Every family has at least one, that person that the rest of the family turns to when their computer goes down. That person that asks if others have seen some show about a blue police box or a starship, maybe even a bunch of droids and is met with awkward silence. The family geek is often the most unappreciated member and yet is called on to make sure Facebook works, or the computer powers up or the DVR was not flashing 12:00. So lets take some time and talk about how to make that geeks Christmas great.
Not every geek is a tech head so buying parts for a computer build might seem a good idea but is actually not. Unless the geek of the family has specifically requested a computer component I would suggest not buying one. Now that is not to say the family geek would not appreciate the gesture, however they usually have specific parts in mind and more than likely have bought them already. Also individual components can be expensive with some ranging into the $300+ range. Lets instead focus on some good lower cost items that pretty much any geek will appreciate.
USB Flash Drive: This little device may not seem like a big deal but these are often used devices that every geek can never seem to have enough of. You can find these devices in sizes ranging from 8 gig to 128 gig. You can find smaller but I would never suggest them and I personally think 128 gig is a bit large, to me 16 gig and 32 gig are the sweet spots. You can often find decent 32 gig flash drives for around $20. You will have a choice between USB 2.0 and USB 3.0, ALWAYS go with the USB 3.0. These newer drivers are much quicker and the geek likely has a newer system that can make use of the USB 3.0 speeds. As for brands I am partial to Kingston and every listener knows this. They make, in my opinion, the best flash drives. However I have found a few other brands that I would suggest. If you live near a Microcenter their generic flash drives have proven to be a great value and work very well. Also Corsair remains one of the top flash drive makers as well. No matter what brand you buy however a flash drive in the stocking will make that geeks eyes twinkle.
Mousing Surface: A mouse pad, the more common name, is something most people do not think of as a gift but one that I think is super for ANY computer user. A good mousing surface makes the mouse movements easier by providing better tracking for your optical mouse, your mouse movements are more precise and accurate. Now a bit of advice, avoid the generic cloth pads you can get at the local electronic stores. They might look pretty new but they stain, unravel, fade and in general fall apart way to quickly. If you want a padded, more clothe like surface I recommend the Landon series from our friends at Thermaltake. These are the BEST flexible pads I have used but they set you back $40+. I am a bigger fan of what are known as hard surface pads. My personal favorite is the WoW!Pad, only place I have seen these is on Amazon so look there and they run around $15 for the biggest one. A number of companies make similar pads but these are without doubt for me the best I have used. Your geek will love this as will anyone else that uses a mouse all the time.
Magnetic Screw Bowl: If your geek does any kind of computer building or work then this simple little gift will be a godsend. These are available in various shapes and sizes and cost anywhere from $2 to $10 depending on what you want from it. The premise is simple, a large magnet in the bottom of the bowl means any screws or such thrown in the bowl stays in the bowl until you purposefully take it out. I know this sounds like a silly gift idea but for as someone the builds computers almost every day I can tell you these are the best things since Coke Zero. Every geek that ever builds or repairs a PC should have one, and even if they do, a few extra will be appreciated.
Headband Lamp: When we did our PC Build Series I mentioned this devices as something a geek should have in his tool kit. These little lights are amazing when it comes to working on a PC. They allow light to exactly where you need it without contortions or needing 3 hands to hold lights and parts plus use the screw driver. They may not be stylish for our in public but when you are working on your PC, style is seldom a consideration. Devices like this range in price on Amazon from $5 to $35, I would say around $20 is a reasonable price.
Gift Cards: When all else fails the gift card is a solid fall back position. With gift cards available for practically every geeky thing on the planet this is a sure win. Prices on these cards can range from $10 to $100 typically meaning you can pretty much cover any price range you are shooting for. The key here is to have knowledge of the persons interests. For example if they like to read a Barnes and Noble (if they have a Nook) or an Amazon (if they have a Kindle) is a great choice. The techie geek might want a Microcenter, Newegg or even an Amazon card to buy parts and a PC Gamer will love a Steam card.
Now compared to many tech gift guides this might seem kind of sparse and generic, but my goal is different than theirs. I am not trying to sell something I would like as a gift or what an advertiser paid me to sell. I am looking at this as a way to give you some great, simple $20 or so range ideas that will make a geek happy and be useful to every geek in your family.
There are a lot of other great gifts out there but it would take pages to write up all the ideas. The best gift I think you can give your geek however is to show some appreciation to what he does. Have the family sit down Christmas night and share with him this year the Night of the Doctor special on BBC/BBC America. Do not roll your eyes, just sit and enjoy the moment with him, or her. Show them your grateful for all they do for the family and consider them more than in family tech support.
As always I wanted to post something to be thankful for this year. One thing we have never done on this show is really take the time to say thank you to all the company’s that have supported our show with samples for review or even sponsorships, I want to correct that this year.
Thermaltake: I have to start the thank you’s with our shows podcast sponsor for the last two years and a company that has stood by this show for many years Thermaltake. They have weather good reviews and bad from us but has always excepted what we are trying to do as a show, even when the review did not go their way. They are a great company that we are very thankful to have as a part of our show.
Kingston: Last year Kingston was the first sponsor every for our show and they have also been with the show for a long time. They make a great product and have been generous with the show in the way of review samples as well as spare parts for builds for our test rigs. Their support is something we do not have words to express our gratitude for.
Gigabyte: Over the years I have tried to work with every motherboard maker out there but only one has always been there when we needed a review sample or a board to test a new chip, the folks at Gigabyte. I have used a lot of boards over the years and even without their support I would suggest them as a first choice when buying. They produce high quality boards and have great pricing for what they offer.
Fractal Design: For the last few years Fractal has given us the opportunity to look at their cases and we have not been disappointed. Their simple elegant design immediately caught our attention but their build quality won us over. When we decided this year to go with an ITX build they where the first to jump in support us. Plus of course we still have more cases to see.
Steelseries: With our second set of products sent by Steelseries for our gaming peripheral shoot out, they have shown that their products are some of the best made. Their staff is quick to answer our calls and we are grateful for their support of the show.
AMD and Intel: Yes I know I just put the competitors together. The reason for this is that both companies over the years have worked hard with us to make sure we have the latest chips for review as well as having the parts we need for our test systems. In our spirit of being thankful this is not about competition but gratitude and we are grateful toi the support of both companies.
Genius: This year saw us have a number of companies send us product for review for the first time and one of the first was Genius. Their GX gaming gear has become one of our favorite’s around our lab and their quick support for our holiday giveaway won them a place in our hearts.
Lian Li: This was the first year Lian Li has stepped forward and taken part in the show and we have been impressed.
Logitech: The name might be familiar but as a company this was the first time they where officially a part of the show. They delivered a great product and showed why they are an industry leader.
Silverstone: Another new comer Silverstone gave us a chance to check out a couple of their power supplies as well as experience their unique case design, color us impressed.
Hauppuage: Bringing us a unique product lineup with some really interesting application this company has opened some new doors for the show.
EQD Corporation: The makers of Auria monitors was the first monitor company to work with us and we are excited about their products. Great quality with a low price make them an awesome value and that makes them a great choice in our book.
GamersGate: They may be listed last but they are certainly not the least valuable new addition to Computer Ed Radio. Their support by making sure we have various games for review cannot be overstated. Their contributions to the show are amazing and most welcome.
There are other I missed, I am sure and so let me say thank you to everyone that has support our show in 2013 and over the years. I ask all of you that follow Computer Ed Radio to send these companies a note saying thank you for their support or at the very least make them the first choice on your shopping lists this year. These companies give us the means to bring you reviews and tell you about great new products and not so great ones, they add to our show in ways you cannot imagine.
I also want to take the time to thank the folks at WSIU for the work they put in. They give us access to a great studio and then provide us with the work for much of the final editing as well as the chance for our show to be heard over the air ways locally and nation wide. A big thank you to Jason Berner, a young man with a passion for radio and computer gaming. He is working hard to learn the trade and his efforts as our engineer are greatly appreciated. I would be remiss to not thank my co-host and BFF Doug Berner for his contributions to the show. His counter point to me I think gives the show an edge that it was missing before he joined. His friend ship and efforts in the show mean a great deal to me.
Finally I am thankful to all of you, the listeners of Computer Ed Radio, it is for you I do this show and your listening and appreciation and amazing to me. This show started as a support tech for a local IPS talking about buying for a geek for Christmas so many years ago and look at where we are today. Back then I did this show because I love the hobby of computing and wanted to share that love with others. Today that is still the reason I do this show and the love for the hobby I stronger than ever. Thank you, to each and every one of you for giving me the platform to share that passion.
As we see 2013 roll to a close I have to tell you I am not sure what 2014 holds. We just did a year a of giveaways and some great shows, how are we going to top that? Well I am sure we will find a way, we always do.
I will close with this wish, I wish that each of you find some passion in this amazing hobby like I have and share it like I do. I wish that in some small way this show has inspired you to seek more from computing and helped you along the path. I wish that this holiday season you find the things that give you passion and share that passion with the people you love in your life. From my family and the entire staff at Computer Ed Radio (man all those years ago I would have never dreamed I had a staff), we wish you the happiest of holidays this season.
You know it is easy for journalists to tell you what is right about a product and even easier to explain what is wrong. However while everyone can tell you what is wrong no one seems to want to step forward and give realistic ways to fix things. A few weeks back on this blog I attacked the F2P world for the mess it had become, a world that is mostly MMO style games. Well I do not want to be one of those people that will tell you what is wrong but never offer a solution, so Doug and I have spoken on this often and I thought I would share our ideas.
The F2P model is supposed to work on the concept of giving away a game and then charging for small items in game to build revenue. This model works but only when the company sinks most of it’s time and effort into creating new items for the micro-transaction store. The result is often a game that feels shallow to more hardcore gamers. This model does not give the developers a steady cash stream to work with either. Many studies show that only about 20% of a games players actually provide the money to allow the other 80% to have a game to play.
The problem is the old model was not a good one either. The gamer would pay $60 for the game and then be expected to pay $15 a month to keep playing the game, resulting in a game that had a lot of cost associated with it, over $100 within the first 3 months of game play.
There is a hybrid system out there right now, Guildwars took a mixed approach with the game costing the initial $60 but the monthly play being free and then adding micro transactions and you buy any deep expansions. While that system seems to work well it does have the scare of spending $60 to pay for a game that may or may not be worth the money in the end.
The subscription model can be a boon for the players as they do not need to worry about buying little things for the game. However if you have this with a large upfront fee for the base game and have a micro-transaction store you turn off a lot of players. However the developers benefit from a steady cash and fairly predictable cash flow that can be used for more content.
The best solution I think is in the middle of all of these and my hope is people like Richard Garriot and the folks making ESO will listen.
Lets begin with the initial game itself. The real cost of an MMO comes in two parts, first the initial recoup of investment and then the constant upkeep and expansion. That initial recoup is the big pink elephant in the room that gamers hate to talk about, but it is viable concern. You could simple give the game away, as most F2P games do now and then hope enough people play to bring that investment back. What if, however you could have the best of both worlds? What if you could charge for the initial game buy but do so in a manner that does not drive gamers away? The folks at CCP currently have that model working with the initial game purchase being $20 and that includes the first month of a subscription fee. Gamers want free, we all do but they also know the truth of gaming and if the price was reasonable for the start you could charge a small fee and still get a large turn out, helping to defer some of that development cost.
Now then how to make money after that initial purchase? Personally I think the best solution is a subscription model. This gives the players, hopefully, a chance for higher quality content to roll out faster and means the devs have a steady cash flow. The best way to do this however, in a world full of F2P options, is to keep that cost low. The $15 a month model is a bit steep when you have so many free monthly choices. Bring that price down to $10 or even $5 a month and I think you would seen gamers flock to it, as long as the content was flowing at a reasonable pace and was actually substantive.
Now we still have a third way to bring in money, the micro-transaction store. The key I think is to make it purely about cosmetic items. For example custom dye packs for gear so you can change the default color. Now I do not think you do this by limiting the color you can find in game. What I think you do is al the colors for an item exist in game but you have no control in what you get. The Dye packs are one shots to change an items color to match what you want it to be. The same can be done for mounts, when you buy a mount you get a random color but in the cash store you could choose the mounts color and style. These types of transactions would in no way effect game play but would still be snapped up as people would want to personalize their experience more. Simple skin and color changes that only effect the cosmetics of the game are easy to generate but could bring in some solid cash returns.
As I stated a few weeks ago I think the F2P experiment has failed, we are seeing the efforts being more and more junk, game quality is suffering badly. Yet Pandora’s box has been opened and there is no stopping it whole hog. However I feel that if we look at a more middle ground approach we could see game quality return and gamers get a more satisfying experience and game developers not having to compromise their game vision to earn the money they need to keep development rolling.
If you have some ideas on this I would love to hear about them…..
Hey everyone just posting a quick note. Due to a combination of health reasons and a couple of unplanned business trips Doug and I have decided to not do a new show for this weekend or next. We have been fighting this ands up until just moments ago our plans where to make this happen but in the end we decided that show quality was to important for us to rush something out for you.
With this in mind the next show we will do will air the weekend of November 23rd and will be our first show for our holiday giveaway.
I cannot tell you how much this decision is eating at me. Yes I know it is just a couple of weeks but you, our listeners mean a great deal to me and I hate let anyone down. I ask your patience with this and promise we will make this up to you with the Holiday giveaway…
Thank to all of your for your support and patience.
There are a lot of game out there that are considered a success within the industry, they make a ton of money and players enjoy them but the truth is very few of those games are amazing. Look at the Battlefield series, (not counting 4 yet, still working on the review) or Call of Duty. Both of these series are highly successful but none of them with some of the earliest in the series could be termed amazing and even those are close. So what makes a game amazing?
First I think we need to define amazing in this context. Games today are judged on a lot of criteria, the most talked about but in truth one of the least important is the graphics of the game. In fact I think in some ways we are seeing graphical quality, especially so called realism, becoming more a detriment than a help as so many game devs focus on it to the exclusion of other aspects of the game. Other criteria used by many reviewers are also length of game play, game play stability and the mechanics of the game. These all play a part but to me they are contributing factors, not actual criteria.
For me what makes an amazing game is the water cooler test. The water cooler test is basically how much the game generates conversation outside the game itself in the players. How much does the game impact you, the experience move you. All the above criteria can work toward this goal but in the end they are not the actual test of what makes a great game. Many games over the years have scored highly in most of these categories and others but yet fail the water cooler test, they do not impact us.
So if the criteria points are not what makes an amazing game, then what does? That is hard to describe because it is a combination of so many factors and the way they balance together, an amazing game is truly more than the sum of it’s part. Over the last couple of years two games have leapt out at me as amazing. One is genre I have always loved and another a genre I typically avoid. Both have a play style, making use of first person, that is not usually high on my list. Yet each game has drawn me in the keeps me coming back and the way the companies did it where from two different approaches.
First up is Skyrim, arguably one of greatest games of all time. Bethesda created one of the most open world play styles ever seen, more open and in depth than 99% of the MMOs on the market including the ones that have been around 5 years or more. While Skyrim scored well on the bullet point check list it was not those checks that made the game great. In fact, as strange as this sounds it was not anything Bethesda did that made the game great.
What truly took Skyrim from a successful game to an amazing game was the open environment for game modders. Because of the solo play nature of the game Bethesda was able to allow the game modding community dive headfirst into the game and stand back. While Bethesda did produce some DLC the real expansions of note to the game came from the games community. This community energy and imagination tied to an open world design that embraced the additions resulted in what is truly an amazing game.
Doubt how amazing the game is, lets apply the water cooler test. I found people in businesses that never played a video game in their life talking about Skyrim. The TV industry embraces Skyrim and used it in more than few prime time shows, even the games little terminologies and quirks became a part of our society. I know almost no one who does not get an arrow in the knee joke. The game so impact players with their own little stories and adventures that these where talk in more than a few break rooms and not just the gamers joined in.
The second game shares only the game play perspective in common, in every other aspect it is almost at the other end of the scale, Borderlands 2.
Looking at the two games they are very different in a lot of aspects. Where Skyrim worked at a high detail graphics approach, BL2 went with a stylized comic book art system. Skyrim was about swords and magic while Skyrim is about guns and a mutant or two. Skyrim had a serious tone to it’s storyline and BL2 is literally a dive into sophomoric humor. Skyrim has a wide open play style that allows the community to expand the game and BL2 has a narrower adventure system with no community modding being supported.
Yes with these differences in many ways BL2 is just as amazing as Skyrim. Gearbox find a near perfect balance of the Diablo style of action RPG and then blended it with the FPS genre to create a game that is very successful. What makes BL2 amazing is as equally the opposite of Skyrim. Where Bethesda basically took their hands off the game and let the community run wild, Gear box kept control but kept giving the players more.
Through a combination of a micro transaction system and a player base reward system using their SHIFT feature, Bethesda gave to the players and just kept giving. In fact we have commented on the current contest Gearbox is running through the SHIFT system which gives players a chance to win as much as $50,000 just for playing the game, that’s an incredible thank you to the fan base.
What about the cooler talk criteria? While BL2 has not made the inroads culturally that Skyrim has made, with gamers the fan base is actually a bit more intense. One of the features BL2 has is co-operative game play. You can jump in with friends or even strangers and share the worlds gaming experience. This has a MMO type feel without the mess that comes with most MMO game play. It is common for me to talk with friends about a battle I fought in game, or something funny one of the characters in the game said and how great it tied into an event at the moment. This game demands you talk to friends and share experiences.
Now while these two approaches might seem to be at opposite ends of the scale, they resulted in the same effect, the created an intensely loyal and extreme active community. Each of the communities are actually growing despite both games being at the point when most games are in a bargain bin for $9.99. Both games continue to drive discussions among the fan base as well as outside the fan base, in fact both are actually picking it steam it seems.
The lesson to be learned from both games is that it is not enough to give a community a game, you need to interact with it. Now Bethesda did this in the most passive method possible. They made a game and let the modders have at, basically taking their hands off. They gave tools to the community as well as a solid base structure to work around and they they got out of the way. This removal was in it’s own way a powerful interaction with the community and they responded. Gearbox took the opposite approach and engaged strong and direct with the community. They have been super open about the game as a developer and they have made a point of giving a ton to the community.
This commitment however to the player base is something lacking from most other games on the market. There are some that approach this level but they always seem to pull back short of going for broke at either end of the spectrum. We as gamers and consumers should demand this kind of support or direction from our game developers. They need to make the community, as much as the game, their focus to create a truly amazing game.
With our gearing up for the Holiday giveaways I have to admit to being a bit overwhelmed and thus am fighting some writers block when it comes to the blog. With that in mind I am going to give you a few random musings this week.
What is with the sudden concern over ultra quiet operation? With the new card release by AMD the competition has only two real areas to dispute, the heat of the card and the noise level. The funny thing is nVidia actually had a card only a couple of generations ago that was worse with noise and heat. They at the time argued that an enthusiast rig could handle the heat and the noise only matter during gaming when it would not be heard. Now suddenly it matters a great deal.
The whole argument with noise makes no sense to me anyway because the noise level, while measurable is not an absolute. There are so many factors to take into account. For example a fan that creates a noise level of 35dB might be loud in a ambient 25dB environment but is silent in a 35dB ambient room. Just for grins and giggles I fired up a sound meter, right now, with no fans in the house running and everyone else in bed the ambient noise level in my house is 33dB. My computer at it’s loudest when I put a noise meter to my ear is 40dB, which a lot of people is claiming to be to loud. Yet that is less than someone standing next to me and speaking.
During gaming the noise level of your PC becomes even less. Using the new AMD cards we are seeing reports of around 55dB to 60dB. Oh my god the noise, the pain, but is it really? According the most charts someone standing within about 10 feet of you speaking to you in a normal voice level is around 60dB to 65dB. During gaming while wearing my headset I cannot hear my wife 90% of the time speaking to me at a normal voice level, and that is around 5 feet away. So if that is the case then the sound of the video card during gaming is going to not be noticed or a barely perceived hum in the background.
We still need to account for the ability of the person in question to hear and the tonal quality all of which effect how a noise is perceived by us. As you can see the absolute sound readings review sites are getting, which are done in quite rooms designed to maximize sound and without cases, are misleading to say the least.
Next up, why are people still scared to be labeled as gamers? We have talked about this a lot on the show, how people seem to be scared that if they are considered gamers this somehow is a disease that will make others look down on them. This really hit home again for me this week when I was speaking to a marketing rep for a gaming making computer gaming materials. I asked if he was a gamer and he was almost emphatic that was NOT a gamer, he had to much in his life going on. I asked how he could do what he does without some understanding of the product and he explained that sure he plays a few hours of Skyrim or Battlefield each week but he was not a gamer.
This is sad, especially when those that are supposed to be the most pro to the concept of gamers are so scared to admit that they themselves are gamers. News flash folks, EVERYONE is a gamer. From the people with their weekly bridge night, the people sitting in the park playing chess, the family that plays risk every week, the person that plays with Civilization, the people that play Angry Birds and the folks that spend hours in World of Warcraft, all are gamers.
Gaming is a safe and actually fairly affordable hobby. Affordable? Yes I can here the cries of protest now about the cost of a gaming PC and so on. Think about it, you can get a solid gaming rig for less than the cost of a cheap bass boat, yet no one hides from being called a fisherman. You can build a viable gaming PC for the cost of a budget shotgun and no one thinks hunters are odd. There are actually quite a few hobbies that cost more than PC gaming. But lets move outside of hobbies, how about bad habits? A pack a day smoker can pay as much as $1500 or more per year for their habit, again a good gaming PC can be built for less. The PC gaming is less likely to kill you or put other around you at risk and yet no one hides they are a smoker. A typical beer drinker will spend as much as $2000 a year for their beer, again that gaming PC does not look all that expensive, my point should now be clear.
Finally let me close on the whole Windows 8/8.1 and the hatred around it. I find it amazing that people are so caught up in hating this OS and in the end only because of an interface. I hear people arguing that it is harder to use, this is not true, the interface is actually easy to use. The issue is that it is different and so you need to think a few moments when first using it. This claim that it only works well on a touch device is nuts. The side to side scrolling works with the scroll wheel of the mouse easily enough and the closing of apps while different is not hard.
What amazes me even more is who the biggest complains come from, well at least the most vocal, the enthusiast community. These are the same people that are constantly pushing their PC to go further and do more than a new OS interface, a new chance to explore their PC, something they claim they do for fun, is bad to them? What exactly about it is bad? You try to nail them down and they begin to stutter and sputter because they do not have a deep, solid answer but just a feeling, the new interface is alien to them.
I have pointed out to a number of enthusiasts that the interface can be worked around with just the addition on a number of low cost programs that bring the old interface back while allow you to keep the nice underpinnings of the Windows 8 OS. The response is almost universally the same, why should I have to pay for the OS to do what I want it to do. Do they even know how DUMB that answer sounds coming out of their mouth? These are the people that pay $100 for a different cooler, or buy replacement fans for their PC at the cost of $20 each. They are the ones that will build full custom water cooling and buy the specialized plates needed to customize the components for this to fit. They will drop hundreds of dollars to customize their PC and the balk at a $5 purchase to change an OS interface?
Well enough musing for now, I apologies if I rambled a bit, as I said there is so much going on I find it hard to focus in. Next week I promise to put together a more coherent piece. In the mean time this week embrace your inner gamer and let that geeky gaming flag fly, ignore the haters and actually give Windows 8 a chance to show you what it has to offer and for the love of god all of you be quiet so I can game, my fans are bad enough
When the concept of Free 2 Play gaming was first introduced I was on the bandwagon before there was one. I love the idea of the game being free for basic play to consumers and then allowing you to buy as much or as little of the game as you want based on how much the game draws you in. This concept takes the idea of a demo and stretches it out as far as possible. Now the demo is actual game play not a tiny fraction. Fast forward to today and the gaming world is rushing to embrace the F2P model, or have they.
Since the first F2P games started to appear in the North American market, there has been a lot of change in the concept of F2P and some of it’s mechanics. Not all of these changes however have been for the good of consumers. Lets begin with the thing I hate most, “Founders” packages. The idea is that the player will show their support for the game buy spending anywhere from $20 to as high as $200+ for a package of in game perks and often early beta game access. These in game perks however are seldom worth the cost incurred and the early beta access is usually a lot less than the person buying thinks. These packs exist to create funding for the company but in essence you are asked to spend a fairly large sum to support a game that does not yet exist and will be free to others in a fairly short time. Further the perks you gain are good for the early game but seldom help later in the game and will eventually be made available to other players at a much lower cost than was originally paid and then allow them to further reduce the cost by only buying the times they want from the pack. The only time you are truly buying that is unique at the end of the day is a forum tag.
Speaking of beta access, another thing the F2P model has done is destroy the definition of beta, something even best Buy now does not seem to know. A Beta Test is an organized effort to test aspect of a game, piece of software or hardware, in specific areas to ensure quality control before final release. Today we have a couple of different beta stages in F2P. The first is closed beta which is an invite only, okay invite of buy your way in only. Yes folks that’s right you that bought the founders pack paid for the privilege of doing work for the developers and those of us that will play for free. This is the closest to what a beta is supposed to be but even at this stage F2P games have begun to fail as a good 80% of customer feedback during these so called betas is largely ignored.
The second stage is the “open” beta where the game is made publically available and this one is the worst of the lies we get from the game developers. In this mode the developers often open the “store” for the game and allow the players to buy items for their play experience and usually make a lot of noise about game resets being over. Think about it, you are asked to give money for items in game and the game advances you make are never going away, sounds like a release to me not a beta. However the devs hide behind the beta term to push a game on the public that is bug ridden and incomplete. In this way they are not held to a high standard for game quality but still get money into their pockets from the gamers. This in my opinion borders on being a criminal con.
The final and possible most damaging change, in my opinion, has been the rush for F2P devs to cater to the collector gamers. Now what I mean by collector gamers are those that want every little item, no matter how meaningless or useless in the gameplay they are. These items are nothing but cutesy trinkets and they make devs a lot of money.
These items are a huge draw for the devs because they can sell a lot of them and the cost to produce them for game is next to nothing. Look in many fantasy MMO games at the mounts. They will introduce a bear mount for example, for $3 you get to ride a bear into battle. Then 3 months later a black bear mount is introduced and again for $3 you can get it. The sad truth it is is the same mount with a color change, it took some artist 10 seconds an a key press. But they are not done, a month or so later the limited edition snow white bear is brought out for $5, again 120 seconds and a color change.
Now let me make clear that I understand these companies need to make money and if people are willing to pay for it companies will make it. I also understand that games are supposed to be fun and if these people enjoy this style of gaming they should have the option. What I do not understand is the need for the F2P gaming world to continue to promote this type of one size fits all gaming.
I am an old school gamer, very old school and love PC gaming. When most of these devs where learning to use the potty like big boys I was gaming. I will go farther though, I am not just an old school gamer but I love gaming. It has been a passion in my life for closing in on 40 years. I love the fact games are reaching for new audiences but what about the core audience, those that have been with you for decades. When I approached MWO with this question the response I got was, “It would seem from your response that you are not one of the types of gamers we are making MWO for.” Yes that IS a quote from their email to me. So let me get this straight you are not making a mechwarrior shooter for mechwarrior fans? This type of play off the name and style but deliver another experience entirely is sadly the status quo in F2P gaming today.
As I said when F2P gaming was first introduced I was excited about the potential look at it today I am less excited and more sickened. I love that it has opened the world of PC gaming to a whole new crew. I love that it offers a chance for new gaming experiences with little to no cost to the consumer if they choose. However I am sickened by the fact that every F2P game in the end becomes the same silly buy trinkets in store game. Does this mean I think F2P will die, no it will thrive and stay with us because there is money to be made. However it does mean I will change how I suggest people look at F2P games.
First never buy a founders pack, sure it sounds neat but the truth is you are throwing away money and not truly gaining anything of value. Understand that even when a game says it is in open beta it is actually a release, do not fall for the game is in beta argument when serious flaws appear and are not fixed for MONTHS. In fact I would not invest any money into cash stores in games until either they leave beat or you have played 3 months are are comfortable with where the game is and seems to be heading in development.
Free 2 Play gaming was a wonderful dream that is steadily devolving into a nightmare. There is still hope, some developer may buck the trend and actually use F2P in the way we originally saw it, to steadily give us new content and game play experiences and allow us to dive as deep as we choose into the game. I still check out each new release with the hope as I play I will be proven wrong and this will be the game that does what the dream of F2P promised.
For now though to all the devs out there my wallet is closed. When your game impresses me and not before will I give you my money and to impress me you need more than a few days of content, show me a real game with a real effort to support it and I will support you with my funds. Until then I will play F2P games until they bore me and then move to the next, with the realization I am not wasting my money if I do not stay long.
It was a little over two years ago that we took a look at the Fractal Design Arc series of cases, at that time we looked at the Arc Midi and Mini. Well two years later Fractal is back with an upgrade of the Arc Midi and giving us a look at a new member of the Arc lineup, the XL.
The Midi R2 has taken the great Arc Midi design and tweaked it to make it better. The top now sports two USB3 connections, the USB 2 are gone. Also the fan controller has been moved from the rear plate to the top front of the case.
As you can see they have heard the cries of the tech enthusiast community and put a window in the side panel. The windows is like all things from Fractal, very well done without being over done and is very subdued in it’s appearance. I love the fact it is large enough to give a good view of the components while not so large as to show the mess. I also like that instead of a clear window they have actually smoked it, the effect is very sexy.
Another nice upgrade is the front panel comes out giving easy access to the filter for the front intake fans. This system is super easy to use and goes back in as easily as it removes.
Internally the case is pretty much the same with the moveable drive bays. In fact looking closely I think it is exactly the same as even the extra back panel mount for the fan controller is still there. The only real addition internally I see is the ability to mount two SSDs to the back of the motherboard tray. This is a GREAT idea but the implementation failed in the fact that this has to be done BEFORE to mount the motherboard. This means upgrading or swamping these drives is a major undertaking.
The Arc Midi is a mid tower case that will fit a full ATX motherboard but even for a mid tower the case has a large feel to it. The R2 however is a nice upgraded of the original Midi.
The new case in the Arc lineup is the Arc XL, this is a full tower brute of a case. Externally the case looks like they took the Midi design and stretched it, that assumption is pretty much spot on. The had bay area is very similar to Midi and even offers the same flexible configuration options. Speaking of flexible HD options, the XL also offers a way to mount two SSD behind the motherboard tray but this time they decided to all small removable trays. This means you can remove the SSDs and replace them without the need to remove the motherboard. I hope we see this added to the Midi R2 in a revision soon.
As I said the XL is basically a stretched out Midi with two more optical bays and the ability to use a 360mm radiator at the top instead of the 240 on the Midi. In all other aspects the design is practically the same except for size. There are two additional USB2 ports added to the USB3 at the top front as well.
During my testing of both cases I found that for me the best cooling solutions for the entire case where to make use of the great intake options. Using dual 140mm fans at the front and a 140 at the bottom I was able to achieve a great positive airflow that kept all of the system cool. This setup can be used in conjunction with pretty much any CPU cooling option. The temperature differences between the two cases where to close to call so the size made little difference other than the fact you can mount a larger liquid cooling option in the XL if you choose.
The filtering used in these cases is a foam material and that gave me some concern. I have been doing a lot of research into case filtering of late and all of my information shows that foam can be restrictive of airflow. I also saw a number of forum threads from Fractal case owners saying they got better temperature by removing the filtering. I tried this with the Midi and the results where more than I expected. I saw almost a 4c drop across the board by taking out the filters. Depending on your needs this might not be that big of deal, however this does raise the point that with these filters you can go a little cooler at the risk of needing to clean more often.
The Arc Midi R2 can be found right now for around $100. The R2 took the great features of the original Arc Mini and built on them.
Arc Midi R2
- Classic Fractal Design with a sexy subdued look.
- Great air flow and cooling options
- Easy to access front and bottom filter
- Smoked window is sexy!
- SSD mounts on back require removal of motherboard
- Filters used are air flow restrictive.
The Arc XL is a great addition to the Arc lineup, giving DIYers the options of a full, mid or mini tower case with the same styling the feature set. Currently price at around $100 it is one of the best values in a full tower case you can find. In fact it is one of the best full tower cases you can find period so that with a great price makes this case a win if you need this kind of size
- Classic Fractal Design with a sexy subdued look.
- Great air flow and cooling options
- Easy to access front and bottom filter
- Smoked window is sexy!
- SSD mounts behind motherboard are easy to use
- Filters used are air flow restrictive.
Thank you to the folks at Fractal Design for providing these cases for our review.
With various biometric security systems beginning to hit the market, people are talking about the death of the password. While they may eventually replace the password for security, the truth is that is still a few years away and right now the password is still your best bet. The issue many people face however is the sense they have to choose between an easy to remember and use password and an effective or secure one. The good news is there is no reason you cannot have both with just a little though.
The first issue at hand is to find a password that will be easy enough for you to remember. The reason this method fails for so many people is they make it obvious, will use a word, letters or numbers of significant meaning to them. For example many people use birthdates, anniversary dates, initials, names of pets, children, address or any other choice that is directly related to their life. The problem is these choices are easy for other people to find. Most of the information I have mentioned above could be easily found by looking at 90% of peoples Facebook page, add a slightly more determined hacker and you can see how easy it is to crack these passwords.
To pick a good password we must begin by not using the obvious. To make a password easy to recall we should have it reference something that we commonly think of but we have to find our way out of these obvious choices. A step in this is the realization that as password does not need to be confined to normal parameters. We do not need a word or number set specifically to create a password and while the lower limit of many passwords may be 8 characters that does not mean we need to stop there. In the early, pre tech days, passwords where not the most commonly used method, instead it was pass phrases. This is a good place to begin our quest.
Instead of individual words we should look to begin our password search with phrases. Lets say you are a Star Trek fan, a number of quick phrases should pop to mind that are fairly easy to remember.
For example: BeamMeUp, HesDeadJim, INeedMorePower, PhasersOnStun,WarpFactor8
Each of these are common phrases that pretty much any Trekkie and even none Trekkie can recall easily. However I said to avoid the obvious and so a die hard Trekkie would be best to not use these. However if you have ever watched Star Trek these pass phrases will work for you. This is an important step, you see I am looking for a pass phrase that to someone that was a fan of it’s origin would be common but to you, might be a side event at best. By taking this route the would be hacker will have a harder time figuring out your phrase of choice.
You can take this to an extreme even. Maybe your favorite thing is football, I for one am a huge Saints fan. Now again it would seem normal for me to pick a password based on the Saints or football. What if I went the other way and picked my password as something about my hated rival the Atlanta Falcons, or instead of football chose something with a sport I have zero interest in such as golf? While I care nothing about golf and all my friends know this, I have picked up phrases and words that I know well enough. A little misdirection can go a long way.
So using the information we have used above lets begin by selecting a new pass phrase. I have decided that for this article I will use my disinterest in golf and my age to pick a password, so lets try TeeOffAt CaddyShack. This is using a common gold phrase and an old movie reference related to the golf phrase to give me a simple password for me to recall. Sine people think of me as a football phone and know I am dismissive of all things gold related, neither hating not liking, it is an obscure enough reference in relationship to me personally for it to be hard to pick out.
with a base phrase in place however I have noticed that it is still fairly simple. I need to make this a bit harder to hack. The way to do this is to realize you have the entire keyboard at your disposal for picking a pass word, not just numbers and letters but capitalization and special characters as well. The base phrase gives us a base to work from now we will use it to make a real password.
Capitalization is one of the most common methods of modifying a password but people use in a way to common manner. We tend to capitalize first letters or entire key words. What we want to be is be unconventional, use capitalization in places where it makes no sense except to us. For example maybe we capitalize all of a specific letter, or letters where they appear double. Find a method that makes sense to you and apply it.
For our example I will use capitalization on letters that appear double in the passphrase only, so our passphrase now looks like this: tEEoFFatcaDDyshack, beginning to look like one of those crazy passwords isn’t it.
Next lets try some number replacement. Many numbers can be used to directly replace letters and still make sense to use, for example 0 can replace O or a 5 to replace an S. Of course you can probably find a way to add numbers in other manners as well such as an important date can be attached to this phrase since it would not have the same meaning to others. For our example I am going to do a simple number replacement and replace the O with a 0. Our passphrase now is tEE0FFatcaDDyshack.
As I said however we are not limited to just letters, numbers and capitalization, we have special characters as well. One of the most common uses for this is word replacement, there are certain characters that over the years have a word associated with them. This again adds another layer to the passphrase but we are choosing it to make sense to us so the phrase does not become hard to recall. Lets do a symbol replacement now to our pass phrase and turn it into tEE0FF@caDDyshack , wow this looks like a much more complex password that it would seem to be from our working it out.
Now that we have a solid base I want to take this one step further, I want to simplify this a bit by doing a simple word replacement, so I am going to remove the spelt out Tee and replace it with the letter. This makes our final passphrase t0FF@caDDyshack. Now we could reduce this further by knocking the word shack off the end, we could also add a number to this as well that is easy to recall but the base passphrase is one that we have created so we can easily recall it and then tweaked it so it is not so easy to guess.
While I used some specific examples, the methodology I used is easy to apply to any passphrase you want to create. The good news is that since the base phrase is from something you choose it becomes easy for you to recall it and yet in the end we have created a fairly complex password.
Now for one last point, many sites suggest using different passwords for every place you log in. I will not say this is a bad idea but I think it is overkill. My rule of thumb is a different password for every type of location. For example I have a password I use for my financial work, such as banking and Paypal. I have a different password for my purchases, such as store sites and yet another for my work and finally one for my play. Now this might seem like a lot of passwords to recall but using the method I have described it is easy to manage. Each password is in some way related to what I think about with each environment I am dealing with.
The other suggest you hear is to change your password often. Well often is a rather obscure term. For me I have 4 base passwords so I change one of these every 3 months. For example January 1st I change my word password, April 1st my Play, August 1st my financial, November 1st my purchase. Now I personally have these set in my calendar to remind me but you can pick the time and method you choose to do this.
Your password is your protection in the online world. It allows you to make sure that you and only you are the one doing the things you want done. The method I have described is literally one of dozen of methods for creating passwords. There are programs you can buy to make and recall your passwords and other creation methods and all work with various degrees of success. The method I have shown you today is one I have developed over years of password use and it works for me, find the method that works for you. However whichever method you use take the time do do it right, simple password selection puts you at risk, surely your privacy is worth a few more minutes in choosing your password.
As we continue our quest to look at SFF cases we had an opportunity to speak to the folks at Silverstone and they asked us to look at the TJ08-E. This is an mATX case but still very compact, measuring only 14.5” tall and 8.25” wide, it case easily fit on many desk shelves. What got us excited was this case was a none traditional, design at least none traditional for everyone except Silverstone.
You see over the years Silverstone has bucked many of the traditional case design trends. They are one of the strongest proponents of positive airflow design, even going to the point of designing an entire fan series just to assist with that. They also use a reversed motherboard design that moves the CPU from the top of the case where it gains the warm air as the fans pull air up and out, to the bottom of the case and usually in a direct line for air flow. This is the design we are looking at today.
On the outside of the case you will see we have the option to mount two 5.25” external devices as well as a 3.5” device at the bottom. We have the standard dual USB 3.0 slots, headphone and mic jack and of course the power off and on switch. Behind the large grill area ta the front we have a 180mm Air Penetrator fan that is the sole intake source of air for the entire case.
When we remove the side panel we see a HD bay and then the motherboard tray with a space set aside for a 120mm fan if you decide to use it. Look at the placement and you can see why we said this is a wind tunnel design. The Penetrator fan in the front is known for it ability to direct the air flow from the fan into a solid spacing. While most other fan designs spread the air as it leaves the Penetrator will keep the air in a nicely confined column when it first leaves the fan. This means in this design the air is moving in a very forceful manner from the fan and straight to the back of the case. The majority of that air is passing over the CPU and power areas of the motherboard and then right toward the exhaust port.
Now our listeners know me and I use only SSDs, so do I need to leave the HD bay in front of that fan, no. The design allows for me to remove the 3.5” drive bay and give that 180mm brute a clear shot for maximum air flow.
The PSU fits at the top of this case and has a magnetic filter at the top covering the PSU intake. The rest of the top area is closed with the exception of a small grilled section at the top rear of the motherboard tray. This leads behind the tray to and slightly indented area that then exhausts out the rear of the case through another grilled area. This is added so the positive air flow design of the case has a way to dray some of that positive pressure out the upper areas of the case.
Now a case of this type of design practically begs for a tower cooler and Silverstone thought of this, adding a neat little feature to help out. At the bottom of the case this this small adjustable platform. It can be positioned so it’s lifted platform can be against the bottom of a large tower cooler and provide support. This helps reduce some of the strain these coolers can put on a motherboard. The design is super simple and really very ingenious.
Speaking of well thought out features, remember that 180 brute of a fan at the front of the case? Well obviously it needs to be filters. Silverstone designed the filter for easy removal without opening the case. A gap between the grilled front and the fan, a small slot is used to allow the filter to be easily removed. The slot is open on both sides of the case so you can remove it in the direction best suited for your layout. The key to removing this filter is to push it in one side and have it start coming out the other.
Now you might have noticed I am not diving as deep into various features as I have in other case reviews, well that’s because the major feature of this case is it’s cooling design. To find out how well that held up I moved my Haswell 4770K build into this case. To help with this Silverstone sent their Strider Plus 750 watt modular PSU. When I say modular I mean modular, every cable on this PUS can be removed allowing for a maximum choice in cabling used. With 80Plus Silver certification and a large fan for cooling this PSU is overkill for our build, but a nice overkill. To make this work even better with our SFF case, Silverstone has developed for their entire Strider lineup a short cabling kit. This kit has all the cables you will need in a build but has greatly reduced the length of those cables. This means there is less excess cable running around and cable management is easier.
Now I can tell you as I started the build that what I said back in the early looks we took at SFF building still holds true, be aware of the motherboard layout and your build design in advance. For this build I was using the Z87N from Gigabyte, a board I might add I love to work with, well at least in mITX builds. As I have mentioned in a few reviews the Gigabyte mITX layout can be a pain because all the connections, except the front audio is on one side and close together. This layout created an issue for me during my build. The USB3 header is positioned so that I would not be able to to use the Water 3.0 Performer cooler I was trying to put in, I was forced to used the included USB 3.0 to 2.0 adapter that Silverstone includes with the cased.
Also, I noted that we got the shorter cabling kit from Silverstone for it’s usefulness in SFF builds. Well because this case supports mATX boards it can have a few reaches that are a bit longer, however the modular design of the Strider PSU shows it’s value and I was able to move and match long and short cabling to create the perfect cable set for my build.
Looking at the finished build you can see how the wind tunnel design should come into play, the 180mm Penetrator fan will be providing solid air flow unimpeded. Enough with the theory, does it deliver? Now I will begin by saying that the test results I am about to compare this to will seem unfair. I had planned to move this same build to another case and then compare but my results in the TJ08-E where such that I saw no need.
The setup I will be comparing too had the same components except the cooler was a Water 2.0 Extreme and the case used had used dual Noctua 120 for intake. In theory this base should provide much better cooling. Well the theory got blown away in the wind tunnel of the TJ080-E. CPU temperatures under load where only 2C warmer in the TJ08 than with the baseline system. Now some of this of course could be credited to the upgrades made to the Water 3.0 but shifting from a 240mm radiator to a 120 the difference should have been bigger. Especially when you realize that the 240mm radiator had been using the fan as intakes and where providing cooler outside air while this case test was using the fan as an exhaust. All these factors taken into account and the only reason we can have for the increased efficiency of the CPU cooling is the case design.
This is further displayed by the system temperature reported by the motherboard. The TJ08 was able to deliver almost 8C cooler temps for the system than the other setup. Before someone argues that this was because the radiator was exhausting heat into the case as I mentioned above, when I did the first build I tested with the radiator as exhaust and intake and saw zero difference in system temp. The amount of positive air flow seemed to counter act the setup and no system temp increase was found. So now we see the positive airflow and wind tunnel design of the TJ08 clearly show it’s power.
Looking at the finished build however a few of you might have the same concerns I had at first, what about the GPU? It has no outside air access and it’s fans face away from the wind tunnel made by the Penetrator fan. Well our testing only showed an increase of 3C on the GPU under load. It would seem the front intake is so overpowering the exhaust capabilities that a lot of that fresh air is still getting up to the GPU fans to help there as well.
The design of this case and the power of the Penetrators fans have proven themselves in our testing. The Penetrator came with options for low and high on fan speed and even at low the performance was outstanding. Any concerns about the fans noise level need to be taken from a view of perspective. If I sat in a silent room and listened, at low the fan noise could be heard but was not bad, at high it was much more noticeable but still nothing awful. However if I turned on one house fan or the kid was up running around, or the TV was on, or I was gaming in headsets or any of the many other constant noises a typical house has where active, the noise of the case fan all but vanished even at high.
I have always read about Silverstone’s efforts at positive air flow design and their commitment to SFF building before others took an active interest. Now, seeing those efforts in action I can tell you they are not hype, they are real. Priced at $100 the TJ08-E is a great mATX case for any build, the Strider series PSUs begin at $75 for 500 watts are fully modular and adding the short cabling kit is $20 more. This PSU is a perfect fit along with their SFX PSU designs for the SFF builder.
- Compact Size: smaller than some Super ITX cases
- Lots of options: the mATX design gives you a wider range of motherboard and add-on card options than a pure ITX build
- Amazing cooling: the Penetrator fan and the wind tunnel design means this case can deliver a lot more cooling that you would expect from a single intake fan design.
- Easy Filter access: with only two intakes from the outside and both filtered plus no case opening to clean, this system should stay very clean
- Removable HD Tray: removing the 3.5” tray really opens up the front intake to give maximum air flow. Plus the bottom 3.5” area can hold an HD and SSD if you like without impeding the intake
- Only a single designed SSD mount: This case must be of an older design because the only SSD mount designed into the case is a bottom screw hole system.
- Top Panel needs lots of screws to remove: hard to call this a con but you have to remove 6 screws to take off the top panel.
As you can tell I had to stretch for some cons for this case. The TJ08-E should be on everyone’s short list for an mATX build that is compact and powerful. Be sure to include the Stride PSU with the short cable kit to get the most out of the build potential.
We would like to thank Silverstone for provide this case and PSU for our review.
As aired the weekend of September 21st