Thursday, January 31, 2013

Permadeath Pokémon and Flexible Systems

Pokeball Art by BionicleGahlok via Deviant Art
My latest PopMatters article is now live: Permadeath Pokémon and Flexible Systems.

You may have recently read my Nuzlocke Challenge, Day 1 experience. The death total has increased to four since I wrote that piece, and everyone was painful. I still have my most loyal group though, so I take pleasure in knowing my pokémon skills are not complete garbage. Meanwhile, I have also been re-reading Donella Meadow's book Thinking in Systems - which is always an enriching experience. The result is this article about the design of flexible systems.

What I mean by flexibility, in this case, is the way game systems can adapt to player input when input can go so far as creating their very own rules. As I see it, if a game community is able to tweak their experience freely and create their own meaning within the system without fundamentally breaking the system in some way, then that is the sign of an incredibly healthy work.

There are a lot of ways to create a non-rigid system. The two that I think are most significant for user-created experiences are readability and fungibility. Simply put, players need to be able to understand the components of a system and be able to determine their relatively value freely. The easier is to re-appropriate game components the better. I defer to the article itself for examples.

I actually want to point you to a relevant article by Jamie Cheng and Kevin Forbes of Klei that appeared on the PA Report this week: Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic rewards in Klei’s latest game: Don’t Starve. Their now abandoned quest system had a negative affect on player behavior. Instead, they came to this conclusion:

"We could no longer simply tell people what to do, but instead, after dozens of playtests and many UI passes, created an interface which gently and neutrally showed them what they could do created an environment where players could enjoy the game exactly as they felt was correct."

This important point here is that creating the space for players to engage with the system in that way is a choice, and a difficult one. Even when players are enjoying a situation of their own design, they still bring their own rules into a thoroughly designed space. Designers can't please everyone, but they can work on making their game systems as flexible and habitable for the ingenuitive players as possible.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

EXP Podcast #209: The Great Escape

Escape from the Mysterious Room
by SCRAP Entertainment
There is a sub-genre of point-and-click adventures with a huge fan-base. Escape the Room puzzles, as the name implies, fill confined spaces with puzzles that hold the secrets of escape. Glyphs might be hidden in couches, parts of a clock could be hidden in a potted plant.

From cars, to closets, to art spaces in Japan town, Escape the Room puzzles create a unique experience by hiding mystery behind the seemingly mundane, all in close proximity. Join this week on the podcast while Scott, myself, and a few guests, explore the design and appreciation of room escape games.

To listen to the show:
- Subscribe to the EXP Podcast via iTunes.
- Find the show on Stitcher.
- Here's the show's stand-alone feed.
- Listen to the podcast in your browser by left-clicking here. Or, right-click and select "save as link" to download the show in MP3 format.
- Subscribe to this podcast and EXP's written content with the RSS link on the right.

Show notes:

- Runtime: 1 hour 7 mins 12 secs
- Submachine Series by Mateusz Skutnik.
- Real Escape Game is produced by SCRAP Entertainment
- Music by The Underscore Orkestra, Kevin MacLeod, and Latché Swing.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

PC Build Debrief

Serious work, serious fashion sense.
A few weeks ago, I announced my intentions to build a new PC. I'm happy to report that I finally followed through and that I am typing this post on the new machine. I hadn't really messed around with PC hardware to this extent since the 1990s, so I thought I'd collect some of my thoughts on the process.

1. Building a PC is still a pain in the ass…

More more precisely, it's a pain in the back. Spending an afternoon hunched over and staring at tiny pins doesn't get any easier as the years go on. Furthermore, delicate parts, vague instructions, and cramped spaces means there is a high potential for disaster when trying to piece everything together. And even when you've assembled everything, there's no guarantee that it will work.

I learned this first hand when I first booted up and was greeted by the sickening absence of a POST beep. I began the painstaking process of trying to isolate the problem; checking all the connections, unplugging components and then trying to boot again, cursing and pleading with whatever deities rule over consumer electronics. Finally, I solved the problem when I plugged the USB keyboard I was using into a different port on the back panel. Why this worked remains a mystery. Maybe it was just a coincidence. I was just happy to get to the tedious process of installing the OS and updating all the various motherboard and video card drivers.

2. …but it's less of a pain in the ass than it has been historically.

Modular power supplies, SATA cables with 90 degree connectors, and cases with built in cable management systems make piecing everything together relatively straightforward. Furthermore, the advent of YouTube and other video sites are great resources for advice and guidance. A simple Google search of a particular part or process usually yields a detailed tutorial of how to properly install, configure, and troubleshoot anything.

3. Most people don't really need to build a high-end, customized PC…

This is more of an observation I kept making throughout the process, but it was hammered home by what I did when I finally got everything up and running. Sure, I messed around with some games, but most of them were things I could have easily played on a computer half as powerful (and half as expensive). As someone who will occasionally want to boot up Crysis just for funsies, I'm an outlier. Even so, thanks (I believe) in large part to the economy and the protracted console cycle, we're living in an age of moderate system requirements. The AAA space still wants to make sure everything runs on a wide variety of hardware and the independent space tends to favor interesting dynamics over photorealistic visuals.

4. …which is why the "Steam Box" is so interesting.

The strongest aspect of the PC platform is its variety, both in terms of distribution and content. Steam has shown us a way to handle DRM and to conduct online commerce. In terms of games, we get everything from Far Cry 3 to Kentucky Route Zero. When it comes to actually buying games, promotional sales, flexible pricing, and gift-giving offer the versatility that should naturally come with digital distribution.

Consoles still have an edge in terms of usability and standardization (although this is becoming less of the case in this brave new world of multiple SKUs and constant software updates). For people that just want to play games and not worry about the litany of hardware and software tasks related to building and maintaining a PC, trading versatility for convenience seems like a good deal. If Valve, or other third party manufacturers, are able to meld the console's ease of use with the PC's diverse content and economic set up, the next five years will be very interesting.

5. Finally, despite all the hassle, it's fun to see this...

6. …turn into this:

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Streaming Memories and 'The Sense of an Ending'

Image from PopMatters
This week at PopMatters, I talk about our memories of games, and how they might change with the proliferation of better record keeping technology.

I use Julian Barnes' novel, The Sense of an Ending to frame the discussion, as it's a book about comparing the documented past to the perceived past. In the book Tony is faced with old letters and journals he and his friends wrote during their college years. Now at retirement age, Tony struggles to reconcile his image of the past and of himself with the image portrayed by others and the historical record. Thanks to the rise and continuing ease of video game record keeping (in the form of game preservation, player data, and streaming options) it's a process that will become increasingly common for players.

You can hear some of these thoughts in the latest podcast, where we talk about what we think the new console cycle will look like. Like I said on the show, I think the biggest change won't necessarily be a raw technological one, but more of a structural shift towards increasingly social gaming experiences. "Social" will continue to be a catch-all word that means everything from multiplayer to Facebook integration, and it's things like the latter example that I see changing the way we interact with games in the coming years.

I'll put in another plug for The Sense of an Ending. Granted, it's characters can be a bit hard to relate to (white, middle-class British people are hardly the most sympathetic figures), but the way its story unfolds impressed me. Instead of a grand conflict with explicit heroes and villains, it's a contained narrative that explores the successes and failures of the main character. It's something that games like Papo & Yo and The Walking Dead do very well. A story doesn't have to be about a galactic war or the chosen hero in order to be dramatic. Framed properly, the private battles of ordinary people like Quico, Lee, and Tony are provocative.

Finally, I'm interested to hear from anyone who has already had a "sense of an ending" moment. For those people who actively revisit old games, track their playtime or achievements, or record their play sessions: how have these documents changed the way you remember your game experiences? If I'm correct about the future, it's a question we'll all be facing very soon.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

EXP Podcast #208: Confronting the Next Console Cycle

Piston's X3i, a potential Steam Box?
Scott and I have had "insider conversations" with one Mr. Businessman, which ultimately proved fruitless. Instead, we have our own conversation about the upcoming console cycle. Where is all the hype for the next release? Is there anything we should be excited for? Let us know what you think the future holds in the comments below.

To listen to the show:

- Subscribe to the EXP Podcast via iTunes
- Find the show on Stitcher
- Here's the show's stand-alone feed
- Listen to the podcast in your browser by left-clicking here. Or, right-click and select "save as link" to download the show in MP3 format.
- Subscribe to this podcast and EXP's written content with the RSS link on the right.

Show notes:

- Runtime: 30 mins 59 secs
- Music by Brad Sucks

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Nuzlocke Challenge, Day 1

Pokémon Black Version 2 arrived in the mail last week. I have never been the biggest Pokémon fan. In fact I have called out the series for being unethical and an agonizingly slow monstrosity that never evolves (get it?). Yet there is a joy to building a team of warriors and friends, something special and worthy of praise. With some optional rules, maybe I could enhance the positive feelings I have toward the game, even if it means creating a more difficult experience. So I made my choice: I would embark on the Nuzlocke Challenge.

Basic Nuzlocke Challenge rules via Bulbapedia

The rules to the Nuzlocke Challenge are simple:
1) If your pokémon faints, it is dead. You must release it from your inventory.
2) You may only catch the first pokémon you encounter in an area. If you fail to catch it, so be it.
3) You must nickname all your pokémon to form a stronger bond with them.

 My mother asked me if I wanted to catch and train pokémon. "No," I said. She asks again, so I reluctantly respond yes. I have decided to play the role of an angsty teenager. I begrudgingly agree to carry a pokedex around with me and briefly consider naming my starter pokémon, Tepig, something insulting, like "porky" or "bacon". I go with Sam instead.

Those bushes are far more foreboding when playing "permadeath Pokémon". Who knows what monstrosity I'll encounter in the tall grass? Maybe it could kill my Tepig in one blow and put a quick end to my adventure! The first pokémon I find and capture is a Patrat. Dammit. It had to be a lame rodent. I name it Rudy. The second pokémon I capture is another Patrat. I name this one Patty. OK, not going well so far. I'm stuck with two over-sized squirrels and a pig.

After a few battles, I have already picked my favorite. Patty can carry her own after all. Rudy, on the other hand, is my third-stringer. Entering the fourth area, I can't wait to replace him with someone more powerful. Then in walks Azurill, a water-type pokémon whose absolute uselessness shows in that terrible frown on its face. Still, who knows, maybe Azurill evolves into something amazing. I decide to name him Bebop and slowly work on leveling him up, Bubble Beam after Bubble Beam.

Sam (Tepig), Rudy and Patty (Patrat), Bebop (Azurill), Maggie (Magnemite)

I find my next true warrior in a Magnemite I appropriately name Maggie. This is my star, someone who can hold their own against the next gym leader. I play smart, leveling up in the bushes, working on my game before facing the next big challenge. Even Bebop is still seeing some action. And then it happens. I leave Bebop in battle when I know I should have pulled him out. An enemy Magnemite fires at him with an electric attack, frying him and his weird blue sack sack with a powerful jolt of energy. In one hit, Bebop has fallen.

 I never wanted you Bebop. But I'm sorry I let you die. I led the weak to war and you paid the ultimate price. Now only four remain. It's time to take this seriously.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty and Morally Engaged Players

Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
My latest PopMatters article is now live: Zero Dark Thirty and Morally Engaged Players

Before you do anything else, I implore you, read Jeff Reichert's article on Reverse Shot, "Desert for the Real." If you miss how critically relevant this article is for game players and critics, then you are missing out on something. Reichert even makes a narrative argument based upon the form, not just the content, of Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty. Even in a medium defined by interactivity, procedural arguments, particularly those that pertain to politics or ethics, are few and far between.

In my article I mention a few outliers. Michael Clarkson, of course, wrote an excellent article on the procedural claims of Far Cry 3, something was thrilled to read after I finally gave up on the game myself. More work that engages with the messages in design can pretty commonly be found in the works collected by Critical Distance. Of course many of the works referenced, including and admittedly my own, explore procedural rhetoric too shallowly, particularly when there are hot-button surface issues to criticize. Sometimes, that's ok too though.

If there is one thing I want to express more clearly that is perhaps less strong in my article, it is this: Game critics (and players) should expand their entertainment horizon and, with no hesitation, participate in the conversations around film, television, and literature. I know we all have busy schedules, but there are conversations happening on a regular basis that, without a doubt, pertain to both gaming culture and society at large.

Pardon yet another tangent, but to give a great example, read this excellent article by Lesley on XOJane: "The Audacity of Lena Dunham, and her Admirable Commitment to Making us Look at her Naked." You don't even have to watch Girls (even though I think you should), to understand the conversation. Lesley isn't just talking about the quality of the show - in fact, that's barely the issue, she is talking about the popular discourse around the show. The often mixed, and downright nasty, reaction to Lena Dunham's nudity in Girls reveals exactly why the nudity is audacious and important! The issues addressed in the article mirror some of the same raised in discussions about Ellie from Borderlands 2. It can also help map out a trajectory for what we want in non-traditional characters and what we might expect from audiences when these characters see release.

The industry isn't wearing diapers any more. We can apply lessons, from across mediums, to both the creation and analysis of video games. If we miss out on the myriad of conversations that are happening across the pop-culture landscape, we risk retreading old ground and making the same mistakes again.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

EXP Podcast #207: Your Favorite Things of 2012!

Image from Flickr user Express Monorail
Remember when we asked you about your favorite things of 2012? Well, you all delivered! This week, we formally give 2012 a stylish send-off by talking with old friends, listening to new voices, and discussing some great reader submissions. We want to give a huge thank you to everyone who contributed by talking with us, sending in an audio clip, or simply dropping us a line via email or in the comments. 2012 may be over, but that doesn't mean it's gone, so feel free to jump into the comments with your favorite things from last year.

- Subscribe to the EXP Podcast via iTunes
- Find the show on Stitcher
- Here's the show's stand-alone feed
- Listen to the podcast in your browser by left-clicking here. Or, right-click and select "save as link" to download the show in MP3 format.
- Subscribe to this podcast and EXP's written content with the RSS link on the right.

Show notes:

- Runtime: 1 hr 40 min 48 sec
- Music by:
- Blue Ducks
- Broke for Free
- Patrick Lee

Extra special thanks to:

- Christian Fratta
- David Carlton
- Gus Mastrapa
- Jacob Clark
- Jeremy Sear
- Kris Ligman
- Mads Kristensen
- Malachi Lakey
- Michael Abbott
- Michael Chadwick
- Mitch Krpata
- Patrick Molloy
- Phillip Wong

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Looking for Licensed Music in Video Games

This post contains spoilers for Red Dead Redemption

If you're still reading after that title pun, congratulations and thank you. Anyway...Ever since playing Spec Ops: The Line I've been thinking about licensed music in games and what it can add to a game.

As I said in our Spec Ops podcast, hearing recognizable songs in the middle of gunplay was probably my favorite part of the game. Here's a video of "Hush" playing during an early encounter:

I recognized the song, but it was completely out of its normal context. Within the game, Walker and his squad mates are also feeling the weird dissonance: psychedelic rock is playing while they're fighting for their lives, which helped link me to the characters. Something about it made me a little more wild eyed and battle seemed more chaotic. The normal generic guitar riffs or Hans Zimmer pounding were nowhere to be found in this strange place.

I took a quick stroll down memory lane to find some recent examples of great licensed music in games.

"Power" in Saints Row: The Third

In a game that is basically an exercise in indulging the ultimate power fantasy, this track feels right at home. Furthermore, Kanye's brash persona and love of catchy hooks fits right in with the Saints' swagger. What other song would you rather hear when skydiving out of a plane onto the roof of a building?

"Here's to You " in Metal Gear Solid 4

In a way, it's fitting that a cover of a Joan Baez song about two (likely wrongly) convicted Italian-American immigrants with anarchist leanings. Is it an allusion to Snake, who is metaphorically killed by a system that has doomed him from the beginning? Is it another critique of the tendency for leaders to exploit fear, xenophobia, and violence to maintain power? Is it some sort of meta-commentary or absurdist joke? Or does Kojima truly not realize how ridiculous he is? All these questions can be asked of the Metal Gear series as a whole, so I think it's a pretty great use of the song.

"Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie," in Red Dead Redemption

When it comes to Western tropes, Red Dead Redemption always seems to have its cake and eat it too. It touches on almost every single genre convention out there but still manages to exist as more than a cliche or an homage. Much of this is do the systemic story: the game's open world tells an implicit story about the endless cycle of violence begetting violence. The end is inevitable and it's hammered home by one of the most classic cowboy songs in the book, but it's an hauntingly honest one. In fact, I'd recommend listening to full version as well:

That's a handful of recent games with licensed music, but I'm sure I'm missing some great examples. What are some of your favorite games (past or present) with licensed music?

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Some Downloadable Favorite Games from 2012

This week at PopMatters, I wrote about a few of my favorite downloadable games from 2012 (aside from Journey, The Walking Dead, and Papo & Yo, of course).

Realistically, 2012 is probably the one of the last (if not the last) year that distinguishing between retail and digital games makes sense. Even on consoles, large-publisher games are becoming available for download on release day. Additionally, as I hope my list shows, the days when there was an appreciable difference in quality between blockbusters and digital-only releases are behind us. There's not much else to say about the games other than "You should play them."

Instead, I'll indulge in a little gross consumerism and cloying sentimentalism: it's a bit of a bummer that giving the gift of video games now means sending them a download code via email. It's probably just the last vestiges of the holiday season evaporating from my mind, but I can't help but feel that giving someone a mystery present is more fun than sending them a code. It's a pretty trite sentiment that many have expressed, but I don't think that makes it any less true.

In any case, I encourage you to take a look at the list and to jump into the comments with your own downloadable favorites. It's was an embarrassment of riches in 2012 and I wouldn't want to miss any gems

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

EXP Podcast #206: Spec Ops: The Line Debrief

Spec Ops: The Line made a surprisingly large splash in the critical games sphere considering its trouble development and relatively low set of expectations. Critical Distance gathered up a huge collection of the best writings on the game, which you can find right here. Also, Brendan Keogh wrote a book about it! With themes that attempt to deconstruct both American military violence and video game violence, there is plenty of depth to explore in the latest debrief. Of course if you have played the game yourself, do let us know what you think of it in the comments below!

To listen to the show:

- Subscribe to the EXP Podcast via iTunes
- Find the show on Stitcher
- Here's the show's stand-alone feed
- Listen to the podcast in your browser by left-clicking here. Or, right-click and select "save as link" to download the show in MP3 format.
- Subscribe to this podcast and EXP's written content with the RSS link on the right.

Show notes:

- Runtime: 38 min 53 sec
- Music by The Black Angels and Deep Purple via the Spec Ops: The Line licensed soundtrack.\

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Endgame: Syria and Game Censorship

"How long is it since you were really bothered? About something important, about something real?"
-  Faranheit 451

 A recent Kill Screen article brought to my attention a policy travesty that  raises serious concerns regarding accessibility to politically and socially relevant games. Following the completion of Endgame: Syria, a "news game" that seeks to simulate the stakes and strategies in the ongoing war in Syria, Apple rejected the title from the app store. According to App Store guidelines, the company forbids games that "solely target a specific race, culture, a real government or corporation, or any other real entity."

This is, of course, the same sort of move that stirred up controversy when Apple rejected Molleindustria's Phone Story, which criticized systems of oppression behind smart phone supply chains - including, of course, the iPhone. However, the rejection (which came after first accepting the game) cited "excessively objectionable and crude content", making a moral judgement on behalf of the company's consumers. This is the same infringement, by the way, that was cited in Apple's rejection of Drones+, a sparse and non-sensational app that aggregates US drone strikes around the world from a public database.

In all three cases, Apple's relatively small number of quality control staffers act as moral policemen, safeguarding consumers' sensitive constitution. As a vehement proponent of the principle of free speech (and here I mean the value of open conversations, not just the legal right), I find the assertion that a third-party can  so assuredly patrol the border of offensive and non-offensive a ludicrous idea. It has never been easier to self-censor for ourselves. With the amount of sites that cater to all sorts of consumers, from conservative parents to religious communities, we all have more than enough ways to protect our own moral boundaries.

Of course there are plenty of other reasons for Apple to protect their consumers from potentially offensive games. Their policy against any "real world entities" could be a sure-fire way to protect themselves from criticism. Alternatively, the company could be concerned that users might associate offensive content with Apple's brand, thereby harming the "App Store" brand itself. Yet the term has already become so ubiquitous (despite Apple's legal effort to maintain brand hegemony), that there is hardly an alien concept that the app store functions more as a massive library than a finely pruned garden.

In fact, I think we should start thinking of app stores as libraries. With smart phones in nearly everyone's an ever-increasing amount of hands these days, mobile platforms are one of the easiest ways to access a huge player base, both those less knowledgeable about accessing and/or playing games from PCs and those such political games may seek to reach.  The decision to not carry Endgame: Syria is a huge blow not just to the game creators, but to those seeking to use games as educational and persuasive objects. Yes, Apple has every right to decide what products are available in their collection, just as many schools across the US maintain the right to manage their own collections. That being said, when a library or school bans a book, they are almost universally condemned. Apple's policy preventing political, social, or any other critical game with firm foundations in the real world is devastating and shameful.

Again, I am not suggesting Apple should lose their right to decide what can and cannot appear in their app store. Indeed, I am less concerned about Apple and more concerned about how we approach the distribution and accessibility of games as a whole. Yes, I think the policy reprehensible, but the company will not be the last to avoid scrutiny by suppressing controversial works. As games become an increasingly important medium for politically and socially relevant messaging, we should seriously consider what the future holds for our freedom to play.

In the meantime, we should also remember why banning books seldom works. When a library bans, say, Catcher in the Rye, demand remains, or even grows. Thanks to stalwart librarians, parents, students, and others, the works are made accessible through other means. To that end, and with no judgement on the quality of the work at all, Endgame: Syria is free to download for Android via Google Play and is playable online at

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Competitive Camaraderie and Natural Selection 2

Oh to be praised by your compatriots, to earn the adoration of teammates, is an especially rewarding form of validation. Competitive team games can turn complete strangers into brothers and sisters in arms, creating hard-earned bonds of camaraderie  But oh, to earn the praise of my captain. Few things are as affirming as making a leader proud.

Growing up, I always struggled to find good role models. For the most part, I tended to buck authority figures. Like a lot of children though, teachers are special cases. A good teacher, one that exhibits genuine interest in your well being, trusts you to better yourself, and praises you accordingly, can change your life. I know, I was lucky enough to have a few. Which might explain why I enjoy making people proud, maybe beyond the norm of course.

While competitive team video games can certainly foster a sense of pride and camaraderie, few feature other players in authority positions. Indeed, having a "leader" in any sort of multiplayer game is somewhat alien to the idea of granting power and agency to players. How many people really want to claim subordinate roles under fellow players. Beyond MMOs, the feature is rare.

Cut to Natural Selection 2, the much anticipated sequel to a Half-Life mod that released in 2002. Created by the small team at Unknown Worlds, Natural Selection 2 features asynchronous play in two regards. First, half the players in a match play as marines, wielding a variety of traditional weaponry from machine guns to armored mechs. The other half play as the Kharaa, a race of aliens that mutate into various species, some of which can fly, run on walls, or teleport short distances. Playing one feels nothing like playing the other.

Secondly, Natural Selection 2 features asynchronous play between each teams regular players and each single player that acts as the commander. While regular players see the game through a first-person perspective, the commander watches the entire match with a god-like view from above. As a match develops into  a battle for map control and limited resources, commanders direct the flow of combat, marking locations to push, calling out incoming attacks, or tasking marines with building up offensive or defensive positions. Even after ten years since its inception, Natural Selection remains one of the most unique multiplayer experiences on the market.

Few games offer the opportunity to not just make your teammates proud, but to actually please someone in a leadership role. Yes, there are material rewards for personal success. Kill enough enemies and you earn points to upgrade your body or your equipment. Commanders can also directly reward players in a way, either by dropping much needed health packs or ammo, or by leaving upgrades for players to use without having to spend their own personal currency.

A good commander is more than a good leader, they command with presence. They make players want to follow them. They are communicative and value skilled play and teamwork. When my commander says "Good job Shen" or "Shen's a ninja," I am far more likely to quickly and efficiently follow through with orders like "I need you to drop everything and head to Central Drilling." Indeed, a good commander makes everyone else better players. A good commander gives you someone to fight for. Is Call of Duty, I fight for myself. In Team Fortress 2, I fight for my team. In Natural Selection 2, I fight for my commander. 

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

EXP Podcast #205: QTC - Assassin's Creed 2/Mass Effect

I had some extra time during the holiday break, so I decided to take deep dive into my backlog with two of the most popular franchises of this console generation: Assassin's Creed and Mass Effect. As a teaser, I'll say that I'm only planning on finishing one of the two...

I'm extremely late to the party, but I just couldn't keep my thoughts to myself. I sprung the topic on Jorge and we ended up talking about both series' legacies. Feel free to jump into the comments with your thoughts!

- Subscribe to the EXP Podcast via iTunes
- Find the show on Stitcher
- Here's the show's stand-alone feed
- Listen to the podcast in your browser by left-clicking here. Or, right-click and select "save as link" to download the show in MP3 format.
- Subscribe to this podcast and EXP's written content with the RSS link on the right.

Show notes:

- Runtime: 37 min 34 sec
- Music by Broke for Free

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Building a PC, Part 1

In addition to the same old boring New Year's resolutions (exercise more, eat healthier, don't be a terrible person, blah, blah, blah), I decided to pick something fun: I'm going to build a new PC!

I've been looking at parts for a while, but life has been busy recently so I haven't taken the plunge yet. My brother, realizing that I needed a little kickstart, bought me an awesome SSD for my birthday which provided just the right motivation to put this thing together. However, before I start going on a spending spree, I thought I might as well turn the whole expedition into a feature for the site.

Here's a list of my prospective build. I'm interested in comments and suggestions, so feel free to take a look. There are some more detailed comments after the list:

PCPartPicker part list:
Price breakdown by merchant:
  • CPU: Intel Core i5-3570K 3.4GHz Quad-Core Processor ($184.86 @ Microcenter) 
  • Motherboard: Asus P8Z77-V LK ATX LGA1155 Motherboard ($130.48 @ NCIX US) 
  • Memory: G.Skill Ripjaws X Series 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3-1600 Memory ($54.36 @ Newegg) 
  • Storage: Samsung Spinpoint F3 1TB 3.5" 7200RPM Internal Hard Drive ($96.41 @ Newegg) 
  • Storage: Samsung 830 Series 128GB 2.5" Solid State Disk (ALREADY OBTAINED)
  • Video Card: EVGA GeForce GTX 660 2GB Video Card ($228.36 @ Amazon) 
  • Case: Fractal Design Define R4 (Black Pearl) ATX Mid Tower Case ($109.28 @ NCIX US) 
  • Power Supply: SeaSonic 620W 80 PLUS Bronze Certified ATX12V / EPS12V Power Supply ($96.27 @ Amazon) 
  • Optical Drive: Lite-On iHAS124-04 DVD/CD Writer ($18.47 @ Newegg) 
  • Monitor: Asus VH236H 23.0" Monitor ($164.86 @ Newegg) 
  • Operating System: Microsoft Windows 8 (OEM) (64-bit) ($89.98 @ Outlet PC) 
  • Total: $1291.86
  • (Prices include shipping, taxes, and discounts when available.)
  • (Generated by PCPartPicker 2013-01-01 13:54 EST-0500)
  • General use cases: As if you haven't guessed this already, I'll be using this for mostly games, but also some audio and video editing. I'm trying to strike a balance between high performance and affordability. I figure specs like these will be good for a while, even with the looming release of the new Intel chipset and the new graphics cards.
  • Video Card: They're hard to pick, but I feel like the 660 offers a good combination of power and price. The 660 ti seems to be $100 more and the 670 looks awesome, but it's quite a bit more expensive.
  • Case: I want three main things from a case. I want it to be quiet, easy to work with, and minimalistic. No offense to people who love LEDs and wild case mods, I just like an understated look when it comes to cases.
  • Power Supply: By my calculations, I probably won't ever reach 620W, but I want some breathing room for future upgrades. For some reason, I find power supplies really hard to shop for, so I'd welcome any advice or stories from your experience.
  • Monitor: I'm actually not sure how big I want the monitor to be. I see myself connecting the PC to my TV some of the time, and I actually don't have a huge amount of space on my desk, so I don't want to go too large. I might have to go to the store with a tape measure!
  • Operating System: Before anyone gives me any grief for Windows 8, let me tell you my reasons, since I understand Windows 7 is still the first choice for most folks. First: I want to familiarize myself with it for professional reasons (part of my job requires me to have a working knowledge of current operating systems). Second: I think it might be nice when the computer is connected to a large screen. Third: I'm legitimately interested in using one of the most drastic Windows redesigns in history. I figure if I don't like the tiles, all I have to do is press the Windows key and they disappear!
So there you have it: some parts and the rationale behind them! As I said, feel free to jump into the comments with your thoughts, as I'm interested in others' experiences as well.