After 15 years of building and upgrading PCs, I’ve made some awesome upgrades to my own PCs. These hardware updates either opened the doors to exciting new functionality, or served as force multipliers, greatly increasing my rig’s performance in one fell swoop. Best of all, a killer upgrade can even revitalize a tired old rig.
Now, there’s a subtle difference between upgrades and a complete system overhaul, but for my purposes, an upgrade is anything you can do without reinstalling Windows. Here’s my definitive list of My All-Time Top Five Greatest PC Upgrades:
Fallout 3: Mothership Zeta’s opening scenes were absolutely out of this world. Within a span of ten minutes, I was torn from the Wasteland, poked and prodded with 100 haystacks’ worth of needles, stripped of the near-impregnable safety blanket I call “Power Armor,” and unceremoniously tossed into a prison cell. Upon awakening, my ragged, desperate human cellmate cowered in fear as some unknown force approached our cell, only to change course at the last second and perform its unspeakable act on some other hapless sap. The poor guy emitted a blood-curdling howl as his frail flesh clunked around in what sounded like a super-powered dryer.
I was absolutely thrilled. Fear, curiosity, and vulnerability hooked me. Adrenaline reeled me in. “Who are these unseen, all-powerful beings?” I wondered. “Why are they doing this?” My interest piqued when my cellmate mentioned our captors’ penchant for tampering with people’s brains. Then I actually saw them. Tiny, green, big heads, round eyes. Beaten and beamed up by God after only two strikes from my pithy 23 unarmed skill. Thrill and intrigue, it was nice knowing you.
What followed was roughly four hours of good old fashioned alien-blasting. Fun, but nothing special. No mind-blowing ulterior motives, no unsettlingly foreign alien culture; the mean, green abducting machines were just a new skin for everyday Fallout 3 enemies. Really, there was nothing "alien" about these aliens. After such a promising opening, I felt more than a little let down.
Ever have one of those moments where you said something completely inappropriate – like, say, any number of four letter words – while strolling through a locale where things like that just don’t fly – like, say, your kindergartener’s bring-your-parent-to-class day or a nun convention? You know how it is; seas of chit-chat part, as though diving out of the way of the approaching eighteen-wheeler that is the crushing realization that you just screwed up big-time.
Electronic Arts recently found itself caught in the sizzling headlights of a similar situation. In promoting upcoming hack ‘n’ slash ‘n’ totally ignore the source material Dante’s Inferno, EA thought it might be fun for gamers to take pictures of themselves performing “acts of lust” with its already swamped staff of Comic Con booth babes. The winner of this competition would then get a night on the town with said babes, and some other odds and ends. Yeah. Predictably, the entire gaming community immediately ceased to jabber about other topics, crossed its collective arms, and sent a damning glare in EA’s direction. “Oh, haha, we didn’t mean it like that,” EA essentially said in reply, backpedaling. But obviously, that didn’t undo the damage that’d already been done.
Clearly, EA – in this situation – had its audience pegged incorrectly. Despite our apparent love of some of life’s baser aspects (shooting, explosions, and John Madden, for instance), gamers don’t take too kindly to blatant misogyny. Big whoop, though, right? In many gamers’ eyes, this is just another dark mark on a record already stained by countless instances of greed and sloth. Throwing in lust just rounds out the roster, right? It’s EA, after all. And as we all know from previous experiences, stereotypes and generalizations are always right.
Battery-life claims never seems to line up with reality. You’d think testing battery life would be straightforward, but benchmark results rarely jibe with real-world results—in part, because there are an infinite number of potential workloads (each tapping power differently), and battery life decays over time. Both Intel and AMD make mobile CPU platforms designed for low power consumption, but due to the massive number of variables involved, I’ve found it nearly impossible to determine which architecture sucks the least juice.
Think about it. There’s a lot of hardware in a laptop that can affect battery life besides the CPU and the battery itself: the LCD screen and backlight, the optical and hard drives, the GPU, chipset, and memory config—to name just a few. The upshot is that if you want to fairly compare Intel and AMD hardware, you really need to test what we’ll call core power draw, isolating all the other variables. There are just a handful of ways to do this fairly, and each comes with its own problems.
Certain sects of the gaming populace would have you believe that linearity – be it in story or gameplay – is a dinosaur, on a fated collision course with the meteor that is freeform game design. After all, who wants to be funneled down the same glorified corridor every time they play through a game – having the same conversations with the same characters – when they could be forging new paths and crafting their own unique stories as they go along? Sure, Half-Life 2 was great, but we’re in the age of Far Cry 2, Fallout 3, and Grand Theft Auto now, right? Sitting back and just watching a story unfold without intervening? That’s old news, a musty relic for people who prefer movies… or even books! And man, those people are friggin’ nerds.
Or at least, that’s what I thought until I played Zeno Clash. For the uninitiated, Zeno Clash is a first-person brawler (think Riddick, but minus Vin “I just ingested a sheet of sandpaper” Diesel’s vocals) developed by the mad Chilean geniuses at ACE Team. But such a quick and conventional description doesn’t even come close to doing the game justice. Oh sure, punches and kicks flow as freely as the teeth you’ll knock loose with them, but Zeno Clash’s real star is its strange, unsettling, and yet all at once cohesive world.
In fact, instead of “strange,” let’s try “downright bizarre.” Zeno Clash’s world isn’t some simple paint-by-numbers sci-fi/fantasy videogame setting. Instead, at first glance, it appears to be the result of paint buckets tossed willy-nilly onto a canvas, with colors strewn all about in no recognizable pattern, yet placed on top of a recognizable shape. In more concrete terms, here are just a few of the things that you’ll see in a typical Zeno Clash setting: bird-people, tables with actual human legs, screaming women in diving helmets, exploding squirrels, women with exposed… spinal cords (Yeah, not exactly what you were hoping for, huh?), and purple trees with limbs that twist and tangle like a broken Slinky. And that, my friends, is merely the beginning.
There's a method to this madness right after the break.
Jeff Koons is getting mixed signals from the American legal system. He’s an artist known for “appropriating” pop culture in his art—that’s infringing copyright to some, fair use to others.
In 1992 a photographer sued Koons for creating a statue of his photograph of two people with a line of puppies crossing their laps. Koons exaggerated the dogs’ features, turned them blue, added flowers, and called it “Banality.” The judge didn’t buy that this was different enough, or parody, and Koons lost the case along with some of the $300,000 he’d sold three statues for. It was a mixed verdict for the photographer—he won the case, but legally speaking, it seems his work really was banal.
Empire: Total War and Stormrise are two radically different games with a common core. Developed by Creative Assembly, they give us a rare opportunity to see the stark contrast between what PC and console strategy games can and cannot do.
Empire is a refinement of a revered brand, featuring new elements set within a familiar context. Despite the bugs, it’s still a deep, detailed, and beautiful strategy game with a different texture from any other Total War game.
Stormrise severs the 3D tactical element from the Total War series and reconfigures it as a third-person real-time strategy game. The ground-level FPS/RTS hybrid is not the huge innovation trumpeted by Sega. Pandemic’s Battlezone II: Combat Commander attempted a similar RTS/FPS mélange 10 years ago, with pretty solid results. But memories are short and hype is powerful in the game world, allowing Stormrise to position itself as “The First Truly 3D RTS Game.”
Intel, the world’s largest semiconductor company, suffers from a Freudian case of appendage envy. The appendage is an ARM.
Simply put, smartphones (and other mobile consumer-electronics gizmos) are the next PCs, and Intel wants them to run on Intel x86 processors. Right now, your mobile phone, MP3 player, or digicam probably has a custom chip with a microprocessor core licensed from ARM. Although most people have never heard of ARM, it makes the most popular 32-bit microprocessor architecture in the world.
Yet ARM doesn’t make a single chip. It licenses its 23 different processor cores to other companies that design and make chips. These chips are very different from most of Intel’s. They are system-on-chip (SoC) devices—highly integrated chips that surround the processor core with built-in peripherals, memory, I/O interfaces, and application-specific logic.
Every gamer has a story. A story assembled from countless in-game experiences, a collage of victory, defeat, heroics, and villainy. There is, however, a schism in the way these stories play out. Ask someone who’s lived out their gaming days in solitude and they’ll tell you of superhuman feats, epic dramas, and non-player characters who may not have been real boys, but were certainly close enough that Geppetto would’ve been hard-pressed to tell the difference. Pose the same question to multiplayer-centric gamers, though, and you’ll get an earful of teamwork, commitment, practice, and good old fashioned competition.
Neither side, of course, is wrong to enjoy games for their respective reasons. It’s merely a case of different strokes for different folks. However, what happens when single-player and multiplayer modes get married and pop out a child? Well, if you ask developers like BioWare and Splash Damage (who are working on fusing multiplayer and single-player with Star Wars: The Old Republic and Brink, respectively), they’ll tell you such all-encompassing modes are just The Next Big Thing. And they may very well be right about that.
Forgive me, then, for objecting to this holy matrimony.
Clicking the read more link is a single-player experience, but reading and responding to the article is multiplayer! These are important distinctions (no they're not).
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the founding of the much maligned grandaddy of peer-to-peer music piracy, Napster, and the eighth of the music industry’s first terrible move.
Napster founder Shawn Fanning didn’t exactly invent music file sharing—before Napster, Mac people had Hotline, which, being Mac software, presumably had better fonts, a gorgeous interface, and seven rabid users. What made Napster more than piracy was its many millions of users and billions of downloads. Napster had a population of music fans communicating their preferences and acting as free distributors and archivists, as well as consumers.
It wasn’t the 72,000 copies of Enter Sandman that made Napster interesting. It was finding out that someone out there had digitized their beloved recording of the TV musical version of Around the World with Nellie Bly—some crazy wonderful someone. It’s amazing that Napster didn’t result in more marriages based on hopelessly obscure tastes. It was the only moment when we could tell what bits of 20th century music people care about today, or had a chance to let tomorrow care about them too.