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Tis The Season To Need Lolly

As much as I adore Amazon and their fantastic customer service, they clearly scraped the bottom of the muppet barrel when they employed the person who RAMMED the Mystery Machine into the Monty Python set to squeeze them into one small box!

Forgive the Beano-esque term.  I’m not talking ice lollies, I’m talking swag… dosh… spondoolix… moolah… cash.

I’m not feeling particularly festive this year and, even though it may sound a little shallow to say it, the reason is that I can’t actually afford to be festive.  There are those who would argue the point that christmas (note the lowercase) is all about family getting together to put the past behind and celebrate a joyous occasion in good spirits.  Others may extend this even further to see this period as being the time when we remember the birth of “The Lord Jesus Christ Our Saviour” (bet that was a bugger on name badges) and rejoice at how the three wise men chucked out their Garmins and decided to follow a star instead, and probably got there quicker anyway.

I don’t really subscribe to either of these pretenses.

To me, christmas is the time when I have the best ever excuse to spoil the one I love.  To throw caution to the wind and let the inner demon out to play… the Spend Demon.  I enjoy nothing more than to either withdraw a wad of cash and run around buying up everything that I think they will enjoy or, at the very least, get a kick out of.  I’ll quite happily sit for hours looking through EVERY single product on I Want One Of Those or Firebox until something bizarre sparks my interest and convinces me that they’ll REALLY like that towel with a CB radio and ashtray built in.  I love answering the door to the postman and the couriers, wondering which of the gifts arrived and excitedly checking to make sure that everything arrived intact… unlike Lorna’s “Monty Python Monster Box Set” which had been packed in the same box as the “Scooby Doo Mystery Machine Box Set” and the clever person at Amazon thought it’d be a smashing idea to just keep pushing the Mystery Machine until it went into the box, and ruined the Python box in the process.

The sight of all the sparkling presents under the tree is only ever superseded by the moment where she opens that first present, and the joy on her face as she finally gets to see whatever it was inside that odd-shaped box.  From one present to the next, the excitement and happiness is the only gift I really need.  Although I’ve never been that impressed by christmas as a holiday or a festive occasion, I do always look forward to that aspect and go out of my way to make sure that every single present is well thought out, well wrapped, and will be something that Lorna will absolutely adore but may not necessarily have considered for herself.

This year, however, that spark just isn’t there.  There are several reasons for this and the first is that it’s been a horrible year all told.  The stress levels in the last twelve months have been incredible and so I drag myself into December with extreme physical and emotional fatigue.  The second is that we simply can’t afford to do what we would normally, and so those moments as each of the presents have their wrapping ripped off are stripped down to a bare minimum.

It may be a beautiful set, but it won't be opened with the excitement of finally getting to play the game, alas

I very recently received an email from Play.com telling me that the Assassin’s Creed II Black Edition box set had been despatched… which was quite a shock to me as I didn’t recall placing the order, but it turns out I did so back in June.  That would normally be quite an exciting gift if Lorna didn’t already have the game in general vanilla format, so there’s no excitement bundled with that particular gift as it has, in reality, been demoted to an ornament.  Her next gift was supposed to be a surprise – a crate of the Crow’s Landing wine that she has taken a particular liking to.  Unfortunately, the courier delivered the box with several smashed bottles and in such a saturated state that he figured it was only fitting to announce at the door “your bottles of wine are ruined” so, even though there were ten intact bottles left… Lorna now knew about her surprise present.  She’d have found out anyway as I had to carefully slice open the box whilst wearing thick leather gloves to avoid losing a hand, and had to wash down every remaining bottle as they were covered in shards of glass.  Needless to say, as the gift was now ruined and the bottles looked like they’d been pulled out of a skip with torn labels and scratches from the shards, they went straight into the wine rack and are no longer christmas presents.

Jaws used to be part of my christmas ritual, along with King Kong (the original) and Star Wars

So now, with only five days until christmas, I find myself with only that one gift,  the Assassin’s Creed set.  Christmas morning will consist of Lorna opening up one present that she actually already knows about, which she already owns and has already played in standard format, albeit briefly.  The excitement of being able to rush through and finally get to play the game just won’t be there.  I have ordered another present for her, but I’m not sure if it’ll arrive in time or even if she’ll actually like it.  I couldn’t just settle for that one gift though, it’s not in my nature.

Mariusz Pudzianowski... the greatest strongman since Bill Kazmaeir and Jon Pall Sigmarsson... my new christmas ritual

With no presents to light up Lorna’s face, no Jaws or Star Wars on the TV, no trip to Berlin for the christmas markets and no personal religious leanings whatsoever… it seems likely that this christmas will end up being an entirely forgettable experience for the first time in years.  Ultimately, this comes down to not having money.  I’m not materialistic, even though I enjoy spending my money on nice things, but a christmas without watching someone’s face light up from one present to the next just won’t be the same.  I’m looking forward to the time off.  I’m even looking forward to perhaps being bored a little too often, but it still won’t be the same.

Thankfully, there’s always World’s Strongest Man.

Overspill

Sometimes the echoes of the day reverberate into our subconscious so much that we relive certain repetitive facets of the day’s activities without ever giving our minds the permission to do so.  The last “goodnights” are whispered gently into your ear by the one you love or, as was the case last night, a kick in the shin and a Sid James cackle… and you close your eyes to dream of better days.  Sometimes, however, the brain has its own idea of what you’d like to experience… all… night… long.

The all too familiar "clank clank clank" of the UFO soldiers is enough to drive you insane, even during sleep!

For years it was my little guys from UFO: Enemy Unknown clunking around all over the place from forest to alien base, desert to space craft… over and over again, tile after tile after tile.  The garbled sounds of an over-compress audio file groans in the darkness as the lone Sectoid falls to the ground with a pitiful death rattle. More recently it’s been 720 degree flat spins, barrel rolls and other flashes from Burnout Paradise mixed in with the odd peppering of my Wasteland Wanderer trudging through the Capital Wasteland in a seemingly endless forward motion towards a destination which, to date, has yet to materialise.  After several hours of this “cloud goes up, cloud goes down” repeition, I start to come around and realise it’s all just a dream, and so I close my eyes once again and think about something a little less repetitive like cheerleaders… or more cheerleaders… but still the gaming images come.

The morning sun rips through the gap in the curtains like a raptor claw through the obligatory alluminium door and, with it, only a half full stock of energy is delivered for the day ahead.  I recall the previous evening’s looping visions and how they prevented me from achieving what would be regarded as a decent sleep, and so I muster enough drive to go about my day-to-day… because there’s no way that my gaming memories will interrupt my working day.  Right?

Wrong.

One man's trash is another man's treasure, and in the Capital Wasteland these are the difference between starving and eating irradiated crap. Worthless in reality though.

Even walking up from the house towards the train station, I find myself scouring the grass verge and can’t understand why.  I’m not usually this attentive, certainly not when I’d much rather be indoors lapping up the warmth, and so I drag my eyes away from the littered roadside and concentrate on reaching the station in one piece.  Several moments later the realisation hits me that I am, once again, staring at this godforsaken verge… but before I can question my reasons, the answer presents itself as I begin to mutter the words “ooh a bottle cap” and have to quickly stop myself .  A bottle cap.  The world is strewn with discarded bottle caps, and has been for perhaps my entire existence, and yet I suddenly appear to have a vested interest in those shiny little trinkets.  They have no worth.  In fact, they are nothing but a marker that someone had a good night out, and yet I am somehow drawn towards this detritus.

Fallout seems to have taken control of my subconscious in such a way that I am now thinking in game terms even when I’m not playing.  This was further reinforced when, standing in the low level platforms in Glasgow Central some months ago, my mind started to drift during a conversation with Lorna and I realised that I was scouting the tracks for railway spikes.

I don't care WHAT you say... there's a superjump at the top of that building, and I bet I'll beat your flatspin!

It’s not just Fallout though.  Other games have done the same, even games in which I haven’t completely immersed myself.  Wandering through London in the summer, we both remarked at how it was odd that the Swiss Centre was no longer there and how it had become such a landmark for Leicester Square over the years that it’d never really be the same.  The outlook would be changed forever and so our garnered memories would now seem as though something was wrong, that perhaps there was a glitch.  At that moment, I looked towards the construction site that was being steadily nurtured and immediately had the thought “wonder if there’s a superjump up there”.  Yes, my first thought at seeing a construction site was whether or not we’d be able to take our fictional vehicles, achieve a decent amount of drift on our trip to the top, possibly find a couple of smashes on the way… and take to the skies on a superjump which may actually have us tearing through a Burnout billboard.

As I explained all this to Lorna, she was smiling knowingly and told me of how she’d be walking across the platform at the station to get to the other side and think “there must be an easier way to do this” as she put herself in the mindset of Faith from Mirror’s Edge, using her Parkour skills to bounce from one sheer face to another and scale impossible heights without breaking a nail.  I knew then that I wasn’t alone, that it must be the curse of the gamer to find little strands of our most played games worming their way through our subconscious and into real life.

Is this an attempt by our minds to corrode the mundanity of reality and bring a little spice into our life, spark our imagination and relieve us somewhat from the harshness of the real world… or are we just spending too much time playing?  Either way, it can be a blessing in some cases and a curse in others.  Breaking up the mundanity is something I welcome with open arms, but I would still like to have a deeper sleep without worrying about these repetitive images interrupting my rest.  One day my salvation will come.  I just hope that, when it does, I’m not sleeping.

If you find any bottle caps on your travels, you know where to send them.

David Belle... a guy who understands that, with a little Faith, and the balls to live your life on the Mirror's Edge... travel time becomes unimportant!

What price love?

Victor tries his very best to get Fred to laugh, by telling him a joke about the "24 Hour Lover Brother" but Fred remains forever silent.

I’ve never been the kind of person to shop around looking for a bargain.  For me, everything has its own value – “however much I’m willing to pay for it”, regardless of the cost.  If I see something that I really want and it costs £100 from one place with a week long delivery time or £120 from somewhere else that will deliver tomorrow then THAT is where I’ll buy from.  Similarly, if something costs £100 and I’m only willing to pay £60 for it then it doesn’t matter if the person haggles with me down to £70… I still won’t buy it, because it’s beyond what it’s worth to me.

I haven’t collected anything in several years, since around the time that the movie studios started to concentrate on remastering everything to HD DVD and BluRay rather than focusing their efforts on the tradition of overpriced and oversized DVD box sets.  I used to look forward to birthdays when, for the most part, my presents would be all manner of wonderfully designed sets with matt laminating here and spot varnishing there and maybe even the occasional touch of foiling such as the Hammer DVD collection.  Since the HD revolution though, for whatever reason, the number of impressive DVD box sets has fallen dramatically and so I no longer had a collection to feed.

In stepped my love for Fallout 3.  It’s quite a rarity as far as gaming is concerned, in that the merchandising doesn’t really exist in the same way that it does for other games franchises.  There are no figures to collect, no graphic novel spin offs, no posters or artwork to proudly hang on the wall and certainly nothing in the way of trinkets.

What Fallout 3 does have, on the other hand, is an abundance of fantastic promotional marketing material.  At this point in time I am, I think, fully aware of all the promotional merchandising that was released and I am steadily wading my way through the various online sources to pick up as much as I possibly can for my future “Fallout Area” within the gaming room.

My first acquisition was Fred, an 8ft 6in (or thereabouts) Brotherhood of Steel Paladin made from what would appear to be fibreglass resin and painted to look as realistic as possible.  He stands on a very heavy elliptical wooden plinth with a Fallout 3 numberplate-style plaque at the front and proudly holds his Laser Rifle aloft as he takes in his surroundings.  I first saw these promotional beasts during a visit to the Saturn store in Berlin.  There was one standing at the top of the escalator as you enter the games floor and one couldn’t help but be blown away by both the level of detail and the brutishness of such a commanding presence.  I joked with Lorna that I wanted to ask someone in the store if I could have him but not being able to speak German was probably going to prevent that from happening and he wouldn’t fit in the suitcase back home.

What happened though, was that the image of this beast became ingrained in my memory and my quest to have my own Brotherhood of Steel Paladin had begun.  Almost a year later I found one on eBay.  The seller hadn’t used the standard keywords in his listing title, instead having it listed as “Fall Out Promotional Soldier” rather than something obvious such as “Fallout Brotherhood of Steel Statue” or “Fallout Promotional Statue” at the very least.  Thankfully, I found him straight away and contacted the seller asking if they would give me a price to sell it outright rather than going through auction as I really didn’t want to let this slip away from me.  The seller explained how they had worked in a TV studio and had been given “Fred” at the time when Fallout was being heavily marketed and was about to be thrown out into a skip when the seller asked if he could take him home instead.  The seller kept him in his house until he ended up moving to a barge and so there was no room for Fred anymore who lived above deck chained to the top of the barge.  The seller and I agreed to a price of £550 or £600 (can’t remember now, sorry) and one of our clients was good enough to transport him up from Surrey to Glasgow at no cost.

He is, without a doubt, impressive and damned breathtaking to a Fallout 3 fan.  He stands in the corner of the gaming room, watching over me as I tear through the streets of Paradise City or wander through the battered and bruised landscapes of the Capital Wasteland.

A bumper bundle of Fallout 3 marketing goodies, and all for almost HALF of what I'd normally bid on the Vault Dweller's Guide alone. Score!

The next item in my Fallout 3 collection was The Vault Dweller’s Survival Guide which was given out by Bethesda at their launch party to all who attended.  It’s a small fifty page booklet, written in a very tongue in cheek manner with illustrations that epitomise the absurdity and naivety of the people of the Capital.  From the first page to the last, every word has been carefully selected to exemplify the underlying, and somewhat hidden, sense of humour of the Fallout series.  I had been outbid on this item several times on eBay and, thankfully, managed to find someone who was selling this along with a number of other great promotional items with a BuyItNow price rather than an auction listing.  The package contained the Vault Dweller’s Survival Guide, some full A4 Vault Boy decals, smaller Vault Boy decals, a Vault Boy keyring, Vault Boy pin badge and a Nuka Cola bottle opener.

Only last week I saw one of the two most obscure Fallout 3 marketing items on eBay… the Vault Boy “Penny Arcade” hand puppet modelled on the comic strip, which was given away at the PAX 2008 expo.  Now, it IS sexy for two reasons.  Reason one is that it’s clearly a very nice piece of Fallout 3 promotional merchandising… but it’s also part of the whole Penny Arcade history too.  Double score.  The problem is that the seller is asking for $700 USD which, to my mind, is far too much.  As part of their bundle they’re also offering other “great” items such as a piece of cardboard with the FatMan launcher on it, a leaflet telling people where the Fallout 3 stand was in the expo, and a generic map of the expo.  While that may be a bumper bag of goodies for someone, to me it’s just a load of expo bumff pulled together to make the auction look more worthy of the $700 price tag.

The Vault Boy hand puppet... over 2500 made and given away at the PAX 2008 expo... yet a $700 price tag!

I used the “Make Offer” option and sent the seller what I thought was a reasonable offer at $200.  It wasn’t even close to their $700 asking price but it was, to be fair, all that it was worth to me.  I would be willing to pay $200 for an official Vault Boy glove puppet that maybe 3000 or 4000 people were given as they visited the Bethsoft stand at the expo.  Anything over that just couldn’t be justified.

The seller responded that they were quite insulted, and that they had purchased the items from someone else with the intent to sell them on for a much greater profit… so they would only accept my offer if I countered it with one closer to $700 and one which was “within $50 of the asking price” which basically meant that the “Make Offer” option was just there to encourage communications.  Smart move.  I did explain that I wouldn’t pay that much money for something which, in my mind, wasn’t worth it.  There were thousands made, it’s not THAT impressive looking, and it doesn’t have any history attached to it other than being given away free at an expo.  The seller responded again saying that I’d never see one again, that they’d guarantee that fact, and that only 2500 were made… I’m not sure where they got their information from but it certainly didn’t prompt me to make that acceptable offer of $650 for a glove puppet.

The Sword of The Hessian from Sleepy Hollow.. designed in conjunction with Christopher Walken and the weaponsmaster in the props department, but replaced when Tim Burton saw the final piece, worring that Walken may be injured. One of a kind.

When I explained to them that I will only pay for something what I believe it to be worth, they wouldn’t understand.  I explained how there were only 144 of the Brotherhood of Steel statues made and they had been selling at upwards of $7000 on eBay before therefore I could easily justify spending the £550 or £600 that I did on Fred.  I explained how I own the Sword Of The Hessian from Sleepy Hollow which was designed from ideas by Christopher Walken and how there was only one ever made, and that didn’t even cost £1000 (although I got mine for free from a client who deals in props), but that would have been worth the money because of the history behind it.  The seller wouldn’t accept that, still saying that $700 was a fair price for this mass produced freebie glove puppet.

That prompted my question, “How much is too much?”.  When we love something, and we want to take pride in a collection or obtain that final missing piece that makes a collection complete… how much is an acceptable spend?  What actually makes something worth the cost… is it the scarcity, the history, the materials and craftsmanship, or simply our desire?  If there were only 144 glove puppets made I still wouldn’t have paid $700 for it and yet I paid something like $900 or $1000 for the Brotherhood of Steel statue.  It’s over 8ft tall though, weighs 120lb and is a force to be reckoned with.  The glove puppet would be around 8 inches or thereabouts, probably weighing 250g in total and doesn’t have a high degree of workmanship.  Yet I still find myself looking at the relisted auction every day wondering if I SHOULD just offer a higher price to see if it would be accepted.  If it is, then I’m contractually bound to go ahead with it even if I can neither justify or afford it.

All for the sake of a collection but, I ask again, how much is too much?

New Customs

Forget dumping all that legendary gear into a trunk or bundling it in a display case... Oblivion mods mean you can have them ALL out on display and flaunt your wealth

Although most of my gaming has taken place on either the Amiga or PC, I’ve never actually ventured into the murky forest of modding games or even customisation in any way.  It wasn’t a conscious decision, it was merely how it played out over time and so I’ve never enjoyed Fallout 3 with pornographic propaganda posters or Left 4 Dead with Teletubbies.  In fact, the closest I have ever come to in-game customisation was one particular evening when Pete and myself downloaded a custom track for Command And Conquer Generals and spent several hours at war with each other within a sprawling metropolis rather than a dusty plain.  I have to admit, it was perhaps the best head to head we’d ever played.

The PC is clearly the best way to achieve game customisation, due to the fact that it’s non proprietary and doesn’t restrict access in any way, as opposed to the console which is, I suppose, a sealed unit when it comes to tinkering internally.  One game, however, sparked my interest in terms of customisation and, in turn, prolonged longevity… Trials HD on the XBox 360.

I’ve discussed this game before as it was the one which first peered into my competitive nature, albeit stemming from nothing more than my desire to have my good friend Victor spout profanities in his home as his completion times were left in the dust.  It was, I must admit, Victor’s comments on that same Trials HD blog which prompted me to internalise a little and consider why, after all this time, I was still playing a game that most people had moved on from months ago.  The answer wasn’t hard to find, in fact it was probably presented before the question had even finished being asked – customisation.

Admittedly, I don’t happen to know that much about which games have customisation available on the XBox 360 but I think it’s a safe assumption that there will be very few.  By “customisation” I don’t mean that you can change the appearance of a character or select which clothes they will be sporting on a particular day, neither do I mean that you can change weapons around or select a particular vantage point during gameplay… I mean creating something which, until it formed within your mind, had not previously existed.

Initially I played around with Trials HD custom level editor purely out of interest as I wasn’t sure exactly how manageable a track editor could possibly be on a console as it relies on a controller for movement which, to be fair, doesn’t quite have the same range of flexibility as a mouse.  It did take some getting used to at first but, after a while, the muscle memory set in and all of the selections and rotations became second nature.

The Trials HD track editor is surprisingly intuitive and comprehensive, considering it's available on a console

My first track was very simple, it was created simply to let me find my way around the menus and get an idea of how certain objects interacted with others and what impact they would have on the complexity of the track.  The resulting track was certainly interesting, because it was mine and nobody else had played it, but it wasn’t worthy of publication and so I started thinking about other concepts and set to work on my first proper custom track.

Looking back at it now, my first “real” track “Fumblerunner” seems pretty simple on the face of it and yet it is actually a reasonably difficult track to complete in under the 35 seconds with no faults for the Platinum Medal.  The next track, “How Do You Do It?” had three specific ways to reach the finish line… high ground, ground level or, if you had a keen enough eye to notice the actual drop at the start, the sub level which is essentially a straight underground tunnel leading you directly to the finish line with no obstacles.  Inspired by watching tracks created by KatamariUK, I decided to embark upon a track which would be more than a straightforward track and would utilise the physics engine in a much more creative way.  The first of my creative tracks was “Fruity Loops”, featuring a moving rollercoaster in the background, a ferris wheel that the rider has to drop in to, ceiling mounted reversed loop, trap doors in walls, pendulous platforms, self-building loops and half pipes as well as a spiral loop.  It may not be as difficult as my other tracks, but it’s much more inventive.

For me though, it has always been the same.  Whenever I’ve played Sims 2 it’s been more about the construction aspect than the management side.  I couldn’t really get excited about progressing my Sim through any particular career or guide them towards any specific aspirations, mainly because I don’t want to spend hours in front of a PC watching someone elses life flash before my eyes whilst my own does the same.  The construction aspect, however, has always excited me… how far can the in-game tools be taken, how much is too much, and so any time spent playing Sims games has been in construction mode.

All those hours of building up the perfect base... wasted!

Even head to head Command And Conquer campaigns with Pete follow the same protocol.. the agreement is that we’ll spend as much time as we feel is necessary to build up our bases to the point where we’re really happy with them and have taken them as far as we can in a particular direction whether it’s with an aerial army or simply infantry.  At the point where we are both satisfied, we’ll discuss going to war… and the hours that we spent building our perfect armies come to a close in what tends to be a 10-15 minute all-out attack until one army has been defeated.  The war is always fun, and can sometimes see one or both of us changing tactics to survive… but the fun, for me, is in the building… the customisation.

I never once considered using a lightsabre in the Capital Wastelands but, now that I see how effective it can be, I want!

She's not only cute, she's the best dressed woman in a post apocalyptic world where hubcaps and tyres are the fashion of the day!

Now that I have my new gaming PC up and running, I will be doing something that I’ve never done before… modding the games that I love.  I’ll be able to have all my legendary Oblivion armour on display in Rosethorn Hall, each one being worn by a mannequin made available through modding.  I’ll also be able to play custom levels and enjoy whole new factions within Oblivion and Fallout 3 as well as wave around a whole new set of fanmade weaponry.  Imagine tearing towards a Deathclaw with your lightsabre buzzing away when all around you are making do with a poxy plasma rifle, or running through the forests of Cyrodiil sporting a rather fetching embroidered cloak that would make Altair look like he’s wearing sack cloth… mods make all this possible, and more.

Bring it on.

The Price of Passion

State of the art today could very easily be unusable tomorrow

As mentioned in a previous blog, my current system was struggling to play even a demo of the new Risen RPG game on what I would call “acceptable” quality settings.  To most, that would simply be medium texture quality, zero antialiasing and maybe 1680 x 1050 screen resolution but, to me, that means 1920 x 1080 with everything up as high as it’ll go whilst still maintaining a playable frame rate.  Sadly, my current system wasn’t even capable of the medium settings with Risen even though it was sporting 2 x GTS 8800 GPUs, 2Gb of RAM and a pretty meaty AMD processor which escapes my memory at the moment.

I called on my trusty friends at Premier Computing and asked them to see what they could build me for £600, and explained that this was going to be a dedicated gaming system.  I immediately got an email back asking “Is that including or excluding VAT?”… and at that point, the small snowball was gently nudged over the edge of the mountain.

My response, after fiddling around with my calculator, was that the £600 would be excluding VAT as I’d rather not compromise on quality and performance for the sake of £90 and so they came back to me with a spec for a system which would undoubtedly do the job without breaking the bank any more than it was already.  Their proposed spec was as follows…

  • ASUS P7 P55D EVO Motherboard
  • Intel Core i5 750 Processor (4 x 2.66Ghz)
  • 2 x 2Gb Ballistix DDR3 PC3-10600 RAM
  • 1Tb SATA hard drive
  • ASUS GTX-275 896mb GPU
  • 600w OCZ PSU
  • Standard ATX chassis
  • Windows XP Pro (because I’m scared to upgrade!)

It wasn’t, if I’m honest, the kind of spec that would have you trembling at the knees wishing it was already out for delivery… but it was affordable, especially considering I was being given the opportunity to pay for the system of a three month period, which is one of the benefits of using the same people to build all your systems for the last twelve years or more.  I’d look at the spec and wonder whether I should go ahead or not, whether I should take that reckless leap and suffer the financial consequences and yet I would still end up closing the email and trying to forget about it.

A week or so later, after very much careful consideration, I decided to go ahead with it.  After reading Ben’s gaming benchmark charts several times over, I spent some time researching between the higher end ATI and Nvidia cards and eventually decided on the GTX 295 rather than the GTX 275.  It was less than twice the cost but with a huge difference in performance and it was powerful enough that it didn’t require two cards.

I also had to consider which operating system to use because, quite frankly, I couldn’t hang on to XP Pro for the rest of my life… it just wasn’t possible.  It was stable, effective and did everything that I wanted it to do and wasn’t, most importantly, VISTA!  That still left Windows 7 though, and the option of 32bit or 64bit… would I want to risk a 64bit operating system to have more RAM at the expense of compatibility?  After asking Dan and Ben what they thought, the decision was made to go with Windows 7 64bit and see what happens.  My system was now ready to be ordered.

The GTX 295 video card... the size of this beast has to be experienced to be believed! I heard Victor say that once too 🙂

Only an hour or so after giving the go-ahead, I received an email explaining that the GTX 295 cards were out of stock everywhere and that the expected delivery would be either the end of January or mid February.  This, as I’m sure you can imagine, took the wind out of my sails quicker than you can say ZX80.  It was at that point that I started the quest to find a GTX 295 on my own.  I had compromised with my last system, opting for 2 x GTS 8800 cards in SLI mode rather than the 2 x GTX 8800 cards that I had originally wanted, because they were also out of stock at the time, and I wasn’t going to compromise again.  It had taken days of research to decide on the GTX 295 and that’s what I wanted.

Enter eBay.  Several people were selling the cards, many of whom had as many as ten units each.  To err on the side of caution, I sent messages to all of the sellers to ask if they actually had the cards in hand and all but two of them admitted that they were awaiting stock and that it could be as much as ten weeks before they would be able to send out the card. To me, this was unacceptable because there was nothing on their listing explaining about any sort of delay… but that’s for another blog entirely.  Ultimately, I went with someone called Andy_Lakes31 who had assumed I was close to Colchester as he asked me to drop by and see the card working.  When I explained that this wouldn’t be possible, he said that he’d be happy for me to send him half of the payment just now and half when I received the card and could confirm that it was working perfectly and so I agreed.

The following morning, I had a message from eBay saying that they had been monitoring the activity on Andy_Lakes31’s account for sometime and had decided just after midnight to cancel the account, and that I shouldn’t send any money to him.  Too late.  I had sent him half by bank transfer the previous evening, and now his auction had disappeared from eBay along with his account.  I contacted them and they confirmed that they had indeed cancelled his account due to shill bidding and when asked whether he had read my final message to him, which contained my address details, they confirmed that it was still unread.  Andy Lakes had my money, but no address to send the card to, and eBay weren’t prepared to help me out because they had warned me not to send him any money… the day after the auction closed, and 12 hours after I had paid the money.

Long story short, I have no way of ever clawing back my money and my bank has said that the only way would be if Andy took it upon himself to ask his bank to reverse the payment.  I can’t see that happening, and so I had to buy the card from another buyer who, even with only seven feedback, has been absolutely fantastic and very friendly.

The utterly gorgeous OCZ Reaper RAM sticks.... wow!

Between placing my order for the system, and waiting for the graphic card to arrive, I receive another call letting me know that the Ballistix memory wasn’t available and so I’d have to decide on another set of RAM instead.  That RAM ended up being the sexy as hell “OCZ Reaper” 12800 7-7-7-24… and at a price I couldn’t ignore, I ended up with 8Gb instead of the 4Gb that I was originally getting with the Ballistix RAM.  I also discovered that the 650w PSU wouldn’t be enough to power the system now that the GTX 295 GPU was on the way, as it required around 430w of dedicated power when running at maximum output.  This had me looking around for an alternative power supply, and opted for the Coolermaster Silent Pro 1000w and, along with that, the standard ATX chassis was replaced with the Coolermaster Dominator 690 chassis complete with three built in fans, and room for four more.

The GTX 295 card arrived today and, within 30 minutes, I was on my way to Glasgow to pick up the brand new gaming system.

It’s sexy.  It’s beyond sexy in fact, it’s incredible.  The silent PSU really IS silent, even during the extensive 3D benchmark tests that we ran the system through.  The case is functional, yet stunning, and is HUGE but has plenty of space inside for air circulation and more gizmos.  The RAM… wow, the RAM… I couldn’t stop looking at it.  In fact, I couldn’t really stop looking at ANY of it… from the cobalt blue heatsinks to the GTX 295 (which is as big as a baby’s arm holding an apple), and even the processor iteself.  This is no longer a gaming system.  It is a work of art.  Considerably more expensive than the original spec but, in all honesty, more value for money and more worthy of the term “gaming system”.  The finished spec reads as…

  • ASUS P7 P55D EVO Motherboard
  • Intel Core i5 750 Processor (4 x 2.66Ghz)
  • 4 x 2Gb OCZ Reaper DDR3 PC3-12800 7-7-7-24 RAM
  • 1Tb SATA hard drive
  • 18x SATA DVDR/W
  • Zotac GTX 295 1.792Gb GPU
  • 1000w Coolermaster Silent Pro PSU
  • Coolermaster Dominator 690 chassis
  • Windows 7 Premium 64bit (because I need to move on!)

Yet again, Paul and Jim at Premier (0141 221 8716 for anyone who wants a serious PC) come through with a fantastic piece of kit.  It’s testimony to their systems when you consider that my mum still uses a system that they built for me back in 2002 and it still runs like a dream.  I hope this system will still run like a dream in seven years time, although I seriously doubt it’ll even be able to cope with some of the newer games in three years time, let alone seven.

Until then, I can enjoy every 16 x antialiased pixel.

Fancy angles aside, this case is HUGE, and entirely tool-less

You can just about spot the monster GTX 295 graphic card and the OCZ Reaper RAM

This photo doesn't do the case any justice, neither do any of the online images, but it is truly beautiful

Oops, I didn’t it again

I promised I’d blog today, and it’s now too late to even start it.  It’s not like I’m capable of writing short and sweet blogs, so why waste my evening doing so when I could waste it in front of 2009’s final episode of V.

All going well, the new gaming PC should be ready tomorrow.  Believe it or not, that will prompt me to write about the ups and downs leading up to it finally being built.  No, I WON’T be playing it all night 🙂

Powermad

I’m about to cheat on my sweetheart, and feel really quite ashamed about it. I didn’t actually mean for it to happen, but she’s dropped the ball a few times lately and I feel like I need to start looking elsewhere so I can get my kicks from more than one arena. Last week I wanted to fool around a little, and got myself settled with a view to really let loose and have fun but she wasn’t having it. Instead of being beautiful to look at, something just wasn’t right. Where I should have been in awe at the sight before me, I was instead faced with a rather mutated form… the smooth movement and beautiful curves were still there, but the features and the details were distorted and ugly.

My XBox Elite had been compromised or, at least, the game within the drive had.

I first tried playing Risen on the PC after downloading the demo. Some had said it was difficult to control while others had complimented it by saying it was better than Two Worlds but not as good as Oblivion. As anyone familiar with my gaming history will know, I loved Oblivion and adored the much maligned Two Worlds almost as much. Actually, that’s not strictly true… I loved things about Two Worlds that Oblivion didn’t have and vice versa, so they may end up on par with each other when all is said and done. The point is… if Risen is comparable to these two great role playing games then it was a game I wanted to get my teeth into.

Unfortunately, my beastly PC wasn’t capable of rendering it on full resolution at the highest texture quality… and THAT is how I want to play all my games. I am, unashamedly, a graphics whore. If I can’t experience the highest possible depth of realism within a game then I find that my enjoyment is somewhat hindered, and so I borrowed a copy of Risen for the XBox 360 to see how it would perform in the console arena where every game has no choice but to conform.  The difference in quality between the PC version and the XBox version is really quite staggering, with very visible polygons and smudged textures which made the main character look like someone had stubbed out a couple of Havanas into his eye sockets.  This wasn’t supposed to happen.  It should have looked as good, or perhaps slightly less impressive than the XBox 360… but not like this.  Heavily compressed textures and characters that resemble the “removal guy” from the (cutting edge at the time, apparently) Dire Straits “Money For Nothing” video just don’t do it for me. Not at all.

I want photorealism. I want splines in abundance. I want smooth, delicate curves.

Enter the new gaming PC. It was officially ordered today, pending me approving the final quote for the build. It’ll be a gaming PC unlike any other in our household, in that it will be shared rather than just being mine or Lorna’s. It won’t be doubling up as a workhorse, or a music production suite, and won’t have pornography or Farmville. It will be in the gaming room, straight through the projector, used solely for serious gaming. It is, I have to admit, a somewhat unjustified expenditure when money isn’t exactly flowing like the Côtes du Rhône when Victor visits, but it’s something that I’m willing to do in order to enjoy my favourite games on an entirely new level and with all the modded weapons and custom levels available for Oblivion and Fallout 3 and, who knows, I may even indulge myself in Sims 3 and whack up the anisotropic filtering to nonsensical levels with whatever levels of antialiasing EA have managed to squeeze in to their latest life sapping life sim.

For now, however, I can only live in antici……. pation.