Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Old Republic - A Game worth Waiting for

I’m sure many of you have heard of the relatively new MMO from Bioware and EA called Star Wars the Old Republic. The game has been out for a little over a year now and I have longed to play it since day one. I made a fair attempt when it first came out running it on my then 4 year old laptop however even on lowest settings the graphics card just couldn’t handle the game’s level of detail. Determined to play anyway I started overclocking my laptop’s modest graphics card and managed to make the game playable, if extremely laggy. I made it to level 19 before I could take no more and decided to take a break from the game until such a time as I could put together a computer capable of running it. As those who read my last post now know, I finally completed that computer and naturally I wasted no time at all installing the game and beginning my adventure in a galaxy far, far away.

As it had been nearly a year since my last experience I decided to make a new character and come back to my old one later. I had initially regretted not going with my initial instinct and choosing Jedi Knight, so this time around I followed my gut. I’ve got to tell you I couldn’t be more pleased. It took a little while to get accustomed to the idea that my character has almost no ranged ability what-so-ever, but you quickly grow accustomed to that. It wasn’t long at all before I was hacking my way through hordes of enemies trying to save the people of the Star Wars galaxy from all manner of threats and growing more proficient as a character and a player through the whole thing.

The new computer is so much better in fact that I decided to run the game on highest settings which it is breezing through and I must say I’m very pleased with my experience thus far. I was always of the opinion that story was more important than graphics, but now that I’ve seen them at their best I do have to appreciate what they bring to the table.

The game itself is very well done of course. For me the intellectual property, story, and crafting system are what makes or breaks a game. World of Warcraft for instance has a great crafting system and a decent story, but having never played the Warcraft games I couldn’t get into the intellectual property and as such I got bored with it. Star Trek Online did a fantastic job with story (at least initially) and their space combat system was very well done. The crafting system however was appalling, not surprising considering that it was added after the fact and was completely superfluous (by the time you could craft something it wasn’t as good as what you already had) and the ground combat system was just as bad which really ruined it for me. The Old Republic however manages to avoid these pitfalls by focusing on what they do best. Naturally I love the IP; Star Wars is a great universe to play in no matter what kind of character you prefer to play. They give you the choice between playing for the Republic and the light side and the Sith Empire and the dark side, but that doesn’t mean you have to be all good or all bad. You can play the pragmatic hero if you’d like or the noble villain, whatever floats your boat is available. Moving on we have the story itself which in typical Bioware style is a branching story with multiple dialog options that will move it one way or another. Interestingly each story is custom tailored to the class and advanced class you’re playing which means that there are 24 fully developed stories that currently exist within the game and of course there’s no shortage of side quests for them either. Finally there’s the crafting system which I have to say is even better than the one in W.o.W. There are 6 different crafting skills and since you can only have one crafting skill per character that means to do it all you’ll need six different characters. However you can also choose gathering skills to collect the materials for your crafting skill and mission skills which help you to acquire the harder to find materials that let you make blue and purple items as well as occasionally grant you schematics for items you can’t otherwise learn to build. Naturally the crafting skills and their related gathering and mission skills are interrelated which generates the need to trade one craft for another thereby fostering a thriving virtual economy and a cooperative player experience.

The only downside to The Old Republic that I’ve come across so far is their subscription system. Presently the game is free to play, but as a free to play player you’ll end up being heavily restricted initially. You can always improve your lot by purchasing cartel coins to unlock extra features typically available only to subscribers or you could subscribe and get everything right away (including cartel coins to permanently unlock certain features in case you can’t remain a subscriber). Still if you really like the game, it’s not too much to ask that you support it in some way and I’m certainly happy to do my part here at the N3rd C0rn3r.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

New Computer

As you all may have guessed from the title, that glorious day in the life of a nerd has finally come and I find myself writing this on a brand new computer! This fact is made that much more satisfying because I didn’t order this computer from some manufacturer as a stock model, nor did I even customize an available computer, but rather I bought the parts and put this one together myself.

It’s been a dream of mine since my last year of high school (and I’ll not tell you how long ago that was, but suffice to say it’s been plenty long enough) to build my own custom computer and thanks to a rather large tax return and some left over money from cashing in my vacation at work I was finally able to achieve that dream. Now I’ll give you a tour of the new rig and what exactly I have in store for its future upgrades.

The Case
Apparently you can teach an old case new tricks
The most obvious feature is the case and unfortunately this is where I had to cheap out a bit. Thankfully I already had an excellent case that I had purchased for a previous computer that was large enough to accommodate the new system components for the time being. Naturally I intend to upgrade this later, but for now it will do nicely. The case sports front mounted USB 2.0 ports and front mounted audio inputs. It has two rear mounted fans as well as a side mounted fan (all 80 mm) on the window and has enough space behind the motherboard securing plate to tuck away cables to keep airflow patterns unobstructed. Naturally the case is made of aluminum to help dissipate ambient heat and it has space for 4 80mm fans for a front intake system, though given that I’m keeping the whole thing sealed save for the output fans and the front vents the negative pressure created makes these somewhat unnecessary.

The Motherboard
Knowing as I do that the motherboard is the backbone of a computer system I dropped the, at the time $300+ to get what I considered to be the best board offered with the greatest potential for forwards compatibility allowing me to upgrade, rather than replace the system to keep it competitive for several years at least. I went with the Asus ROG (Republic of Gamers) Crosshair V Formula board offering AMD chipsets, 3 PCI-E slots (for graphics cards), USB 3.0, Giga-bit Ethernet connection speeds, and most importantly an on board hardware raid controller. This board is not only incredibly fast and well built, but offers great options for expansion, upgrade, and of course overclocking that will more than pay for themselves over the lifetime of the rig.

The Processor
Knowing that when it comes to the processor there’s no real upgrade option, just overclocking or replacing I opted for something that was reasonably powerful, but not so expensive that it would prevent me from finishing the computer right away (other things did that, but we’ll look at that later). As such I went with the AMD FX 4170 which actually comes ready to be overclocked so the need to upgrade would be well in the future. You may have noticed that I have chosen AMD for this system instead of the more popular Intel solutions. That’s because AMD is better. Essentially the two companies accomplish the same thing using different processes with the main difference being that AMD’s method produces less heat than does Intel’s. Less heat means faster processing and thus I have been a fan of AMD since the K7 and I’ve never looked back. While it may not be the very best processor out of the box, 4.2 GHz is nothing to scoff at and the room for overclocking is there (not that it really needs it so far).

The Graphics Card(s)
Now we get to the best part. Keep in mind that I started building this computer about a year ago and at the time, one of the best graphics chipsets you could get was the AMD HD 7850 which I decided to get on an Asus board to maximize compatibility in my system, the theory being the fewer companies involved the less likely I was to encounter compatibility and driver issues that so often plague custom builds. So far that strategy has paid off quite nicely. The issue came with the first graphics card not working right out of the box. The screen displayed only intermittently and would otherwise just scroll up over and over, too fast and too blurry to accomplish anything with it. Unfortunately I couldn’t confirm that the issue was the graphics card until I could get another one to test the theory. One year and $200 later I finally managed it and low and behold it was in fact the graphics card, so now I have a working one and the old one will get sent back to Asus (as it’s under warranty) and I’ll get a second one to add to the system giving me for the first time in my life a dual graphics card computer and unparalleled performance. Initial tests are promising as Starmade now runs at close to 600 fps (where on the old laptop it was around 60) and I can run The Old Republic on highest settings without more than a minor hiccup in the graphics whereas the laptop needed to be heavily overclocked to barely run the game on lowest settings. The best part is that’s just one card.

The Memory
Wanting the best I went with Corsair as my memory company and currently have 16 GB installed. Later, when I have money to buy the second set of sticks for it I’ll upgrade this from the vengeance model to the high performance Dominator series for superior performance and overclocking potential.

Future Upgrades

Naturally I’d like to eventually add a third graphics card to the system, though I’ll likely hold off on that until the two I have start having trouble. As I mentioned already a memory upgrade is already planned as is a case upgrade. The current power supply is more than sufficient for all my power needs so It will remain for the time being, though given what I’m planning the new case will likely need room for two power supplies, just in case. Eventually the processor will need an upgrade, though better heat-sink solutions will come first allowing me to overclock the processor further. First up though is the solid state raid array using Corsair’s solid state hard drives and the on board raid controller to really truly maximize read/write performance all of which will be mirrored to a large external drive using more conventional recording technologies. Given some time and a good deal more money, you can expect to see some awesome upgrades to the new system in my N3rd C0rn3r.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

MC PvP 6: Rich

Hey there guys and gals. I’m sorry it’s taken so long to get a new article out to you. I just started a new job and wouldn’t you know it the day I get my first check is the same day my computer starts being uncooperative. As a result of both events I’m going to have to scale back my blogging just a bit to a single article each week, but this also means I’ll have a little more time to work on each one hopefully resulting in better and lengthier content with more to update you about, and boy do I have some updates for you today.

My farm is completely finished with the possible exception of wanting to add a chicken farm, but that’s a little ways out. After camping out a group of four chickens for nearly fifteen minutes I’ve determined that the chicken egg laying has been disabled on the server which means getting the feathered foul up into my base is going to be a little trickier than merely tossing some eggs at the wall. Now the reason I actually do need the chickens is for the feathers so I can make a couple book and quills every now and again to publish my Minecraft themed stories on the server, but I’ve got a stockpile for the moment that should hold me over until I can get the materials to build a temporary staircase and lure some chickens up it into my secure home.

Since the last update I’ve managed to completely finish the cactus farm which will now produce well over a full double chest of cactus over the course of 8 continuous hours of afk farming (essentially while I sleep) which for the moment usually earns me around 50k dollars by selling it in the shop at spawn. I’ve used this wealth to purchase 6 skeleton spawners, 2 zombie spawners, 2 diamond blocks, and a full set of diamond gear which I’m enchanting using the recently set up mob farm and enchanting areas of my base supplemented by the also recently set up potions brewery which has already produced a full double chest worth of potions to help tip the tide in PvP combat. I’ve also used a few of these (namely fire resistance potions) to help in the set-up of a hidden base somewhere deep in the Nether. I’m working on plans for a gold farm, but the limitations of the Nether are making the process a little slow. I did however manage to cover the whole thing with lava though making it virtually TNT proof as the lava-monster raid strategy is completely useless in the Nether. I may ultimately set up a zombie pigmen farm at my main base and use the Nether base as a secure chest storage location.

I’ve also managed to expand my tree farm to six spots instead of just four despite the fact that the spawner room now takes up a large portion of the free space that once existed in my base. Of course I’m also still producing carrots, watermelon, netherwart, and sugarcane for use in potion making and enchanting and I’ve set up a small brown mushroom farm to help make fermented spiders eye. So far my efforts to procure a cave spider spawner have been thwarted repeatedly, but I’ll continue trying regardless. Additionally since it looks like I’ll have to build a staircase to get chickens up into my base I’d might as well try and get some cows up there as well so I don’t need to keep buying leather at the shop and so I can eat some tasty steak instead of carrots.

Well that’s about it guys. I’ve got a new story in the works so hopefully I can get that out to all of you soon and I look forward to getting you guys up to date once more sometime next week. Until then continue to “pown” in your N3rd C0rn3r.