GameTap & Vista: Some Initial Observations

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Matt Barton's picture

Well, I've recently been taking advantage of a 3-month freebie subscription to check out the infamous GameTap service, which, for those of you who haven't been keeping up with Bill's many posts on it, is a sort of "cable" for gamers. Following my "first glance" at the system after some 5 hours of exploration.

GameTap has some 600-800 games from various systems, apparently running under emulation, and available for fast download to your home machine. They also have a very slick interface and loads of extra content for the games, including instructions, history, and in some cases interviews. The best coverage seems to be for the Sega Genesis system, though there are also a smattering of games for the NES, C-64, Atari 2600, and early DOS and Windows games (I'm not sure why they thought adding games for the Game Gear was a good idea...!) Most of the better MAME arcade games are here, too, though they don't run properly under Vista.

My current machine contains an AMD Athlon 2400+ running at 2 ghz, an Nvidia GeForce 6200, and a gig of RAM. Unfortunately, this doesn't seem to be enough power to run GameTap, and the menu tends to stutter. There are also issues when switching to the different resolutions called for by the menu and some of the games; I kept thinking my computer was about to crash, but it managed to stay online. I was also unable to play the new Sam & Max games in full quality, though they do run fine when reduced to "low quality." Apparently, there is some issue with DirectX 10 and the "arcade" games, and though they seemed to play quite well, the sound was severely distorted. Although plenty of folks wouldn't care about something like that, I just can't see playing Bubble Bobble without that catchy title theme. GameTap seems to have given up on the sound issue with Vista, though they claim it should be addressed in a DirectX update soon. I wasted an hour or so updating and tweaking my drivers to no avail.

Other games were hit-or-miss. I couldn't get X-Com to run at all, and other games acted quite strangely (such as annoyingly long loading times with the Worms Puzzle game). On the other hand, Planescape: Torment seems to be running fine, although I'm concerned that the cut scenes may have been removed for the sake of a faster download. There are plenty of games here that have me wondering why they bothered. For instance, why would anyone want to play the original Rainbow Six? And, of course, Nintendo's policies will probably prevent any of the more popular NES or SNES games from appearing on the system (though a few third-party games like Castlevania and Contra are available). I wasn't too pleased with the C-64 selection; many of those games appear to be Speccy ports. Where's Archon? Kickstart? Mail Order Monsters? Elite? The lack of Amiga titles is more excusable, but still disappointing.

However, if for no other reason, it's worth the paltry fee just to get access to the new Sam & Max games. I've already completed the first one, and it's extremely well done. I was laughing all the way through it, and must say that I'm now a firm believer in the "episode" model of adventure gaming. The length felt just right; it's about an evening's worth of fun, and the puzzles are intuitive and quite fun. If you enjoyed Sam & Max Hit the Road, then for God's sake, get a GameTap account and check out the new episodes.

Just for comparison's sake, I installed GameTap on my tablet PC (Gateway M275), which runs XP and also has a gig of RAM. The sound issues weren't present on this system, but the slower processor and lack of 3-D support made it less practical as a game machine. Sam & Max was a no-go on the tablet. Unfortunately, GameTap isn't compatible at all with the Macintosh, so I was unable to harness my powerful iMac yet again.

At any rate, for the time being I'd recommend GameTap only to folks who are still running XP and have more juice than my current system. I'd be curious to know if the system works better on a dual core.

Comments

Bill Loguidice
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I'll let you know how it

I'll let you know how it works on my dual core Vista Tablet PC when it arrives, but I have no issue (as you know first-hand) running it on my Dell Desktop, which is roughly the same horsepower as the rig you tried it on. I also have no problem on my MAME arcade machine, except for certain 3D games, like Sam and Max, which don't like the ArcadeVGA card based on an ATI chipset. I think there are many variables at play here, which is ironic, as even when the PC tries to have a console-like experience, it's still tough to consistently pull it off. I hope between what GameTap does and what you're able to modify yourself, you'll finally get a near 100% experience, as I think an all-you-can game service is ideal for writers on sites like ours where we don't get the same perk level as our more mainstream counterparts.

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Bill Loguidice, Managing Director
Armchair Arcade, Inc.
(A PC Magazine Top 100 Website)
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Matt Barton
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No Doubt

You're correct, Bill, and I strongly suspect GameTap will only get better with time. If they continue to add games, improve compatibility, and enhance performance, I don't doubt but what this service will become absolutely essential for retrogamers. There is also the leaderboard aspect I didn't mention. It'd be great fun to play a game like Bubble Bobble with my friends here on AA!

The only other way to get all these games running a single PC would involve countless hours of illegal downloading and sweating over emulation programs. Even if some of the games aren't working at 100%, $5 a month sure beats hundreds of frustrating hours wasted on abandonwarez sites and tweaking the setting in some emulator with a wretched interface.

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Bill Loguidice
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I was reading the latest

I was reading the latest issue of "Games for Windows" magazine, and they had a feature on all the games that are compatible/not-compatible with Vista. They devoted some space to GameTap. Indeed, it is definitely not Vista compatible, but they're working on it. Apparently it doesn't even want to install. I noticed that Civ IV and its expansion works, so that's good. The other games I wasn't too concerned about.

======================================
Bill Loguidice, Managing Director
Armchair Arcade, Inc.
(A PC Magazine Top 100 Website)
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Mark Vergeer
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No comment from me ;)

I will abstain from making any comment on GameTap. :P

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Matt Barton
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Planescape

Well, I've gotten several hours into Planescape: Torment, and now the bloody thing is crashing every time I try to enter the Clerk's Ward. I'm supposed to talk to cust. svc. on the phone today to try to work things out. Argh. I was really invested in that game, so I hope we'll be able to resolve the problem.

I'm also wondering--is there any way to transfer my saved games from one computer to the other as long as they are running GameTap?

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joe_h99 (not verified)
Vista performance

I've recently installed gametap on Vista and performance definitly suffers. On XP my Athlon MP 2800+, GeForce 6800, with 1GB RAM worked great. In Vista (with 2GB RAM to bring Vista speed up to tolerable) Sam & Max works just as well, but the 2D emulated games stutter. Especially the Genesis games. They're still playable, but considering how well it worked in XP I'm tempted to go back.

I don't think it's an issue of not having enough hardware so hopefully they can get it sorted out berfore too long.

Matt Barton
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GameTap and PlaneScape

Yes, I notice that many games run better on my tablet PC (XP) than my desktop (vista), even though the tablet is significantly underpowered compared to the desktop. The latest debacle has been with PlaneScape: Torment. I can't get any further in the game because it crashes every time I try to enter the Clerk's Ward. I've tried it on both machines to no avail. I called GameTap, who suggested it has something to do with my internet connection. Doesn't make much sense to me, but I intend to try it from the campus internet on Monday.

From what I can see, the MAME games are just barely playable under Vista. They're blaming this on problems in Direct X 10, and claiming that they will be fixed in Microsoft's next update.

At any rate, as more and more people switch to Vista and start complaining about these issues, GameTap will have no choice (if they want to remain viable) to resolve them. It's just a question of how long we'll have to wait.

Then again, they don't seem at all interested in offering true Mac compatibility, which doesn't seem like that Herculean of a task to me. If this service WAS available on Macs, it'd be an absolute no-brainer.

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Bill Loguidice
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I just installed GameTap on

I just installed GameTap on my 2GB Vista Home Ultimate Tablet PC laptop (widescreen) with ATI Mobility Radeon X1400 video card. At first, it wouldn't run, but then I had Windows update my video card drivers (even though my laptop is brand new; also, Gateway didn't seem to have an update available). It then ran. The first game I wanted to download and try was Sam and Max Episode 1, since I never finished that on my XP Home PC downstairs (the one place I've had 100% success). Unfortunately, I lost the ability to see GameTap once I minimized it (since I wanted to do other stuff). After I let enough time pass to allow the download to happen, I forced Windows to shut it down, which it did successfully. I was then able to get back into GameTap and run Sam and Max. It seemed to work OK, but then I found I had no access to the gun. Also, when I accessed the menu options, they were difficult to see and I couldn't really access any options. I then put the characters to the windows of the office and then there was just blackness. So definitely glitchy. I think I'll redownload Sam and Max and just not minimize the screen while doing it. If that doesn't fix the issues, then I'll assume that Sam and Max is a lost cause on this system for now. Again, it's not a big deal as my system downstairs is perfectly compatible, but it's frustrating that I can't do this on what is really my main system.

I'll keep everyone updated...

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Bill Loguidice, Managing Director
Armchair Arcade, Inc.
(A PC Magazine Top 100 Website)
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Bill Loguidice
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I guess the first download

I guess the first download was no good. I deleted Sam and Max Episode 1 and redownloaded it. Now the game is complete with no glitches. I'll try some other games out that are not on the "known problems with Vista" list. So far though, things seem to be on track nicely, though a bit stretchy on the widescreen...

======================================
Bill Loguidice, Managing Director
Armchair Arcade, Inc.
(A PC Magazine Top 100 Website)
======================================

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