The computer gaming industry is about to get a double-barreled blast of publicity and revenue. Watch for the hype to begin, and be tempted by the extraordinary games that will be released soon – but keep a close eye on the hardware requirements!

Doom 3 will be released on August 3 – the most hotly anticipated game in years. The company behind it, id Software, has single-handedly raised the bar for the entire industry several times in a row, and they appear to be poised to do it again. Doom 3 promises graphics and sound that are close to the level of computer-generated films like Finding Nemo or Shrek, in the service of an experience that is intended to be relentlessly tense and scary. Although it is a first-person shooter, it is not a game for running around at top speed; much of it is spent creeping through dark places listening to eerie sounds and trying to get a glimpse of the bad things that are waiting for you. Visit the Doom 3 web site and click on Trailer to get a preview.

Half-Life 2 will be on store shelves in mid-September, according to the latest rumors. The original Half-Life game was one of the best computer games ever released, combining beautiful graphics and well-balanced action with a compelling story whose twists and turns kept drawing players further into the game. Half-Life 2 promises to be even better – the plot description and the screenshots have gamers waiting with breathless anticipation. Here’s the Half-Life 2 web site.

A wealth of gaming riches – potentially two of the best games ever created for the PC will be released within the next two months. You’ll see articles in the business section about the financial impact on the gaming industry, you’ll see reviews and ads and store displays and magazine covers. Wanna play?

Not so fast. For several years most computer games have required special video cards, typically from market leaders NVidia and ATI. Low-level computers from most manufacturers (almost everything in local stores plus the Dell Dimension 2400s) provide basic video but not the special features required by the games. Many people have been disappointed when they discovered they couldn’t play the new computer games under the Xmas tree, whether it was Lego Racers 2 for the kids or the Myst sequel for dad or a sports game for the teenager.

Doom 3 will require more computing power than anything previously released for consumers. The latest video cards are monsters, with their own power supplies and memory and processors as powerful as most computers – and Doom 3 will push those cards to their limits. Older computers won’t be able to play the game at all, and even reasonably current systems with NVidia and ATI cards that are a year or two old will have trouble keeping up with its demands. Half-Life 2 is not quite as demanding but still expects a high-end system for best results. Upgrading a video card is possible but there’s a lot to learn before you buy something.

id Software has joined a gaming web site to put together The Official Doom 3 Hardware Guide to answer questions about what to expect from old computers and how to buy a new computer or video card. Make sure you can play it before you buy the game!

Over the years each of my computer upgrades has been driven by advances in the gaming industry. You don’t need a new computer to word process and send e-mail. You might need a new computer to play Doom 3. Dell will sell a lot of its Dimension XPS gaming systems, and Alienware and Falcon Northwest should do quite well this fall. (My new Dimension XPS is a couple of months old. I’m prepared and waiting. Impatiently.)

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