2014 and this blog

•January 3, 2014 • Leave a Comment

2014 might be a new start for this blog – but then I’ve said that before!

Truth be told, I don’t follow the technology world as much as I used to; although I’m still the “go-to” guy for these things so I have to keep one ear to the ground and an eye on the internet.

Perhaps 2014 will be the year I start blogging again – I hope so, I sort of miss it.


Gaming tablets–here already?

•January 11, 2012 • Leave a Comment

This link was thrown my way by a friend – I’d spotted it on one of my feeds earlier in the day, but hadn’t checked it.

So this Razer Tablet is designed for gaming, the controls, the physical design, and the spec suggests that.  Is it the sign of things to come? – Well sort of, but in my opinion not for a few more years yet.
[Note: I want to point this out here, but that screen on that Tablet showing that game… I’m dubious as to that tablet running that game!]

If you take gaming to mean console level graphics and games (gaming PC level) then the tablets cannot do that right now, not for the power consumption, and not without burning the users hands.  People say that tablets are the gaming future because of the games available on phones and tablets sell amazingly well, take Angry Birds – which is addictive, I can vouch for that.  Games like that though are simple, aren’t very demanding on the systems that run them, and are optimized for limited device sets, iPhones are spec’d to Apple’s liking, and Android phone all have very similar specifications with regards to processor and gfx.

What does Razer’s tablet concept tell us?
Well quite a bit really.  First, is that Razer believe this is a targetable market, which is fair game.  Secondly, the ultrabook revolution that Intel have been working on can be transferred into tablets; that in itself is a good sign for Intel who have been wanting to get into the tablet space for some time now.  Thirdly, proves to me that tablet gaming at console quality is not going to catch on.

Why would you have a gaming tablet?  I mean take the handheld gaming systems of today, namely the PSP (and it’s subsequent spin offs and sequels) it does it’s job very well, and has sales figures to back it.  I can’t see the need for a gaming tablet for gaming, if you want a tablet buy a normal tablet and a PSP, boosh – happy days.

That covers the here and now, but what about the future?
** Nvidia’s Tegra 3 chips are coming out, and that is a real improvement over previous generations, and Nvidia plans on carrying on with the Tegra line for sometime yet, Tegra 4 and Tegra 5 are in the pipeline and have roadmaps.  Nvidia are a GPU manufacturer, and should churn out something interesting for use in a future gaming tablet.
** Intel are working on their CPU tick-tock strategy, which has gone well so far, but still limits them to classic pc systems.  However, their roadmap has changed for future CPUs, take a look at Sandy-Bridge, quad core cpu with intergrated GPU, all on the same die, but 95W of power.  Ivy-Bridge, same chips, better GFX though, 75W power.  Those are top spec CPUs, go down the range, and that power requirement drops.  Assuming Intel can get a low powered chip with CPU and GPU integrated that can compete with Nvidia’s Tegra chips – which it will do someday; then we could see something good yet.
** You may of noticed that I haven’t mentioned AMD, a CPU and GPU manufacturer, and well placed to take on the tablet sector, in fact their fusion APUs could well do so, if AMD get their act together and make some worthy parts, but at this time, that is unlikely, and they are well out of the race at this time – but things can change, so they should never be truly discounted.
How long until all this happens? – Well about 2 years minimum based on previous cycles of releases, more likely closer to 5 years before it becomes the Gaming Tablet we would envisage, something with respectable battery life and graphical quality.

CPU makers going into the tablet realm though complicates matters.  The Tegra chips, just like Snapdragon or Apple CPUs, are all ARM processors, and are a different architecture to those in PCs (x86).  I’m also fairly certain that Android is written only for ARM, and Windows 8 will be both ARM and x86.  So that gaming tablet would be running Windows 8, which also makes sense as games of the calibre expected are not on Android.

So, the gaming tablet will be an ultra mobile PC, and should be viewed as such, of course it will get slapped with a “Tablet premium price”, and I don’t see a market or need for them.  It does seem that all the manufacturers are on the bandwagon now though, so we’ll see how long that lasts.

SOPA–the nail in the coffin

•December 29, 2011 • Leave a Comment

I usually spot net neutrality issues quickly, but I was a little late to the party with this.  Unfortunately I didn’t realise how far this had gone, or how damaging it would be.

This YouTube video made me realise that so much damage has already been done.  Then when I looked into SOPA and PIPA and realised that we are in for some tough stuff when this gets passed.

I say ‘when’ – because I am doubtful that enough people will oppose this, or even that the people voting on this have any idea of the result of this.

I regularly visit Tomshardware for reviews and such like, but when they post this, then I can’t help but feel that there are some real risks from this being passed, that a lot of websites will suffer.  The corporations and groups such as RIAA/MPAA get to widen their fishing net of misery, whereby they get to take down any site, or any person for even greater outlandish reasons.

Then tonight I found this and I realised that with corporate backing, and money flowing, American politics will work the way the corporations push – and hence why I am doubtful this will be stopped.

Ignorant, corrupt people should not be making any laws, IN ANY COUNTRY; but that is a dream, and I accept that.  BUT Americans making laws in their country, that will affect my country, and I can’t even have a say on it? That’s not fair, right, or legal (pretty sure of that).  There are those of you in the UK, like I am, probably thinking this doesn’t affect you, I believe that we will feel its effects sooner rather than later – besides our very own Digital Economy Act is due for review in the next 5 years, because let’s face it that is a joke as well.

All in all, what will happen to the “free” internet?

The current state of Gaming–Part 3: Where have all the PC games gone?

•December 28, 2011 • Leave a Comment

I saw this a while back and thought what a load of rubbish.

You may of noticed as a gamer over the last 6 years that games have improved graphically, in fact over the last 10 years we finally seem to be reaching a plateau of graphics quality.  If you game on consoles you will of noticed improvements with graphics here too, release titles did not push the hardware in the consoles, while new games are actively reaching the limits, much to annoyance of some console fan-boys.

The PC gamer has in some ways had a very different time over the last 5 years, many have bought expensive powerful systems, and have not needed to upgrade, enjoying better performance and graphics than their console counterparts, without the most noted negative of PC gaming – the continuous upgrades to hardware.

Most games are developed for consoles now, and if we are lucky, ported to PC.  Porting a game from Console to PC can be done in different ways, and whilst many people think it is a “one-size fits all” argument, it is not.  Games cannot be simply altered to run on PCs there is a little more to it than that, but the process is fairly simple.  The ported games look and feel like their console brethren, and you’d be hard pressed to tell them apart, the worst ones still have an expectation of the console controller.  Some ports are actually very well done, and improve on the console versions significantly, but that only applies to a handful of games.

Take 2005 (when the Xbox 360 first came out) it was priced at £200 I believe, and while highly competitive, shiny and new, it was also the start of the mass buying of games consoles, unlike anything before.  However, I know of a great number of people who have bought at least 2 or 3 xbox 360s over the last 6 years, partly due to faults, or because of the need to upgrade.  That comes to about £500, then add in accessories and the extra cost of a game over the PC version (£10 difference), you are looking at a cost of maybe £700 in the last 6 years, or even higher.
I do laugh when people tell me console gaming is cheap… if you actually looked at it, you’d see that you’ve been fooled.

As previously mentioned in an earlier part of this series, the new models of DLC and future games sales mean that the pre-owned game market will dwindle and die as publishers require codes to run the game, one code per user, or something similar – and so the retail games stores we currently have will also disappear.  Without the pre-owned game market console game prices are almost set in stone, and pre-owned games are the only thing in my mind that makes console ownership really worthwhile.

A game is £40 at launch, and if there are poor initial sales that is it, the game is a loss, and the developers tend to ditch it and run.  That game is then neglected, and there have been hundreds of those over the years, but some of those unloved, underappreciated games are still played, because they represented something new, or different – which some gamers actually love to see in the rather stagnant gaming market of today.  In order to maximise those £40 per game sales, the games are made on consoles.  The publishers cite that the consoles are easier to develop for, which is true all the platforms have SDKs which are simple enough, and hardware is set so you have your system limitations, but then your hands as a developer are tied.  Publishers are all about profit, since they are the ones loosing money on game development, they set the rules and requirements to the game studio, and the game studio adjusts it’s original game designs to suit the publisher.  This model only exists because the consoles exist.

Now developers have been openly saying that developing on the PC is hard work, or not worth it, and blame a host of reasons, from “different hardware configurations” to “Piracy”.  PC development is the same as it ever was, every PC is slightly different, I think people now are more stupid though and want to blame other people when the game doesn’t work.  PC gamers are usually the smarter PC users and should be able to keep their systems working properly, and should avoid ‘user created issues’, but it would appear that we too have gotten lazy.

When games are made for consoles and their development (read: Sales) is more vital, then the eventual PC release suffers, it’s not polished or tested correctly.  So when you buy that game, put it in to your PC to install it (often fighting some awful steam/origin client rubbish), and then discover that it won’t load – you blame the developer, and feel cheated.  Yeah, that’s fair enough – but to believe that the fault cannot be with the box in front of you? that’s just plain ignorant.  Being a PC gamer is far from plain sailing, when you game on a PC you accept that, as all PC gamers have for years, that’s why we don’t buy consoles, because sometimes the challenge of getting a game going makes playing it that much better – and nowadays actually exposes ways to make the game itself a much nicer (graphically or performance enhanced).  A PC is a complex thing, so blaming the game or it’s creators is not always correct.  Remember, your PC is running an OS that is handling a lot of background tasks, communicating with hardware via drivers, running protection software – AV and firewalls; all of which can stop something else from working.  There are many more links in the chain responsible for your game running when on a PC, than on a console – complexity caused by simply using a PC as your gaming machine.  Using a PC was your choice, so remember that.

However, back to the first link of the article – that developing for a PC is hard.  It is the same as before, but developers need to remember that our expectations have changed somewhat too, we want things to work when we want them too, we want games that have been tested, and had our needs in mind as well.  Creating two development paths might be tough, expensive, or even too time consuming – but surely you can do things better than you do it now!  The ‘multiple-configurations’ argument is pathetic, make the game as good as you like, make it so that it has ultra level details that only the highest spec systems can handle, and scale down as you see fit to lower and lower levels, it’s your choice as a developer where you set the lines.  If people can’t run a game on ultra then they need to upgrade, they are PC gamers and that is their choice, and they should be accepting this!

Overall, the publishers are forcing a change on game developers, and PC gamers are getting ignored more and more, but throwing us lame excuses doesn’t absolve you of the responsibility and blame, that game you make should work on every platform you release it  on, otherwise it was unfit for release and you have lied to us – AKA fraud (because we paid for it).  Piracy doesn’t harm sales of games, most people pirate a game because they have no faith that they’ll be able to get it running, so they use it as a test!  We don’t want to see PC gaming die, we just want to know that it works before we part with our cash.  Demos are rare these days and most of the time aren’t indicative of the real game, so a pirated copy is the only true pre-purchase test we can carry out.
The PC gamer is also not devoid of responsibility, you own a gaming PC, you built it/purchased it, you should know it’s limitations and respect that.  You also need to remember a PC is multi-functional, complex, and requires maintaining in order to ensure it works as intended.

Only when both sides of this silly blame-war start looking at themselves and giving decent feedback will we get back to good PC gaming times again.  (which might be never Sad smile)

[On piracy: Chris said to me once – “anything I pirate is because I wouldn’t of purchased it anyway, so they haven’t lost a sale, because their never would of been one!”  Which is a very valid point.
There are legitimate piracy reasons, companies just don’t like it because they will never be able to control it – pfft get over yourselves!]

The current state of Gaming–Part 2: Achievements or No Achievements?

•December 17, 2011 • Leave a Comment

I had this discussion with Chris recently, in fact the day he broke my Xbox (yes it has died a second time), and we have differing views (surprise, surprise).

If you are unsure as to what I am referring when I use the term “Achievements” then you can safely move on, otherwise I am sure you will enjoy the following post.

‘Achievements’ or ‘Trophies’ or whatever future term they are known, are now an integral part of our gaming experience.  Don’t get me wrong, I get the idea of Achievements, and I have to admit they are a nice touch, but I rarely look at them and think “I must do that!”.  I have friends who are ‘Achievement Hunters’ and they spend a lot of time getting all the achievements on a game, thus ‘completing’ it.  In my opinion, any game that requires you to look at and complete the achievements in order to complete the game, is not a good game.

Chris is currently playing through Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, and using the achievements to go through the game.  Oblivion is an open world RPG (or sort of) but RPGs are about you progressing your character in response to the game, not following achievements!

I’m playing Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind (updated with some nice new looks) because I never got far with it years ago.  I’m playing on my PC, no achievements, just classic RPG fun, and sure it’s long, but I’m enjoying it!

I guess I’m trying to fathom if achievements add to enjoyment of gaming? or do they just provide something to brag about? or more worryingly are they are requirement to justify your “wasted” hours in front of your gaming machines/consoles?  What do you think?


The current state of Gaming–Part 1: Generally

•November 14, 2011 • 2 Comments

Games used to be fun.  I remember playing Super Mario on the SNES for hours, and enjoying it, or playing Tetris on the Gameboy (the original one).  Most of my friends will agree that was what games were like when we were growing up, they were a fun way to pass the time.

Games now have changed, and they come in two flavours; Single-player and Multi-player.  This applies to the games themselves, and I’ll explain that in a moment.  Single-player games have no multiplayer element, they are designed for one person, have long campaigns and usually good storylines.  These are rare nowadays, and storylines seem to of taken a backseat.  Most games used to be single-player, or two-players on one console, but they were essentially just a campaign mode, which usually engrossed the player.

Multi-player games are usually games that have a single-player campaign which rubbish and meaningless, with the whole focus on the multiplayer aspect of the game.  FPS games spring to mind here.
Usually the multiplayer is the vital part, with the single-player component just added on to humour the normal gaming standard; but there are some games that have no split of the components, such as Borderlands, where the game is one RPG storyline, with support for up to 4 players to co-operatively complete that storyline.  There are also games where the single-player is still the focus, but the developers/publishers know how much value (in terms of money-making opportunities) a multiplayer section adds, and so you end up with games like Assassins Creed: Brotherhood, which has the series normal storyline (single-player element) but now has a multiplayer game mode as well.

I have grouped games rather generally above, but those categories still stand.  Multiplayer games rely on that factor to keep players, but multiplayer can get boring, so they add other things to keep you entertained.  Downloadable Content (DLC) is one such way, but the modern DLC model that publishers use is so horrible.  The old DLC model used to be about keeping that game’s community alive, playing, and happy.  Before the birth of the Xbox 360 and PS3, the main platform for DLC was the PC, and PC gamers were blessed with free DLC a lot of the time, or were given modding tools, to allow the communities to make their own mods and maps; massively increasing the longevity of a game.  The new DLC model is all about money, more and more games are being released with DLC brought out for about £8-£10 ($10-$15), and for that 1/5th the purchase price of your new game, you gain some extra maps, or things that most of the time were supposed to be on the game disc but were left off because they could sell it to you later as DLC.  THAT IS WRONG!  But that model is the one they use now because people were forced into it, and the old model is being phased out.  I’m not saying the DLC shouldn’t be charged for, but there are times when the gamers are being taken for mugs, and that’s not on.  Unfortunately things will not change with this new DLC model and will only get worse.  With the birth of the modern consoles, there are backend systems such as Xbox Live and PSN that allow easy content purchasing and distribution, but people stop thinking about what they get, when they get it.  The console generation tends to be the younger age groups, who are very much of the mind-set of “I must have that” and that fuels the new DLC model and is why it became the standard.  It really is sad that this has become the new normal, it’s the worst thing to happen.

There is something else, I started this article by saying games used to be fun.  Not all games now are fun, the amount of anger, stress, rage etc. that some multiplayer games cause is huge.  I mean if you’re ever on Xbox live, just listen to the abuse and things other people say, it’s quite shocking.  I mean I’ve been victim of some abuse on Xbox live, as have some of my friends, and there is no need for it.  People take things too seriously, or in some cases feel that they are “the big man” because they play a certain game.  These are 12 year olds playing a 15+ game usually, and they talk so much rubbish I generally end up laughing at them, in fact most of us older gamers do laugh at them, but I can understand how that for hours every day can really affect some people.  I don’t play online to get abuse from some idiot, I play to unwind, shoot some other players on some FPS and have a laugh with my mates.  It really doesn’t matter what your stats are, it doesn’t make you a “big man” and it doesn’t make your penis bigger, so stop acting like it does!

[Side note:  My friend told me of one individual, who during a game of Call of Duty: Black ops, was insulting other players by using the phrase “Your Mum” in various forms – i.e. “I f***ed your mum”.  The response from one player was genius – “I highly doubt that, you are 12 years old, your penis doesn’t work, you live on the other side of the world, and you are an idiot who probably doesn’t have a clue what having sex is.”
These kids, playing those games online, I just laugh at them, they are nearly always pathetic.]

Windows 8, and can Microsoft break the Apple Monopoly?

•September 15, 2011 • Leave a Comment

I wouldn’t normally group these two big things in one post, but I’m strapped for time, and they are highly linked so I think we can say it’s acceptable here.

Windows 8 was unveiled to developers earlier this week, and the likelihood is that us consumers won’t have a hands on for a few months yet, and I wouldn’t expect and RTM version for 9 months to a year.  That’s not to say it won’t magically appear from nowhere sooner than that, but I like to think that Microsoft will take the time and get it right.

Windows 8 has a dual interface, there is the touch-centric interface which is very similar to that used on windows phone 7, which is definitely designed for tablet devices, but I can’t help noticing that it’s equally adept for larger touchscreen computers.  There is the other interface which as far as I’m aware is still very windows 7 like, perhaps better looking, or maybe it hasn’t changed.  I admit at this current point I haven’t delved through the screenshots.  There should be a huge number of things under-the-hood, including things that Microsoft have been working on for years, but never had in a stable state for inclusion in the Windows OS – features that were intended for Vista and 7, but never made it.  Some of those features were big things, big enough to make the user experience faster, and easier, and that’s what Microsoft seems to want.  So in that respect as a normal desktop user (and not planning to procure a tablet device any time soon) will be looking forward the the next Windows version.

Can Microsoft beat the Apple iPad monopoly?  I think that while Google Android has made good headway, proving that there are alternatives to the iPad – you need to pull consumers away from Apples hypnotic advertising systems that just brainwash the masses, and that Apple uses are slowly seeing the Apple OS for what it is.  I feel that Microsoft is the only company that could actually tip the scales and tear down the rule of the iPad.  Microsoft Windows OS’ have been the mainstay of the PC world, people have been using them for considerable time, and people haven’t bought into the cloud thing, so all your data is still residing on a PC you own.  You want that anywhere right? (or so we are told) and if you have a Windows pc and a Windows tablet, the odds of those working seamlessly are pretty good, and therefore you stick with Microsoft for your computing devices.  I know of people who buy a Macbook, just for their iPhone or iPad; that’s the dumbest thing ever, but it works very well.  I see no reason why Microsoft can leaver the same idea.  I’ll admit Microsoft has some serious hurdles to overcome to be able to do this, and it mostly stems from that the fact that over the years the Microsoft Windows OS has always been a pain to get communicating with other systems, and MS have never got it right.  So if they did it with Windows 8, across Tablets and PCs, and it just worked… that would be something.

Of course Windows 8 is a desktop release, something Microsoft were planning to avoid a while ago, but the PC hasn’t died, and the Cloud hasn’t been adopted by everyone, so a new Windows version for Desktop PCs was much needed.  I hope that Microsoft make Windows 8 everything it can be, It’s going to be a huge multi-versioned, multi-platform, multi-architecture release, with confusion abound I’m sure; but I think if they learnt all their lessons, it might surprise us all.