Graphics Hardware is Killing PC Games

By Shamus
on Feb 22, 2007
Filed under:
Video Games

“No you fools! You’ll destroy us all!”

That was my reaction to this story at ars technica (via) which talks about new “external” graphics cards. The idea is that users can buy lots of them and stack them high and wide and set up fancy cooling schemes that would not be practical within the confines of the average computer case. I can only conclude that this is some sort of sick scheme to eliminate PC gaming forever.

People made a big deal about the PS3 “sticker shock”.  You know, because the complete game system, including controllers and the blu-ray transmorg-matrix, cost $600.
People made a big deal about the PS3 “sticker shock”. You know, because the complete game system, including controllers and the blu-ray transmorg-matrix, cost $600.
Don’t get me wrong, I like getting fancy new hardware, as budget allows. This would be a nice development if this were something just for framerate junkies, but the way things work right now is that expensive new technology ends up appearing on the side of PC games under the words Minimum System Requirements about three weeks after it gets invented. ATI could come up with a graphics card that costs $10,000 and needs to be continually submersed in liquid nitrogen, and idiot developers would build their next-gen engine on top of it. Advances like this are things that hardcore gamers should be doing to get ahead, not things that average gamers should be doing just to keep up. Sadly, I’m sure that’s where this is going. The only thing more horrifying than seeing a PC game which requires a $500 graphics card is one that requires several of them.

And even if you do pour all that money into your PC, odds are the games will suck anyway, and run like a sick turtle. On an uphill grade. Against the wind. While, like, pulling some heavy stuff or something. You know: Slow.

You’re a coder, working on developing a game for the PC. NVIDIA hands you one of their latest cards, which can do some new rendering feature. Let’s call this new feature “bling-mapping”. The NVIDIA SDK comes with a demo showing off what bling-mapping looks like and how it works. It’s pretty sweet. We HAVE to put this in our upcoming game!

You know in eighteen months “everyone” will have one of these cards. So you add bling-mapping to your graphics engine. Sadly, this is not as easy as dropping it into place and walking away.

Sure, it makes polygons look nicer, but it makes them take longer to render. Is it worth it for little polygons in the distance? Where is the point at which the feature is just slowing things down and not adding to the game visually? A meter from the camera? Ten meters? A hundred? You need to figure this out. Oh, and this distance probably varies based on resolution, so at 800×600 the cutoff is N meters but at 1024×768 the cutoff is (maybe) N*2 meters. You’ll need to work out how this scale works so you know how far away a polygon needs to be before you can safely disable bling-mapping for it.

Looking at the complex calculations that are needed to “bling” a polygon, are there any approximations or shortcuts that will be (say) twice as fast but look nearly the same? Perhaps there is a shortcut that will make all bling-mapped objects render faster, but it causes very ugly distortions and artifacts up close. Perhaps there is another, different optimization that only works well at a distance, and perhaps these two optimizations can’t be combined. Figuring out how to use them properly, and when to use one and when to use the other, is no small task.

What about transparent polygons? Perhaps bling-mapping looks fantastic, but for textures with transparent areas (like grass, or leaves) the effect is ten times slower to render? Is there a way around this? Maybe you should disable bling for these parts of the scene? Or is there some way your artists could build these items that will mitigate this problem?

What happens when you go to put a decal on the polygon? (A decal is another texture slapped over the surface, usually things like adding scorch marks or blood splats to walls, or cracks and bullet holes to a plane of glass.) Maybe bling-mapping and decals don’t look very nice together, or they cause really heavy slowdowns.

The variables are endless. There are many aspects to the scene that need to be considered. I’ve barely scratched the surface, really. This work will take months.

All done? Got all those tradeoffs worked out? Think you can render the scene with bling-mapping enabled and not waste too many GPU cycles? Great. Now go do it all again. ATI has a card that does the same thing, only slightly differently. It doesn’t have the problems with transparent textures like NVIDIA, but it ends up being really, really ugly with polygons which have certain shadow effects applied. So you’ll need to find some way around that.

Done? Great. By the way, NVIDIA just came out with a new card. It speeds up bling-mapping by 50% in certain cases, but only if you do this other optimization over here which is incompatible with other optimizations that you’ve already put into place and calibrated.

Our game should be ready to ship by now. Aren’t you done yet? You were only working on one feature.

Obviously old cards won’t support bling-mapping. But since it is now an intergral part of our render path, we must write an entirely different path that does all of the rendering without the aid of bling-mapping. Ah, screw it. We’ll just drop support for old cards. We’re already four months past our intended release date.

This is what the “Advanced Video Options” dialog looks like to a casual user. Similar to the mysterious devices in Myst, the user has no way of knowing what the controls will do without experimenting with them. Some sliders will do nothing.  Some will make the game look like crap but do nothing for framerate.  Some will cripple performance for little or no visual benefit.  These controls are there because there are so many graphics cards and so many configurations and screen resolutions that nobody has time to wrap their head around it all.  They have to depend on the end user to come in and experiment with the controls until it works right.
This is what the “Advanced Video Options” dialog looks like to a casual user. Similar to the mysterious devices in Myst, the user has no way of knowing what the controls will do without experimenting with them. Some sliders will do nothing. Some will make the game look like crap but do nothing for framerate. Some will cripple performance for little or no visual benefit. These controls are there because there are so many graphics cards and so many configurations and screen resolutions that nobody has time to wrap their head around it all. They have to depend on the end user to come in and experiment with the controls until it works right.
Picture the early Playstation titles, and compare them to the Playstation titles that came out near the end of the console’s lifespan. The latter ran smoother and looked far better, even though they ran on the exact same hardware. This is what you get when coders can have a fixed configuration to deal with: They get good at using it.

What I outlined above isn’t really how things work. It would be great if a coder was free to work and optimize a particular feature for endless weeks or months, but this just isn’t practical. The coder has other work to do, and the rest of the team will need him to stop mucking with the engine so they can finish the rest of the game. The result of this is that by the time coders have come to grips with bling-mapping and have it working right, it will be phased out in favor of some other new feature that comes along. We’re re-inventing the wheel every eighteen months, and for the most part this means that all of our games are built on top of first-generation engines or even rough prototypes. These graphics cards are getting faster and faster, but I’m confident that much of the additional speed is being consumed by sub-optimal code. As just one example, check this thread, where dozens of users with dual-core machines, 2GB of RAM, and one or more high-end graphics cards, all gather to complain about slow framerates. Let’s put this in perspective: If these guys had saved the money they had put into their PC’s, they would have enough cash to buy a PS3 three times over. Or they could buy seven Wiis. And yet they are still having stability, framerate, or esoteric driver issues.

Yes, bling-mapping is great. It makes the player say “wow”. But then they get over it and play the game. They will notice that it is choppy, buggy, has annoying visual glitches, or requires them to muck around with driver and DirectX versions.

It used to be consoles were for the “serious gamers”. They were the ones that shelled out the big bucks for a special computer that just played games, while those of us of more humble means made do with using our PCs, which weren’t as specialized but which we already owned. Now we’ve reached the point where PC games are less numerous, more buggy, and require more expensive hardware. All of this and the games run slower, too.

In the games store, PC games have been relegated to a small shelf at the back, like the porno rack at the bookstore. Yeah, we hate to waste shelf space on that stuff, but there are always a few freaks that like to come in and buy that sort of thing. Of the meager assortment of games they do bother to carry, a handful are probably venerable oldies like Starcraft, Diablo II, and their respective expansion packs.

This is a sad state of affairs. Somewhere in this ridiculous pageant the whole point is lost: Games are supposed to be fun. The main chunk of the blame falls on PC game developers, who insist on riding the bleeding edge instead of hanging back technology-wise and focusing on making something worth playing. Wasn’t that the whole point?

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  1. Myxx says:

    Yeah, I stopped buying hardware to support my gaming habit long ago. The sad part is that I got left behind in games; but I’ve had more cash to throw at other things… I got to the point where games were running me $400 to play. $50 for the game and $350 for the new cool part I was required to buy.

    My next new game will probably cost me $2k, since I’ll have to just toss everything I have and start with a new computer altogether.

  2. Steve says:

    Shamus, you are singing my song (from a much better informed viewpont at that).

    For the first time in yonks I am finding my inner dialog turning more and more to selecting a gaming console with my next batch of equipment dollars rather than a new PC. My old PC runs the software I need to do my work and communicate with the rest of my family. It just won’t run today’s games (now two games and a video production suite lying on the shelf as useless due to over-optimistic statement of minimum requirements (video mixer), missing vital component in mimumum requirements list (U-Boat sim) and microscopic print letting me buy a game I didn’t have the minimum video card spec to run (Call of Cthulhu game).

    I had previously rejected the idea of a game console as too expensive, but the turnover for them seems a lot slower than the one the current PC bleeding edge mentality calls for.

    Imagine if back in the seventies the recording companies had produced LPs that would only play on a hand-built state-of-the-art stereo system.

    People decry the M$ “three-year-plan” cost of ownership but continue to tell them they are doing great by buying into this daft upgrade or die philosophy in the software they buy.

    It will all end in tears. Perfectly rendered tears that require a video card manufactured from pure unobtanium and a processor whose FSB clock rate can only be represented by imaginary numbers.

    Steve.

  3. Will says:

    I’m also looking at having to build a whole new rig, but there’s more to my problems than just not being on the bleeding edge of gaming. I’m probably going to have to do it soon. I don’t want anything to do with Vista, which means I need to grab a copy of XP before they’re all pulled.

    On top of that, I’m probably going to dig up a bunch of old parts and build a legacy machine for playing the older stuff. I’ve got a couple old Voodoo cards (maybe even a Monster 3D II) lying about and maybe a Pentium 233 MMX. Hopefully the old motherboard still has the RAM plugged in. If that got removed, I’m not sure I’ll ever find it.

  4. Matt says:

    unobtanium :) nice

    Fancy hardware is only a good thing if you can keep up with the requirements for the games you want, or if you have a large amount of money to burn

  5. Flambeaux says:

    What little gaming I do now is all on my PS2, with the exception of Rome:Total War and Civ4, which I can only play because I had to replace my system after a hard drive fragged itself.

    Not that I’ve had time to play R:TW or Civ4. Just that I could if I wanted to.

    I quit browsing game shelves because my dual-processor AMD desktop still couldn’t handle the “minimum requirements” of most of the recent games. None of them looked interesting or fun — especially if I had to shell out for a new gpu to get them to work.

  6. GreyDuck says:

    Amen and a half, man.

    I’m buying a new computer with my tax refund money, but NOT because I want to play the latest-greatest PC games. The stuff I’m playing runs just fine on a two-year-old AGP video card, thanks. (Yes, even and especially the brand-new Lego Star Wars II game I just purchased a few weeks ago.) Hell, has anything come out recently that’s worth the expensive eye candy cost outlay AND is enjoyably playable?

    Anything?

  7. jbrandt says:

    From now on I will demand Splorf Mapping on ALL my video hardware. Games suck without it!

  8. Robert says:

    I don’t mind the graphics creep so much for games like shooters or RPGs, where the added graphics really add to the game’s value. But it drives me nuts for strategy games like Civ 4. I have a reasonably modern PC with a decent graphics array and Civ 4 is a gigantic performance pig. That’s just absurd. I don’t need multi-bling polyphasic vortex remapping, or whatever the hell it’s trying to do that makes it take five seconds to start scrolling; I just want to click on Neapolis and tell it to build an axeman, for pete’s sake.

    I mean, it looks NICE to have the little triremes sailing around and moving their oars. it doesn’t suck. But it isn’t important to the game, and I’d much rather have the last generation’s graphics on the strategic engine, and have a game that hums along instead of wheezing up the hill.

    Maybe I should just go back to Nethack.

  9. Alan De Smet says:

    It’s a shame. PCs offer things that no mainstream console does. No vendor lock in means smaller companies can create games, creating a vibrant indie scene. For reasons I can’t comprehend, no console supports a mouse for first person shooters or real time strategy games. I love FPS, but the best I can say for any FPS on a console is that it’s so good that I was able to put up with using a gamepad to play.

  10. Doug Brown says:

    My solution has always been to trail about a year behind on both software and hardware. I get the new graphics card for 80 bucks and the game for 20. And I can always find someone who’s trying to eke another year out of an old computer and is grateful for a free graphics card upgrade. But I’m practically Scottish in my skinflintiness, so this route may not be for everyone.

    Anybody up for a game of CoD2?

  11. Doesnt this help you rather than hurt you? Rather than upgrade the entire PC, you just upgrade the external GPU. You an even play games on a notebook.. yoru external GPU is essentially a “console” that requires upgrading from time to time while your upgrade path for your actual PC is totally separate.

  12. Greg says:

    It’s unfortunate that game developers are always pushing the graphics, figuring that that is what brings in the big bucks. However, in defense of PC Gaming, how many mods do you see for consoles? You almost never see niche games for a console, because it won’t sell enough to make it worth-while. But then you have game mods for PC games, which gives a game longevity and replayability. Not to mention some mods just make a game completely worthwhile for a person.

  13. gedece says:

    I take a different aproach to this. I only upgrade my computer when I really have the money free to do it, and I don’t need it for anything else. That means that, for example, my computer has had 512 MB RAM for 2 years, because I still haven’t got the money for a pair of 1 GB chips (I know, I could buy 1, but sual channel works best when you buy similar chips form the same batch).

    How do I approach gaming then? I don’t let the industry tell me what’s new. Every game I didn’t play, (and there are hundreds of those) is new to me. That means that I never played Half Life 2, or Doom 3, or Oblivion, but I know some day I’ll be able to play them, and that day I will be able to play them with a lot of high detail options turned on, because my new hardware would be superior to the game’s requirements.

    Until that day, I’m perfectly happy playing other things, like Lineage II, fabulous independent things like Darwinia, Baldur’s Gate I and II, Icewind Dale, The longest Journey, Descent Freespace, Planescape’s Torment, A Tale in the Desert, Travian, The Temple of Elemental Evil, Vampire, Half Life, Grim Fandango, Knights of the Old Republic.

    And I still have loads of previous years wonders I never played that run perfect on my hardware, and some even require that I emulate a slower machine to work.

    Graphics is not all, playability and originality are the keys to any game.

  14. Bogan the Mighty says:

    Also to be fair to the developers they are just trying to do what they think people want. I mean if you read those wonderful gaming reviews you’ll see lots of nonsense to back up having the latest and greatest. If the word outdated appears anywhere in a review you can guarantee that game will never reach above say 7/10 because apparently someone out there sees that much in graphics. Of course graphics make things look pretty and I do like pretty things, but I’d rather play a game too which is horrible. College income of next to nothing mixed with wanting to play the newest games just cause I’ve already played the ones that have been around is a very bad combination.

  15. Cineris says:

    Maybe we should start calling the people who insist on having the latest graphics the “casual” gamers and start calling the people who want good gameplay and graphics that are nice but aren’t an impediment to that gameplay the “hardcore” gamers.

  16. Piaw Na says:

    The studies I read about 5 or 6 years ago showed that most software purchases were done within 6 months of a PC purchase. What that meant was that people with old PCs weren’t software buyers, so catering to them would be a waste of developer time and resources. So you’d write for the latest hardware and wait for the upgrade cycle to capture old timers.

    From a consumer point of view, the right thing to do is to buy 2 or 3 generation old games for your new PC.

  17. It seems odd that all the talk of new games seems to be driven by making them look prettier, more realistic, or such…rather than making them fun or more challenging or such.

  18. Dave says:

    Which is why we MUST keep NWN1 alive.. it is the only game needed.. please.. everyone.. play it.. build for it.. DM it… please.

  19. Thad says:

    The simpliest answer is to not play games. ;)

  20. Shamus says:

    “The simpliest answer is to not play games.”

    That’s crazy talk!

  21. mookers says:

    I spend all my free time reading Twenty Sided, and other blogs like it. Who has time for games??? :P

  22. Lebkin says:

    There is only one thing worse than having to upgrade your hardware to play a new game. It is when you upgrade and find that game sucks. I recently upgraded my video card in order to play Splinter Cell: Double Agent. I played the first three, and all are some of my favorite games. It required Directx Shader Model 3.0 (which I had to go research to even figure out what was). But Double Agent runs poorly and yet still manages to actually looks worse than the Splinter Cell games before it. This is despite the fact that Rainbow Six: Vegas, a game by the same company with the same requirements, runs great. Utterly and completely depressing.

  23. Maddyanne says:

    Neverwinter Nights 1, please.

    Though I can’t help looking forward to Dragon Age.

  24. Vegedus says:

    Am I wrong when I say that computer prizes have dropped significantly overe the years? I’ve have the idea that the prize of a “good” computer has a half-life of about 10 years.

  25. Patrick says:

    You know…. I remeber you and I having this discussion a few years ago. And I was the one pointing out the Law of diminishing returns on new hardware as it supplies newer/better/fancier graphics. To the average Joe Schmo, the state of the art graphics don’t look THAT much better than the previous versions, and the hardware needed costs twice as much. And hell, even hardcore gamers have to set aside some money for DSL bills, payinf mom and dad rent and the occasional bag of Fritos. So not every penny can always go towards upgrading you graphics/voice card every 6 months.

    But mostly, the assclowns are to full of themselves. Seriously. While programmers maybe nerds, the still are HUMAN nerds. Slaves to the same self-indulgent “looky at what I made” type behavior that we all are. While they might compete differently than most, they still compete. Even if it is just showing off thier relatively innocuous ability to make shadows and colored, ambient lighting more life-like.

    And when it’s all said and done, graphics aren’t what sells games. GAMEPLAY sells games. Morrowwind: The elder scrolls was hardly a graphicly stunning game. But the GAME itself rocked harder than Motley Crue (circa 1986) with a bag of coke and a half dozen strippers.

    The gamimg industry will learn what the american auto industry in the 70’s learned, in a way. Making bigger, faster, cooler looking cars is only good if they are BETTER than the previous versions. And making fancier, more stunning looking games will only sell and be recieved if they are actually a fun GAME, not a trite and self-indulgent example of “…LOOKY WHAT I CAN MAKE WITH C++!!!!….”

  26. gedece says:

    Patrick, you made me remember that I saw box of Morrowind, The Elder Scrolls for under U$s 15 here in Argentina, and that runs perfectly on my computer. Tomorrow I’m going to get it, I loved Daggerfall.

  27. “hOW aBOUT a nICE gAME oF tIC-tAC-tOE?”

    *grin*

    Sorry, I couldn’t resist! …I assume some of you curmudgeons are old enough to remember War Games?

  28. Heh, I read too slow at work. That was in reply to Thad. :)

  29. Ryan says:

    I too stay away from newer games. The only game I can recall purchasing which required me to update hardware was Hitman 4, where I had to buy a better video card.
    Lego Star Wars 2 and Fate (thanks for the post on that by the way, this is the best Diablo clone ever, and my new favorite game) would have run fine on that other card.
    I keep going back and playing older games anyway, I just dug up Total Annihilation to play around with again. I’ve got tons of mods taking up space on my hard drive from the last time I played it and I want to check more of them out. It was the game that introduced me to RTS games, and I still play it every year or so.

  30. Ryan says:

    And by the way, quote of the day here – “The only thing more horrifying than seeing a PC game which requires a $500 graphics card is one that requires several of them.”

  31. bkw says:

    Mmm. Wargames. Neat, but ultimately stupid.

    “The only winning move is not to play.”

    Which is fine, so long as both sides agree not to play. If one side is playing, guess what happens next?

    Oh well. The line felt good, and that’s what’s important, no?

  32. Dave says:

    Re: War Games

    The thing that really bugged me about that movie (and every other movie that involved SAC) was the portrayal of the military. Warmongers, every one of them, you betcha.

    Except Strategic Air Command figured out Joshua’s point (and more importantly, bkw’s caveat) before he was even a twinkle in Falkenberg’s eye. SAC had “Peace is our Profession” as a motto for a reason, you moronic Hollywood hippies.

    Sorry, I think I just pushed my own button… :)

  33. Zerotime says:

    Lebkin: Agreed – I never bothered playing through Double Agent again to get the other endings because of the terrible load times.

    I can’t wait to spend three grand upgrading my PC for BioShock and Stalker just so they can run really, really badly.

  34. Shamus says:

    Zerotime: This is exactly what’s bugging me. I know I won’t be able to run Bioshock, and it will cost me a fortune to upgrade and still run like crap.

    Or, for the same money I could buy a 360 and play the game with a joystick. (Nofreakinway)

  35. Patrick says:

    And, to rant yet again, you touched on very important subject. You pretty much explained why PC games are becoming extinct, with the exception of wildly annoying time-sink MMO’s.

    “….Picture the early Playstation titles, and compare them to the Playstation titles that came out near the end of the console’s lifespan. The latter ran smoother and looked far better, even though they ran on the exact same hardware. This is what you get when coders can have a fixed configuration to deal with: They get good at using it….”

    Not to re-hash an old theme, but again this is excatly why foreign auto makers are able to get 300 HP from a 2.4 liter enigine, and american auto makers could barley get 200 from the same displacement. Not to rag on american automakers too much but the point is what matters. Point is, PC game houses still seem to want to either switch to makin MMO’s entirely rather than compete with consoles, or make ridiculously hard to run titles like Half-Life. And even then, at least console games don’t require you to let them hijack your system with Steam ( see here http://www.shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/?p=95 )

    It really seems they want their buisness to go away now that I think of it…….

  36. Myxx says:

    I set my Splorf Mapping to max today and, well, that was quite a mess to clean up. I need to ease up on the splorfing, I guess.

  37. Yunt says:

    I spent $5400 on an Alienware machine. At the time, I was flush with life insurance money for my recently deceased mother and splurged on the machine. For reasons unrelated to this thread, I will never buy another pre-built machine again, I can and will build it myself.

    It is not just about a year and a half old and it chugs considerably when I don’t have Neverwinter 2 tweaked perfectly. I want to play Spore on this machine but by the time it comes out, I may need another $5400 upgrade which effectively means I’ll never play that one.

    The consoles will win because I only have to get a new one every several years to keep up, the PC will nickel and dime me constantly for the entire life of the machine.

    Compound the hardware issues with Vista and my PC gaming future is bleak. When it comes time that my pre-installed XP is too creaky to use, I’ll play whatever runs on Cedega or even natively on Linux because I’ll never touch Vista if I can help it.

  38. Hal says:

    I realize the thought of an external video card array is frightening, but truth is we’re half-way there already.

    Two years ago when my PC was brand new, the GeForce7800 was THE top of the line card. It was the fastest thing that anyone was making at the time. Yet that was not enough for some people. No no, we can make it faster; we have the technology. Some people were so eager for a 5% boost in speed that they bought TWO of the $1500 cards so they could be run in tandem.

    In fact, that’s how most of the video cards are being made now. Rather than selling you one card, they just sell you a prepackaged array card that takes up two slots anyhow. Smoking fast, yes, but I hope you didn’t need any other peripherals in your expansion slots.

    I’ve enjoyed some of the latest games to be made. Oblivion is a fantastic game and has entertained me greatly over the last year. Still, when I think about the upcoming shift to DirectX10 and the upgrade that will necessitate . . . I shudder for what such a change would do to my bank account and whether my puny TA pittance will ever afford it.

  39. Pixy Misa says:

    The most engrossing game I’ve played in the past couple of years Final Fantasy X. (I didn’t get to it until fairly late.) Which is a Playstation 2 title. Today, I picked up FF XII, which is also a PS2 title.

    I do have a 360, and I’ve spent enough time on it to justify the purchase, but I’ve spent far more hours on the PS2.

  40. Pixy Misa says:

    P.S. Just noticed the link at the bottom of that page. Thanks. :)

  41. Pixy Misa says:

    My desktop machine is still the one I built in 2004, though I upgraded the video card when The Sims 2 came out, because the original went flaky on me. P4 2.6, 2GB ram, GeForce 6600GT. I bought the 360 to play Oblivion, because the recommended graphics card would have cost me as much as the 360. (It’s an AGP motherboard, so high-end cards are less available and more expensive than PCIe, but I can’t afford to replace the whole thing right now.)

  42. Daedalist says:

    Totally agreed. I gave up my PC gaming habit, and returned to my mac roots. All electronic gaming I now do is on a console, which I don’t have to bother upgrading. And next-gen machines are cheaper that way :)

  43. 808 says:

    i realized how ridiculous things got when i bought a $200 video card so i could play KOTOR II. then i went, “wait, i just spent $250 to play this game”…….. yep. no more of that for me. xbox 360 is the way to go for now!

  44. Rask says:

    I can’t speak for Microsoft, but I do know they’re aware of this problem, which is why they’ve made DirectX 10 a much firmer platform. So, there won’t be “DirectX 10 plus NVidia extensions” and the like.

    All DirectX 10 cards will support the same features and meet the same requirements. They’ll just mainly differ on how well they perform.

  45. gedece says:

    Cedega and Cinder, both from Transgaming Inc. show that perhaps one directx after the other isn’t the way to go. OpenGl and SDL also show that there isn’t only one player in town, so havint to purchase a new card for DirectX 10 is completely out of the question for now, at least for me.

  46. Steve says:

    I agree that buying off the bleeding edge makes financial sense at the time, but planning for an upgrade in four of five years to move your by-then crappy machine back into the pack isn’t realistic and as far as I know has never worked from The Coming Of The Pentium onwards.

    The reason? Every two years some shmuck comes up with an entirely different footprint for the graphics card and/or the CPU so that the bloody sockets aren’t compatable. Nothing short of a complete motherboard replacement (and Azathoth alone knows whether that will make XP think it is a pirate and refuse to properly install and register itself). I would gladly buy an upmarket video card for my machine in order to get the three things I mentioned working but my motherboard only has an AGP 1 slot and no-one I’ve been able to find makes cards for this slot any more.

    As for building your own, I salute the industrious people who do much as I used to admire the loonies that built their own stereos in the 70s (I mean built rather than shopped for components – soldering irons and carpentry required). Admirable skill and worthwhile if you enjoy it for its own sake but hardly economic. The last time I priced out the components alone I ended up spending between 30-50% more for the machine than if I went to Dell and asked them to do it (not suggesting Dell is the way to go, just pointing out the cost incentive not to build). I have the skills, and would like to have a go, but I can’t justify spending money for the sake of it. I’ve got a wife, house, car and teenager to run. :o)

    Steve.

  47. Deoxy says:

    Steve,

    If you’re spending more for parts, you’re not shopping in the right places…

    If you do it right, you should be able to build that Dell for 30-50% of the price, not 30-50% MORE.

  48. Steve says:

    [Deoxy] Ah, but as someone in my office (a PC self-builder sits next to me as it happens) just remarked, “what happens when those rebates aren’t honoured?”

    His point, and mine: That to realise a significant cost reduction over buying off-the-shelf during a sale (and there’s always a sale of some sort) you have to leverage those special offers and they sometimes aren’t that special.

    Also, there is a real cash value on my time (as there probably is on yours). How much of it are you willing to spend figuring out stupid BIOS incompatabilities and diagnosing daughterboard problems? Not that that would stop me from having a go but it has to be figured in. My time isn’t my own even when I punch out (wife, house, car and teenager ibid.) :o)

    As anyone who has taken a car to a mechanic, taken guitar lessons or gotten quotes on a new roof can tell you, the labour costs are the highest part of any undertaking. If you can’t realise an obvious saving by foregoing it then you are on a hiding to nowhere from a cost standpoint. (Yes I know these things are built by starving children in indonesia who are paid in small stones and dirt – that’s rather the point). I can buy a Dulcimer in kit form and pay 66% of what a fully finished instrument would cost. If I wanted to hand carve the neck I could knock another 33% off that cost. The rest of the cost is in the (now) rare woods needed to build it.

    Those stereo builders of the 70s were doing it to get a top of the line system for the cost of an entry level one and some days of hard work. The same situation simply doesn’t exsist in the PC world since the hard parts are still done at a manufacturing plant even if you DIY your system. To put it another way: you’re not so much building a system as assembling one. That isn’t to denigrate the skill involved, just to illustrate part of why it is still so expensive to go that route. The expensive part of making a computer is in the assembling of the boards and other components required, and you still have to pay for that in a home-brewed PC.

    I stand by my point: that constructing your own PC is a satisfying hobby in and of itself and provides a deserved sense of self-congratulation when you’ve done it, but it isn’t a particularly economic way to obtain a new machine.

    Steve.

  49. Matt says:

    My time is cheap so its self-build FTW :D

  50. gedece says:

    My last two systems are self built, not because I wanted a cheaper computer, only because I wanted a more reliable computer. I hand Picked everything, and I didn’t aim for edge cutting performance. I wanted powerfull technology, but no so powerfull that it burnt itself, I aimed for lower electricity comsuption, which in turn makes the system disipate less heat. Less heat means less cooling, which means less noise. These things together provided me a 24/7 system, which is online 364 days and 22 hours a year.

  51. gedece says:

    Please read this interview to one of the creators of, among other things, Darwinia. Mark Morris from introversion explains why photo realism in games doens’t matter.

    http://www.next-gen.biz/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=4791&Itemid=2

  52. Anachronda says:

    Speaking of bling-mapping, the public stress test for Lord of the Rings Online is going on this weekend, so I installed it to take a look.

    Right now I’m trying to decide whether to turn on a UI checkbox to “Enable Combat Particle Response Indicators”. The helpful tooltip tells me that “If checked, you will enable combat particle response indicators.” Whatever THAT means!

    Graphic options include such helpful things as “Blob Shadows”, “Distant Imposters”, and “Specular Lighting”. None of which mean anything to me.

  53. Anachronda says:

    Woot! A loading screen whenever you enter or exit a building in town! Fun!

  54. PanDeSal says:

    I’d like to see a new release game that won’t run on any video card running more than 128mb. Which, on installation, tell the user: “YOU HAVE SPENT TOO MUCH MONEY ON YOUR COMPUTER, GET IT DOWNGRADED.”

    The main selling point nowadays on games is bling. Pretty, artificial, and soulless. Will it eventually turn into vid-card envy instead of penis?

  55. Tola says:

    Given that computer fairs hre in Brritain are now selling 256MB graphics cards for 50+ pounds…

  56. Tola says:

    Right now I’m trying to decide whether to turn on a UI checkbox to “Enable Combat Particle Response Indicators”. The helpful tooltip tells me that “If checked, you will enable combat particle response indicators.” Whatever THAT means!

    …When you get into combat, you glow or something? That’s what it sounds like from HERE, at least. A visual cue or something…

  57. George says:

    The part that all ways bugs me about this is. If they designed for consoles to start with then used what that as the base line to port to PCs they should come across even.

    But is some respects I am glad that it is to some extent how it is it is what drives the industry forward more than anything.

    What they need to do is build better engines that are more modular to plug in and out of.

    I found one of my biggest problems is building to many rappers to hide the code. Keeping it simpler and going back to more of a C style vs C++ makes changes about a million times faster.

  58. GeneralBob says:

    This is nothing…

    Just wait, in 10 years you’ll be shelling out $1000 for a four slot PCI-π monster powered by a miniature nuclear reactor that requires an 8 man squad for “basic” instillation.

    And it will still struggle to get 25 FPS.

  59. THese video cards go out of style so fast, and they are really expensive, but all in all I still have to say pc gaming is cheaper than the other options.

  60. Shane says:

    Unfortunately this doesn’t generally work so well. Next-gen consoles are incredibly powerful. The PS3 has a cell processor, for chrissakes. It’s (quite literally) a freaking supercomputer! There are many games that go through this process, but it’s quite costly. The porting process is essentially just a “dumbing down” of the graphics elements and re-assignment of the controls.

    However, I would disagree with the overall statement that PC gaming is cost prohibitive and shallow. The only things in my rig that have changed over the course of 4 years is one RAM upgrade, and one graphics card upgrade, for a total of a little over $200. I went a little higher end on the original build, but nothing top of the line. Hardware loses a significant amount of value immediately when something to replace it is developed, even though the replacement is almost always a marginal improvement over it’s predecessor. Therefore, if you hang back, just behind the curve, you can usually upgrade pretty cheaply. And every piece of PC hardware is crippled from the factory, so if you’re willing to over-clock you can access some of the overhead you’d be paying a lot more for in a more expensive item.

    As far as the quality of games themselves, I would say there is most definitely a lot more to bitch about nowadays, but this current system of huge budget releases with tons of patches is not sustainable. Companies that spend a lot of time on their games, like Valve, are setting the new standards for how games should be made and marketed. Indie games are becoming increasingly popular, and mainstream games are not selling enough copies to justify their budgets. They would blame it on pirates, of course, but that’s just because they don’t want to face the fact that their games suck ass.

    Which is not to say they no longer take any risks. Mirrors Edge was a pretty risky game (poorly executed though), so was Portal. Portal is still one of the best games I’ve played in several years.

  61. Luther says:

    Yeah, and I really hate how I can’t play playstation 3 games on my NES – how dare they require more advanced hardware?!

    • Shamus says:

      Luther: That’s a strawman argument. I never said graphics should NEVER advance. I specifically didn’t say that. AND you’re talking consoles while I was talking PC’s.

      So it’s an apples-to-oranges strawman argument.

  62. Isaac says:

    This is amusing to me. While I can barely express my frustration with PC game developers, who consistently place eye-candy before solid, complex, and engaging gaming, I don’t find myself racing to keep up with the cutting-edge graphics.
    My Dell’s over 3 years old, and I’ve only spent ~$100 upgrading the graphic’s card and memory. It runs every game I’ve thrown at it on the highest graphics settings, like a charm. It laughs at CIV 4, Oblivion, SINS, and it even handles Crysis. It wasn’t an expensive computer to begin with (<$800), and considering that I got it mostly for data management, writing, and photo-editing, the gaming abilities were just an added bonus. I’ve taken good care of it, kept it off the internet, and it’s let me keep up with the most challenging games I can find.
    Where gamers seem to be falling into trouble is a combination of demanding the highest possible graphics options all the time or only getting the bare minimum to play some particular game. Then, in 3 months, they feel like they have to get a better *whatever-ma-hoosit*, when they could have gone for, say, 3 years if they’d just gotten moderately high-end stuff from the beginning.
    My biggest complaint isn’t the “need” to constantly upgrade, it’s the dip that I’ve sensed in the quality of gameplay among newer games. Sure, Oblivion’s graphics and physics are great, but it’s SO dumbed down from Morrowind. Look at what they did to SimCity with “Societies” (akh, please let Cities XL make up for it). Two of my favorite games are Heroes III and STARS! The latter, in particular, is almost a joke as far as graphics are concerned, but they more than make up for it with outstanding, deep, customizable, challenging, and complex game-play. SimCity 4 is the most recent game I’ve seen that maintains that high level of complexity and nuance that I crave.

  63. Mr. Blackwell says:

    Thank you, Mr. Young, for posting this. I could not agree more.
    I tried playing all sorts of games in past times; for my current Vista laptop, Bioshock, Mirror’s Edge, Quantum of Solace, lots of games. I’m sure many of us would say that these are at least decent/phenomenal games. But my gaming budget other than games themselves is $0: I’m not going to buy another graphics card just because one piece of round plastic with a hole in the middle is telling me to do so. Oh no, I return the goddarned thing. And what a pity that is – even good games will refuse to play on my relatively graphically low-end laptop, and this is what happens. No profit for them, no satisfaction for me.
    Although, I am having lots of fun with FIFA 2009 and Sims 3 (which actually has shorter loading times than Sims 2!). They are enjoyable, but I like the fact that they were made to support lower-end machines better (especially after all that complaining about Sims 2).

    And Isaac, I tried SimCity Societies as well. FPS became so slow I couldn’t rate the gameplay at all. Way to go, Maxis, what happened?

  64. free2game says:

    You know about the hardware thing, you know how much I paid for a 9700 pro in 2004 $400? a 6800 in 2005? $450. You know how much I paid for what was at the time the near highest performing card at the time in 2007, the 8800 GT? $250. It’s not more expensive, it just isn’t. It’s not harder to upgrade these things either, I mean we have things today that we take for granted like jumper free motherboards and all of this. When you develop on a console you’re putting a huge strain on the art and level design department, they have to become optimizers themselves because coders complain so much. Well guess what, coders don’t make up the largest part of the development team. It’s just the most vocal and as they’ve gotten their way you’ve seen games take more design steps back, when it comes to the FPS genre nothing have evolved in the past maybe 2-3 years because of it.

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