Gaming with Bad Computers
Alright, so, in the article above this one I mentioned I’ve never had a good computer. I’ve always been able to play games to an extent, though.
There’s a ton of trickery you can do to run games on systems that can’t quite deal with them, and there are plenty of good games you can run on an awful system. Torchlight, Recettear, Warcraft 3, etc.
Okay, so your game won’t run on the computer. Is it starting at all? If not, you probably shouldn’t bother! If you can somehow trick it into working, it’s likely missing key features, such as a shader model. If it’s running badly, though, there are some steps you can take. I’m ordering them on effectiveness vs. how jarring it is to have them lowered.
VSync: Are you running the game at 60fps with this on? Keep it on. If not, you should probably turn it off. Vsync’s usually only good if you’re over 60fps.
Resolution: This is the second most common thing you can lower to improve a game’s performance. Try not to get out of your monitor’s aspect ratio, though. On my 1366×768 laptop, I’d always go down to 1280×720 for performance.
Shadows: Shadows are the most common feature you can turn off to get a massive performance increase. The Unreal Engine 3 (Mass Effect, Borderlands, etc) is a good example of an engine with horribly inefficient shadows that drain your speed. The lack of shadows can be a bit weird to get used to, though, so always try setting them to low first.
Antialiasing/Anisotropic Filtering: Antialiasing is a MASSIVE performance decrease. You can usually drop antialiasing to 2x and still have everything looking nice, but below that’s always going to be rather jagged on a modern game. Anisotropic filtering has much less of a performance hit, so I usually leave it at 2x/4x if something’s running okay. It mainly affects textures that are at an awkward angle to view. If you want antialiasing with good performance and your system’s running a game okay aside from it, I suggest the FXAA injector from http://hotfile.com/dl/126721760/6694e76/injectFxaa_by_some_dude_10.7z.html
Model Detail: I see this as a bit less important than texture detail unless the game’s strongly focused on zoomins. I wouldn’t drop it all that low unless it’s a pretty large speed increase.
Texture Detail: This is where things start to get really noticably worse looking. Mid textures usually look okay, but low textures in a game make things muddy and N64-Esque often. I don’t like to drop this if I have to.
Special Effects: Dropping these options in a game can cause some serious ugliness. If you drop it to below high in League of Legends, the turrets go from firing projectiles to weird light circles. It’s not pleasant at all. It can be dropped to give a smaller performance increase than the above options usually.
Motion Blur/Depth of Field/Bloom/HDR: These are heavy shaders that effect everything going on. They’re also pretty greedy for resources. If you’re used to a game with DoF and you turn it off, everything’s a bit weird feeling for a bit. Turn ’em off and see how it goes.
There are other options that’re sometimes helpful! Never be afraid to tinker with options to improve how a game runs.
There’s a community over at http://9xxssf.info that’s dedicated to running games on the Intel GMA series of chipsets that I post on a bit. If you’re stuck in this gaming purgatory, I suggest it.
DOING IT HORRIBLY WRONG:
Okay, so you couldn’t get your game going, and you’ve been dropped on your head a few times. You HAVE to play modern games on your 1996 netbook, and nobody’s going to stop you, stand in your way, or offer you common sense.
So you start to do weird things.
Regretful things. Things that are just.. wrong.
Then you just start to forget what playable is.
Years later, they find you trying to play RAGE on an etch-a-sketch. Don’t be these people.
Don’t be these people.