However, sometime between Maya 7 and 8, it's stopped letting me do hardware renders.
Warning: Graphics card capabilities are insufficient for Hardware rendering on this machine.
It's a pathetic GPU (radeon 9600) but at least it let me in Maya 7.
So now i've got particles and no way to render them. 'Blobs (s/w)' are way too large, ideally it'd be something like Multi-Streak. No idea how to put sprites onto them, and instancing small round 'bubbles' to them would look naff and takes ages to render.
Basically: Is there a way to render particles without using the Hardware Renderer?
EDIT: I found this in the help file, but seriously, what?
Particle system translation and rendering
Particle types for software rendering are supported on all platforms for rendering with mental ray. To render particles, a new mayabase shader library is required, which is also provided for all platforms. Particle data are also exported to .mi files. These files cannot be rendered on machines with different byte ordering (big end or little end) than the machine where Maya has been used (for example, mixing Linux and Windows). Particle translation and rendering is limited and may not be able to handle large particle counts. Light linking is not supported with particles. However, software particles and particle instancing should work together seamlessly.