Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Gaming Musings’ Category

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!

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

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?

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

Stealing Time

pocketwatch_smEvery now and again, a game comes along which will sink its teeth into my very soul, biting down with such ferocity that I spend my working day glancing at the ever-slowing clock on the bottom right of my Windows toolbar wondering why what felt like “the last hour” has, in actual fact, been no more than ten minutes.  Granted, there haven’t been very many… but enough for me to realise that my only wish for that day was to replace my business head with the gaming head and immerse myself in a world the likes of which I could only have dreamed.

For me, a passion is an “all or nothing” thing.  I sacrifice so much of my time to the business that, when I am finally able to shake off the rusted chains of Google-shy clients and those who are incapable of reading very clear instructions, I want to lose myself in whatever I do to remind myself that I am still human.  In the past, it was my love for movies which pushed me forward… looking forward to the next wave of releases… and this, coupled with my love for technology, meant that I was always dipping my experimental toes into the waters of virgin technologies.

CD-iWhen Philips released the CD-i format, I was on board immediately and I vividly remember watching The Hunt For Red October with my face almost pressed against the television screen, marvelling at how superior the picture quality was to typical VHS transfers.  Until this point, such “high definition” imagery was only ever possible in science fiction movies and yet, here it was… in my own bedroom.  I had never made the leap to Laserdisc as the 12″ discs really never appealed to me and, although I enjoyed watching them at my friend’s house, I couldn’t see past the fact his movie collection had spines you could barely read… and so I waited for the rumoured format which was said to be the ultimate in viewing quality… DVD!

In 1996, Toshiba released their pivotal SD-3000 DVD player and my eyes lit up.  Sadly, it was a couple of years before I was able to take that first step into the world of DVD when I bought my Pioneer DV-515 and took a trip into Tower Records in Glasgow which was, at that point, the only place that you could buy DVD movies… and their entire display was a table top affair of with four rows and five columns… with most of the titles repeated several times as there simply weren’t enough to fill the whole display!  I grabbed Amadeus, Contact, Life, Nightmare Before Christmas and Practical Magic and figured that’d be enough to get me started.

Over the years my collection grew and I migrated from one player to the next, before eventually tiring of watching my beautiful DVDs on a standard 32″ television and so I ventured into new territory… the realm of home cinema projector.

Khajiit if you can!  Morrowind changed everything for me, in terms of immersive gaming and graphic appreciation.  Bethesda, you rock!

Khajiit if you can! Morrowind changed everything for me, in terms of immersive gaming and graphic appreciation. Bethesda, you rock!

This is where things started to change for me, because it was my first taste of “major” technology purchases where I really started to appreciate the clarity of the image and enjoyed the full DTS sound through my beloved AV Amp, but it was also the first time that I actually allowed myself to become immersed in a game and actually enjoy playing consoles.  The first game I ever played through my projector was Morrowind on the XBox 360 and I was immediately smitten with how I became almost encapsulated by the game and found myself physically moving my head around to see everything that was happening on front of me due to the sheer size of the display.  I was no longer booting up my XBox to play games… I WAS that Khajiit!

With the release of the XBox 360, a whole new problem arose.  Games were developed with the capability to display on high definition screens but my 800 x 600 resolution Panasonic projector just didn’t cut it anymore.  The graphics of the next gen games such as Oblivion and Gears Of War were undoubtedly second to none, but when you’ve stood with your tongue on the floor in GAME while some snot nosed kid in front of you hogs the machine on a glorious 1080p Samsung display you very quickly realise just how much is being missed by running this graphical beast through a standard definition display.  Oblivion was taking up so much of my time that it wasn’t feasible to have the 360 set up in the lounge through the projector, so it sat in the bedroom going through a 32″ CRT television and the on-screen text was almost unreadable in places.

A decision was made, and that decision was to upgrade the projector to one offering 720p HD resolution.  That projector was the incredible InFocus IN78 and with it came a whole new appreciation for home cinema projectors… blacker blacks, sharper images, accurate skin tones and an overall tonal quality that really can’t be put into words without sounding like some drooling uber geek… so I’ll stop there.  In terms of graphic representation, I could now read the text perfectly and was able to see detail in the surroundings and textures that I didn’t even know existed up until that point.  The InFocus IN78 changed me forever… I didn’t just look forward to gaming, I actually craved it.  Whenever time permitted, I would pull the curtains shut tight, close the door, turn off the lights, fire up the XBox, pull down the screen… and enter Cyrodiil as promptly as I possibly could, remaining there for as long as my eyes were able to stay open.

At the time of buying the InFocus IN78 the 1080p price tags were far too cost prohibitive to even contemplate, with the Sony VLP range coming in at over £15,000 and a bulk that would require several Icelandic strongmen to mount it to the ceiling.  My desire for a 1080p projector could not be quantified other than “I want it this much” with the obligatory outstretched arms, but it wasn’t something I’d be able to savour until the prices plummeted considerably.

The InFocus IN83... stunning beyond words.  Has to be seen to be believed!

The InFocus IN83... stunning beyond words. Has to be seen to be believed!

Thankfully, in July of this year, I was fortunate enough to find a listing on eBay for the InFocus IN83 complete with a luxurious black velvet seven foot motorised screen but the seller had misspelled it as “Inofcus Projecter”, so it hadn’t had any viewers and had only hours left before the auction closed.  I opened a line of communication with the seller and took a chance by offering him less than the starting price.  It wasn’t something that I’d normally do, but the starting price he’d set was still more than I could easily afford… in fact, even the price I’d offered him was outwith my means but I had to take the chance to try and pick up this gem if I could.  The auction ended with no bids, and the seller eventually accepted my offer which meant I would be paying less than a third of the retail cost of the projector itself and had the added bonus of the motorised screen as the icing on this rather expensive cake.

Due to the throw ratio of the IN83 compared to the IN78, I was giving away around eleven inches of screen size as a trade off so my actual diagonal display width dropped from 97 inches to 84 inches… but it was worth every single sacrificed inch, with a whole new level of gameplay immersion that is truly hard to describe.  Games such as Fallout 3 have you believing that you are about to be attacked by a rampaging Death Claw, and Burnout Paradise has you leaning back as much as possible at the end of the Ski Jump on Big Surf Island just to give you that extra bit of air and distance… it is THAT immersive, and more.

It doesn’t take a genius to work out that if you want technology, however, you need to be able to pay for it.

I dunno who this is, but he has a goatee and is wearing the EXACT same outfit as I am at the moment (seriously, it's spooky!) and this will give you an idea of why projectors kick absolute arse!

I dunno who this is, but he has a goatee and is wearing the EXACT same outfit as I am at the moment (seriously, it's spooky!) and this will give you an idea of why projectors kick absolute arse!

I’m paying for my technology in two completely different ways.  The first is obvious… cold hard cash.  Even at a third of the price, the projector cost more than I realistically wanted to spend and the cost of having everything sent up by courier itself was £114.  Then we have the cabling to make everything happen, the AV Amp to ensure the highest possible audio quality at all times and the replacement projector lamps every 2000 or so hours.  These costs mount up and, although it really is worth every single penny, there is another cost associated with all of this which isn’t quite as affordable.

In order to pay for such luxuries, I find myself working more than most people would every week.  Where most people are sacrificing 35 or 40 hours every week in exchange for their salary, I tend to hover around the 85 hour week mark.  This translates as an average of ten hours per day at weekends, plus a 9am until 6pm working day throughout the week as well as a typical 8pm until midnight additional shift that I’ve found necessary to catch up with actual work as most of my day is spent dealing with clients on the ‘phone or by email.  Those hours are irreplaceable and so they have to come out of my evening, or they’ll be lost forever.

This means that, under normal circumstances, weeks may disappear without even a single minute on the XBox.  I boot it up a few days ago (October 20th) to try the Brutal Legend demo and was shocked to see that I hadn’t actually played since September 22nd… almost a month, thanks to a ridiculous work schedule.

For all my cravings, for all my expenditure to ensure that I’m giving myself the best possible gaming experience… I leave myself in the position whereby I’m no longer able to game unless I steal the time from the additional hours that I endlessly gift to the business.  The irony of this situation is that, by claiming this time back as my own, I’d lose my ability to pay for those luxuries and have to again struggle to read text on a 32″ CRT in standard definition when my eyesight is already at the stage where I’m only able to see clearly for around 3ft in front of my face.

At the moment, my only craving is to enjoy life a little more and make the endless working hours worth it.  There should be a balance, before my passion for gaming in high definition suffocates my ability to do so.

Read Full Post »

Absolute Power

If I had a sword, there are times when my PC would definitely end up looking like this... except black and shiny, of course.

If I had a sword, there are times when my PC would definitely end up looking like this... except black and shiny, of course.

I find it rather odd to be writing this on the same day that my better half published a blog about PC gaming, so I apologise in advance to all those who will see this as plagiarism but, the reality is… this has been bugging me for some time, and it only recently came to a head.

I am referring to the need for power when it comes to PC gaming. As a geek of the highest order who constantly demands more realism from a graphics card than is even possible with the human eye, I should probably understand that boundaries are made to be broken. In fact, if I have to be completely honest with myself then I’d say that there are no boundaries and shouldn’t be, we should take every step as a confident move towards a bigger and better environment… and yet, I am still faced with this contradictory quandary when it comes to gaming. The questions always arise when I’m booting up my PC to play a game which, I must admit, is not very often these days… and the reasons for the infrequency of my PC gaming are those self same questions.

i) Why must it take so long for even a bare bones PC to boot up when a console, which is effectively a PC these days, can be fully functional immediately?

ii) Why are we able to play the same games on a console that we can’t actually play on a PC, yet the PC is one year old (and already out of date in terms of graphic performance) while the console is four years old and still going strong?

iii) Why are PC games not released with the same empathy afforded to console games whereby they are not reliant on the newest, shiniest, fastest components?

My current graphics/gaming PC.  It may not look like much on the outside, but on the inside this was built to perform... yet two years on, it doesn't.

My current graphics/gaming PC. It may not look like much on the outside, but on the inside this was built to perform... yet two years on, it doesn't.

I am blessed with two beastly PCs, one of which is geared specifically towards music production and the other is a graphics workhorse. Both machines were built to my exact spec, and both machines were at the top of their league when they were commissioned. The music machine will never be used for anything other than music, as it would pollute the speed of the hard drive too much and would render it more or less useless for music production, but the graphics PC is used for design work throughout the day and was supposed to be able to handle my gaming in the evenings.

Crysis.. a wet dream for graphics whores everywhere... as long as your PC was actually capable of any decent fps!

Crysis.. a wet dream for graphics whores everywhere... as long as your PC was actually capable of any decent fps!

At only one week old, I subjected the graphics PC to the glorious Crysis… I’d heard about the realism, the physics engine, the fact that the cut scenes would work from whatever vantage point the player found itself at, so there was a seamless interaction between gameplay and cut scene. Incredibly intense, and notoriously difficult in terms of finding machines powerful enough to render the graphics at 1920 x 1200 resolution with the highest texture and shadow details… but I had a MONSTER of a machine, so it would be no problem for me. After all, if you can’t play Crysis on a machine with 2 x Nvidia 8800 GTX cards then you wouldn’t be able to play it on anything… right?

Wrong.

With the game fully installed, I plug in my XBox controller to the USB port (never been one for keyboard gaming) and fumble my way through the settings to make sure everything is on full resolution so I can sit back and enjoy this reputedly beautiful game in all it’s stunning glory… and that’s when it hit me, or rather didn’t. My frame rate was around 2fps, and I am not exaggerating. I immediately assumed my PC had hung or some intrusive virus software had picked this precise moment to perform a full scan on my various drives. This, however, wasn’t the case. I entered the settings menu again, left the resolution at 1920 x 1200 and reduced the quality of the textures and shadows to medium and the game played fine.

The Nvidia 8800 GTX card... one would assume that TWO of these beasts in a powerful PC would be unstoppable.  Nope.

The Nvidia 8800 GTX card... one would assume that TWO of these beasts in a powerful PC would be unstoppable. Nope.

I loved the game, but throughout every hour that I donated to the cause… all I could think about was how beautiful those few frames looked at the highest texture quality and I wanted to bathe in that beauty for myself.

After completing Oblivion on the XBox several times, I installed it to my PC and was again blown away by how beautiful it looked through my NVidia cards yet I had to turn the volume up to drown out the noise of my 1000w power supply sending massive amounts of power to my various fans to keep the processor and graphics cards cool. On more than one occasion I was subjected to the PC coming to a complete standstill with a non-responsive mouse and I would be forced to reboot. Again, my super computer wasn’t capable of playing games which really should have been a breeze.

In contrast, I can boot up my XBox in a second and within another 2-3 seconds I’m already at the menu screen of whatever game has tickled my fancy. I know that it will give me a decent frame rate with no drag, know that all the textures will look as detailed as possible, and know that I won’t need to go trawling the net for patches or new video drivers just so I can get it to work. I also know that, when I tire of playing the game for that night, I can quickly save and shut the XBox down in a matter of seconds. I won’t need to quit out the game to go back into my operating system, then shut the machine down and wait for all the temp files to be removed, everything cleaned up, my settings saved (why is this necessary every time??) and finally, after perhaps 2-3 minutes, shut the PC off at the wall.

Released back in 1994, yet it was capable of much more (relatively speaking for it's time) than my current PC is today

Released back in 1994, yet it was capable of much more (relatively speaking for it's time) than my current PC is today

My first real PC was an AST Advantage P100 with 16mb RAM, a 1.2Gb hard drive and 8mb of video memory. I recorded my first solo demos on that PC and it never struggled once. I was able to play all the latest games without worrying about compatibility problems and the system served me fine from 1994 until I upgraded to a Pentium III in 1999 and, in all that time, I never had to complain about anything not working.

What seems to have happened along the way, is that we reached a pinnacle… not a pinnacle of technology, but a pinnacle of greed whereby whatever we had now wouldn’t be good enough tomorrow. If the processor released today was capable of running at 1.4Ghz then how can we push it to 1.5Ghz tomorrow, and make sure that there’s software out there which is so hungry for power, so thirsty for progress, that it NEEDS the processor to be more powerful.

This is apparently the setup you're going to need to play the latest "hd" version of Pong.

This is apparently the setup you're going to need to play the latest "hd" version of Pong.

Somewhere along the way we stopped developing games that could run the gamut in terms of processor and graphics power and we turned instead to developing games that forced gamers to upgrade their equipment at an alarming rate. The games are becoming more realistic, the gameplay more immersive, and the escapism is so much more rewarding… but if we weren’t being forced to spend so much on our gaming equipment, would we have such an intrinsic NEED to escape?

If you need me, I’ll be pulling together a spec for my new gaming system.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »