Archive for May, 2013

Zeroing In on System Requirements

Posted on: May 9th, 2013 by T'nara the Wise

We’ve been testing our client on several different machines, and I wanted to report our findings, so you can have some idea whether it’s likely to be playable on your machine.

First, let me just say a little bit about how we chose machines to test on. We wanted to make sure Mage Faire is playable for the vast majority of gamers. How do we do that? How do we even know what kind of machines the vast majority of gamers have?

It turns out that statistics are available on the computers of a large population of gamers! Steam, the game web-site/community run by Valve, collects data about what kinds of computer hardware their customers are using. And they’ve made the statistics publicly available. We chose machines to maximize player coverage using those statistics.

Operating Systems

There’s a compelling reason for focusing on Windows before Mac: almost 95% of players reported playing on some version of Windows. So, we have tested on the following Windows operating systems:

  • XP Service Pack 3
  • Vista 32-bit
  • Vista 64-bit
  • 7 64-bit
  • 8 64-bit

It works on them all. We didn’t test on 32-bit Windows 7 or 8 only because we didn’t have any handy. We will when we get a chance, and we expect them to behave similarly to their 64-bit counterparts.

What if you have an older OS than Windows XP? I’ll try to say this gently. I know you have a history with this computer. You’ve been through a lot together and have made so many memories. But, if you want to play in a 3D virtual world, I’m afraid your old friend will not keep up.

Interestingly, the statistics from our alpha questionnaire differ significantly from Steam. Only 75% of our respondents play games on Windows; 18% play on Mac. That’s motivating us to port to Mac as soon as possible after getting our very first alpha test off the ground.


In the Steam survey, 96% had 2 or more CPUs. We’ve tested on machines with 2, 4, 6, and 8 cores. Our client works fine on all of them. We were hoping to score an old machine with processor speed between 2.0 GHz and 2.29 GHz, because about 92% of Steam respondents had that speed or better. When we went to our local used computer shop, they had a handful of used computers to choose from. The closest we could get was 2.3 GHz, which we thought was close enough. Our client runs great on that machine.

Video RAM

Almost 99% of Steam players reported having 256 MB or more of video RAM. When we bought that used machine, in order to hit as many parameters as we could, we got them to install a video card with 256 MB of video RAM, and Windows XP. We decided that this one machine can be our benchmark. We’ll make sure that everything runs great on this machine, and that will define our minimum system requirements.

At first, when we ran around our alpha areas on this older machine, we weren’t getting the frame rates we wanted. It was sluggish in some places, and not so fun. So the art department reorganized the world to improve that. (That’s the power of magic for ya!) Now, you can run all around the alpha areas and get 30 frames per second (fps) or better everywhere.

Pushing the Envelope (or Trying, Anyway)

We were so excited by how well everything did on the benchmark machine, we decided to try some machines that were even lower-end, just to see what would happen.

We tried a new-ish (bought this past Christmas) non-gaming laptop. What do I mean by non-gaming? Well, it only cost $300, so you know it’s not the highest-end machine. The dual 2.10 GHz processor and 4 GB of RAM are pretty modest by today’s standards. Perhaps even more important, it has on-board graphics, rather than a separate graphics card. It also only has 32 MB of dedicated video RAM. Recall that our benchmark machine has 256 MB. Our development machines have 1024 MB.

We ran around in all the same alpha areas on this laptop, and were seeing 24 fps or better. For anyone who may not be aware of this, 24 fps is how fast a movie plays in a movie theater. For some people, 24 fps is playable. For others, especially hard-core gamers, 24 fps is a joke. So, this system is in sort of a gray area. It would not be the best Mage Faire experience.

Then we got crazy. We tried an ancient (from 2007!) non-gaming laptop with 32-bit Windows Vista, dual-core 1.80 GHz processor, 2 GB RAM, and 128 MB of video RAM in an on-board graphics processor. On that machine, we got as low as 10 fps in some areas. That is pretty darned unplayable. We cannot recommend it.

We suspect that the real problem with these laptops we tried is the underpowered on-board graphics with insufficient dedicated video RAM. We’re trying to render a 3D world here, and so a graphics processor with little or no 3D acceleration just limps along. Because of that, it’s not feasible to support low-end laptops or netbooks that were not designed with gaming in mind. It might be playable, but we can’t promise it. You probably need a real graphics card. Not a very hefty one, but an actual graphics card nonetheless.

Bottom Line

We declare our benchmark machine to be the minimum we support:

  • 2.3 GHz dual-core processor
  • 2 GB RAM
  • graphics card with 256 MB dedicated video RAM
  • Windows XP Service Pack 3, or later Windows operating systems

If you skipped to the bottom line and didn’t read anything above, let me just say here, again, that this really is a low-end gamer machine. We chose it because 90+% of gamers already have a computer that equals or exceeds these specs. We hope (we hope, we hope!) this is good news for most Mages.