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I managed to get $150 in Best Buy gift cards through work and decided to put them towards the purchase of a Solid State Hard Drive.  After some research I went with the Intel 530 Series 240GB drive.

If you don’t know what a solid state drive is, it is basically a hard drive that reads and writes at roughly the speed of RAM; something like 3-10 times faster than a traditional 7200 RPM spinning hard drive, with the exact performance improvement depending on a lot of factors.  The main appeal to me was that if you set the SSD HDD as your boot drive and main gaming drive you can boot windows and launch games a lot quicker.  Since my gaming time is at a premium and is often in small chunks, being able to get things going quicker could be really nice.  Not something I would shell hard hard cash for, but a seemingly good upgrade to target with the gift cards.

I won’t bore you with all the gory details, but installation wasn’t exactly trouble-free.  Physical installation was quite simple, the drive is 2.5″ but comes with a 3.5″ adapter which I had no trouble installing.  I then installed Windows 7 and was able to boot from the new drive no problem.  The problems came in when attempting to switch to the new drive as my sole boot drive and format my old 700GB drive into a storage drive.  Apparently not all Windows 7 installation partitions are created equal… since my original drive was still plugged in when I installed Windows on the new drive, it didn’t create a boot partition and other essential elements needed.  So when I did eventually format my old drive I was unable to boot from the new drive and had to run repairs from the Windows 7 disk to make the new installation bootable.  Fortunately there were lots of online resources to guide me through it.

Moral of the story is, if you are installing Windows on a new drive that you want to be your future boot drive you need to physically disconnect the old boot drive so that Windows doesn’t see it.  Otherwise Windows won’t install everything needed on the new drive.  It sounds weird, but that’s how it works.

Anyways, now that the drive is up and running I am pretty pleased with it.  My boot time dropped from a couple minutes of grinding down to a mere 10 seconds from power on to Windows desktop which is awesome.  Most games launch quicker also, though performance within most games seems largely unaffected except for things like loading save files or complex textures early on.  So I think it’s a good upgrade for a gaming rig provided you know what it does and doesn’t do for you.  I’m also still learning, and there may be some ways to leverage it that I’m not aware of yet.

240 GB isn’t a massive amount of space but I’m re-installing games as I play them and so far I haven’t even come close to capacity, though I haven’t installed any behemoths like EVE or WOW yet.

My next upgrade is likely to be my graphics card.  My GTX460 was very affordable and has been putting in good work, especially considering I don’t play many graphic-intensive games, but it is getting a bit long in the tooth and there are some decent new options.  I’ll probably look around this summer and see what I can find for my budget.  My wife would certainly appreciate this as it would allow me to retire the GTX460 to her machine in time for the next Warcraft expansion.

World of Tanks: Cry Havok

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Wargaming.net is implementing the Havok physics engine fairly soon and the results are pretty awesome.  Destructible buildings, much more realistic tank movement, detachable turrets, and flippable tanks will all be added to the game.  The destructible buildings is probably the single coolest element but the improved tank physics allows for both more realism and more differentiation between tank models.  The tanks flipping over and having turrets blown off will result in some much more satisfying and humorous tank deaths and battlefield effects.

I’m continually impressed with how far the Free to Play model is taking World of Tanks.

Wargaming.net is showing off the new effects in a recent developer diary video that is well worth watching:

Blogging Is Hard

Ok, so blogging isn’t really that hard, but I’ve been doing a pretty terrible job of it lately.  The truth is I’ve had at least a dozen great ideas for posts in the last month or so and just haven’t found or made the time to actually write them up.   There’s a lot of interesting gaming news going on out there that I would love to write about in depth, but a good blog post takes time to write, time to edit, time to link up, time to add images, etc.  I enjoy it but I don’t enjoy it enough to do it in the short time I get in the evenings since I prefer to actually play games rather than write about them.  Sometimes I get windows during lunch at work but that’s also one of the key times that I spend catching up on news, forums, etc.

So anyways, if you are reading this as someone who occasionally visits the blog or is subscribed I apologize for the dearth of content.  If only I could just think blog posts into existence, you’d have all sorts of interesting posts to read!  In any case, thanks for stopping by, and don’t worry the blog is far from dead.

Ryan

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No blogger with even a passing interest in EVE Online can avoid writing a post about the battle that happened in B-R5RB  on Monday January 27.  EVE Online is capable of producing far larger player-driven game events than any other game I’m aware of, but the fighting in B-R5 tops everything the game has seen in it’s 10+ years history in sheer scale.

A lot of articles have already been written about the details of the fighting and how it occurred (links at the bottom) so I won’t go into great detail here, but I do want to point out a couple things.  As a lot of articles are emphasizing, it’s true that the opportunity for the battle happened due to a simple missed sovereignty  payment which seems trivial.  However it’s important to understand that Continue Reading »

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I’m totally stoked by this announcement.

Don’t Starve is a phenomenal and unique game experience, as I related in my previous post gushing about the game.  Developer Klei packed a huge amount of gameplay into a very affordable package via the use of dynamic world creation and simple mechanics including permadeath that maintained a high level of tension through most of the game.  Klei continued to add content for a period of months which is impressive considering the small price, but eventually the free updates stopped and Klei talked about planning for a future DLC as a paid major content addition.

While a few folks will always whine about the DLC model, I am quite content to hand over more money if Klei will continue developing the game.  Open world games like this benefit in a sort of exponential fashion from additional mechanics and experiences for the player, and of course no small developer is going to be able to continue to substantially support a game long after sales of that game have stopped.  The DLC model makes perfect sense and so I have patiently waited for additional information.  Finally we have some details!

Klei has now announced the DLC will be entitled “Reign of Giants”.  The goals of the DLC are described as follows (from the dev forum post on the DLC):

Our goal with Reign of Giants is to make a large chunk of content that is both meaningful and interesting. The new content touches all corners of the game, focused on adding content throughout the entire upper world of Don’t Starve. It includes new cycles, creatures, characters, craftables and biomes that will work together with the existing content of Don’t Starve to provide new challenges to overcome and new ways to adapt to these challenges.

Don’t Starve has always been about the fun of learning and discovery — applying your knowledge of the world when reacting to the many curve balls that it throws you; all while struggling to survive. We’ve taken that to the next level with Reign of Giants, layering on more challenges and systems that will interact with the existing content to provide many more scenarios to master. I’m being purposely vague on what Reign of Giants actually has in store for you, but I can tell you that it’s going to be big. And awesome.

What I’m most excited about is the developers goal to improve the gameplay across “all corners”.  Much of the later development of Don’t Starve was to support a new Cave game which added a lot of content for players to explore but left the primary “surface” game feeling a bit flat and static after a while.  This new DLC looks like it will be just what the game needs to really start to take off and explore the creative space.

In case you can’t tell, I am very excited and will eagerly watch for further news.

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I had known World of Tanks was a financial success, but I had no idea of the sheer scale of that success.  It turns out World of Tanks raked in $372 million in revenues in 2013.  For comparison, World of Warcraft brought in a mere $213 million.  The giant that is League of Legends meanwhile brought in $624 million.  Which of these is not like the other?  WoW is the only subscription game of the three and yet brought in less revenue; only about a third of free to play LoL.

Both LoL and World of Tanks are also emphatically avoiding “pay to win” pricing traps where players start playing a game for free but end up having to pay to compete.  World of Tanks has removed pretty much all gameplay advantages for premium players as you can now purchase all the same items for in-game currency.  Paying players can still acquire them much more quickly and, in the case of consumables and ammo, can use them more frequently so the advantage to paying players is still there but it is a lot more subtle now.  Paying players also have access to premium tanks that are only purchasable with premium currency but Wargaming.net has done a nice job of balancing these so that they earn greater rewards but don’t really offer any advantages in actual combat.

It seems to me that the key distinction in terms of success is Continue Reading »

Europa Universalis IV:

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Ever since I fired up my very first game as Novgorod way back in Europa Universalis 2, I have been a huge fan of the series.  Europa Universalis games have some superficial similarities to the Civilization series, but trade the large and somewhat bland scope of Civ for a very detailed and specific modeling of a period of real world history.  EU4 models the history of the world from the mid 1440s up until the early 1800s using a very detailed system of armies, politics, economics, and many hundreds of provinces and sea zones.  As a result it has a substantial learning curve but a very rich and rewarding game experience once you have gotten the hang of it.

The player takes on the role of the ruler of a nation and follows that nation through to it’s destruction or until the end of the game time period.  There are no strict winners or losers, and no concrete victory conditions or game goals.  Nations range from tiny single-province minors such as Siena (a small city-state in Italy) to enormous superpowers such as France and Spain so the game experience and difficulty will vary drastically depending on the nation chosen to play.  The game world feels alive in a sense as history happens around you and various nations pursue their own agendas.

The time period covered by the game is a fascinating and critical one in terms of world history and includes the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, the colonization of North/South America, and many others.  Nations can rise and fall, large nations can break apart and new nations can be formed.  The dynamic event system ensures lots of interesting possibilities and choices for the player, particularly when playing as a more interesting nation with a lot of rich history programmed into the game such as England.  Unlike most previous EU games, EU4 uses truly dynamic events.  No longer are various historical events scripted to occur at particular times in history; now a series of triggers and modifiers can allow for events like the War of the Roses, the collapse of Burgundy, the creation of the United States, etc. to occur.

The graphics engine is both beautiful and smooth, looking good while mostly staying out of the player’s way.  The UI is solid and continually improving, Paradox is king of the tooltips which are absolutely essential in a game with so many complex modifiers.  The music and sound are nice when you are listening for them and again mostly unobtrusive when you are otherwise occupied.

The game hews very close to it’s historical roots.  Real historical countries exist that many players will never even have heard of.  Themes exist that most game companies wouldn’t touch with a 10 foot pole such as differences between religions manifesting as game effects, forced religious and cultural conversions, and profiting from slavery.  The world of the 1400-1700s is a very different and more complex place than most gamers will be familiar with from their likely limited historical education and the result is that there is a ton of education to be gained through the game, even though it is a game first and foremost and not a true historical simulation.  Most importantly I think it provides a great source of interesting events and places which the player may be inspired to research further.

Perhaps most importantly to me in any strategy game that I know I’ll be playing primarily single player, Paradox is thoroughly committed to creating a challenging AI and has even brought on board a dedicated AI programmer.  I have found the AI drastically improved over previous iterations of the game and capable of truly giving the players a hard time.  Exploits and minor issues persist, but AI improvement will no doubt continue and it’s already quite strong.

After all that praise, I will say that my main criticism is that the game feels like an incredibly well built and beautiful house with a lot of empty rooms.  The potential of the game mechanics are enormous but a lot of areas of the world and history are still pretty bare-bones.  The military side of the game is fairly fun but outside of combat there is sometimes little to do.  The game could use many more events, missions, and choices for the various nations as well as new mechanics.  This fleshing out has already begun with the first major DLC called “Conquest of Paradise” releasing tomorrow.  This will add new mechanics for colonial nations, much more detailed gameplay for Native American tribes, and an option to have a randomly generated New World continents shape which is cool for nations that are heavy on exploring and colonizing.

Paradox is among the best strategy game developers out there and their ongoing development and patch support for their games has always been phenomenal.  EU4 looks to be no different.  Paradox has also taken the route of the cheap minor DLCs to raise cash by selling things like new tracks and new unit renders.  These are of course entirely unnecessary and are basically a cash grab by the company, but for now I’m willing to buy them because I’m basically using my dollars to vote for more development on EU4.  Paradox knows these small DLC have a huge profit margin but will only sell well if the base game remains popular, which in turn requires continued development on the meat of the game.  I trust Paradox to keep the balance and continue to develop EU4 into a fantastic historical strategy game so I’m more than willing to come along for the ride.