Tweaking the game to run on a wide range of hardware.

For the last week I have been involved in rather uninteresting activity. Well, I have been literally throwing the game on all possible hardware configs hoping it will run. All of this (yes, again) to find out how the game fares when exposed to different hardware configurations. Well it may seem like this activity is rather mundane, then let me assure you — it is. Well, not entirely 😀 . It takes some effort to get a game to scale seamlessly to all kinds of hardware and currently I am enduring all the pain of crappy drivers and broken functionality, which,  should I say, underscores some of the major headaches in real-time graphics development. It’s not like you can throw the game with it’s peak setting ON and expect it to run on a crappy Intel on-board graphic cards. Such a thing will just end in a disaster. The game must scale to different kinds of hardware and in our case especially so; that too seamlessly and effectively.

Doofus 3D is uniquely placed. It doesn’t aim to be a top-line, hardware intensive, hard-core gamer only, triple A (AAA) title. Neither is it a 2D game capable of running flawlessly under software rasterized graphics on your grandma’s old school PC. It is geared more towards intermediate level hardware. Hardware that most people have on their work laptops and home desktops. This effectively means an extremely wide range of hardware to cater to, and that in turn means scaling the game’s software paths (internally) based on a *lot* of underlying factors. Assuming a player to have a specific functionality available on his hardware setup can be catastrophic and disastrous. Such assumptions could mean a total failure of the game on a machine and could mean a potential loss of a buyer in the end.

While drawing up specs of Doofus 3D we were especially careful not to go overboard with graphics galore. Even with careful planning, there was significant feature creep, and with each new feature that was added, new countermeasures had to be put in place so that the game would scale to lower-end hardware. Not everything was straight forward, but we still did manage to push it through. If you have been following my blog for some time now, you would know that this is not the first time I am into such activity. I (personally) run such tests after each beta (feature addition/ feature freeze) of the game. That is probably why we haven’t faced too many problems this time around.

Under Doofus 3D we followed a process that is a bit different from traditional software development. Every beta under this game project was actually a feature complete runnable version of the game. Before or between any beta, every release was an internal alpha version. A beta meant, “A set of features is complete enough to be tested”. After each beta, each feature was tested on various hardware setups. Something like an iterative method of software development, but not quite. I would say, a process tailored specifically for our project and more specifically for our situation given our limitations.

Doofus 3D runs on most middle rung hardware without too much problems. It will run on on-board graphics cards too, but I find Intel on-board graphics to be an abomination. Hopeless hardware support for 3D graphics and equally crappy driver support! Enough reason for the engine to scale the game to run on a low setting when it detects an Intel graphics card. The situation with NVIDIA and ATI cards is a lot better with ATI’s low end cards (,assuming the price point, ) to be consistently outperforming NVIDIA cards. That said, NVIDA has the most stable hardware and drivers and most settings work uniformly across cards and driver setups, though there can be problems there as well. ATI’s drivers can be buggy at times and in case of OpenGL can be totally broken. Fortunately the O2 Engine and the Doofus Game can use either Direct3D or OpenGL as rendering APIs. For any high end or for that matter even for most mid-range graphics cards, Doofus 3D is not a problem at all.

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