Project: PC Upgrade – Final Results

The day has arrived! After almost a decade I’ve finally built a new PC. In my last post on the subject, I discussed my options; would I stick with an Intel processor or would I venture off and try one of AMD’s new Ryzen CPUs? Would I stay a loyal Nvidia user or jump ship to ATI? Well, the time to reveal my decision is here….

After doing a lot of research, I decided to ultimately stick with Intel. Despite the whole Spectre/Meltdown debacle, the latest generation of Intel chips still seemed to be the way to go. Despite having a larger core and thread count, the Ryzen 7 still comes up short in terms of most performance benchmarks. The only exception to that seems to be with workstation-style tasks. But for day-to-day use and gaming, Intel is still the king.

Following my personal rule of “build for longevity”, I did decide to go with Intel’s new Coffee Lake chip. In fact, I ultimately decided on the i7  8700k. At the time of this writing, this is currently the fastest Intel CPU on the market. Despite being the “latest and greatest”, this wasn’t an easy choice. The 8700k is famous for running pretty hot. So if I decided to experiment with overclocking (something I don’t usually do), heat issues could potentially be a factor. With this in mind, I decided to spend a little extra and go with a high quality cooling tower from Noctua instead of sticking with a stock Intel fan.

Noctua fans are world renown for their quality and durability. Plus, they are quiet as a mouse. I know many people would have considered going with a liquid cooling solution. But again, I don’t typically overclock. I build my PCs for longevity and I’d rather get my power by purchasing top of line products rather than pushing more performance out of a chip than is expected. Of course, that being said, I built my entire system with cooling and airflow in mind, so I may experiment with some very mild overclocking in the future. By my calculations, I should easily be able to get about 20% better performance with just some minor tweaks that shouldn’t result in that much more heat.  We will see.

For a mainboard, I went with the ASUS Prime Z370-A. Unlike their “ROG” boards, the “Prime” line from ASUS are geared towards middle of the road users. It features all of the customizability options without some of the extra flashiness. Option-wise, it contains all the slots and ports that I needed for my purposes, and still offered enough options for future upgrades.

For storage, I did end up finally going SSD. I purchased a small Western Digital Blue 500GB SSD for a boot drive.  I stuck with a hybrid SSD/HD for a secondary drive instead of going full SSD for storage. I tend to keep a large music library and I also like to have a lot of room for gaming, so going full SSD is just not cost effective for me at this time.

I ended up keeping my existing Sound Blaster Z card in this rig. Since I actually do a lot with audio production from time to time, I prefer to use a real soundcard to on-board sound. But I couldn’t see enough in Creative’s new Sound BlasterX AE-5 card to make me consider an upgrade. The Sound Blaster Z is still plenty for me.

I also ended up retaining my old Corsair CX750 Power supply. This thing is a medusa of cables, however. So I seriously considered going with a new modular PSU. But in the end, I was able to route and tuck away any excess, so cable mess wasn’t an issue. This is an important part of system building that people then to overlook. Proper airflow in a gaming PC cannot be dismissed. When building a PC, I always make sure to route wires and cables behind the back panel and secure them with cable ties.  Any unused wires are also secured and kept out of the way.

To ensure optimum airflow in a PC, you also have to make sure you have the right case. For me, I decided to go with the Corsair Carbide Alpha. This chassis had plenty of room for my needs, it also features two front intake fans and one rear exhaust fan. The intake fans feature a three-way speed switch on the front of the case. – Now, I know some would admonish me for this set-up considering I dropped a big honking CPU cooling tower right in the middle of airflow lane. But surprisingly, this does not interfere with the case’s ability to “breathe”. The Carbide Alpha features venting on the back card panels as well as the ceiling of the case. The air circulation is not impeded by the large heatsink/fan in any way.

The new case design did mean having to finally let go of my internal DVD drive habit. This is something I’ve been reluctant to do. But I managed to pick up an inexpensive USB DVD Burner and so far it’s worked out better than expected.

For a GPU, I did decide to upgrade my old GTX 960 to a GTX 1060. I know that is only a modest step up, but right now with the ongoing crytpo-currency craze, GPU prices are just too unreasonable. There was no way I could afford a 1080 or one of the AMD Vega 64s at this time. For the curious, my card of choice was the MSI GeForce GTX 1060 6G OCV1.

I also took the opportunity to upgrade some of my peripherals. I ditched my aging Logitech Surround speakers and went with a newer 2.1 speaker system. I chose the Soundblaster Kratos S5. These speakers are a popular for their 24bit USB connectivity. But, considering I use a good quality sound card, I actually connect them directly with an audio cable instead. Soundwise, they are amazing. The volume range and clarity is exceptional. My only complaint lies in the volume knob that’s hard-tied to the speakers. It seems a bit finicky… At its lowest setting, sound can still be heard through the tweeters. It doesn’t seem to have a “true-zero” position.  I often listen to music at low volume when I work, so being able to turn the volume down to nearly nothing is important to me. For now, I’ve had to rely on a combination of using the OS volume controls in conjunction with the speaker knob… not an ideal solution. But it allows me to have a sound-neutral setting on the knob.

Finally, I also decided to take the plunge and jump on the hype-train that is Razer. For years I’ve heard people tout the benefits of Razer mice and keyboards. But, I never really believed they were that different. While shopping for components, I found an old holiday bundle on sale and decided to bite the bullet and give at go. It included a Cynosa Pro keyboard and a Deathadder mouse. I have to admit, that I was shocked at just what a difference these products make. Until now, I was using a cheap Logitech Mouse and Keyboard combo. It switch has been night and day. That being said, the Cynosa pro isn’t a mechanical keyboard like many of Razer’s products, but quality difference is still undenyable. I can’t recommend this simply upgrade enough.

The cherry on top to the whole project was the purchase of a quality office chair with lumbar and neck support. I use my home chair for work and play and I’m often in it 10 hours a day or more. Truth be told, this was probably the most important purchase of the lot.

In the coming weeks I’ll be doing a full “My Tech Picks” post that will elaborate a little further on some other changes to my overall gear and rig. Stay tuned!

Project: PC Upgrade

WARNING: This post is going to be very nerdy and technical.

The time has finally arrived… I am building a new PC.

It’s been a year since I last made a “My Tech Picks” post. But if you follow them, you’ll know that my personal PC is getting a little long in the tooth. In fact, I built it back in 2010.  Over time, I’ve made a few upgrades here and there to various components. (Video card, hard drive, monitor, etc). But I’ve been rocking the same core system for the last eight years. A few months ago, I went to purchase the latest Wolfenstein game on Steam and I noticed that my PC didn’t meet the minimum requirements to run the game… It’s time for an upgrade.

My current CPU is an older  Intel Core i7 950.  This was one of the first generation Core i7 processors (AKA: Nehalem). Today, the Core is still Intel’s main product, but we are currently in the 8th generation (AKA: Coffee Lake).

I always build my own PCs. When I do so, I build them for longevity. So my personal rule of thumb is to go with the best components you can get without having to take a second mortgage on your house. This is especially true when it comes to the CPU and mainboard. Most everything else can be swapped out with relative ease. So I always try to get the very best processor available. Well, a lot has changed in the last eight years since I built my last computer. To so get started, I have a big choice to make: Do I stick with Intel or will I go rogue and snatch up an AMD processor?

Over the years I’ve built a number of PCs. I tend to prefer Intel processors since they usually outperform whatever AMD is offering at the time. In fact, of the eight PCs I’ve built for myself, only two of them have ever contained AMD chips. To be honest, Intel usually outperforms AMD in nearly every benchmark. But, AMD typically offers their CPUs at a much cheaper price.

Today, things are very different. Both Intel and AMD’s latest CPUs are priced about the same. Also, this time around, AMD’s Ryzen 7 processor boasts some serious tech-specs that put the current Core i7 to shame (at least on paper).  The latest Ryzen 7 1800x features 8 cores and 16 threads versus Intel’s  6 cores and 12 threads. But, Intel still takes the lead in clock speed. Then, there’s the whole Spectre/Meltdown controversy to consider… Intel is susceptible to both and AMD users only have to worry about one.

When it comes to graphics, I almost always use Nvidia products. I’ve owned a few ATI cards over the years, but I’ve generally been dissatisfied with them. ATI cards almost always tout better specs, but they tend to fall short when it comes to their driver performance. But, things are different this time around. ATI’s latest card the Vega 64 is a BEAST. It delivers top of the line technology at a mid-grade price point. Not to mention, my current monitor supports Freesync technology. This is a big plus if I own an ATI card. Of course, the biggest problem is actually getting my hands on one. The Vega 64 cards are supposed to retail for $500. But due to the crypto-mining craze, they are literally sold out worldwide. The only way to get your hands on one is to dish out over $1,000 to a reseller and even then, they are still nearly impossible to find.

This problem isn’t isolated to just ATI cards either. Almost any GPU is going to come with an inflated price at the moment. And there’s really no end in sight for the shortage. Some experts say prices should normalize in the fall of 2018, while other predict it might go on for two-three years. Literally speaking, this is the worst time in history to try to build a gaming PC… But I won’t let that stop me. Worst case scenario, I could always keep my Geforce GTX 960 and wait for things to settle down. But, I think I can find a few mid-grade cards at an affordable price that would still be an upgrade over my current setup.

I plan to build within the next couple of weeks. So which will I choose? Intel or AMD?  Nvidia or ATI?

I’ll be making an announcement on the site later this month.

 

Remembering the Nintendo 64

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Now that things are getting back to normal, I’ve stepped back into my groove and began reviewing games from the late 90s. So far, I’ve played through, and shared my thoughts on a handful of classic Playstation titles. Now, to keep things from getting too stale, I’m going to also go over a number of classic titles for the Nintendo 64 in the comings weeks and months. I plan to mix things up.

I should state that, much like the Playstation, I didn’t own a Nintendo 64 back in it’s heyday. So I missed out on a number of classic titles the first time around. Of course, many of them I’ve since caught up on, but there’s still a few that I’ve never had the pleasure of sitting down with. I look forward to changing that.

The Nintendo 64 is an interesting machine. It was the successor to the ever popular Super Nintendo and as such, sold quite well upon it’s initial release. But unlike Sony’s popular Playstation, Nintendo chose to keep with game cartridges instead of using optical disks. This meant limited amounts of storage in comparison. It wasn’t long before Nintendo sales began to suffer against the Sony giant.

The system also featured an optional memory expansion pack that added additional RAM to the system. However, very few games were built to support this extra memory. The system also featured an optional “Rumble Pack” that could be plugged into the bottom of the controller to allow for vibration. Speaking of the controller, this is often the most praised feature of the system. The controller for the N64 featured a revolutionary design, that always universally lauded by players. Personally, I was never a big fan. So I’m defiantely the odd man out here.

These days, many of the most popular titles from the system are available on both the Wii and Wii U virtual consoles. That is what i’ll be using for my N64 playthroughs.

Going All In: My experiences with the Microsoft/Apple Ecosystems (Part 3)

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After a few weeks of considering my options, I decided that switching back to a windows PC would be the best bet for me. The same power at more than half the cost was simply too tempting. So I sold my iMac and built a new PC from the ground up. For the time, my new PC was quite the beast. In fact, the system I use today is still built around that core investment.

I was relieved to see that Windows 7 was indeed a huge improvement over Vista. All of my audio and driver issues were things of the past, not the mention the OS itself seemed to have a bit more polish and spark to it. I did, however, immediately miss quite a bit about my iMac. The seamless experience and ease-of-use was gone. I found myself spending a little more time “under the hood” with my Windows PC than I liked. But more importantly, I found that my user experience as a whole, was turned upside down. You see, I had spent the last few years submerged almost entirely in the Apple ecosystem.  Mobile Me, iTunes, iPhone… At the center of all of that was my iMac. Sure, I could check my Mac.com email address on the web, and yes, there was a Windows version of iTunes. But upon installing it I immediately noticed how subpar the iTunes experience was on Windows. The whole app was much more sluggish than it was under OS X. I just didn’t feel right.

Then, the fateful day arrived when the unthinkable happened. I dropped my iPhone in a parking lot and shattered the screen. I had to decide at that point, do I get another iPhone or look into another option? Android phones were popular, but received nowhere near the support they have today. Plus, I found I had really grown to dislike a number of Google’s services. So Android was out. It was at this time that I began to consider Microsoft’s new fledging mobile offering: Windows Phone 7. Windows Phones were not popular at all. But I was very impressed by what I saw. The mobile OS was simply lovely and intuitive. Yes, it was radically different that iOS or even Android, but that was ok with me. The biggest downside to using a Windows Phone was (and still is) the lack of quality applications available. The basics were all covered (Facebook, Twitter, etc) but some of the more specialized apps simply didn’t and still don’t exist on the platform. Regardless, I decided to go ahead and take the plunge. I switched from iPhone to Windows.

Believe it or not, I fell in love with Microsoft’s mobile platform. I found it to serve my needs very well. Shortly after, Microsoft announced Windows 8 for PCs. This was a new radical version of Windows that looked a lot like my Windows Phone. It seemed MS now had a long term vision to try to bring parity to both their mobile and desktop operating systems. Most of the public shunned Windows 8, but personally, I had no issues with it. By this time, I found that I had fully immersed myself within the Microsoft Ecosystem. In fact, for the most part I still do. I use Outlook mail, Bing, OneDrive, Windows Phone. I’m a loyal customer.

Flash forward a few years to the present. Now Windows 10 is current backbone of Microsoft. Despite what you may read online, I find Windows 10 to be a fine OS. It does NOT spy on you or take control of your PC as some people claim. It’s Windows as it always has been, but just with a bit more polish and modernization. It’s a fantastic operating system. But that praise aside, over the last year or so, it’s become obvious that Microsoft again seems to be grasping at straws when it comes to certain aspects of their business. It’s been a long time since that days of Windows Phone 7, but Microsoft  STILL cannot seem to get developers on board with their mobile division. Windows 10 was supposed to change this. The Universal Application feature of Windows 10 meant that an application could run on any Windows 10 device anywhere. Be it a PC, Tablet or Mobile Phone. That has so far, not panned out as promised. Also, Microsoft recently reneged on their promise of unlimited online Storage via OneDrive for certain users. (They did this AFTER an aggressive campaign where they practically begged customers to upload their entire MP3 libraries to the service for easy streaming). To put the icing on the cake, their new music application “Groove” is a terrible mess. Despite receiving constant updates, I do not find it to be a piece of software I can use in my day to day life. I am a BIG music fan. I have a digital music library of almost two-hundred gigabytes. Groove does not feature basic tag editing features, or other services offered by a number of other music management applications. In fact, Groove feels like incomplete software. It’s great on my mobile phone for playback. But as far as a desktop app, it lacks severely.

So where does that leave me? I tend to be brand loyalist. I drink Coke, not Pepsi. I wear Levis, not Arizona. But… I like both Microsoft and Apple – yet, I have problems with both. At the moment, I’m pretty much “all in” with Microsoft. I use their services, OS and hardware. But I have to admit, as far as mobile goes, the app gap is starting to hit hard. There’s a ton of great applications I would love to use that are simply NOT available on the Windows mobile platform. I’ve resisted it for so long, but it’s starting to become a real issue. Mobile banking on my phone? Nope. The latest mobile game, authenticator, or productivity app? Nope. So you might say to yourself, “Just switch.” But here’s the problem… I’m weird. If I exchanged my Windows Phone for an iPhone, I’d then get the urge to move away from Windows entirely. Because, I’m just the kind of guy that likes everything to match and play well together. I know this because a few months back it happened…

My wife’s cell contract came due and she decided to buy a new iPhone 6. While we were at the store, I decided on a whim: ME TOO! So I bought one for myself. I liked the phone fine, but when I got home I immediately felt resentment at having to install the sluggish Windows-version of iTunes. It gnawed at me to the point where days later, I marched into the Apple store and came home with a $3,000 iMac. I was back in Apple land, baby! But, then it hit me just how insane the whole scenario was. Sure, at the time, I was able to afford these luxuries, but were they REALLY necessary? Plus, while I found myself enjoying all of the things I really liked about Apple again, this time I found that I actually missed a bunch of things I’d grown to like about Windows 10! Before it was too late, I took advantage of Apple’s return policy and took both the iMac and iPhone back. No harm done in the long-run. But I realized just then how effective this whole “ecosystem” strategy can be. Let me break it down for a normal person: Perhaps you’re an iPhone user, and you’re thinking about switching to Android. Easy enough right, but wait… all your contacts and online photo albums are backed up using iCloud. What a pain to switch all that! They’ve got their claws in you…

So as it stands now, I’m still a Windows user. I legitimately like and enjoy most of Microsoft’s products, but I’m worried about their strategy. At this point, I guess you could say I’m putting Microsoft on notice. I’m going to lay low for the remainder of the 2016 to see how their plans for universal apps and enhancements to their existing products go. A year should be sufficient time for them to show me, as a consumer, that they have a solid plan to bring excitement back to their platform. If not, I may have to seriously assess my tendency to stay true to their brand. Time will tell. MS has some really great products out there these days. The Surface line of tablets is FANTASTIC and blows away the iPad in my opinion. The Microsoft Band is probably, functionally the best fitness tracker/smart watch on the market. What’s killing them is mobile. No one cares about Windows Phone and a result, no one is developing for it. Windows 10 could be the key. In theory, any native Windows 10 app will also work on mobile. So both Windows10 desktop and mobile can benefit from this interoperability. But so far… even that is stagnant.  They have to make this Universal Application system desirable to developers. But I’m not sure how they can effectively do that. Their bridging technologies, so far, don’t seem to be garnering much interest. Time will tell. Lots of us are watching,

 

Going All In: My experiences with the Microsoft/Apple Ecosystems (Part 1)

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This is a post I’ve wanted to write for a long time, but I was never quite able to figure out how to dive in the to the topic. So, I finally just decided to write it and put it out there, for what it’s worth. I know this blog focuses largely on gaming, but geek-culture as a whole has always been an underlying topic as well. That point considered, what’s more geeky than computers? More specifically, computer operating systems. I want to take a moment to talk about that very thing, despite the dangers it might bring.

You see, in the world of geeks, your operating system of choice is a sacred thing. I’ve known fellow techies who are more loyal to their OS than they were to their own religion. Which I find to be both understandable and completely absurd at the same time. I know that sounds contradictory, so allow me a moment to explain. Over the years, I’ve been a user of both Microsoft Windows and Apple products. I am intimately familiar with both. So when I listen to these arguments, I truly see both sides. Allow me to elaborate…

My first experience with a personal computer was being sat down in front of the original Macintosh when I was a young child. By today’s standards, the old black and white Mac is a crude, ancient device. But to me, even as a novice child, I found it to be quite intuitive. I learned to like it quite a bit. A few years later, when my parents purchased their first home computer, they elected not to go the Apple route, but instead they purchased a PC. (Or as we called them back then, an IBM-compatible). This was my first experience with MS-DOS and Windows.

At this time, PCs were on the rise and Apple machines were slowly fading into the background. The entire industry was focused on PCs. As a result, I too became centered on the PC side of things. Sure, Apple still had a loyal fanbase, but Microsoft was the obvious winner in the current personal-computer battlefield. I was just starting to cut my teeth on Windows 3.1, when MS launched Windows 95. But it wasn’t long before I too, became a seasoned 95 user. It was during this era that I decided for the first time that I was a “PC Guy”. I mean, why use Apple? A PC was able to do anything that an Apple computer could do, and often at half the cost. Not to mention, all the new games and software were being developed for PC. Apple was often left in the dust.

It was a really interesting time. The internet was just starting to worm its way on to the radar of the general public. You had Windows as your PC backbone, and on top of it you could run whatever software you liked best. Netscape for websites, Eudora Pro for email, etc. Microsoft won because so many software developers were creating applications that were compatible, or better yet, exclusive to Windows. It was perfect. But then, something happened… Microsoft got greedy.

With the release of Windows 98, MS integrated their new browser, Internet Explorer 4, into the Windows operating system itself. The web browser actually became the computer browser. Seriously. You would browse the contents of your hard-drive from IE. Microsoft claimed this was done to better the user experience, but everyone knew it was simply their way of defaulting users into using their web browser instead of the ever-popular Netscape Navigator. And the secret is, it worked. Over time, Netscape’s usage fell and was replaced by IE. Heck, even I switched from Netscape to IE.  It was a tactic that would later find Microsoft at the center of a large anti-trust case.

Despite this underhanded move, I remained a loyal MS user for the most part. I used Windows and Office exclusively. And as the years went by, I remained loyal to Internet Explorer, even when others were venturing off to new browsers like Mozilla Firefox. I stuck by MS all the way from Windows 98 up the release of Windows Vista. But over that time, even thought I didn’t want to admit it, I saw the company that I loved lose sight of what it once was. Even though MS was still the top dog, Apple had began to emerge from the shadows and creep back on to the scene. The release of the new iMac and OS X operating system had given Apple a fresh coat of polish. Their new iPod product was literally changing the way people enjoyed music… It was a reminder that Apple was down, but not out.

After the anti-trust case, MS lost quite a bit of their mojo. Apple was on the rise now, bigger than ever. In light of Apple’s surging popularity,  other players starting making waves on the scene as well. Google had evolved past just being a search engine. They were now offering web-services like Gmail and advertising. Microsoft began scrambling like crazy to “rebrand” a number of their properties. Hotmail became “Passport”, then “Windows Live Mail”. (Then Hotmail again, and eventually was changed yet again to Outlook). It seemed like Microsoft was trying anything, throwing whatever they could at the wall to see what would stick and what wouldn’t.

When Windows Vista was released, I was quick to adopt it as my operating system of choice. But that’s when I ran into a problem. At the time, I was very focused on audio. I used to record and edit music using my PC on a regular basis. Something changed with Windows Vista  in regards to their DirectSound API, and it directly interfered with nearly every audio program I was using. As a result, I was forced to make a choice, go back to Windows XP, or look for an alternative. At this point in my life, I was now an adult with a busy schedule. I no longer had the time to spend on tinkering with settings, tweaking drivers, like I did when I was a young hobbyist. I needed something that worked, and I needed it now.  That’s when I turned my attention to Apple for the first time. I was lured by their whole “It Just Works” ideology. So, despite years of being a Microsoft loyalist, in 2007 I drove down to the Apple Store and purchases a nice shiny iMac.

To be continued….

Announcement: The New 3DS

It’s PAX time. One of the geekiest tech conventions around, and this week Nintendo dropped a bombshell with the announcement of a revamped 3DS. The big news here is not a simple redesign, but what appears to actually be a whole new model.

Let’s start off easy, the new model features better battery life, a faster processor and an enhanced screen. The screen touts better 3D performance and now auto adjusts the brightness according to the lighting in the room. There’s also a new micro CD card slot on the back side of the device.
The biggest change to take note of here is the new “C-Stick” control. This is a new control stick, that seems to be pretty much designed for camera controls. There’s also a new set of “z” shoulder buttons. All of these new controls remind me a great deal of the old GameCube controller. Also, the New 3DS will come with build-in NFC for use with the upcoming Amiibo accessories.  (Think Skylanders – but for Wii U and 3DS).

The New 3DS also allows for changeable custom shells. This is a cute little feature that will make is easy to customize the look of your New 3Ds. Interestingly enough, a future firmware update will also add background themes to the software UI. I expect to see themes and shells that go hand in hand.

So far, the New 3DS has only been confirmed for Japan. But there’s really no doubt that it will makes its way to the US. So the big question here is; is this just a newer model or is it REALLY a whole new system. I tend to feel the latter. While a boost in power, and a redesigned screen can certainly suggest a simple upgrade, the new controls really make this feel like something brand new.

A few of the new games announced already hint that a NEW 3DS will be required. For example, a port of Xenoblade Chronicles, and newly announced Final Fantasy game.

There’s a lot of moaning on the new about yet ANOTHER flavor of the 3DS. But personally, I’m not complaining. I feel that the time is right for an upgrade, and assuming that this system retains the backwards compatibility with DS carts, the price price-point of $150-$200 feels about right.

I plan to pick on up shortly after release.

Remembering the Playstation

From the 80’s to the early 90’s, Nintendo was the undisputed king of the home console market. The NES and Super NES were household names, but times were changing fast. In order to keep up with new technology, rumor has it that Nintendo decided to partner with Sony on a joint project that would add CD-ROM  functionality to the Super Nintendo. For whatever reason, Nintendo bailed. Instead of cutting their losses in R&D, Sony decided to take the technology and develop their own system. Thus, the Sony PlayStation was born. Almost right away, developers jumped on board. Even many of Nintendo’s prized partners, Capcom, SquareSoft, and Konami began to develop for the PlayStation, leaving the SNES in the dust. Times were changing.

As I’ve mentioned before on this site, there was a span of time in the mid to late 90’s that I virtually ignored home console games. The PlayStation era was such a time. As a result, I missed out on a number of great games. Over the years, I’ve caught up on a few, but there’s still quite a number of legendary titles that slipped through my fingers.  Naturally, I’ve played the Final Fantasy games, and I’ve already posted reviews for the Castlevania  titles on the blog. But there are so many more.

In the coming months I’ll be playing and reviewing a number of games from this era. Some of them I’ve played in the years after their release, others I managed to miss altogether. So unlike all the other “retro reviews” I’ve posted, we’re reaching a phase on this blog where I’ll be experiencing some truly legendary games for the first time. Please look forward to it!

Xbox One – Revealed

Just a few days ago, Microsoft revealed the successor to the popular Xbox 360 console. The Xbox One. As a result, have now been introduced to all three of the “next-gen” consoles.

The Xbox One in many ways is a standard upgrade. More processing power, better graphics capability. The software is a 64-bit Windows 8 based OS. The Kinect is now built in to the base package and features voice commands that can control the console. Additionally, the system now features Blu-Ray support instead of standard DVDs.

Microsoft seems to pushing this system as more of an entertainment center than a game console. It will feature a television pass-thru that allows interaction with standard Television programming. This is also something that Nintendo has done with the Wii U.

I watched the keynote, and personally, much like the PS4 reveal, I didn’t see anything that floored me. Of course we still have E3 to receive more info on both products, but so far I don’t see any clear breakaway winner between the two. In fact, I don’t see anything in particular that makes me want to run out and grab either one, to be honest.

This is going to be a situation of “time will tell”. The Xbox doesn’t typically have any exclusive titles (beyond Halo). And if the Playstation does acquire some exclusive releases, Microsoft might be in for a bad time.

We’ll have to see how this all plays out in the coming months.

Dawn of the Handhelds

Somewhere between the glory days of the NES and the introduction of the SNES, Nintendo brought us the now legendary Game Boy. I was living in Japan when this little brick of happiness was released and I remember being in complete awe of it. It was not the most attractive device. A grey hunky of textured plastic with a puke-green screen that somehow formed grey/black pixels into graphics. But it played games. Damn good ones too.

Back then, the Game Boy came with a free copy of Tetris, the now-classic puzzle game with a soundtrack and proved that even beeps and bloops could be catchy and infectious to anyone within earshot.

As if an addictive puzzle game was not enough, it came with multiplayer capabilities. Yes, you would link two Game Boys together with a cable and ram bricks on to your best friend’s screen at the worse possible moment. It was amazing and the beginning of a whole new era for gamers.

As the system matured, so did the games. Eventually, many of these early portable titles even rivaled classic home console games in complexity and fun. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be taking a look back at the Game Boy titles that I loved as a kid, and even checking out a few of those that I may have missed the first time around. Previously, I touched on two of the Castlevania titles when I had my Castlevania playthrough back in the fall, so if you’re curious about my thoughts on those, please feel free to look back and enjoy.

 

Playstation 4 Announcement

So just the other day Sony had a big press conference to announce the upcoming release of the Playstation 4. While we’ve seen no picture of the console itself, several details including an image or two of the controller have been presented.

Based on the picture alone, the controller hasn’t changed a whole lot. The biggest difference appears to be a small touch pad in the center of the device. Exactly what functions this touchpad can perform are still unclear, but I worry that this may be a bit gimmicky. The start and select buttons are gone, replaced by and Options and Share button. The option button seems like a good idea, it’s sort of an all-in-one menu button. Press it and you’re brought to an options menu in the PS4 OS. I’ve long felt that the days of needing a “start” and “select” have been long gone, so this is a welcome change. The Share button is an obvious clue that the PS4 is going to linked in to social media. In fact, Sony has stated that this connectivity is a core focus of the device.

Some other really good tidbits about the PS4: Sony claims the device will have a near instantaneous power on and off time. They state that it will be able to download games in the background regardless of what else is going on, and will even have network functionality when turned off. This is a good thing for patches, etc.

The system specs and abilities seem to be on par with what one might expect for a next-gen console. But here’s where we get to the part that worries me. There will be no hardware backwards compatibility. That’s right, the PS4 cannot read discs from any previous generation console. Instead, Sony is pushing something they call “Cloud Play”. This is essentially a streaming service. Let’s say you want to play a PS2 era game. You will have to “purchase” the game online. The game is not downloaded or installed on your PS4, instead, the game is hosted on a server somewhere at Sony and you interact with the server online. Your button presses are sent over the internet, performed at Sony and a video stream of the game is sent back to your home. So basically, you’re playing a game remotely. If this works, I think could be a brilliant solution. However, I feel there is a lot of potential for lag and other issues that could really degrade the performance. Of course, only time will tell if this is going to work as expected. Of course another downside to this is that all those PS1, 2 and 3 discs you have are worthless if you want to play on the PS4.

For me, I’m not really all that excited about the announcement. As you know, I have a first generation PS3 (fully backwards compatible) and I recently had to do a home refurbish. I worry that my existing console may be on its last legs, but I don’t see myself rushing out on day one to get a shiny new PS4. Instead, I’m going to sit back and let the media and other gamers pick it apart. I’m going to see what the verdict is on the cloud gaming and then make my decision.

Also, these days many developers are starting to really embrace cross-platform gaming. Final Fantasy XIII was released on both PS3 and Xbox360. The days of PS Exclusive titles seems to be waning. So it may even be safe to say that unless the PS4 has some really tempting exclusives, I may consider skipping it altogether. Time will tell.