As we all know – or should know, unless we happen to live under a rock – Microsoft recently gave birth to a shiny, burbling baby operating system: Windows Vista. Ooh, look at it, it's pretty. And it's also pretty frustrating if you don't know what to expect.
Yes, installing a new OS is always an adventure. Sometimes that adventure ends happily ever after with a nice sunset-lit hand-holding session, but more often it seems to end with our hero being de-boned for a quick dinner with the local troll family. Have no fear, I'm here with a torch to fend off those nasty OS trolls and get you up and gaming with Windows Vista.
First things first
OK, I'm going to assume that you have already managed to get Vista installed on your system. You checked the compatibility, your PC can handle it, your hard drive didn't melt when you installed it, and now you're ready to get back to your favorite MMORPG.
Make sure you have plenty of RAM. If you have been sliding by on 512 MB with Windows XP, you are not going to enjoy gaming in Vista. You're barely going to run Vista. One GB is good, two is much better.
Let's pause here for a minute, and make sure we have some of our basic PC gaming goodies working before we try to log in and go.
Make sure you have the Vista drivers for your video card loaded. Vista has a decent default driver for your desktop, but it's no good for gaming. If you have an ATI card, you can look for your driver here: http://ati.amd.com/support/driver.html. If you are using an Nvidia based card, then you will want to check here: http://www.nvidia.com/content/drivers/drivers.asp.
I had no trouble installing the ATI and Nvidia Vista drivers. Both of them installed as easily as they did on Windows XP, and both worked right off the bat.
Next, let's make sure we can hear the game. First, download your drivers. Obviously, if you have something other than what I have linked here, you're going to need to search for it. Don't worry, Google is your friend. Realtek AC97: www.realtek.com.tw/downloads/downloadsView.aspx?Langid=1&PNid=14&PFid=23&Level=4&Conn=3&DownTypeID=3&GetDown=false Creative Labs Soundblaster series: http://us.creative.com/support/downloads/.
Now, here's where Vista starts to get tricky on us. You see, a lot of games – games Microsoft deems "legacy" games, even though some of them were released last month – use something called DirectSound to interface with the drivers of your sound card. (Built in or otherwise.) DirectSound allowed the sound card to accelerate the audio in games.
Well, dear old Microsoft decided that we no longer needed DirectSound anymore, since they want to push an audio format (Open AL) that is compatible with both the PC and the Xbox360. So, they left it out of Vista. That's right, it's just not there.
So, what does this mean for your average MMORPG player? Well, unless you use a Creative X-Fi card, your pretty much out of luck as far as DirectSound games go. You'll still be able to get stereo sound from the game, since Vista supports software emulation, but you won't be able to get surround sound or any of the nice audio effects we've all become used to.
Think this doesn't apply to you? Consider this: Everquest II, World of Warcraft, and Guild Wars all use DirectSound, and your favorite game just may use it as well.
Those of you with an X-Fi card are in luck. Creative has come up with a program they call ALchemy that converts your old DirectSound games to the new AL audio standard. (Get it, ALchemy? You see, it converts , you know, like an alchemist used to convert....oh forget it, why do I bother?) You can pick up a beta version of ALchemy here: http://preview.creativelabs.com/alchemy/default.aspx.
I do happen to have an X-Fi sound card, so I tried the three big DirectSound MMORPG games. ALchemy does what it claims to do. All three games have the same sounds as they did when played under Windows XP. WoW even lets me turn up hardware acceleration again, something I haven't been able to do since The Burning Crusade launched last month.
The Other stuff
You'll also want to make sure you have working drivers for things like mice, keyboards, and other add-on cards you may use. This sounds obvious, but some companies don't have a working driver yet, and it's hit or miss with XP driver compatibility.
For instance, Zboard does not yet have a driver that allows its keyboards to function under Vista. My action keys now drop me out of game and do things like open IE7 or Windows Media Player, and that's not too fun when you were just engaged in a little PvP. My Razer Krait, however, runs just fine on its old XP drivers.
For those of you with deep pockets, Ageia has some beta Vista drivers for their PhysX cards here: http://www.ageia.com/drivers/drivers.html and Bigfoot Networks has some beta Vista drivers for the Killer NIC here: http://www.killernic.com/Killer/KillerSetup_v03000001_vista_beta.exe. The Killer NIC drivers work well under Vista, but I really can't verify the PhysX drivers. What game uses those, again? Oh, that's right, it's not out yet. Funny that they list Vanguard in their games section, but I can't find a thing about Vanguard using PhysX anywhere else. But I digress. On to the games!
Wow, you burned my crusade!
World of Warcraft started right up under Vista, no fuss, no muss. It also ran like a three-legged dog, and the audio snapped, crackled, and popped more than any bowl of Rice Crispies I have ever eaten. I can usually run WoW with all the bells and whistles turned on and all sliders set to max and get well over 60 FPS. Apparently I cannot do that with Vista.
Or can I?
A quick look around the 'net uncovered a little trick to get my sound to stop emulating a breakfast cereal: It seems that if you turn off Vertical Sync in the display menu, the sound works better under Vista. Lo and behold, when I turned Vsync off, my frame rates returned to normal as well. Other than the Vsync problem, WoW seems to be running stable under Vista now.
Never say Ever again...
Everquest II started up just fine in Vista. It ran well for 20 minutes, then crashed to desktop. Try as I might, I could not get it to start up again, it just crashed at various points while initializing. Sometimes the launcher would crash, sometimes I would get to the SOE splash screen and it would crash, but not once did it let me actually play. I tried rebooting as well, but to no avail.
I did eventually get it to run, and now I can play indefinitely. Here's what you can do to fix EQII if it is not working under Vista for you: Right click on the shortcut and select Properties. Click the Compatibility tab, check “Run this program in compatibility mode for:”, and select Windows XP on the drop down menu. Click OK and you should be all set.
So far I have not seen a drop in FPS or had any other problems while playing EQII under Vista. Go go gadget compatibility mode!
Guild Wars, wonderful Guild Wars...
The title of this section is actually a reference to the skit where Bill Murray put words to the Star Wars theme, but it could also reference the way GW runs under Vista. I had absolutely no problems with any of the three Guild Wars campaigns. My FPS remained the same as they were under XP.
Hasta La Vista, Vanguard
Take one barely finished, bug riddled game, and add one just released, barely supported OS and what do you get? A reason to stop playing MMORPGs and start drowning yourself in whiskey.
First of all, Vanguard seems to run on the released ATI Vista drivers. Not so for you Nvidia owners. If you have a 6,7 or 8 series card, you're going to want the beta Forceware 100.59 drivers. Otherwise you will be crashing to the desktop. A lot.
Secondly, even though Vanguard is supposed to be an Open AL game, it doesn't seem to work on hardware mode even on an Open AL supported sound card. So, unless you have a SoundBlaster X-Fi card and Creative ALchemy, you're out of luck for surround sound or even decent sound.
Lastly, even if you get it up and running all nice and stable, Vanguards performance under Vista is not great. It's not even good. Let's just say that, well, it sucks. Remember to /flush early, /flush often.
I'm all out of love, I'm so lost without you
Vista has the potential to be a great operating system for gaming, but right now it's more work than pleasure. I hope I helped some of you that already took the plunge, but for those of you who were thinking about Vista and just haven't gotten it yet: Please, do yourself a favor. Keep gaming on Windows XP for now.
Have you taken the Vista plunge already? Are you playing an MMORPG that I didn't cover? Do you have tips for getting it up and running under Vista? Was your mother a hamster and did your father reek of elderberries? Drop us a line in the forums!