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MMObility: Why I need this new gaming toy


Please tell me that I am not the only one with certain tech obsessions. I know many of you enjoy putting together the toughest PC money can buy, squeezing out every bit of computing power from those gaming monstrosities. I used to worry about that sort of thing, but these days I am all about going in reverse. I've started to challenge myself to find games that require very little power. I am starting to fantasize about OS swapping, dual booting and all sorts of tweaking.

My end goal is to be able to tell a "common" gamer -- someone new to the genre or someone who might not be able to afford anything more than a netbook -- that he too can game. He can game with a lot of other people, in real time. It can be done.

So I decided that I needed a netbook. I made my decision and settled on one. Click past the cut and I'll tell you about it.

Netbook pictures
At first, I thought I would go with the cheapest thing possible. Right now, you can buy a decent little machine for very little from the local Walmart, like the new Acer Aspire and other similarly priced netbooks. Now these little toys are coming with dual-core processors and up to two gigs of ram. Their onboard graphics chipsets do a lot more, as well. They are tiny and easy to carry, and sometimes they feature pretty solid builds and nice keyboards. You can snag one of these netbooks for between 200 and 300 dollars.

The main issue I have with these netbooks is that they generally feature a 1024x600 resolution. Sure, you can get away with that when you are just checking email and performing basic internet tasks, but we are talking about gaming here -- massively multiplayer gaming! While there are quite a few games that will bend to that resolution, I find plenty of frustration in trying to get the games to fit the screen.

So I decided to spend a bit more and go for one of the netbooks that features a larger screen, generally 1366x768. To put that in perspective, a standard 15-inch notebook comes with the same resolution, but the netbook would be around 10 inches. That means adjusting the size of the font and shortcuts on the desktop so that my eyes don't melt out of my skull. I started to look around and found a few good deals.

I was checking out the Dell computer site to spy on laptops for my wife when I stumbled across a packaged deal for a pretty good 14-inch notebook along with the Inspiron Duo, a 10-inch netbook that also converts into a tablet. Interesting. I crunched the numbers and realized that the Duo, normally around 500 dollars, would be half off. I placed the order and, as I write this, am waiting on it to arrive.

"Sure, I can 'test' any game on a brand-new monster gaming machine, but we all know that some developers do that already."

The device has its issues. It runs Windows 7 full, and only with a dual-core Atom processor and 2 gigs of ram. This means sluggishness. When my toy is transformed into a tablet, then the situation becomes even more sluggish. It can take, supposedly, 20 to 30 seconds to open a program! (Aren't we spoiled?) So I've read up on some tweaking guides and will plan on pushing and pulling the thing into shape. That means taking away a lot of the bells and whistles of Windows 7 and possibly installing another operating system. It will be fun, though. I have been reading up on dual-booting the thing. Luckily it comes with a nice 320 gig 7200 RPM hard drive, so that leaves plenty of space for experimenting. I've even thought of replacing that hard drive with a solid state drive, but that might be pushing it.

What does this have to do with MMOs, you might be wondering? Well, a lot. Many, many people play on netbooks or really basic notebooks. I am in the process of talking to different developers to see if I can get an idea as to what their players play on. While they might not have such information or might instead concentrate on browser type or OS statistics, they might still have some insight into what it takes to play their games. Some developers, like KingsIsle Entertainment, are more concerned about developing for lower-end PCs than most. I would bet good money that Blizzard worries about it a lot too and that World of Warcraft's ability to play on a toaster is one of the top three reasons for its success.

I want to be able to find those wonderful games that require nothing to run, and I need a tool to do it. Sure, I can "test" any game on a brand-new monster gaming machine, but we all know that some developers do that already. When you do not test your game across as many possible machines as you can, you wind up with more people complaining about issues with the game running on their specific device. I can't say that I blame the developers since development can often lead to severe tunnel vision. So let me act as the guy who looks for the games that will run on a machine with only two gigs of ram and a dual-core processor.

The games I have found so far are fantastic and are MMOs in even the most literal definition. They feature persistent worlds, massive areas that sport thousand of players, and player interaction that you can only find within an MMO. Sure, many of them will not feature the graphics of Age of Conan or Vanguard: Saga of Heroes, but we all know that graphics are only part of the picture.

Unfortunately, this sickness of mine has invaded all of my writing and gaming. Sure, I love me some Dark Age of Camelot (I am downloading the new new-player experience right now), and I still love to explore Ryzom, but nothing gets me more excited than a game that can be played on a three-pound device. It's a world in your pocket, and that will reach more people than if it required a massive rig. I would like to say that one day these discussions over hardware will be through, and the tech behind our games will be standard and easy for all to own, but the truth is that the devices will become more powerful, more expensive and always available for chest-thumping nerds to show off with.

"My 3-D box surrounds you with 167 layers of light!"

"Hmm, interesting. But mine covers you with an extra four layers!"

I'll be happy to tell people about the cheaper options, the free options, and the ones that do not require yearly upgrades. So what's the smallest machine that you game on? Do you play on a hand-me-down device? Tell me about it in the comments section!

Each week in MMObility, Beau Hindman dives into the murky waters of the most accessible and travel-friendly games around, including browser-based and smartphone MMOs. Join him as he investigates the best, worst, and most daring games to hit the smallest devices! Email him suggestions, or follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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