Tag Archives: pc

Secondhand Mac Pro Pricing Is Ridiculous Now

IMG_3038If money was no object, my dream Mac would be the Mac Pro. Back in high school, we’d have these impromptu competitions to find the most expensive computer possible. And since the Mac Pro was both insanely expensive and able to be configured to an eye-watering level of performance, ticking all the boxes meant you could get your Mac Pro configuration towards the $30,000 mark without breaking a sweat.

I’ve never actually owned a desktop Mac before. No desktop Mac has really appealed to me, and as someone who’s had a separate PC for gaming for years, having two desktop machines means I lose out on any potential portability I wish to partake in. So every time I’ve had to decide on a new Mac, the only real decision that makes sense is a MacBook Pro, upgraded as much as I can afford it to be.

So here’s the deal: I use a Mac as my primary machine, and at the moment, it’s a Late 2013, 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display. It does everything, from composing blog posts late at night, to writing the daily new summaries in the morning. General web surfing, media playing, and, on occasion, I’ve played the odd game of Dota 2. Although it’s a portable machine, it almost never leaves the spot on my desk where it’s hooked up to my 4K external display, Thunderbolt dock, and all the other peripherals you’d expect to be plugged into your daily driver.

Which brings us to the other side of the equation, my gaming PC. I recently put together an almost-entirely new gaming rig for the purposes of upgrading to a more modern platform, but it’s been pretty lacklustre as far as upgrades go. For what I’m using it for (i.e. gaming), there hasn’t been any real noticeable difference in performance, which is kind of disappointing, and kind of makes me feel like I upgraded in order to keep up with platform changes, instead of upgrading because my old PC was getting a little long in the tooth.

PC performance (Mac or otherwise) has long passed the point where CPU performance makes a difference, which goes to explain why buying a machine from 2010 doesn’t faze me. In terms of general, day-to-day PC performance, the number one thing that matters these days is a fast SSD. Even then, you’re going to be hard-pressed to notice the difference between any modern SATA-based model or the newfangled PCIe-based ones, despite PCIe SSDs have much higher throughput. Again, it all depends on the kind of workload you’re throwing at them, and for gaming, the only thing that matters is GPU and to a lesser extent, CPU performance.

Which is just about where my dilemma begins. The portability on my MacBook Pro is nice and all, but I almost never use it that way. And having such a highly-specced PC that I only use for gaming seems like a bit of a waste. What if I could combine the two? I’d go from two separate computers to one, and I’d have the best of both worlds — a machine that runs OS X for my day-to-day, then reboots into Windows when I want to play some video games.

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The Division Open Beta

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This is going to be hard to believe, but sometimes I play other games other than Dota 21. Crazy, I know. But last weekend I played The Division, I title I’ve been looking forward to ever since it brought the hype at E3 2013, at PAX Aus 2013, and then again at PAX Aus 2014. I’m not even sure why I was looking forward to it — the snippets of information that had been given away by Ubisoft/Massive haven’t been much to go on, but the way that everyone else has been talking about the game has gotten me excited. Even after the beta has come and gone, I’m still not sure what the game is about or what the end-game is, so I guess you can say I’m well and truly riding on the hype-train.

At first I wasn’t sure about the concept of a third-person cover-based shooter on the PC. Then I realised one of my favourite games of all time was a third-person cover-based shooter: Mass Effect. And the more I thought about it, the more I saw similarities between the two games: both are cover-based shooters. Both are futuristic. Both have RPG-like elements in terms of gear and skills. While Mass Effect undoubtedly has the far stronger storyline, I’m hoping The Division’s Dark Zone, PvP multiplayer will make up for the complete lack of late-game content we’ve seen thus far and give it at least a little longevity after the main story is done and dusted.

I almost gave up on The Division. After finishing the initial intro and browsing same-ish city blocks, I wandered towards the first objective, cranked the difficulty to high, and dove in. After ten deaths in the same spot, I gave up and was ready to hang in the towel on the whole thing — and I would have, if it hadn’t been for a friend that wanted to co-op with me.

We actually ended up making it through that mission, even though we died a few times in the exact same spot, but having a friend turns out to make all the difference in the world (or at least in that particular instance of mission).

With both of the two storyline missions under our belt (for an estimated 10% story completion of the entire game) in one sitting, we did what two guys would do next and passed into the Dark Zone.

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In the Dark Zone, not only are you fighting up much tougher AI for better loot, you’re also competing with other players for the same. Loot is instanced so you can never “steal” someone else’s loot by landing the killing blow on a big boss, but what you can steal is their loot when they go to extract the loot so it becomes available for use. Dark Zone loot isn’t usable until it’s “extracted”, which is dicey process of calling in a helicopter, waiting around for it to arrive, and then not getting killed while your character is going through the motions of attaching the loot to the zipline dropped by the helicopter. It’s all very Metal Gear Solid, only with the added threat of someone lobbing a few grenades on you as you’re going for the extract, and then raining bullets on you from the high ground.

Which is to say, the Dark Zone is pretty fun. If you’re playing solo, it’s the thill of being a lone wolf — not necessarily taking out groups of the strong AI by yourself, but contributing enough lead to share in the spoils, then either taking advantage of someone else’s extraction helicopter or calling in your own and hoping like hell someone doesn’t decide you’re a good target.

Ars Technica played through the closed beta on Xbox One a few weeks earlier, and while they say The Division is a repetitive shooter that has neither the cover-based shooting mechanics of Gears of War or the looting and gear-based aspects of Fallout or Borderlands, I disagree. The Division is different enough from all those to set it apart, and what people have to realise is that it isn’t a cover-based shooter with RPG elements, it’s an RPG with cover-based shooter elements.

Playing through the open beta taught me that the pursuit of better gear came above all else, and with the amount of weapon customisation and all the other RPG-type elements that were hinted at in the game but not actually present in the open beta (including food and managing hunger levels in a desolate, virus-ridden New York landscape, the various skills granted by unique weapons, the focus on cosmetic appearance, and more), my guess is there’s going to be playing of role-playing in The Division, whether that means going Rogue in the Dark Zone or just sticking to the streets of New York, trying to do… whatever the hell the main protagonist is trying to do. Seriously, what is this game about?

Seeing as I’ve pre-ordered the game, I guess I’ll find out soon enough.


  1. Which reminds me, I should probably write something about that again. It’s been a while, and I’ve got stuff to say. 

New PC: Firebolt

DSCF0895I was actually in San Francisco when Intel was hosting their annual developer forum last year. At that stage, I hadn’t really thought about putting together an almost entirely new PC, but you could say it planted the seed. After all, my current PC was over five years old, and despite a steady string of graphics cards upgrades, it was probably about time for something new and shiny, seeing as my computer didn’t even have USB 3 yet.

When I got back to Australia, I spent a few good months thinking about whether I wanted to get a new PC or not. There was nothing particularly wrong about my current rig, besides being a little long in the tooth. Depending on the games I was playing, the CPU could be a little bit of a bottleneck, but the GTX 980 meant things still hummed along just fine on screen.

By the time December came around, I had all but made up my mind. I was going to build a new Skylake-based PC, recycling only the graphics card, hard drives, and a fan controller from my current computer. Now all I had to do was decide on some parts, but here’s how it all breaks down.

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Losing (and winning)

One of the things that annoys me the most about the programming is the zone of suck, and how very large and expansive it can be. Probably because I’m a mediocre programmer, at best, but a lot of the time it feels like I’m single-handedly trying to fight backdoor protection on the other team’s ancient as Faceless Void.

Losses in Dota 2 feel like that, too. Sometimes you’ll realise you have nothing to stop the other team’s push strategy, other times you’ll know that your entire team can’t deal with one hero on the other team who got a few kills early on, and by that time, the game is pretty much over. I hate calling “gg” early as much as the next guy, but fighting against a split push with little farm and little to no hope against of coming back is incredibly frustrating1.

Yes, I’ve been playing a lot of Dota 2 recently, and while it might sound like I say that a lot, it’s the truth. Last weekend, a couple of friends and I gathered at my place for some five-stack ranked shenanigans. Incredulously, we somehow managed to win 10 of the 11 games we played; an impressive win rate on a good day, a downright amazing win-loss ratio on any other.

After a warmup game, we refined the strat we were running. We’d insta-pick the heroes we wanted when All Pick came up, and tried to not get them banned in Captain’s Mode. Provided none of us got off to a particularly bad start in the laning stage, we guaranteed kills with a triple-stun trilane, a mid Drow, and solo Invoker. And even if one of us was killed a few times during the early game, we usually had enough recovery mechanisms to get back into the game; usually involving the other players making space for the fifth to farm. Split pushing, adding pressure around the map, stacking neutrals, that kind of thing. By the time late game rolled around, we would be ready.

We did have a bit of trouble against some really good Tinkers. With no real mechanism to catch him out, an enemy Tinker ended up split pushing every lane while we were taking 4v5 teamfights, which would favour us most of the time. Eventually the Tinker would make a mistake and we’d pull him up on it, securing the kill, and because not even an incredibly farmed Tinker can carry a game single-handedly, we’d go on to win the game off the back of those pick-offs.

For the most part, our strategy carried us through games. Our team hero composition allowed us to be a little lazier in terms of items; Wraith King’s lifesteal aura helped out our team early-game with HP regen, and Maiden was the same was her mana regen. By running two position threes, both with the potent carry potential, any time a game went late always favoured us. At the same time, because our Invoker was building Necronomicons and doing his best to push down towers any time he was away from a teamfight, we’d usually have such a gold lead that one or two farmed heroes on the other team didn’t matter that much. Of the 11 games we played, only four went longer than 40 minutes — and of those four, the three we won we were playing against a Tinker, master of the split push.

But despite our impressive win-loss ratio, the game we didn’t win still sticks out like a sore thumb. Thanks to some combination of the Von Restorff effect and likely some negativity bias, I remember that game more than any of the others, despite the fact we won 10 of the other 11 games we played that night. It hurts even more to know that we could have won that game, too — the scoreboard showed kills that were more or less even all the way through, and we punished them for their mistakes every opportunity we got. Every time they got greedy and tried to push for more kills or objectives after using their ultimates, we’d wipe them, but couldn’t seem to take any objectives off the back of our kills.

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DotA for Recreation, Not Profit

Dat courier, though. Phwoar.

Dat courier, though. Phwoar.

Alternate title: remember when online gaming was fun?

As part of my ongoing adventures in DotA 2, I’ve stopped playing ranked matches altogether. After experiencing how much they brought out the worst in people (and I include myself in that), I decided they were making gaming less fun, so I gave them the flick. Of the online games I am playing, I stopped choosing “All Pick” as a game mode and starting choosing basically everything else: Single Draft, Random Draft, All Random, Least Played, Captain’s Mode, and Captain’s Draft. The other game modes change things up a little by not offering the full hero roster, and do a decent job of teaching me to be a better player by playing with hero and team combinations I’m not necessarily familiar with. Ability Draft, on the other hand, is just… weird, and almost seems like an arcade version of DotA.

The thing I enjoy the most isn’t sledging my teammates when the carries can’t actually carry, despite what you may hear or read. No, it’s playing DotA with friends, either in friendly 5-on-5 matches, against bots in coop, or even online, when it takes our fancy. Work and other commitments mean we hardly get to see each other and catch up as often as we’d like, but playing DotA together means we can jump in Mumble or TeamSpeak and catch up with other while participating in some truly epic teamfights.

And at the heart of it, isn’t that what online gaming is all about? Having fun with people you know in real life, online? I’m no stranger to playing single-player games, but every now and again, I enjoy playing with friends. Multiplayer games like DayZ, Wasteland, DotA, and so many others just aren’t the same when you play by yourself. You could argue that there’s a time and a place for playing single-player games by yourself, but at the end of the day, there’s no denying that online gaming is infinitely better with friends.

But you know what isn’t fun? When friends get too serious about a game. I’ll admit straight up that I’m guilty of this, but aren’t we all? Our naturally competitive nature means that a disappointing loss hits harder than any elation from a convincing victory, which leads to blaming people we’re usually on very good terms with.

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Point and Click Adventure Game

Casual readers of this blog might think that this will be another post on the latest title from Telltale Games, purveyors of the finest point-and-click adventure games around. I’ve previously reviewed The Walking Dead: Season One (the video game), and plan to dive into The Walking Dead: Season Two and The Wolf Among Us very soon, but no, these aren’t about those kinds of point and click adventure games per se. At least, not the ones you might be thinking about.

I’ve played a lot of ARMA 2. Along with DotA 2, it’s pretty much all I play these days. (According to my Steam stats, DotA 2 has the lead in terms of gameplay time.) It all started with the DayZ mod a few years ago, but since then a few of us have moved on to Wasteland, which is less about scavenging for survival items as it is about simply hunting down and killing others, building bases, that kind of thing. Kind of like a realistic version of Battlefield or Counterstrike, if you will.

Anyway, we’ve been spending a lot of time on a server that doesn’t have that many powerful guns. Perhaps less than ten are are one-hit one kill, and of those, only a handful can do so at range. The M110 with NV Scope is my current favourite weapon, purely because it’s so easy to get kills with it. Provided you’ve calculated the range properly (something that comes with experience, a few map waypoints, or if all else fails, a rangefinder), it’s ridiculously easy to get kills; you can hit someone anywhere and kill them. It also has very little recoil, meaning you can fire off a number of shots in quick succession without having to re-adjust for every shot. All this means it’s a veritable killing machine, in the hands of the right operator (in ARMA 2, anyway).

Short explanation of the video below: it all starts by us hearing about a base to the West of Kamenka. Armed to the teeth, we head over to see if the rumours are true. On the way, an immobile tank objective pops up, and a short while later, we spot an SUV driving along the main road. Things happen rather fast from that point: Janson takes out a tyre with a well-timed and well-aimed shot, which causes the SUV to skid to a halt. One guy doesn’t get out of the (now on fire) SUV fast enough and dies. Strike dies as five others pour out of the vehicle, guns up. I pop up momentarily, manage to kill one with a lucky shot, and get back down. I notice they’re all gathered on the opposite side of the road, next to a wooden house, so I put my eye to the scope, pop up, and take aim. I fire a round just as the first starts to run, and he’s down. I move across to the right, and fire off five more shots. One, hit. Two, hit. Three, hit. Four, miss — I quickly compensate and fire off the last shot. Five, hit. And like any good point and click adventure game, that’s the end of that.

Nvidia’s ShadowPlay and One Angry Earthshaker

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Occasionally, I put gaming-related videos on YouTube. For all of those videos, I’ve used Fraps to capture in-game footage, and as far as software-based capture tools go, it isn’t bad. I’ve been using Fraps for a few years now, and for the most part, I’ve been pretty happy with it.

That said, there are a few things about Fraps I don’t like. For starters, it creates massive files on disk — it works out to be about 1.2GB/minute for 720p footage at 60fps. There’s no option to record at arbitrary resolutions, only your display resolution or half size, whatever that turns out to be1. And enabling Fraps usually kills my FPS, which usually gets me killed in whatever game I’m playing. The frame rate drop I experience in certain (read: more recent, more demanding) games turns me off recording unless I really want to, otherwise I’d probably record far more often than I do. That, and the massive hard drive space requirements for recording.

But like any in-game capture tool, the worst thing about Fraps is that I have to manually enable it whenever I want to record something. That’s fine if I know something cool might happen in advance, or when I know I’m going to do something which I might need footage for later, but I honestly couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve done something epic and wished it has been recorded. So many times I’ve missed out on capturing some real Kodak moments, and all because FRAPS wasn’t recording. The “workaround” for this, if you can call it that, is to have Fraps running all the time — but when gaming sessions go for hours on end, I have neither the hard drive space nor the low-FPS tolerance for that to be a viable solution.

shadowplay settings

Enter Nvidia’s ShadowPlay.

In Shadow Mode, ShadowPlay automatically records everything in the background. It records up to the last ten minutes of gameplay in the background, which you can then save to disk if you want by pressing the appropriate key combo. Do something epic, and want to have a permanent record of it? No need to gripe about not having Fraps turned on and recording to your friends over TeamSpeak, because ShadowPlay already recorded it for you. All you have to do is save the recording.

ShadowPlay is also great because it doesn’t produce massive files when recording footage. It uses the GPU to transcode your recordings on the fly to H.264 (which is why you’ll need a GTX 600 or 700 series graphics card), resulting in reasonably-sized files, and best of all, there’s no performance hit that I’ve noticed thus far. (For comparative purposes, 1GB of hard drive space gives me roughly three minutes of in-game footage with ShadowPlay at 1080p/60fps, compared to under a minute with Fraps at 720p/60fps.) There are alternative software capture tools that can perform similar compression on your recordings, but those use CPU power instead of a dedicated H.264 encoder built into the graphics card. And since my CPU is a few years old now, I don’t really have those CPU cycles to spare when I’m gaming.

ShadowPlay has a manual recording option too á la Fraps, in case you want to go down that path. But having something sit in the background silently recording my every move is great, and means I don’t have to think about what I’m going to be doing next and whether I want to have that on file for later. It’s like having an instant rewind for anything.

There’s always room for improvement though, and ShadowPlay is no exception. It needs the ability to record voice input, for starters. If I’m communicating hilarious things over TeamSpeak but all the recording captures is my teammates’ responses, then that’s not very useful. And I have to do some more thorough testing, but I’ve had a few recordings with a number of graphical glitches too. Then again, Nvidia have labelled it a beta for a reason, so I’m sure it’ll get there.

But for now, ShadowPlay is pretty great. Reasonably-sized files, little to no performance hit when recording, and the best part is, it means I don’t have to worry about turning on Fraps before doing something cool. What’s not to love?

ShadowPlay makes recoding game footage an afterthought, which is what it should be — because you’re supposed to be playing games, not thinking about whether you want to record what you’re doing in games.

About the video2: OK, so, there was this one game of DOTA 2 I was playing, right. We had an Earthshaker on our team who wanted to play him like a carry — constantly going 1v1 against other heroes. Dude thought he was invincible, even after he died three times in the space of two and a half minutes. After he died he’d usually ping-spam the map, resulting in our Death Prophet getting worked up and shout at him over in-game voice. It was hilarious, right up until the point where Earthshaker revealed he had a mic after all, but apparently only used it to abuse other teammates over voice. We lost the game, of course, but it was really strange. Almost like the dude was drunk or something.


  1. Since I game at 2560×1440, the native resolution of my display, half size turns out to be 720p, which works out well enough for YouTube purposes. 1080p would be great, but recording at full size and then down-sizing is too much work. 
  2. I had to upload the video to Vimeo because YouTube blocked the audio because of the Lady Gaga going on in the background. But the audio is kind of the best part. And yeah, sorry about having the not-very ad-free Spotify going on in the background. (The new Lady Gaga is just OK, IMHO). 

Winning (and losing)

Dota Dire Ancient Gone

If there’s a universal truth, it’s that people don’t like losing. Ask anyone, and they’ll tell you that losing sucks; anyone that tells you otherwise is either lying or a sadist.

The question is: do I take winning too seriously? There was one time, years ago, where a friend and I were playing Left 4 Dead. We were in a co-op match with two other folks, and I was shouting obscenities into our team’s text chat in an attempt to get the other players on our team to do something useful. After the match, the friend I was playing with pointed out “that guy” that was trying to get the team to win. I pointed out that “that guy” was actually me, and things were pretty awkward from that point on.

I’ve played a number of DotA 2 games now. As of writing, dotabuff says 249 real matches, with perhaps an extra 10-15 versus bots on top of that. At the moment, my win-loss ratio is sitting just under the 50-50 ratio, at 124 wins to 125 losses. Anecdotal evidence (i.e. the dotabuff profiles of a number of friends who have played hundreds of more games than I have) leads me to believe the matchmaking in DotA conspires to keep you around a 50-50 WL ratio, but with a good enough team, you can beat the odds.

Despite what you may believe, the number one influencer on your win-loss ratio isn’t yourself. At least, it’s not about yourself as much as it is about other players. For example: if another player on your team, in a different lane, decides to die repeatedly to one of your opponents in the early game, then that opposing hero now has a level and gold advantage. And even if you’re playing to the best of your ability, there’s very little you can do from preventing that opposing hero from dominating the rest of the match. From there, your fate is all but sealed: the opposing hero which received early kills dominates teamfights, and hence wipes the floor with your team. Eventually, through no fault of your own, you lose. Good game, sir.

But I’ve played enough games of DotA 2 now to realise that it’s a little more complicated than that. I’ve seen my share of impressive comebacks and last-gasp pushes that result in a win to know that the balance in DotA is incredibly delicate. What one player does or doesn’t do can tip the scales in your favour, or lose you the match. Didn’t deny the tower when you had the chance? You lose because the enemy all gained gold. Didn’t carry a TP scroll when pushing? You lose because a Nature’s Prophet decided to teleport into your base and demolish your ancient with his army of trees. Spent too much time jungling instead of pushing with your team? You lose because your team just lost that 4v5 teamfight, the enemy pushed, and you lost a tower and barracks.

Don’t get me wrong, good team work is of the utmost importance in DotA 2. It’s why I gently push others to be the best they can be if they’re having a bad game, because good teamwork means you can bring a game back from 9-0, their advantage. 30 minutes in, and it’s 16-32, still their advantage. We’re behind in kills the entire time, but when we finally take their ancient, the scoreboard reads 44-54, still in their favour. You’ll notice I went 2-17 in that match. I contributed almost nothing to that game, and yet we won. So how does that work, exactly?

Teamwork.

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Tough Crowd

Remember that one time where I managed to get a Divine Rapier as Drow in a public game? Good times, good times.

Remember that one time where I managed to get a Divine Rapier as Drow in a public game? Good times, good times.

Hi. My name is Benny Ling, and by the time you read this, it will have been a week since the last time I played badly in DotA 2.

It might not be the end of semester (at least not for me, thanks to some fortuitous mechanism), but once again I find myself playing games when I should be doing something else. I’ve dipped my toes into the world of Los Santos in GTA V, I’ve wandered through the tall grass in Pokémon X, and I’ve fed the opposition in highly-strung matches of DotA 2.

I remember it almost as if it were yesterday, even though it was actually 29 days ago. I was playing Faceless Void, and for those who aren’t familiar with DotA, Faceless Void is what they call a “hard carry” — that is, he can carry the game, but only if he gains a significant advantage in terms of gold (and therefore items). Faceless Void has this really cool ultimate ability called Chronosphere which temporarily stops time within a sphere, where only he can move around — once you get the right items, you can do some real damage to the opposition who were unlucky enough to be caught in your Chronosphere.

But hard carries, by their very nature, are incredibly easy to kill right up until the point when they get their items. Think of them like a Magikarp before the awe-inspiring Gyrados — the Magikarp has essentially no defences, and no real attacks. Almost any Pokémon can KO a Magikarp, but it takes a much stronger Pokémon to take down a Gyrados, the evolution of Magikarp.

It was in that fateful game that I experienced, first-hand, how tough the DotA crowd can be. We lost that game, of course, but it was honestly the second time I had played Faceless Void in a public game. I did OK the first time I played (well, we won that match, anyway, and I was 9/9/6 in terms of kills, deaths, and assists), but what I’ll always remember is the abuse I copped because I played badly. Some of it was my fault — like the time I managed to trap an allied hero in a Chronosphere and get him killed — sure, but the team as a whole was doing pretty badly. Only two heroes out of five had any kills at all, and by the time our ancient fell, the numbers weren’t exactly pretty.

As much as I deserved some of the comments — “Faceless doesn’t even have boots” — I was made to feel as if I was the sole reason our team was losing, when it was really our shared fault. Two other heroes had died more times than I had, so I could hardly be blamed for our eventual loss, right?

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Metro 2033 and Metro: Last Light

At the heart of it, Metro 2033 is about camaraderie. You're not a Ranger, but friends help out friends.

At the heart of it, Metro 2033 is about camaraderie. You’re not a Ranger, but friends help out friends.

I think I restarted the original Metro game probably five or six times. It wasn’t because I wasn’t very good at it, or that I didn’t enjoy it, but every time I’d get up to one part, but then I’d run out of filters and die in the harsh environment of the post-war Moscow. Or I’d come up against innumerable enemies, waste all my ammunition, and die. Or maybe I’d lose my way, frantically run around trying to find the next area to go to, run out of filters, and die unceremoniously in some dark corner, panting for breath as everything slowly faded to black.

I probably played through the first few chapters five, maybe six times, each time growing more and more frustrated with a game everyone was raving about, all because of its incredibly atmospheric gameplay and fantastic plot — an atmosphere and plot I was being denied time and time again, due to my own inability to survive on the irradiated surface.

It even got to the stage where I wanted to play through the game so badly, wanted to experience it for myself, that I looked up cheats for “infinite ammo”, or some kind of god-mode invincibility so I wouldn’t have to worry about using my hard-earned military-grade rounds buying filters for my mask whenever I got the chance. I’m usually against cheats, but in this case I was making an exception. I was desperate to play the game, but it seemed as if the game didn’t want to be played. At least, not by me.

So I played other games. Every time Metro 2033 came up in a Steam sale, I pushed away the guilt of never having played what was by all accounts a fantastic game, ashamed I couldn’t even beat it on the easiest difficulty. My pile of shame grew, but Metro 2033 sat squarely on the top of the pile.

It wasn’t until Metro: Last Light came out that I read a review of Last Light that said the first game was supposed to be played as a stealth shooter. Then it dawned on me almost as if I had just stepped out of the underground tunnels of the metro and into the harsh sunlight above ground: that was exactly what I had been doing wrong all along. Instead of sneaking around in the shadows, crouch-running through the tunnels, I had been going in all-guns blazing. Instead of conserving my ammo, I had been neglecting my knife when only one or two enemies were between me and my goal.

Metro2033 2013-05-17 10-39-08-30

Looking back at it now, I’m reasonably surprised I didn’t think of playing 2033 as a stealth game. I must have restarted the game some five or six times without changing my play style, each time expecting to Rambo through sections with wanton abandon and then dying out in the unforgiving tunnels and surface. But after learning about playing it as a stealth game, everything changed. Suddenly, I had more filters than I knew what to do with. My knife became my best friend for dealing with one or two bad guys, and ammo, while not exactly abundant, became plentiful enough.

The game changed.

Instead of a game where my every thought was on survival and finding enough filters, it became a game about exploration and discovery. Fear was replaced by a curiosity that could only be sated by exploring every nook and cranny for supplies, with little fear about how many filters I had or which direction I was going — although that could also be attributed to my compass, which always lead the way to the next objective, to the next rendezvous.

Sections that had seemed impassable before due to the numbers of enemies between myself and my object now seemed easier, somehow, either by use of stealth or a little ingenuity on my part. The game didn’t become any easier, necessarily, but the simple act of playing it differently meant that I could see and explore places I wouldn’t have had the chance to had I just sprinted through rooms filled with enemies.

I started to enjoy the game.

And what a game it was. The reviewers and critics were right: Metro 2033 was as deserving of every accolade it earned, and for good reason. As an introduction into the subterranean life of a post-nuclear-war Russia, it was unparalleled. As a look into the life of one individual’s journey through the dark tunnels of the Metro, the harsh wasteland of the surface, and deep behind enemy lines, it was an awe-inspiring experience.

Forging your own path was easier if you shot out all the lights first so that you could remain unseen, as indicated by your handy watch. Stealthily taking down enemies wherever possible meant you raised the least amount of suspicion, meaning a longer time undisturbed looking for ammo, military-grade rounds, or secret caches filled to the brim with ammo, filters, and military-grade rounds.

"Does this helmet kind of remind you the NCR Ranger Combat Armour from Fallout 3, or is it just me?"

“Does this helmet kind of remind you the NCR Ranger Combat Armour from Fallout 3, or is it just me?”

But as much as you thought you were the silent killer lurking in the shadows, you never felt overpowered compared to the enemies you encountered — human or otherwise. Part of the reason you had to sneak around in the first place is because you’d quickly run out of ammo if you had to engage the enemy, particularly during the section where you’re between two sets of enemies on either side, where you have to jump around and avoid being spotted. The only time you feel on top of things is when you’re journeying towards the D6 compound with your fellow Rangers — only because there’s safety in numbers, and even then, only when those numbers are comprised of the Ranger elite.

In terms of gameplay, Metro 2033 is a shining example of how to do stealth right. There’s parts where stealth benefits you greatly, combined with parts where you can’t stealth due to environmental conditions, and just have to run and gun. Your watch helps you immensely, and paying attention to it is usually the difference between a successful stealth attempt and tens of soldiers being alerted to your presence and opening fire.

The plot of Metro 2033 isn’t too bad either. You meet a couple people and do a few things along the way. You’re never completely alone except for a few short parts here and there, and you always have a clear sense of purpose, even when you’re given the freedom to roam around an underground establishment or and above-ground environment.

For the most part, other characters will be there to guide you through various sections. It’s a little hand-holdy at times, but means you’re never really thrown into a situation you can’t handle. I usually hate escort missions, but this isn’t like that at all — if anything, it’s more like a reverse escort mission where you’re the one being escorted through the bowels of post-nuclear-war Moscow, being taught survival tips and tricks along the way. If another character tells you to jump, you don’t even have to ask how high, because he’ll tell you.

The introduction at the start of the Metro 2033 is brilliantly executed — the whole “play through this first part, then flashback to the beginning of your journey, playing though until you come back to this section again” aspect is a plot device more frequently used in TV, but it still works here. It creates enough intrigue to get you hooked and just enough action to blow you away, at which point it dials it all back a few notches so you can start to ask questions and get truly into the plot and story that Metro 2033 presents during the course of gameplay.

Make no mistake: Metro 2033 is a great game.

Continue Reading →

Mass Effect Weaponry

monkeydseehr: Weaponry - Mass Effect [◼] | hexington

monkeydseehr: Weaponry - Mass Effect [◼] | hexington

monkeydseehr: Weaponry - Mass Effect [◼] | hexington

via monkeydseehr: Weaponry – Mass Effect [◼] | hexington.

Top to bottom, left to right:

N7 Valkyrie — the two-round burst is more annoying than helpful, in my opinion

M-55 Argus — three round burst coupled with a relatively slow firing speed, avoid

M-37 Falcon — the only mini-grenade firing weapon worth using is the Striker Assault Rifle, this just seems like a worse weapon by comparison

Phaeston — a decent alternative to the Cerberus Harrier, if you haven’t unlocked that

N7 Valiant — the only thing that lets down this reasonably-fast-firing sniper rifle is its 3-round mag size

M-90 Indra — haven’t actually unlocked this weapon yet, although from memory it wasn’t too bad in single player

M-13 Raptor — a fast-firing sniper rifle that’s probably closer to an assault rifle, but I think I’ve only seen it used successfully in one game

Javelin — the small delay between pressing the mouse and the Javelin means you constantly have to follow your target with the mouse, which takes a bit of getting used to, otherwise, it’s actually the sniper rifle that does the most damage. The scope is a little unorthodox.

Scorpion — sticky grenades might seem like a good idea, but they rarely are. Doubly so if you can’t aim

Arc Pistol — one of my favourites, able to be either shot as-is or charged up and shot. I use it whenever I’m using a biotic character, although I know people that favour the Scorpion as a secondary for characters that don’t have to consider cooldowns

M-358 Talon — a pistol that fires like a shotgun? Since when did that seem like a good idea? I haven’t used this in combat though, so I can’t tell you how it fares in-game

A Short Guide On How To Not Suck At Gold/Platinum Difficulty in Mass Effect 3 Multiplayer

MassEffect3 2013-05-03 01-27-17-15

I’m pretty sick of complete noobs trying to do Gold and Platinum difficulty in Mass Effect 3 Multiplayer and failing on early waves, so I thought I’d write a short guide on a few general tips and strategies. In no particular order…

  • Be at least level 18 for Gold, level 20 for Platinum. Anything else and you’re asking for a bad time. You might not think too much of those extra points, but those tier 6 evolutions of your powers can make all the difference in the world.

  • For crying out loud, take gear and equipment. At the very least, take gear — that’s the square in the bottom right corner of the equipment screen, for those who have never done so (also, shame on you). Gear isn’t a consumable, so it lasts for more than just one game.
    When you’re taking gear, take gear that will help out your character. If your character is a biotic/heavy pistol person, then take the Commando Package. If you’re a Krogan Warlord and like doing damage with melee and shotguns, take the Beserker Package. You’d think some of this stuff is common sense, but you’d be surprised…

  • Equipment is also a must. You can get by without it, but you can do some pretty cool things with ammo and weapon bonuses, such as Warp ammo for increased Biotic damage on targets, or setting up biotic/tech combos with Disruptor ammo and Tech Burst, or Warp Ammo and Warp. Again, take ammo and weapon bonuses that complement your character.
    The extra damage that some ammo bonuses applies helps out more than you’d think — 35% more damage is about twice as much damage as a maxed passive skill tree can afford you in terms of weapon damage, for example.

  • Don’t waste your Medkits in the heat of battle. Mash that spacebar until the little line is almost gone, then use the Medkit — and only if the situation calls for it. I wouldn’t use a Medkit on Wave 1-5, because if you’ve flatlined and no-one revives you on those earlier waves, chances are you won’t make it to the later waves anyway. Might as well save that Medkit for when you actually need it.
    Medkits are best used in a last-gasp, I’m-the-last-man-standing-and-it’s-the-last-enemy-on-wave-10 situtaions, where the difference between using a Medkit and not using the Medkit is winning the round, and not winning the round. If there’s no immediate danger around you, you might as well sit out that little countdown until your knight in shining armour comes to rescue you, or you bleed out.
    There’s no dishonour in bleeding out, either — if it’s a particularly early wave, you really have nothing to lose (unless you’re carrying the team, which is a different kettle of fish).

  • Similarly, use those Cobra Missiles properly. Look, I hate Phantoms as much as you do, and as tempting as it is to pull out your launcher and blast that Phantom back to the depths of hell from whence it came… don’t. But two Phantoms? Maybe. Three Phantoms or more, though, and you’ll have to get in line. Try not to waste those missiles on a single enemy of any kind — like Medkits, they’re best used in a oh-crap-everyone-is-down-right-next-to-me-and-there’s-two-Brutes-here-with-two-Banshees-on-the-way kind of a situation. In those kinds of cases, go nuts.
    Oh, and it’s generally a good idea to aim your missiles at the ground. Many a person has been mocked in-game because their woefully-aimed Missile missed the group of three Banshees and sailed clear off the map — get close, aim your Missile at the ground, and watch those suckers drop. The splash damage on the Missile is around 3-4m, and anything within a 2 meter radius is dead, so there’s no reason you shouldn’t be aiming at the ground — long range missile launchers? Generally a bad idea for the same reason that you might miss (unless you’re planning for the missile to hit a wall or something, but the invisible walls and whatnot might put a spanner in that particular plan).

That’s pretty much it. Your own gear/loadouts/characters will determine how effective these few tips are, but they should work for pretty much everyone. If you don’t have any Medkits or Missiles, then what I like to do with the Store is save up all my credits until I’m done playing for the night/day/whatever, then buy all the 99000 credit packs I want, leaving the last set of 99,000 credits for three Jumbo Equipment Packs, which replenishes my stores of Cobras/Medkits as well as ammo/weapon bonuses.