Intermittent Update: Computer Build Continued

Although I still haven’t had any MMO take my attention and imagination enough to write here regularly, I am still gaming. I’ve moved Guild Wars 2 into maintenance mode: occasionally I log in and run some sPvP matches, but I have not done much else. The upcoming changes with the expansion make many activities and efforts feel wasted.

I’ve been playing GTA V for PC. Matchmaking for jobs in GTA online is a bit annoying as it’s too transparent. It feels old school, with players able to quit for another job if it takes too long to find people to fill in . . . which leads, of course, to people quitting right before that 8th person joins, etc. But despite not really finding online interesting, I’m still enjoying story mode even after finishing the story: I’ve been having fun on occasion using the assassination missions to build money and buy properties while driving around and looking for stunt jumps.

I rebuilt my computer like I was discussing the last time I updated this blog. I picked out the Asus M5A97 R2.0 motherboard — it’s a value board for gamers, cutting maybe $40 off many gaming boards, going for around $80. Although it can handle Crossfire for multiple AMD graphics cards, it only has one PCI-E at full speed worth running a GPU on, so it might as well not handle Crossfire. And it can handle RAID, but I’m pretty sure it can only be a single set, with all SATA ports either all as RAID or not. I don’t plan to do either of those things soon, and by the time I change my mind, CPUs might change and I’ll be looking at motherboards again anyway.

For the processor, I went with the AMD FX-8320 for about $140 — I paid $136.50 on Amazon but I notice the same chip is now nearly $142. The next chip up, the FX-8350, didn’t have enough of a performance edge to justify the extra cost, and I was trying to cut as many costs as possible. The 8320 will easily overclock to a bit faster than the stock speed of the 8350. For the time being, I’m getting enough enjoyment from the noticeable performance boost of 8 cores at 3.5 GHz over my previous AMD processor that ran 3 cores at 2.8 GHz that I don’t plan to overclock until this fall.

After closing it up and powering on, I had a little bit of trouble with the system resetting seemingly at random, but I had tried to scrape by without replacing the power supply, and I’ve since learned they do not age well. I picked up a 750 watt PSU for $70.

I also, as I mentioned in the spring, replaced the intake fan. That led to noticing how quickly the case had accumulated dust since the last time I’d been inside. The only dust filters on the case had all been disposable junk — I’d had to throw them away a long time ago and have never replaced them.

My next plan had been to replace the budget video card I picked up to get my system working again when the original fried in the spring. But because of the dust, and because I already know what too much dust can do to the intake on a reference model card, I’ve decided I really need to replace the case first.  Cases with pre-built computers are all kind of crappy in my experience, it’s one of the ways they cut costs.

I did some research, looking for a bigger case, placing priorities on something that worked well with air cooling as well as looking for something “different” — different could have been anything from a handy drawer for flash drives to a fancy front panel or cool lights. I ended up picking out Silverstone Tek’s Raven 3 for around $150. The different in the Raven 3 is the 90 degree motherboard rotation that puts the I/O ports (where all the plugs go) at the top of the case instead of the back. As long as you’re using a reference design video card that intakes air and blows it out of the case (rather than the open cooled, after-market cards with multiple fans that push the heat into the case) the 90 degree turn gives a boost to GPU air cooling. Win-win.

Before I swap everything into a new case, I’m also planning to get a few more fans with purple LEDs (I like lights, but not too bright, so purple works well) and a fan controller to give me the option to shut down or slow down fans when I’m not gaming. I’m going to pick up a small solid state drive, and I’ll clone my current hard drive to that. I’ll probably end up throwing that hard drive out but getting one just like it with more space for media storage and extra space for games that do not fit on the SSD. HDD life expectancy isn’t much more than five years, and that drive is five years old — I’d have to replace it soon anyway. My DVD-RW drive has stopped reading or writing CDs, so I’ll replace that as well.

Approximate Costs for the Summer Rebuild:
Mobo: $80
CPU: $140
PSU: $70
8 gb RAM: $56
Fan: $12
Total: $358

Approximate Costs for the Fall Rebuild:
Case: $150 (totally could spend $50 less, but man that 90 deg turn is sexy)
8 gb RAM: $45 (same chip as before, for dual channel, but price has fallen)
Fans: $24
Fan Controller: $30
DVD-RW: $20
Samsung 250 GB SSD: $100 (come down to $90 recently, but not sure that is permanent)
WesternDigital 3 TB HDD: $95

Total: $444

In the spring, I’m going to put the cherry on top and get a video card that isn’t an emergency, value replacement. Probably Sapphire Technology’s reference model of the Radeon R9 290x, which is about $340 right now. That gives me a custom gaming rig for around $1142, which ain’t shabby.  I already owned Windows but that would have added about $100 to the cost. Looking it over, I could easily cut the cost of the case by $50, maybe even $100. And I could cut another $50 for the fans and the controller, $100 for the SSD.

I mention these cuts because in my research, I often noticed the $1000 price point tossed around as the line to stay under when suggesting parts for the ever elusive “Budget Build.” And these parts, assembled differently, can totally feed into a powerful budget build.  The case, the extra fans and their controller, and the SSD are all unnecessary. Budget builds are not going to run 4k gaming, but this build will probably run 1440p (ultra widescreen) on ultra settings and still be playable. Probably not 60 fps, but playable.

I’m having trouble finding a comparable pre-built machine with similar parts. Usually they have 2x 4GB RAM instead of 2x8GB RAM. Or they only have a 1 TB HDD and no SSD. I found one of those for about $1500. I found a used machine with the same amount of RAM and a 250gb SSD (but no other storage) for $1200.

Pretty pleased with the process. And building in stages and spreading out the costs has been rather convenient. Certainly more convenient than financing!

Another post, with pictures! in a few months for the next step.

Another Intermittent Update

I still haven’t decided what to do with this page. Here’s an update anyway.

While I took a break from GW2 for part of the year since I last posted, the break was mostly due to having my monitor burn out and not having a comfortable way to play on the 42 inch TV I use as a second monitor. GW2 is just one of those games without font options that are readable at living room distances. So for awhile I focused on console ports—Injustice: Gods Among Us saw heavy rotation—designed to be played on TVs with gamepads. I also got caught up on a few Lego games, which I don’t consider amazing examples of modern gaming, but I do consider them great mindless entertainment.

But I did get back in to GW2, and made significant progress on getting one of every class to 80. Only have about 40 levels left on the ranger then will save up my tomes for the release of the revenant, and I’m done. Most of them, however, are not even close to having equipment. My thief, is in good shape, almost completely carrying ascended armor, trinkets, and weapons. Next is the guardian with all exotics and a couple of ascended trinkets.

Those are the two characters I focus on. I use the thief for WvW roaming: with stealths and conditions, he’s hard to kill and hard to run from. I’m still learning, however, so sometimes I make it easy on folks. The guardian gets pulled out for guild raids, when running with a large, organized group. Lately I haven’t made too many raids (and that’s unfortunate, as it started right after joining the dedicated raiding team), as I’ve just been way too tired by their 8 pm start time and on my way to bed for 9 or 10.  It’s an exciting life I lead.

For the last few weeks, most of my gaming time has gone into GTA. Not GTA V, however, I need to finish some computer upgrades before I can run that well enough to play it. I picked up GTA San Andreas on sale a few days before GTA V released. There’s not too many times in my life that I’ve had the opportunity to return to a game ten years after I’ve left it, and in this case, two platform changes later. The Steam version has been stripped of some songs for licensing reasons, but it does have widescreen resolutions except in the cut scenes (which are stretched). I had so much fun with  that game and put so much time into it back in 2005 that I’d forgotten many of the game’s warts. There are lots of graphical glitches and crashes. Ten years ago, I thought my computer was struggling to handle the game, but the game still slows down at similar moments, with too many vehicles and pedestrians on-screen. The FPS really bottoms out when the game is animating heavy smoke, such as that inside buildings on fire. Which will be a problem, again, later — the final mission involves escaping a burning building. It lacks the autosave and save anywhere features of the HD games. And it lacks the taxi and replay features of the HD games that speed up the more monotonous parts of GTA.

It’s also a lot smaller than I remember. I played GTA V by borrowing a friend’s 360. When I first started replaying San Andreas, it felt like the map I was unlocking was much larger than the HD Los Santos. It’s not. Once I had the map opened up and was flying instead of driving, I realized how quickly I could go from end to end, from airport to airport. The whole map is probably less than half the area of GTA V. Fascinating to imagine what this series will be like in 2025.

Computer upgrades have also been progressing. I replaced my burnt out 23 inch monitor with a 24 inch — so I guess that’s an upgrade. I replaced my video card with another 1 gb card, but one that can handle dx11. Amazing how much of a performance increase that alone caused — I spent a few weeks playing Civ V because of how much faster the game loaded in dx11. While doing the video card, I checked my fans as one had been making a lot of noise. Turns out they were both pretty rough: the one that was quiet had actually seized.  I removed the exhaust fan on the side, as that was easy to access, and I unplugged the intake on the front — getting to that fan requires removing the front panel. The exhaust fan I was able to replace right away, coincidentally, as I was visiting a cousin later that evening and he had the right size in storage from an old computer (his current build uses ginormous oversized fans).

Next on the upgrade list is the big three: motherboard, processor, RAM. The RAM I have would probably work on the mobo I’m looking at, and the RAM I want probably works on the mobo I have. So I might do the RAM first. Or do the RAM last. Though probably I’ll just do it all at once. I’ll also put a new intake fan on the front of the case then, as that’s just another $10 – $20 on the job and I’ll have the front panel detached to rewire the power button and the other stuff built into the panel. This whole job will be about $300 – $350. I still have some research to do before I settle on the motherboard, but I’ll be choosing that first, and probably purchasing it this week.

Although I’ll probably want to replace my video card again in a couple of years, those replacements will set me right for the current generation of console ports. And, if the game turns out to be worthwhile, let me run Star Citizen at a fair clip. Which is the end goal, though I must admit GTA V moved up the timetable. I looked into just buying a completely new system, but this saves me a good amount of money and keeps me off Windows 8. There’s nothing wrong with my hard drive, my power supply, or my case anyway.

More Here Soon! Blog Resurrection

Hopefully without blog DNA transcription errors

I’ve been playing games!  Games that are online and are played with other gamers! I’ve been doing it for a few months now, so I’ve decided to work with the blog again. Why not?

First on the list, and in the rotation since winter, is Clash of Clans. It’s a free to play mobile strategy game. The monetization scheme is rather fair — spending money might advance your village faster, but that will just put you up against stronger opponents sooner. There’s a lot of depth and strategy to the game — much more than I expected, so much more that I occasionally feel bad for my clanmates when I don’t take the time to play, learn, and improve. If you’re looking for a clan, you can find a bit more info about the one I am part of here.

About two months back, that old MMO itch came back again. I had little interest in Wildstar and no interest in Elder Scrolls Online, so I decided the easiest way back in was just to boot up Guild Wars 2: it was still on my system and did not cost anything to return to. So I checked with Havok, and she had been thinking about playing it again as well. We got back in just before the second Living Story season started. The game has gone through some changes since I quit around this time last year, which for the most part I like.

I did find that the Living Story took little time to complete, however, so I found myself looking for more. Which led to spending more time in WvW, which led to joining a WvW guild, which actually led to spending more time in structured PvP to level a thief. And now I mostly play a thief in any pvp mode — the engi still comes out for PvE and dungeons.  And until I have one of each, there’s always at least one character that I’m leveling. So now my current stable of GW2 characters contains an 80 engineer, 80 guardian, 80 thief, 80 mesmer, 44 elementalist, 42 warrior, 40 necromancer, and a 20 ranger. My first 3 80s have full exotic gear, with the engi having several ascended trinkets. The thief has a few ascended trinkets and a few pieces of ascended armor. Currently leveling the ele, though I’m not really concerned about playing with that pro at a high level or equipping out anymore 80s I achieve. Other than occasionally running map completion or world events, usually while only half paying attention, most of my game time goes into learning about fighting other players with the thief. I have a few guildies that prefer thieves, so I know I have a lot of room for improvement.

Last night, I launched into Archeage. I’ve barely scratched the surface of the game and have yet to encounter any of the sandbox features that make people I know so excited about it. But I am already enjoying the class system. And looking forward to the crafting. I’ll probably be playing this more than GW2 by the end of the year — partly because I have payed for Patron status and want to get my money’s worth. I’m not a huge fan of the combat, but it is better than pre-NGE Star Wars Galaxies, and I loved that game. I don’t think the combat will be the main draw for Archeage any more than it was for SWG.

I have quite a few article ideas brewing, so more here in the near future.

What I’m Playing

Just a brief update about the games I’m playing, some of which might motivate me to use this space in the future.

I have not played much Wizard101 since my previous post.  I generally leave it up to Beans as to when I play that — meaning if she is playing, I will too, but I’m not likely to go in on my own.  But I’m betting we’ll go back in together by mid-October.

I have not been in GW2 since the LFG tool and Taco the Dragon update, haven’t even downloaded it.

I have played a lot of Saints Row IV, which some might find horrendously sexist, but I just find terribly funny.  It’s fun, though it really doesn’t scratch that Saints Row or GTA itch — the Matrix-like abilities make driving cars sort of pointless, and for whatever reason, much of my fun in these games has come from cruising at street level, listening to the “radio,” and getting to know the roads and paths.  There’s no compelling reason to learn my way around the city when it is a very simple matter to launch into the air and sail over all the obstacles.

I tried to play Age of Wushu.  I downloaded the installer and it ran just fine, but when it was done the game would only give me an error and not launch.  My system should run it without trouble, so I assume there was an error in the installation.  I uninstalled it and have not yet been motivated to try again.

I’ve strongly debated investing in Star Citizen, but I think I need to upgrade my computer.  The hanger module is unlikely to run well on this system, so I find it likely the game will crap out too.  But upgrading might be on the horizon for me.

I played through Lego Harry Potter, years 1 – 4.  When I played through Lego Star Wars, years back, I felt compelled to go back and explore the areas that cannot be reached the first time through.  I have not felt any urge to do that with this game.  But I haven’t uninstalled it either, so perhaps I’ll be back.

Every once in awhile, I pull up a game of FTL or Don’t Starve and get my Rogue-like on.  Usually more FTL than Don’t Starve, but I’ve started running out of goals for FTL.  Don’t Starve is in development, so changes give me reason to come back.

Sometimes, I play a round of Hearts on Windows.

MMOs aren’t dominating my game time in any way shape or form, and I’ve actually spent much more time reading or writing than gaming lately, which is probably a good thing.  I’ll find something compelling and multiplayer eventually though, and I will write the crap out of it.

Wizards Have Terrible Grammar: My Initial Impressions of Wizard101

Wizards do indeed have terrible grammar in Wizard101, though I should note it’s mostly not the fault of the people playing them: it’s mostly due to a draconic chat filter that makes it nearly impossible to speak without finding many of your words replaced by ellipses.

And no, it’s not because I fucking swear all the goddamn time.  I’m not a classless asshole.  I tried to tell the friend I am playing with, a Glitch alum known in Ur-that-was as Beans, Obviously, (yes, the Obviously is part of the name, that’s why it is capitalized, obviously) that a fight had kicked my bum.  Bum would not type out.

Neither would numbers or number words (6 or six, respectively) — which I assume is part of the safety measures intended to keep children from sharing their “friend code” — a code that lets players add someone to their friend list who is not standing next to them, a precaution so that children cannot be sought out by internet strangers, I guess.

But the only real result is that the local chat channels are filled with mangled garbage that passes for English sentences.  For example, if a player needs someone level 6 or above, they type level sixth, as ordinal numbers are not filtered (though the word ordinal is). Their hearts are in the right place at KingsIsle Entertainment, I’m sure.  But as a writer and a once aspiring English teacher, all I can do is contemplate the horrible effect such examples have, an effect that goes above and beyond normal netspeak and produces some really twisted sentence constructs.

As a result of viewing these twisted constructs, I’ve come to find the chat filter completely useless.  The kids seem to find ways around it, so the filter serves no real purpose except as a security blanket for clueless parents.  And a severe roadblock in your average child’s English education.

Oh but the game is fun.  Runs a little more saccharine than my usual taste, but the turn based combat has some interesting tactics that appear to grow more complex with time.  And it works well with a small group of 2 – 4.  The game certainly feels like a Harry Potter MMO without the Harry Potter.  And that makes Beans rather happy and makes Havok likely to join us at some point (do eeeeet).

Beans has progressed to level 10, and I have only reached level 6.  Once I’ve spent a little more time in game, I’ll publish a Wizard101 review about something other than the effect chat filters might have on impressionable young minds.

Obligatory Everquest Next Reveal Impressions

I’m dragging myself out of the depths to which inactive bloggers are banished in order to talk about the topic of the moment.  During the SOE Live 2013 Everquest Next announcement, I was in the office working on formatting the latest revisions to one of our manuals, but I’m alone on Fridays, so I put the livestream on one computer while working off another.

I almost regret that choice.  Now I have to go in and work tomorrow to make up for how unfocused I was for the last three hours of the day.  But it will only cost me a little in gas.  Seems worth it.

I can sum up why with a single quote:

What we do is we tag everything in the game world with what it is.  The game is constantly polling the world to find out where the guards are, how often people have gone down a lonely stretch of road to find out whether it’s lonely or not.  And so what we do is we create orks and then we just release them into the world.  And then it’s up to the orks to find the spots that they like.

I’m glad I work alone on Fridays, because the following video is actual footage of what happened in my office next:

I never realized how much I look like Winona Ryder.

Anyway, no static spawns: instead, mobs have behavioral subroutines that assign likes and dislikes, preferences and aversions.  Further explanation revealed that the same scenario can have multiple results — players may be sent into the woods to push back goblins that have recently arrived.  And the goblins might start withdrawing, or the goblin king might decide he needs those woods and respond by sending armies.

Actual change in the world.  Actual change over time without updates needed.  It’s what many expected from GW2.  But rather than dynamic ghost story events, EQN, as described at least, does not have dynamic events — instead, it has a dynamic virtual ecology that will vary from server to server.

This part of the reveal, by itself with nothing else, is enough that I can say I will play the game to at least see this claim in action.

The cynicism of the MMO community is well-earned, but I don’t find myself agreeing with many of the complaints that are already circling.   The new art direction is frequently under attack — I find myself not caring at all about the changes to character models and otherwise impressed with the environment art.  The combat style is under attack.   I’m not sure it’s possible for me to have feelings about the combat that based on video, even the video in which various developers play the game live on stage.  I’d need to take the controls myself.

Syp over at Biobreak seems unimpressed with the Rallying Cries, EQN’s version of public questing, stating that “practically everything they’re saying about them makes [him] think of Guild Wars 2,” but I would disagree there as well.  Sure, the basic mechanic reminds me of GW2 or Rift or that game that shall not be named where the term PQ comes from, but I think that’s missing the point.  PQs are static in all three of those games, but if things work as claimed, Rallying Cries will be generated organically by the emergent AI in the applicable mobs and NPCs; in other words, there will be no dragon timers for EQN.  On one server the dragon might be attacking the city because too many adventurers have threatened his hoard while on another he’s still guarding the hoard and terrorizing the mountains.  And that dragon might have settled in different places on each server to begin with.

My only disappointment is that I’m not seeing how EQN will itself be a sandbox.  From the reveal, the sandbox elements seem safely confined to EQN Landmark. I would play that game even if it wasn’t tied to an MMO — even if it was just a AAA graphics version of Minecraft.  In fact, I’m strongly considering upgrading my PC or buying a new one before EQNL releases.

But I’d be more impressed if the two were a single game.


I’m Alive!

I just have a job and stuff again!  Losing Glitch as my main source of ideas for posts on top of having the demands on my time and my overall lifestyle change simultaneously hasn’t left me a lot of time or desire to write.  Certainly not to write about games, and my primary fiction piece has seen maybe a paragraph added in the last three months.  I’m not full time, but the job keeps my brain burning glucose and leaves me rather tired.  Most work nights I’m not up for gaming at all.  And MMO-gaming and the social interaction—even the casual interactions—it brings is out of the question.  I’m an introvert to the bone — even if I do not talk to anyone and only deal with emails in a day, that’s enough social interaction for me.  

For the last month, I’ve barely played GW2.  I can’t decide if I’m done with the game, or if I just don’t have the energy for an MMO.  I think it’s a bit of both — I don’t have the desire to make enough time for the game to see event content during the time frame it is available for, and I have otherwise experienced most of the content I find interesting.  Combine that with a desire to be isolated most evenings, and I’m really not logging in much.  I know from past experience—I have been me for my entire life after all—that my need for isolation will pass — the “too much interaction for the day” baseline will move as I become accustomed to the interactions required for work.  

So I’ve been asking myself what it would take to make me excited about GW2 as I grow used to the new demands on me, and the best I could come up with are two possibilities: “small group, non-dungeon, permanent content” is the first.  This means, to me, something I can pop in to with one or two other people and still have it be challenging and fun, but not something that requires a set number of people and becomes impossible without that number.  And it doesn’t have an expiration date — the last few events have passed me by — I haven’t been able to log in during each more than once or twice.  The second change that might bring me back would be entirely new environments and mechanics.  

The first of these seems likely to come eventually, though it’s quite possible that by the time it does arrive, I’ll have moved on to new pastures. I feel as if Anet has focused on event content, which is probably not a bad thing for the regular players, but I don’t feel motivated to start a task that won’t be available to finish the next time I feel like playing.  

The second seems less likely based on Anet’s own statements about not adding professions, crafts, races, or zones but focusing on free content updates that expand the existing.  I’d almost prefer that a large paid expansion was in the works to release at the one year point — the one year mark is when GW got its first expansion, and when GW2 released, I commented to several that we’d probably see one in August or September.  

Probably not.  

But such a large expansion, with more skills, more weapon skills, perhaps even a new style of combat altogether (mounted? ahem) would likely give me another 8 – 9 month surge.  

I’m not sure I’m the one they want to market to though.  My server seems otherwise healthy.  Subjectively, it seemed to reach a low point about two – three months ago and has bounced back in my absence.  My favorite way of gauging the health of the game has always been to observe gem sales — those seem to be about the same as ever, since an early rise after the honeymoon phase of the game ended.   

In the meantime, I’ve taken this time to acquaint myself with single player games I missed and to reacquaint with the ones I’ve been missing.  I’ve been playing The Cave, Blood Bowl: Chaos Edition, Tropico 4, Saints Row the Third, and XCom: Enemy Unkown.  I picked up Borderlands 2, and played it a wee bit, but it’s much better as a co-op game.  I’ve mostly ignored it in order to play with Havok, and she has even less time for gaming than I do.  

I’ve also been playing an unnamed beta. The combat feels more like I expected GW2 combat to feel, at least in the early game, so it’s getting points for that.  

For the near-future, I plan to give Age of Wushu a try.  I like the sandbox elements and the setting, though I’m not sure how I feel about their monetization strategies.  But I’d like to get a firsthand feel.  I’ll try to write about that experience, at some point.  

I’ve also been strongly considering playing Darkfall: UW.  But I think that would need to wait for me to actually feel like gaming with other humans again.  Solo Darkfall is a bad idea.