Vista not playing nice with gamers

Driver problems and lack of DirectX 10 video cards hinder Vista-optimised games

Windows Vista's powerful new graphics engine may be one of its hallmark features, but it's engendering complaints from a key segment of potential early adopters: hardcore gamers.

A small but significant number of games written for Windows XP either crash or creep along slowly on Vista, according to numerous complaints by game enthusiasts in online forums.

"Formatted PC, installed Vista, updated any drivers possible. Now half [of my] games will not run, or run with corrupt graphics," lamented one poster on Jan. 31 in a discussion forum at graphics chipmaker Nvidia Corp.'s Web site.

"You installed Vista. You deserve your problems. Heh," replied a second poster.

Most of the problems have been found in popular first-person shooter games such as CounterStrike, Half-Life 2, Doom 3 and F.E.A.R.

Games, especially first-person shooters, tend to strain a PC's graphics capabilities much more than business or even multimedia applications.

Besides the occasional crash, the most common reports appear to be games whose animation speed, measured in frames per second, suffers under Vista.

Experts blame still-flaky software drivers, Vista's complexity and a dearth of new video cards optimized for Vista's new rendering technology, DirectX 10.

That's despite promises from Microsoft that Vista is backwards-compatible with XP's graphic engine, DirectX 9, and that it will support existing games.

Meanwhile, games written to take advantage of DirectX 10 have been slow to emerge. And one Nvidia executive predicts that gamers may not routinely see games optimized for DirectX 10 until mid-2008.

It's not that bad, says Microsoft

Chris Donahue, manager of Microsoft's Games for Windows group, says the company has tested 1,000 popular games from the past five years. Most work well with Vista, he said, declining to elaborate how many had problems and why.

Vista's DirectX 10 is reportedly a complete rewrite of Microsoft's graphic engine that should allow games written for the platform to run much faster and display more textured, lifelike images than under DirectX 9.

DirectX 10 is so advanced that even Vista's advanced desktop interface, dubbed "Aero," relies on the previous-generation DirectX 9 technology.

Leading game publishers such as Electronic Arts Inc., PopCap Games Inc., Vivendi Games, THQ Inc., Slam Games and WildTangent Inc. are busily creating games taking advantage of DirectX 10, according to Microsoft. Microsoft, through its MSN Games group, is also releasing a number of less graphically-intensive "casual" games for Vista.

But so far, Microsoft has only shown off -- and only via screenshots and video clips -- a handful of games that truly take advantage of DirectX 10. And many of those improvements appear to be subtle ones that only the most avid gamers will notice.

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Eric Lai

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