Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Dragons Age. The End :-(

I finished Dragons Age last week. And by finished Dragons Age, I mean I played every last DLC and Expansion pack ever released. I had bought the Ultimate Edition of Dragons Age: Origins so I had it all.

I have few critiques, it's just one of the best games out there, period. I will say that DLCs are hard to do, I've noticed that even in the Borderlands DLC. It always feels like they get a second-rate writer for them, or that they lose sight of who the characters are. In Dragons Age: Awakening (the expansion pack), Oghren suddenly becomes nothing but the most annoying, crude comic relief character possibly imaginable. And unfortunately for me, he happened to be the strongest warrior on my team so I kept having to bring him along with me. I can have a sailor's mouth just like anyone else, but I wish I'd written down just how many times Oghren mentions his "junk" or his "dangly bits" in his ingame dialogue. Actually it would have been easier to write down the lines that he didn't.  It got to the point where I was removing him from my party just so I wouldn't have to hear his unfunny crude jokes. My question is, when did that happen?  In Origins, he was a drunk and little crude and brash but not disgustingly so.  In Awakenings, they cross the line with that character and are downright offensive. And I'm not one to get offended, believe me. But I do get offended by stupidity, and that character design is stupid in Awakening.

By contrast, Leliana's Song is really good. Sure it's blatantly linear, but I think a lot of DLC is by nature.

The real achievement with Dragons Age is that it draws out the story all the way through to the last DLC. My character declined Morrigan's offer at the end of Origins but I felt like he and Morrigan had developed a relationship, so it pained me that Origins had ended in that way. I understood that life happens that way, sometimes, but it was hard to accept.

Until Witch Hunt. The story comes full circle in the final DLC, and as usual with Dragons Age, you can choose how it ends. Without spoiling anything, I'll just say that I was so satisfied with my ending of that final DLC that I felt like the whole world had just shifted back into place for me. Every wrong was righted.

It's games like Dragons Age: Origins that confirm for me that video games are the new movies and books, especially if you relish them and spend time to get to know the world you're immersed in.  This is probably especially true for RPG and RPG-like games, because you can go into your inventory and read the scraps of papers and books that you discover. You get the whole experience, and the experience takes 145 hours. It's not like a movie where everything is compressed into two hours of generalities. It's a month or two of living in that imaginary world, experiencing the details of every possible aspect, discovering new things and new ideas and new characters.  And potentially even playing it again as a different character and having a new version of that experience.

If you have not played Dragons Age: Origins, go out and get the ultimate edition as soon as possible. It's well worth it.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Kingdoms of Amalur

I picked up Kingdoms of Amalur: The Reckoning last week, a day after release, and I am still in the OMFG stage. Beautiful game, detailed storyline, great gameplay, great combat, great world and level design. In short, I love it.

Now, I'd heard some shockingly lukewarm reviews about it. People said that it was a fine fantasy RPG but it didn't really do anything new or exciting. People said it was beautiful but not innovative in look or design. I don't know what version of Amalur these reviewers played, but I was hooked from the start. The world is beautiful, gorgeous. It's like a moving Hildebrandt painting, only better since I was never really a fan of Hildebrandt!

The opening of the game, set in the Well of Souls, is a little dark. That worried me a little because I hadn't bargained for a dark, shadowy world and I'm usually not a big fan of that experience. But the detail of the gnomes there, and the glowing, vibrant lights of the souls and magical flowers was too much to ignore, and after you get past that initial tutorial, you get out into the world and everything brightens up.

Every character has such detail, it's amazing. Even the wolves (which you sadly have to kill) look perfectly real, and yet like something out of a comic book or fantasy painting. There's so much texture to the game, it felt like my PS3 magically got an upgrade.

Now I just finished Dragons Age (and I do mean all of Dragons Age) and so my comparison is largely based off of my Dragons Age experience. And actually Dragons Age is a lot to live up to. It has one of the best combat systems I've ever used, it has some gorgeous world design, it has a great great story revealed through codex that your character can gather, and it easy to move through the environment.  By contrast, something like Neverwinter Nights, I've always found a little difficult to get the camera under control and I've felt like the combat system is practically not even a combat system.  (Great game though, no disrespect!)

Amalur lives up to Dragons Age in every aspect so far. The combat doesn't feel like RPG combat. You actually fight in realtime, which I'm not used to from both Fallout 3 and New Vegas and Dragons Age, but it's so well done that it took me no time to get used to it. I'm barely into the game but the story is already engrossing.

I'll probably post more about Amalur as i progress through it, and I'll obviously try to avoid any spoilers, but no question about it so far, this is a game to buy and enjoy.  It's big. 4GB of hard drive space required, but it's worth it! 

Friday, February 24, 2012

Being a Geek and Looking the Part

I used to be very sympathetic to people who don't understand computers and if someone asked me to help them with their computer I would only do it as a favor to them. Then during college I started doing it for money because I really needed the money and helping with computers was something I could do easily.

I got out of the habit of charging for computer help until recently. What happened was that I had to take my car to the shop for an oil change. While I sat waiting for them to do the oil change, I kept hearing my dad's voice in my head, reminding me that I could save $50 if I'd just learn to change the oil myself.

My dad's right, and I know that changing engine oil is basically as simple as unscrewing  a cap, draining the old, and pouring in the new. Not a big deal and yet it's actually worth $50 for me to not have to do it.

You probably see the connection.

Car mechanics don't hesitate to charge people $50 for basic, simple tasks, and a lot more for complex ones. They don't ever wave your money away and insist the job wasn't really very hard so they don't want to get paid. No, if you walk into the garage then you're paying money to get back out, no exceptions. And cars are, unfortunately, very important in life. Without your car, you can't get to work. You can't get back home. You can't do shit, in some cities.

So I don't think of myself as just a girl who happens to know computers any more. I'm a geek. I've spent a lot of time learning what I know. Mostly it's been fun because I happen to enjoy it, but there have been whole weeks of frustration too.  So if someone approaches me with a computer and asks me to fix it, then they're not getting away without buying me lunch or paying me or something. And I'm okay with that.

I don't have a garage like a car mechanic does, so I have found that to be identified as a geek, you have to pander a little to what the world thinks a geek looks like.  For me, that means I need to wear geeky glasses, which is easy because I need glasses anyway. But when I go to the optometrist, I am sure to choose geeky frames. Unfortunately, right now that also means that I am choosing hipster frames because hipsters are looting geek culture left and right but that's okay because I can offset it with the second trick of wearing geeky t-shirts. Yes, happily there are many online stores now that offer t-shirts that basically advertise that you are a geek. Video game shirts, snarky computer jokes, you name it. Even better is the fact that nearly every major open source project has a Cafe Press store so you can get really obscure and start wearing Drupal shirts and Wordpress shirts and Dropbox shirts. People know those names, and if you're weird enough to wear their shirts then you must be a geek!

A few girl friends have asked me why I defeminize myself that way, but I don't see this as a gender issue.  I don't look like a boy, I don't lose touch with the fact that I'm a girl or try to hide it. But whether you're a male or female, if you don't look like someone who knows computers then you're not going to get random requests for computer repair jobs.  Are the glasses distinctly male? I don't think so. Am I wearing them only to advertise my own geekness?  Yes, I am, because believe it or not I don't really identify that much with the glasses frames I wear. I will gladly choose frames just to suggest to people that I'm not a typical computer newbie.  The t-shirts are also not distinctly male, especially since most online stores have women's cuts and sizes. And I would actually wear the t-shirts no matter what. They represent the things I'm interested in.

Basically it's like this. If you walked into a car garage and the mechanic was wearing a business suit and sipping tea, you might think twice about having him work on your car. We all know what car mechanics are "supposed to look like".  Same for geeks.

So anyway, need computer work done?  Pay me, I'll do it.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Recovering from Mac, Part 5

If I haven't convinced you that getting out of the Mac bubble is a good idea by now, then maybe you're comfortable in that bubble. And that's okay because so was I.

Like I said, one of the things that turned me was the realization that Mac marketing was not telling me the truth about what I was buying. The other thing that convinced me was the cost and value of the alternatives.

The easiest way to do the price comparison is to go to the online shop and take a look at their most powerful Mac Pro or the second to most powerful, and build something that gets close enough to those tech specs. Finding D.I.Y. kits helps a lot.

Here's a quick example.

The Mac Pro specs, copypasta from their store site today:
  • Two 2.4GHz Quad-Core Intel Xeon “Westmere” processors
  • 6GB (six 1GB) memory
  • 1TB hard 
  • 8x double-layer SuperDrive
  • ATI Radeon HD 5770 with 1GB GDDR5  
  • Free shipping!
  • $3,499.00
Sounds like a good machine! Keyboard and mouse included. No monitor or monitor adapter.

A D.I.Y. kit from
  • AMD FX-8120 3.10 GHz Eight Core AM3+ CPU
  • 22x DVD-R drive + HD DVD playback
  • 8GB memory
  • 120gb SSD drive
  • 2tb hard drive
  • ATI Radeon HD 5770 with 1GB GDDR5  
  • Viewsonic 22" Screen 
  • Keyboard, mouse
  • $1147.00
In case you're not good with numbers and comparison shopping, let me break it down for you.
 Faster CPU (+ 700mhz)
  • Faster DVD (+ 4x) plus hd/dvd upscaling
  • More RAM (+2gb) with fewer memory slots used
  • 120gb SSD hard drive for OS (faster response time)
  • Twice the harddrive space (2tb > 1tb)
  • Same graphics card
  • 22" LED monitor approved by me - see my post on my new viewsonic ;-)
  • keyboard and mouse of your choice
  • $2352 in your pocket.
Put another way, Apple charges two grand for the privilege of owning a Mac. Is it worth it?

It's difficult to say if it's worth it or not. It's up to you. For me, being a Mac owner was not worth a two thousand dollar markup. But hey, I'm a girl, we're sensible shoppers supposedly so maybe for you it's worth not having to learn a new computer.

Then again, how many Macs will you buy in your life time? I was paying off my Mac loan even after my Mac itself had died, if you can believe that. Granted, I'm a poor artist so that didn't help, but do you have any idea how it feels to send in a bill payment to a company that just told you at their Genius Bar that your computer can't be fixed so you should get a new one?  And then to make matters worse, when you take it to your PC-building friend who insists he doesn't even know Macs, he was able to fix it in afternoon?

Feels bad, man.

For the record, I built a $300 machine for a friend who somehow manages to be poorer than me. Within thirty minutes of having the computer built (which took a little longer than it should have because it was the first one I personally built without any help), she had a beautiful computer up and running and was literally editing HD footage on it. Specifically, on an AMD motherboard and CPU, with a built in video chipset.  She didn't even have a video card, and she was editing 1080 HD on Linux.  Let me repeat the price.  $300.  Granted, she didn't have to get a new monitor or keyboard or mouse, so that offset the price, but $300 for an HD editing computer is basically, fucking amazing.

So, fuck Mac, fuck Windows, and learn Linux. You will be so glad you did.

And that's my series on recovering from Mac.  Hope it was informative, and I hope it didn't sound like I was trying to sell you anything.  Like I said, if Mac is working for you then stay with it.  It's not worth bringing your life to a halt to save two thousand dollars at some time in the future.  But future proof yourself by starting to get to know Linux. The sooner you do, the sooner you'll be able to jump ship.

Oh and by the way, you'll love not being part of the Mac cult any more. You won't notice at first, but trust me after you get out, you look back and wonder what you were ever, ever thinking.  Don't be too hard on yourself. You didn't know any better.  I know I didn't!  :)

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Recovering from Mac, Part 4

If you want to get away from Mac, one of the most powerful and outrageous ways to do it is to learn how to build a computer. Don't panic, I'm not a hardware gal either, believe me. When I heard about people building computers, I not only thought that it was mysterious and mostly impossible, I also thought it was uninteresting, unappealing waste of time.

I will grant you one thing, that it's uninteresting. I don't sit in front of Firefox all day window shopping for computer parts, and I don't even know what the current line of CPUs is and I don't really care.

I have a friend who's really into building computers. He does it on ebay, he makes money on it, he loves it. He also taught me how to do it, which I have to admit was empowering. And also it happened to be thrifty.  More on that in a moment.

Building computers for the average person is not the big deal it sounds like it is. You can be a casual computer user and still build your own desktop, I promise. It's not like building a car. It's more like a science kit. No, it's way simpler. OK, if you've ever played with Lego bricks, you can build a computer. I swear.

The hardest part is finding a build-it-yourself kit that suits you. If you have a friend, like I do, who builds PCs for fun and a living then just have them pick out all the parts for you! but if not, then you need to know that what you're buying will all work together. Otherwise, you'll build the computer and turn it on and find out way too late that you bought the wrong kind of RAM or forgot a hard drive cable. Not exactly the results you're looking for.

Building custom PCs is such a popular activity in certain circles that there are two websites that cater to just that passtime.  There's newegg and tigerdirect. They sell all the parts you would need to build a computer and they even sell kits. In a kit, someone else has figured out what parts go together, and they bundle it together and give you a discount and sell it to you. So all they don't do is actually put all the pieces together for you, but trust me, if you can use a screwdriver then you can build a computer.

I'm going to do a separate post on why a soon to be former Mac user would ever want to do that. For now, let's keep talking about this building process.

Non-Mac computers are a lot cheaper than Macs, but you need to be sure not to go too cheap.  If you're totally broke, then buying a $300 desktop kit is actually a great idea if you need  a computer. And it will run Linux just fine, but you'll probably have to configure stuff and you're not going to have a very physically sturdy system. I found this out the easy way, because someone had ordered parts for my friend to assemble and he showed me the difference between a $30 computer case and a $60 computer case. One was made of sheet metal that would bend if you held it too tightly.  The other was made of steel and hard plastic and felt like a tank.  Guess which is which.

So, don't go too cheap if you're expecting Mac quality hardware, but at the same time, remember that generic PC hardware is less expensive, so don't waste your money trying to build a computer as expensive as a Mac. If you do that, you are almost guaranteed to have a system more powerful than what you need, even if you are a filmmaker or photoshop guru.

The way I personally decided one what I needed, even though I don't know anything about this, is that I looked at and wrote down what the most expensive Mac Pro had inside of it. To get that information, you have to go through the steps of buying it, so click the buy button, and then just take a look at what they offer. Now go shopping on newegg or tiger direct for something with similar specs. As long as you're in the ballpark, you're probably fine. Believe me, despite the marketing that goes into it, there's really not that much difference between one modern CPU and another, or one modern kind of RAM and another. Now, if you are doing highly specialized work and really do need to know that you're getting the right parts for the job, then it might be time to take a PC gamer (trust me, they always know about this stuff) out to lunch and find out what the deal is on all this fancy computer part scene. Otherwise, shoot in the general direction of a Mac Pro and you'll come out on top, both financially and technically.

And then alls you have to do is install Linux.

Oh and put it all together.

The good kits, like the ones over $300 or so, come with really detailed quickstart manuals.  It shows you where to put in the motherboard. You line up the screws with the holes, and before you know it you've installed a motherboard. Then you put on the CPU, according to the instructions that came with the CPU. Then the fan. Then the RAM. Then the hard drive and DVD drive. And you're done.  It's literally that simple.

Again, I want to emphasize. Spend a little bit extra (in generic PC money, not Mac money) and you will get parts that have friendly manuals and are easy to assemble.  If you go ultra cheap, then you're going to get parts that expect you to know what to do.

My friend showed me an AMD CPU once. They're exactly like Intel chips (the Intels are the ones that Macs use) except a lot cheaper.  So I asked him why they were cheaper, and he takes out a plastic case with a big computer chip in it. That's an AMD.  Then he shows me the Intel chip that is the same chip, basically, but cost $80 more. It came in a nice box with a CPU fan included for "free", an instruction booklet on how to put the chip into your motherboard, how to attach the fan, and a little sticker that you could put on your computer to show everyone that you were running an Intel.  That's Intel.

And that's basically how eveything in building computers goes. Spend a little extra money and you get your hand held through the process.  Go cheap, and you figure it out yourself.

No matter what you do, though, you're getting a more powerful computer for less money than a Mac.  Don't believe me? well, my next post will prove it.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Recovering from Mac, Part 3

Ever heard of Vendor Lock In?

It's a trick that companies do to make sure that their customer can never, ever leave them, without great pains and sometimes serious amounts of money.

An example of this would be a page layout program that might export to some kind of very generic format, like a doc or rtf file, but it won't export the actual layout. Sometimes this is unavoidable, as I understand it, because some programs just do unique things that can't be exported since those tricks don't exist anywhere else. But some applications are so generic in function that it's almost amazing they don't export well to other formats. Almost like the ability to export existed but was broken on purpose. Like, a conspiracy!

Cue the X Files music.

Seriously though, speaking as someone who has been burned very badly by her allegiance to Mac products, I can officially go on record as saying that Mac does its damnedest to lock you into the Mac universe, whether you like it or not. The real crime is that it's doing it to people who don't know any better, which is why it's so weird for me to know better now, because I was so clueless before.

Picture it.  Be me, not knowing any better, you write school papers in iWork, you make art projects in Pages, you do little songs in Garageband, you do some design homework in Indesign. Then you move to another computer and find out that pages files look like this:


when they are opened in another word processor.  I'm not even making that up, actually it looks like that times about 100.  Try it and you'll see.

Garageband files don't even open. They're actually not even files, they're folders with a bunch of other files inside of them.

Indesign is no better. Photoshop actually is a lot better, but not because of Adobe; someone reverse-engineered the PSD format and so other programs can read it. I don't know if Adobe cares or not, but they didn't lift a finger to help.

On the surface, nothing is wrong with any of this, because to be fair, you bought the application and you're using it, so why should its programmers care if other applications can open it or not? That's probably how they think of it.

But that's the problem! They're getting your money for a tool that you're going to use to create something. They should be thanking you, but instead they tell you that the thing you just created with their software? yeah, if you ever want to see that data again, you'll just have to keep buying their software. Imagine going out to dinner and going to pay at the register and they tell you they had poisoned your food and if you don't want to get mild food poisoning, you have to buy an anecdote. I wouldn't go back to that restaurant.

And I wouldn't go back to Mac or Adobe.

If I buy software, I expect to be able to get all of my work back out of it with as little loss of features as possible. I am willing to make an allowance for something that just isn't implemented in a standard format. But the structure and content of my data should be preserved or guess what your software sucks ass. Sorry to tell you that, programmers, but if you can't do basic exports like any computer science college student's free application can, then you and your software suck ass.

The reason I can say that is because free software does export to other applications. It doesn't practice vender lock-in, they don't bribe you to buy their application and they don't resort to extortion if you threaten to leave.

Skeptics might say that without a little old fashioned bribery and extortion, how could a programmer ever make money? And I'd have to say that I am willing to pay for good software. And I do, regularly. If I go to download free software and they have a Suggested Donation link, I always donate whatever price they suggest. If they suggested more, I'd probably pay more. I'm not in this for a free ride and I understand that programmers have to eat too. I'm happy to pay.

What I won't pay for is if a company bribes me by telling me I just have to have their software because it's the "industry standard" and if I don't have it then I'm not a real graphic designer or a real musician or a real anything. And I won't pay to be blackmailed into staying on their software whether I like it or not.

Software should never make it difficult for you to get your work out of it into some universal format.

Mass Effect 3

Mass Effect 3 demo is out today and someone pointed out to me that it's a good mix of RPG and FPS. That made me think of how much I take for granted the RPG elements in my favorite games, like Borderlands, Bioshock, and obviously traditional RPG games like my favorite Dragons Age.

I can't picture playing a game without RPG elements. I tried Dead Island when it came out last year and even it has some modest RPG choices. I can't imagine trying to play through an entire game without at least a hint of RPG!

The more the merrier, when it comes to RPG.  I want control over my characters, I want to bond with her or him. I want to choose my own path. I'm fine with a linear story (given enough side quests), but I want control over how I play.

Fallout 3 did not execute this mix very well, IMHO.  But Mass Effect 3 looks very promising, though. It looks like they aren't compromising on the RPG aspect and are maximizing on the FPS. The game play felt good, the visuals were gorgeous, and I'm excited about it!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Recovering from Mac, Part 2

OK, if you just found this blog and you're seeing this post, you should be aware that this is a part in a series (that's why it's called Part 2 =D ) and it's not, despite the name, flame bate. I'm a former Mac user and I found out that Mac isn't all it's cracked up to be, but what is? All computers are going to frustrate you, it's just a matter of how they frustrate you!

Anyways, Mac is headed in a very specific direction. It started on the path a long time ago but nobody saw it...until it was too late!  Too much drama? OK, but seriously, Mac obviously has a very clear idea of where it is heading. If people are ok with that, then that's great! they should keep using their Mac. Just like if you're a gamer, you should hang onto Windows until games get serious about working on Mac or Linux. Meaning you'll be using Windows forever.

Where Mac is heading, is toward a kiosk-mode that has very specific things you can do on it. If you don't like how it's done on Mac, then don't use a Mac. Sure there will always be lifehacker and machack sites that give you a way around the things you really hate, but then you're forever swimming against the tide and after a little while that gets really tiring and you also start to see a lot of things break that you didn't want to break. I know, I've done it.

One major event that I will probably never forget, probably because I'm still recovering from it today, is when I got an emusic gift card for christmas, and went and spent the entire card in one sitting. So I instantly had all of these great mp3s that I'd wanted for a long time, and I spent all afternoon organizing them exactly the way I wanted to use them. I had them in folders and albums and they were named very specifically. I was happy.

Then I put them into iTunes.

Holy hell, it was the worst idea I've ever had. iTunes moved all of my songs out of the folders I'd so carefully placed them into, renamed them, and basically undid everything I'd just spent three hours working on, being the music nerd I am. I was so angry, I can't even describe it, at least not in terms appropriate for the web.

When I finally got into Linux, I was moving all my data from my Mac to my new computer, so I exported all that music to a data DVD through iTunes, and that was even worse. It numbered every song to match the order they happened to be in when I exported them to the DVD, which was basically completely wrong (I think I had listed them alphabetically by song title or something retarded like that, because I didn't know that iTunes was going to lock that order into my export).

To this day, I still am finding folders of music completely out of order, forcing me to go through their id3 tags and re-order them manually.

The moral of that story is that any computer that overrides your work like that, is not a computer I want to use. I know there's a preference somewhere in iTunes that will give you a little more control, so partly it was my fault for not knowing the software better. But the bottom line is that I was doing what anyone using music on a computer would think to do, and it altered my data, seized control of the stuff that I'd bought and did whatever the hell it wanted.

Not cool.

Unforunately, that's only one example out of all the ways that Macs ensure you're doing everything the Mac way. Increasingly, Mac is removing the concept of Preferences, which is why you see all of those scary "defaults write bool=YES" hacks online, when people just want to do stupid-simple things like enable Quicktime to open without resuming in the middle of a previous movie.

I didn't pay $1000 or $2000 to fight my computer on a daily basis, and I didn't pay $1000 or $2000 to submit to Mac's supreme Will.

Skeptics will point out that instead I'll pay $500 or $900 only to have to learn Linux and all of the weird ways it works, and I'll agree that if you're thinking of moving to Linux then you have to be ready for a major learning curve! Learning curve doesn't even describe it. It's more like the scene in V for Vendetta where Natalie Portman gets basically brainwashed by Guy Fawkes (in the prison).

It is some seriously tough shit but do you know the difference?

On Mac, you're buying into something that you then have to fight against, tooth and nail, to do what you want. 

On Linux, you invest in learning something one time, and after that you get to do whatever the hell you want.


Saturday, February 11, 2012

dragons age casual gaming

You know that feeling you get when you just have to go into Game Settings and switch yourself from Normal to Casual? It's not a fun feeling, because you feel like your leveling down. That's because you are. You're admitting to yourself that you're no longer a serious gamer. You're just a casual gamer. You are a gamer who can't take full power damage.

That hurts.

But what Dragons Age: Origins taught me a few weeks ago is that if it's between not finishing the game or just admitting to yourself that you can't handle full damage, then take the hit in pride and dial it down a level.

I'm glad I did, because of all the games I have played, Dragons Age: Origins is one of the most satisfying. They don't cheat you out of anything, and they also don't cheat you out of dealing with the "real life" ingame consquences of the choices you made. I'll admit it, my mage should not have gone down the Morrigan path. I knew it all along, I had the opportunity to pursue Leliana, and I didn't. And then in the end I had to live with that choice. Not satisfying, but real.

Everything else was completely satisfying. The story lines were all resolved, the characters were developed, and in the end I was just so glad to have completed it. How many hours did I clock on that game? Well, considering that I waited until the Broodmother to switch over to Casual mode, it took me about 90 hours to finish the game.

The best thing about it is that I'm not done yet. I still have about 8 DLC's to complete, because I bought the Ultimate Edition.

So if anyone ever blinks at you and asks how you could possibly spend $300 on a console (ok $400, since I upgraded my hard drive to 320gb) and $60 per game, just show them how much entertainment you get from just one of those $60 games.  At 90 hours, I've paid 66 cents a day for an hour of entertainment. A bargain, I assure you. Add to that fact that the really good games are RPG's, IMO, and I firmly believe that more imagination goes into playing an RPG than any tv show or movie out there.

Dragons Age Origins is the shit! go get it plus all of its expansions and DLC.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Recovering from Mac, Part 1

I'm a former Mac user, as it was what I was taught in art school. When I was a kid, I used Windows but I was never really a computer girl, just a gamer, and most of my gaming has been on consoles.

I have nothing against Macs or even Windows. I can use them just the same as I use Linux, it doesn't really matter to me, as long as it has a web browser and then whatever other app I happen to need. To me it's not the operating system that a computer runs that people use, it's the apps. 

Not everyone feels that way, but that's just how I see it. In my personal life, I don't want to run Mac or Windows. I choose Linux because I can do with it whatever I please, and there's always something new and exciting happening. So there's that.

Despite what a lot of people say, Windows has its advantages in life. If you want to play games on a PC, you're going to do it on Windows.

Mac also has advantages. If you're going to go into the artistic field, you'll find that Macs let you run a lot of artistic applications without really knowing much about how anything works.

So it's up to each person in terms of what they want to run.

For me, and a lot of my friends, the choice was to run Windows, which none of us wanted to do because other than being the default platform for gaming, it's a pretty bad OS.  Mac was working well for a while but there were some things I wanted to get away from.

In the next few posts, I intend to go over some of the reasons a Mac user might want to put a stop to their Mac usage, and how it can be done.  I'm not a computer science major, I'm not an expert at anything on any computer, but I know what I know, and so I want to share it.

Reason One: Knowledge is Power

The first reason I'm going to list is a little but abstract, but I think you'll understand it if I use the power of simile!  Hmmmm, or is it metaphor?  I never was any good at English class.

I was watching an old movie about the plague and someone was going to go into a leprosy colony to help the sick people. Everyone told this person that if he went in to the leper colony, he would die, but he said that if God didn't want him to die, then he wouldn't.  The reason people back in the Middle Ages thought this way is because they didn't know about germs, so they just took everything on faith, and it turns out that they were basically wrong. If they caught the plague, then they caught the plague because of germs, not because God afflicted them. If they didn't catch the plague, then it wasn't that God liked them better than everyone else, they just happened not to get the germs, or their bodies managed to fight the germs off.

Translate that to me as a Mac user. One time I tried gaming on a Mac, and it was when Neverwinter Nights 2 came out. I went to the Mac store with a friend to buy the game. My friend is a PC gamer. He always knows all about the latest CPU's from AMD and INTEL, he knows all about graphics cards and things like that. These are things I probably should have been told about in school, because they were supposed to be training us as art students to use the tools of the trade. And believe it or not, whether you have 192bit 512mb graphic memory or 64bit 128mb graphic memory makes a huge difference when you're applying filters in Photoshop or if you're learning Blender.

But we were not told of these things. My friend knew it all, though, and so on our way to the Mac store, he asked me if I had the right graphics card for the game. Of course I didn't know, and besides I just wanted to play the game! I'd bought a 2500 Mac Pro so in my Mac-user logic, I assumed that naturally I had a sufficient computer for the job.  Why? Because Apple had told me I was purchasing a powerful computer. They didn't tell me what that meant, they didn't quote me numbers like 256mb graphics memory at 32bit depth with DDR2 RAM, they just said it was the best money could buy.  So if you're buying the best money can buy, then you damn well expect your computer to play a new game.

To make a long story short, I had just enough graphics memory to run the game at the lowest graphic settings. To drive the point home, my friend, on his PC that had cost a third of what my Mac had cost, was playing the game on full rez. It literally didn't even look like the same game. I ended up going to his house to play nwn2 because if I dared push my graphic settings up just a little, the game crashed.

I'm not saying a Mac can't handle games. I'm saying that Mac culture hides the useful information from its customers. A PC gamer might tell a Mac user that they can't run a game because they don't have the required 512mb of GPU power. But a Mac user won't listen, because the box says that the minimum requirements is the exact card that they have in their computer, so it must be safe. They don't understand what the numbers mean, they don't even know what the different kinds of graphic cards imply, like a mobile or onboard chipset versus a dedicated card.

I wouldn't be surprised if the next gen of Mac products do away with product names entirely and just features icons on boxes or software downloads. If it's got a green eye on it, then as long as you have an Nvidia Mac then you're theoretically good to go. Even when you're not.

Yes, just because they aren't telling you about germs doesn't mean germs don't exist.  See what I did there? I tied it back to that original example. I'm such an internet writer now!

Anyways, the point is that knowledge is power, and if you start getting into Mac culture too deep, you will have to fight the dumbing-down of computers. I'll never forget my final trip to the Mac store. I was asking intelligent questions, and the salespeople, even the Geniuses (yes, I literally made a Genius appointment because I could tell the salespeople were clueless), could not answer half of my questions. It was actually that very experience that made me realize that I'd outgrown the Mac platform.


So if you want to understand computers and what they can do and why they can or cannot do something, then don't get sucked into the Mac Way. They want their customers to be faithful and to take everything on faith. They're not in the business of educating.

Then again neither is Microsoft. It just so happens that there's a culture of PC builders who are helpful and knowledgeable.  Remove Microsoft from the mix and add Linux, and you have an amazing culture of education and knowledge and computer empowerment.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Viewsonic VA2231wm-LED: a gamer's delight

Let's get one thing straight: I'm not a "gadget girl", I don't have techno lust, I don't get excited over hardware. I recently had to buy a new monitor, though, because my computer screen developed a row of dead pixels down the middle of it. Way out of warranty, so there wasn't much I could do except buy a new one.

I have not been monitor shopping in years, so I went out expecting to spend about $300, which I really don't have to just throw around, but I need a new monitor! So my first surprise was how cheap monitors have gotten. $140 for an 22" HD screen? I can live with that!

I looked at a few different options. I remember a nice HP monitor and I think a Samsung. Although, I ended up getting a totally nice Viewsonic VA2231wm-LED screen. It has two inputs, a VGA and a DVI and it is fully HD, meaning 1920 by 1050, meaning that blue rays will play natively and my computer will finally be outputting video that is worthy of its GPU.

How will I play BR discs without an HDMI port, you ask? Playstation! Yes, this monitor is now sitting on my desk next to both my desktop and my PS3, and that's where it gets even better. My computer goes to the VGA port and my PS3 goes through an HDMI to DVI converter, into the DVI port. In other words, I just scored two monitors for the price of one.

Unlike the HP and Samsung that I looked at, where you had to go into the menu to switch inputs, the Viewsonic as two handy buttons right on front. If I want to use my computer, I hit 1 and I'm starting at my Gnome 3 desktop. Playstation 3 time? I can hit 2 and start playing Dragons Age like it's going out of style (and actually it kinda is, thanks to Skyrim).

In other words, I'm really impressed with my new monitor in every respect. Quality is great. Value is great. Price was great. And it's user-friendly and practically designed on top of all that. If you're looking for a new one, have a look at the Viewsonic VA2231wm-LED!