Stolen Pixels #190: Max Blame, Part 1

By Shamus Posted Friday Apr 30, 2010

Filed under: Column 41 comments

This comic ties in with the “Games as Art” debate that’s been simmering for the last couple of weeks. My weekly column will cover this as well. So those of you who have been waiting for my take on it will finally get your wish. I had to install Max Payne to make the comic, so that was pretty cool. I maintain that while the in-game cutscene scripting might look a little stiff today, the game is still obviously a product of the golden age of PC gaming. While the tools they had at the time were crude and their budgets were far lower than what we have today, I think they used their resources better.

I will say that there is something wrong with Max Payne under the hood. The load times should not be this long on a nine year old game. Loading a level takes a full minute? That’s… harsh. Somehow, I don’t think the load times have gotten better with age. I’d love to know how that’s possible.


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41 thoughts on “Stolen Pixels #190: Max Blame, Part 1

  1. It never gets better with time.

  2. Nostromo says:

    It’s worth waiting that minute. As some French guy once said, the best moment in love is when you climb the stairs.

    1. GoodApprentice says:

      That’s an awesome quote! So true.

  3. Wolverine says:

    It’s the same thing with Mafia – even today’s high-end computers cannot run it smoothly. Which is a shame…

    1. Vipermagi says:

      ..Really? I don’t recall having trouble running Mafia with everything maxed out. My computer is fairly strong, but nothing insane; an HD5870, a 3.2Ghz dualcore, with 4gb RAM at 1333Mhz.

  4. Josh R says:

    I never noticed the long loading times for max payne…

    Though I distinctly remember a Crash bandicoot game I had loading forever, and then the first game I had that (and I think this is how it works) read directly off the disk as you played was GTA:VC.

    In CB you could take the disk out after loading a level and the rest of the level would play, though this wasn’t worth the five minute loading screen you had to sit through (AFAIK it was the second last platformer CB game released, and was on ps2) When I tried taking the disk for VC out it just stopped.

    1. eri says:

      Not 100% sure, but I think that’s related to the radio. Back in the day, hard drive space was at a premium, so you could choose to install the music or have it play from the CD instead if you needed the space. These days you can get a no-CD crack just fine and the game runs great, no extra data required.

      1. Josh R says:

        the disks things were both on PS2. I don’t think i’ve ever bought a hard copy of a game since. Except Sonic Heroes, but only because that game looked fun. Haven’t really tried it out since I went mad on steam and started buying everything.

  5. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Loading times dont depend just on the machine,but on the game as well.If it has sloppy programing,it will take longer to load.Best example I can think of at the moment is heroes of might and magic 5:leave it on for couple of hours,and suddenly your “quick” load will last about half a minute or more.

    1. Abnaxis says:

      Yeah, but they should get better with a faster machine, and Shamus’s machine is probably orders of magnitude better than your typical computer when Payne was new. So, unless load times took half an hour before, something is goofy.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        They should,but for some reason they dont.Some games have a threshold that they cannot exceed.Why was such a limit there in the first place is unknown to me.Sure,you dont want to have your game consume all your resources,but when it is limited to just 0.1% of them its ridiculous.

        1. Dev Null says:

          I’m not sure that the argmunet that they should load faster on a newer machine necessarily follows. If the loading time is largely the game stuffing all those textures and wireframes etc. into memory, then the fact that your desktop now has 8 times the memory of an older machine is at best irrelevant – what matters is the _speed_ of the memory. While that has increased over the years too, it hasn’t increased by nearly as much. And if they wrote the engine to take advantage of all the memory available – which you’d kind of hope that they did – then the fact that your current rig has (picking some numbers out of thin air) eight times as much memory that runs twice as fast should mean the loads would take roughly 4 times as long…

          (Now, in the grand old tradition of the internet, would someone please pedanticly pick apart my imaginary numbers while missing the point? Thanks; I get nervous if that doesn’t happen.)

          1. scragar says:

            These are the min requirements…

            # 450 MHz CPU,
            # 96 MB RAM,
            # 16 MB video card RAM,

            I’m going to guess that it’s much more than 8 times the ram for any modern machine, 1GB of ram is considered low now by most standards.

            1. Heron says:

              Edit: never mind. I’m dumb.

            2. Jabor says:

              On the other hand, the loading speed is probably capped by how fast it can get the data off your hard drive and into memory. I’m pretty sure most games of that era manually handled that sort of stuff instead of telling the OS “I want all this” and letting it handle the memory management.

              And honestly, if you were coding a game back then, would you waste programmer time on making it run much faster on a ludicrous amount of memory? How would you test that?

            3. Blake says:

              The CPU will help the game while it’s running and help decompress data files but the majority of the load time will be accessing data off the hard drive and CD, neither of which have really increased in speed over the years.
              If you loaded an ISO of the CD onto an SSD and had it installed on a different SSD I’d imagine you’d get the sort of load time reduction you’d hope for.

        2. eri says:

          This is very true. Morrowind actually loads faster if you leave the framerate uncapped (since it can hit 400+ fps on a load screen easily), but it can introduce problems while playing, so it’s best to cap it at 60 and/or enable v-sync.

  6. Abnaxis says:

    I have seen a bunch of games like this, where I dig them out of my vault and they still take a while to go through loading screens. I have a theory: I think older programs had the bulk of the loading code is lumped into a single thread. For the last few years, processors haven’t been getting faster, they have been getting more cores, which has a negligible effect on loading times if you’re only utilizing a single thread. Of course, games tday will suck up all the resources they can get, and you see a difference.

    I dunno, someone will probably say this is dumb, but I would be interested in hearing why.

    1. Bryan says:

      Disks are still really really slow.

      Your CPU, while it does only use one core for the loading, is still *way*, *way* faster than it was in the golden age of PC gaming. But your hard drive is not; its interface’s speed might be faster, but it’s still rotating media, and it still has to move a physical head around to do seeks, and it still only rotates at a given speed, so the minimum latency and maximum data bandwidth are pretty much still the same as in the late 90s.

      And the loading code is running up against these latency and data bandwith limits *much* more often than it’s running up against CPU speed limits. (Or at least, it should be. If all it’s doing is moving data from disk into RAM. Obviously if it has to translate formats or do decryption or something else stupid, then part of the time taken will depend more on the CPU’s single-core speed, but I bet the effect of that is dwarfed by the still-slow disk.)


  7. Galad says:

    You have pleased greatly my inner MP fanboy with this comic, Shamus :) Ohh oh, it’s only part 1 too :D It’s very fitting that you take on the “games as art” debate with an MP comic of all things, since Max Payne was very much art and a work of passion. As for its loading times, even if a minute is a lot, it’s still bearable. I used to run it on a 700 MhZ CPU and it took around 2 and a half mins, iirc, which is the limit of bearable. But it was still a pretty small gripe .

  8. Joe Cool says:

    Mmm… Max Payne.

    Thanks, Shamus. Now I wanna play them again.

  9. neothoron says:

    “Garish makeup on an aging whore.”

    Loved that sentence.

  10. Axle says:

    I just realised I have MP right on the shelf above me.
    But for some reason I’m afraid to ruin my good memories of by playing again…. My good memories of tell me that MP featured a great story, great presentation of said great story and it also revolutionized the industry with its bullet time.

    But speaking about long loading times, my worst experience was with King’s quest 8. It had all areas tightly compacted on the CD and every time you move from one area to the other (and you have to do this many times. The package even said it was a “feature”), you Will have to Wait for the game to load the compacted file from your X2 CD drive and unpack it to your hard-drive. A process that took no less than 15 minutes on my computer… And to top it all, the area you just left was deleted from the local disk… And as I mentioned you have to move from area to area all the time… some time just to get a certain item you needed to solve a puzzle in the other area… Well.. You get picture…

  11. Gnagn says:

    Interesting coincidence, for the next 2.5 hours you can get Max Payne and Max Payne 2 together for $3.74 on Steam. Just sayin’.

    1. Nick Bell says:

      Why did you have to tell me? My weak will was unable to resist such an awesome Steam deal.

  12. Telas says:

    The best thing (some say “only good thing”) about Dungeon Siege was the lack of loading times. I don’t know why more games don’t do it, but you could literally play the entire game without a loading screen. And then run back through the entire game to the beginning.

    Of course, it was a shallow game of grinding and hacking, but the lack of load times or transition screens was cool.

    1. Tizzy says:

      That was the sad thing about Dungeon Siege: a lot of thinking outside the box, real innovation, but somehow totally missed what had made Diablo so compelling.

  13. Atarlost says:

    I think you could make a better case for games being the only remaining viable field of art. This is ultimately because the cost of production can be effectively zero. You don’t have to buy paint or canvas or marble or a film camera to make a game and this lack of any barrier to entry makes it impossible for commercial producers to force independents out of the field. You can make a game using no tools that aren’t available for free except a computer you already need for other purposes.

    Most film is mass market pablum. Critically acclaimed film is usually pure propaganda. Music can be both at the same time. Literature is drowning in crap to the point that someone can become a best selling author without even bothering to work out the phases of the moon in a book where a werewolf is a major character.

    Dwarf Fortress is an engaging exploration of the inhumanity and sadism that lurk beneath the veneer of civilization. And the evils of the idle nobility and cats.

    1. Dev Null says:

      Dwarf Fortress is an engaging exploration of the inhumanity and sadism that lurk beneath the veneer of civilization.

      It actually took me a second to think that you might possibly have been referring to the sadism of your in-game character, as opposed to the obvious sadism of the developers…

    2. Chuck says:


      First, how is paint a tool but a computer isn’t?

      Also, the rest of your position is beyond silly.

      1. Atarlost says:

        Paint isn’t a tool. Paint is a raw material. A better analogy would be the paint brushes and easel.

        Which do you have sitting in front of you, a computer or a set of high quality paintbrushes and an easel?

        The computer is a general purpose tool most westerners with the leisure to make art already have.

  14. Drexer says:

    But… but… Shamus, you use WordPress on the blog, you could just schedule this post for an hour or two after. I’m being picky anyways.

    I can see Max’s and Erbert’s problem though, they only look. For them, the need to try something to experience it goes far beyond their definition of art. Art is meant only to be seen while you take no active part in it… Huh, that kinda makes the coach blob stereotype very artsy…

    1. I think the problem Ebert and others have is that they can’t experience it.

      More to the point, they can’t experience it the way a veteran gamer experiences it. For me, Half-life is a deeply immersive experience. I can perceive it as art because I know about wasd and mouselook. Someone without those skills bumbles through, struggles against the controls, never gets immersed, and never sees the art.

    2. Athan says:

      Except my experience of art is that you need to ‘try’ a lot of it so as to have knowledge about art in general to have any chance of fully appreciating any modern art.

      Maybe I’ve been too influenced by sitting through a seminar by some art geek who’s done TV shows and having much of it go *whoosh* over my head because you really do need to know the history of art from at least the 16th century onwards to ‘get’ all the nods to prior art in more modern art.

    3. Blackbird71 says:

      “Art is meant only to be seen while you take no active part in it”

      This was the point in Ebert’s argument I have trouble with. I would ask in response to this idea whether a piece of cinema is any less a work of art when viewed from the perspective of the actor, director, or writer? Is a painting only art to the patron, and not to the painter, just becase he had a hand in its creation? Of course not.

      As I see it, this is the situation with (some) games: as you play, you take on a small role as an actor/co-author of sorts, as your actions can influence the path and outcome of the experience. The fact that you have some degree of control over the outcome in no way negates the game’s existence a creative work of art, and to claim that it does is simply a logical fallacy.

  15. Zaghadka says:

    We could always hand Ebert a copy of Infocom’s “Trinity,” or perhaps Black Isle’s “Planescape: Torment?”


  16. Yar Kramer says:

    Here’s an example of games-as-art.

    40 coffins stacked in a hallway, out of a total of 80. And none of this was planned or scripted by the developer. Dwarf Fortress is pretty much the exact opposite of what I personally like in games, but damn if I can’t admire it from afar.

  17. JohnnyB says:

    Bobby Fischer, Michael Jordan and Dick Butkus never said they thought their games were an art form.

    I’m pretty sure that most gamers aren’t concerned about this issue, but I would certainly argue that the creation of the games chess, basketball and football was an artistic act. Each game played adds to the art. Indeed, if we are to believe that the purpose of art is to hold a mirror up to life, all of these games (both the individual games and the structure of a season) are used to reflect issues of morality, ethics, relational behavior and more. I tend to hold with a expansive view of what constitutes art, but I think I agree that we have not yet seen a game have the artistic impact of, say, Beethoven’s Ninth, or Homer’s Illiad. I would go further, and say that cinema may not yet have achieved those heights either, although I do so love Casablanca.

  18. Jon Ericson says:

    I think I can see Ebert’s point of view: video games started out as games and have diverged away from that to become more like movies. As movies, they are not really capable of matching the best cinema has to offer since they are burdened by their game elements. If you pull out the game elements, it’s not really a game anymore.

    As games… well games can’t be art since they are identical to activities such as chess and basketball.

    Gamers have been approaching this argument all wrong. Don’t point to cinematic cut scenes or well written stories, which are important, but not the essence of art in games. Rather, we need to argue that games themselves produce art. Chris Farrell, who writes about board games, makes this suggestion:

    To be grossly general, to the extent that we’re willing to call games art, they are the art of decisions. Music generates feelings and emotions through sound. Literature is the art of words. Painting is visual art. Games create their impressions, feelings, and emotions through the decisions they ask you to make. Every complaint people make about games ultimately boils down to a problem with the decision-making (i.e., too much luck = my decisions don’t make enough of a difference; too much downtime = I make decisions too infrequently; brain-burner = the decisions are too hard; the theme is a paste-up = the decisions I make don’t seem authentic; and so on).

    Now it might be that chess isn’t art, but if you play through some of Bobby Fischer’s games and understand what’s going on, you’ll see true artistry. Watching a couple of guys playing chess misses the point unless you are paying attention to the pieces and know the rules. Even if Ebert actually plays Braid, or whatever game someone suggests, he’s unlikely to see art in the gameplay, because he isn’t going to be producing it. And watching someone else doesn’t help unless he knows why doing one thing instead of another is a brilliant choice. In a very real sense games will never be art for Ebert and not because he’s an out of touch curmudgeon. Games will probably never be art for anyone who doesn’t already have the passion to play them.

    And that’s why players are so adamant that games are art: they are passionate. If you see beauty, you want to point it out. But people like Roger Ebert are essentially blind to that beauty and there’s no corrective surgery for that condition.

    1. GuiguiBob says:

      Excellent point about chess, I don’t know much about chess to not see it but I’ve played Go a bit enough to see it in the games analysis. Some of the words used in Go to evaluate the moves you make are the same one would use to evaluate a piece of art.

  19. SatansBestBuddy says:

    Honest question; will you make this a series?

    Pretty please?

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