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8:19 PM on 09.29.2013  

The Steam Controller: Shut Up and Listen



Since the announcement of the Steam Controller last Friday, I don't think I've seen so many otherwise intelligent people say so many ignorant things. Just look at this moron. While I'm sympathetic to having a negative gut reaction when faced with something different, most concerns or complaints people have expressed are directly addressed on Valve's announcement page. The rest are mostly unfounded if you take a minute to think about how the controller works, or look at a picture of it with your brain on.

Valve also showed the controller to a number of developers, and their response was overall quite positive – impressive considering this is still a prototype. I highly recommend reading the detailed blog by Tommy Refenes of Team Meat about using the controller. It gives you a good sense of what it feels like to use it. There's also an article on Kotaku detailing other developers' reactions to the controller. I'll be quoting both below.

Anyway, I'm just going to go through the things I've seen people say and explain why they are, you know, wrong. And don't be afraid of change, people. That wouldn't be... wise...



"This is just another annoying gimmick like motion controls!"

Nooooope. This is not "innovation for innovation's sake" like the Kinect or Wii U GamePad. The Steam Controller was developed for a reason, to address a specific problem: "How can we make games that traditionally require a keyboard and mouse easily playable on the couch?" While the Steam Controller's functionality surpasses that primary goal, and may offer new ways to play and enjoy games, it has a reason to exist. They same can't be said of most other controller "innovations".


"But I'd have to take my thumbs off the trackpads to press the buttons!"

Really? You're right, that's different from the 360 controller, where you can easily press XYAB without your thumbs leaving the analog sticks.



I mean, you know, if you have a third thumb or something. You circus freak.

But no, let's not stop there. Let's address this whole supposed "button issue". Because people seem to have forgotten how to count.

On a 360 controller you can access 6 buttons without your thumbs leaving the analog controls, assuming you count the wonky analog stick-buttons.



Well HOLY FRICKIN' MATH, BATMAN, you can actually press more buttons on the Steam Controller!



Note that I labeled the right analog pad "8+" because it can be dynamically changed to emulate several buttons when needed.

To be fair, Valve really shouldn't have labeled those central buttons "XYAB" on the prototype, as they aren't meant to fulfill the same functions as the buttons by the same name on a 360 controller. I think that's throwing people off.

Ignoring those, though, the thing actually has a ton of buttons you can press without having your thumbs leave the trackpads. It addition to the two top buttons/triggers there are two underneath you can access, kind of like the Z button on the N64 controller. Moreover, the trackpads themselves are buttons, and I suspect it would be easier to press them without issue than analog-stick buttons. By altering the magnetic field they can even make the touchpads themselves function as multiple buttons. In other words, where your thumb is when you press down would signify a different virtual button. You could "feel" each button by changes in the magnetic field across the pad. And yes, developers who tried it say that works quite well. Well enough to play Super Meatboy and Spelunky.


"But this is just like using a touch-screen in a cell-phone game, there's no tactile or sensory feedback!"



Okay. Let's start with the basics. Look at the controller. No, seriously, stop what you're doing, and look it with your freaking eyeballs. Each pad is circular and concave. So they are already way more tactile than the annoying, slippery "virtual" pads on a cellphone screen. Each pad also has a series of raised concentric circles to better give you a sense of depth. Finally, the haptic feedback can create sensations based on your thumb's location, providing customizable feedback that can change depending on the game and situation. Refenes suggested that they add more "regular" tactile feedback to the pad (maybe a nub in the center or at up-down-left-right), and that's among the things Valve is already considering.


"But this isn't going to be as accurate as an analog stick!"

No, it's going to be more accurate, though somewhat shy of mouse accuracy. One indie developer described it, compared to a standard controller, as "much more precise for (say) anything WASD+mouselook." So, as Valve suggests on their announcement page, the controller should give you FPS accuracy and speed superior to a standard controller, albeit still shy of a gaming mouse.


"But this will be horrible for games I play with a D-Pad!"



It wasn't designed with those games in mind, but signs actually point to it being just fine. According to Refenes of Team Meat, "I was able to play Meat Boy the way Meat Boy can be played on an advanced level." He also found it fine with Spelunky. And Team Meat… well, if anyone knows platformers, it's them. The jury is still out on how it will work with fighting games, but I can actually see it being great for circular movements.

In any case, nobody is taking away your old controllers. A lot of us already have multiple controllers for different types of games, like special pads/sticks for fighting games. This one is more for using the SteamOS UI and keyboard-mouse style PC games.


"But why come up with a new controller when the current ones are just fine?"

They are just fine for many kinds of games. But, as I stated above, they aren't designed for complex keyboard-mouse titles. Moreover, for certain genres like FPS games the Steam Controller is potentially superior.


"But I don't want to use it because ________!"

Then don't freaking use it. Your 360 controller and keyboard-mouse setups will still work fine. Valve specifically states that the new controller is not meant to replace them. Maybe you should take some time away from gaming to improve your reading comprehension skills?


So Anyway…



One last thing. It's just a freaking prototype. Based on player feedback and the hardware beta they could end up adding a D-pad, swapping one of the touchpads for an analog stick, or making any number of other changes before release. Hell, during the developer demonstration one of the Valve employees tweaked the firmware on the fly at someone's request. Can you imagine Sony or Microsoft involving the community in the development process like this? No. Freaking. Way.

And, everything else aside, it's going to be hard to judge this thing one way or the other until more of us get our hands on it. Putting your thumbs into dynamic magnetic fields sounds pretty crazy... and I can't wait to freaking try it out.


- Jinx

PS: I'm moving to reserve recapper for now. That way I have more time to harass you all with my regular blog posts. Aren't you lucky?   read


12:04 AM on 09.14.2013  

A PC Gamer's Guide to Shopping Online

I've been meaning to make this guide for a long time. I get a lot of great deals on PC games, and I want to teach you how to do it, too! It's part strategy, and part knowing where to look. To that end, this blog starts off with some advice, then presents a guide to most of the digital game stores for easy reference.



Here are some general rules of thumb for digital PC game shoppers:
1) Check your favorite sites frequently, at least once a week. That alone will help you catch most of the deals. Sites often have weekend deals, too, so that's a good time to double-check.
2) Friend the sites on Facebook, especially Green Man Gaming and GoG.com, because often sales are mentioned there as well as new releases.
3) Sign up for email promotions. Normally I hate that crap, but it's how I usually find out about the best deals on Green Man Gaming, when a new Humble Bundle is released, etc.
4) If you want to preorder an upcoming title, keep an eye on Green Man Gaming. They don't have every game, but if you pay attention you can usually catch a preorder voucher for 25% or more off on the games they do have. That's often in addition to a regular discount, or a cashback or store credit option.
5) If you don't get a good preorder deal on a game, wait about a month and keep an eye on the sites. I bought Mortal Kombat Komplete for $22 (vs $30) via preorder. Great deal, right? Two weeks later I saw it for $12 somewhere. Game prices can drop that fast. Just look around frequently.
6) Patience can ultimately be your greatest ally, both in getting great deals and avoiding a huge backlog. You'll quickly get a backlog on PC... so focus on the great games you already have, biding your time to get other games on sale (see JoyfulSanity's blog on game hoarding, too).

I put together a list of most of the major – and some not so major – online game stores. My personal favorites are Steam, Green Man Gaming, GoG.com, and Amazon. GMG and Amazon often give you Steam or Origin keys, whereas GoG.com offers DRM-free games. Note that some indie games can be purchased on their developer's website – often netting you a Steam key and a DRM-free copy.



Different stores also have different catalogs. GoG.com started as "good old games" and has a ton of older PC classics in addition to some newer titles. GamersGate and Desura could use a little more quality-control in my opinion, but they do offer a lot of little indie and import titles (eg Japanese bullet-hell shooters) that aren't on other sites like Steam. Origin (EA) and Uplay (Ubisoft) exclusively carry some of their publishers' titles, though most can be purchased elsewhere then activated on their clients (eg you might buy Mass Effect 3 on Amazon and get an Origin key).

This list starts with the stores I am most familiar with, as I feel more comfortable sending you to sites I have used a lot personally and thus feel are safe and legit. Sites I have not personally used will be marked with an asterisk. I try to provide a link to both the store's front page and, if possible, its "sale section". I'd still check the front pages, though, as sometimes they might link to deals not in the regular sale section. At the very end of the article is a condensed repost of all the links for maximum convenience.

I'm going to start with Green Man Gaming because it requires some explanation.



Green Man Gaming
"Hot Deals"
GMG Blog
GMG is a bit complicated. In addition to regular sales deals, most of which are mentioned or linked to on the front page, some games offer you a choice of getting cash back or a store credit. They also have "vouchers". These are codes you enter during checkout to get a discount.
Here's what you need to know about vouchers:
* They are often on the front page, or with a batch of games linked to on the front page (eg a special 25% voucher on select preorders).
* However, sometimes they are only mentioned in the blog. So check it!
* Big vouchers (25-30%) are usually on a specific selection of games (often preorders).
* There is often a 20% voucher available for almost any game on the site, though.
* You can often combine vouchers with sale prices, though you can't combine two vouchers. For example, a $15 game on sale for 33% off is $10… then you add a 20% voucher to get it down to $8. It's not always clear when you can do this, but worst case you add the voucher and it won't accept it.



Steam
"Specials" tab near bottom of store page lists games on sale.
There is no "on sale" option in the search unfortunately.



GoG.com
On Sale tab on front page, as well as alerts to special deals.



Amazon.com Digital Games
Sale Items



GamersGate
Sale Items



EA Origin
Deals Page



GameStop
Sale Items



GameFly Digital
Sale Items



Uplay
Good luck navigating this mess.



Humble Store
Humble Bundle
Humble Weekly Sale
There are sales on the Humble Store site, and tabs to take you to the current Bundle and Weekly Sale.



Indie Gala Store
Deals are on the front page. They often do bundles as well. Rarely as good as the Humble Bundles, but worth watching as I've gotten a couple nice ones.



Desura
Sale games can be browsed via a tab on the front page.



Get Games*
Sale Items



GamesRocket*
Sale items all on front page. Also lets you sort by platform (Steam, etc)



Beamdog*



Shiny Loot*
Sale items



MMOGA (thanks, Morty!)


These last sites compile sale info from other sites. CheapShark tries to give you a one-stop place to look for deals. It's pretty convenient, especially if you want to see if a particular game is on sale somewhere. CheapAssGamer is similar, but a bit more elaborate and detailed. SteamGameSales only covers games that are on, or activate on, Steam. Nice since Steam doesn't let you sort that way! However, I wouldn't rely on these sites entirely. You have to hope they are being updated quickly, and some types of deals like the GMG vouchers aren't going to show up on them.


CheapShark


CheapAssGamer (thanks, JoyfulSanity!)


SteamGameSales.com


aaaaaaaannnnnnnnddddddd can I get a



I hope this guide is helpful to people just getting into PC gaming, or those looking for more places to find deals. Cheap games are one of the best parts of being a PC gamer, make the most of it! And if you have any suggestions, like sites I should add to this list, let me know in the comments.



-Jinx

Condensed Shopping Link List:
Steam
Green Man Gaming - Deals - Blog
GoG.com
Amazon.com - Sale Items
GamersGate - Sale Items
EA Origin - Deals Page
GameStop - Sale Items
GameFly - Sale Items
Uplay
Humble Store - Humble Bundle -Humble Weekly Sale
Indie Gala Store
Desura
Get Games - Sale Items
GamesRocket
Beamdog
Shiny Loot - Sale items
MMOGA
CheapShark
CheapAssGamer
SteamGameSales.com
.

.   read


9:51 AM on 09.12.2013  

GTX760 4GB OC - Unboxing & Mini-Review


 
So I picked up a GTX760 4GB OC this Monday. I didn't really need it, but I tend to buy stuff for my PC when I'm badly depressed – and September is a very bad month for me (no, not 9/11). If you came here to troll about PC gaming costs etc, go read my blog on that subject. That's not what this blog is about.

I'd been eyeing the 760 already, but I wanted at least 3GB of RAM on my next card. When I saw there was a 4GB model, I caved. It cost $300, which is $40 more than the 2GB version. It also came with a free copy of Arkham Origins. Here are links to where I purchased it (Newegg) and the manufacturer's website (Gigabyte):

GTX760 4GB OC by Gigabyte on Newegg.
GTX760 4GB OC - Gigabyte website page.

Why did I want a 4GB card? Two reasons. First, I wanted a card that surpassed the next-gen consoles, so having 4GB of video ram was important. In theory they could use more with their shared RAM pool, but it's very unlikely. Second, I wanted a card capable of running games decently at 2560x1440. 1440p is the next step up in HD resolution from 1080p. Monitors with that resolution are just becoming affordable ($390 for a 27" on Monoprice), and video RAM is crucial to running at higher resolutions. The extra RAM is also useful if you want to run multi-monitor, or if you like to run HD texture mods in games like Skyrim. It's possible higher-end versions of the Oculus Rift will need more video ram as well – I suspect it has to render 2 frames (one per eye) like other 3D devices, though I could be wrong about that.
 

1440p is four times the resolution of 720p.
 
I'm bothering with this article because this is the biggest jump in raw power I've ever experienced between card upgrades. My old HD6870 is a fine card and still runs most games on High easily. On less demanding games, it maxes them out with a steady framerate over 60. But the GTX760 is just massively more powerful from what I've seen so far.
 
The Unboxing
 
I've never done an "unboxing" blog or video before, but I thought it might be fun. So I here are some pics with brief commentaries.


I decided to go with the Gigabyte version of the card. My last two cards were also Gigabyte, and I was impressed with their quality, and with my Gigabyte motherboard. It's also the least expensive 4GB model, and has the highest factory overclock.




The 760's packaging is very nice. The slick black inner box and the soft black foam it's packed in give it a very "premium" feel. I laid it here as a reminder, but the Arkham Origins voucher actually came taped to the Newegg invoice in the box - so make sure you don't lose it!


Underneath the card itself is a cardboard piece you can pull out to reveal a driver CD, manual, and power adapters in case your PSU doesn't have 6 and 8 pin video card power connectors.


At 11" long, this is not a card for small cases.


The 760 is the same length as my old 6870 (bottom), but even heavier (the thing is a brick). While the Windforce coolers are similar on both cards, if you look carefully you can see copper heatpipes underneath the regular aluminum heatsink on the 760. Between the excellent cooling and the fact that the GPU clocks down to only 135mhz (!) when not in use, the card idles at a cool 33C. The extra power it drains while gaming may well be made up for by this super low-power state. A word of warning, though - the card was revving up to full speed when the Ribbons screen-saver came on, so you might want to make sure you pick a screen-saver that doesn't "trigger" the card's acceleration mode.

The Benchmarking
 
I decided to do some benchmark comparisons with my previous card, an HD6870. Note that some of the older (HD6870) benchmarks were done when my system had 8GB of RAM vs 12GB, and may have had the processor clocked a bit slower. I don't think either of those had much of an impact on the results, though. They are probably outweighed by the fact that I knew the HD6870 and had it better optimized, and in fact I think some of these benchmarks were done with the GTX760 running higher settings.
 
In short, these are far from "professional" benchmarks. But they should give a rough sense of the performance difference I'm experiencing between the two cards.
 
Stuttering.
One thing these stats don't show is how much smoother games feel on the 760. With the 6870, when I loaded a game area in say Borderlands 2 or Skyrim, I would often get some lag initially as I first looked around. Usually it would be okay after that, though the 6870 still never felt as smooth as the 760 does. Even when the 760 is pushed down to 30fps in a game, it never feels laggy, you never feel any "stuttering" as newer game areas load or as you move around.

System Stats:
Phenom II x6 1090T 3.2ghz (overclocked to 3.6ghz usually)
12GB DDR3 1333 (recently upped from 8GB)
Gigabyte AM3 Motherboard
Windows 7 64-bit
 
Unigine Heaven:

HD6870: 29.5 fps – 742 score
GTX760: 53.5 fps – 1349 score
Unigine Heaven is a great free benchmarking program. It's designed to deliver a very heavy load of DX11 effects like tessellation. It's also absolutely beautiful, even on basic DX9 settings, and worth checking out just to enjoy.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Call of Pripyat:

The Stalker: Call of Pripyat benchmark is another free download. It's a strange game engine; in some ways it is antiquated, but they have tacked on a lot of DX10 and DX11 features. The benchmark results here really surprised me. I had always assumed my CPU was the bottleneck in these games, because they are optimized for only one core. The dramatic improvements here would suggest otherwise (though it might be keeping the 760 from getting even higher, of course).
 
Lost Planet 2:

DX11 benchmark A, 1080p, maximum settings
HD6870: 34 fps (stuttered considerably, too, while running)
GTX760: 106 fps
Lost Planet 2's benchmark uses a lot of DX11 and DX10 effects, so it's a nice way to gauge a card's capabilities in terms of advanced visual effects.
 
Dirt 3:

1080p, maximum settings
HD6870: 52 fps, min 41
GTX760: 89 fps, min 70

Arkham City:

1080p, max settings with FXAA High, no PhysX
HD6870: 57 fps (29 with PhysX normal)
GTX760: 86 fps (51 with PhysX normal)
 
Tomb Raider:

1080p, maximum settings except for high precision (TressFX on)
HD6870: 11 fps
GTX760: 52 fps (84 without TressFX)
 
Just Cause 2:

Dark Tower, 1080p, max settings (760 seems to have more HQ options)
HD6870: 45 fps
GTX760: 59 fps
 
Metro 2033:

"Frontline" benchmark, 1080p, High preset, no PhysX
HD6870: 53 fps
GTX760: 82 fps
 
Borderlands 2:

Title screen, 1080p, max settings
HD6870: 75fps
GTX760: 150fps
 
FINAL FANTASY XIV benchmark:

1600x900, Preset: Maximum, "Exploration"
HD6870: 42 fps, 5168 score
GTX760: 62 fps, 6706 score
 
Overall, the framerate improvement is somewhere between 50% and 300% in most of these. It's hard to quantify these things, but I'd loosely say the 760 is seems roughly twice as powerful as my 6870 overall. The lack of load-stuttering is a nice improvement as well.
 
There are some aberrations here, though. I'd expected the 760 to blow the 6870 out of the water in Metro, Just Cause 2, and Arkham City, but that just wasn't the case. That could be a matter of me not setting up the card properly, and I am pretty sure some games like JC2 have Nvidia-only options (like GPU water physics) making the 760 work harder.
 
There's also the question of whether the Phenom II x6 is bottlenecking the 760 in certain games. I previously thought it was the bottleneck in Call of Pripyat and Skyrim, which are poorly optimized for multicore CPUs, but apparently I was wrong. However, it might be the culprit in the other mediocre scores. Overall, though, I think my CPU is aging pretty gracefully. My motherboard is an older PCI-E 2.0 model, too, which could create a bandwidth bottleneck for this 3.0 card.
 
Regrets?
 
This is going to sound weird, but my only regret is losing access to RadeonPro, an AMD-only 3rd party config tool I've come to rely on. Thus far I've found no comparable Nvidia tool, and I have yet to find a way to fine-tune the 760 the same way I could the 6870. I do have options, but it seems I'll need 3-4 programs to get everything RadeonPro provided conveniently in one package.
 
Conclusions


I didn't take comparisons in Skyrim, but the framerate is much improved and the game just feels smoother. Areas with NPCs, in particular, run far better.
 
The GTX760 is an awesome card, though you might want to wait for it to come down in price a bit – and for AMD's next line of cards to show up in a month or so. I wouldn't have upgraded yet if not for my need for a distraction in my life right now. If you have a mid-range card from 2-4 years ago like the 6870, 7870, or 560ti… this is a massive upgrade. It's not just newer, it's in a higher weight class. Still, those cards all perform great in most games, so I wouldn't feel pressured to upgrade right away.

If you do decide to get a GTX760, I recommend the 4GB model for future-proofing. You probably won't need more than 2GB at the moment, but that may change soon. Battlefield 4's system requirements were just released, and optimally they'd like you to have 3GB of RAM on your card. 4GB also seems a good choice for those of us who want to stay one step ahead of the PS4/One. Having a PC somewhat better than them assures you'll be able to play all the latest games nicely for quite some time.

For those of you who crave a score:
9.5/10, Would Bang


*ADDITION* 9-14-13

I'd originally wanted to included a comparison of 3DMark 11 scores. Unfortunately, due to some bugs in the program or Steam, I couldn't get the program running to bench the GTX760 - until today.



Pretty dramatic improvement. The odd surprise is in the Physics score. That score is supposed to purely measure CPU performance... but it goes up by almost 700 points using the 760. So I'm left wondering if the 6870 was somehow bottlenecking the Phenom II x6 somehow? Not really sure, as a lot of this is beyond my knowledge.   read


1:16 PM on 08.01.2013  

What PC Gaming Really Costs

I'm getting tired of people telling me how expensive PC gaming is. If it was, I'm pretty sure I'd know, seeing as I've been a PC gamer for 15 years. So I decided to write a blog to set the record straight.

To that end, I thought I'd see what building a from-scratch new PC might look like for me – on a budget, but with the aim of outgunning the PS4/One as well. This is a very quick and dirty build I'm throwing together in just an hour or so. There might be issues with it, but it should still serve to give a good idea, price-wise, what the initial cost of a (nice) new gaming PC would be.


My own PC. That humongous Antec server case was about $150... but I've had it 11 years...!

Three quick notes about overall costs before we start, though:
 
a) A PC gamer reuses parts. I'm still using the case and 2.1 speakers I bought 11 years ago. After the first investment, you never have to buy everything at once ever again.
 
b) A PC isn't just for gaming. You have to think of it as pooling your computer budget and your console budget into one machine. That isn't practical for everyone, which is cool. But don't buy a $600 desktop PC and a $400 console and tell me $1000 for a gaming PC is too expensive. Also, a gaming PC is more powerful than a generic PC- so the $$ you invest in it for gaming pays off in having a fast, powerful PC for every task.
 
c) Games on PC are cheaper. This should be considered in any long-term price equation. If you like to buy your games (vs rent) that savings adds up rapidly. I'm not just talking Steam sales, either.
Arkham Origins on PS3 = $60+tax, so about $66
Arkham Origins on PC = $50, no tax. Plus GMG gives you a $8 cash back or $12 credit toward another game.
Assuming you just take the cash back, you only pay $42 on PC. That's a $24 price difference on one game. And you often get even better discounts, or games simply release for less on PC.
 
These three things are important, because comparing the price of a gaming PC to a console is an apples and oranges kind of thing. Obviously a PS4 is cheaper than a gaming PC if you are starting from scratch and comparing prices directly. But a PS4 would be kinda shit for writing this blog on, or editing all the images that are in it, or researching hardware prices with 12 tabs open in Firefox.


The Castlevania demo on PC. It's shiny. (I need filler pics, okay?!)

Anyway. There are some recent build guides on sites like  Ars Technica. While my own PC is an upgraded version of Ars' budget build from a few years ago, I don't agree with their current build choices. So I'm making my own, based specifically on surpassing the next-gen consoles.
 
This is not the cheapest PC you could possibly build for gaming. You could easily shave $200 off and still have a solid machine. But I'm building one with a bit of headroom. Often it's worth that extra $20 here or there to get a component that will be useful longer. Also, if you buy parts over a period of time (even a month) you may be able to get better deals, or better parts for the same price. I'm just using Newegg as it is today, though Amazon isn't bad, especially if you have Prime to cover shipping.
 
Essentials: The Tower and What's in It
 
$49.99 – Antec One Black Steel ATX Mid Tower Case
* Good balance between quality, price, and internal space. Hard to go wrong with Antec.
 
$54.99 – Thermaltake TR2 TR-600 600W
* Plenty of power for this build with a bit to spare probably. A 700W wouldn't be much more.
 
$84.99 ($10 rebate) – ASUS M5A97 LE R2.0 AM3+ AMD 970 SATA 6Gb/s USB 3.0 ATX AMD Motherboard
* Full ATX motherboard for more expansion. MicroATX would be cheaper, but limit you later on. Dual x16 slots (for multi-GPU) would be a little more.


 
$159.99 – AMD FX-8320 Vishera 3.5GHz (4.0GHz Turbo) Eight-Core Processor
* Why an 8-core AMD when everyone recommends 4-core Intels? Because future games will use more than 4 hardware threads, especially with next-gen consoles having 6-8 AMD CPU cores. Intel CPUs run better in current-gen games (4 threads max on them) if you have a high-end video card, but the 8-core AMDs are more future-proof imo and won't bottleneck a mid-range video card.
 
$259.99 – GIGABYTE GeForce GTX 760 2GB 256-bit GDDR5 Video Card
* These bad boys just came out and are quite kick-ass for the price (reviews are excellent). They beat out everything else in the price-range, and should tromp the GPUs in the PS4/One. My only reservation is that I'd prefer 3GB of video ram. If you aren't buying till this Fall, though, there may be 3GB versions of this or other cards. And AMD's new cards still haven't dropped. The price for this card will probably drop when they do, you'll probably be able to get one for just a little over $200 then.
 
$58.99 – Kingston HyperX Black 8GB (2x4GB) DDR3 1600
* 8GB is more than enough system ram for now, and getting two 4GB modules leaves two RAM slots open for upgrading later.
 


$69.99 – Seagate 1TB 7200RPM 64MB Cache SATA 6.0Gb/s 3.5" Hard Drive
* 1TB is the minimum you'd want for a PC, since you need to do full game installs. Don't waste money on an SSD, a regular hard drive will give you very fast load times and more capacity. It's still much faster than the 2.5" laptop drives consoles use.
 
$15.99 – ASUS DVD/CD Writer
* You'll barely use it, but you still should probably get one. There are Bluray drives for PC, but they are a pain (you need special software to play movies). Better to buy a cheap Bluray player and hook it to your monitor if you want BD playback.
 
$99.99 – Windows 7 64-bit OEM or Windows 8 64-bit OEM
* Most of us like Win7 better, but at this point I'd probably go with 8 for future-proofing as the next version of DX11 will have features only supported in 8. Either way, make sure to get the 64-bit version. The 32-bit can't properly use over 3-4GB of RAM. Btw, if you are a college student you can probably get this free.


 
Total Cost:
$854.91
Probably more like $950 with tax and some shipping.
 
That's about what I'd go for if I was building a system from scratch right now. You could cut that down considerably with a cheaper video card, for example, and by going a little cheaper here and there on the case, power supply, etc. But I wanted to build a system that was a good investment, would exceed the next-gen consoles, and be easy to upgrade.
 
Obviously this doesn't include things like a monitor, speakers, a mouse, a keyboard, a headset, a 360 controller, etc. Those would probably add about $200 assuming you owned none of them already. I was going to itemize those, but this is getting a bit long as it is lol. Again, many of those items you'll keep for a very long time.
 
Let's put it in perspective, though. Say you were going to buy a pretty average PC, because, well, you need one to post stuff on Destructoid, right?!
 
$498 Dell Inspiron 660s
* Yeah, you could spend less… or more. And it's just a tower, so like our build you still need a monitor etc.
then add
$400-$500 – for your PS4 or Xbox One
 
You're already at $900. That gets you a mediocre PC and a pretty decent console.
 

This picture of Strike Suit Zero is totally unrelated to this blog!

Which is the best way to go? It really depends on you, and your situation in terms of finances, needs, and interest in hardware.
 
If you can put the money into the initial investment, and will use the PC for more than gaming, a gaming PC is a good deal. Once you have a system, upgrades are typically gradual and you can reuse the parts you have. Plus you'll get great deals on games, and a very fast regular PC to boot.
 
If you don't have the money for the initial investment, or prefer a laptop to a desktop, or just don't need a new PC… yeah, it might not make sense for you. And hey, that's just fine. The new consoles, especially the PS4, look pretty damn good.
 
What I want to show, though, is that for many PC gamers it is actually cheaper in the long term for us – and very practical. We are people who already use our PC a lot and would like it to be fast. So we'd already be buying pretty good systems. And we also save a lot of money over time because games are much cheaper on PC.
 
While you do see people spending a lot of money on gaming PCs, either pre-built like Alienware or overdoing it on their own system, none of that is necessary. A pretty modest gaming PC will get you performance better than consoles, access to cheap games, and a great system that's fast as hell for everything else. I think Alienware has done more to damage PC gaming than anyone else. Their overpriced systems are all console gamers see. If all you saw were advertisements for $150,000 cars, you'd probably assume you couldn't afford a car at all, right?
 
Anyway, I hope that clears things up a bit. Gaming on PC is not for everyone, but for some of us it's a fantastic deal in terms of price and performance. And if you see us talking a lot about console hardware, too, it's because we like gaming hardware of every kind!


Another Castlevania pic! Don't pics make bland tech blogs exciting? I think so!   read


11:49 AM on 07.30.2013  

Game Soundtracks Part 1: You Have More Than You Think



I've been on a game soundtrack kick lately. Since my ex-girlfriend died two years ago, I have had difficulty concentrating and it's made getting schoolwork done almost impossible. Listening to game music seems to help, though, especially when I bring my super-nice Audio-Technica headphones with me (I tend to study/write at cafes with my netbook). Even before she died, the Shatter soundtrack was one of my favorite pieces of study music.
 


Anyway, I've found myself not only buying the soundtrack editions of games like FEZ, They Bleed Pixels, and Fly'N lately, but digging around for free soundtracks as well. It turned out that I had access to far more music already than I realized.

Some soundtracks are simply available as free direct downloads, which I'll cover in a separate blog next week. First, though, you should know that you probably already own way more game soundtracks than you think, especially if you game on PC. There are a few ways you might already have access to them, and that's what I'm here to share.
 

 
GoG.com

Many games on GoG include the game soundtrack along with the other extras. Just double-checking my catalog there netted me a few I'd missed. Gamers on GoG have also made some lists of games with free soundtracks you can get elsewhere:
GoG Free Soundtracks List (original thread)
 

Game Installation Directories and Steam

While most games don't officially include a soundtrack, you can frequently find the music sitting in some folder in .mp3, .ogg, .flac, or .wav format. These aren't always ideal – they may not be properly named, or require conversion to a more practical format – but if you really like a game they can be great, especially if there is no official soundtrack to buy. If you don't see the files, they may be "packed" with other game files in a large, .zip-like file. You can sometimes open these with a program like Winrar, or by downloading the game or engine's mod tools.
 

 
Retail games install to different locations, and GoG lets you choose, so you're on your own looking for those. Steam game installs are a bit easier to find. To check a specific Steam game's directory, right-click on it in your library and select "Properties" from the drop-down menu. A box will pop up. Select the "Local Files" tab. Then click the "Browse Local Files" button, and the game directory will pop up.
 
If you want to go through all your installed games manually, Steam games are installed to this directory (unless you changed it), and sorted by name:
C:\Program Files\Steam\steamapps\common\
 
There are a couple compiled lists on the Steam forums of games with accessible music tracks:
Steam games with music 2010
Steam games with music 2012
I included both links because I'm not certain the second includes everything in the first.



It didn't take long to find an example on my own. Ys I includes three versions of its soundtrack – the original, a 2000ish version, and a contemporary mix. In the game installation was a "music" directory with 75 files. They had three different prefixes, 25 in each group. That's right – all three soundtracks in .ogg format, right there for the taking! No proper names or anything, but sometimes you can find those elsewhere if it matters to you.


Humble Bundles

 
Most of the Humble Bundles have included the soundtracks to their games. I slacked on downloading these when I was first buying the bundles, so when I went back to get them all it was pretty crazy how much music I owned but had neglected to claim. Definitely double-check any bundles you own, and remember to take the soundtracks into consideration the next time one comes up!
 
 
YouTube


While hardly ideal, YouTube can be a useful place to find soundtracks, particularly for older titles from the 80s and 90s. Someone put together a playlist, for example, with a lot of 8-bit tunes. Sometimes people put up an entire soundtrack as a single file; other times they break it up track-by-track, just like you'd expect for a regular soundtrack. You can listen to them right on YouTube, obviously, or download and convert them to a preferred format – a lot of work, but worth it for your favorite games.
 
The downside is that quality on YouTube is a mixed bag. Also, old game music was generated through .midi files by the console itself, so it sounds different on different players. Ideally, you would want music recorded directly from the console itself. Even then there is variance; later models of the Genesis had inferior sound output, for example.
 
 
Fansites

 
Often if a game's music is available, fan sites will either host it or link to it. If you like Metroid, for example, you can find some of the music on Metroid Database. Look around and you'll find similar sites dedicated to many of your favorite games.
 
 
File Conversion, Downloading, etc.
 
I use DownloadHelper to download YouTube videos, and SUPER or an old (when it was free) version of dbPoweramp to convert between formats. If anyone could suggest some good conversion software (flv/ogg/wav/flac/mp4 to mp3 mostly) that's readily available, leave a comment and I'll add your info here.

 
Coming Next Week
 
In Part 2 I'll be linking to some free, legally available soundtracks that you can just go download directly. I only know so many, though, and that GoG Free Soundtrack List is pretty impressive already. Anyway, if you know any I should include, mention/link them in the comments and I'll be sure they are included. I'll probably list some game soundtracks that are flat out worth buying, too.   read


6:07 AM on 07.23.2013  

Make Blogs Not War

This started as a blog about me personally, but I think what I've learned – that blogs are a better place for debate than article comments – applies to everyone.


 
Those of you who know me well on here – by which I mean from my article comments and my blogs and blog comments – have probably noticed a dramatic difference in how I present myself in both places. For example, I was an infamous Wii U hater for a while, and I pissed off a lot of people for making fun of the system at every opportunity. But when I take time to write up my thoughts, instead of a spiteful argument we get great conversation. I am generally a nice guy in real life (seriously!), and I think that comes off in the blogs. But for some reason the article comment sections turn me into a total freaking monster. I'm not sure why, but I want it to stop.
 
The thing is, I also notice similar behavior in other people (though not to the same extreme). Maybe it's something about how quick and fleeting the comments are? The need to get out quick jibes because there's less time/space for conversation? Again, I'm not sure why. There are people I've had ugly arguments with in the article comments, but great discussions with in the blogs.
 


In any case, I've decided to retire from commenting on articles, aside from the occasional positive comment anyway. Blogs lead to better discussions, and I tend to articulate my thoughts better there. I put a lot of work into my blogs, and I don't want people ignoring my stuff because they're expecting something snarky. I especially don't want people avoiding the Sunday C-Blog Recaps, because that affects people who wrote on that day, too. And I put a lot of work into those, too.

I'd suggest that other people also consider the blogs as an alternative to arguing in the article comments. If you write a blog, you can really detail your point of view before people respond. It leads to good discussions, adds good content to the site, and adds to your own profile and general rep around the site. It's just healthier for everyone in general, I think. Even if you don't have the problem of being a jerk like I do, blogs are still a more worthy place for your more in-depth thoughts.

Besides, why get upvotes when you can get FAPS. Amiright?

  read


1:18 PM on 07.03.2013  

Mortal Kombat Komplete PC - initial port impressions

So far it looks like a well-done port. Everything you expect is there, including improved visuals and local multiplayer. Online is one thing I did not get to test yet.

I experienced performance issues on one stage, but haven't been able to get back to it to double check with lower settings etc. Every other single stage has been 60fps and fine, though.

Here are pics of the option screens etc., then more details after than. These initial shots are all shrunk to 620x349 to fit on the page nicely.



Title Screen
*Despite the "Press Space" prompt, it responded automatically to my 360 controller and I could use it exclusively to control the game/menus, just like it was on console.



Main Options Screen
*I try to go through most of these below.



Auto Video Settings
*It did this automatically when I first went to the video options menu, only took a few seconds. It didn't set my Shadows to "Very High" so I turned those up. It actually did pretty well.
*There is no benchmark like in the SF games, which is a bit disappointing.



Video Options
*Very important for a good port. Texture quality caps at "High", Shadow Quality has a "Very High" option.
*Anti-Aliasing is offered as 2x or 4x MSAA, or Low/High quality FXAA. I used 4XMSAA for most of the 1080p shots shown later in the blog. The ones with a framerate in the lower right corner (fraps) are using LQFXAA, and actually look better imo.
*Transparency Anti-Aliasing was greyed out for me. Not sure why. It would have smoothed out some rough edges around things like character hair, but switching to high quality FXAA would do that, too. My video card is an AMD HD6870, maybe only Nvidia cards get that feature?
*Overall it has all the standard features you'd want, albeit not quite as many as the Capcom games like SFIV (eg motion blur)



Audio Options
*Nice breakdown options-wise (I like that dialog and announcer are separate), otherwise just the usual.



Gameplay Options
*Pretty standard stuff.



Keyboard & Controller Configuration
*Looks like you can edit these as you like, and even save up to four presets. So it doesn't look like keyboard players will have any issues.



Social Media Garbage
*Not sure about all this, not sure I care. But it's there.



Four-Player Versus Mode
*Yes, it supports up to four-players, not unlike SFxTK. I plugged in four 360 controllers and it detected them all fine.



Single-Player Ladder
*The usual MK stuff really.


Online:
I did not take time to check out the online gameplay. Not my thing, and I wanted this blog up asap. Maybe someone more into that can provide some feedback later?

Controller Support:
It worked fine with my standard 360 controller as well as 360 controllers by Hori, Madcatz, and Power A. The PDP Versus Fighting Pad for 360 also worked fine. So it looks like any wired 360 controller is probably compatible, regardless of brand.

I tried an old, pre-360 DirectInput Logitech Dual Action from around 2000-2002. Surprisingly, it worked and the buttons were pre-mapped to their 360 equivalents in terms of location. However, while the left analog stick worked fine, the D-pad didn't do diagonal jumps (ie couldn't reg up/down and right/left at the same time), making the D-pad not an option). If you have an old controller, then, you might still need to check a solution like this:
http://code.google.com/p/x360ce/

The Logitech Precision - tried this older controller, too. It looks like the Dual Action minus the analog - works just fine, despite having only a D-pad. It's the slightly translucent blue controller from around 2000, very popular for emulators. I'd say it's 100% functional and plug-and-play with this game, with all buttons pre-bound to their 360 equivalents. Nice.

Performance:
I started noticing framerate issues and slow-motion on a few stages, and in the Krypt extras area. After trying everything else I could think of (including all settings low), I turned off RadeonPro, an alternate control panel program for AMD cards. Fixed my problem completely, I"m back to 1080p/60 everywhere. I have NO IDEA why this happened. But obviously turn it off if you are using it with AMD.

Texture Quality:
Seems excellent, though I've not seen the console version to compare. The anisotropic filtering keeps them very crisp, too. Overall the art assets seem adequate for native 1080p gameplay.

Loading Times:
The loading times are almost too fast. I'm not joking. The bit where you see the character portraits, like "X vs Y"? Blink and you miss them lol. Not a terrible complaint, but it might have been better to time it so they were visible for a second or so!

Graphics Quality:
Here are some 1080p screenshots. (HQ .jpg) (updated 1:30am 7/4/13)
Test system: Phenom II x6 1090T @ 3.4ghz, HD6870, 12GB DDR3, Win7 64-bit

Switching to FXAA smoothed out the hair aliasing etc. Not sure why I could not select Transparency Anti-Aliasing. Maybe it's not for AMD cards? Overall, the game looks far better in motion than a screenshot can capture. Very fluid and smooth feel to everything.

Compatibility:
Some people on the Steam forums were having trouble with laptops (big surprise). Specifically, people with integrated Intel chipsets and "switching" GPUs (ie low-power one normally, high-power one for games/video). Check the Steam community discussion groups for more info.

Pricing:
The game is only $29.99 on PC. Plus you can get it for 25% off on Green Man Gaming. Their site is really flakey right now (there's some other sale that's straining their servers), but the deal is good for a few days.

GMG Blog With Info On 25% Off Voucher.
"voucher is valid until 1500 UTC July 8th 2013"
GMG25-BAWQB-8UQWG
Mortal Kombat Komplete on GMG
Mortal Kombat Komplete on Steam


Conclusions:
Anyway, it looks like a good port so far. Based on my initial impressions here, I'd give it say an 8.5/10 port-quality wise. I'll be coming back and updating here and there if anything else comes up. You might want to keep an eye on the Steam forum, too. And PC Gaming Wiki has started a page for the game. They have how to skip the intro movies, and the location of the game's basic config file (I still wonder if there is a more complex one elsewhere).

  read


5:40 AM on 06.26.2013  

Sega's Classic Franchises: Could They Be Brought Back? (pt. 2)

Some of Sega's Classics Reimagined for Next-Gen



If you missed it, you can check out Part One of this blog here. In it I talk about how Sega has abandoned a lot of great IPs, and some formulas that might be used to reboot them.

In Part 2 I want to get specific. So let's take some of Sega's classic IPs and consider how they might be reimagined for the 2010s. I have better ideas for some than others, and I'd really like to hear your thoughts as well. I'm going to focus on AAA reimaginings for the most part, rather than straightforward HD reworks based directly on the old games.

And yes, this is all total fantasy and speculation. Totally self-indulgent geek porn. But a geek can dream, can't he?


Shinobi


Revenge of Shinobi is hands-down one of my favorite Genesis titles… and yes, my copy has the bosses that rip off Godzilla, Spiderman, Batman, and Terminator lol. I really, really don't know why Sega has left it to rot, especially when it has so much potential. So how might it be given a next-gen overhaul? I have a few ideas.

One would be to do a game similar to Arkham City. While Musashi isn't a a gadget-focused character, there are plenty of mobility, fighting, and ninja abilities (smokebombs, throwing knives, enhanced stealth, etc) that could be upgraded as the game progressed. Going with more tightly packed buildings would let him jump back and forth to scale them.

Perhaps better would be to stick with smaller but more distinct levels – each with a specific mission. This would be more like say Thief or Dishonored, where Joe would have a variety of ways to approach the mission. The levels could also be made replayable; as Joe unlocked new items and abilities, he could try new approaches and be rewarded by completing the mission under certain parameters. Multiple difficulties might be useful here, too – think of how Goldeneye 64 added more objectives based on the mission difficulty.

Finally, I remember playing Mirror's Edge and wishing to hell I had a sword. A ninja's parkour-like movement abilities might be fitting in a game like that, even if the levels were more linear. This would be kind of like translating the original game's linear levels into a 3D environment, with speed and efficiency and sheer style upping experience bonuses etc. Going third person might be a good idea, though, if only to make the combat more practical.

And don't forget Shadow Dancer. Could Joe's dog somehow be integrated into some of these gameplay concepts, even if only for certain levels or as something to summon when you are in bad shape?


Altered Beast


"Really? Altered Beast?!" Yes, really! Sure, the original arcade game and its Genesis port were rather brain-dead games, though they were a bit of fun. Yet I see a lot of potential in the IP. The idea of being able to transform into a variety of were-creatures is great, and that alone could carry a game. Imagine Altered Beast as a third-person metroidvania. You would start off as just a human, gaining in physical strength and ultimately the ability the change into various were-monsters through the game. These transformations would then allow you to reach areas you couldn't before, supporting metroid-like backtracking to re-explore earlier areas with your newfound abilities (eg the dragon being able to reach high areas, a were-rhino being able to smash weaker walls, etc). Each creature could have different levels of power, too (early dragon could perhaps only do wing assisted jumps or hover; gaining the ability to breath fire would be another addition). You could also limit the time you were able to stay in were-form, adding more strategy to the battles, or allow on-the-fly transformations for crazy combos (imagine dive bombing as a dragon and shifting to were-bear at the last moment to smash through a group of enemies). And the setting would allow for all manner of freaky monsters to fight, as well as some truly epic boss battles.


Wonderboy, Alex Kidd, Ristar, Kid Chameleon, Billy Hatcher


Any of these games would translate nicely into either a modern 2D (eg New Super Mario Bros or Rayman Origins) or 3D platformer (eg Mario 64). They are some of the weaker, lesser-known IPs, so going for a lower-budget title might make more sense. Though a Zelda-like Wonder Boy, even in 2D, might translate into an excellent AAA action-adventure title. It's also worth mentioning that, especially in his modern form, Sonic is really nothing like Mario. Ristar could provide that kind of experience, though. (Silly Mario! In Soviet Russia, stars collect you!)


Streets of Rage, Golden Axe


As much as I love SoR, it's one of the most difficult for me to reimagine. A budget HD sequel that keeps the same formula would be the obvious way to go. But what if we tried something different? How about a third person action title focused on combat like Devil May Cry? How could we set it apart? Allow co-op play, online or 2-4 player split-screen. This would allow for multiplayer combos (eg lemme hold this guy while you punch him), as well as players being able to assist each other, Left 4 Dead style, when they are pinned or cornered. By adding multiplayer, we'd be keeping an important part of the original game while simultaneously setting the game apart from other third-person action titles.

This formula might work nicely with Golden Axe, too - beyond the settings, the games are very similar. Although Golden Axe also has the elements needed for a great action-adventure RPG, too...


Phantasy Star, Landstalker, Shining Force, Sword of Vermillion…


I really want a new Phantasy Star that is not an MMO. One possibility would be to forget the JRPG stuff altogether and try something more Bethesda-like. Imagine a Phantasy Star world as a vast as Skyrim – but far more vibrantly colorful and mixed with technology. You could keep exploration slightly more limited (some areas aren't accessible until certain tasks are complete, just like the original games), but the idea of the Phantasy Star world remade in Skyrim/Fallout-like scope… ffffffaaaappppppp. Companions would certainly fit in. How about we start with Nei…?! The same idea might be applied to any of the other Sega RPGs, and there are many other examples of RPGs in modern 3D form that might be taken as initial models.

Another possibility would be to mix JRPG-style storytelling and its larger parties with Diablo-like ARPG combat. That's similar to the first two Dungeon Siege games, which used a party system to set themselves apart from Diablo. Okay. Hmmm. Oh wow. Yes, yes, yes, I am really liking this idea. The turn-based combat and random encounters were by far the most irritating part of Phantasy Star II and many other JRPGs. This would remove the annoying stop-start-stop-start of turn-based encounters and really let the game flow.



Landstalker, though, is unique in this bunch. It's more an "adventure" game, and was meant as Sega's answer to the SNES's Zelda at the time. While the isometric perspective caused some frustration, the game was generally well-received. Why not give Zelda some competition again, either by bringing back Landstalker or doing an adventure game spinoff of one of those other RPG titles. Either a top-view or third-person 3D view would work, depending on budget and intent. No isometric, though!


Galaxy Force, Panzer Dragoon, Thunder Blade, Afterburner


Most of these games are so purely arcade that it's hard to image them as anything else. Or is it? I can think of two models that might be excellent for reworking them into the modern era, particularly the first three. First, it's pretty easy to imagine doing a game similar to Rogue Squadron with Galaxy Force. It would require a bit of world-building, as the IP is sparse on story, but if the game could keep the over-the-top bombast of the original arcade hit it would be a very exciting title. It would also scale; it could be done as a AAA retail title, or as a smaller download title. Panzer Dragoon might fit the Rogue Squadron formula nicely as well.

Thunder Blade, on the other hand, might be reworked as a sort of 3D Desert Strike, or perhaps redone as a twin-stick shooter like Renegade Ops. It and Afterburner might also work as semi-simulators; games that mix arcade action with some more realistic flight physics.


Eternal Champions


The Genesis' classic, original 2D fighter. Not much need to update the basics here – 2D fighting games are still "a thing". But you could also bring in more Sega characters to round out the roster. I'm not saying go Smash Brothers and bring in cartoony characters. But Shinobi and the casts of Streets of Rage, Altered Beast, and Golden Axe would fit right in. Hell, Sega might have a big enough roster to simply make a fresh fighting game (and cherry pick a few characters from ET to join in the fun). "Shinobi & Sega All Stars Fighting Championship"?


What Do YOU Want to See?

Okay, that's quite a huge list and this is a way longer blog than I meant it to be! I'm curious what you think of these ideas, what your own ideas are, and what ideas and IPs I'm missing entirely here. There are some genres I didn't get to – like Sega's racing (Rad Racer, Outrun etc) and lightgun (House of the Dead) games. And off the top of my head I've also missed Fantasy Zone, Space Harrier, Nights, Space Channel 5, and Jet Set Radio Future. Any ideas for these titles?

In any case, it seems to me that Sega is sitting on a gold mine of cool series. So get off your butt and do something with them, Sega! In the meantime, all we can do is dream...
.
.
.
Though modders and indie devs might take matters into their own hands, too...


Streets of Rage Remake

Streets of Rage Remake was shut down by Sega, but not before the game was completed (you can find it on torrent sites, and it's quite good). I believe the fan-made cover above borrowed from this artist's work. Included because I love Blaze and she's, umm, smokin' in that pic.

Sonic Unleashed mod for Sonic Generations

This mod takes the best levels of Sonic Unleashed and puts them into the gorgeous Sonic Generations engine. I was shocked to find this mod, I didn't think these games could even be modded. I wonder what's next...   read


4:20 AM on 06.25.2013  

Sega's Classic Franchises: Could They Be Brought Back? (pt. 1)

Why has Sega abandoned some of its most popular older franchises? And what could they do to bring those classic series into the 2010s?


The Genesis and Dreamcast, icons representing some of Sega's greatest work.

One of my favorite games in recent memory has been Sonic Racing Transformed. I think it's the best kart racer since the N64's Diddy Kong Racing, and Mario Kart 8 is going to have a hard time winning the crown back from Sumo's masterpiece. Part of what makes Transformed so great is that Sega is the only company other than Nintendo with such a massive backlog of brilliant game series to draw from in terms of designing stages. The game has plenty of Sonic-inspired levels, of course. But you'll also visit the worlds of Skies of Arcadia, Golden Axe, Nights, Shinobi, Billy Hatcher, Panzer Dragoon, and others. You even get to race as characters from a lot of Sega's old games, and Ristar waves the start flag at the beginning of every race! It's pretty great stuff, and gives the game a lot of variety and personality.


Two gorgeous tracks from Sonic Racing Transformed - inspired by two of Sega's otherwise abandoned game series.

Every time I play it, though, I feel sort of sad. Sure, it's great to see old friends like Shinobi again... but why have these characters become little more than fodder for Sonic's racing titles, or Sega's "classic" Genesis and Dreamcast re-releases? Many of these characters were the stars of major AAA titles in the past, and could be again. Yet in their single-minded focus on Sonic, Sega has left some of its best characters and game series to rot. Not only is this disappointing as a fan of Sega's classic franchises, it's just bad business to let major IPs go to waste. And as much as I love Sonic, the poor little guy needs a break sometimes!



Part of the problem may be that many of these old IPs were either arcade-focused, or designed around 2D, sprite-based technology. Yet you could say the same thing about Sonic the Hedgehog, which has evolved considerably over time. Looking back at these old IPs, I can see a few ways Sega might approach their rebirth:

1) Stick with the game's original formula and perspective. With the popularity of download titles, simply cranking out an HD Street of Rage 4 as a $15 download title would probably go over really well. It could also serve to reintroduce an IP, setting the stage for a full retail reboot down the road.


Ristar would be a great candidate for an HD revamp.

2) Stick with the original perspective, but expand the gameplay to reward repeated playthroughs. Sonic Racing Transformed is actually a good example of this. Your racers gain experience in the game as you use them, opening new "mods" that let you customize their kart's attributes. And going through the game's career mode – which features a "map" not unlike that of say Mario World – lets you unlock new tracks, racers, and kart mods. Taking the basics of a classic like Streets of Rage and adding these kinds of unlockables and extras could really help bring these games into the modern era. The point here is to take them beyond their arcade roots by introducing cumulative rewards for repeated play rather than having each playthrough be a straight up win or lose scenario. Maybe you lost this time, but you unlocked Blaze's new combo kick, so next time…

3) Take an IP's characters and world as a starting off point, but move them into a more modern genre… while using the IP's unique elements to keep it fresh and original. Consider Mario and Sonic's move to 3D. Why couldn't Ristar make a similar move? Why wouldn't games like Shinobi or Altered Beast translate into great third-person action titles?


By mixing 2D and 3D gameplay with gorgeous graphics, Sonic has kept up-to-date with today's expectations. Why can't Sega do the same with their other classic IPs?

Don't Forget the Music

Regardless of the strategy taken in terms of gameplay, Sega shouldn't forget the tunes. One thing the Genesis excelled at was music. Yuzo Koshiro is famous for his work in games like Revenge of Shinobi and Streets of Rage, and there was something about the Genesis' synths that made for incredible soundtracks – Thunderforce III, for example, really blew me away. The return of "retro" titles has led to a renaissance in the art of the game soundtrack (eg They Bleed Pixels), and many non-retro titles like Remember Me have rediscovered the immersive power of background music.

Their amazing soundtracks were part of what made games like Shinobi and Streets of Rage popular and successful. Any reboot of these series should try to include similarly edgy electronic soundtracks to get players excited and pumped for the action. And it might pay to keep the gameplay actiony as well, in contrast to the sluggish chest-high-wall combat of many modern titles.

In Part 2 of this blog, available here, I go through several of Sega's older IPs, considering how they might be "reimagined" as modern titles.


We tend to think of the Genesis (Mega Drive) and Dreamcast when it comes to Sega. But many of their major franchises started on the Master System and in arcades.   read


3:50 PM on 06.21.2013  

Sweaty Hands & Gaming - An Actual Solution

One of the most frustrating things I've dealt with as a gamer is sweaty hands. I'm guessing it's a problem for a lot of people, considering companies have gone so far as to make controllers with fans in them to help keep your hands cool and dry. Having chronically sweaty hands (or feet etc), even when there is no reason (it's not hot, you aren't nervous) is a condition people like me suffer from called hyperhydrosis. Hyperhydrosis also tends to be way worse than the sweaty hands regular people get occasionally - I can write on a dusty chalkboard with my fingers indefinitely. I can't hold onto things because my palms are too wet. I feel like I need to be in front of a fan all the time. And I get sick a lot because I am always letting myself getting chilled. It's that bad.



It's a horrible condition to deal with, and affects your life far beyond gaming. It really hurt my social development when I was younger. It made dating awkward (afraid to even hold hands), and made me nervous and uncomfortable a lot of the time.

There are a variety of treatments avalable, including surgery (expensive and dangerous), Botox (expensive), medication (unhealthy and ineffective), and special antiperspirants (ineffective and stain your clothing). I've tried everything but surgery, without much satisfaction. Botox did work, but it was extremely expensive and only lasted 3-4 months. Also hurt like hell having someone poke your palms and fingers with needles, it was like sitting there letting a bee sting you over an over.


Power A's Air Flo controller.

Long story short, my mother came across these special devices called Drionic units (see below) and ordered one for me to use on my hands. I've been using them ever since, for about 12 years. It can be a bit inconvenient - you have to sit there for about 20 minutes a session with your hands in pooled water while an electronic current runs across them (just a battery) to desensitize them. It can sting a bit (the current goes up and down over time), but you can adjust the strength. And if you suffer it as badly as me, you hate your palms so much you'll be sitting there thinking "fry, f*ckers, fry!". Once it's working, which can take a week or so initially, you only need to do it once or twice a week as maintainence. I just put on Netflix or a movie to keep me occupied while I'm doing the treatment.


I usually do it at my PC or coffee table watching Netflix. The pictured units also work for feet. I use them flipped the other way, it's more comfortable for me to not have my whole fingers submerged.

My hands are my primary problem, though my feet and armpits can be bad as well. But just keeping my hands under control has improved my life dramatically, and seems to reduce the other sweating. Not having sweaty hands really helps with the nervousness as well.

It doesn't seem like a big deal if you don't have it, but hyperhydrosis is a freaking miserable condition. It changed my life to have an effective treatment for it. If I slack and don't use it for a couple weeks, and the sweating comes back, I wonder how I ever functioned before I had treatment for it. Anyway, not enough people seem to know about this treatment. I know it's not entirely gaming related, but if it helps even one person with their problem, it's worth it.

Drionic Website



PS: There are also DIY Drionic Units. I've never tried them, though, so I really don't know if they are as good. The official units cycle the intensity of the charge up and down, not sure a DIY unit would do that.   read


3:14 PM on 06.20.2013  

Kinect and Xbox One - Problems and Concerns

While Microsoft has done a 180 on its DRM policies for the Xbox One, Kinect remains a pack-in item that is required for the system to run at all. Yet very few games have been announced for it, its non-gaming uses are dubious, and it raises major privacy concerns.

Kinect With What, Exactly?



To start, there was something missing at E3 for the most part... actual Kinect games. Here's the best list of Kinect games I could come up with:

Crimson Dragon (shoddy on-rails shooter)
Kinect Sports Rivals (ooo mini-games! *gag*)
Just Dance 2014 (not even a launch title).
Zumba World Party (another dance game with no release date)
Project Spark (can use it, not required. mostly voice commands?)
Fantasia: Music Evolved (has nothing to do with Fantasia)

That's it. You are paying extra money for a Kinect so you can buy those games, many of which won't even be out at release. They aren't even providing Kinect Sports Rivals as a pack-in to help justify the thing's inclusion.


Crimson Dragon looked awesome... then I read "Kinect"...

I've seen Microsoft fanboys claim that Kinect needs to be included for developers to give it proper software support, avoiding the chicken-and-egg problem console peripherals often suffer. This is understandable. Yet... I'm not aware of any high-profile Kinect-dependent titles in development. That list is it for Kinect 2.0 games, that's all I could find anywhere. Project Spark is probably the most interesting title there, but it sounds like Kinect is merely optional for it - I'm not sure it should even be in that list. Ryse, which was shaping up to be the flagship Kinect 2.0 title, has ditched Kinect entirely. Apparently even a game as dumbed down as Ryse, a glorified quicktime-event, is too complex for Kinect.


This controller would probably be fine for Ryse. Kinect? Not so much apparently.

Are there non-game uses for Kinect? Yes. Apparently you can use it for Skype, and for certain voice and gesture commands while you are watching television television television. But that hardly justifies such an expensive, advanced piece of hardware being shoved down consumers' throats.

Yes, I know it can be used for voice command stuff in games. So can a much less expensive microphone.

In addition to being relatively useless to consumers, this peripheral comes at considerable cost. It is probably the main reason the Xbox One is $100 more than the PS4, despite having weaker hardware. They blew the hardware budget on a gadget nobody wants and that is of dubious value for gaming. I made a similar complaint about the Wii U's GamePad making the Wii U a weaker system than it should be. But between Zombie U and New Super Mario Bros. U, at least a few games made interesting use of that hardware. Kinect, on the other hand, serves no purpose whatsoever for most gamers other than to get accidentally broken and brick their console. It also makes the system much less portable.


Still the best way to play a console game.

So why are they forcing Kinect on everyone when they have barely any software - much less compelling software - that uses the damn thing? When it has little other use? Ditching it in favor of a $400 price point would surely move more Xbox One consoles. And given the lack of software being developed for it, selling games doesn't seem like much of a motive, either. The overall opinion of gamers toward Kinect is negative, and it's hard to say whether the mainstream audience they are going after will even understand what it is, much less want to use it to control their television. I can really think of only one reason Microsoft would forcibly include Kinect.


Is It Spyware?

I don't mean that in some conspiracy-theory way. I don't think the NSA is going to be using Kinect to monitor your home. Rather, Kinect could be used by Microsoft to track your gaming and consumption habits. I looked around for documentation of Kinect features and was disturbed by what I found. I'm pretty sure that's all been mentioned on Destructoid before, but was overshadowed by the DRM controversy.

This is a camera so advanced it can tell your heart rate just by looking at you. It can tell how many people are in the room. It even has facial recognition. All of that could be used for licensing content, DRM purposes, etc. - or to gather marketing information.



While you can have Kinect off, the question is how much data will it be sending back to Microsoft when it's on? Microsoft could easily use Kinect to learn a great deal about its audience. This thing could tell whether you were a loyal Doritos customer, whether you read while watching television on your couch, and even what book you are reading. It could basically track an entire household's tv/gaming consumption habits (remember, they want the TV to run through the Xbox). This also fits with Microsoft's desire for the console to be always-connected. That way Kinect could sent information back in realtime.

A lot of this doesn't sound like much - it's similar to what websites do with things like tracking cookies. But for marketers this kind of feedback on user consumption habits would be gold, and people would pay Microsoft a lot of money just to know when you watch TV and play games the most, how many people are usually in the room when you do, etc. The facial recognition means it can even track the habits of specific family members vs others. And if this data starts getting correlated with Skype and Facebook accounts... well, Microsoft could have quite a file you, by name, in its electronic archives.

I know this sounds Watch Dogs level paranoia. And this is worst-case scenario. But we're talking about a company that is fine with using "reputation management" to manipulate us, a disgusting practice that is basically hiring people to lie for you. I don't trust them, and I don't trust Kinect. Neither should you.


How much background info could Kinect find or collect on you?

One final thing to consider - if Microsoft can gather this kind of information on their end (again, a big "if"), how soon will it be until government agencies start requesting warrants to "tap" a person's Kinect? Or to use a broad sweep of it to look for criminals or terrorists via facial recognition?

Beyond the Xbox One, there's a broader concern we should have: how soon before Kinect cameras start popping up all on their own in public places? There are good uses here - facial recognition at a airport security checkpoint has potential, for example. But where would it stop? The technology is brilliant, but risks taking us one huge step closer to Foucault's panopticon, and of destroying any sense of privacy or anonymity we have left.


In Any Case

Privacy concerns aside, Kinect still makes no sense. Not from a consumer perspective, a business perspective, or a developer perspective. Unlike their DRM policy, however, it's far too late for Microsoft to ditch it as preorders for the One are already in progress and the unit is surely in or headed for production soon. All I know is that I don't want one in my house. And I'm rather worried about where they are going to start popping up next.

  read


3:31 AM on 06.11.2013  

PS4 Saves Consoles For One More Generation?

After Microsoft's wretched handling of the Xbox One, I wasn't surprised to hear that Sony "won E3" today. But I don't think that's the biggest story.

Looking at the PS4 as a complete package, what's broadly important is that we finally have a platform that could sustain another console generation. Because it was not looking good for a while there. The Xbox One is a travesty in more ways that I can count, and the Wii U is, at best, kind of off in its own little world or stuck between generations. The PS4 has good software support, a reasonable price, and enough of a boost in processing power to justify the upgrade. A simple formula for success that MS and Nintendo might have seen if their heads weren't so far up their own asses. Yes, gamers want a powerful, well-priced machine that plays lots of good games. Just like every console generation ever.



Still, I have some reservations about the PS4.

To start, the "pay to play online" thing is a bit of a fly in the soup. PS+ is going to be a necessity for most people, so the console is basically being subsidized to keep the price low, just like an expensive smart phone - but without making it obvious. Sure, PS+ is a pretty good deal for most people, and it's nice that it's not *required* to purchase or use a system. But it still feels like a hidden cost of sorts. Sony is probably selling the system at a loss, though, so wanting to recoup some that money via PS+ is understandable.

As for Sony "saving game ownership"... well, as with current gen, the idea that you "really own your games" has a ton of catches. Yes, there's no internet needed - if you don't want your buggy games patched, or if you don't want your DLC or digital titles. And do you really own your DLC or digital purchases? What happens when MS/Sony decide to stop supporting the old consoles? You may have your Skyrim disc for PS3, but good luck playing it with no patches. And your DLC is simply gone. Consoles are no longer plug-and-play. They have a "hybrid" model - they still have physical media, yes, but that doesn't mean they don't have all the potential issues of digital distribution as well.

Finally, am I the only person surprised at how tiny the PS4 is? It has some pretty impressive specs to fit in a box that small. That AMD APU must be paying off. Though it's also clear that the unit is designed with cooling in mind (it appears to pull air in from the side cracks, and vent it all out the back). But the size has me wondering if the system is less powerful than the specs suggest. That's just a random, weird intuition, though. I guess we'll see, at the least it appears to have an edge on the Xbox One - which costs $100 more....

In any case, it looks like consoles are going to survive another generation. At least one of them is, anyway. You should still all switch to PC, though ;)

(I don't usually write these short/quick blogs, but... E3!)   read







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