Posts Tagged ‘Computers’

Project: webPC – iMac G3 Modernization

July 21, 2013

So, one year after I asked the question of whether an old iMac G3 could be turned into a modern PC, it’s finally built.

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Steam Box, Part Two – Price Point

April 7, 2013

One aspect of the Steam Box I didn’t talk about was price point. I figured it would be obvious. It would have to be priced similar to traditional consoles and Valve knows that.

I was reading about the Xi3 Piston and its cost struck me dumb. A thousand dollars? Sure, it’s a cool little mini PC, but my similarly specced media center rig cost half that. My main rig, which is far more capable, cost the same amount. Now, it’s not the Steam Box, and I’m thankful for that. Because if the Steam Box cost that much, there’s no way it can compete. Not against traditional consoles like the recently announced PS4 and Xbox 720/8/Next, and certainly not against the dirt-cheap Ouya class of devices.

It needs to come in at four or five hundred dollars, max, and it’s gotta have decent (not killer, but decent) specs for that price. It has to cost about the same as the PS4 or the Xbox 720/8/Next or nobody will buy it. Console gamers won’t make the switch, because they’re not willing to spend the extra cash for a machine they know little about, and PC enthusiasts will just build their own for the same price or maybe a little less. And this is an area where Valve is naturally disadvantaged versus the console giants.

When it was first released, the Playstation 3 was sold at a (quite significant) loss, and if I remember correctly, the Xbox 360 was also initially sold at a loss, tapering off to a slight loss or slim profit later in its lifecycle. The consoles are subsidized by game sales, a portion of which goes back to the console maker, and things like Live and overpriced accessories. If Valve tries to subsidize the Steam Box with game sales, the userbase will crucify them. They can’t charge for online, and nobody will buy the overpriced accessories. The Steam Box cannot be sold at a loss. Period.

It’s also likely to cost more. Console manufacturers use proprietary, specialized hardware, design for cost efficiency, and build millions of units. There’s a definite economy of scale here. Contrast the Steam Box, which is built with commodity PC hardware (although the next gen is pretty damn close), designed for flexibility and openness (we hope), and unless Valve is insane, will not be built by the millions, at least not initially.

Of course, they also have to provide something that works and works well. The obvious choice to power the device would be one of AMD’s Trinity chips, twin module (I refuse to call it a quad core) and all the shaders unlocked. That’s not a cheap part, even if they work out some kind of deal. It’s gotta have at least 4GB of memory, preferably 8GB, and enthusiasts will hate it if it’s soldered on so it better be a SODIMM or conventional DIMM. Trinity likes fast memory for it’s graphics- you really need dual channel DDR3-1866 to feed it, and that isn’t exactly cheap, though it’s not really expensive either. You can pretty much forget SSDs unless you only have one game, but a hybrid setup with an SSD boot or SSD cache might be the ticket. This is not a cheap computer. This is definitely at least a $500 machine, and it’s the minimum for today.

As you can see, Valve is trapped between a rock and a hard place. If this is going to work, they have to provide good hardware at a low price, and they can’t use the same tricks console makers use. And at the end of the day, most gamers will not part with a thousand dollars of their hard-earned money, no matter how flexible, open, and awesome the platform is.

Steam Box – Five Things Valve Needs To Succeed

February 16, 2013

The Steam Box has me excited. It’s a completely different approach to console gaming. For those that don’t know what it is, have you been living under a rock? I’ve seen similar initiatives before, but Valve might actually be able to pull it off. To me at least, the fight is not going to be XBOX 3/720/8/Next vs PS4. The really interesting contest is going to be between the cheap and cheerful Android consoles like the Ouya and the much more powerful x86 Steam Box.

That is, if they don’t fuck it up royally. Here’s five things, in my opinion, that Valve needs to get right for the Steam Box to have any hope of succeeding.

5. Plug-and-Play Simplicity
One of the reasons people buy consoles is because you can buy it, plug it in, turn it on, and play. It’s become a little more complicated since the era of the 64 and the Playstation, but not enormously so. You might have to make an account, and install an update, and yeah, it’s a little more complicated than it used to be. But there aren’t long install processes (except when there are) and you don’t have to screw around with patches or driver incompatibility or odd issues. Steam has already come a long way in simplifying our gaming experience- integrating buying games, installing and patching games, playing games and talking to our gaming buddies.

I’m not saying I want to give up flexibility for simplicity, though. If a more advanced user wants to play with a mouse and keyboard, install LibreOffice, or screw around in the terminal, let them do so. But the casual gamer should be able to plug it in, buy a game, grab the controller and play.

4. UniversalityThis is similar to the point about simplicity, above. When you buy a PS3, you’re getting a PS3- well, mostly. There is a little more variety in models than their used to be, but having everyone making Steam Boxes is going to confuse console gamers who would otherwise make the jump. You don’t have to worry about hardware requirements or incompatibility or getting something that half works. There’s no confusion over what to buy- you run out and buy a PS3. Again, it’s not as simple as it used to be, but there are still only a few models with no fundamental differences.

It’s already clear that there isn’t going to be one Steam Box, and I don’t blame Valve for taking this approach. It’s one I support- just not one that’s necessarily going to work. But I think if they take a page out of Google’s book, it won’t be a problem. There are a plethora of Androids in all shapes and sizes out there. There’s the prestigious Galaxy S3, the cheap and not-so-cheerful Optimus One (yes, you can still buy those), the luxurious Transformer Pad Infinity, the middle-of-the-road Galaxy Tab- you get the picture. Standing out in that haze are the “Pure Google” devices- the Nexus 4, 7, and 10. If you buy one of those, you’re getting the pure Android experience- no skins, no mods. They’re the reference platforms. If there’s a Valve-branded “Pure Steam” console that stands out, that’s going to be the one people are going to buy. And it will make it easier on the customer and developers.

3. Integrated Functionality
Today’s game consoles are not just game consoles, and Valve’s Linux-based PC/console doubly so. It’s not enough for a device to just play games. If it doesn’t have any other tricks up its sleeve, then it’s a waste of $300 (or $400, or $500, or $600, or whatnot). For what the Steam Box will likely cost, and given its extensive hardware capabilities (AMD Fusion?), we’d better get something that does at least as much as a Smart TV.

The Steam Box needs to be able to browse the Internet and play your media, at the very minimum. This is out of the box, plug-and-play, not after you’ve rooted it and installed mplayer and Chromium. Simple installation of third-party apps might also be an interesting element to bring to the table, though it may confuse some. A rudimentary file manager would be nice, as would support for network shares, but only an easy way to move content on to the device and play it is necessary. It would also be a boon to a lot of people if there was support for Netflix and other, similar services, though I believe most have web-based services. I’ve played with Steam Big Picture, and it’s nowhere close.

2. A Solid PushYou can have the best idea in the world, but if you don’t market the hell out of it, it’s never going to take off. To use my least favorite company (apart from EA) as an example, this is what Apple did- what Steve Jobs did. He would take an idea, make it his own, and launch it and push it when the time was right. The iPhone is the culmination of years worth of technological development, and so is the iPod and the iPad. Samsung’s Galaxy Player should have been force competition for the iPod Touch, with a growing acceptance of Android and the pedigree of the Galaxy name. But the unit was not marketed in the United States until six months after its Korean launch, and was never brought to Canada.

Gamers know Steam. That’s a starting point. But (internet) word of mouth only goes so far. The majority of people following Valve and the Steam Box are PC gamers, most of which already own a competent PC. Console gamers and non-gamers are going to be the big growth area. And it’s a complex market- not only are you going up against the next-gen consoles, but also phones and tablets. Valve needs to make themselves known. Advertising- on TV, on the Internet, in magazines (do people still read those?) is key. Although an online solution worked for the Nexus devices, Valve might even want to consider a retail presence. Having a Steam Box display next to the Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft ones selling Steam Boxen and game cards, preferably with a demo model, will bring a lot of people in. And take note of the game cards- maybe vouchers for games or maybe like iTunes cards. Most teenagers don’t have credit cards.

1. Launch TitlesBlu-ray didn’t win the format war because it was technically superior to HD DVD, nor did it win because certain hardware companies integrated it into their products. Blu-ray won because during the season that it came out, the most desired titles were from studios that backed Blu-ray and came out on that format. People will buy the platform that supports the content they want. The Steam Box runs Linux. There are some Linux-compatible titles on Steam, mostly Valve and indie games. As much as I like those, nobody’s going to buy a console so they can play DEFCON or Team Fortress 2. You need big-name publishers backing you and strong franchises available on the platform. You need to launch with a good lineup of games people want, people are willing to upgrade for.

EA Games is already out, because they insist on ramming Origin down our throats. And those who are prideful and refuse to bow down… are probably torrenting cracked versions. That’s a pretty big hit, considering they publish games for every other platform. Battlefield, Command and Conquer, Mass Effect, Need For Speed, NxL 20xx, anything with Sims in the title. Up next is Activision Blizzard. Call of Duty sells by the millions, so if you can get Infinity Ward and Treyarch’s latest masterpieces (and I use that term in a completely non-ironic manner), you’ve got two top end launch titles right there. Get Starcraft and you’ve cornered the Korean market. I jest, but it is a decent launch title. World of Warcraft might be bad for your reputation, but it’ll get people buying. Ubisoft has Assassin’s Creed, Tom Clancy’s (yes, they actually a degree of rights to his name), and a whole host of others. Rainbow Six Patriots might make a good launch game (or it might suck). There’s also Rockstar (GTA), ZeniMax Media (iD, Bethesda), Namco Bandai (Ace Combat, Soulcalibur), Konami (MGS), and a host of others I can’t keep track of.

Indie developers are good and all, and Valve can punch out games in their own right, but they need the support of major developers and publishers (ones that will likely be skeptical of their open model) to be successful. Maybe Valve will finally learn to count to three? Now THAT would be a launch title.

Mass Effect 3 Feature Coming Soon

April 14, 2012

I know it’s been over a month, but I’ve been busy with some other things. Well, one of them was playing the game. Over the course of this month, I plan to do a series of posts on Mass Effect 3 – a detailed breakdown and review. I’ve been a fan of the series for, well, years now, and have been waiting eagerly for the conclusion since I finished ME2. My overall impressions are mixed, with some things impressing me and some… not so much. I’ll go into that in detail, but for now I’ll leave it at this: I don’t like the new FemShep and the ending is absolutely terrible.

Modern Warfare 3 – First Impressions

November 10, 2011

So, I preordered MW3 on Steam a while back. There’s an interesting story to that, which I may or may not get into later. To put it simply, I was going to go for the other big shooter, but didn’t want spyware on my PC and didn’t want to give money to a company that is so evil. So I bought MW3, and have been playing it since it came out. I’ve played through the entire campaign, but my online experience is limited to a single match, so keep that in mind. A surprising proportion of players simply buy the game for the multiplayer, which is very disappointing. In my opinion, the singleplayer campaign is the best part of the game.

I won’t spoil the plot, but I must say that it starts off feeling more like MW 2.5 than MW3. The game begins right on the heels of the second one, not several years later like the first one. As the plot progresses, it starts to separate a bit and feel more like a true sequel. If I didn’t know better, I’d think that they screwed up the ending of MW2 and had to tidy up the loose ends before moving on. Anyway, the campaign feels pretty good overall, and although it’s heavily scripted and extremely linear, that’s what makes it great. It feels like an interactive movie, almost, a cinematic ride through the theatres of war. It does that even better than the first two games, but seems a bit lacking and repetitive at times. We’ve done the AC-130 how many times now? I think it’s a good thing they’re ending here, because after the stuff they pulled in the second title, it’s kind of hard to top that.

And here’s the bad news- Modern Warfare 3 doesn’t really do it. There are some pretty epic moments, and the conclusion is amazing, but it just doesn’t do the shock and awe thing as well as the first two games. There’s lots of explosions, sure, but they don’t have any impact. However, in terms of Action Movie Quiet Drama Scene, MW3 has quite a few, and they are well done. I know I’m going to piss off a lot of people by saying this, but if you’re looking for video games as art, start with the Modern Warfare series. The visuals are stunning, not necessarily because of the quality but because of what they are. I’m a PC guy and can’t say for the console guys, but MW3 looks great. Yes, there are probably better looking games, but it’s well presented. The sound design is equally excellent, and really rounds out the game. This was Medal of Honor’s failing, if anyone remembers that.

Remember how I said that this feels like MW2.5? That is reflected most in the menus, which are nearly identical. Control configuration is much the same, and the graphics options seem to lock certain settings for some reason, forcing me to override from the nVidia control panel. The game closes and starts a different executable when you switch to multiplayer, which is very glaring especially for Steam users. The campaign completion meter is totally useless- it doesn’t measure how close you are to the end of the campaign but how many achievements you got, or how many intelligence briefcases, or something. I thought I was less than halfway through, when I was really almost done. Multiplayer-wise, at least the dedicated servers are back but as I said I didn’t really try it much.

At the risk of sounding like a Straw Feminist, I’m going to bitch about one last thing before I’m done. WHERE THE FUCK ARE THE WOMEN?! There was a pilot that you don’t see, some civilians that you barely notice, and a hostage. I am not joking. I could understand the first game, which was all about special forces, but still wish it didn’t have the sexist subliminal messaging. The second game was a serious mind screw. Yes, I know they are not allowed in American combat units. Are the lines really going to be that clear cut when your country is being invaded? The Russians are here, all men to the front lines! What the hell are you doing, I said all MEN! Go back and cower in the bunker. The situation is similar (though not exactly the same) in Modern Warfare 3.

Although the story arcs are definitely concluded, there are still loose ends after Modern Warfare 3. What’s going to happen in Russia? How is the Western world going to recover? What’s the story on Israel and the Middle East? What about Asia? There’s room for more here, but I don’t think Infinity Ward should do it. It would only be more of the same, and the horse is pretty tired now. Do Future Warfare. Embrace the near-future sci-fi shooter, and take the same cinematic approach. Walkers, powered armour, space combat, that sort of thing, but big and epic like the other Call of Duty games. We’ve had two Captain Prices, let’s have a third for some continuity. Make her a her this time.

Last but not least, did anyone notice that the Occupy Wall Street?

 

Mass Effect 3 – My Wishlist

July 5, 2011

So, the epic conclusion to the Mass Effect trilogy is coming. I’ve been a big fan of the series since I first played ME1. It was a bit tedious at times, and the combat could have been better, but I enjoyed the epicness and storyline. By that time, ME2 was already out, and I bought it and played it too. I found it darker, more focused, and less epic, but having improved gameplay overall. I’m hoping ME3 will be the happy medium between the RPG-heavy, epic ME1 and the shooter-heavy, focused ME2. (more…)

PunkBuster Sucks

December 3, 2010

Everyone who plays PC games online knows what PunkBuster is. Evenbalance’s anti-cheat software is used in virtually every online game. Why? I have no fucking idea.To put it simply, PunkBuster sucks.

Supposedly it updates automatically, but I’ve had to update both CoD4 and BFBC2 manually. If you don’t have it up to date, you get kicked with a cryptic message. Why doesn’t it update automatically? Is this deliberate or just bad coding?

Apparently the method PunkBuster uses to identify cheaters is dubious at best. One group injected a stream of characters made to look like a common hack into an IRC stream while playing. The result? A ban. PunkBuster also has the (in my opinion scary) ability to PERMANENTLY ban cheaters from ALL PunkBuster enabled servers.

All this would be forgivable if PunkBuster did a good job of stopping cheaters. But it doesn’t. PunkBuster is woefully ineffective. I’ve played against so many aimbots and wallhackers it’s not even funny. And I’m not the only one experiencing this. There is no replacement for a good server admin.

PunkBuster is terrible software. And the guys at Evenbalance seem to be flaunting it like it’s the best thing since sliced bread. Why are game companies incorporating this shit? Are they simply too lazy or cheap to implement their own, proper anti-cheat software?

Codecs, Media Players, and Web Browsers

October 24, 2010

During the last couple of days I’ve been screwing with my media players more than usual.

A while back I installed K-lite Codec Pack. It’s a pack consisting of DirectShow filters, splitters, and a whole bunch of other stuff I had never heard of before. Any DirectShow player- WMP included- can take advantage of it and play anything. So, in a nutshell, I no longer needed QuickTime and I can play things in formats I didn’t even know about. Unfortunately, I had to keep QuickTime around since Premiere Elements relies on it for MPEG 4 support. I never use it, though.

So, just recently, I decided to try Media Player Classic. I liked the amount of control it gives you. You can select codecs, change rendering settings, and apply shaders. I found that changing settings doesn’t really do a lot, at least not the ones I changed. The interface was okay, not great but usable, it was a bit slower to load. It doesn’t have any media library functionality. Though I rarely use that stuff, I at least want to have playlists handy. Which is something MPC can’t do. Basically, the only thing I gained over WMP is .vob support (you can get .vob to work in WMP by changing it to .mpg, by the way), so I ditched it after less than a day. It was interesting, but I missed the familiar interface and playlists.

On to web browsers. I’ve been getting screwed by IE for a while now. It messes up the order of pages- what I mean by that is sometimes if you go back a page, forward a page, it screws up the order they are in so you go back two and they are swapped. A minor problem, but really annoying. And of course, it doesn’t display certain pages correctly. And crashes sometimes for no apparent reason. So I decided to make the switch to Firefox.

Overall, Firefox is a better browser. The interface is pretty much the same, though a few things are in different spots. It’s faster. It has a lot of addons, some of which I use. At first it refused to import. Oddly enough, if I import things one at a time (favorites, cookies, internet options, history) it worked fine. Dealing with imported bookmarks was a nightmare. The bookmark manager felt awkward and is slow as hell. I got over the awkwardness but it never sped up. I actually had to reimport my bookmarks/favorites once because I deleted half of them. But I got it all sorted out eventually. I was annoyed by the lack of clicking sounds when browsing- an addon fixed that. The download system is a bit odd, but I’m getting used to it. I’ll probably make the switch if I can get over the little quirks.

Matchmaking (and other gaming pet peeves)

July 25, 2010

I love my dedicated servers. Sometimes they have a mod I like, the people are my skill level, I like the map, or maybe it’s just less laggy. I usually only play on a few; finding servers I like. I was totally unimpressed with MW2 because of the lack of servers. Matchmaking just sucks. It may be fine in the console world where people are used to having no control over anything, but it just doesn’t fly with PC gamers like me. It’s not as bad with Alien Swarm, since you can pick your map and it’s only four players, so it wouldn’t really work with servers. Red Alert 3 is nice in that it has both options, but very few people seem to bother with servers.

I’ve seen a lot of good and bad console ports. Am I the only one who thinks “rotate the left analog stick” on a PC game sounds incredibly stupid? Especially ones with crap control layouts that you can’t change. Features taken for granted in the PC world but nonexistant in the console world are missing. Like the ability to change resolution, for example. And the controls, since they are so awful. I guess bad ports are less stable and don’t perform well, but I haven’t really noticed it. Sometimes it’s just minor flaws, though, like over-large text sized for a TV, or controls the opposite of the predecessor (I’m looking at you, Mass Effect 2).

Finally, I’m seeing games mostly on DVD. For a while, it was insane. Some games needed four CDs! At that point, we were well into the sixth generation era where consoles were DVD based and almost every new PC was sold with a combo drive (CD-writer and DVD reader) at the least. I buy most of my games through Steam now, so it doesn’t matter as much for me.

Another archaic practice that seems to be going the way of the dinosaur is having to insert the disc to play. It’s a huge pain in the ass if you have as many games as I do, and pretty much unnecessary. I fail to see how it would do anything about piracy. You still need a disc, copied or legit. Sadly, we get SecuRom instead now.

This is m0re a wish than a complaint, but I wish network play was possible without purchasing two copies of a game. Remember how the old Command and Conquer games came with two discs, both of which could be used to play the game? Something like that. It wouldn’t work with digital distribution, though.

What’s with OnLive? Playing a game on a server? First, laaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaag. Second, HD video takes up a lot more bandwidth than playing online normally. Third, you have no control over your game files, which means your save could disappear and you can’t play mods. Lastly, I paid for this quad core and Radeon HD 4670, I’m damn well going to use them!