Tuesday, September 29, 2009

On the Weirdness of Netbook Gaming

As a terrible addict to the dark vice of video games, I've been compelled to try getting games to work on my new netbook, and so far it's been a frustrating experience. The biggest problem: the netbook screen resolution. The device itself may or may not be able to run modern games—I've been unable to get Civilization 4 to run on it, for example, despite appearing to meet the system requirements—so I've focussed on installing older games. The trick there is that, while the netbook is surely powerful enough to play games circa, say, 2005, the display is only capable of a maximum resolution of 1024 x 600. At that point in gaming history, games were pushing around 1600 x 1200, and it was pretty much assumed that a baseline system would be capable of 1024 x 768.

Note that the netbook screen doesn't meet that.

So now I have to dig through games capable of that resolution--or its nearest standard-aspect cousin, 800 x 600--which is throwing me back to around the year 2000. There are good games from that period, but I've gotten rid of very nearly all my games from then, meaning I now have to hunt for some. Then on top of that, I have to find patches and ensure compatibility with my hardware.

One of the funnier finds is Master of Orion 3, a game I bought primarily on the strength of its predecessor and the writings of the lead designer, who had all sorts of really interesting ideas, the vast majority of which were cut from the final product. It's a curious game in that it has all the trappings of a standard 4x game, but over all of it there's an abstracted interface that makes it feel less Space Fleet Commander than Imperial Bureaucracy Wrangler. It wound up rushed out with horrible bugs, and apparently one of the other things cut was any resolution higher than my magic target, 800 x 600. Third-parties have put in impressive efforts to clean up the bugs that remained after the devs quit supporting it, and it's quite playable, though I'm still trying to decide if I want to play it.

At this point I'm almost wondering if I shouldn't try my hand at building games myself, as it might be less hassle.

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