Tuesday, March 04, 2008

VMWare and Gaming: A Review

This last week I have been really looking into VMWare as an engine, and looking at potential options for WIndows gaming within the Mac. VMWare has a wonderful (if experimental) option to encode hardware 3D into the video card, if only for XP at the moment. So, I thought I would give it a go.

The Test
One game that I have been aching to try again is Ultima IX: Ascension. Not particularly because it was the best Ultima game out there (I still contend that Ultima IV was the best), but because the engine was so radical for it's time. Of course, that also means it needed some very advanced system requirements for it's time as well. How well could it run within a virtual machine? That's what I wanted to know.

First Attempt: QEMU
I first attempted the install with QEMU, and it failed. Why? Because QEMU isn't able to simulate a hardware 3D emulator (nor should it, for what it's designed to do). So this means the only method outside of Virtual PC for my PowerPC wasn't going to work. It needed something more advanced.

Second Attempt: VMWare Fusion
I next attempted VMWare fusion, and the install went clean and easy. It was quick, detected the processor without any trouble, and in XP it managed to see the Hardware 3D Graphics option without a problem (not so when trying to install it in Windows 98SE). So I tried to run it.

The display was just as I remembered, and the video clips played without a hitch. It looked like I found a viable option for my Ultima IX itch... until I actually tried to play. The mouse was not controllable, making moving about in the world very difficult. This, of course, goes to a whole different rant about requiring mouse-driven movement, but that can be answered at another time.

The Verdict
Until I figure out why the mouse isn't working, I would have to say that this almost gets there, and then crushes you right when you think you have the option sown up. It's more disappointing than having the game not install at all, because it looks like you might be able to do it before you fail miserably.

So, what am I going to do? Well, the next step is to find out why the mouse was not working properly. I may also try creating a Bootcamp partition again, booting into Windows directly, and see if it works. Ultimately, it's not the solution that I need, because it just reinforces the need for a decent Ultima game ported to the Mac environment. Perhaps it's time I learned how to do 3D game rendering, and perhaps start working on one myself.


giobox said...

I remember trying to play this game when it came out - the performance didn't really suck because it was advanced for its time - the performance sucked back then because the game was so badly developed. 'Lord British'(Richard Garriot, the Ultima series producer) has since admitted the game shipped well before it was finished due to budget restraints, EA got fed up of waiting after five years in development. It was so poorly coded the game wasn't even completable with the original shipment of discs sent to retailers due to a bug. They even went as far as to mail replacement CDs to those who had bought and registered the game.

Some have speculated the reason for the awful graphics performance, which remained awful even on high end systems for a few years after the release, was due to the game engine originally being heavily reliant on 3dfx. When development began the Voodoo series of graphics accelerators was at the peak of its popularity. 3dfx of course is no longer with us, and the game had to be converted to use direct3d very late in its development. This is why the best performance with this game was always obtained on Voodoo 3 equipped machines, even thought by this point the card was well out of date. I did at one point consider buying a Voodoo 3 off ebay just to get the damn game to work.

All in all it is easily the worst game in the Ultima series and possibly one of the poorest games of all time. I recently finally played the game with an acceptable frame rate on a machine with a Geforce 7 series card, some 8 years after the games original release!

Even if you do get the mouse to work, I would be very surprised if vmware provides a decent frame rate.

Jeremy Robb said...

Thanks for your post Giobox!

It definitely doesn't stand up to Ultima 4, which is by far my most favorite of the Ultima series, but I do like some aspects of the game.

I did finally get it working in VMWare Fusion, and it was surprisingly manageable.