I'm just a kid that tries to cover PC building and gaming the best he can despite running on a beyond-destitute gaming laptop from years past (2008- five years!) and also talks about assorted Japanese fuckery like No More Heroes and Kingdom Hearts.
I'm also a freelance writer, have made quite a bit of money off of it ($1500 a year for a then-16 year old? Fuckin' sweet!) and I make a lot of jokes (too much) about penises and whatnot.
Keep your expectations low and you'll have a great time. Keep your expectations around the middle and you'll have a good time, but don't have high expectations around me because I am literally incapable of not disappointing you.
In light of Destructoid's relatively poor PC building coverage, I decided that I'm going to make a monthly column here in the Community Blogs featuring the best builds at certain prices you can get at the time of writing. My cheaper builds will primarily use AMD processors, but note that those builds won't be very high in upgradeability.
This build should be able to effectively tackle current-gen games with little issues. Tone down things like filtering and antialiasing and you should be able to 1080p60fps games no problem- except for the really hard hitters, like Crysis 3 or the upcoming next-gen titles. You'll likely need to tone down the resolution to 720p to keep those playing smoothly.
You can take out the graphics card if this is too expensive for you right now. The motherboard has integrated graphics that aren't very good for most titles- but you'll run day-to-day applications and games like TF2 just fine. However, be sure to upgrade your graphics card in the future.
With this, you can have more room to step up the resolution and filtering. Expect a pretty safe 1080p60fps with modern and upcoming games for the next few years- though, with certain titles, you may need to lower the settings or your resolution to maintain smoother gameplay or sharper looks.
The case and most of the components have stayed the same for these so far- that'll change after his next build, once AMD's architecture and this case w/ integrated PSU takes us about as far as it can go.
Now these are just about perfect. You'll be running games on Very High, 1080p60fps with impunity for some time. (Minus, yet again, monsters like Crysis, which you'll want to turn things down for.)
Alright. Now we're changing the motherboard to Intel with a top-line i5, and therefore we're also swapping to a new case and a nice PSU. It's a huge price jump from here, but the performance is most definitely worth it.
At the time of writing, the 280X slaughters the 770 at $100 cheaper, and the 290X similarly steps up the game against the 780. I'll put in more Nvidia high-end once they start competing at this range.
I'm not going to make any more builds past this. This is a perfectly solid gaming rig that could last you a good, long while, at max settings, for under a thousand dollars.
If you want, you can pop in an SSD and use it as a boot drive while storing your games and other stuff on the HDD. Or replace it with a higher-end graphics card, like the 780 (which should get a price drop), the 780 Ti (whenever that comes out) or the 290X (when it's in stock).
Footnote: pick up a cheap optical drive if you don't want to install your OS from USB, and take note that these parts don't include KB/M peripherals or a monitor. I'm leaving those up to you.
Never underestimate how feverishly I watch for Kingdom Hearts news.
Anyways, this article is primarily serving as a placeholder until Destructoid inevitably one-ups me and posts another.
Regardless, I'm gonna skip to the basics as to why Kingdom Hearts fans should be excited about this re-release.
For one, it includes Kingdom Hearts II: Final Mix, in addition to Birth By Sleep Final Mix. Also coded's cutscenes but that game did pathetically little to progress the plot that BBS and Dream Drop Distance didn't do better. Really, it's skippable and nothing you should at all be excited about.
Kingdom Hearts II marks the point in the franchise where things became about a thousand times more complicated, but the inclusion of Birth By Sleep in this collection will significantly ease the confusion of fans old and new alike. To understand Kingdom Hearts as a series, the only games that're truly necessary to play are the first one, II, BBS, and 3D. Chain of Memories introduces the Organization and expands Riku's character development; II re-introduces them anyways and shows Riku reach a higher level of maturity. 358 expands on Roxas and introduces a new character; 3D and BBS offer more and the same knowledge on both of those matters. Coded is just plain filler between II and 3D, and if at all possible, please, please don't spend your money on it.
If you've already played II and Birth By Sleep, however, you may be wondering why you should be excited for this at all. Beyond the fact that BBS is likely going to see a much-needed graphical boost and control scheme improvement, Final Mix adds a ton of new content. Also more cutscenes. Love me some cutscenes.
Final Mix 2 New Features:
Limit Form, which allows access to all of Sora's best signature moves from the first game, including Sonic Blade. Fucking love Sonic Blade.
Seven new bosses- five of which lifted from Chain of Memories with new fighting styles and two of which advancing the plot- the formerly unplayable battle against Roxas in the Station of Awakening near the end of the game, plus a battle with the Lingering Will, a possesed suit of armor that'll become very familiar when you get to playing Birth By Sleep.
Replayability- every Organization XIII boss can be re-fought as Data Battles- but they'll be much, much stronger than before, meaning you'll have to stretch the level cap as much as humanly possible to even hope to stand a chance on higher difficulties.
Critical Mode! Like Proud (where enemies deal twice as much damage) except you deal half as much yourself.
Also a ton of other relatively minor changes I don't want to delve into.
Birth By Sleep Final Mix New Features:
Three new bosses: the Keyblade Armor of Master Xehanort, Master Eraqus and a weird boss fight against Monstro. Monstro's relatively easy, but the Armors are not- Master Xehanort's armor, No Heart, is considered the toughest boss in the series for good reason.
Another playable secret ending, which includes an encounter with an extremely tough Pureblood Heartless boss.
While BBS Final Mix's list of added features are shorter, remember that Final Mix is Japan-exclusive: International releases tend to get a lot of extra content they never get to touch- players of the International version of Birth By Sleep would be rather surprised to learn that a certain hooded figure didn't appear as a boss at all in the original!
KHII is honestly the gem of this collection, but BBS is a great game in its own right. If you've never played these games before- try out 1.5. It's completely worth your money.
Let's cut straight to the point. Valve's been talking more about the Steam Machines than ever before. These steps started about a year back with the announcement of Steam's Big Picture Mode, and now Valve is on the verge of completing its advance to the living room with their announcement of SteamOS, the Steam Machines, and the Steam Controller, a strange gamepad/keyboard-mouse substitute hybrid that nobody except those that've actually used it really knows how it works.
But let's address these plot points in order.
Valve's made big claims- whether they realize it or not, that bought our expectations to match.
SteamOS is a Linux-based operating system that will rotate around Steam in some manner. That's all we really know about it at this point- Valve has yet to release this "specialized gaming distribution", and for all we know it could turn out to be a disaster. Like many other PC Gamers, I game primarily on Windows- but I've used Linux before, a Debian-based Distro called Linux Mint. I enjoyed the operating system wholly- after the initial setup and toying with the Bash Command Terminal, I was using an operating system that I truly enjoyed for the first time- but the lack of support for my favorite programs, such as Skype, and the sad state of WINE, PlayOnLinux and my own computer at the time forced me to stay on Windows 7 more than I would've liked to.
However, the loudest critics of Linux tend to be, as you may have guessed, people who don't actually use it. In fact, because of my disappointment with Mint, I was initially extremely skeptical about Valve's ability to do much of anything with the platform.
And that's where we're wrong. OpenGL is less resource-intensive and just as graphically capable as DirectX, and now console gaming is adopting the x86 architecture officially, with six of these consoles eight cores being devoted wholly to gaming. The consoles will be underpowered in no time- they already kind of are, but hardware optimizations will do incredible things with them, and for the first time, PC Gamers finally benefit from these as well, since these console games are finally being built for PC and then ported and optimized to consoles, rather than the other way around.
Even without Valve, WINE and PlayOnLinux have made significant advances in terms of their capabilities- yeah, you can't max out Crysis yet, but in some cases, you can run it. These advancements are without Valve's touting of a new Linux OS for people to crowd behind, and with the support of Nvidia and Valve's publishing partners, you're going to be seeing more purely for the Linux kernel and OpenGL itself. The momentous progress that has been made on Linux has been credited to two parties: the graphics vendors, AMD and Nvidia, and, more importantly, the developers that line the open source community. In the latter's case, these people aren't being paid for their work. Optimization and development on Linux will become much stronger and much more widespread if Valve makes a strong showing with SteamOS- and the people that'll advance that are both the open-source community and the programmers at various dev companies.
Linux is a viable gaming platform if publishers and developers buy into it. Valve's on some dangerous proving grounds here, and they'll need a lot more than their decade-old Source engine to pull it off.
Fortunately, that's what their new engine- which I think will be called Src3, since Source is actually the second Valve engine, the first being GoldSrc- will be for, and if they're capable of debuting this console-PC hybrid with, say some threequels and a new engine, they'll be making a strong showing for Linux, their Steam Machines, and, ultimately, the expansion of Steam.
However, PC gaming has long fallen victim to the difficulty of supporting hundreds of thousands of different configurations of graphics cards, processors, and memory amounts. Optimization on the level of a console for such a fragmented hardware market is basically impossible, but graphics drivers for modern video card series helps shrink the gap.
Even if Valve is capable of somehow changing the face of PC gaming (again), how on Earth could they repeat that task with Steam Machines, of various configurations, from various manufacturers?
Why, they're all from the same manufacturer. All the graphics cards are currently being supported by Nvidia, and all the CPUs are current-gen Haswell processors from Intel.
Valve has said in the past that these machines are going to come in three tiers- I'm paraphrasing, but they're basically Streaming, Gaming, and Dominating.Pardon the nerd in that link and let's move on: the Streamboxes are basically going to be cheap little things that existing PC gamers could use to stream their Windows titles from their bedroom to their living room. This brings up the obvious question of latency and compression, though on a decent home network the former shouldn't be a problem. The latter will probably see your games being displayed on your TV at something lower than the native resolution they're running, unless the Steam Machines debut some kind of super-efficient streaming mechanism or image upscaling. The other two tiers are basically just gaming PCs, and if SteamOS proves unsatisfactory, you could always install Windows or change your hardware.
DToid recently made some builds based on these specs, in case you want to buy those builds or estimate the final prices based on them. However, with all due respect, that article is extremely error prone. Not a single proposed build in it works- here's mine. I have nothing but love for DToid, and that's the reason why I made working builds that abide by Valve's specs- because I don't want people buying incompatible hardware or thinking the real Steam Machines are going to be hella expensive.
That aside, let's continue to the manufacturers.
If the manufacturers have to abide by Valve's baseline, it's likely that the Steam Machines will all be required to be touting 16GB of DDR3-1600 RAM, a GTX 600/700 series graphics card, and a Haswell processor. Graphics drivers for the GTX 700 series benefit the entire line of cards, in addition to the 600-series predecessors. Touting an i3, an i5 or i7 with 16 Gigs of usable RAM in all configurations means there is no hardware fragmentation.
Software fragmentation, then! Android faces severe hardware and software fragmentation! You can't beat one and still beat the other!
Android is fragmented because it's an open source project that the hundreds of different phone manufacturers can tweak as they please, while the phone carriers can delay the latest Android updates for each of these phones indefinitely. It's an open platform- and, personally, I love it- but hardware and software fragmentation plagues the consumer and the dev community alike in that situation.
In Steam's case, however, the client itself is constantly updated. In SteamOS' case, it'll likely be updated in the same manner that Windows Updates, Linux system updates or even console updates already work- by connecting to the internet and downloading the latest fixes and additions to the operating system.
This means that, a year into buying a Steam Machine, updates for your operating system won't mysteriously disappear. SteamOS doesn't face the same troubles that Android does- in fact, SteamOS and the Steam Machine demonstrate something thought impossible for PC gaming- a potential end to hardware and software fragmentation.
Sure, you'll have different tiers of effectiveness. Sure, you'll probably have to update once every four years. I don't doubt that. The weakest possible build of Valve's prototypes is a rough equivalent to the PS4, but even that will be quickly overtaken by the PS4's optimization capabilities.
No. The developers, especially if they get behind OpenGL and the Linux kernel, don't have to worry about that at all. OpenGL's cross-platform, too- even Windows gamers could see big benefits from this.
Finally, let's talk about our googley-eyed friend: the Steam Controller.
The dual-trackpadded elephant in the room.
What the fuck is that thing? What? WHAT?
It's primarily a keyboard/mouse substitute- but, according to Team Meat's writeup on the controller, which I linked to earlier in the article, there's also more to it than meets the eye. There's four triggers and two buttons on the back of the controller, the equivalent of dual analogs on the front, a touchscreen offering a theoretically unlimited amount of buttons in the middle, but at least two (three, if you count pressing the screen itself) at a time, and then four buttons around that touchscreen. But wait- according to Team Meat's write-up, the trackpads can be configured to use as...face buttons and a D-pad?
Let's assume the dual trackpads are somehow perfectly suitable for analog substitutes- maybe even better. I'm gonna bet on Valve here and hope I don't look like an idiot next year. If we assume that, then this controller has enough potential button configurations to serve the purposes of just about any PC game, RTS, FPS or otherwise.
But gamepad enthusiasts- myself included- know for a fact that games like, say, Arkham City play like shit on a keyboard and mouse, and they probably wouldn't be the most comfortable with that kind of control scheme on this controller, either.
If this controller can act as a 360 controller substitute, it may offer a solution to that problem as well. You know those buttons on the back, on each of the handles?
The 360 doesn't have an equivalent to those.
You're never able to use an analog stick and a face button/D-pad configuration on the same side simultaneously. You don't have two thumbs on each hand to do that with, though gamers that've played on the PSP and have had to use the D-pad as camera control can definitely vouch for how uncomfortable that would be.
What if, normally, the trackpads could serve as analog sticks, and if you decide to hold down that button in the back, they could switch to serving as normal buttons? Or, if the touch input is seperate from the five button inputs available on each trackpad...you could be using analog movement one moment and then pressing a particular point of your trackpad like it's a D-pad the next.
There's a lot of ifs, ands or buts in this article, but I don't doubt Valve and I don't think you should, either. Historically, that doesn't turn out very well. I'm sure there's plenty of people who wish they could've tapped into the PC gaming platform the way Valve did. (No, we're not talking about Origin.)
The point is, I believe SteamOS will prove itself a worthy gaming platform, that the Steam Machines various configurations will serve as both a unified architecture for developers to work for and a cost-effective route for PC gaming no matter the budget of the buyer, and that the Steam Controller will actually not be a complete and utter abomination.
Let me preface this by saying I have a ton of respect for Destructoid, its community, and all its editors. However, everyone makes mistakes, and the article I'm responding to had rather egregious ones- including part lists that were both overpriced and literally wouldn't work with each other- so I decided to come and make some correct versions that abide by Valve's specs.
As a commenter helpfully pointed out, the power supplies for these builds are, in fact, capable- recommended power supplies for graphics cards and CPUs are intentionally more than they actually need, for the sake of stability and thermals, something that Valve, no doubt, has considered.
In addition, don't consider these builds representative of what the Steam Machines are really going to be like- we don't even know if Valve is going to manufacture them themselves yet, and the baseline we're working off of are tiers that are firmly mid-to-high tier gaming PCs. These aren't streaming boxes. Those will be much cheaper, I assure you.
The lowest tier in this list is just about toe-to-toe with the PS4s current capabilities, but that system will be heavily optimized for this next cycle- for extended longevity, you should probably invest in the Mid or High Tier "Steam Machine" from this list or Valve's official releases.
Note For Potential Builders: This build does not include a CD/DVD drive, so you'll either want to buy one of those or install your preferred operating system from USB.
I'm not going to conflict this claim- he's the dev, not me. I don't know how much money and time and resources it takes to make a modern AAA title, much less something on the scale of PS4/Nextbox/PC. I do consider the Wii U a next-generation console, but it's likely going to face downscaled resolutions and graphics compared to its competitors. That, however, is a subject for another time.
The comments for this article have quickly spiraled into a debate, some people all for the idea and some strongly, strongly against it. It's a good thing to note that episodic development has, well, been done before: look at a good amount of independently-developed games, for instance. A set of more mainstream examples could be found in The Walking Dead and Half-Life 2- and that's a perfect place to start in this discussion.
I think you know what's coming.
The pros of episodic development are obvious- publishers get a monetary incentive to stick around, developers get important feedback, and us, the gamers, get good-sized bites of the game.
The Walking Dead quickly found critical acclaim, finding the soft spot in old-fashioned point-and-click adventure-oriented gamers and new fans drawn in by the universe of the Walking Dead. It took an already popular concept and "gamified" it perfectly- the player's choices play a huge factor into the story while still maintaining its identity as a game, instead of, shall we say, an emotional outlet.
This image, uncompressed, contains exactly 244000 emotions. If you think I'm above flogging this dead horse, you're talking to the wrong guy.
Half-Life 2 and its episodic sequels were widely loved, both as technology demonstrations (Steam and the Source Engine, represent) and as wonderful games in their own right, fusing first-person shooter, puzzle and adventure into a cinematic tale told from the eyes of a completely silent protagonist with a frightening penchant for killing things with crowbars and just stone-cold not giving a fuck when encountered with danger.
However, that's where we're encountered with a problem. It's time to ask the question that provokes devoted fanatics and desperate developers alike- Where is Episode Three?
This isn't the blog post to answer that question, though. This is the blog post about why that question was asked to begin with, and why it's a question that should be paid attention to. With episodic development, what happens when the devs hit a standstill, or funding stops? This is "normal" episodic development- what about Mega Man Legends 3, which, as this commenter so helpfully pointed out, never saw a full release even though an episodic prologue had been planned?
Here's the thing about that, though. Half-Life, Mega Man? Those are best sellers. Those franchises bring in a crazy amount of money because they're fucking established intellectual properties.
In the former's case, the developers can't figure out what to do from where they left off, and in the latter's case, the publisher axed things because they thought a portable game based on an established franchise wouldn't make them enough cash.
Now, think of indie hits like Braid (for the record, Jonathan Blow can blow me) and cult hits like Killer7. For these games, what makes you check them out? Impulse buys during severe discount on Steam sales? A lucky happen-by in a bargain bin? Insane amounts of praise from critics, or a single friend's recommendation?
The thing about these games is that there's not much of an incentive for most gamers to even try them out, much less throw their money at them unprovoked. Who wants to invest in an episodic prologue for a game they may not even like? Why not stick with something familiar, like Call of Duty or Uncharted?
Every gamer wants to say that they love the underdog, that they support the little guy through thick and thin. Damn those big publishers, killing our favorite franchises and producing bland sequel after bland sequel!
Episodic development could help in many ways, but it can go horribly, horribly wrong just as easily. Hell, established franchises that sell like hotcakes still get the ax from big publishers- if not enough people try out and like prologue demos or episode ones, what gives the publishers incentive to back it up and what gives the developers incentive to keep pressing forward with the game?
Cult hits like Killer7 wouldn't survive in this kind of arena. Indie games and Triple-A could see some serious damage themselves.
Done right, episodic development can be a wonderful, wonderful thing- but in today's industry and in the future, I don't see it as a viable option.
Don't get me wrong, though, Kojima. I love you.
I want your Naked Snake in my Ground Zero all night long.