"PC gaming is kind of rediscovering itself," says Supreme Commander creator Chris Taylor.
The designer, who made a name for himself with 1997's Total Annihilation and is also behind the Dungeon Siege titles, has some perspective on the matter, having operated largely PC-exclusive Gas Powered Games for over a decade.
Speaking to Gamasutra while previewing his studio's new PC-specific strategy RPG title Demigod, Taylor elaborated on his thoughts.
Part of the segment's rediscovery hinges on what Taylor sees as a massive install base of PCs that may not be up to date with cutting-edge gaming hardware, but that by virtue of modern technology are still capable of outputting competent graphics.
"We've pushed the limits of high system requirements, and I think the rate at which people are buying crazy new hardware has slowed," says Taylor. "We have to be careful we don't create games that require four gigs of RAM to run. It's just not responsible. It kind of was, in the old days; now, well, hardware's pretty quick. We don't really need to do that. We should be focusing on the characters, the story, the UI, the design."
"I think we've come out of that turbulent ten years," he says, referring to the period after the introduction of dedicated graphics acceleration hardware. He points out the growing relevance of online social games like those on Facebook, which are practically devoid of system requirements.
"That whole asynchronous social networking idea was just genius. There's so much to learn from that. Even people who are hardcore gamers like myself, who love the latest pixel shader refraction on the glistening water, still enjoy playing Scrabble. Although these games aren't graphically sexy, you could take the sex factor way, way up before you started to hurt your install base."
Boosting that "sex factor" up enough to provide visuals more in line with what core gamers expect can still support an incredibly broad install base, Taylor says. Of his studio's upcoming game, he says, "If you look at Demigod, it's still wildly state of the art -- in our trailer, people asked if that was prerendered or from the game, [and] it's all in-game. But it's scalable; there's level of detail [adjustment]."
And after all, the strategy/RPG hybrid takes inspiration from Defense of the Ancients, a mod of Blizzard's WarCraft III -- released in 2002 and still widely played today.
Taylor thinks Blizzard has the right idea, using art direction rather than pure technical showmanship to create visually appealing but less-demanding games, and Demigod is aimed at a broad cross-section of PC hardware.
With online social gaming, the audience of people who is receptive to playing games on their computers is growing greatly, and game developers must take notice, Taylor claims.
"We go from 10 million and 20 million people to 200 million people," he says. "Where were those 180 million people? They were there all along, waiting patiently, so they could join the fun. Now we have no excuses, we have to recognize that."
Looking forward, the designer sees an environment in which average PC hardware reaches the point where system requirements become largely negligible, taking things closer to the pre-accelerator days: "I think five years from now, you won't even have to ask what kind of computer you have. You'll just ask, 'Do you have a PC?' We'll get right back to that place."