Sometimes I want to play a game. On Windows. On a laptop. That weighs three pounds. This kind of limits my options, but here’s a few games that worked out decently enough. Of course, some obvious choices like old school point and click games will run fine, but what I found is that even a number of retro pixel style games can be graphically intensive. It’s hard work looking easy.
My chosen laptop for this endeavor is a ZenBook UX305, which has a Core M CPU and no fan. From everything I’ve read, the Intel line of GPUs has held pretty steady ever since about Ivy Bridge. So this is a fairly capable processor if it weren’t thermally limited. Previously, I’ve used a ThinkPad T430s, which performs much better due to the presence of a fan. Similar processing circuitry, just the difference between 5W and 35W TDP.
Naively, this would seem like a terrible machine to choose, but low TDP has an interesting consequence. Games tend to run full throttle. A 35W CPU and a 70 WHr battery is going to be a short session. But a 5W CPU and a 45 WHr battery? It ranges from difficult to impossible to tweak a game’s setting to only use 5W of power given a more powerful CPU, but the Core M imposes such a limit naturally.
Anyway, the games. The native panel is 1920x1080, which is really a strain. I tuned everything down to 1280x720. In many cases, it’s impossible to see the difference, since the game textures are all being scaled up and down anyway.
Dungeon of the Endless. So this looks like a really simple 2D game with big, chunky graphics, right? It’s not. Totally 3D. There’s a cool video explaining how. All those subtle lighting and particle effects really get things cooking, but the game plays quite well. A little hard to drive with only a touchpad, but keyboard shortcuts and judicious pausing make it work. I’m not even sure how to describe this. Dungeon crawling rogue-like with tower defense? I have spent a lot of time playing it though.
Dex. Side scrolling cyberpunk adventure. Haven’t really played too much. There’s some video cutscenes that are really choppy, but the game seems to run fine at 720p. Completely unable to see a difference to 1080p.
Kentucky Route Zero. A quirky adventure. It’s only line art, so it better run fine...
X-Com: Enemy Unknown. I liked this game for a while, enough for one play through, but then it suddenly became very tedious. With the graphics turned down a bit, it technically runs fine, but is still subject to annoying glitches like your sniper takes a shot, then swivels around for 30 seconds while the game figures out where it wants to move the camera to.
Shadowrun Returns. Another game that looks like classic 2D perspective view, but uses 3D to make it happen. Unlike every other 3D game, however, screen resolution affects how much content fits on the screen. Turning down from 1080 to 720 means less stuff drawn on screen, but physically larger. (And on my 1440p desktop, an all encompassing view with tiny, tiny avatars running around.) There is a zoom feature, but it only goes in and out so far. I actually found it more enjoyable to play at the lower resolution. There’s a lot of detail in the scenery, but it’s hard to notice when it’s small. On most maps, fog of war means only a small portion is illuminated anyway. (Bonus note: it’s only $3 on gog.com right now, which is a pretty good deal even for only a few hours fun.)
Child of the Light. This reminds me most of Super Nintendo era Final Fantasy games, but with a side scrolling world view, and the tiniest bits of action adventure rolled in. At the same time, inventory, etc. are greatly simplified. Amazing graphics though. Everything is drawn like an animated watercolor. Looks great at lower resolutions, too.