On Resurrections

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I’ve spent the last thirty years or so working in what I’ll vaguely define as the “tech industry”, which has included jobs doing everything from grunt-level helpdesk work to being a build engineer and some light development work.  It’s not a great industry to be in if you like stability – there is always someone younger and smarter than you lurking in the shadows, and that’s ignoring the very real threat that whatever you’re doing could be moved overseas to be done by someone for half the price.

So, one of the best things you can do to keep your job is to find a really good niche to be in, and my niche has traditionally been “working on that one weird piece of tech that nobody else wants to.”

As an example, I once got a three-week contract job for a company that had a Windows application that plugged into an ancient IBM AS/400 mainframe, and I managed to show enough enthusiasm for the AS/400 that I turned it into nearly three years of regular paychecks.

In my current job, I am one of a few “Mac guys”, and it’s not a terrible niche to be in.  It lets me play up the stereotypical Cupertino Snob image and everyone gets a good laugh out of that.

Anyway, I keep up on all of the technology I need to know for my job by, well, having far too many computers around.  I use Windows PCs for gaming and heavy-duty video encoding, I have a Linux server that hosts VMs and is used for backing up all the other computers, and I always have two Macs around – one to serve as a media server and one to serve as a productivity machine.  I’ve been cycling through Macs every few years, and that brings me to the entire point of this post.

Essentially, every few years I buy a new Mac that becomes my work box, and the last Mac becomes the new media server.  This started in 2006 when I bought one of the first Intel Mac Minis, then continued in 2009 with a Macbook Pro, 2012 with an i7 Mac Mini, and most recently a late 2015 21″ iMac.

The iMac was not a great purchase, but it’s not entirely its fault.  I went for the model that had a traditional hard drive, just as applications were starting to be designed around SSDs, and the result was absolutely glacial performance.  Doing something as basic as launching Outlook or Excel meant that I was staring at a bouncing dock icon for over a minute, seething and willing it to LOAD FASTER.  The iMac has a decent CPU – it’s a 2.8Ghz quad-core i5 – but it is just painfully bottlenecked by the drive.

At any rate, I eventually got so frustrated that I bought Office for Windows, installed that on my gaming PC, and relegated the Mac to being a scanning station for my paper reduction project.

Then, just a couple of weeks ago, I needed to get some screenshots of Mojave for a presentation… and I didn’t have any Macs handy with Mojave installed, which was a problem.  I didn’t especially want to upgrade the version of macOS already installed on either my media server or on the iMac, because I was worried that it would break applications that I need.

Still, I had a spare SSD lying around, and an Inateck external drive enclosure that I’d picked up because it was kind of cool.

OK, drive enclosures aren’t “cool” by any means, but this one has a neat feature – a built-in USB3 hub.

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All of the ports are wrong-side-up, so I need to remember to plug things in face-down, but that is a small price to pay for the extra functionality.

Anyway, I did a clean install of Mojave to the external drive so I could boot off it and get screenshots, and then I needed to install Office and… wait, this thing is actually not painful to use.  I’d launch Excel and it would bounce twice and open.

Hmm.

That seemed a pretty good start… but I only had 250GB to play around with on this SSD and that just wasn’t going to work for the long haul.

I had a second drive enclosure hanging about, this one a Sabrent 4-slot enclosure that is basically designed for the career geek who has a lot of small drives stuck in the parts bin.  It is sadly not bootable, but it works well to consolidate a bunch of disks.

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I put in a 250GB SSD and a pair of 500GB traditional hard drives, with a slot to spare.  I put Steam and Battle.net on the SSD and am using one of the 500GBs as an iTunes drive, with the final 500GB drive just kind of there for… well, I’ll find a use for it, and there’s an empty slot in case I need even more room.

It feels rather silly to have an internal hard drive in this Mac that isn’t being used for anything – everything I’m doing is running off an external drive.  On the other hand, a computer that was one step above paperweight status is suddenly useful again.

 

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This is all Ian Fleming’s fault.

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I was not a particularly good student in my High School days.  To be quite honest, I developed a bad habit of not actually attending classes.  Our school district had an automated system which would call the houses of truant students to inform parents, and this probably would have worked much better if they had something in place to prevent students calling the school district head office to let them know that “we have a new phone number now, and can they update their records?” after which all of the calls went to my modem line.

On the other hand, I wasn’t very good at being a truant, either, since I would mostly skip school and walk to the local public library and read books.

Since I was a boy-type child, this eventually led me over to the “Fleming” shelf in fiction, and I systematically worked my way through all of his James Bond novels.  This is where I found “The Spy Who Loved Me”, which is an absolutely terrible book and which barely features Bond at all.  The only thing I took away from it was that the main character – not Bond – drove something called a “Vespa” and that it was Super Cool.

It wasn’t until some years later that I actually saw a Vespa dealership, and had the following three thoughts:

  1. Wow, those are real things and weren’t made up for the book.
  2. Those ARE, in fact, Super Cool.
  3. Oh my god, those are also super expensive.

To be fair, Vespas aren’t that much compared to a car… but they are still a little pricey.  So, from that point on, I would occasionally wander past Vespa dealerships, look through the windows, confirm points (2) and (3) above were still true, and sadly move on.

It doesn’t help that living in Oregon means that the practicality of any vehicle without a roof is somewhat limited.

Visiting Japan and China opened my eyes to the existance of an entire world of things that looked like Vespas but that were not Vespas, but I kind of sorted them into the category of “oh, those are only available in Asia and I will still never own one.”

Then came Yuru Camp.

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If you haven’t seen it, it’s one of a thousand “Cute Girls Doing Cute Things” animes – in this case, the cute thing being camping.  It is full of helpful tips on how to camp in the winter and how to choose camping gear and I imagine it has inspired many a tent purchase.

One of the characters has a not-Vespa, and I was curious what it actually was and threw some words into Google.  It’s a Yamaha Vino, which isn’t itself all that important.  What IS important, however, is that one of the first results from my search was the product page.

The American product page.

The sudden discovery that there are many not-Vespas that ARE sold in the US and that are much more budget-friendly but still Super Cool.

One thing led to another, and I found myself waking up at a ridiculously early time to stand in a cold parking lot with a dozen other hopefuls trying to earn their motorcycle licenses.  I was, unsurprisingly, the only one taking the class on a scooter, and there were one or two snide comments about this.  As they clunked their way manually shifting up and down gears, I tried not to be too smug about the automatic transmission I was enjoying.

Three days later, I had my motorcycle endorsement and could begin the process of, first, purchasing safety gear and second, finding a not-Vespa to call my own.  The Yamaha Vino, sadly, was right out.  It’s designed for a smaller and lighter person.  The Kymco scooter I eventually bought, on the other hand, is actually big enough that a 183cm guy can fit on it without his knees bonking the steering and LOOKS rather like the Vespas I had an unhealthy attraction to from an early age, but was roughly half the cost of buying one.

1000km later – it just had its first service – this may be one of my best purchases ever.  I am not a very confident driver in a car, because I have a very poor notion of where the corners of the car are.  On a scooter, there is absolutely no question of what space you are occupying.  There’s certainly a great deal more to worry about if someone else decides to make use of the space you are occupying, but that’s why I ride a brilliant red scooter and wear enough hi-viz gear to blind a careless onlooker.

I think it is far more normal for teenage boys to develop a crush on a red Ferrari and dream all their lives of eventually owning one and then finally afford one when they are in their mid-life crisis and also pick up a blonde twenty thirty years their junior to go with the Ferrari. For all I know, the blondes are actually stocked at the Ferrari dealership.

For me?  I prefer my own take on the whole mid-life crisis thing.

Also I should buy a tent.

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Try Holding With Both Hands: Dark Souls on the Switch

Back in September, I decided to play the PS3 version of Dark Souls, since I’d never played the console versions and kind of wanted to see just how bad Blighttown really was.

It’s bad.  Woo boy is it ever.  I think it drops to single-digit frame rates in places, and I have a deep respect for anyone who toughed that out back in the day.

Then I kind of just kept on playing and wound up beating it in a hair under 15 hours, which was almost exactly a quarter of the time I’d taken to beat the game on my first playthrough a couple of years ago.  I’m not going to challenge any speed running records, but I felt good about that.

…it got me thinking, though.  What would a Dark Souls run look like if I focused on an efficient path through all of the bosses and gear and so forth?   I mean, with the caveat that saving Solaire from going insane was 100% non-negotiable.

It was a fun mental exercise, anyway… and then came the Switch port of the game and suddenly the urge to take it from mental exercise to practice was too strong to resist.

Advance warning: The rest of this post is going to make absolutely no sense to anyone who hasn’t played the first Dark Souls at least once or twice.

Before I get into that, however, I am really impressed with the way the game translated to the portable system.  Visually, this is a no-compromises version, shrunk down to a 7 inch screen.  I didn’t try it in TV mode, but I expect it looks the same, just at 1080P instead of 720P.

The lighting in Anor Londo is one of my favorite things about the first Dark Souls.

The one drawback of the small screen was that it DID make the Ornstein and Smough fight even harder than normal.  I kept wiffing dodges that I should have made easily, and I got roadblocked there for far longer than I expected.  I did make it harder on myself by killing Smough first, of course – I don’t know Super Ornstein’s move set very well, but I really wanted his armor set for curse resist in the Seath fight.

The other boss fight that gave me unexpected difficulty was Gravelord Nito, though that at least only took three tries.  This is my fifth time through Dark Souls, and the first time I’ve actually died in the Nito fight.  He was hitting me with some attacks I don’t think I’ve ever seen before AND I was getting a crazy amount of aggro from his adds.  Very embarrassing.

One small blessing, however, was that Bed of Chaos didn’t take many attempts.  It’s usually a really annoying fight, but this time was just in and out before I even had time to start cursing.

Oh, and everyone’s favorite archer duo?  The first time I faced off against them, it was an arduous process of hiding behind a pillar and occasionally poking my head out and getting one arrow fired at them and about a dozen fired in return.

This time?

I could have done that a little better if I hadn’t dorked up the roll, but… well, I’m content.

I also had some weird targeting issues in the Duke’s Archive.  I don’t remember ever having lock-on issues there before, but there were times when I would try to target an enemy that I was nearly touching and I’d get a camera reset instead.  I had a few deaths in there that I absolutely should not have had.

Still, setting a couple of frustrating moments aside, I think I did a pretty good job with both my mental exercise and with executing on it:

Under 11 hours!

And yes, my valiant undead warrior, vanquisher of lords and linker of the first flame was named “Becky” because one of my pet quirks with the Souls games is that my characters must all have names that conjure up the dizziest of ditzy girls.  Previous characters have included Tiffany, Conqueror of Worlds.

So, quick overview.  I started a Cleric with the Master key gift.  I immediately picked up Astora’s Straight Sword and the Zweihander, and those took me through the entire game enchanted to +5 and +14 respectively.

Did I say +14?  This was off the very first Darkwraith I killed, and I got a SECOND slab only a few kills later.  Some days, the RNG gods are kind.

I also picked up the Grass Crest Shield, which I used for everything except for the trip down to Quelaag.  For that, I used the Spider Shield.  I took the Grass Crest Shield up to +5 just to use up some spare titanite shards.

Armor sets used: Elite Knight’s Armor, Ornstein’s Armor, Havel’s Armor for a couple of fights when I just decided to tank things in the face.  I didn’t upgrade any of these.

I did all of the mandatory bosses and a few optional ones – Capra Demon, Centipede Demon, Firesage – but I skipped the Taurus Demon, Moonlight Butterfly, the whole Painted World, Dark Sun Gwyndolin and the Gaping Dragon.  I went back to the Asylum for the Rusted Iron Ring but didn’t bother to kill the Stray Demon while I was there.  Boring fight anyway.

Now, playing this way obviously misses HUGE chunks of the game.  As I mentioned, I didn’t even fight the Taurus demon, and the entirety of Sen’s Fortress was sort of a barely-memorable blur.  This would be the absolute worst way to play a game for the first time.

But, it was pretty fun for the fifth. 🙂

 

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I, Mercy.

So, it seems that yesterday was the end of an Overwatch competitive season.  I didn’t actually realize this until I noticed that (a) I was getting absolutely crushed in matches and (b) that many of the other people playing were absurdly high-level.  Like, level 800 or higher, when I’m a lowly level 30.  So we’re talking people with hundreds if not thousands of hours under their belts, temporarily forced to slum with us plebeians since their SRS BSNS mode was closed for renovations.

Anyway, “Competitive” thankfully re-opened and the high-level crowd disappeared, but not before it gave me a crazy idea.

As I’ve mentioned a couple of times, I’m comfortably into middle age and my l33t gaming reflexes – if I ever had such – have long since atrophied.  Also, well, I’ve been playing Overwatch from my exercise bike with a controller, against other PC players who are almost certainly enjoying the enhanced accuracy and speed of mouse & keyboard controls.

Three or more hours of exercise bike a night is not a polite thing to do to one’s backside, by the way, and the first night I did this I literally wound up playing standing up because I could not sit down on even a very comfortable chair.  But I digress.

Anyway.  Every competitive season begins with the players needing to play ten placement matches, after which the Blizzard Sorting Hat reviews your performance and throws you into one of several categories, the lowest being Bronze and top being Diamond.  I think they go Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum, Diamond, but I could be wrong and my years spent as a young nerd playing AD&D has me desperately wanting to stick “Electrum” in there somewhere.

Is it ten silver to an electrum piece?  Or ten gold to an electrum piece?  I’ve completely forgotten where it falls.  It’s probably not important.

Damn it, where’s my Player’s Handbook?

OK, that’s settled.  Moving on.

So, I figured that I would play my ten matches and see where I wound up, for science.  Also, I kinda felt like I was missing out on hearing how many people had slept with my mother, which people rarely discuss during Quick Play matches.

For the record, whew boi.  While the matches weren’t QUITE the non-stop barrage of racial slurs I was expecting, there was still a heck of a lot of salt being thrown around.  I had a couple of matches where there were supportive and encouraging and tactically-smart people in voice chat, and then I had … well, the other eight matches, which were either completely silent or mostly-silent and punctuated by people bitching about how poorly everyone else was doing and how they were totally carrying us.

Surprisingly, nobody said a thing about the level 30 Mercy mixing in with the crazy high-level people in competitive.  Maybe they thought I was a smurf account?  I did get one comment about using my ultimate ability at a bad moment, which was fair since I’d mostly pushed the button because I wanted to fly up and check out the rafters of the room we were in.

Also, I will admit that it took me until after the seventh match before I swallowed my pride and exited the game to google “when do I use Mercy’s ult”, because honestly I didn’t actually know what Mercy’s ult did apart from make it so I could fly.

The results of the ten placement matches?  Well…

Let’s be clear.  I don’t think my reading up on what the heck I was supposed to be doing actually helped THAT much.  But it may have meant that I stopped being a complete boat anchor, which is a nice thought.

Oh, and for placement purposes?

SILVER.

THERE ARE PEOPLE WORSE THAN ME.

I guarantee you, no 19-year old adderall-boosted eSports champion EVER felt so proud of his Diamond placement as I am feeling to know that, while I DO suck, I COULD SUCK MORE.

Score one for the old guys.  I shall spend the rest of the night listening to Queen’s “We Are The Champions” on infinite repeat.

NO TIME FOR LOSERS, CAUSE WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS

(wait for it)

OF THE WORLD

Posted in PC Gaming, videogames | 1 Comment

OK, Overwatch is fun now.

Nearly two years ago, I wrote a post entitled “I’m not meant to play Overwatch“, based on my experience during a free weekend in which I tried the game and wound up losing 19 out of 20 matches. I felt that this was a pretty good indication that it wasn’t for me.

I desperately WANTED to play it, because it has an amazingly appealing and energetic art style and is just chock-full of grade-A waifus (and, I suppose, husbandos) to suit every taste, but there is not a lot of fun in being beaten down constantly.

Then they introduced a character that was a hamster piloting a giant death ball. And I really liked the idea of playing as a hamster piloting a giant death ball, but I still didn’t buy it, because I was still pretty sure that it wasn’t for me.

On the other hand, I had someone give me a spare key that they had gotten as part of a Humble Monthly Bundle. And, you know, free is a good price to try out a game again, even if you’re pretty sure it isn’t for you. So, I downloaded it, and picked the hamster, and ran around in the tutorial a bit to get the hang of the controls. I still wasn’t 100% feeling it, though, so I closed the game to give it some thought.

When you close Overwatch, it takes you back to the game launcher, and there was an advertisement on that saying that I’d get a free loot box for linking my Blizzard account to my Twitch Prime account. Since I have Amazon Prime, I also have Twitch Prime, and free loot is always good… so I went through the process, and this is what came out of the loot box when I opened it:

Er. Mah. Gahd.

IT’S A KITTY CAT MECH.

IT HAS A PINK RIBBON ON ITS TAIL.

ERMAGAHD.

Ahem.

Anyway. Given the opportunity of playing as a Korean former esports champion piloting a kitty cat mech, I naturally retired the hamster and gave this new character a try. It turns out that Ms. D.Va here is a character designed to basically harass snipers and annoying flying characters and… well, in general make life annoying for squishy DPS types, which just meshes wonderfully with my personality. My wife will attest to the amount of cackling she hears coming from the general direction of my gaming PC while I am doing this.

When I can’t play as D.Va, I have been playing Mercy. Several months of playing a priest in WoW battlegrounds prepared me for the experience of having the direct attention of every opposing team member, so it hasn’t been too bad of an time and people seem to like having someone around to heal them.  I do occasionally wonder whether the default skin shouldn’t just have a bullseye on the chest.

My only really embarrassing moment thus far came during a match where I was playing as Mercy, got cut off from the rest of my team, and decided to switch to her sidearm and try to take a few of the opposing team with me.  I got three kills in a row, basically by accident, and the game decided to highlight this as the “Play of the Game” to make it look like the healer was just running around shooting people.

Oops.

Also, I got a cool Mercy skin out of a Halloween box.  I mean, you don’t actually see these skins while you’re playing but at least you can play dress-up on the character selection screen and that matters.

Anyway, my opinion of the game has radically improved. Naturally, the next step was to buy some MERCH to show my newfound appreciation, and this lead me to the “Overwatch” section of my local Hot Topic, where I found a D.Va and Meka Funko Pop, and a T-shirt, and even a mug…

…and then I put them all back on the shelf, walked out, and ordered myself an unlicensed and work-inappropriate mousepad from Amazon.

I’d feel bad about that, but… well, I am not an especially deep or complex person and I find enjoyment in having a wrist support shaped like a butt.

Posted in PC Gaming, videogames | 3 Comments

Seriously Budget PC Gaming

A few months back, I brought home some gutted PCs from a local business’s electronics recycling pile, based on the notion that I always have projects going that need new server hardware and some of them looked like they had some years left in them. They’d all been rudely ripped open and had their hard drives pulled out, and some had lost their RAM as well.

They’ve been sitting in my garage ever since, and my wife has been polite enough not to point this out.

In an unrelated bit of news, I bought a cheap video card for my Linux server since it was getting used more these days. Specifically, a 2 GB Nvidia 1050. I chose this card because it didn’t need any auxilary power inputs and because it was, well, pretty cheap. It was $121, but I had a bunch of Amazon credit built up from using their credit card and getting cash-back points and that covered most of it.

Anyway. I put the video card in the Linux box, verified that it worked, and then had a crazy idea.

I confess to being more than a little penny-wise and pound-foolish when it comes to PC gaming. Sure, I’ll watch my Steam Wishlist like a hawk, waiting for games to drop to 70% off, but on the other hand I REALLY want to be able to turn up all of the shinies and run games in 4k, and that comes with a price.

So, I’m not usually a guy to talk about “budget” gaming.

Still… I got to wondering what I could make out of one of the computers I’d literally saved from the trash heap.

The most promising candidate from the stack was a Dell Vostro 260. This is a home-or-small-business-oriented box from 2012, with an Intel i5-2400 processor. If you’re not lucky enough to grab one out of a pile of scrap machines, you can get one off eBay for under a hundred bucks, which will likely have the 500GB hard drive and 4-8GB of RAM standard at the time of production. There are an endless number of similarly-uninspiring boxes from the same era.

The Vostro is not designed for upgrading – it only has a single PCI-e x16 slot and 2 DRAM slots. The hard drive mounts on some annoying proprietary rails, and those were pulled out along with the hard drive when it was being prepared for recycling. Fortunately, there was a second hard drive bay that still had rails in it, but I’ll never be able to add another disk unless I track down some more Dell rails.

Finally, it doesn’t have much in the way of a power supply. It’s a 300W supply with barely enough connectors to support the drive bays. You’re not putting a “serious” graphics card in here… but the 1050 isn’t a “serious” graphics card.

Or is it?

As I mentioned, most of the machines in my pile had been stripped of RAM, but I scrounged through some of the other boxes and came up with 8 GB of 1333MHz DDR3 DRAM, the most this thing will support.

If I’d needed to buy RAM, this might actually have been kind of expensive – there’s enough computers that use DDR3 that the stuff is still in some demand. If you’re starting from the step of buying an older PC, try to get the 8GB up-front.

The hard drive I used was a 3TB 5400rpm drive that had been part of a NAS that I’d upgraded – slow, but high capacity. Again, “budget” is being helped by the fact that I had stuff lying around.

After I added some storage, the next feat was to get an OS installed on the thing. It had originally shipped with Windows 7, and the product key sticker was still stuck to the case, so all I needed to get was a Windows 7 installation disc. Microsoft makes ISOs available online, so that part was easy enough. I understand that you can also use a Windows 7 key to activate Windows 10, and I am actually a big fan of Windows 10, but for the purpose of this experiment I am sticking with Windows 7.

I hit a small snag after the Windows 7 install completed – the OS didn’t have a driver for the network hardware, so it wasn’t able to get out to the internet for updates. Fortunately, Dell makes drivers pretty easy to find on their web site, so I just sneakernetted the driver over on a USB thumb drive and I was off to the races for a three hour Windows Update download session… and then a long install session, and… well, really you should plan to watch your “new” PC churn for a good 5 or 6 hours, all-told, before you will be able to do anything past that. I strongly recommend just letting the computer sit at the desktop while it chugs away. This is where I REALLY felt that slow drive – while the PC was in this initial state, getting anything done was painfully slow and accompanied by the sound of a hard drive straining to keep up.

The final step was to figure out why it made a constant infuriating rattling noise, and I finally tracked it down to a side panel that had been warped when it was being gutted. I put it over my knee and bent it back the other way and the rattle was gone. This thing does NOT have a particularly high-quality case, is the point I’m trying to get at.

After that, the obvious thing to do was install some games and see how they ran.

I went through my Steam library to find games with built-in benchmarks, and came up with Batman: Arkham City (2011), Batman: Arkham Origins (2013), Bioshock Infinite (2013), F.E.A.R. (2005), Just Cause 2 (2010), Rise of the Tomb Raider (2016), and Tomb Raider (2013). Square-Enix also published a stand-along benchmarking tool for FFXV, so I downloaded that as well, and I installed Dark Souls III and Skyrim: Special Edition as good games to try out, even if they didn’t have formal benchmarks. For the heck of it, I put Overwatch and WoW on as well – they’re Blizzard games, so there really wasn’t any question on whether they’d run smoothly, but what the hell.

I’m not playing WoW, just to be clear. Blizzard sent me a 3-day “try our new expansion!” code, and it seemed a good use of it.

My testing methodology was not particularly exhaustive. I loaded up each game, set it to 1920×1080, turned off V-Sync if I could, and set the graphics quality to “Medium” or “Normal”, then ran the benchmark. I then ran the benchmark a second time, this time with the game set to higher quality settings.

Batman: Arkham City runs brilliantly in both Normal Mode and in “DX11 Enhanced” modes. There was a notable “hitch” when the benchmark changed scenes – that 5400rpm drive really hurts loading times – but it still clocked in at an average 82 FPS in Normal, 73 FPS DX11 Enhanced.

Batman: Arkham Origins likewise ran like a charm and turned in an average 143 FPS on Normal. This game has a lot of PhysX enhancements that tank the framerate hard when you turn them on, but even with that I still saw an average 65 FPS in “super shiny” mode.

Bioshock Infinite has an external benchmarking tool. On Normal, it gave me an average 181 FPS, and even setting it to “Ultra DX11” still clocked in at 133 FPS.

F.E.A.R…. well, I confess F.E.A.R. doesn’t even belong in this list. It’s a 13 year old game! I have it in here because it used to give my Core2Duo fits trying to keep up and I wanted to see how it would run.

For the record, an average 286 FPS. I felt a little satisfaction.

Just Cause 2 has three benchmarks, but I ran through the Concrete Jungle one on Normal and Maxed settings. 83 and 67 FPS, respectively.

Rise of the Tomb Raider was the first game to really make this box sweat. On “Medium”, it managed an overall average of 54 FPS, but setting it up to Very High tanked the average frame rate dramatically – I couldn’t even break double-digits, and the hard drive sounded like a rock polisher while it was running.

It turns out that RotTR is designed kind of oddly. If it can’t load all of its textures into the graphics card’s VRAM, it uses the swapfile pretty hard-core, and the swapfile was on a painfully slow 5400rpm drive I’ve been griping about throughout this post. Moving the swapfile to an SSD brought the average FPS up from 9 to 25, and setting the Texture Quality to Low while keeping all other graphics options at “Very High” levels delivered an average 42 FPS.

Still, playing on Medium sounds about the sweet spot.

Finally, the box didn’t even flinch at running the 2013 Tomb Raider reboot on Normal or High (or Ultra!) settings. I had it all the way up to the “Ultimate” graphics setting before I could even get the average FPS down to 58.

The FFXV benchmark doesn’t report any FPS numbers. It instead runs through a 6.5 minute demo and gives you a score – the higher, the better – at the end. On “Standard” settings, this machine scored 3619, which Square says will deliver an acceptable game experience. Dropping the benchmark down to the “Lite” settings came in rather better, at 4715.

For the games without demos – Skyrim Special Edition and Dark Souls III – I mostly just turned on Steam’s FPS display and ran around and killed a few things. Skyrim delivered a pretty solid 60fps on the “High” graphics setting, but Dark Souls was a bit more taxing. On “Medium”, I saw frequent dips below 60fps, though never below 40.

I rolled through all of these scrolls and pots and crates.  Stuff was flying EVERYWHERE.  Framerate dropped to 51.

The Blizzard games, as you might expect, had no trouble. I played several matches of Overwatch with the graphics set to “High”, and the in-game counter said anything other than “59” or “60”. I probably had Vsync on, come to think of it.

I got a quad kill with D.Va’s ult. I’d like to thank everyone who made this PotG possible.  Specifically, the other team for not running away in time.

WoW doesn’t have named graphics settings, but it recommended that I use quality “4” graphics. I elected to turn it up to 7 – I like the number 7 – and ran around, took some flight paths and healed a group through the Halloween event dungeon without seeing the frame rate drop below the high 70s.

Yes, I queued for a group as a healer despite not having played in over a year.  I’d have felt bad about that if anyone had died.

So, that was an awful lot of time spent proving that I have wasted a lot of money chasing the 4K demon. The computer I used for all of these tests was – LITERALLY – a piece of garbage and was being thrown out as no longer fit for purpose. Adding a $120 graphics card and replacing the bits that had been stripped out of it turned it into a PC able to play DECADES worth of games at full 1080P quality. For another 60 bucks, I could have gotten the 1050ti with 4GB of VRAM and been just ridiculously ahead of the power curve.

If you need me, I shall be sobbing quietly in the corner.

Posted in PC Gaming, videogames | 3 Comments

Linux Gaming, Bioshock Infinite, and gamepads

A couple of days ago, I mentioned that I had accidentally deleted every game installed on my Linux PC.  Which, you know… well, I won’t kvetch too much because technically I DID tell the upgrade to go ahead and remove stuff, and I didn’t really have that many things installed. It also gave me an excuse to look through Steam and see which Linux games I actually own.

It turned out that there’s a Linux port of Bioshock Infinite, and I still need to play the Rapture DLCs for that, so I figured I’d go ahead and install it.  40 GB download, by the way.  Thankfully I’m nowhere near my bandwidth cap for the month.

Anyway, I installed and ran it, and it was working just fine until I tried to enable my Xbox 360 controller. There was a “controller” option in the options menu, but the game steadfastly refused to recognized that I had one plugged in.

Off I went to google, where I found an explanation of why:

It appears that /dev/input/js0 is owned by root:input and has 664 access so you have to add your user to the group “input”.

The degree to which this is “useful” is… let’s call it relative.  It gave me the basic problem – my user account didn’t have rights to use the gamepad – but with no steps on how to solve, and I don’t usually need to add users to groups so I didn’t really know how to make this happen.

You also don’t seem to be able to add users to groups through the Ubuntu control panel, so it was off to the commmand line.

For the record, if you want to add a user to group “input”, this is how you do it in Ubuntu:

sudo usermod -a -G input <user name>

And after this, I can happily report that gamepad support appears to be working fine in Bioshock Infinite.  I don’t think we’re getting any closer to the year of the Linux desktop, though.

 

Posted in linux gaming, videogames | Leave a comment