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Loading... Four MMOGs and a Netbook

Posted Mon, Nov 30, 2009 by Ethec

Welcome to the 1,218th edition of Loading...

Loading... is the premier daily MMORPG news, coverage, and commentary newsletter, only from Ten Ton Hammer.

The compact size, battery life, and an extremely efficient and well-rounded Windows 7 Starter Edition running environment have increasingly made netbooks a full-size laptop replacement for frequent travellers. A number of iconic casual games run perfectly on the latest generation of netbooks, and the recently released action RPG Torchlight released with a special "Netbook Mode." But how do netbooks deal with asset heavy PC games, including some of our favorite MMORPGs? We'll try out 4 Pulse Top Ten MMOGs and share the surprising results, plus share links to a great new Star Trek Online interview and more in today's Loading... Four MMOGs and a Netbook.


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The Pulse

You vote with what you view at Ten Ton Hammer, and the result is the Ten Ton Pulse (What is The Pulse?).

Here are today's top 5 Pulse results:

  1. World of Warcraft
  2. EverQuest 2 (UP 1)
  3. Age of Conan (down 1)
  4. Dungeons and Dragons Online
  5. Warhammer Online

Biggest movers today:

  1. Alganon (UP 6 to #14)
  2. Lord of the Rings Online (UP 1 to #7)
  3. Vanguard: Saga of Heroes (down 1 to #8)
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After hearing more than one person laud the many virtues of Windows 7 Starter, an OEM-only streamlined edition not available at retail (at least in the US), I put my well-travelled, well-loved Fujitsu tablet ultracompact on eBay and purchased a Toshiba NB 205 with the proceeds. The NB 205 is a sensible $400 middle-of-the-roader with a 1 x 1.66 Intel Atom processor, 1 gig of RAM, 140 GB hard drive, and a 6-cell battery tied to a power-sipping integrated display adapter that easily lasts 6-8 hours even when watching movies or playing games. The NB205 also has some nice extras like a sturdy-feeling aluminum keyboard, a Cat5E port in addition to Wireless-N, hard drive shock protection, and a USB port that charges my gadgets even when the computer is off and not plugged in.

Netbooks made their name off of making routine PC tasks purse-sized and portable. I knew I could easily check email, browse the web, and do HTML editing and word-processing, and watch some Hulu (some netbook users report stuttering with Hulu and YouTube, but I haven't found this to be the case), but I certainly wasn't sold on its gaming merits at purchase. I loaded up my spate of airplane and train boredom-reducing casual games - World of Goo, Plants vs. Zombies, Osmos, Civ4 and, yes, Peggle - and to my surprise all except Civilization 4 (see below) worked to perfection. That got me to wondering whether I could up the gaming ante and try out some MMOs too.

First, some caveats. To allow space for a decently sized keyboard, most netbooks have a native resolution of somewhere around 1024x600. That and the downshifted resolution (800x600) aren't supported by every game, and unfortunately the no-fly list includes current builds of games like Civilization 4 and Eufloria in my experience. The game runs fine, but critical elements go off-screen at default resolutions and using different compatibility settings and editing config files hasn't been helpful. I'll post a fix in the forums if I happen across one.

Note also that a netbook's performance bottleneck is clearly at it's extremely efficient and chilly (but slooow) CPU, so netbooks can chug a bit when confronted with heavily compressed files (such as during the install process, which is one reason why it took most of the weekend to gather data for this Loading...). Also, windowed games and elements of games, such as login screens for MMOs, typically stretch 600 pixels tall. That wouldn't be a problem except for the 50 px tall, "submit button"-masking taskbar, so you might want to consider auto-hiding it.

One other thing that's important to consider when buying a netbook is that none of these pint-sized powerhouses have CD / DVD-ROM drives. You can pick up a external USB optical drive for around $100, or just do what I did, ensure that everything you need can be installed via download or by USB key or hard drive. Fortunately all the MMOs I tested out for this round are on the cutting edge of the digital distribution movement. EVE Online, the once and future all-time beauty-per-megabyte champion, was a simple <1 GB client download from the official site. Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeons and Dragons Unlimited offered a fantastic "tiered download" option which got me in the game within an hour despite some slow loading screens while content was streamed on demand. The WoW trial version worked the same way. Unfortunately I had to stick to vanilla WoW since my computer surprisingly didn't meet the minimum RAM requirements for Wrath of the Lich King. I'll install it anyway and deliver the results with Part 2 on Friday.

A word on framerate expectations here, too. On a fully 3D game, you'll get about 15 FPS tops with a netbook like mine, and with graphics quality somewhere between Quake and UT 2004. We're looking at basic 10 FPS-ish playability here, not our next LAN gaming rig showpiece. With that in mind, on to the results:

  • EVE Online was probably my biggest surprise, and it's good news to the game's many multi-boxers that the game works so well on low spec machines. With graphics dialed back as far as they could go and with resource caching enabled, I could pull a respectable and steady 8-11 FPS in heavily trafficked systems like Jita and Rens. The graphics take on their own pleasingly reductionist, almost cell-shaded style at low settings too. Since combat bottomed out at about 5 FPS, I wouldn't want to risk any kind of serious engagement with a netbook, it worked fine for mission running and deadspace encounters and certainly for skill swapping, trading, and ferrying goods through mid- to high-security space.
  • World of Warcraft (played on a pre-TBC trial account, see above for why) did well, ranging from 5-15 FPS as I made my way through Dun Morogh and Ironforge. My only gripe was that I had to do a fair amount of healthbar watching, since it was hard to tell when my newbie weapon connected with a mob. Given Machail's Windows 7 results and the fact that Age of Conan surprisingly performed just about as well as Wrath of the Lich King, it seems like WoW has made something of a departure from its minspec-friendly roots. I'm anxious to try out these two MMOs in the next installment.
  • Dungeons and Dragons Online had the highest framerate peak (17 FPS) of all four MMOs I tested, and for me made the best use of UI and viewing space. I was concerned that the game's trademark active combat might trip me up on a netbook, so I rolled a melee-heavy monk. But though the 8-16 FPS range necessarily cut out some frames, they were the least necessary and combat still felt fluid. All in all, throughout my scanty half-hour of play, DDO probably offered the best netbook experience of the four MMOs I tested.
  • Lord of the Rings Online, even with the standard graphics build's settings dialed as low as possible, tested worst of the four MMOs, ranging from a paltry 3-8 FPS (heavy on the 3-4). At such low framerates, combat and movement felt completely unresponsive. On top of that, many UI elements were entirely out of place at my lowly resolution on login. LotRO is one MMO I wouldn't recommend on a netbook for anything more than chat, and given this it's a bit surprising that LotRO and DDO share much of the same core technology.

So DDO Unlimited wins round one of our four MMOs and a Netbook faceoff, with EVE Online a close second. I'll be back on Friday of this week with part 2, where we'll test out Aion, Warhammer Online, Age of Conan, and WoW: Wrath of the Lich King. In the meantime, you're welcome to share your thoughts on netbook gaming and MMO minspecs in the Loading... forums!


Shayalyn's Epic Thread of the Day

From our Tavern of the Ten Ton Hammer forum

APB - All Points Bulletin

Beerkeg is getting excited about APB, the MMO he refers to as, "Shaping up to be a fantastic GTA / Planetside style clone with massive multiplayer gun battles and gangsters!" For some reason, Ten Ton Hammer's APB coverage hasn't registered much of a hit on our Pulse radar, currently coming in at #64. But perhaps beta, and today's epic thread, will begin to turn that around. Are you interested in APB? Want to learn more or discuss the game? Head on over!

==============================
Awesome Quotes from the Epic Thread

"Yeah, supposedly the character creator is so advanced that you will be able to create your own face in the game. There was a picture in the latest PC Gamer magazine where the developers only went by a photo of one of the staff, and created him in game PERFECTLY! Even being able to custome a kevlar vest with the PC Gamer logo."

- Beerkeg
==============================

Have you spotted an Epic Thread on our forums? Tell us!

6 new Ten Ton Hammer MMOG features today! 111 in November! 3,085 in 2009!

New Exclusives and Guides today at Ten Ton Hammer

  • World of Warcraft - How to Play a Healing Priest
    So you’ve decided you want to heal, and what a valiant calling that is, regardless of what healing class you choose to play. Priest healers really have a special niche all of their own, with the ability to choose between two talent trees that allow for vary different play styles. This guide will attempt to give you valuable information and tips on both healing styles that will benefit anyone new to Priest healing.
  • Rolling a Save vs. Budget - a Look at Dungeons and Dragons Online: Eberron Unlimited
    Since Dungeons and Dragons Online: Eberron Unlimited has gone Free 2 Play the population has boomed. Free is a good price tag for any game, but is DDO worth the download? Ten Ton Hammer Executive Editor, Benjamin J. de la Durantaye, takes a look at the game after it has changed its subscription model and gives his first hand impressions.
  • World of Warcraft - How to Play a Survival Hunter
    This week Mem delves deep into the realm of Survival Hunters and attempts to bring you a comprehensive guide to lead you on your way to DPS greatness. Inside the guide will be answers to many of the questions asked by those new to the Survival spec and perhaps even provide some helpful tips for those old school Survival Hunters.
  • Gearing Up in Star Trek Online – An Exclusive Interview with Cryptic Studios
    You can create the greatest game in the universe, but if it isn’t full of more loot than players can imagine, you’re going to be fighting an uphill battle with your playerbase the moment it releases. We managed to track down Star Trek Online Producer, Dan Stahl, and System Designer, Joe Harrington, and convinced them to enlighten us on the importance gear plays in this upcoming title from Cryptic Studios.
  • EVE Online - Dominion Expansion Trailer
    No one does space combat quite like Eve Online. With the launch of the game's 12th free expansion lurking around the corner, patrons of the Eve Online universe are preparing for the changes that will be introduced with Dominion when it goes live on December 1st, 2009. This week CCP sent us the new Eve Online: Dominion trailer for your viewing pleasure. The latest trailer shows a massive battle, a scene that may become all too common once Dominion goes live with its new sovereignty changes.
  • Aion - Overview of Chanter Skills 26-50
    Are you thinking about rolling an alt? Do you want the benefits of healing without the responsibility of being expected to do it in groups? Perhaps a Chanter is right up your alley. Know what's in store for your mid to end game skills with our handy little guide here at Ten Ton Hammer. It involves plenty of staff twirling!

Today's Hottest Content

  1. Gearing Up in Star Trek Online – An Exclusive Interview with Cryptic Studios
  2. Dragonica Online Impressions: Side Scrolling Madness
  3. Rolling a Save vs. Budget - a Look at Dungeons and Dragons Online: Eberron Unlimited
  4. Odus Comes to EverQuest 2 - A Sentinel's Fate Expansion Q&A with Alan Crosby
  5. Interfacing with Star Trek Online - A UI Discussion with Cryptic Studios
  6. Torchlight (PC) Review
  7. Lord of the Rings Online: Siege of Mirkwood Beta Impressions
  8. EVE Online Sins of the Solar Spymaster #32 - The Most Dangerous Agent
  9. Down to Earth or Another Planet - a Star Trek Online Ground Combat Q&A with Dan Stahl
  10. Global Agenda Medic Class Q&A with Exec. Producer Todd Harris

Thanks for visiting the Ten Ton Hammer network!

- Jeff "Woleslagle" Woleslagle and the Ten Ton Hammer team



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