Musings: Too much gaming, Harry Potter, and Thanksgiving

Oh blog, it’s been a long, long time since I’ve paid you a visit. I
know that it hasn’t been fair and that we were supposed to spend extra
time together now that I live in Baltimore; however, I’ve been busy.
Really, really busy. You see, Battlefield 3 came out on October 25th.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim came out on November 11th. I JUST CAN’T
JUGGLE ALL OF THESE THINGS AT ONCE.

Neither could Ned.

Without elaborating too much at this time, the Battlefield series is
my favorite set of multiplayer games ever. The Elder Scrolls series is
my favorite set of single-player games ever. By some cruel coincidence
of fate, their newest entries that I have waited 5 years to play
released mere weeks apart and it has ravaged my productivity.

CAN YOU NOT SEE THAT I AM BUSY?!

Each of the games includes a leveling system, which promotes putting
time into them. For Skyrim, more time means more skills, greater
abilities, etc. In BF3, more times means higher ranks and more
unlocks. More than anything, it’s a competition thing, and we all know
how am I about competition. I’m embarrassed to say how many hours I’ve
played of the two games so far, but I honestly think it’s been longer
than I’ve spent sleeping.

My character, on the other hand, looks remarkably well-rested.

Aside from gaming, I’ve just been going to the gym a lot and eating
like a hobo, trying to plug away some extra savings.  This past
weekend, the three best friends got together to have a
mini-Thanksgiving/Harry Potter feast and watch as many HP’s as we
could. Despite getting a late start, we successfully plowed through
about 4 movies and had a nice meal of turkey, sweet potatoes, mashed
potatoes, stuffing, and pumpkin pasties. It was really quite nice (if
not a reminder that I need to work out a lot over the next week).

Yup.

Even more exciting is the fact that Thanksgiving is this week! I plan
on taking a short day tomorrow, leaving after lunch, and getting a
nice head start on a 5-day weekend. There are lots of meals, bike
rides, runs, and games in my next few days. I CANNOT WAIT. I hope
everyone has an enjoyable holiday! Don’t get trampled at Walmart.

A Thoroughly Considered Purchase: The Gaming PC (Building the System)

There are two main steps in building a new computer. The first is to pick the component and the second is to put them together. If you are indecisive and particular like I am, the first step is unimaginably harder. If you’re a normal person, the second step is likely to prove more challenging. After all, you can have someone like me just tell you what to buy and receive it all in a nice little box at your door.

Of course, if you’ve done it before, you’ll know it’s not really that difficult, especially if you plan ahead. In essence, you’re just fitting very specifically shaped things into their very specifically shaped places. In general, it’s hard to put something in the wrong place, and if you’ve forgotten to plug something in, you’ll know about it pretty quickly. Nevertheless, allow me to provide some step-by-step guidance.

1. Inspecting the Case

If you have any desire to have a well-organized case (whether for aesthetic or air-flow reasons), it is essential that you take a good look at your new case. In particular, you want to identify areas where you can route cables and the future locations of your hard drives, DVD-drives, and power supply. My suggestion is to remove both sides of the case (not just the side where the component go) and have a look around. In general, the best place to hide cables is behind the opposite side of the case. Thoroughly consider what cables you will have to run (power cables, SATA cables, headers for front inputs) and visualize where they will go. Look at your motherboard layout as well and plan ahead so that you can sleeve and shrinkwrap cables that originate and terminate in similar places.

2. Installing the Power Supply

All builders do not agree on what component to install first, but I always go with the PSU. It’s heaviest thing that you’ll be putting in the case and it the possibility of dropping it on the motherboard always scares me. Most cases mount the PSU on the top, but mine mounts on the bottom. You may notice that your power supply has an intake fan on the top/bottom (not the fan that is on the back). If your case has a vent on the top or bottom of the case near where the PSU will go, I find it best to place this fan against it. This ensures that it will be taking in cool air from outside the case, not sucking hot air from the innards. Place all of the power cables out of the way for now.

3. Installing the Motherboard, CPU, and RAM


Before installing your motherboard, take a look at the holes spaced around the board. These are will it will screw into the case. Well, not the case exactly; the motherboard screws into metal spacers that you will screw directly into the case. The holes are pre-drilled to fit a number of motherboard sizes, so examine the hole layout on your motherboard and screw in the spacers in the proper positions. You can also take this time to pop in the little metal faceplate that comes with the board onto the opening in the back of the case. This faceplate will match the various input/output holes on the back of the mobo.

Before screwing in the motherboard, take a look at your CPU cooler manual. Although I generally prefer installing my CPU once the motherboard is already mounted, some aftermarket coolers like mine require access to the back of the board. If this is the case, you will install the CPU before installing the mobo. Essentially, for CPU installation, you will need to remove the plastic piece guarding the CPU input and then line up your CPU properly. In general, processors have a little arrow in one corner that matches a small arrow on one corner of the input. Line these up and carefully put the processor into place on the board. Use the small spring mechanism to lock the processor in place.

In case your CPU cooler will cover your memory slots, now is a good time to install your RAM as well. Pull back the small clips at the end of each slot and line up the small notch inside with the notch on the memory stick. In most cases, you will have 2-channel memory. This means that if you have 2-sticks of memory and 4 memory slots, put the sticks in alternating slots. Press them firmly in place until the clips at either end click into place.

Yeah, I realize I followed my own guide out of order.

If you are using an aftermarket cooler, check out the instruction manual on installing it. Mine, for instance, had a backplate that had to be attached on the back of the motherboard. I then had to apply a small drop of thermal paste.

This is WAY too much thermal paste, by the way. I had to remove and reapply it later.

Next, place the heatsink carefully on top, and screw it into the backplate. Stock coolers often come with a pre-applied thermal patch and simply snap into place on top of the CPU.

When everything is set, carefully place the motherboard on top of the spacers and screw it into place. You shouldn’t have to force it into place if everything is set up properly; it generally just sits atop the spacers very nicely.

4. Install your hard drives and optical drives

This step is pretty straight forward. Screw these components into their proper places in the case (refer to the case manual) and route the proper power/SATA cables from the PSU/motherboard into them. Optical drives (and other front panel drives) generally go in a spot on the front of the case that has a space-holder covering the slot. These usually pull out or have little tabs that must be pressed to pull them out. Hard drives nearly always go on the front of the case somewhere below the front bay drives.

5. Plug in front panel headers, motherboard power cables, and fan power cables

I put this step here because large graphics cards and sound cards often block access to the necessary areas on the motherboard. Check out your mobo manual to find out where the front-panel headers (small cables that came attached to the case for power, reset, power LED, HD activity LED, front USB, front ESATA, and front audio) plug into the motherboard. They literally get pushed down onto small pins, so be careful when installing them. In addition to being labeled in the manual, the motherboard often has each pins purpose printed on the board itself if you look closely. Please note that if you have a dedicated sound card, the front audio headers may very well plug directly into that card once installed.

With all of the headers in place, you can run power cables to the motherboard. This usually includes a 20 or 24-pin power cable (comes attached to PSU) and sometimes an additional 4-pin connector elsewhere on the motherboard. Push these firmly into place on the board.

Finally, run the cables for your case fans and CPU cooler. The CPU cooler will plug into a 4-pin connector on the board near where the CPU is installed (looks like the front-panel pin connectors). This allows the motherboard to throttle power to the cooler. Several other 3-pin and 4-pin connectors can be found around the motherboard as well for controlling case fans. If you have more pins than headers, connect the fan power cables directly to the cables from the PSU.

6. Install PCIe and PCI components (GPU and Sound Card)

Finally, install your remaining components. In general, you will want to place your GPU in the PCIe slot closest to CPU. This is usually the slot designed with the greatest speed. Before installing PCIe and PCI components, make sure to remove the place-holders at the rear of the case that correspond with where your cards will go. These generally have a screw holding them in place. Unscrew it, remove the little slat, place your card into the mobo, and use the screw to secure it in place.

With many modern video cards, you will have to run dedicated power cables to them. Take a look at the rightmost portion of the card for any power inputs. Find the cable from the PSU with a corresponding number of pins, route it through your case, and plug it into the card.

6. Boot up the machine and install windows

If you did everything correctly and didn’t have any DOA components, the machine should start up and post BIOS. These are the series of messages that you always see when booting a computer. Look for messages that say “Press DEL for BIOS” or something of the sort. Press the corresponding key to load the BIOS. Under one of the tabs you can select boot devices. If you have a Windows disk, set the optical drive as the boot device. If you are installing windows from a USB drive, make sure the drive is inserted, and select it from the list of drives. Save and exit bios, let things boots, and install Windows. Enjoy the new computer!

A Thoroughly Considered Purchase: The Gaming Headset (aka the AD-700 mic mod)

To kick off the rundown of my little computer how-to/the tale of my new system, I will start with the only external component of the system and one that applies almost exclusively to semi-competitive gamers. That is, of course, the gaming headset.

When I had finally decided to save up the dough to build a dream system, I chose early on to include a new headset in the budget. Although it is often overlooked amidst the performance stats of PC hardware, having a good headset can make gaming both easier and much more enjoyable. Over the years, I have gotten by with a jumbled combination of audio devices. In the beginning, I used the free mic that came with SOCOM for PS2 for voice chatting with the clan and a crappy set of headphones for audio. Over time, that gave way to an actual headset with an included mic that broke after a few years, and then pretty much nothing for a while. When I decided to start gaming online again last spring, I picked up a Logitech desktop mic to use in conjunction with my Sony MDR-V6’s.

This setup was pretty decent, but suffered from a few increasingly annoying issues. First, the Sony headphones are very nice for music, but have a limited depth of field that is very apparent in gaming. They also don’t seem to fill out the nuances of sound effects as well as they do music. Next, the desktop mic had a habit of pissing off clan members by picking up loud keystrokes on the keyboard and the rumbling and wailing of buses and police cars outside my window. I live in Baltimore, what can I say?

Unfortunately, if reviews around the internet are to be trusted, there’s no such thing as a single, great headset. Seriously, go read around for a bit. While one person may insist that a set has the single best audio they’ve ever heard in their life, there is inevitably another to give the headset a serious lashing, claiming that the audio lacks depth, clarity, or any semblance quality. Of course, when you’ve budgeted enough for a high end headset, it is incredibly frustrating to not be able to simply throw money at a problem. When professional reviews and Amazon ratings fail to clarify, the savvy 21st century consumer has to get creative.

With mounting frustration, I began to read massive threads on gaming and audiophile forums alike, searching for the best available options. It came to a point where I decided to just give up and buy the most expensive headset available, the Astro A40. At $250 they cost a pretty penny, especially considering their wildly mixed (but mostly positive) reviews.

What's that weird echoing noise? Oh, it's the cavernous, empty insides of my wallet.

I actually went to go purchase them at one point, but they were completely sold out. Over the next few days I waited for them to come in stock and continued researching here and there. Then I made a breakthrough.

In all of my searching for a headset, I had neglected to look into headphones. After all, I wanted to get away from using my desktop mic. This negligence led to me completely overlooking a universally praised set of cans: the Audio Technica AD-700’s. I initially was turned onto them on some forum where a reader was reviewing a different headset and mentioned how they didn’t even compare to the famous AD-700’s. Several searches later, it became apparent that these headphones were extremely popular amongst the professional gaming crowd for their insanely large depth of field, spectacular audio positioning, and wonderful comfort. Even better, they were only $90.

Once I had decided that I was sold on the AD-700’s, I started to look into microphone solutions. As it turned out, there was an entire community of modders who had worked out various ways of adding a mic to the headphones. The simplest involved cutting apart a cheap headset and velcroing the mic to the headphones. The nicer ones involved adding a mic-jack to the headphones for use with a removable mic. I went with this approach.

In spite of countless threads showing pictures of these mods, I found a very limited amount of how-to information on the topic. I will therefore describe the step-by-step process of converting the AD-700 to a headset. Please note that I made one major mistake in the process that could be remedied by purchasing replacement parts, but I’m happy enough with how it turned out.

First, make sure you get all the components you need for the mod. These are:

  1. A cordless drill with some bits
  2. AD-700’s
  3. Some high-density sleeving for organizing the cables
  4. A microphone with a 2.5mm of 3.5mm jack (I bought a replacement Turtle Beach X-41, which has a 2.5mm jack, for $8 here.)
  5. A 2.5mm or 3.5mm panel-mount jack, depending on the mic you bought. I bought this one from Vetco. PLEASE NOTE: My mod ran into a problem because the threading on this jack was not long enough to reach through the hole I drilled in the headphones. A longer jack, or some fancy drilling, may be needed for a cleaner mod.
  6. A 3.5mm cable of sufficient length (about 9 feet to match the AD-700’s cable is good). This will be used to plug the mic into your soundcard.
  7. A solder gun and solder

With all your supplies in place, begin by removing the padded earcup from the left side of the headphones. This is achieved by slightly stretching the faux leather portion of the cup slightly to remove it from it’s groove. Once removed, it will look like this:

Using a small screwdriver, remove the screws that you see spaced around the now-exposed left-headphone. Removing these will allow the driver and it’s molding to lift up, giving access to the innards of the casings where our mic-mount will go. When removed, it looks like this:

Once inside, you’re going to want to locate a good position to drill a hole for the 2.5mm or 3.5mm jack. I personally chose a spot on the front, bottom portion of the headphones, just next to the one screw-hole. Be careful not to drill into the screw-hole, or else reassembling the headphones will be difficult. Also notice that the purple-mesh is covering where you need to drill; however, it can easily be drilled straight through and into the plastic. Making sure to pick a drill bit that will accommodate the slimmer, threaded part of the panel-mount jack (but not the thicker part), carefully drill a hole straight through the mesh and the plastic.

Insert your jack and screw on the securing bit from the outside of the headphone casing. This will lock the jack in place (unless your jack doesn’t reach, like mine). You’re now ready to bring in the 3.5mm wire and fit it through the existing headphone-wire hole. First, cut one of the 3.5mm jacks off the wire (you will only need one male connector left attached). With this bit cut, carefully strip the wire to expose the wires inside. For a stereo cable, you will find two shielded and one unshielded wire. The shielded wires should also be carefully stripped. Since we only need mono sound for a mic,  the shielded cables can simply be twisted together; just make sure to keep the originally unshielded cable separate.

These are each mono cables, but stereo are the same but with red AND white shielded cables.

Next, you’ll need to remove the bit of plastic holding the headphones cable in place. I personally whittled it down a bit with a knife, being careful to not nick the audio cable, until it was pretty thin near the headphone casing. Then, I yanked out the bit of plastic completely and finished cutting it out. It will look like this once removed from the casing:

In the extra space now vacated by that piece of plastic, pull through the stripped end of the 3.5mm cable. You can also take this time to pull some high-density sleeving and shrink wrap up on the outside of the headphones to keep the mic and headphone cables nice and organized.

On the inside of the phone, it’s time to solder some cables. If you bought a stereo-jack, it will have three prongs. If it’s mono, it will only have two. As an example, here is the jack I am currently using:

For this jack, you’ll want to simply use the two short prongs. Solder the combined previously-shielded cables to one of the posts. Solder the unshielded cable to the other. I personally worked out all of my soldering business before putting it in the headphones and tested the mic to make sure I knew what to solder where. When everything is nice and soldered, it’s time to close up the headphones. There is limited space inside, so it will take some shuffling to get things to close up completely. Don’t worry, there is a way, it just takes some trial and elbow grease. Once in place, screw things back together. If you used sleeving and shrink wrap, go ahead and shrink that up now. Mine looks like this:

Finally, you’re basically done. I will now shamefully reveal my ugly drilling incident that I used to make my jack fit through the casing. I still may go back to fix it later, but this is how it currently looks.

Hideous, I know. But it works! Here it is with mic attached.

So far, it has been working nicely in Teamspeak and is easy to remove the mic when not needed. The lack of space inside the cans keeps the jack nice and secure, even without the threading screwed into place. I’ll talk more about my full PC setup tomorrow, but when paired with Creative’s CMSS 3D on my X-Fi Titanium HD, they have beautifully detailed sound with pinpoint accuracy in games. Not too shabby!

Stuff That I Like: PC Gaming (Part 2)

As my freshman year or high school wore on, I continued fervently playing BF1942 on my PC. In addition, I started playing some other titles, such as Morrowind, which have sculpted the way I view games forever.

For instance, I learned that not all cats suck.

By the time I entered my sophomore year, social obligations, swimming, and various other activities were eating more and more of my time. This, coupled with a PC that was very expensive to upgrade, led to a slow migration towards gaming primarily on my PS2. I still played with the clan, but popped in less frequently. It wasn’t until my computer actually broke sometime over the ensuing year that I made a partial system upgrade.

It was at this point that my standard PC procedure was established. It went something like this:

  1. Upgrade PC with whatever parts are necessary to get it working.
  2. Salvage all the old parts that still work
  3. If it cannot play a game you absolutely NEED to play, consider striking a deal with your parents to give them your computer to help finance new parts

Since I wasn’t gaming too heavily on my PC at this point, this worked out fine for a very long time too. By late high school, it was rare that I used my computer for gaming; however, I would occasionally be sucked back into it by a major release. In 2005, for example, Battlefield 2 launched and I was back to full time gaming with my clan. I utilized the above procedure to acquire the parts necessary to make the game even remotely playable.

In 2006, once again, I became extremely excited for the followup to Morrowind, which was Oblivion. A technically demanding game, it required me to make a somewhat significant upgrade to my computer to be able to play it. After logging about a hundred hours in Oblivion (cool, I know), I went on a pretty long computer hiatus. Once I was at college, I continued to play BF2, but more with my roommates than with the clan. I drifted slowly from the computer again, primarily playing console games with friends, and returning only on vacations to put in significant PC time. It was just too expensive to keep upgrading for such limited bouts of PC gaming. Aside from Portal 1 and Portal 2, I didn’t play any new PC games for a few years.

This brings us Christmas of this past year. I caught wind that Battlefield Bad Company 2 was getting an expansion based on the Vietnam War. I’m extremely interested in the history of Vietnam and became pretty excited about giving it a whirl. I asked for a copy of BFBC2 for 360 and spent the majority of my break playing the hell out of it.

Suck it hippies, you don't even have your own game.

The only downside was how frustrated I got over having to play alone in a teamwork-heavy game. In early spring, the PC version of the game went on sale for $7, so I decided to see if my old clan was still around. I bought a new mic, popped on to chat with the guys, and decided it was totally worth it to get the game for PC. I sold my 360 copy later that day.

The more I gamed with the clan, the more I remembered how fun it was. I was suddenly taken back to being 15, playing BF1942. It was also fitting that I got back into PC gaming when I did, as Battlefield 3, the first official sequel in the series since 2005, is set to release this October. Furthermore, Skyrim, the sequel to Oblivion and Morrowind, is set to release in November. Both titles are anticipated to be amazingly beautiful, which is cool, but also equates to being technically demanding of ones computer. For this reason, I decided to start a computer fund.

If there is one nice thing about working full time, it is that you have the ability to earn enough money that you can organize it into budgets. For the past 8 months, I’ve tucked away all my extra money into the computer fund, looking forward to finally building my first top of the line machine since 2002. As of Monday night, the money had accumulated in my account and I was face with the extremely stressful decision of whether I could actually go through with it.

WWSMD?

You see, I like having nice things and all, but I feel incredibly guilty for buying them. I can’t help but think if I’m being selfish or if I could be putting the money towards something more productive. My default mindset is to put it into savings or use it for an awesome trip. It took a few hours for me to convince myself of three things. First, I reminded myself that I needed a new computer if I wanted to play those games. Second, I realized that I didn’t have the vacation days available to take a big vacation at the moment. Finally, I accepted that it’s the perfect time for a tech upgrade.

The worst thing about buying computer components is that something better always comes out almost immediately. It’s incredibly frustrating to buy a premium product, only to see it go on massive sale and be replaced by something far better at the same price. Although this will undoubtedly happen again eventually, I’m content knowing that the next big processor and video card releases aren’t until an unspecified date in 2012, well past when I’ll need the new rig. This realization finally pushed me over the edge. I swallowed hard, braced myself for the punishment my bank account was about to take, and started adding to the cart.

A few of the components arrived today and I’m extremely excited. Over the next few days, the rest should arrive, and I plan on doing a little rundown of the whole thing. Specifically, I’ll explain why I picked the components I did and then do a little how-to on system building for anyone interested. If I suddenly stop posting over the next few days, it probably means the new parts didn’t work and I’m without a computer. Wish me luck!

Stuff That I Like: PC Gaming (Part 1)

Buying things, much like blogging, can be a fickle friend. Depending on what it is and how much it costs (or what you’re blogging about) it can take a lot of time and effort to muster up the energy to go forward with it. Other times, you need to slow yourself down and think carefully about a purchase (or a blog post) before blundering on and looking like an idiot.

Within the last 24 hours, I’ve juggled all of the possible scenarios mentioned above. I’ve wanted to write a blog post badly but also felt uninspired to put words down. More mentally taxing then that has been my struggling to decide whether I should buy the parts to build a new computer. Let me explain.

PC gaming and I have a long, storied history. In essence, it is a lifelong love that I lose touch with for years at a time, before stumbling upon it again and savoring its sweet embrace. Like many gamers born in the late 80’s, I was practically weened on PC gaming. My first games were text-based adventure games without any images at all, followed by Sierra adventure games and Doom; however, as the only gamer, and youngest member, of a household, getting the family computer regularly upgraded to play new games isn’t really going to happen. It was for this reason, around the age of 7, that I moved on to console gaming for a while.

GAH, ONLY IF I HAVE TO.

Aside from occasional forays back onto the PC, when my aunt would upgrade and fix our computer and throw a few PC classics my way, I mainly gamed on my SNES through early elementary school. After all, consoles were cheaper than PCs and I was allowed to rent a game from East Coast Video on the weekends. Eventually, towards the end of the 16-bit generation, I was given a Super Genesis as well, granting me access to an entirely new library of games (Multi-platform games weren’t much of a thing until the 32/64-bit generation).

From there, I moved on to a Nintendo 64, PSX, and finally a PS2. My only real ventures onto the PC were at friends’ houses. We would spend countless hours taking turns playing the latest games. I still vividly remember when my best friend got a new desktop with a NVidia TNT2 that could play Soldier of Fortune 2. I was awful, but it was a darn good time.

A bloody good time, if you will.

During the summer of 2002, I began hearing about a game called Battlefield 1942. Unlike the other first person shooters that I had spent a ton of time playing, such as Medal of Honor, it was a large-scale, multiplayer-only game. Even better, it would let you drive jeeps, fly planes, drive boats. Promotional footage showed people crouching on the wings of flying planes to parachute in to capture a base and landing craft bearing down on bloody beach heads. In short, I needed to play it.

With my birthday approaching at the end of the summer, I began lobbying my dad. I pulled out all the stops. I reminded him of how my brother got to go to Space Camp and a slew of other activities that I missed out on. I insisted that having a modern computer was a necessity. Finally, he agreed to allow me to have a custom rig built. Thus began a month or two of rigorous research into the best computer parts available for a reasonable price. It would have RDRAM, a proprietary memory format that was twice as fast as the competition (which also became obselete and impossible to upgrade 2 years later). It would have an NVidia Ti4600, the fastest mainstream GPU available. Ahhhh, the memories. My dad gave me the number of the computer guy that his company used, who I contacted and reeled off the specs to. By August, the computer was ready for pickup, along with a 19″ CRT monitor and a set of Klipsch 5.1 Promedias. To this day, it was the biggest gift I’ve ever been given.

Whoops, sorry. Second biggest.

With everything setup in my room at home, I waited patiently for the Battlefield 1942 demo to release. I spent my time playing Operation Flashpoint all night, eating leftover Chinese food and my mom’s iced tea and sleeping late. I left my room so rarely that when I showed up for the beginning of high school, my friends asked if I was sick since I was so pale and thin.

Sick? More like sick awesome.

When Battlefield 1942 finally launched, I was smitten and wasted even more time playing it. Entire weekends were lost that fall to the game. Eventually, I impressed a clan that I had been owning enough to get an invite to try out. I dominated the try out, was offered a spot, and joined. I’ve been in ever since.

This marked my first return to PC gaming. This post is WAY longer than anticipated, so I will clue you all in to where this is all going tomorrow. Godspeed.

Formative Years: Goldeneye 64

If I were to pick a single moment in time when I was most excited about video games, it would have to be around the launch of the Nintendo 64. There was something about the introduction of 3D gaming and being 9 that had me unbelievable stoked for the console. When I finally got my grubby hands on the thing on Christmas of 1996, I was beside myself. Despite following the library of launch titles extensively through EGM (once the greatest publication known to man), there was no way to fully prepare for how different things were going to be.

I still vividly remember hauling the console to my grandparent’s house (where we go for Christmas dinner every year) so that I could continue playing Mario 64 in their bedroom. That game deserves its own post; to this day, it may have the best designed gameplay ever found in gaming.

Not to mention being synonymous with Christmas.

It was during the summer of the following year that I was given a copy of Goldeneye. Although I had played FPS’s before, like Doom and Hexen, this one was different. First, it wasn’t set in some sort of sci-fi alternate reality like most other FPS’s at the time. Second, it was based directly off of a James Bond film, which is more than enough for any elementary school aged boy. Finally, and most importantly, it offered a full blown 4-player multiplayer mode.

Chills.

At this point in my life, I was constantly hanging out with friends. At my Mom’s house, there was always someone from school coming over to hang out. At my Dad’s house, I had two good friends and 4 cousin-in-laws that were around all the time. It quickly became a Friday and Saturday night ritual to hole up in my room with the lot of them, surrounded by snacks, and stay up the entire night playing. Whenever there were more than 4 players, the lowest scoring player had to give up the controller. No Oddjob. There was just something about learning the nuances of each level, finding a favorite gun and a favorite character, and blasting the hell out of your closest friends. Online gaming, while great, isn’t the same experience.

Nowadays, people always seem to throw in an obligatory line about how dated Goldeneye feels whenever they mention it. This always gives me the overwhelming urge to smack them upside the head. The game is 14 years old, of course it’s going to be rougher around the edges than games with over a decade’s worth of improved technology; however, calling it “terribly dated” makes it sound like it’s unplayable these days, which is simply not true.

The thing about Goldeneye is that almost anyone born during the 80’s was at the prime age for that type of game when it launched. Whether someone was a Nintendo or Sony fanboy, literally everyone played the game as a kid. Now that I think of it, that’s what makes the Nintendo 64 such a great console for me. Everyone that I went to high school and college with were at the perfect age for that generation of consoles; they were old enough to have a console, but no one had grown out of gaming yet. It’s why every band practice ended with Bomberman 64, or Wayne Gretzky’s Hockey, or Goldeneye. As I was saying, I really can’t accept that Goldeneye feels overly dated, because it was the one game that we could always pull out during college and be guaranteed to have a blast with.

Although I’m a pretty avid gamer, I’ve come to find that in retrospect, there was only ever one or two games that I was really into at a given time. Whether it was a few months, a year, or longer, these games capture a slice of my mindset at different points throughout my life. For Goldeneye, it was that point of my life when I was just starting to feel independent enough to stay up late into the night, but was still extremely close to a fairly large group of people. It was a blip of time when life was devoid of stress and pressure. A time when happiness was a chocolate cake and a RCP90 in the Complex. And let’s be honest, that will NEVER feel dated.

TAKE THAT ADULT LIFE

Musings: Problem Solving

A friend of mine recently asked me what I think my greatest skill is. After thinking about it for a few moments, I realized that I am best at solving problems. I’m not sure when I became good at it, but I’ve definitely come to rely on it at my job. As the only person who isn’t working on a well defined, very specific research project, literally everything outside of said projects falls on me. Fedex billed us wrong? Find out why. New incubator that I’ve never seen before isn’t holding temperature? Fix it. We’re in need of a new subzero freezer? Find the best one and get us a good price on it.

I was thinking of labeling this post as “Stuff That I Like”, because in a lot of ways, I like being the problem solver. I get a unique sort of high from rapidly putting a wide range of issues to rest. At the same time, I’m not sure that I actually like solving the problems. If anything, it has become more of a compulsion. It’s like some practical, real world version of a MMORPG, where I want to progress further and further, proving how much I can fix, without much of an endgame.

Speaking of video games, my compulsive desire to solve problems has seriously affected the way that I game. I’ve found more and more that in any non-repetitive game (as in, not a multiplayer game where the same basic tasks are repeated), I keep pushing myself to finish the game, sometimes at the cost of actual enjoyment.

As everyone will find out when I get around to writing about all the games that I’ve really, truly, seriously loved, I get the most enjoyment out of games where I take my time, get immersed, and really enjoy the unique moments. I still come across these moments from time to time, where I want the game to last forever, if only for a chance to experience a few more thrilling moments; however, on the whole, I push forward in games, crossing missions off as I go, more or less enjoying myself, but yearning for the moment when I’ll achieve a final victory.

This is all made worse by the fact that when I do finish a really terrific game, I’m upset that I plowed through it so unenthusiastically. I’ll rarely make it back for another whole playthrough (with the exception of a few true classics that I replay frequently), despite wanting to indulge a bit more. I seriously fear the day when I can’t find a game or two that really sucks me in. It seems to me that a lot of older gamers reach the point where gaming becomes a chore.If I ever reach that point, you will see a very unhappy Chris. I don’t want my childhood to die. I just want to grow up to be like this guy:

Anyway, back in the real world, I hope that I can capitalize on my problem solving abilities/compulsions/desires. The good thing is, it’s one of those skills that never really sounds bad in an interview. Who doesn’t love a problem solver? The downside is that I really need a job where that problem solving provides total satisfaction. Right now, I feel like the only way for me to achieve this is by working for myself. Nothing really sounds fulfilling compared to building a business, confronting and solving new challenges on a daily basis. Now I just need to find a place to start. Any ideas?