It has been quite a year on the PC front, as PC gaming continues its advance toward the living room, despite this being a big year for new generation console systems. We saw some major acquisitions, some half reveals, Steam got some major upgrades, a whole new Galaxy is in the works, and a little Alpha made a big debut. All topped by a major, unexpected, announcement that landed like a KO dragon punch.
The Laws of Acquisition
Facebook's sudden acquisition of Oculus VR, makers of the Oculus virtual reality headset, back in March dominated the news for weeks, and it continues to ripple through the gaming community. People are anxious to know if virtual reality will be the next big thing, and Oculus appears to be leading the way. This hasn't always been a smooth road, as ZeniMax (parent company of Bethesda Softworks) filed a lawsuit, stating that John Carmack brought "confidential programming code, methods, plans, designs, concepts, improvements, modifications, research data and results, and know-how related to virtual reality headsets" with him when he left Bethesda to work at Oculus VR. However, the momentum from the Facebook purchase is still going strong, as Oculus VR itself has begun to acquire companies. This December, the hand-tracking company Nimbus VR and the computer vision / augmented reality company 13th Lab. The former is a Kickstarter funded company, just like Oculus VR was, which makes the deal seem like it's bringing things full circle.
Months later, after weeks of signs and speculation, including a new policy that silenced the music played in the background of archived streams, it seemed evident that Google was making moves to buy Twitch.tv. The live streaming service seemed the likely counterpart to YouTube, and the technologies might help each other, even if the policies regarding copyrighted content didn't. For a while, it looked like it was a done deal, and we were all waiting for the big announcement to come as the ink dried. Then, in a completely left-field move, Amazon swooped in at the last minute to purchase Twitch on August 25th for $970 million. It was a shocking maneuver, and so far, one that seemed to have been done solely to keep Twitch out of Google's hands. Amazon has made no announcements regarding what it intends to do with Twitch, other than pretty much leaving it alone to do what it has been doing.
Twitch wouldn't be the only acquisition that came out of nowhere. In the following month, on September 15, Microsoft announced that it purchased Minecraft developer Mojang Studios for $2.5 billion. Mojang's founding members, including Markus "Notch" Persson, left the company soon afterwards with a non-committal promise that they may one day return to game development. However, Persson also noted that he would soon abandon any project that grew to become as big as Minecraft.
More Steam Power, a New Galaxy to Explore, and Aliens
It wouldn't be PC gaming without mentioning Steam. Although SteamOS, Steam Machines, and the Steam Controller are still all works in progress, the video game service saw some major upgrades in 2014, starting with Family Library Sharing in February. Now households with multiple Steam accounts on a single computer can share their game libraries with other approved users. No more logging in and out of accounts or worrying about ruining save games. You can effectively "lend" games your games to household members.
Other major upgrades include Steam In-Home Streaming, which allows you to stream games from a desktop system to a lesser powered computer via in-home network. Starting on May 21st, gamers could play PC games on non-gaming notebooks, including Macbooks, by streaming the gameplay from a high-powered desktop. Additionally, players could hook up controllers to the notebook, and plug the notebook up to an HDTV using an HDMI cable. With this technology, PC gaming took a major stride out of the computer room or office and into the living room. Lastly, in September, Steam livened the gameplay experience with the Steam Music Player. Gamers, tired of a game's soundtrack, can now play some other game's soundtrack in the background and control it using the Steam Overlay. The feature released with a big sale on game soundtracks, but you can import your existing music library too.
Not to be outdone, rival gaming service GoG announced in June that it was developing an all-new platform called GoG Galaxy. The DRM-free gaming client promised to give gamers a true sense of ownership over their games, and bring them together through social features that would break down the walled gardens of other PC gaming platforms. It's an ambitious project that recently went into beta.
June also turned out to be a to be a big month in PC gaming thanks to the announcement of the Alienware Alpha at E3. It looks like Alienware didn't want to wait for SteamOS to officially release before getting its little console PC hybrid out to the public. The small, highly portable, and affordable gaming PC designed to plug into televisions officially released on November 21st, so consoles beware! The Alpha wasn't the only gaming system to see a slim down. Earlier in the year, it was announced that the Alienware 13 was in development - a small, super slim, gaming grade notebook to compete with the Razer Blade. However, the kicker came with the reveal of the optional Graphics Amplifier, which is an adapter that fits a full desktop graphics card. Using it, users could play games on their Alienware 13 notebook with full desktop quality graphics, which turns out to be one of the better compliments to how the Nvidia 900 series graphics cards also released in September of this year.
Surprise Not Quite Reveals
Also coincidentally happening in June was the big reveal of a Doom (renamed from Doom 4) to everyone but the Internet. Everyone who attended Quakecon in Dallas, Texas this year was treated to the very first limb-tearing look at the remade classic. Those that couldn't make the trip were treated to a notably unbloodied blank screen, not counting the blood you might have spilt slamming your fist or head into it. However, we hear that the game will use idTech 6 technology to produce high-end 1080p 60fps graphics for the PC, Xbox One, and PS4. You'll want to every blood soaked pixel, because Doom promises to have gory executions, and fast-paced combat against a horde of demons invading a Mars space station.
Getting away from Mars, Capcom managed to pull a rabbit out of its hat after the Street Fighter 5 announcement was accidentally leaked on the company's own YouTube channel. Viewers and attendees watched the PlayStation Experience keynote on December 6th knowing that the upcoming fighting game would release exclusively for the PC and PlayStation 4. What we didn't know is that it would include cross-platform play between the two systems, which was a shocking reveal to say the least. It's your move now, Mortal Kombat X.
Capping off a day of surprises at the PSX keynote was how Day of the Tentacle Special Edition would be seeing a release in 2015 for the PC, Mac, Linux and PS4. Combined with this year's E3 reveal of Grim Fandango Remastered, and how Activision resurrected Sierra in August, it looks like beloved classic PC games are making a big comeback. It doesn't matter if you're looking back or forwards, it's a very exciting time to be a PC gamer.
Steven Wong posted a new article, 2014 in Review: PC Gaming