds you. It starts out slowly, but as your window of opportunity diminishes it may as well double for a heart-rate monitor. The ramp up in tension it creates as you race to finish your objective in time is almost unbearable. Disconnecting with seconds to spare feels amazing.
Uplink's other stroke of genius is that it makes you click on and type things manually. It's such a basic idea: forcing you to use the real-world tools of mouse and keyboard, thus creating a difficulty curve that's directly based on how much pressure you're under. To break into a system, you have to juggle programs like the agonisingly slow password breaker, firewall bypasser, vocal analyser, proxy disabler and log deleter. That done, you still have to perform the task you've been hired for, whether it's typing in search queries or editing records. It's a race, and you'll only win if you perform every action to perfection.
That's what so many games get wrong about hacking. It needn't be complex, just frantic and demanding. Uplink has plenty of depth to its content, but the hacking systems themselves are relatively simple. You execute programs and perform actions. You manage your computer and search for information. You watch the timer and, at the last possible second, cut the connection. It's these basic actions, and the tension that bubbles under them, that makes Uplink the best example of silly sci-fi game hacking.