Crysis and class warfare

The story of my dealings with Crysis has thus far been a classic case of tweaking and frustration, the kind of stuff that gives console jockeys their best arguments against PC games. Crysis, as we all know, is not of this world; I’m pretty sure it sailed out the window of a flying Delorean. When you try to run it, it scoffs at your system, declaring that it and you are just simply not worthy.

Well, it wasn’t supposed to be that for me. I have resisted trying Crysis until recently, because I knew my poor old GeForce 8600 GTS 256mb was going to fail miserably. But then I got this sexy new Radeon 4870 1gb, the first really nice video card I’ve ever had. No, I’m not all über 1337 – I don’t have two of them in Crossfire – but that’s because I like to preserve peace and harmony in my marriage.

In short, I expected wonderful things from my new card. Fallout 3 obliged, giving me almost no lag on its highest settings. But Crysis did not. On top of that, it developed a very odd and very obnoxious problem after I’d played it two or three times: the game would run okay (framerate issues notwithstanding) unless I hit a keyboard key like Tab or Escape, at which point it would take anywhere from 10 to 30 seconds to open a simple menu.

Searching for support on the forums returned nothing (other than showing me just how many poor saps have problems with this game, and how we players are pretty much left by EA to fend for ourselves with this stuff, like little kids who get “taught” to swim by being tossed into the deep end and then left). But I did find a fabulous tweak guide site, self-published by one Koroush Ghazi, the kind of Internet saint who toils away by himself making free software guides that pick up the enormous slack left by program developers. His Deluxe Vista Tweak Guide is a steal at $5, and taught me more about Vista than I’d learned in two years of playing with it myself and getting little fixes here and there. Wish him well.

So I work my way through the Vista Tweak Guide over a couple of nights and finally move into Ghazi’s Crysis Tweak Guide. Work through it, learning a lot about shaders and volumetric effects and post processing. Get the game to about 25 fps. And yet the menu lag problem persists. Noting a couple of sideways references to Logitech keyboards on EA’s forum, I open up the good old Device Manager to see about my keyboard driver. And, lo and behold, I notice that I’ve got two keyboards installed, using the exact same driver and resources. I delete one and the problem disappears.

At least I had the computer plugged in.

My (embarrassing) lag problem now gone, I’m still faced with the framerate thing. Of course, I could crank down all of my settings to Medium (!), which is what the game does when I hit the “auto-detect” button. But am I alone in feeling insulted when a game does that? Obviously, I’m not enough of a gear head to go out and buy a HP Blackbird, or two video cards. I made certain concessions in the mobo and CPU when I built my rig; I knew that. But where I’m trying to lead to here is something about videogames and class – especially PC games. One of the unique features of the PC game industry is that it lets game developers push the limits of people’s hardware far and fast. There are plenty of advantages to this, quicker evolution of games’ visual quality being the most obvious. But in a realm that already requires a certain amount of class privilege to even enter, the PC games sector seems to have an additional gradation of hierarchy. Or maybe it’s more like four gradations: Very High, High, Medium, and Low. “You can come in,” the game says to me haughtily, “but you must ‘ave ze chicken. We can take you in eight weeks.” Well, I’m here to tell you: I heard that Crysis has a big sore on its lip.

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