PC Gaming Must Die

My seemingly innocent question about querying the video card memory on Vista turned into a 42-post bloodbath, giving little in the way of useful answers, but illustrating perfectly how there is no such thing as a “PC gaming platform”, and why I want to get out of the PC mess ASAP.

The problem with the video card memory size isn’t new. It’s a question Microsoft are actively trying to lie to you when answering; the simple query function in DirectX 9, IDirect3DDevice9::GetAvailableTextureMem, has always lied - it returns the memory on the video card plus the available physical system memory plus the current distance between the Mars moons Phobos and Deimos in Russian versts, divided by the temperature of the water in Sammamish Lake expressed in Rheomur degrees. An infiltrated enemy agent managed to sneak in the IDxDiag interface which works more or less reliably on XP, but in the run up to Vista he was discovered, shot down, and the oversight was corrected: on Vista the same IDxDiag code returns rubbish too - to the extend that even the DxDiag tool shipped with DirectX, and which countless QA staff and even users have been trained to run and send dumps, has become useless in that regard. So now you have to resort to quality software engineering techniques such as using DirectX 7 or DirectX 10 in an otherwise top-to-bottom DirectX 9 application. Or running GetAvailableTextureMem and subtracting the physical memory. Or dividing it by three. Or assuming that everybody with Vista has 256 MB of RAM on the videocard - hey, it’s the current mode, why not?

Apparently the Microsoft position is that it’s no business of the developer to know how much fast memory he can use. Please pretend that you can use as many textures as you like, we’ll take care of it. If we gave you this number, you’d only do stupid things with it… we’re here from the OS vendor, and we’re here to help you! Relax and watch the blinkenlights. People went so even as far as to suggest ridiculous things like start the game with the options screen so the user can pick the best settings for him (the “all my friends are geeks with $600 videocards” solution), or start the game with the ugliest settings by default (the “who cares about review scores” solution). What’s interesting is the clear demarcation line between people who are actually shipping games to be sold to real-world humans for a living and find real value knowing the video memory size, and the rest - technical evangelists, high-end demo creators and academics, who’s idea of development is pushing high-end hardware around and occasionally presenting to enthusiast users.

The PC as a platform is hopelessly fragmented. The rift between the high end and the low end is bigger than ever, from the Crysis crowd who consider 6800-class hardware “low-end”, and the Zuma clone crowd who don’t even have GPUs to speak of. The vendors - ATI^H^H^HAMD, NVIDIA, Microsoft - are pulling the rug each in their own direction, with little to no support to developers trying to stick to the rapidly disappearing “middle ground”, what was the mainstream PC gaming of a few years ago. (The rumored Intel intrusion in the field, trying to push raytracing on multi-multicore CPUs will make things much worse in this regard.) The publishers demand support for hardware (in our case, DX81-class GPUs) which has long ago fallen off the radar of Microsoft and isn’t even targeted by the shader compilers released with the DirectX SDKs. The reviewers demand graphics quality rivaling the multimillion 6-hour cinematic fests subsidized by console vendors and passed off as “AAA games”. The users demand not to to think. And a pony.

If only there were platforms where the hardware was cheap and powerful, the drivers appeared three or four times a year, the vendor was eager to help your development, and there were tens of millions of users eager to buy games. I would gladly accept the lack of a GetAvailableTextureMemory function - I’d replace it with a compile-time constant in a heartbeat.

20 Responses to “PC Gaming Must Die”

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  3. Jeff Says:

    This is what finally put the nail into Windows for me. I’d been using Linux and Macs more since about 2001 or 2002, but kept a couple of Windows systems around for “real” games and hacking around on same. Vista was….calling it ‘evil’ is an insult to hard-working evildoers everywhere; it wasn’t even trying to be as awful as it was. And then, realizing that I would have to spend a couple K every year just to keep running in the same spot…

    …pushed me over to Macs full time. I don’t always have the latest spectacular effects, but I have more CONSISTENT effects - and better support as a developer and a user - than I’ve had on Windows since Day One, circa 1985. Twenty years in this craft is a hell of a lot to walk away from, but I’m not even looking back - and articles like this remind me precisely why not.

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