In praise of games and gamers
by Alan Zisman
(c) 1998. First
published in Vancouver Computes,
If like most of the readers of Vancouver Computes,
you?re a home computer
user, why did you get your computer?
Was it to cruise the Internet?
To help you with school or work?
Or (let?s be honest here), to play games?
Probably, you had some combination of all three
reasons. But can you
estimate how much time you spend on each of these three activities?
one of them more than add up to the other two put together? And which
is that, hmmm?
(As far as I can tell, the biggest advantage of a
computer over a dedicated
game system, at least for many young people, is that while Grandma may
not want to buy a PlayStation or an N-64 as a Christmas gift, she can
convinced to buy a favorite grandchild a new computer ?because it will
help with the homework?. Right).
So let?s be honest about how we?re using our
Gamers, in fact, push the whole computer industry
today almost all come with sound cards and CD-ROM drives?they?re
That change isn?t because business demanded stereo sound. In fact,
so-called multimedia editions of standard business programs, sound
in office computers don?t typically get used for much more than playing
fancy beeps, squawks, and other assorted error sounds.
There?s an urban legend about the computer-clumsy
boss, whose co-workers
replaced his computer?s standard error-beep with the digitized fake
from the film When Harry Met Sally?then clustered outside the office
just waiting for the next ham-fisted typing mistake.
Please let me know if I?m wrong?maybe multimedia plays
role in your work experience. And I certainly don?t want to deny fine
products like CD-ROM encyclopedias, or the many attractive educational
But really, all those millions of computers now have
sound and CD-ROM
because people who play games demanded them.
And I?ve surf the Net and run Windows 95 and Office 97
on a 1992-era 486-66 (after I upgraded the hard drive and the RAM, at
But try and find a current game on the shelves that requires less than
a Pentium-100 or so, and really wants at least an MMX-200. Again, the
to play the latest games drives computer purchases.
Which brings me to 3D.
Again, while the high-end graphics-workstation crowd
has had skookum
3D (based around the OpenGL standard) for years, I don?t hear much
from the business community for 3D-capability in the office. Canadian
giant, ATI, released a video card last year-- Xpert@Work, bundled with
3D software aimed at the business user. The hardware was okay, but the
whole package seemed much less compelling than the corresponding
Even on the Internet, the VRML standard for 3D Web sites hasn?t really
picked up much steam.
But in the gaming community, 3D is hot. All the latest
games, from sports
simulations to shoot-to-kill, promises to take users to the
But to get there, takes some pretty sophisticated hardware.
And while Intel?s MMX extensions were supposed to aid
3D, in reality, they haven?t had much effect. (Intel?s competitors have
just come out with a series of CPU instructions that promise real
The first product to include them, AMD?s K6-2 looks good, but we?ll
to see whether programmers actually produce any products to make use of
them). And cards like ATI?s line that promise 3D combined with standard
video rarely pan out?again, outside of whatever?s bundled in the
too often, there?s not much on the market that supports them.
Because up until now, like with sound cards five years
ago, each brand
of 3D hardware is different, and requires special programming to
it. That may change for the better, however. While the workstation
standard hasn?t caught on in the PC gaming world, Microsoft?s Direct3D
is a part of its DirectX programming environment. If programmers write
their games for Direct3D, they can avoid having to write different
for a bunch of 3D hardware.
For now, the most popular 3D hardware is probably the
3DFx Voodoo and
Voodoo II series. You won?t find products with the 3DFX brand, however.
Look for it on video add-on cards from companies like Diamond and
Labs. These cards don?t replace your current video card?they plug into
another slot, and connect, using a short cable, to your video card?s
An easy install.
The various Voodoo II cards remain pricy?you can buy
an entire game
system for less. But the older original Voodoo can now be bought for
100 depreciated Canadian dollars. And Pentium users won?t see much
between the original Voodoo and the high-end model (though P-II users
notice better performance if they can afford to spring for the new
I just treated myself (well, my teenager, really) to a
Voodoo card?the older, cheaper 3DFx model. And 14 year-old Joey is
impressed. The improvement is like getting all of next year?s games
now. And a whole lot cheaper than upgrading all his games, too.