It can be quite a crutch for many of us PC gamers, but wanting the latest and greatest hardware seems to be something that is intrinsically in our DNA.
Not content with mediocre performance or half-decade old graphics, we constantly feel the urge to seek out the new, pushing the boundaries of what our PCs can do, squeezing out those extra few frames per second. Whether it be customising your rig with a new water-cooling system, slotting in a few extra gigs of RAM, or going all-out and getting that SLI setup you always dreamed of, there are some games which have pushed hardware sales like no other. Check these chip-selling beasts out for size...
Where else would we begin? This is where 3D graphics truly began. The introduction of Quake brought with it the Quake engine and one of the first examples of a game utilising dedicated 3D hardware acceleration. id originally released Quake with software acceleration but patched it post-release with OpenGL support and kickstarted the graphics card revolution which has tumbled on to this day. If you wanted to play Quake you had to pick up one of the 3DFX Voodoo chipsets of the time. Voodoo cards were all the rage and had a high price point to go with it, tipping the scales at $300.
Launching in November 1996, the 3Dfx Voodoo1 was a 3D-only card that required a pass-through from an entirely seperate 2D card, which then connected to the display. The 3D graphics card race had begun. For now, at least, the Voodoo reigned supreme, raking in a staggering 80% of the market share for 3D accelerators. A tip of the hat to the guys at 3Dfx and id, for kickstarting 3D graphics.
If Quake laid the foundations for 3D graphics, Unreal was most definitely the cherry perched right on top. 3Dfx was still the all-conquering king of graphics at the time, and Unreal’s sumptuous graphics were very much the king’s feast.
The Unreal landed with hardware-accelerated rendering using the now-defunct Glide API; Glide API was specifically created for for 3Dfx GPUs, in particular the all powerful Voodoo 3. Games like Unreal and Quake 3 were the Voodoo 3's bread and butter, and combination of powerful graphics performance with the growing interest in online gaming helped push both the cards and the games.
The Unreal and its subsequent iterations has gone on to become one of the most successful engine series of all time, still powering a large proportion of games today.
With the Source engine Valve successfully created one of the most scaleable engine’s we have ever seen. Despite this, Valve released that tech demo that everyone felt impossible not to drool over. It was unlike anything else we’d seen at the time and, regardless of whether our systems were already capable of running the game or not, sent us out in droves to pick up some sparkling new graphics cards.
ATI’s partnership with Valve went into overdrive, the Radeon 9600 XT and 9800 XT became must buys; the much-vaunted DirectX 9 was getting a real chance to stretch its legs. The world became familiar with terms that look remarkably commonplace now; bump-mapping, specularity, reflective water, refractive water, bump-mapped displacement maps, volumetric effects… The list was endless. I didn’t know what it all did, but I knew that I wanted it. 2004 was an era where PC gaming was standing head and shoulders above consoles graphically; for all its sales statistics, no Playstation 2 game looked a patch on Half-Life 2.
A huge driver of memory sales, Battlefield 2 was the moment most stubborn PC gamers caved in and whacked that 2 gig of RAM into their rigs. Without the additional boost the game would have to access your HDD a lot, seriously impacting your gaming performance. The step up to higher resolution textures that were also large in scale hurt systems in a way that people really weren't used to at the time.
Those of us stuck with the then-standard half-gig or gig of RAM were experiencing serious frame rate drops during gameplay, to the point that the game would often become unplayable on the larger scale maps with 64 players running around. Sound familiar?
We talked about Crysis in our previous feature of the most demanding games of all time, and its place in this list is undeniable. Crysis, and in turn CryEngine2, was the moment that Crytek kicked console gaming graphics to the kerb. The next-gen consoles had arrived, and there was a fair amount of whoopin' and a hollerin' about what they were capable of, and then Crysis turned up. Chuck Norris once got into a fight with the CryEngine and lost; what it could do to PCs was unthinkable.
Where would this list be without Crysis. Come Christmas 2007 many a stocking was bulging with new GPUs, sticks of memory and everything in-between, as everyone desperately sought to play what was at the time the most beautiful looking game in the world. This game was capable of shredding whatever you threw at it and it’s one of those titles that surely had NVIDIA rubbing its hands together with glee.
The introduction of CPU technology with four cores that effectively quadrupled the processing power available, combined with the latest and greatest DX10 supporting graphics cards helped to push even the most powerful of beige beasts to the limits, creating new benchmarks for how good a good should look.
Looking into the future we are seeing yet another huge step up in system requirements that are going to have wallets begging for mercy, but such is the way with PC gaming. Watch Dogs in particular looks to be ushering in the new generation with some considerably ramped up system requirements, as everyone is forced to make the shift to 64-bit OS's and quad-core processors.
What other games had you forking out a fortune?
What's the most amount of upgrading you've done in preparation for a game release?
Let us know your guilty secrets below!