Faster… and faster… and…
I am about to attempt perhaps my most difficult article yet. In the next few paragraphs, I plan to explore the effect the current processor power race will have on gaming (and gamers) without sinking into techno-babble and completely losing many of you. Wish me luck.
If you have not taken a look at the world of computer hardware recently, you are in for a bit of a surprise. The major processor makers, which for this article I am restricting to Intel, AMD and IBM (yes, IBM. I will explain that later), are making and selling to the average consumer new computers that contain processors that are far more powerful than is needed for most of us. If our computers would be honest with us, they would tell us that most of the time, they are bored. Some games might stress the processor at times, for a millisecond or two, but on the whole the heart of our systems is extremely lazy. And yet the processor makers are churning out even faster and more powerful chips. In return, game makers are stepping up what they put in their games. Each new generation of games has more cool stuff that takes better advantage of the power of the computer. Even so, a new top of the line gaming system has a processor that is rated at around 3 GHz. Now, look at the recommended system specifications on a brand new game. In nearly ever case, the recommended number is less than half of 3 GHz. That is not the minimum requirement, but the one the game maker recommends for optimal performance. In other words, our processors are at least twice as fast as they have to be, and they are about to get even more powerful.
IBM and AMD are leading the consumer computing industry into a new type of computer chip, one that is typically called 64-bit. To make this really simple, a 64-bit chip is able to deal with twice as much data at one time as a current 32-bit chip. The program has to be specially designed to take advantage of this feature, and that ability does not mean that the new 64-bit chips will be twice as fast or twice as powerful as the current 32-bit chips. In fact, sometimes the 64-bit chips will be well over twice as fast. Sometimes there will be no difference. But it is safe to say that it is only a matter of time before various gaming houses start to take advantage of this new type of processor. I would imagine that the first game designed for a 64 bit computer will appear not long after the first 64 bit consumer computers appear a little later this year.
So, we have processors that are going from insanely fast to really extremely insanely fast. We also have another type of processor that can do everything your current computer can do, and could also handle chunks of data twice the size of what your current processor can handle. What will the effect of all these extra speed and power be on the gaming industry? I am glad you asked. Bear with me, because I imagine one of these predictions will surprise most of you.
1) Artificial intelligence will become even more intelligent. One way to use up that extra processor time is to put it to work making computer players smarter. The better AI gets, the less games will have allow the computer to cheat in order to give the gamer some competition. This can only be a good thing. Imagine a Diablo that learns not to stand in a ring of fire and risk getting hit with a meteor. That could very well be where we are heading in the very near future. Individual monsters will be smarter, they will execute better strategies, and will generally make the game more challenging, diverse, and fun.
2) Computers will get even cheaper. One of these days, someone will realize that games do not require anything close the latest, greatest technology. That someone will take parts that are outdated, even a year or more past their release date, assemble ultra low cost systems out of them, and market them cheaply to the public. In fact, someone has already built one such system, a very powerful and specialized system. The XBox is more or less a low cost PC built of old parts and dedicated to gaming. Look for more manufacturers to make similar units, marketed as computers.
3) Apple will return to the gaming world in force. That?s right, the same company that made fruity colored cases will shortly become a leader in computer gaming. Let me qualify that. If Apple begins using the new processor from IBM, known as the PPC 970, then Apple will be back. We will know very soon if Apple takes this step, and all indicators are that they will. You see, the PPC 970 is a 64 bit processor, just the like new Athlon64 from AMD. However, Intel is staying out of the consumer 64 bit market. Windows runs on computers that use AMD and Intel processors, but not on the IBM chip. Likewise, Mac OS X will run only on computers that Apple sells. This means that Windows will be running on 32 bit systems (Intel) as well as 64 bit systems (AMD). New Apple machines will be running only 64 bit processors. Therefore, if a gaming company decides to write a 64 bit game, and they will, there will be very good reason to write that game for Apple. There should be less confusion with Apple systems as to which computer is able to run the game and which is not. This change will not take place right away. Given time though, perhaps 18-24 months, Apple will gain increasingly serious consideration as a potential platform when game companies try to decide what type of computer to write their games for. Eventually, some prominent gaming house, such as ID, will gamble on making a major release only on Apple systems. The lure of the game would draw the gamers to the system, no matter how much they complained about it. A good example is Microsoft?s XBox and Halo. Many critics think that Halo sold the XBox, not the other way around. Doom 5 and Apple could have a similar connection.
Whether or not Apple makes it back to the top of the gaming world, the speed race in processors will certainly provide a lot of benefits to gamers of all varieties. It should be a fun ride.
Disclaimer: Salem’s Fire was written by Luke Blaize and hosted by diabloii.net. The opinions expressed in these columns are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Diii.net.