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Crisis Time for PC Graphics?


Do you remember the days when you stuck on a PS2 game for its playability, or for a laugh with some mates, but if you wanted to be wowed by incredible graphics and intense gameplay, you had to fire up your PC. I miss those days. It's not so much that I'm bemoaning the fact that consoles are so impressive graphically these days - it's just that that I don't like the fact that the popularity of the consoles means that we have to suffer poor PC conversions. I tried Fifa 2007 a few months ago, and it was probably the worst gaming experiences I've ever had on a PC - and I know it's just a case of zero effort by EA, as I own the game on PSP and it's great. Unfortunately, that seems to be typical of the contempt that PC gamers are treated with these days. And what about Lost Planet? The interface on PC was appalling and the game was only playable as I have an Xbox 360 controller for Windows - though not even this could make it decent, so I quickly stopped playing it.

What most of the office has been playing recently has been the truly excellent Bioshock, which manages to combine cutting edge graphics with a great story line and great gameplay, which is a rare commodity these days. Now out sister site Bit-Tech carried a very nice article that delved into the details, (which as we all know, is where the devil lies) into Bioshock's graphics. One of the issues that cropped up was the difference between DirectX 9 and Direct X 10 paths - if you've got a DX10 capable card, then you'll get the ability to run the extra effects, if not then you'll run with the Direct X 9 path. The trouble is that you'll be hard pressed to tell the difference as I found out when I scanned through these comparisons of shadows. At first glance, I really couldn't see much of a difference. Now I had the luxury of being able to call across the room and speak to the author who was able to come over and draw my eye to the exact differences - which isn't something that anyone else would be able to do. Well they could post on the forum and ask but you get my point.

I had the same thing recently when Ed took a look at some mid-range graphics cards and put them through their paces in Direct X 10 - as you can see from the screenshots on this page, I had to ask him to circle in red the minor differences between the two code paths, as without them I couldn't see what he meant .

Around the same time I read a comment by Mark Rein from Epic, publishers of some pretty heavyweight games such as Gears of War and the forthcoming Unreal Tournament 2007, who observed that basically consoles were holding back PC gaming. Talking about DirectX 10 and the forthcoming Crysis he said, "I don't think you're going to get much higher until the next generation of consoles... it becomes less and less economically viable to do the super high-end stuff".

The point is that the consoles are where the big money is being made, and most developers will naturally enough aim at that. And both the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3 are based on Direct X 9 architectures. Indeed, most of the PC market still has Direct X 9 cards. Indeed, to make use of Direct X 10, not only do you need to buy a compatible card, you also need Windows Vista, which is just another stumbling block in the way of progress. This was echoed by Valve's Gabe Newell who pointed out figures from the last Steam survey, which showed that out of a sample of over a million PC systems, only 2.3 per cent were running a DX10 capable card and Windows Vista. Meanwhile only eight per cent were running Vista, and so at least capable of taking advantage of DX10- should they choose to upgrade. And looking at the results from Ed's DX10 performance test, there's not so much reason to make that upgrade, at least on current generation of hardware.

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