Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Hold On While I Get My Coffee

There are certain stereotypes surrounding gamers that everyone knows, such as  the 40 year old who lives in his parents' basement or the guy with no self esteem (or social skills) who has never talked to a girl ever since puberty hit.  A stereotype peculiar to video gamers is that they spend all their money buying the latest upgrades for their computers and/or console systems.  Don't bother hitting a video gamer up for beer money, he just spent it on a new video card.

Well, if that gamer is out there, he must be made of money, because I'm surely not.

I'm still playing MMOs on the family computer, which five years ago was a middle-of-the-road Core Duo 32-bit machine running Vista.  Today, even with only a few upgrades, it's still basically that same Core Duo 32-bit machine running Vista.  I haven't even bothered to upgrade it to Win 7 because the machine is in such high demand from the entire family that I can't seem to schedule any downtime.*

Life on a machine that barely meets the minimum specs to play a game is, well, interesting.

It's a good thing I cut my teeth on gaming back in the 70's and 80's, because I'm used to long loading periods.  If you've ever loaded a saved game from cassette tape to your Commodore or TI-994/A, you know what I mean:  You start the process, hear the good old screeching of the computer data, and go get something to drink.  By the time you get back with a glass of Coke**, maybe you were lucky enough for the load to go well so you get back to playing Tunnels of Doom.  Otherwise, you had to rewind the cassette and start over.

Those old days have returned in the form of MMO loading screens.

There have been times where I actually hear the distinct sound WoW makes when a guildie logs in while I'm still in loading mode.  I've lost track of the number of times I've had someone say "Hi, Red!" in guild chat about a half a minute before I actually get to see it.  Sometimes I wonder if people think I'm blowing them off, but really, it's not you.  It's the machine.

The current load king is TOR, naturally, because I think it tries to use so much memory that I'm afraid one of these days I'm going to see stuff come oozing out of the SD chip slots.

A side effect of these long loading times is the Mysterious Floating Weapon Syndrome.  Ever walk into a high population zone and see a pair of daggers, hanging in mid-air?  Or maybe a lone double-bladed lightsaber, bobbing along?  Then you've seen a victim of MFWS, also known as "what happens when you've got a slow computer and it's trying to render a high density area on screen."  If I get up and go away, the problem resolves itself after 2-3 minutes and every nearby toon gets rendered, but if you made it into Org on Patch Day that really sucks not being able to actually see people.

Once the game is loaded, how it plays on the low end machine is a different matter entirely.  Of all the games I play, LOTRO actually plays the best.  I can't put a finger on why, because I think the graphics are more precise than, say, WoW has, but I've never had a glitch while playing at all.

Age of Conan, on the flip side, seems to cause the most issues with gameplay.  It's become bad enough that I dropped the graphics from 1440x900 down to the 1280 range, which isn't thrilling but at least it plays (relatively) smoothly.***

WoW, being the oldest MMO I play that hasn't had a major overhaul, plays well.  Even so, I had to crank down the settings on the fancy new water rendering for Cataclysm, because otherwise flying through zones like the pre-Cata Loch Modan would be akin to watching somebody filling a pool.

Oh, and I learned to avoid certain scenarios, such as some of the mob packs in AQ40, whose graphics would end up kicking me out of the game.  Dal on Tuesday nights was miserable, with single digit FPS not that uncommon.  And if you get 40 people wailing on Vann in Alterac Valley, there was a good chance I was going to be kicked back to the WoW loading screen.

Now, TOR actually plays on my machine with the graphics cranked down a bit.****  And plays pretty well, honestly, although my machine gets tons of loading screens which most people with faster computers probably never see.  Like, say, when you get out of a taxi.  Or quick travel.  Or some cut scenes.  But travelling by speeder can be an exercise in patience.

The worst zone I've been in for my computer has been Alderaan.

No, really.

It all has to do with the trees.  Every tree gets rendered, and unlike a lot of other zones that have swampy stuff in the background, Alderaan's trees are part of the foreground as well as the background.  So all those trees have to get rendered.  I'd be using the speeder bike going from point A to point B and the trees would be rendering more slowly than the speed of the bike.  That has nothing to do with the zone itself --I liked Alderaan a lot-- and everything to do with the computer.

After Alderaan, I spent a lot of time on Newegg, drooling over new motherboards, until I got a look at the price.  This was exactly like what I was doing two years ago, when I was grumbling about the "new water" of Cata.  It's okay to look, but for me at this time this sort of upgrade isn't necessary.  Considering that "playing MMOs" is only a small portion of what the machine is used for, I can't justify the cost.

But that's okay.  Really.  You can play these games on a machine with the minimum spec levels, you just have to be patient.

*Besides, do I really want to risk a potential disaster by upgrading the OS on the only machine we have?

**Coffee came later.  Come on, do you think I'd really drank coffee when I was twelve?

***The server I'm on is in Europe, and the lag there shows up in a slight delay between when I hit a button and it registers.  Kind of annoying, but if I don't try to do too much, I'm okay.

****This actually happened in Gen Chat on TOR:
Player 1: Is anyone lagging?
Player 2: A little
Me: I'm at 99, which is pretty steady for me.
Player 2: Maybe it's your machine.
Player 1: Prolly not.
Me: Yeah, if I can run without lagging on my old machine, he's probably fine.
Player 2: Old is relative in this group.  Mine's a slower quad.
Me:  Mine was a middle of the pack core duo 5 years ago.
Player 1: O.o
Player 2: Holy Shit!  It actually runs?
Me: Yeah.  Had to crank the graphics down a bit, but it runs.


  1. Since my computer is a business expense I can justify updating fairly frequently, cough ... for games. I had to put it in the shop once and they had it for about a week and I couldn't stand it so loaded WoW on husband's old Mac. The FPS was a steady 6, I found it perfect for picking a whole lot of flowers so I was happy.

    1. Yeah, for gathering the low FPS works, but I'd never try it on a PvP server. Too many risks of being ganked, for certain.

      The highest priority right now --computer wise, anyway-- is to add a laptop. Our oldest will be doing a lot of homework on the computer this coming year, and our middle kid has reached middle school, where they're ramping up computer use for homework as well. At least the laptop doesn't need to be that high powered, but it does place an emphasis on needing some network drives for our house. (Oh yay.)

  2. I am a geek and spend money obviously fancy machines which are tax deductible so that's my justification. It is a running joke at work that I would rather spend money on a flash computer than buying new clothes for my children...

    1. If I tried to put a PC ahead of the kids' clothes, my wife would skin me alive. The kids, on the other hand, would probably be okay with that if it meant they could play at higher graphics settings.... ;-)