Weekend Question: What compromises have you made to run a game?

PCG Jody

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Dec 9, 2019
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I ask the PCG staff a regular Weekend Question and post the answers on the site. If you'd like to throw in an answer here, I'll squeeze the best into the finished article!

This week's question is: What compromises have you made to run a game?

To play The Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion back when it was new you needed a cutting-edge graphics card. Unless you downloaded the Oldblivion mod, in which case your Radeon 9200 or whatever might just be able to manage it, though not necessarily at a great framerate. Going back even further, when Doom was the Crysis of its day, the best way to play it on a 386 or the like was to drop the window size way down, get up close to your VGA monitor and squint like your life depended on it.

Have you resorted to .ini tweaks, downscaling mods, or other ways to get high-end games running on a low-end rig? Maybe messed around with emulation or fan-translations to play something you wouldn't be able to otherwise?
Main compromise I make for hot new games which interest me is to wait years until I have a PC capable of playing them enjoyably.

I don't recall ever making another compromise, other than always spending a bit extra to get the previous gen graphics card and CPU—price/performance 'sweet spot'—ie more than I would need for the other uses of my PC.
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Since most of the good games seem to be in the past now anyway its actually a struggle to get some to run because they written at a time before your current hardware was made.

My post above was more about restricting PC progress to run an old game.

The last game I recall playing that I had to tweak PC to play was Age of Conan as it was released as DX10 just after DX10 cards were released and some of its stages were just too much for by GTX 260 to cope with.

I wonder if killing a GPU because you were running graphics too high counts? I did that on wow on my 3rd PC. That action also killed that PC, as it had an AGP GPU and it was just at crossover to PCIe cards and finding an AGP card was impossible.
I had to use QUEMM/MemMaker in the '90s as a way to free up memory space for some of the beefier games. A decade later Dayz and Arma 3 was for a long time (still is at times) hard to run properly because of bad optimizations. I had to tweak some of the more taxing .ini configurations that you could not change in the in-game setting for better FPS, not to mention the launch settings for the games. I also used a memory boost (4GB patch) for Dayz Standalone and Skyrim getting ever so slightly more smooth gameplay and the ability to play with more mods.
I've had to uninstall most of my installed games every time Total War: Warhammer 2 needed to update because for some reason it needs an additional 63 GB to install updates even if the update itself is only a couple of MB and my SSD only has 250 GB. At least there'll probably not be any more updates now that Warhammer 3 is releasing in two weeks.
I would have bought another ssd and just put the game on it if its that bad. Beats shuffling things around.
Could be worse, you could be running windows 10 on a 32gb Emmc drive and not have enough space to install updates at all.
Back in the early 1990s the biggest compromise I had to make was creating a boot disc on for the "A" drive (2 1/4" floppy) just to get some new games to run. The largest executable program size, base ram, EMS or XMS were all concerns in those days. It took time, but it was just something you had to do to get a game to run.

In recent years, I've done a bit of .ini editing, installed the 4GB Patch that @Frindis mentioned, or installed things like script extenders. But to me that's just tweaking an older game to run better, not so much a compromise as it is an enhancement.

Other than that, I haven't had to make any compromises outside of occasionally turning down some graphic options like shadow detail, or draw distance to get a bit higher frame rate.
Max Payne on PC was my one of my earliest and most hated experiences trying to get a game to run. Downloading patches, changing the .ini files, and going into Nvidia Control Panel of all things took me about two hours to finally get it working. I remember calling the complete fixpack "as useful as a staircase in a bungalow," though it did add some well needed graphical and audio updates.

That's the only one I know the specifics of. When I first played games on PC in the 90s on a basic home computer, knowing why a game wouldn't work or being unable to configure a joystick or controller was impossible. Manuals could take up more pages than War & Peace and still not tell you how many ways you're done for. And yet people get Doom to run on a slice of toast.
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I haven't made a lot of compromises in the 21st century to run a game -- or at least, not by my standards. I'm sure some people would disagree, saying, "You willingly played that game in 1080p at less than a consistent 60fps!" And that's a whole... there've been entire articles just about that, but that's not so much about literally running the game as it is deciding what elements matter most to you.

But back in the 90's, I used to make all sorts of compromises to get things to just barely run. I'm reluctant to run through them all without a rocking chair and fireplace and old-timey music, but... one in particular still stands out in my mind, and that was X-wing*. It required a 386 processor and EMS memory, but I still had a 286 with just XMS memory.

In order to have EMS memory, you needed EMM386, which only worked on 386 and higher processors. However, I found a really weird unofficial program at the time called EMM286, which was an EMS emulator, and ran about as reliably as you might imagine. I got X-wing to run, but very, VERY sluggishly, to the point where I couldn't actually beat the game (or come close, in fact), due to slow response time and probably an average of three frames per second. (Sometimes more, sometimes way less, down to one frame every three seconds, probably.) But despite the clearly unfeasible play state, it felt worth it just to see the opening logo, hear the stereo OPL3 midi orchestra, and watch the scroll and animation bits. (Flash web animation wasn't a thing yet, so visual entertainment options on the PC were a lot more limited.)

Despite how crappily it ran, I was proud that I got it to run at ALL, because it wasn't supposed to be able to. For years that was my bar for games, "Will it run," period. It wasn't until I was well into adulthood and games started having broader requirements that I bumped that bar up to "Will it run tolerably well." And now years later with my current setup I've become spoiled/complacent and am now up to "Will it run amazingly and with no hiccups."

(* - Disclaimer: It has been nearly 30 years, so if I am wrong about X-wing requiring EMS memory, then I'm probably confusing it with TIE Fighter, which *definitely* needed it. But I remember fighting with X-wing as well, so it might have just been frame rate issues with that one.)
I haven't made a lot of compromises in the 21st century to run a game

Okay, I just realized I'm a big fat liar.

I somehow TOTALLY forgot that for the better part of a decade, I compromise the #&@^ out multiplayer online games because I was stuck on dial-up internet way too far into the broadband era. So I dealt with rubber-banding, enemies popping up right in front of my face, losing connection, falling behind, being dead before I knew it, and much much more, in the likes of World of Warcraft, City of Heroes, Dark Age of Camelot, and many more. I also often had to play during non-peak hours, because the more people were running around, the harder my connection had keeping up with it.

Maybe that's why I never got further into MMO's...
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My biggest problems with gaming performance remember the times when I was still a kid and had my first PC. Its bottleneck was the amount of RAM. I had only 32 MB and some more advanced games already required 64 MB. I didn't have the knowledge necessary to perform any tweaks in games that I played, so I had to face the truth and cope somehow with the fact that some of them ran bad on this hardware. And this is where the compromise kicks in. I remember an RTS called Star Wars: Force Commander. It wasn't a great game, but it required 64 MB RAM. I had to go on compromise not in terms of graphics, but rather framerate. I tried to play the game in 10 FPS or so. It was unplayable, but it didn't discourage me. It's amazing how much we can bear to play a dream game, especially when being a kid.
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I think I remember that game! Was that the one that was like Age of Empires? Or was that something else. Anyway, I didn't realize its requirements were that high at the time, that's surprising.

I'm not sure whether we can compare it to AoE. It's of course an RTS, but in 3D and with command points as a resource. Maybe you were referring to Empire at War? This has more AoE vibes in my opinion. :)
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Didn't think I had anything to add to this topic, but I guess I do! I made all sorts of compromises when I was using 3D Vision. Some games worked well with the technology, but many others needed tweaking. Shadows would often need to be turned off, for instance, because they would be drawn at screen depth instead of being as far away as the object casting the shadow. Sometimes sky boxes were revealed to be only about 20ft above your head when you got two eyes to triangulate on the clouds/stars. Fancy post-processing things would sometimes go nuts, too.

I would turn them all off to get the 3D working. It was well worth it to add another dimension to the gameplay!
If a comprimise is to turn down graphic settings, then yup. But the main thing i do is game a few years in the past. It's far cheaper and i typically have no issues running anything. I finally just upgraded to a 10700, but that was from an i5-3350 with 8GB, Sure it was a good comp 10+ years ago but today? It actually still runs everything i throw at it as long as i crank down the graphics and run at 1080p. I ran that comp for 8 years, (i built it a few years after it was considered "new tech" Yup i build my comps a bit behind the curve to save money. Outside of just having to completely upgrade a part, for instance a vid card to play Baldur's gate, or a new sound card to hear things, can you believe they stopped supporting the soundblaster 5.1 ! I've never really had an issue. Build a solid system and it will run stuff for a good 8-10 years. the new chip even with my 6 year old 1060 now feels like a beast. maybe in 5 years i will upgrade the vid card if there is anything worth ray tracing by then.


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I will probably stick to my current hardware for a very long time. The prices of GPUs are still shocking and there's almost no light in the tunnel. I doubt that Intel's GPUs will make a quick change on the market. I keep my fingers crossed though. I should be fine with my RTX 2070 Super for a year or two (especially with DLSS), maybe longer if I stick to 30 fps, but at some point the time will come when an upgrade is necessary...