Archive for November, 2011

Maybe I was just too lucky when I built my first rig, or maybe I was too arrogant when the final screw was put into place… maybe I messed up, maybe my house mate decided to play a prank on me by sabotaging something I’d spent a lot of money on… or maybe, shit just happens. Regardless, the worst case scenario seems to have happened. At time of writing, I’ve been unable to get my new build to work properly, and if I were a lesser man, I’d be devastated right now. Sniff.

Many of my friends and family already know what’s going on, as I’ve been spamming Twitter and Facebook with my woes for like two days now, but basically, the computer doesn’t boot up properly. Specifically, it won’t post to the BIOS screen, which is the motherboards own internal ‘software’ if you will that has a bunch of settings and instructions for how the computer handles things on the technical side. On a brand new build, with no OS installed, this is the only thing you can access. Even with an OS installed though, every time a computer boots up it’s supposed to ‘POST’ first, allowing you to access the BIOS if you wish, and then continue on and boot up anything that’s bootable (An OS, a disc, etc…).

My computer however doesn’t even POST – it just switches on, and that’s it. Vexing, but it does happen, and it can happen for a variety of reasons… typically, it seems that the reason applicable in my case is the most annoying – the motherboard itself is faulty. For the sake of my sanity, and for the record so that it makes what I’m going to do a lot easier, I’m just going to say it was dead on arrival, or DOA. That does happen – talk to any veteran rig-builder and they’ll tell you stories of parts that arrived faulty, even broken.  Having tried almost everything I and my peers and betters can think off, the only explanation left is that the ‘Mobo’ is faulty.

If it were the RAM, CPU or the Graphics Card, then either a warning LED light on the mobo would light up, the mobo itself would emit a series of beeps to let you know something wrong. My mobo remains silent. Also, for something like the gfx card, the computer would boot up normally when it was removed. Same if it was a power supply issue – removing some of the components would lessen the strain and allow it to boot up as normal – but everything seems to be getting power, fans are whirring, lights are coming on etc… that’s the problem though: once you eliminate all of the obvious and easiest to identify culprits, everything is kind of speculating based on the evidence.

There’s still a couple more things I can try – might borrow some parts from the old rig, just to test conclusively whether or no it’s a mobo issue or not, but assuming it is, the only thing left to do is to first contact ASUS, and then Dabs to get myself a  replacement, which I can’t do until Monday.

Which is probably going to be harder than it sounds because the mobo came in a bundle… and so they;ll probably want the WHOLE bundle back… motherfu-

 

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Oh, where did this random assortment of PC parts come from? I don’t remember them being there when I woke up…

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That’s right folks, it begins now. Well, not right now, I need to start backing up this computer, get my work space set up… maybe have some lunch and a cup of tea, but I intend to start building RIGGED 2.0 sometime today. I am very excited, and very nervous – excited because I’m one of those people who likes shiny new things, and because it’ll be good to flex my technical muscles once more. Nervous because if I get it wrong, that’s a fair bit of money that’s going to waste. The part of my mind that my mum gave me – the part that’s always concerned about money – is already balking a bit at the prospect of buying all this stuff that I don’t really need. As much as the justifications I’ve laid out in the past go some way to justify the expense, at the end of the day I do still have a working computer. Oh well, I just hope my fortune holds out and I keep earning my moneyz.

Just in case anyone is interested, I decided not to go with the SSD in the end. I beleive in the benefits everyone says come with the tech, but at the moment mechanical Hard Drives still serve me and everyone else well. The cost for the minimum sized SSD I’d need is just too much, and people tell me SSD’s do still have their own drawbacks anyway. I went for a 1TB HD that was about £30 cheaper, and like 880 GB more space. So yeah, go figure.

Anyway, quick update to let you know it’s all here. I’m thinking I might take pictures and document the process as I go, and then do I big update about it afterwards.

Friends, countrymen… anyone who knows more about computers than I do, lend me your ears!

So, with the Christmas season coming up, and with me having to face the harsh reality that my computer is now getting on a bit, it’s time for me to build a new PC. Phase One of this master plan is to actually pick out the parts for the new rig, which I have just spent most of the afternoon doing. Slow news day, what can you do. Now, what I want from you guys is some help on a couple of points:

* Whether the parts I have chosen can be found elsewhere for less money (from reputable places that you personally trust though).

* Whether parts I have chosen can be swapped out for better parts (and by better, I mean comparatively on a performance – cost ratio).

* Whether it all sounds like it would fit together, at a glance.

And on a general note, feel free to remind me of anything I should be aware off whilst constructing the rig, so feel free to share any tips and anecdotes you may have. So, without further ado, here’s the first draft of Joe’s Rig 2.0:

CPU – Intel Core i5-2500K 3.30GHz LGA1155 6MB – £169.99 from Dabs.com

Motherboard Asus P8P67 DELUXE REV 3.0 – £149.9 from Dabs.com

RAM – Patriot Memory 8GB (2x4GB) DDR3 – £48.99 from Dabs.com

Note: The above three items can be bought as a bundle from Dabs for £339.99, which works out at £30 cheaper or something.

Graphics Card Asus GeForce GTX 560Ti 830MHz 1GB PCI-Express HDMI – £167.98 from Dabs.com

CPU Cooler Arctic Cooling Freezer 7 Pro Rev.2 – £14.98 from Dabs.com

Power Supply Unit – OCZ Technology ZS Series 650W 80+ Bronze Power Supply – £59.98 from Dabs.com

Optical Drive – Samsung 12x BD-ROM/DVDRW Lightscribe SATA – £43.99 from Dabs.com

Wireless CardEdimax 300Mbps Wireless 802.11b/g/n PCI Express Adapter – £16.36 from Dabs.com

Solid State Hard Drive Corsair Memory 120GB Force Series 3 SATA 6Gb/s 2.5″ Solid State Drive – £129.99 from Dabs.com

Note: I don’t really know much about the SSD’s, but it was highly recommended that I get one, so I’m getting a 120 GB one as my main hard drive. There is also this one as an alternative, it’s £30 cheaper but the same size, but as I said, I don’t know enough to know whether it’s worth investing more or not.

As an aside, I’m also keeping my 500Gb Mechanical drive from my old rig for games, etc…

Case Antec Six Hundred V2 Mid Tower Gaming Case — £64.99 from Dabs.com

Note: I always find cases the hardest bit, as I don’t really know what I should be looking for. So long as it’s an ATX form factor and has plenty of room for drives and expansion slots, then really you won’t know what it’s like until it’s physically in your hands. I tried to get one with built in fans, but to be honest this was a fairly arbitrary choice. I don’t want to spend much more than this though on a case, but if you have any recommendations that match the rest of the stuff, then by all means.

Grand Total: £838.26

So already this rig is costing a fair bit more than my last one, and I haven’t had to buy monitors or software this time. I’m probably going to have to buy Microsoft Office separately, because this current install was borrowed from someone who I’m no longer in contact with. But my last rig, even at the time, wasn’t bleeding edge tech. Getting a Core 2 Duo when the i-series had just come out, Geforce 9500 when Nvidia had already switched to their new numbering system… with any luck, this new rig will last me a long, long while though. Not sure when exactly it’s going to get built – was thinking of taking some time off next week or something, but I want it to be before the new year. Plus, it being Christmas time, I may be able to get help with some of the cost…

So, today saw the release of the Anniversary Edition of Halo: Combat Evolved. Oddly enough, I didn’t get to review this one in the end, which is kind of shame as I really would have wanted to. However, since I ended up doing Skyrim as well, I didn’t want to hog all of the good titles (totally doing Mass Effect 3 when it comes around, and I don’t care who I have to kill), so we ended up giving it to someone else.

It’s ok though, I’ll still pick up my pre-order today, and if I actually had a choice I think I still would have picked Skyrim as I know what to expect from Halo.

I’m glad they did this HD remake – the original game holds a very special place in heart, and is pretty integral do my development as a gamer. Unfortunately, you can’t play the original game using a HDMI cable on the Xbox 360, and whilst I could have picked it up on Games on Demand, I never got around to it. Then they announced the HD remake – the Anniversary Edition – and all was right with the world. All it is really is the original game with HD textures super-imposed over everything, along with some minor bug fixes. Everything else is pretty much the same (I hear rumours that the team – a combination of 343 Studios, Saber Interactive and someone called Certain Affinity had like no budget for this re-make, which would explain a lot of things), good and bad, but what can you do. There’s multiplayer this time, although it’s basically Reach’s multiplayer system, using re-made Halo maps.

Halo CE was instrumental into getting me into the more ‘core’ console scene. Before that came out, I basically only played strategy games (and the odd other game) on my PC, and then I had my Nintendo 64/GameCube for everything else, which was mainly Zelda and the odd other title that took my fancy. To say I was a ‘Gamer’ back then probably isn’t entirely true. Gaming for me was just a hobby equal to that of reading, watching films and listening to music, I never favoured one over the other and there are plenty of people out there who were more into it than I was. I didn’t play FPS games that much either, apart from the early Medal of Honor games (Opening level of Frontline FTW).

Then game Halo, and a lot of fond memories. To my knowledge (which is patchy because I don’t really remember a lot of how the industry was back then – didn’t really follow that closely), it was the first mainstream shooter that had a decent, story-driven campaign (Half-Life non-withstanding, although it’s debateable if that could be considered ‘mainstream’). Even if it was accidental, it was key to the initial success of the original Xbox, and it showed the potential of story driven AND action based shooters (Medal of Honor was kind of stealth based, all things considered). My fondest memory is with me and my brother in his room, the lights are off, and we are playing the level 343 Guilty Spark for the first time. (First time you meet the flood, FYI). Let me tell you, that when we saw those ghostly silhouettes and when those little leach things first attacked you, we basically shat our pants, and it was glorious.

That, and the fact that on another level prior to that, Assault the Control room, we’d painstakingly gather as many marines as we good, kept them alive, and then assaulted this particular Covenant stronghold that was up a hill. Again, glorious. There’s been many theories as to why Halo works so well – the fact that the Master Chief is a blank canvas, so it’s easier to impose yourself into the game, the mystery of Halo (so good story-writing, basically), well crafted set-pieces (Beach assault on Silent Cartographer, anyone?), whatever… the fact of the matter is that it worked fantastically well, and I’m fairly sure it helped shape the industry and the genre. If I’m being honest, Halo 2 and 3 weren’t nearly as good. Although I did  rather enjoy Halo 3‘s story, and the technology behind it made it look good, not to mention the improvements to multiplayer, The Forge, and other elements to the franchise. Halo 2, if I’m being honest, was a little bit shit, although it did help put Xbox Live on the map, and helped establish it as THE service for competitive online gaming. Halo: ODST was a very interesting exploration of what other styles of gameplay the franchise could provide – I hope we see more of it, and you can read my thoughts on Halo: Reach here. None of them had quite the same impact as Halo CE though.

Some people would want more from a HD remake – and in many ways there is probably more Microsoft could have done with the Anniversary Edition, but this is one game I’d happily slap my £40 down for, regardless of what was in it, as I owe the original Halo that much. It’s just a shame Bungie haven’t worked on it, as really the money should go to them, but I’m willing to give 343 the benefit of the doubt for now (Let’s see where they go with Halo 4, although I’m not entirely sold on an entire trilogy just yet). It’s a shame my brother is in the Philippines right now, as I’d love to sit down with him with the Anniversary Edition and play through it for old times’ sake, but I’m sure I can find someone else to play it with.

Give me a few days, and I’ll write a mini review on it.

So, taking a break from all my gaming-related musings, I thought I’d talk about Stargate: Universe, which I’ve recently finished watching. I’ve always been a long-time fan of the Stargate franchise, starting with the original film, and then the SG-1 TV series and the spin-offs. Richard Dean Anderson is, quite frankly, a legend, which is odd because I’ve never really seen him in anything else. Never watched any of MacGyver for instance, but anyway.

I can’t actually remember if I watched Stargate from the very beginning or came in part-way through – for years I’d seen bits here and there of the early seasons, and then I kind of missed out some of the middling seasons, before finally watching it consistently when Season’s 6, 7 and 8 were on TV. Then they started up Stargate: Atlantis, which I watched for the first Season and then kind of lost touch with it, and the same thing happened with the last two series of the main show as well. Recently though I watched all of SG-1 from start to finish, and then watched all of Atlantis from start to finish as well, both great shows, with some great moments in them. I also bought the two SG-1 movies on DVD, and whilst they were worth watching once, they weren’t amazing it has be said. With Atlantis, I was pleasantly surprised at how it managed to stand apart from the main show, especially when that ended and Atlantis was the only thing on TV – really came into its stride.

Which bring us to Universe, the third and final show in the franchise. It’s kind of hard to formulate a concrete opinion on it, because it’s really unlike the last two shows, almost to the point where it could be considered completely separate. The aim with it, so Wikipedia tells me, was to have a more character driven and serialised show, that’s less dependent on mythology. Watching the show, you can tell it draws vibes from both Battlestar Galactica and even Star Trek: Voyager to some degree, and the things like the Stargate are merely incidental to the setting, rather than the focus. It was interesting, and I did enjoy watching it at the end of the day, which counts for something I guess.

I liked the fact that the set-up meant the truly alien and unknown could be explored, making it different from all of the English-speaking ‘aliens’ of the other two shows, although the show didn’t really go on long enough for me to decide whether the lack of an over-arching nemesis was a good or a bad thing – the concept of exploring several galaxies as the show went on, each with its own problems and challenges, certainly seemed like an interesting premise on paper. The over-all point of the show – which I won’t say for spoiler-reasons (but you should know what it is if you’ve watched the show) was a bit random, we have to say. It depends really where they were planning on going with it, but it doesn’t really mean anything.

Some things I thought though were a bit naff – the use of communication stones was over-used a bit much I felt, and loved ones back on earth seemed to accept a little too readily that these strangers they were seeing were really the people on the ship. It’s kind of addressed in one episode, but overall that element wasn’t fantastic. Also, Time-travel seemed to have been used a bit too often, which is odd considering between SG-1 and Atlantis combined, there’s about 7 or 8 different ‘timelines’ now. It’s hard to put my finger on it, but somehow it just seemed off in Stargate Universe, but there you go.

It’s a real shame the show was cancelled, but from what I can gather it wasn’t necessarily the show itself that was the problem. After all, Seasons 11+ of SG-1 and 6+ of Atlantis, as well as the third SG-1 film, the Atlantis film and then the Universe film were all cancelled and shelved due to the production studio, MGM, going bankrupted. Universe was cited as o having poor ratings towards the end, but I firmly believe that has as much to do with the new time-slot they were given as it was to do with the show itself. It may have not been fantastic (in the sense that if you had a choice, you might not choose Universe), but it was still a good enough show to be kept on air.

Now I find myself without something to binge-watch though, which always feels weird. I’m keeping up with the weekly new episodes of House, Castle, Big Bang Theory, Bleach… the new Gundam series AGE (seems ok, but the art style is too cutesy for my liking. What happened to SEED, 00, etc?), but I need a new show I can… acquire en masse and just watch through whenever.

What are you guys all watching at the moment?

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So, turns out I ended up doing the Skyrim  review after-all. I wasn’t planning on it – I’ve never played an Elder Scrolls game before, and we had other writers who had more experience so with the pre-order guaranteeing me getting it anyway, I figured I’d just leave it to someone else to do.

Due to various reasons we had to change things: the console version was sent to me whilst the other writer got the PC version, and so I preceded to spend fifty glorious hours reviewing what I think is a major contender for Game of the Year. I honestly couldn’t convey to you in words how damn good this game is – the mixed opinions I had heard about the previous Elder Scrolls title, Oblivion, is what prevented me picking it up, but there is no two ways about Skyrim: it’s fantastic and if you haven’t tried the Elder Scrolls series before, this is a perfect entry point.

It’s strange, because my first encounter with the ‘Bethesda School’ of RPG design was when I reviewed Fallout 3, and whilst it was enjoyable enough it didn’t really compel me to play it much, even if it did have Liam Neeson in it. Then came New Vegas a couple of years later, and that managed to get me hooked (although sadly I still haven’t gone back to it since I reviewed it – must get on that). I think I managed to sink about 35 hours into it, although at the time I kind of put it down to Obsidian’s influence. Despite those guys never seeming to be able to release a finished game (KOTOR II, Alpha Protocol… even the PC build of New Vegas was a bit dire), they do make engaging games to say the least. I actually much prefer KOTOR II over the first one, although I did play the second one first so that might have spoilt things for a bit. Anyway, I went into Skyrim cautiously optimistic – the game’s been hyped to high heaven all year, but not being a fan of the franchise I managed to avoid getting swept up in it. Still, the brief hands-on session I’d had a few weeks prior made me think that, actually, there may be something here after all.

Man, was that an understatement. Like I said in my review, with a game like Skyrim, the sheer openness of the game means that it’s easy to get lost, or be given too much choice that you don’t know where to start (Little Boy in Big Toy Shop Syndrome). Whilst Skyrim does succumb to that at times, it does a really good job at pulling you through the various threads it has available. There’s the main quest, the faction quests, various independent quests… plus the myriad of ‘Miscellaneous’ tasks that you can do. I honestly didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did, and I don’t think I’ve ever had as much fun reviewing a game, and that’s saying something.

Sure, it wasn’t perfect though. Inventory management is a bit weak, despite them adding in a ‘favourite’ quick-menu that you can customize. The problem is, you end up with so many things you feel the need to ‘favourite’, that you end up right back where you started – facing a long list of stuff you have to sift through. Perhaps adding in the ability to create ‘sets’ of items of something would have been a good idea. There was the odd bug, oddity – full on crash once or twice, but none of these things detracted much from the overall experience. I’m sure a lot of it can be patched out anyway.

I picked up Skyrim on the PC today as well. With my new rig imminent, I thought it would be a good opportunity to try out the game on the PC, as that’s going to have the better visuals and it will be interesting to see what the modding community comes up with. Still going to stick with the 360 version though, as I’ve sunken so many hours into it already that I really should continue. Plus might try and pick up some achievements as well. If you’re looking for a game to spend your Christmas vacation playing, I can’t recommend this enough. If you’ve heard a lot about the franchise, but like me have never actually played one, then Skyrim is also a great place to start.

Oh, and I got this rather nifty map with the PC copy, pictured above. Wish I had that during the review…