Way back when, when the Vespers project was first starting out, I had to decide which game engine to use. Initially, the choice was between the Torque Game Engine and the Unity engine. I eventually chose TGE for a few reasons — at the time, the engine had been around longer than Unity, the community was larger, and it was less expensive and more straightforward to develop cross-platform games (specifically, Mac and PC).
Once that decision was made, then there was the choice of which Torque engine to use: the basic TGE engine, or the higher-end TGEA (TGE-Advanced) engine, which back then was called TSE (for “Torque Shader Engine”). TGEA offered a number of more advanced features, the most obvious of which was higher-quality graphic rendering. That came at a price, though; at the time, the engine would only run on Windows machines, and it required machines with graphics cards that could handle the bigger load. Also, although TGEA does now support OpenGL and Macs, back then it was not so clear if that would ever actually come to pass. Since I was more interested in developing simultaneously for Windows and Macs, TGEA didn’t seem like the best option at the time. TGE had been around longer and was more stable, even though its graphics performance was not at the same level as TGEA.
For me, though, stunning shaders and slick water rendering were trumped by the desire to create a game that would run on a wide range of machines, especially machines that are older or without the top of the line video card. The problem there is that, given the length of time for development, it’s hard to put (or perhaps keep) a finger on what constitutes an appropriately “old” machine. When I started development of Vespers, my main desktop dev machine was still fairly new and probably middle of the line. Now, however, the machine is going on six years old. That doesn’t seem very old, and it still runs most of my applications nicely enough, but in computer years that’s almost geriatric and at this point it’s naturally much slower than the machines from the past couple of years.
This is not a big deal for day-to-day activities, but as we add more and more content to the game, we’re seeing some serious performance issues on my now old machine, despite a few rounds of optimization. But that makes me start to question what I should be targeting for a minimum system requirement. I had always thought that my machine would still be somewhere in the middle by the time we finished development, but now I’m beginning to feel like it’s toward the bottom end.
(In case the four of you reading this are interested, my dev machine is a Mac G5 Dual 2 GHz model, circa 2003, with an ATI Radeon x800 video card, but it also runs well enough on the same setup with an ATI Radeon 9600 card. My wife still uses a Mac G4 laptop, so there are certainly G4 computers still perfectly usable. But Macs have evolved over the years to faster G5 chips and now a couple of rounds of Intel chips, as well as more modern video cards.)
I’ve generally been going on the assumption that if the game runs well enough on my dev machine, by the time it’s released that should be a fairly reasonable minimum system requirement. But it will be progressively more difficult to ensure it runs well enough on machines that are even just a little bit older. Still, my goal is to try and include as many older machines as possible. The more the merrier — but within a still to-be-determined limit.
So that leads me to wonder: how long do you all typically own a computer before replacing it with a new machine? Adding memory or upgrading the video card extends the life of a computer, of course, but that’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m interested to know how long people generally keep their rigs before replacing them with a new box. Some people of course keep their old rigs around for different tasks, but I’m interested in knowing how old some of the systems are out there that people still use for gaming (particularly 3D games, like Vespers), and what kind of system people would be interested in seeing this game run on — Mac or PC/Windows. If you would, let me know in the comments below.
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