Casual Friday: Stream Crysis on an Eee PC

Welcome back to PC World's weekly celebration of slack. So get your geek on as we examine remote-access gaming, playing Crysis in odd places, and the future of online games. (Melodramatic enough for you?) 

Disclaimer: Hey, I was due for a remotely serious column. I can always go back to something screwy for next week.

Nevermind that PricewaterhouseCoopers's "Global Entertainment and Media Outlook: 2008-2012" report says that online games will explode--from $6.6 billion last year to $14.4 billion in 2012. (Hot damn, that's a lot of gold farming.) You want a piece of the future? Keep an eye on companies looking to stream games to your computer.

Right now, I'm playing flippin' Crysis (yes, that computer-killing, power-hungry PC game) in all its glory, on a mini-laptop. How is this even happening? Allow me to introduce you to remote-access gaming software, StreamMyGame.

Stream My...What?

Remote-access software is nothing new. It's been around for ages doing all sorts of sexy tasks such as ... well ... remote backup! Setting up record commands! Accessing spreadsheets! Man, I could go on with that stuff all day.

Trying to play games over a remote connection, though, is another story. All sorts of latency issues stop you from getting the instantaneous reactions required. Both audio and video stream from the game PC to the client device. Your commands--whether you're typing or trying to shoot--need to go back upstream and over the Internet to the gaming PC. And all of that needs to happen in a fraction of a second--otherwise, the game is completely unplayable. Is game streaming possible from your home machine? Yes. Here's a running demo of Crysis and Quake 4 playing through a network connection on an Asus Eee PC mini-laptop. (No need to sit through the whole thing. There are two money-shot moments, at around the 3-minute and 6.5-minute marks.)

Trust me: Nothing's better than nursing carpal tunnel while trying to play FPS games on a microscopic keyboard! Sound tempting? A free version of the software at StreamMyGame allows players to stream between Windows XP/Vista machines and to Linux devices. Are you among the hard-core who have installed Linux on a PlayStation 3? You can stream to that, as well. Initial setup isn't too painful, and once you're done, you can add games that you want to stream and play, or even record and broadcast to YouTube.

Obviously the software will work well in a wired local network, but the question that I posed to StreamMyGame CEO Richard Faria is how it would work if I tried setting it up at, say, a coffee shop with Wi-Fi access. (Hint: I tried pulling off the feat at the local java house--no such luck.)

Clearing Some Hurdles

As Faria sees it, a couple of hurdles remain. Clearly, the hardware needs to be present. Having a good CPU and GPU on the gaming computer goes without saying. Both 802.11g and 11n networks can carry the data, but the big problem right now lies with your friend and mine, the Internet service provider. Oh, sure, we can download stuff at crazy-fast speeds, but sending things upstream is a whole other story. Broadband providers state numbers that you'd be hard-pressed to hit in real life.

A lot of this issue gets solved as newer low-latency tech comes into play, but Faria claims that his software will work. "If you have a good PC and a wired LAN or 802.11n Wi-Fi, StreamMyGame will work well around the house, enabling you to access games and applications from any PC in your home." Faria adds that it will stream games at up to 800-by-600-pixel resolution over an 802.11g network around the home. Outside the home, there are way too many variables--well, that and we're still waiting on WiMax (and 4G, I suppose) to show up. (Intel used StreamMyGame as a poster child for WiMax during its Computex 2008 keynote).

Another company is looking to stream Second Life to cell phones, and then there's the announcement of Trion World Network. In case you missed it, those folks announced a cloud-computing model that will deliver on an often-discussed idea: server-side gaming with a paper-thin client looking into the game space. The cool bit there is that the technology could provide different windows and experiences into the same scalable server. Imagine playing a game that would shoot to your cell phone, read your GPS location, and further immerse you in a bigger virtual world.

Right now we're tap-dancing around the fringe of what is possible. Sony's PlayStation Portable received updates to support game play over a network last year. And there I was, streaming PlayStation 1 games from PS3 onto a PSP.

A more recent example is the indie game PixelJunk Monsters, which is available over the PlayStation Network. I can play that game on the PS3 or stream it to my PSP when I'm at home. But I want to be able to hit the same speeds wherever I roam, lag-free. Unfortunately, the technology isn't quite ready yet.

We're getting there, though, and if the numbers from PricewaterhouseCoopers are any indication, I'll have gaming possibilities wherever I go (God help my wife). Until then, it's back to hand cramps and Crysis hunched over a mini-laptop in my apartment. What I do for my "art."

Senior Writer Darren Gladstone geeks out over gadgets, games, and odd uses for humdrum tech. In other words, he's a nerd--and he's okay with that.

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