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Last Updated: Friday, 10 September, 2004, 11:11 GMT 12:11 UK
Gaming's powerful hardware demands
By Chris Long
BBC Click Online

As computer games get more sophisticated, they are making greater demands on the computer hardware needed to play them.

Screenshot from Doom 3
Doom 3 has been a runaway hit with UK gamers
For a lot of us, Space Invaders was our very first glimpse of computer games: basic graphics; unsophisticated sound and in lots of ways rudimentary technology.

Today the game that a lot of us grew up with lives on a single chip in a small plastic box.

Suffice to say modern games are a very different. They have more pictures, more sound, more everything.

These days the PC user has access to some of the most power-hungry games on the market.

Games today demand the absolute maximum from their hardware and every time there is a new game, there is a rush to the shops.

"The recent launch of Doom 3 was a major driver of sales in our store of both upgrade components and new PCs," says Gina Jones of PC World.

Sound experience

Today's gamer needs the help of several different technologies to get the best possible gameplay.

A lot of the features that you see in Hollywood movies are being incorporated into video cards
Eric Lundgren, ATI
Software writers are putting so much into games these days that you will need to beef up your PC just to play them.

First up is some super fast memory - it is over-clocked, over-run, and it gets very, very hot, hence they come equipped with their own heat sinks.

Obviously, you will need a powerful soundcard, with 5.1, 6.1 or even 7.1 audio for your games.

You have several outputs so that you can hear yourself being shot at in surround sound.

"The advantage of having multiple speaker configuration is that you are right in the middle of the action, the sound-scene, as people say," says Andrea D'Orta of multimedia company Creative.

"The more speakers you have around you, the better the experience."

Key component

But the key, or the core, of your game play has to be a good graphics card.

Space Invaders
Space Invaders boosted the video games industry 25 years ago
Without that, you will not get good pictures, and without good pictures you will not get a good game.

Nearly as powerful as the computer they run in, without such a card it is not worth trying.

"New games like Half-Life 2 and Far Cry have reset the bar for what is acceptable performance," says Eric Lundgren of card makers ATI.

"They really bring down the speed, so we have to do our job again and bring out cards with much better performance."

'Breathtaking' games

Apparently, it is also Hollywood's fault.

Gamers at EGN show in London
Powerful hardware to play games comes at a price
"We're not only in a race with other developers and the new games coming up, we're also competing against Hollywood," says Mr Lundgren.

"A lot of the features that you see in Hollywood movies are being incorporated into video cards.

"The Final Fantasy movie experience was incredible (in 2001) but now, as we're seeing, a lot of that can be done in real-time.

"So that's why the next couple of years in video games will be breathtaking."

It is pretty clear that the development of more powerful hardware allows the software writers to write more power-hungry games.

This in turn demands even more powerful hardware, with no end in sight to the cycle.


Click Online is broadcast on BBC News 24: Saturday at 0745, 2030, Sunday at 0430, 0645 and 1630, and on Monday at 0030. It is also shown on BBC Two: Saturday at 0745 and BBC One: Sunday at 0645. Also BBC World.

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