Going Laptop Hunting

by Thomas Ward

Everyone who programs for a living or even as a hobby knows its pretty
hard to keep up with current PC specifications because the technology
changes so fast. No sooner does a developer outfit his/her home or
office with the latest computer hardware and software the technology
standards change requiring yet another expensive upgrade. For big name
game studios like EA Games this is really no big deal as they have
millions to spend on hardware and software upgrades. For a small
independantly owned game studio like USA Games it is a financial
concern, and it is more difficult to make sure that we stay up to date
in regards to trends and changes in the wider PC market at large.

For instance, back in early 2008 we purchased a couple of Compaq C500
series notebooks for home and office use that had a 32-bit Intel
Pentium 3.6 GHZ processor, 1 GB of ram, 120 GB hard drive, and Windows
Vista Home Premium installed. Were we going to buy a new laptop today
we might pick something like the Toshiba L755 series notebook that has
a 64-bit  Intel I3 2.1 duel core GHZ processor, 4 GB of ram, a 640 GB
hard drive, and of course Windows 7 Home Premium. Its not just that
the Toshiba L755 is newer, has more memory, is faster, but that the
changes in technology are so drastic that it effects the kinds of
games we can and might choose to develop in the future.

The big concern here for us is 32-bit vs 64-bit operating systems. As
I write this article its difficult to even find and purchase a 32-bit
desktop or laptop as all the major U.S. stores like Best Buy, Staples,
Office Max, and Wal-Mart only carry 64-bit computers preloaded with
Windows 7, and Microsoft has already stated that the next version of
Windows will strictly be a 64-bit OS. In other words, when we, as
developers look ahead of what our customers might be using in the next
five years or so, it is clear the industry as a whole is rapidly
moving to a 64-bit platform and that developing 32-bit software isn't
going to be in our best interests long term. So at this point USA
Games is going to have to be able to create versions for both older
32-bit platforms as well as prepare for newer 64-bit platforms at the
same time. That requires a hardware and software upgrade on our part.

So recognizing that this change is coming and that USA Games would be
better off getting started on developing 64-bit games and software
sooner than later we've decided to do a little shopping. At the moment
we have not decided on anything, but we are comparing a number of
newer 64-bit laptops preloaded with Windows 7 Home Premium, and we
hope to purchase a couple of new laptops that will keep us developing
state of the art software for the next three to five years.  One of
the laptops we have under consideration is the previously mentioned
Toshiba L755 which seems to have everything we need and is under $600.
 This will allow us to use a relatively state of the art machine to
design or redesign our Genesis 3D engine not only for the
hardware/software of today but tomorrow as well.

I might add that its not just the hardware that has changed but
software standards and specifications have changed as well.
particularly in the area of PC gaming. Back in 2008 most mainstream
game developers were still using DirectInput, DirectSound, and various
other DirectX 8.1/9.0C core components. However, since then
Microsoft's new XAudio2 API for Windows Vista and Windows 7 has
replaced DirectSound as the Windows audio mixer for cutting edge
mainstream games for the PC. Microsoft's XInput library has largely
replaced DirectInput for new joysticks, game pads, racing wheels, and
various other game controllers. Bottom line, things are very different
now than they were 3.5 years ago, and we need to begin thinking of how
to upgrade our software to meet these changes in software sooner or
later. As with the hardware changes above it seems perfectly logical
to prepare for these changes in software specification sooner than
later. Which is exactly what we plan to do.

So over the next couple of months we will be out shopping for some new
laptops. Once we have acquired our new PCs we'll be in a better
position to look at what needs to be done in order to bring Mysteries
of the Ancients, Raceway, and any other projects up to current
standards and specifications. Perhaps by Christmas we'll be in a
position to produce 32-bit versions for people still running say
Windows XP or 32-bit versions of Windows Vista/7 as well as produced
cutting edge versions for brand new laptops and desktops running
Windows 64-bit software.

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