Stardock Consumer Report for 2012

I didn’t miss it, I know he was talking about that. I was using the same metaphor, explaining why some game developers, even if they can do a great game in a small canvas, can prefer a big one. Same reason with painters.

It makes you wonder how games like Civ, Elite, Lords of Midnight, most Microprose games (Pirates! X-com etc) got made at all. Yes, i’m not convinced that the problem with games is a hardware issue at all.


The memory issue is related to the graphics, of course. It’s not like the code needs hundreds of MB of memory, it’s the graphics.

Yeah, that’s a huge problem, even though the keys have been good for either 64 or 32 bit version for a while, the last time you could do an in place upgrade from 32 bits to 64 was coming from an XP install. It would be great if MS just had a one button in place upgrade from 32bit to 64.


I’m going to jump in with some more hardware nerdery here. Although address buses have gotten wider since the dawn of computing, front-side buses were always 64 bits wide, and speed improvements came from pushing the FSB clock rate or adding more transfers per cycle. HyperTransport and Intel QPI have replaced the front-side bus, and do fancy things like transfers on the rising and falling edges of the clock signal and many bits per transfer. There isn’t any speed gain in bigger address buses, since they’re not relevant for speed.

As for whether we’ll ever need 128-bit addressing, maybe? Not soon, I wouldn’t think. Current 64-bit processors cheat and only use ~48 bits for their addressing, and that’s still enough for 256 terabytes of memory, which seems a while off without some revolutionary technology.

It is called WOW64 and has been included since Windows XP 64-bit in 2005.


If I take a Windows 7 32-bit install today, how do I make it 64-bit in-place?

iirc, you have to reinstall your OS. WOW64 allows the Win7 64-bit to run 32 bit programs. Unless I’m wrong, of course.

Yea. You can’t even reinstall in place, you need to wipe-and-reinstall. It’s a bit silly…

Console game developers have been doing this for years and the expectation is doubled for next gen. Simcity was the perfect game to do multi-core processing on as everything is based on basic agents. I honestly don’t believe it was just laziness. I think it was money. I mean, they spent more effort getting corporate sponsors for the game than testing their servers or balancing the game. First it was Nissan, now it’s Crest Toothpaste and Floss. What’s next month? Charmin Toilet Paper?

There are two main problems game developers, particularly strategy game developers are trying to deal with these days:

  1. Memory


  1. Feeding the GPU

There’s almost a third which involves CPU starvation which has to do with the poor way we handle our data structures but that’s a lesser issue.

Now, with regards to memory, we can say all day that graphics shouldn’t matter but they do. Forums are full of people saying how much they still like some old game but the fact is, visuals matter. A lot. It has nothing to do with coding ability. High resolution textures use a lot of memory. Moreover, Megatextures (which help with CPU starvation) use a ton of memory in exchange for greater performance, especially on lower end hardware.

People like pretty graphics and the 2GB limit we’ve been programming to since 2001 remains the same. On a 32-bit setup, you’d be hard pressed to beat the visual experience of Supreme Commander or Age of Empires 3 even today. Memory, not CPU or GPU, is the limiting factor on strategy game visuals.

As a result, we developers have had to find other ways of improving the visuals of strategy games while staying in 2GB of memory. We limit zooming out. We design games that have fewer units in them (there’s a reason that Sins of a Solar Empire hasn’t gotten a 4th faction, there’s not enough memory).

Going 64-bit solves that problem right away.

Second, feeding the GPU. This is where cores come in and DirectX 11. Having a large chunk of the market sticking with Windows XP until recently was really painful because DirectX 9c only allows one thread to interact with the graphics driver. So all those cores you have on your CPU could do some nice things but at the end of the day, only 1 thread can interact with the GPU. DirectX 11 fixes this completely (other than video drivers that serialize things still but that’s an issue that is being addressed). With DirectX 11, every thread (which are enhanced by your cores) can talk directly with the video driver.

When you combine these things, you could potentially have strategy games that comapre well to scenes from The Two Towers. Note that none of the Unreal engine demos take on that kind of scene. Pay attention to the number of units/objects in a given scene. To be able to show entire armies battling it out in amazing cool detail you need memory and you need multiple cores sending stuff to the GPU in parallel.

Well yea, SupCom often runs out of memory on larger maps and longer games without using an extender.

(And I remember it being a problem in the Sins beta, too)

When I re-did my computer last year, I built my own custom Acrylic case married a bathroom fan-vent to duct system which feeds cool air into the base, and the hot air is all vented out the top. It’s overclocked at 5 GHz, tis SLI, 16 Gig of RAM, etc. And there’s a whopping 2 game franchises that can take partial to full advantage of this hardware right now… the Arma series, and DCS A-10. Ironically, outside of the video cards, this is pretty inexpensive hardware for what you get in terms of raw power. And with SSD prices dropping and getting larger, the data streaming necessary on both those titles has improved by a factor of 2x+ when swapping out mechanical hard drives for solid state. Since I did the upgrade with older hardware (not the latest and greatest even at the time), I’m still disappointed there’s not much out there using it and the slowness seen in many games is not a hardware limitation but an OS one.

I remember the good old days of Origin Systems when they pushed hardware beyond their limits. Memory, CPU, Video AND sound… all at the same time. Exciting times.

I wish I could say I’m not a graphic whore and the only thing that’s important is “the game”… but outside of Dungeons of Dredmor… graphics really very important. Not just textures and hihg polygon counts - but animations just as much. Can’t seem to help being spoiled by the pretties and wants it. Review scores are also wildly affected by it as is evident by the lack of time reviewers put into games. Case in point, the 10/10 review for Simcity given by Eurogamer Sweden.

I don’t think that problem was limited to the Sins beta. IIRC, people (including me) ran into ‘out of memory’ errors in Sins Trinity, but that was only in gigantic games on gigantic maps.

Oh, fair enough - I just remember it being an issue before they optimised memory usage in the beta.

I guess you’re referring to the PS3 here for the most part and, yes, they’ve been doing it for years. Still doesn’t mean that it’s a trivial undertaking - the PS3’s processor forced it upon developers, though.

As for laziness vs. money, sure, ultimately money was the reason. Like I wrote, going multi-threaded (multi-core) greatly complicates many things that are fairly straight-forward the old-fashioned way, so going that extra mile increases development costs. And god forbid something goes wrong…

You’re a game developer and I’m not, so this MUST hold some truth to it, but I still feel you’re painting a lopsided picture.
Having large armies duking it out is not impossible - take a look at the Total War games, for instance. Sure, they cheated with cloned actors and whatnot, but when playing a strategy game - most likely way zoomed out to have some semblance of control over the battle - is it really that important to have each actor wear individual armor which reflects sunlight in just the right way?
Futhermore, going the uber-beautiful route has other implications - look at your own WoM as an example - you were stingy with the races because you felt you had to save on models.
Now, if you could have had a myriad actors on screen, each with perfectly motion-captured movements and individually rendered armor and weaponry, enough memory and CPU power to simulate the level of tension for each actor on the field, their individual stamina, their moral, their adrenaline level, their whatever - would you have been able to include all that stuff or would the simple fact that implementing it costs development time which cannot be allowed to go totally overboard have put a very heavy dampener on what’s actually added, CPU and memory limits notwithstanding?

Somehow, FPS/TPS developers have been able to live with the limit and craft breathtaking visuals despite still having to live with a 2gig architecture. Visuals (in the best games) have massively improved since the early days of 3D engines around 2000.
Yet for every game that does something groundbreaking, you see half a dozen games that ignore that stuff - most likely because they are unable to fit it into their development budget.
So I believe that, if (and it WILL happen sooner or later) everyone has a 64 bit OS with gigs and gigs of memory and a CPU with >= 4 cores, game developers will find another scapegoat that’s responsible for them being unable to make a superior game.

And it’ll not even be a scapegoat, but simple facts. Beyond FPS and TPS games, how many games will get the super-beautiful and slick treatment the new TombRaider enjoyed? Even compareable games with compareable amounts of actors, like RPGs?
These things CONSUME development resources (=money), and a game must be MASSIVELY successful to recoup the investment. Take a look at how S-E were disappointed with TombRaider’s sales.

Added to that is the aforementioned issue of developers shying back from complicated systems in the first place. XCOM being much poorer on features than X-COM. Or lots of envisioned systems in WoM that got axed in favor of a more steamlined game experience. SimCity 5 being more of a SimTown successor. The simple fact that a fair number of ambitious 90s games remain without a proper successor to this very day, even though THEY had to cope with single-core machines with often less than 100MHz and a few MB(!) of memory.

Yeah, if we had developers going for 64bit only today, we’d have sequels to all these games tomorrow. Sure.


Brad - the capital fund you’ve created sounds like my ultimate pipe dream. A gaming company, not a publicly traded entity, looking to help bring others into the field and be successful. You look at the most successful publisher out there right now, Activision and they nurture ZERO. They don’t care about games. Literally. Their Board of Directors reads like Coca-Cola and Kraft executive golf outing. They don’t care about diversification, games artistic quality, nor what they offer to gamers who are not the typical teenage boy tossing profanities over an xboxlive headset. They ignore people people like myself, sick kids at home and in hospitals, troops overseas or on the high seas, people who are afraid to leave the house, people who are depressed or happy and want to share an outlet with someone that doesn’t involve guns alcohol, or drugs. It’s that thrill of being taken away from whatever ails you, and into another universe. Or working all day and looking for ward to the weekend when you get to enter that magical new realm where you are master and not the underling… one where the music, the sound, the the optical immersion takes you to a place in a way, you can’t get in any other form of entertainment. One that’s so exceptiona, that when you end your game for the night, you’re thinking about new strateis and things to try as you fall to sleep with a wide happy grin on your face.

I hope this thrives and becomes a viable alternative to kickstarter or big publishers. Brad, you’ve got a wealth of information and intelligence form every side of the business, you’re grounded, and you still love games. You can be a great teacher, and what a great thing to do. I can’t wait to see the fruits of that cooperation. Cheers!

Strategy games are in a little different position to other games (no “levels”, or part of an open world you can load, the whole playfield needs to be active). It’s not down to “individual armour”, existing games - SupCom and Sins - have been hitting the memory limit, simply because of the scale of the game. For that matter, back in the day your PC’s memory limited which Total Annihilation maps you could play - some needed 128MB or even 256MB memory (when that was a lot). Memory issues in RTS games are not new!

Fortunately the new consoles are 64-bit and they will set a new baseline. The days of 32-bit are finally drawing to a close, I bet most AAA games in 2014 will be 64-bit.