January 03, 2003



The surprise of the season on the computer gaming front (I talked about my disappointment with Neverwinter Nights below... thanks to those who offered suggestions... the solution, of course, of getting NWN to work with a Radeon is to use ATI's 7000-series drivers instead of the new 9000-series "Catalyst" ones... which itself leads to a degradation in graphics card performance for all the other games on one's system, which is why it ticks me off so much)... where was I... oh yes, the surprise on the computer gaming front has to be the entirely successful expansion for Mythic Entertainment's Dark Age of Camelot, called Shrouded Isles.

The added content is first-rate... I've started three new characters, one in each realm, just so I can see it all. I'm particularly fond of the new Sylvan race... so far as I know DAoC is the only game on the market that currently allows you to roleplay an ent, which I'm now doing with gusto on the Percival server, if anyone's in that neighbourhood... Recent additions, particularly of duelling and movie-soundtrack-like ambient music, have made the gaming experience richer. And there are by my count 4 different kinds of servers, suiting just about anybody's playing style. The game's still popular, if not crowded, with over 30,000 simultaneous users during peak hours over the holidays. What really impressed me about the expansion, though, was, in addition to the reasonable price, the first ever system specs that I was pleasantly surprised by.

The game box clearly states you should have a 1400MB system with a 64MB graphics card (pretty much a beginner system these days). For various reasons, I'm running games currently on a 750MB Duron with a Radeon LE 32MB (still the best graphics card for the money ever made, IMHO, but running outdated drivers currrently... see above). So I assumed when I loaded up that it was just going to be screwed, stuttery, basically unplayable: that's certainly been my experience whenever I've defied manufacturer's recommended specs before: it really was an act of masochism on my part to try in the first place.

But no! Amazingly, the game runs like butter. Now, I'm sure it's nowhere near as pretty as it could be if I had all that extra power under the hood -- which is saying something... the Sylvan vale I'm in now is nothing less than stunning -- but the fact that it runs at all (meaning the designers thought long and hard about engineering for a legacy system, a real surprise in this industry) is just wonderful to see. The graphics processing needs have been scaled down seamlessly and automatically for low-end systems, evidently. I can't think of another game that's ever run anywhere near this nicely on a system one quarter of what it should be. Mythic continues to set the standard for this industry.

A lot of people don't get the whole Everquest/Ultima/DAoC massively multiplayer game phenomenon. The monthly fees are expensive, it's often extremely frustrating dealing with other humans online, and frankly the products are often sub-par (World War Two Online offered to let me play for free over the holidays, trying to win me back... hmph, maybe if they start paying ME...). But the moving and interacting of virtual avatars, in a persistent, alternate reality where the sun still rises and sets whether you're there to see it or not... that may be the future of more than just computer entertainment. I really do believe everyone should try one of these games just once, if only to take the measure of them, and try and figure out where they could be a couple decades from now... if you do feel the urge, I once again recommend DAoC as the best of the lot.

Posted by BruceR at 10:53 AM