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Monday, August 27, 2007

Vista's Stranglehold on DirectX 10

On Gaming Today:

In a recent interview with Heise Online, Gabe Newell, President of Valve Software, said, “Microsoft made a terrible mistake releasing DirectX 10 for Vista only and excluding Windows XP.”

According to stats on Steam, only half of the users have a DirectX 10 compatible graphics card. Developers are definitely paying attention to factors like this when developing their games, because only a fraction of the games out there actually utilize DX10 in noticeable ways. In fact, the two different versions of Half-Life 2 Orange Box, one DX10 compatible and one not, are for all intents and purposes the same.
Read Full Article, Microsoft Releasing DirectX 10 Only for Windows Vista a Mistake

If anything, this insistence on DX10 being Vista only will siphon off PC game development to the consoles. Microsoft is saying they want a push for PC gaming, but decisions like this one are simply not beneficial.


Thomas said...

Will it? Why?

Or is it just that developers will stick with DX 9/OpenGL for a couple more years? That seems more likely to me.

It's not the end of the world. It's not going to kill PC gaming.

My understanding is that DX 10 required parts of the new display driver model that can't really be retroactively added to XP.

Steam surveys also say that a vast number of gamers are using shitty video cards like my old box, the GeForce 5200. It's as easy to say that those people are holding the developers back as it is to blame Microsoft. Wouldn't be nearly as much fun though, I guess.

Not that it matters to me (and I suspect, most people) either way. The only DX10 capable title I've tried was Bioshock, and I had to run it in DX9 mode, because nVidia hates making decent drivers.

Josh said...

Most likely they'll split development for PC between DX9 and DX10, unless it is Microsoft of course. Or, as you say, forego DX10 completely (more likely for smaller shops).

Not that it will kill PC gaming - but nothing about that scenario is beneficial. It slows DX10 adoption overall because the lowest common denominator will still remain DX9. It lowers the rationale for buying newer, better video cards without upgrading to Vista. It also makes buying a console that much more attractive because its just a lot easier if you don't have to worry about this crap.

In short, it makes the whole "why spend $400 on a vidcard" question that much more complicated as it gets harder to see the difference between your expensive PC and a console - all because you haven't upgraded to Vista as well. This isn't a gap PC gamers need to have widened.

Personally, I don't buy the "we can't retrograde" line. I've heard that kind of excuse from Microsoft way too many times. They're drivers - they can be added to XP if they really wanted them to be added to XP.

Thomas said...

It's not about the drivers themselves. It's that graphics drivers no longer exist at the same level of kernel interaction in Vista. You can't just patch that into an operating system overnight. I'm not a huge fan of their decision (any more than I like the lack of class-compliant MIDI drivers on pre-XP operating systems), but I think it's understandable from a profitability perspective.

Regardless, drivers or no drivers, it's still the same issue that PC gamers have faced all along--for really good performance, you've got to spend as much on a graphics card as you would on a 360, plus the whole rest of the rig has to be running fast enough to keep up. I hate to keep using it as an example, but take Bioshock again: it's optimized for a dual-core chip. I know that's where the future is, but if I'd bought a Pentium 4 or a Core Solo instead, I'd have really been out of luck. And do I have EAX support? Do I want it? Who knows?

Hell, people are still complaining that relatively recent ATI cards don't even support Shader Model 3.0, much less DX10's 4.0. You bought an ATI card that was DX9 compatible in every other way? Too bad, sucker, you're still not going to run UT3-based games.

Same as it ever was. PC gaming is always less economical for the user. The upside is that the games do usually look better, and you get a PC to go with them.

DX10 adoption will proceed the same way that XP's various upgrades were: they'll become more common as Vista phases into the mainstream, either through upgrades or (more likely) new computer purchases. I remember when Win2K was first introduced, and sites like sprang up to deal with broken software. This is basically the same process, and it will work out just fine. In the meantime, DX9 is still perfectly equal to the current generation of consoles, as that article does point out.

I tend to think that small shops are probably going to buy a middleware engine like Torque anyway, and DX10 will come with it in a module. If you're working with relatively few resources, the last thing you'd want to do is spend time and energy just getting the engine running, instead of putting content into it.

Josh said...

I wouldn't expect it to be overnight, no, but I just don't buy that it can't be done. I heard it all with IE and I've seen how nonsensical that was. I think Microsoft lumped it into the same kind of decision which kept Halo 2 off of XP - not one based for the well-being of the existing Windows base but one intended to drive traffic into the new one.

Problem is that most PC gamers are still in the existing Windows base.

If DX10 had followed the same path as DX9 - adoption rate would be much improved. Publishers could freely push the new technology on compatible hardware with every install, just like they do today. They wouldn't need to wait for Vista to enter the mainstream. Microsoft is hobbling that pace because they don't have much to show for Vista as an incentive outside of exclusive content and OEM deals.

And naturally it's the same problem the PC gaming world has been facing for years - but that's not an excuse for Microsoft, especially in the middle of what is supposedly a campaign to revitalize PC gaming, to aggravate the situation. DX10 on XP would do far more for PC gaming than more decorative additions like tray-n-play. Not to mention the latest games (cough, Halo 2, cough).

The list of reasons to get a console in lieu of upgrading a PC has enough notches as it is without one of, if not the, most influential PC companies adding any more.