Thursday, April 15, 2010


A few weeks ago, something impossible happened to my primary rig. When I say "primary" I mean it's the one I do most of my gaming on, as opposed to the workstation in the basement that serves as my grinding-out-articles PC.

The impossible event originated in the keyboard, a Logitech G11. There was a distinct, but very quiet, popping sound, and then it quit working--lights out and all. It also smelled like roasted electronics.

Here's the impossible part: Somehow, this itty-bitty spike blew out the entire USB bus on my computer, which was then powered by a Gigabyte EX58-UD3R.

Long story short, that's not supposed to ever happen, ever, due to the fact that there are several failsafes between a USB device and the USB ports on the computer, all of which failed, but both Gigabyte and Logitech came through for me and sent new parts. I built up a new-ish rig, which is configured as such (some links provided for less-common parts; the others are easy to Google):

Case: Thermaltake Element G (lots of fans in lots of adjustable colors, but still relatively quiet and very cool)
Motherboard: Gigabyte X58-UD5 (complete with SATA 3 and USB 3.0)
CPU: Intel Core i7 920 overclocked from 2.6Ghz to 3.2GHz with a Thermaltake air cooler of some sort (I forget the model, but any decent aftermarket cooler will allow such a modest overclock)
Memory: 12GB (6x2GB) of 1333MHz OCZ Gold triple-channel +
--Dell S2409W 1920x1080 monitor (an oldie, but a goodie)
Graphics: ASUS's version of an Nvidia GTX 285, with an old Nvidia 8800 dedicated for PhysX. (Not sure if that second card is worth even having, considering the heat and wattage factors.)
Audio: ASUS Xonar Essence STX (simply the best headphone-centric sound card available) +
--Phiaton PS 300 NC headset (wow, just wow) and
--Logitech Z-5500 connected w/optical cable (too loud for my living room--which is a good thing)
Input: Logitech G500 mouse + G110 keyboard (because I take gaming seriously)
OS: Win7 x64, natch.

I gotta say, I'm pretty satisfied with this system so far, except that I can't play Metro 2033 at full bore. I'm not even sure that a 400 series Nvidia/5000 series ATI card can do that, though.

Oh, and another note: I've been talking with Michael Brown over at Maximum PC, and it looks like I'll be doing reviews there soon. That's almost like going home; back when it was called boot Magazine, I sat on the other side of a partition from the editors whilst I worked as Tech Ed for PC Gamer.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Life After Carmageddon

I recently unearthed a floppy diskette with some writings on it, dated 1997. That would be when I worked at PC Gamer as the magazine's first Technical Editor (predating some poseur who called himself "The Vede" by more than a year). Though tech is fun and all, I've always considered myself a writer first and foremost, and I wrote a bit at home as well writing 12 or more pages of The Hard Stuff at work. Remember, this was when PC Gamer was a 400 page monthly tome, not the pamphlet it's become today. In the words of then-editor Dan Bennett, we could sneeze and accidentally put out a 96-page mag back then.

At home, my computer was, at the time, a floppy drive-equipped, Celeron powered piece of crap, good for running a word processor and not much more. Still, I banged away at it, with its clickety-click IBM PS/2 keyboard, and even, as I've just discovered, had the wherewithal to back up my writings to floppy. A few minutes ago, I dug out a floppy drive from deep within my pile of ancient drives on one of my gray shelves so I could see if this diskette, labeled "Random Writings 1997-98," was readable. I was amazed at the fact I could actually pull a couple of Word files from it.

One I actually remember writing. I'd probably just reviewed Carmageddon II: Carpocalypse Now for PCG (a review I cannot find online). I had fun with the Carmageddon series, an apocalyptic racing franchise which not only encouraged you, but required you, to run over pedestrians in droves. Animated sprites, they went splat in a few shades of satisfying red before disintegrating. I remember referencing Joe Lieberman in the review; he was the Jack Thompson of the day, the mentally challenged village idiot who thought games corrupted our youth or something.

(Incidentally, now that Jack's been so thoroughly discredited and neutered, I wonder who will take up the "cause?")

One night, after my wife was in bed in our tiny, little apartment, which was only a few feet from route 101 in Burlingame, I stayed up and wrote a what if piece. Inspired by the merciless-but-fun pedestrian murder in Carmageddon II, I wrote a short bit hinging on the idea that each of the poor souls had a real life. For your (and my) amusement, I now post it in its entirety.

Thirty Seconds of Carmageddon
Joel Durham Jr.
CARMAGEDDON is the copyright of whomever owns it now.

In a roar of an engine, with a satisfying splatter of blood and bone and meat, my ped count goes up by one. Four more, and if I can nail them in less than about twenty-eight seconds, I'll have this race wrapped up. It's a ped kill race, not a beat-the-other-guy race. In those types, I kill other drivers. This time around, I'm killing so-called "innocents," people dumb enough to be walking the streets while I'm behind the wheel.

Most of them have scattered, though. They're running into buildings, up stairs, places where my ride can't go. With its enormous wheels, its massive engine, it's too wide to blast its way into an office building, too heavy for a pedestrian overpass. Chrome spikes all around, this vehicle was made to kill, not to finesse its way down bike trails in the park.

But they can't all escape. As the timer ticks down to twenty-three, I line up a fat white guy sporting a traditional striped tie toting a traditional black briefcase. Kill number forty-seven explodes across the hood, decapitated head bouncing off my windsh--

Charles. Charles McGraw. He was about to hail a cab when he painted my black car momentarily red. He was late home from work and, even though he knew there were reports of a Carmageddon race in the city, he decided to take the chance to get home to his wife, Liz, who was pregnant with their second child. Their first, Timothy, would right now be pacing as fast as his three-year-old legs could carry him, back and forth in front of the front door, chanting WHERE'S DADDY? WHERE'S DADDY? Liz will receive a phone call in half an hour, her face will go white, she'll drop to the floor denying the whole time--

What the hell was that?

My brain, something flashed in it, when my eyes made contact with the last guy's (Charles') lifeless eyes as his head bounced off my front window.

How the hell was I supposed to know all that? Was my imagination running away with me? I remember the first few, way back, years ago, when the Carmageddon races were new. Those were tough. But now? How many have I wasted? Enough to live in a big damn mansion, that's for sure. Why would they--no. That was just some sort of, well, flashback.

Aw, hell. Too long. I have to look for a crowd now. I'm not used to losing races, but that killed almost ten seconds. Down to twelve.

There. There's a lady, tall, with a purse. Easy kill, if I throw the wheel to the right in a Excellent. She goes up like a sack of red paint in a water balloo--

That was Jill Wright. Fiancee to Keith Stanley. This would have been her second marriage. She lost her first husband, and truest love of her life, to a long battle with prostate cancer. Jill took more than four years to recover enough to meet Keith, but at 29 she had still been young and, though she never believed she would be, she had finally been ready to make another man happy. Jill had lived for her loved ones, her generous heart going out to anyone in need of some caring. Keith understood she would always love her first husband, but Jill was such a special girl he could understand. He was at her apartment, awaiting her with a single white rose. He'd heard about the races and was a bit worried--but the cops would bust them up before she left her retail job downtown. Unbeknown to Keith, Jill had left early to surprise him...

Not again! And time was up. I'd missed it. For the first time in literally a year and a half, I didn't finish off 50 peds in time. What was going on? Was that really someone named Jill?

Naw, I was going crazy. Only explanation. I glanced in the rearview, but there wasn't much left of whoever that girl had been.

No way. There was no Charles. There was no Jill. I stroke my stubbly chin, glance back out the front window...

...and it's too late to brake.

I hear the whistle, see the red and white striped gate break into pieces across my hood.

I wonder if the engineer will get some sort of vision of who I had been, I think, as my blood stained car comes apart--like a pedestrian against its own chrome spikes.