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.

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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.

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.  

Glitch Guest — The Search for Something Preposterous: Tinkatolli

Updating once every month and a half is reasonable.  I’m still out there in gaming playing Guild Wars 2 and sampling others.  Other writing projects have been progressing lately, but I foresee some more posts here in the near future.

In the meantime, fellow former Glitchen acronymph approached me to see if I would run a guest blog, which sounded like a swell idea to me and a great way to update my blog with minimal work.  That post will shortly follow, but first I’d like to go ahead and request more guest bloggers from the Glitch community.  Not all of the games that Glitchen have migrated to are of interest to me, and I don’t have time to play them all.  Many of the games I play would not be of interest to most Glitchen, but I do want to provide a bit more content to the community.  If you’d like to review a game you are playing that you think might interest other former players, email me at the address provided in my bio and let me know the game you’d like to review, and perhaps we can do some more of these Glitch Guest posts.

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I am not a gamer. I am not a blogger. Bear with me.

I fell in love with Glitch, the first and only MMO I’d ever played, after it was recommended to me by a real life friend in October 2011. Oh, the hours I lost. Oh, the fun I had. Oh, the friends I made. Sadly, the game closed December 9th, 2012 essentially due to lack of funding.

Looking for a replacement wasn’t high on my list of priorities initally, although many of my in-game friends were recommending other games that might potentially whet my whistle.

Several weeks after Glitch closed and as I still combed the newsfeed (thank you Tiny Speck for keeping that aspect available to users) I found I really did want another game to keep me occupied in my limited spare time. I had purchased and was still playing Bubbletown locally on my laptop, but there are only so many borbs you can shoot in a day and still walk away with any sense of accomplishment.

A couple other Glitchers had mentioned Tinkatolli, more than once, and I finally signed up a week ago.

This game is aimed toward kids. Age range isn’t mentioned, but it’s apparent once you’re inside that the age range is youngish-young.

Now is also a good time to mention that I’m not a parent. Even so, I have to say it’s a useful game for young’ns. Gross motor skills are tasked with any video game, sure. But this online game has so many games within games it offers testing of math skills, prioritization, depth perception and timing.

There are seven lands in the world, each being small and straightforward. Stinkatolli is the exception to that statement, being somewhat labrynthine in layout and larger than the others. In my limited play, it seems the game is not particularly quest-driven. Aside from a daily “trade” challenge, the goal appears to be to collect coins and trash as you move through the lands. Energy is maintained through consumption of fruits found scattered about.

As with most online games, there is the option to become a paid member and this unlocks access to an additional land. Membership begins at $5.95 for a single month and includes additional “trinkets” which are also earned each time a player levels up. Trinkets can be exchanged for upgrades such as expanded housing for your Tinka.

The arcade style games-within-game are located throughout the lands and can be played at will. Many of these are fashioned after old classics. For instance, there is a version of Memory and another game is akin to Bejeweled. “Stax” is almost flashcard-esque in nature, testing basic math skills in a timed fashion combined with cute graphics.

As a tree-hugging hippie myself, I have to also love the aspect of the game that teaches and encourages kids to recycle. There is a “sorting station” that allows the users to take the “junk” they’ve collected from the game and make other items from it. I love that. There is also an option to create things IRL from recycled items, photograph them, and upload them to the site to be voted upon with an opportunity to have those creations become a part of the game.

It is a bit confusing to me why this game was designed as an MMO. Granted, after only a few logins perhaps I’m missing something, but to date I can’t see a purpose in having friends there and there isn’t much of a social aspect to it even passing other players in the trash hunt. There is a chat option, but it’s rather cumbersome and only available on the main screen of a land. If you’re engrossed in a game, comments are missed.

Overall, kid game for the win. For now. Is it fun? Yes. Is it challenging if you’re over the age of seven? Probably not. But it’s fun anyway. Shelldiggr is my favorite game so far and has managed to scare off the doldrums on more than one occasion. Tinkatolli won’t become the social platform and all-consuming game that Glitch had been for me – it simply doesn’t have enough depth – but it works well to satisfy my need to occasionally log in to something and experience a bit of diversion.

If you decide to take a run ’round Tinaktolli, I suggest you turn your chat option off. If you’re older than nine, you probably don’t want to hear the random chatter.

Has it been that long? Updates on or reactions to Glitch, Glitch event planning, GW2, & Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning

It has indeed been that long.  But nothing going on has been worthy of its own post.  So here’s another “what I’m doing” post.

In Glitch, I’m still mostly just grinding my way to max level.  I haven’t been in any particular rush to get there, but I’ve only got about 6 levels to go.  Of course, those particular levels are the longest grinds, so it’s possible I won’t get to 60 before The Big Update changes everything.  If not, then oh well.  I will still hit 60 one day — it will just be a meaningless indication of my total imagination and a simple step on the way to more imagination.  And I strongly believe that is the only way MMOs should be—and was reminded of this by Justin’s post on Massively asking whether I preferred endgame or leveling.  How about neither?  How about a game that actually gives me long-term reasons to stay that I can start pursuing from day one?  How about a game that doesn’t give me a game over screen then expect me to play a different game that resembles a hamster wheel in an online lobby?

Also in Glitch, the informal mining association I am part of has gone public, creating the Pollokoo Benevolent Miners’ Society and pulling off our first event.  We joined a few other groups to turn most of a region into a Valentine’s Day party, complete with a kissing booth and splanking room.  We met several, excellent, new (to us) people, and generally had a grand old time.  More parties and other PBMS sponsored events to come in the future.

In MMO news, Guild Wars 2 invited press over the weekend and opened the press-NDA today.  Most of what came out that was news to me basically were minor details, so I won’t go into it.  I will, however, note that it has brought out the usual style of frustrating commenters on the articles — apparently, doing away with the holy trinity is impossible because players will automatically assume those roles.  Never mind that I can easily imagine both mechanics that discourage the trinity and mechanics that make the trinity impossible, and never mind that the latter of these appears to be the case.  It’s just impossible to make a game that isn’t WoW apparently.  I still find the tendency to assume that something cannot work rather than to imagine what would be needed to make it work to be a sign of minimal intelligence or imagination, and I think most of these people shouldn’t be allowed on the internet.

In other gaming news, I managed to get my hands on a copy of Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning via a misplaced but rediscovered gift card.  I read a review somewhere that said KoA takes what’s best from recent RPGs such as Fable and Skyrim and puts it all together in a polished package.  I can agree with that.

But KoA does one thing that is excellent that I have not encountered elsewhere, or if I have, it’s been quite a long time.  While KoA is mostly action combat (also handled well, with combos to reward players that do not just spam-click the left mouse button and instead time and consider when to attack), there is still a hot bar for selecting special attacks which are executed with the right mouse button.  But here’s where KoA shines: unlike every hotbar combat game I’ve played, including the single player Dragon Ages, KoA does not force me to stare at the hotbar rather than the combat or the world around me.  Cooldowns have animations.  After using a spell or special attack, rather than glance at the hotbar to know when it can be used again (in non-action, stand in place, tab target combat, that actually means staring rather than glancing at the hotbar), I can simply watch the animation swirl around my character and when it fades, I know that the ability is ready again, all without once glancing at the hotbar.  Even in games where the hotbar really is the only thing players have to manage (the plate-spinning mentioned by Melmot at Killed in a Smiling Accident), giving a visual representation of cooldowns so I can look at the world rather than a bunch of generic, ugly little icons would go a long way to making me able to enjoy such mindlessness again.

Another Quick Update

Been quite awhile since I’ve posted.  Here’s what’s in the works.

There’s an upcoming social event in Glitch for which I’ve been grinding out various items in preparation, but I can’t talk about it.

The group I’m part of, in Glitch, has started to organize and look to a future that includes more group content, which I suppose could be looked at as replacing some of the fun with srs bzns, but I just look at it as making sure the fun sticks around even as the group dynamics get more complex.  And I can’t really talk about it.

I started over in Skyrim, for the hell of it, just to play with archery.  I can talk about that, but I don’t want to.

And I have set aside the Defining Sandbox Part 3 draft.  Or rather, I renamed it Part 4 and started working on a new part 3: What a Sandbox Isn’t.  Title extremely subject to change.

If there’s anything more going on, I can’t talk about it.