On February 2nd of 2010 Cryptic and Atari brought the Star Trek Universe into PCs around the world with the first MMORPG based on the popular Star Trek Series and Movies. The game takes place around 30 years after the movie Star Trek Nemesis, this means it is set in the universe of Star Trek before the recent reset of the universe in the new Star Trek movie. Think Next Generation, DS9 and Voyager but a bit further along.
The game uses the familiar pattern of allow you to create a character first. The character creation system is well done but then again that is a signature of a Cryptic designed game. You have a lot of options including many of the Star Trek races as well as a completely custom option, in setting your characters appearance. The selections for creating a custom look range from various aspects of body and facial dimensions, to coloring, aging and even uniform style.
I introduce therefore to my main character, the one I am worried about playing, Lt. Edward L. Crisler of Star Fleet. In my case I wanted to put myself in the game as I have always wanted to be in space. I went with a simple human and a traditional Star Fleet Uniform look.
When you make your character you choose between three base classes, think your major in Star Fleet Academy. I chose Science as I love the versatility that a good Science Officer offers. If you prefer you can go the router of a Tactical Officer and take your skills more heavily into weapons and combat, or an Engineer and learn how to tweak out your ship to maximum effect.
Once you have made your character you begin your adventure into the Star Trek Universe as an Ensign onboard a Federation Light Cruiser. Your first assignments involve help another starship stop Borg invaders. This means you are running around with a Phaser trying to stop the Borg and this shows us one of the interesting things STO brings to the game, you do not just do missions in your ship or on the planet, you have both environments to deal with. Later in the introduction you are put in Command of your Light Cruiser and learn the basics of ship combat.
Planet side combat is straight first person shooter with up to 4 AI crew members to join you. The AI has limited options for control and is actually pretty weak overall. You can equip these fellow officers with various equipment you fin or purchase over the course of the game. The ground combat system is straight forward and pretty simple to grasp. In the picture you can see me and my away team during a mission, set for combat with Klingons that have invaded the station.
Space combat takes some elements from the game Star Fleet Command. You have shield and weapon facings as well the ability to shift your ship power around to get more speed, better shields or make your phasers pack more punch. While it has some tactical elements it is not overly complex and can be figured out by most players in pretty short order. The space combat has a more polished and complex feel in the game.
Speaking of Starships, just like your character your ship can be customized. Here you see my first command, the USS Trial. The beginner ships, all light cruisers, come in three styles and you can mix and match the components to create a custom look to your ship.
Later levels split the ships into three types; Cruisers, Escorts and Science. Cruisers have excellent shielding and lean toward the Engineering side for Command. Escorts are essentially flying guns and are best commanded by Tactical Officer and the Science ships, well they are self explanatory. Each ship type has 3 design choices at each level and again you can mix or match to create a custom ship design.
The game is mostly geared toward PVE play but does have concessions for PVP play. Once you have played for a bit, gotten to level 7, you open the chance to create a Klingon faction character for PVP play. Currently the early Klingon play is very limited in content but Cryptic has promised a more fleshed out Klingon experience soon.
While the game can be a lot of fun in small group actions the design seems more geared toward a solo centric style of play. The game relies heavily on instances and creates a bit more artificial separation of the players than other MMOs.
Since this title is based on Star Trek it had a lot going for it with me out of the game. The more tactical feel of the space combat wins me over fast as does the changes from ground to space combat, mixing game play. The ground combat system is still a bit light but hopefully will be fleshed out more in updates.
While STO is a good game is not a great game. Some aspects of the game come off feeling incomplete and other aspects just make no sense. The game strives to create a Star Trek feel but in doing so seems to make the game mechanics a bit more visible, especially in Sector Space, when you travel between planets. The instancing system as it exists now makes it a pain to get on and play with your buddies and the use of open fleets (grouping with others when you run the same mission) is nice but these fleets tend to be mobs and not actual working cooperation.
The solo centric style of the game may turn off some people but to me means it is easier for this to be a casual game. This is a game you pick up when you can so it fits easier into a busy life style. The tactic feel of the space combat is very nice and you feel like you have to fly the ship.
This game is not perfect by any means and is not up to par with more established MMOs. However the game has a nice feel to it and is just fun, the very nature of MMOs means this game will progress, grow and get that nice polish over time. The more casual play style to me is an excellent thing.
I heard an MMO designer once say that stand alone games such as Dragon Age or Supreme commander are like feature films. They have one shot to tell their story so they come more fully packed on release. MMOs he said are more like a TV series. They start off but build into much more than their beginnings. With this in mind STO is very like the Star Trek TV series. The first episodes are fun and interesting for a bit but not really up to par with our expectations, however as the season progresses the series grows on you and becomes and addiction. It will be interesting to see as this series develops if Cryptic will find good writers and make this great.
I had an opportunity this week to speak to the folks at Cryptic about STO. You will find the segment of that interview we aired live on the show, you will also find an additional segment we recorded just for my blogs readers.
Post Interview Note: After the interview Craig and I spoke for a bit and I was really impressed with his passion for this game. When buying an MMO it is easy to get caught up in the game itself at release and forget you are buying an evolving and changing product. With this in mind the developers are almost more important to consider than the released game for the long term outlook. I can say that Craig has shown an enthusiasm that has made me really juiced about where this game may go.
Well it is time to get back to the USS Trial and continue on my patrol. However I think I will take a bit more time off, right now I am exploring a beach on Regulas. Hope to see you all in space, hailing frequencies closed.
STO Interview Part 1 to be aired on 28 FEB 2010
STO Interview Part 2 for Blog Readers
The recording presented here are the sole property of the Computer Ed Show and WJPF. Please do not post these interviews on another site without written permission and links should be to this blog post, NOT the recording.
The average computer only sees typically 8 hours of real use per day. During a weekday the home PC sees even less than that. With this in mind you have to wonder how much wasted power is used every day. I mean the PC sits there and runs screen savers or does any of a thousand little things to occupy itself.
During my testing for the Green Gaming Machine I found that a PC sitting at idle without any of the energy saving features enabled was likely running at about 120 watts. If we use the national average for energy costs that equates to $120 per year. However just by turning on AMD’s Cool-n-Quiet I was able to take that number down to an average of around 70 watts, or $70 per year. That is of course assuming 24/7 operation. Yet many enthusiast websites will site how the energy saving features hurt performance and tell people to turn them off.
They also seem to be the group that spends the most time talking about the debate of turning off the PC or leaving it on. I have found that most of these enthusiasts seem to be torn on this issue, they debate the advantages and at the end of the day their argument was always about saving electric costs.
In my interview with Ian McNaughton from AMD, we discussed Cool-n-Quiet and it’s impact to performance and his comments on these where most interesting. Basically he pointed out how the enthusiast review process tends to focus on small isolated specific conditions and then broke down an individual performance number from these conditions. I would take this this a step further and use the term clinical condition, setting the perfect conditions for the test in mind. Now this sounds good but you have to realize that these conditions never happen in real life. A classic example of this is cars and gas mileage. I am curious how many of you have found your car hit the exact gas mileage that the sticker said it would? Personally I have never seen this, the reason? The test was performed in a clinical closed condition designed to achieve optimal results. In other words nothing close to reality.
The reality is Cool-n-Quiet does not cause any kind of noticeable performance impact during every day use. What it does behind the scenes however is outstanding. It reduces the amount of power the CPU uses, reduces the heat generated and thus allows the PC to run quieter. At a 42% potential savings in energy costs that is nothing to sneeze at.
Of course then the enthusiasts will band together on their previously mentioned argument and start saying that to really save power you need to turn off the PC when not in use, do you? You see Windows Vista and 7 introduced an energy saving featured called hybrid sleep. This is a blend of the S3 sleep mode with Hibernation to allow for super low energy consumptions when the PC is not in use.
While my own testing shows real use of the PC being around 8 hours per day that is not a straight 8 hour stretch. That is the amount of use where the PC is active over a period of on time. Lets assume that a PC is turned on first thing in the morning and then left on until bed, about 12 to 13 hours. During that time a total of 8 hours is actually used actively at the PC. This means during those, lets say 5 hours the PC is left idle doing nothing. Using hybrid sleep and setting the timer to say 10 minutes of inactivity, you can cut as much as $25 per year potentially in energy savings.
As I have researched more and more the building of a Green PC, I am finding that how we use the computer, how we set the energy saving features have a more dramatic impact on the energy savings than any hardware changes we might make. However these features tend to be ignored by the enthusiast websites. They preach the mantra of raw performance and that is not our focus here.
What about just turning off the PC, surely that will help to cut the cost. Will it? Consider this, the average PC takes about 30 seconds to boot from a cold start. During that time the PC will run a higher load as the processor and HD will be working to load the system. Lets say 150 watts, that is about the average during my testing. The result of turning on the PC once per day is less than a penny for the course of the year. The cost of running a PC for 8 hours in Hybrid sleep mode is less than fifty cents. In other words running your PC 24/7 with proper energy management in place will never cost you more than fifty cents more than turning it off at night. In fact you will actually save money from the cost savings you gained during the course of the day.
All of these energy savings features where designed originally for the laptop but have finally made the full and useful transition to the desktop machine. Properly setup these features could save you as much as $70 a year over a PC with these features turned off. Even left at basic default settings the savings can mount up. What about the performance lose, there is none, not for the everyday real user.
What this all means for you is this, do not turn off the energy saving features. Learn how they work and adjust them to work around your lifestyle. The results will be some extra money in your pocket with no lose to you at all, essentially for free. As for turning off or leaving on your PC, let me say this… While the boot up might not be all that long compared to the start time from hybrid sleep it seems forever. If you want to save an extra fifty cents this year feel free however when you consider the 10 second return time I get from hybrid sleep over the 30 second boot time you will spend 2 hours waiting for your PC to start than I will, I will spend fifty cents for that.
We had a chance this week to speak with Ian McNaughton from AMD about CPUs and Green Computing. Here is the interview we aired.
AMD has a real winner on their hands when it comes to the video card market. The 5000 series has produced the current line up of champions at their respective price points and recently they have finished fleshing out the line. The 5800 series that includes the 5870 and 5850 have taken the enthusiast level by storm and have proven solid cards.
While the 5970 and 5870 have racked up higher numbers in my opinion the undisputed heavy weight champ right now is the 5850. Coming in at a hefty $300 this monster sports 1440 stream processors at 725 MHz. This behemoth crushes resolutions below 1680×1050 and screams through higher resolutions.
While the bigger cards allow for more pure horse power this beats is to me the best balance of power and price in the heavyweight division.
Next comes the middleweight or main stream offerings. These cards are priced around $150 to $200 and are designed to be the lean mean line up of the 5000 series. The 5770 and 5750 deliver solid performance at a reasonable price fitting into the budget and performance needs of most gamers.
While the 5750 offers great performance it has in my opinion of late been trumped by the 5770. Both cards are within $20 of each other with 1 Gig models. At around $160 the 5770 delivers with 800 stream processors pumping along at 850 MHz. At half the price of the heavyweight champ this card is a lean mean gaming machine for 1680×1050 resolutions.
While the 5750 is a capable performer and delivers a solid gaming experience at 1680×1050 a recent check on NewEgg shows that the 1 Gig models of both of these cards are within spitting distance of the same price point. The little extra money delivers enough boost to give the card a little more endurance down the road.
The lightweight division is reserved for what we know as budget gamers. ATI however has with their released tweaked that definition a bit.
The 5670 tips the price point at a lean $100 and delivers 400 stream processors pumping at 775 MHz. Pair this card up with 1 Gig of RAM and you have a solid lightweight gaming puncher. However this card takes the lightweight division and tries to tip the scales into the middleweight.
The 5670 can deliver a good gaming experience at 1680×1050 but at a bit of a price. You have to tone back am little on some detail when running the more demanding software. This card however is the MMO players dream. Low cost, solid performance, enough horsepower to deliver in the MMO market.
This card however is really at home at 1440×900 where it is a beast for the price.
The welterweight division is one that is typically not mentioned in gaming circles. While it can be a capable little card it is usually reserved for media PCs. However as with the lightweight division ATI has set out to redefine this weight class.
The 5570 can be had in the $85 price range and comes packing 400 stream processors at 650 MHz. Most models are designed to be used in low profile cases which make them a great choice for a media PC. Able to easily deliver outstanding video playback this card gives a media PC a bit of extra oomph. This card is actually a pretty capable gaming card at lower resolutions. At 1440×900 it delivers a good gaming experience. It can deliver at 1680×1050 but begins to show it’s lackings at that resolution.
The low profile card however suggests a perfect fit for this card. Slap this in you media center PC and you get the option of a solid gaming experience. In fact at the 720 resolution this thing is a bit of a beast making your media center a great gaming options.
And we come finally to the bean pole division. Now that might sound to many like a slight but it is fair from it. This is the workhorse video cards. Aimed squarely at the media center and business user market.
The 5450 is a solid card coming at a price point of around $60 for a 1 gig model. This card packs in 80 stream processors running at 650 MHz. The low profile card with a passive, therefore silent heatsink makes this a great card for the media center PC. The 5450 can deliver a decent gaming performance at lower resolutions. Played on the big screen at 720 you will find most MMOs playable.
While for many people it might be hard to get excited about this division I see some real potential here. The price point makes this a solid replacement for a failed onboard video card. It is also an exciting step for a business card. Like all 5000 series this card offers Eyefinity which means that in this card you have the potential for a triple monitor hookup.
Now in the past I have expressed that for gaming Eyefinity has left me less than impressed and I still hold that position today but in the business world the use of multi monitor is growing fast. This card with it’s low price makes perfect sense for that market. Businesses are not worried about gaming performance and so this card meets performance needs easily. Eyefinity offers very flexible multi monitor configuration options making it a perfect mach for this card and the business world.
We now see in front of us the entire 5000 series line up. AMD should be proud, they have delivered a solid line up that meets the needs of anyone and does it at a pretty decent price range. For now the video card world belongs to AMD and they need to enjoy it while they can. nVidia has begin making noise about the Fermi line and we should begin seeing these cards soon. Until then the video card kingdom is united under one unified champion, the ATI 5000 Series.
I know this blog is always about computers and technology but it MY blog so allow me this moment. You see 33 years ago a boy of 14 found a football card and for whatever reason became fascinated with the New Orleans Saints. As I got older my friends where fans of the Steelers, and Vikings and other teams that at the time where championship material. However I never wavered, the Saints where MY team.
During that time I was the butt of many jokes, was teased and even openly insulted, but it did not matter I was standing by my Saints. I recall wearing paper bags on my head during the seasons when the Aint’s where around. I took a bunch of teasing about that but it never waivered my devotion to my team.
Over the years I found ways to get the Saint’s Radio network when TV did not have the game and even a few years when I had DirecTV bought the Sunday Ticket. I have felt every lose and danced at every win. So when I say this Sunday was one of the great moments for me I do not overstate anything.
As I watched the game I can tell you I knew we had won at the end of the first half. The reason why I knew was the game was going as I predicted almost two weeks ago. You see in my prediction I said that the Saints would have a slow start but would find their legs in the second quarter. I predicted the game would go Saint’s heavy in the third and that the 4th quarter would be decided by the Saints Defense. That Defense I reasoned was the most effective in the NFL at capitalizing on mistakes and it was impossible I felt for the Colts to have a 100% perfect game.
While I am happy about this win I am mad as well. I am mad because I am watching everyone talk about how the Colts lost the game. Did these people watch the same game? The Saints WON this game not the Colts losing it. Coach Peyton made some gutsy calls and the Defense did what it did all season, they bent but did not break. The interception they keep talking about the receiver might have been injured or Manning made a bad throw. Yet they miss the obvious, the CB made a great play and the Saint had put Manning in a position they had to move the ball.
At the end of the day however it does not matter, the Saints won. Congratulations to the Saints for giving those of us, the true die hard fans an amazing ride this season and rewarding our devotions. We cannot wait for next year.
While the focus on the power users of the world swirls around the 5800 series the rest of the world is fired up about the 5700 series of video cards from ATI. At under $200 these cards still deliver outstanding performance and carry the same features as their big brothers. The top of this heap is the 5770.
The 5770 series performs like it was design for 1680×1050. At this resolution the bigger cards in the 5000 series are wasted as they cannot stretch their graphics processing legs. The 5770 however takes this resolution at full stride and even has a little more to give. While most companies still work through reference designs for this Sapphire has aready adopted their Vapor-X Technology to this line up.
We talked to Sapphire last year during our Christmas give away and Vapor-X was one of the things we discussed. I was particularly excited because during the discussion I found the first cards to get the Vapor-X system would be the 5770 and the 5750.
Vapor-X is a custom cooling solution developed by Sapphire. It is essentials a small enclosed liquid cooling system built into the video cooler. This tied with a quiet fan means the Vapor–X line cools better and runs quieter than stock designs.
With extra cooling also comes a bit better clocking. The Vapor-X 5770 is clocked at 860 MHz instead of the 850 MHz that is stock from ATI. This speed bump is not enough to really give a noticeable speed bump over the stock but it is there is you want it. The Vapor-X technology however is definitely worth having. The cooler is next to silent even under some pretty heavy use. The temperatures are outstanding, at full load I have never had this card above 60c.
The card is small in size and will fit easily in most cases. It uses a single power connection and even then is a power sipper compared to previous generations of video cards.
All this is nice but can it game, boy can it! At 1680×1050 with high detail, 4xAA and 8xAF enabled the card delivered right at 60 FPS in Dirt 2. The graphics had all the DX 11 goodness and the play was smooth as ice. The same was true for ever other game I threw at it. Batman AA, Dragon Age, EVE Online and others all performed flawlessly at high detail with AA and AF enabled. In the fact the card was so smooth that at no time could anyone tell if I had in my 5850 or the 5770.
My findings back up a method of getting hardware I have been preaching for years. Find the product designed to your needs. The 5850 is a great card but it is designed to handle bigger displays than the 1680 range and it’s real horse power lays dormant. The 5770 on the other hand is running full tilt at 1680 with those detail levels up. It can go higher but with the lose of some of the extra eye candy. The 5770 still has the full DX11 support found in the 5800 series and enough muscle to use it. Also you will find EYEfinity support but at this price point I am not sure this is worth worrying about.
Sapphire has however taken this great hardware and gone a step further with the use of it’s Vapor-X technology. Looking at the pricing on NewEgg right now there is only a $12 premium to be paid for Vapor-X, which gives you better and quieter cooling. Without a doubt Sapphire stands as king on this line up.
In early releases of this card Sapphire did have an issue where the BIOS for the card had been set wrong and turned off some of the power this card could offer. However Sapphire quickly dealt with this and an update was offered within days to anyone needing it. I have build 3 systems in the last two weeks using these cards and none of them suffered from this issue.
If you are going to buy a 5700 series video card there is no choice to be made in my opinion. The Vapor-X cards are the king of the hill and the only card I would buy.
Lets face it the buzz word of the world right now is to make something “green”. The standard pitch is that by doing this you somehow can help save the planet with your efforts. Now I am not here to dispute the concept of climate change and man’s impact but I do think the environmentalist have missed the boat. Green can be as much about saving money as saving a tree. Less electrical use will not only save the amount of fossil fuels burned but also the money you spend on power. Now that is a green we can all get behind.
The concept of the Green Gaming Machine is a simple one, can we build a computer that can save energy and still deliver good gaming performance. I think we need to take that one step further, can it save us money.
For this challenge I will be building a PC to meet the minimum system requirements HTL and I have agreed to. Gaming at 1680×1050 at 35 FPS minimum with 2x AA and 4xAF enabled. This means you can get good gaming performance with a good detail level.
Now while Paul will be spending a lot of time looking at benchmarks and comparing numbers I am only worried about two numbers, the performance in relationship to our criteria and the power the system will use. I will be comparing various components and seeing first if the need the criteria. If they do then I move forward, if not, out they go and on to the next. So you will not find my build report studded with benchmark numbers.
At the end of the day performance will be judged but it will be to compare against cost and consumption. Building a green PC that sips juice is easy, building a gaming PC that performs is easy. It is even easy to balance the two if the cost does not matter, however to balance the performance, consumption and cost, now that is the challenge.
I can tell you that my early observations have changed the way I look at power and the PC. I believe as you explore this more it will change the way you look at this as well.
Be sure to check out Paul’s Editorial on this over at High Tech Legion.