Archive for June 19th, 2006

Unsettling Trends

I wrote a while back about Microsoft’s abject stupidity regarding hardware requirements for Windows Vista. To be fair, the trend towards requiring bleeding-edge hardware is pretty widespread – Firefox on any OS won’t really run well with less than 1GB of RAM, for example – and for all the wrong reasons (it’s designed to be a memory hog).

The gaming world has long pushed the boundaries of PC hardware, but that has usually been to get the most out of a game – if you want (for example) anisotropic filtering, high-dynamic-range lighting effects, and antialiasing all together at once at 1600×1200 at 120Hz, you’re going to need some decent video hardware. It’s always been in the game developer’s best interests to ensure compatability with hardware that’s – at least – one generation removed from the current cutting edge.

Half Life 2 was, and still is, a great example – you need a fast computer, a good video card with a lot of memory, and a goodly amount of system RAM to get the most out of the game. Even today it puts most modern hardware thru it’s paces pretty well.

But HL2 was very much playable on a computer that was a year or two old. Sure, you might have to turn off the EAX sound effects, and play at 800×600 – or turn off various video enhancements – but it – and any other Source-engine games – were still very much playable at a reasonably frame rate.

Then there’s Bethesda Softworks’ much-anticipated, prematurely-released Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. It is, quite simply, unplayable on anything less than a bleeding-edge gaming computer. 2GHz AMD processor? Nope, not going to cut it. 8X AGP GeForce FX 5500? Nope, not going to cut it, even though they advertise the FX line as being supported hardware. 2GB PC3200 DDR? Not going to help. I mean, this is a computer that’s about two years old, and runs Half-Life 2 wonderfully at 1024×768 at 85Hz and about 50 FPS with reasonably awesome graphics… and – even with every setting possible in Oblivion set to the lowest, worst-quality setting, I get about 2 FPS – yes, two frames per second – at 640×480. Even by hacking the .ini file, I can’t get above 5 FPS outdoors.

5 frames per second might be usable on, say, a text-based game like Rogue or ADOM or Nethack, but in Oblivion, it’s a useless, bad-graphics nightmare that looks a bit like (I imagine) playing one of the early Bard’s Tale games after taking ‘shrooms.

Published in: 'D' for 'Dumb', Geekiness, General | on June 19th, 2006 | Comments Off on Unsettling Trends