Friday, January 29, 2010

The Perils of Being a Multi-Platform Gamer

Y'know that rockin' new game that just came out, called Mass Effect 2? I love it, but I think it's best played on a PC.

Now, on some message boards, that statement could get me crucified. Notice that I didn't specifically dis the Xbox 360, PS3 or Wii, nor any of the handhelds. In fact, here's another statement that could get me slaughtered on certain boards:

I wouldn't play X-Men Origins: Wolverine on PC even if it were available. It rocks, however, on Xbox 360.

So there! The first statement, of course, seems to make me one of those "PC ROOLZ CONSOLES SUCK" kind of people, and some shortsighted losers online would interpret it as such. The second could mean I'm in the "PCS ARE CRAP FOR GAMES AND TOO COMPLICATED AND PC GAMING IS DOOMED" camp.

I'm in neither. I'm one of a growing group of people that I call multi-platform gamers. It's a scary world for us, because there are so many arguments on so many boards between the console nerds and the PC geeks, utterly ruling out their rival platform.

Me? I just love gaming. I prefer first- and third-person shooters and RTS titles on PC, generally. More action-oriented games like the brilliant titles inFamous, Brutal Legend and Darksiders belong on consoles, and are easier and more fun to play with gamepads and on large televisions. I like Xbox Live Arcade games, PlayStation Store games, and Steam games. I'm not a console or a PC gamer...I'm just a gamer.

Here's the thing: Have you ever noticed that when you say "Obama isn't very effective," liberals call you a neocon freakazoid Bush lover, whereas when you say, "Bush really screwed our economy," the conservatives call you a screeching moonbat Obama lover? Heck, I don't even know what a moonbat is, but I believe both of those statements are true. Just as I believe that different platforms are appropriate for different games. I'm politically, and gamingly, agnostic.

I've gone so far to post things like those first two gaming oriented statements on a board or two here or there...and gotten attacked for my efforts.

If you're an equally agnostic gamer, a multi-platform gamer so to speak, beware. Our time is coming, but right now it's a dangerous world. We must stay underground until the world has advanced enough to understand us. Good luck.

Monday, January 25, 2010

My Love/Hate Relationship with Creative

Every time I pull a SoundBlaster card from my system, I swear I'll never go back to Creative. Somehow, I always do.

My latest row with the makers of the oldest name in quality PC sound come from something some of us SB users know casually as SCP. That clever acronym stands for snap, crackle, pop, and it has nothing to do with Rice Krispies. Google something like "SCP x-fi" and you'll come up something like 65,000 hits. There's a reason for that. There are also dozens of threads (example) on Creative's own forums on the topic.

I just yanked a Creative SoundBlaster X-Fi Titanium out of my system because, no matter what I did, I heard SCP whenever I played music, games, movies, etc. Little pops of crackling static, every few seconds, permeated everything I did with audio on my computer. Here are things that had no bearing: Drivers, speakers, motherboards, installed graphics cards, and standing on my head.

In the SB's place is an ASUS Xonar PCIe of some sort, and everything sounds terrific.

Why, then, do I go back? I don't really know. I've given outstanding reviews to competing sound cards in places for which I used to write, but somehow when the latest Creative effort comes out I jump all over it. Then the SCP returns. Creative denies it. Blames motherboards. Tells you to update your drivers. Etc.

I think maybe I'm a Xonar guy from now on. I've got a little Logitech X-540 5.1 speaker system on my main rig (my big, X-5500 is in the basement where I can crank it; and thanks, Jason, for sending me the x-540) and I'm getting excellent surround sound as I play my tunes, games, and films.

Creative, I've always loved you. And hated you. But for now I think we should see other people. Don't worry; we can still be friends.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

My Zune is Dead. LONG LIVE MY ZUNE!

Sigh. It was first-gen hardware. The batteries in these devices only last so long. Yes still, I was in complete denial of the inevitable. It was bound to happen one day, but I didn't want to think about it.

My Zune, my wonderful Zune, has died.

Getting the battery replaced is financially silly when you can buy a new 120GB Zune for just over twice the price of a battery service plus shipping. And that new 120GB Zune is well out of my price range.

I'm going to have to resign myself to the fact that I'll have to go Zune-less, at least until I get a fat work contract (ha!) and can justify spending the money. Until then, I guess I can use my PSP for my portable music...but it's just not the same. I want to be able to carry my ENTIRE LIBRARY with me everywhere I go.

So...the big question is: Who wants to buy me a new Zune?

Long live my Zune.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Durham Network Overhaul Part One: Trepidation

I try to reformat my various hard drives at least once a year. Doing so reduces bloat, streamlines registries, and generally forces me to think hard about which programs and games I really need installed - and which ones I do not.

So far, I'm in pretty good shape. The Windows 7 computers are fairly fresh (the OS isn't quite a year old, even if you count late betas and release candidates). Our notebook, which currently belongs to my wife and runs XP, may be on its last legs, but so it goes. My primary workstation, and also the family computer, both of which are running Win7, are in great shape.

My server/lab/office workstation is a problem, though. It's running Vista (and it will remain a Vista machine, mainly to aid in my various tech support/product testing efforts) and the installation is nearing the end of its second year. Bloat city.

I've found that Windows 7 really resists bloating up and slowing down, much to my delight. Windows Vista, however, exhibits the polar opposite behavior. With an ASUS P6T motherboard, an overclocked Core i7 and 12GB of memory, the Vista machine should be running like a dream. Instead, it chugs and sputters and generally pauses and forces me to wait - even if I so much as multitask in my head somewhere in the same room as the computer.

Right now, sitting on the top of the Vista PC's case, there is a first-gen Intel SSD with an 80GB capacity. Internally, the computer has two 1TB hard drives, one for data and one for shadowing.

Here's the plan: I am going to back everything up, wipe the drives in the Vista box clean, install the SSD as the boot/OS drive, keep the data and shadow drives in their current roles, set up a NAS device of some sort for backup and media streaming, and - well, I guess that should do it.

The downsides of such a grand strategy comes in twos: 1) I have to find the time to do it and 2) I have to do it. Barring any unforeseen problems, the whole thing should take about an afternoon. Since this is me doing the whole thing, there will be unforeseen problems, so I expect the process to take about a year and a half.

Then there's this: The more I think about doing the whole deed, the less I actually want to do it. Let's break it down. We're looking at about 1/10 challenging stuff, 5/10 busy work, and 153/10 troubleshooting. I realize something in there doesn't add up quite right, but that's how projects like this always go.

In any case, I'm expecting to get to it sometime very soon. I have about a month before I get my neurostim implant (if you've been following my FB feed, you know the trial went well and I'll be a full-time cyborg soon; if you haven't, don't worry - I'll probably write about it here at some point anyway). I'll want to get the major work on the Vista overhaul done before that. If I figure in the amount of time it might take, troubleshooting, the new daylight savings rules, tax time, the Book of Eli opening (I totally know the guy who wrote the script!!), add in lunch, carry the 3, and calculate, I guess I'll probably get started...oh, say, as soon as the Mayan calendar expires and the world ends.

Of course, before I do anything else, I'll have to play some God of War. Priorities!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Game of the Year!

It's finally time. In fact, it's past time. It's belated. Were this a magazine and not a blog, I might get away with that first sentence, but since that's not the case, well...thanks for waiting.

I've gone through the games I've played that came out in 2009, and picked one Game of the Year and five runner ups. (Publishers, listen: Just because your game didn't make it, doesn't mean I didn't like it; perhaps I didn't play it, or maybe it just wasn't GOTY or runner-up material. It's not like an "award" from this unknown blog really makes much of a difference, right? In any case, we can still be friends.)

Before we get to the awards, let me explain my criteria for determining my selections. To really impress me, the game had to be:

1. Fun.

That's about it. I don't care if the graphics looked like ASCII art. I don't care if the sound was MIDI. While good looks and audio do add to the experience, the thing I really care about is spelled out in the thorough list above.

To the awards!

In no particular order, the runner ups were:

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (Played on PC)
I'll admit right off the top that the multiplayer didn't live up to that of the first MW game. So what? The single-player experience was sublime: It shocked, engaged, challenged, and delighted me. Yes, there was the shocking, early level that the game offered to let you skip--but if you played it through it induced the urge in your loins to KILL THOSE GODDAMN TERRORISTS! The momentum of that controversial level carried me through the game, and it was a hell of a ride.

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (PS3)
I said graphics don't really matter--but I also said they do add to the game. This sucker features visual splendor unseen before. I don't recall very many repeated textures, cookie cutter level design (see: Halo), or anything besides jaw dropping eye candy. But wait, there's more: Next to the GOTY winner itself, the platforming in U2:AT blows everything else out of the water. I could have done with less combat, but the engagements were fun and exciting. Finally, points go to the game for making the hero, Nathan Drake, an interesting and deep character who actually displayed emotion and vulnerability.

Batman: Arkham Asylum (Xbox 360)
I already praised the audio of this stellar title. The voicework, music and sound effects were absolutely terrific. The things I enjoyed the most about Batman, though, were the stealth (strategically picking off armed guards one at a time) and the outright combat (clobbering a mob of unarmed guards with jaw breaking excellence). One of few titles I've taken the time to play through twice, B:AA deserves recognition.

Prototype (Played on PC)
I don't care about the criticism. I loved this game, and the reason is, as Alex I felt like the most badasss killing machine I've ever played. Come on. The dude can cut through entire armies of the infected without breaking a sweat. Heck, can he even sweat at all? He's made of goo. Does goo sweat? It sure can steal helicopters, which was another high point of the game, and the story told through the innovative Web of Intrigue worked for me.

Dragon Age: Origins (Played on PC)
Confession: I haven't finished this epic and very long game yet. Fact: I am going to, with gusto. While not quite Baldur's Gate II level of pure awesome, DA:O is nevertheless a mind blowing experience. Bioware could have done better graphically, but the story is holding my interest plot point to plot point, and the conversations with various party members and other folk are actually interesting and not stuffed with dull filler as they are in any number of RPGs. I'm sold. Unless the bottom drops out in the final act, this game is solid.

One honorable mention goes to Duke Nukem Forever, for being cancelled. Maybe. Or not. Who knows?

Another honorable mention goes to the PS3 revamp of the two PS2 God of War games. Talented artists goosed the PS2 graphics of the duo to look outstanding in high def on the PS3, and the gameplay holds up.

Game of the Year: Assassin's Creed II (Played on Xbox 360)
It's hard to criticize this title. It's just so good. The original AC entertained me until about four hours in, when it became boring and repetitive. Gradually, I grew to resent Altiar.

Italian assassin Ezio, however, is a digital god to me. There's so much more to do in this game, a much better plot, a much keener progression, and overwhelming incentive to play, play, and play some more. The platforming, using the puppeteer interface, is pure joy. The increased range of weaponry and armor, costumes and more, is oh so welcome. AC2 features so many ways to kill your target and anyone who gets in your way, there's actually a strategic element woven in. I don't want to spoil the game for anyone thinking of picking it up, so I won't mention specifics, but you can take out guards up close or from range with a dizzying variety of lethal means.

Being able to hire help successfully sidesteps the overuse of repetitive combat from the first game. Brawlers, hookers, and thieves will gladly accept Ezio's cash--which you earn in an entire subgame by fixing up a family villa--in return for fighting or distracting annoying guards.

There's way, way too much going for this game, more than I have time to write about. The visuals are eye popping, the voice acting is great...Ezio can swim! In Venice!!

That's it for now. Promise to post more.