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BlueBirdTS Blog

Quick Guide on Basic PC Optimization

A lot of people hate their PCs. Blue screens, glitches, and performance that would make a crippled octogenarian seem fast by comparison might just make you want to switch to a Mac, or if you're savvy enough, use Linux. Fortunately, just as with cars and people, a bit of basic maintenance can help avoid this. Here are a few simple things you can do to keep your PC in tip top shape, whether it be for playing games or just browsing the web.

1) Reinstall Windows! This is something you should do from time to time, ideally once a year. Now would be a great time to try out Windows 7 RC.

2) Uninstall programs you don't use.

3) Use a disk defrag program such as Auslogics on a regular basis (at least once a week).

4) Keep your PC updated! Use Windows update and update your graphics card drivers every few months.

5) Run CCleaner.

6) Get rid of startup programs. CCleaner can help you do this.

7) Get rid of unnecessary background services. Hit CTRL+ALT+DEL, go to the "Services" tab and hit services at the bottom. Make sure you don't kill any necessary services though!

8 ) Update your browser. If you're using Firefox, there are some simple tweaks you can do to speed it up. Don't use a lot of add-ons, but make sure to use Adblock Plus!

9) Do Google searches on how to optimize your OS (there are tons for Vista, quite a few for XP).

10) Dust out your PC. Get a can of compressed air or a vacuum and eliminate all those heat sucking dust bunnies.

11) Ditch anti-virus and anti-spyware programs. As long as you keep your PC updated and don't visit any sketchy websites (read: porn/torrent sites) you should be fine. I've been using Vista without any protection aside from Windows Defender for over a year and a half and have had no problems.

12) For very old PCs, try out various Linux distributions. Ubuntu is the most popular but others may perform better.

13) Realize that tweaks and optimization can only take you so far. If your PC is more than 5 years old, it might just be time to get a new one.

14) Finally, have patience and realize that problems are inevitable from time to time. As long as you backup your data there's no need to stress. If you follow these basic guidelines and reinstall your OS on an annual basis, you'll avoid a lot of headaches and have a very fast, stable PC!

How to Deal with the Rising Costs of Games

It's been a while since I've written a real blog pertaining to gaming. I'm still a bit rusty so please excuse any errors on my part.

The gaming industry currently faces a major problem: the rising cost of games. This is somewhat offset by the fact that the industry is steadily growing as gaming continues to become more mainstream, but this growth isn't keeping pace with the exponentially rising amount of resources required to produce a major game. There are a few solutions I can think of to address this problem.

The first is the crudest but perhaps most effective: to shorten games. Games of this generation are generally markedly shorter than older titles (Call of Duty 4). Or, if they are not shorter in terms of time required to complete them, there is far more repetition in mission and objective structure (Assassin's Creed, Oblivion). While this is a decent stopgap solution, I believe there are better alternatives.

The most obvious is to find a way to increase game revenue. Using in-game advertising is certainly a possibility. If in-game advertising is implemented properly, as in Quake Live, it can be relatively non-intrusive and raise a significant amount of cash to help fund game development. The problem with in-game advertising is that 1) it is usually incorporated clumsily into games and thus ruins immersion and 2) in certain contexts it simply can't work (i.e. games with a fantasy setting).

Another way of increasing game revenue is by charging for DLC, which I regard as being nothing short of insidious. DLC canwork if it is distributed in the form of downloadable expansion packs (i.e. the microexpansion Entrenchment for Sins of a Solar Empire, which was priced fairly at $10), but developers rarely do this and instead choose to exploit consumers. Consider EA's practices for instance. The Sims 3 shipped with $250 worth of DLC. That is, the game shipped with all that content that could have been included for free but instead must be purchased by consumers. Furthermore, EA is limiting the kind of custom content that can be created by the community, no doubt to force consumers to pay money for EA's content. In essence, they have monopolized their game economy. They are doing the same with Battlefield Heroes.

Instead, I think developers should provide the community with tools to create content on its own, as with Source-engine games, Spore, and Forza Motorsport 3. Instead of fighting with the community, why not take advantage of it to produce new content at no cost? If it's a multiplayer game, DLC should be completely free, as with Team Fortress 2, so as to not fracture players.

In order to fund these massive projects, many large scale developers (including EA) have been forced to cut back on the number of projects they are working on simultaneously. I find this to be a very wise move. Instead of releasing 20 mediocre games, why not release 5 good ones? Profits should be the same if not better and this is a far more sustainable business model in the long-term.

There is one more option I can think of, which is to find ways to procedurally generate new and interesting content. While I still prefer personally-crafted content over something computer generated, if procedural generation engines (if that's what they're called) become sophisticated and powerful enough, than maybe one day the amount of resources required to produce games can be substantially cut down without a major sacrifice in game quality or breadth of content. Indeed, Spore has already shown us that, at least for certain kinds of games, the variety of content is greater with a procedural system than it every could be with a traditional development system.

If you have any ideas on how to deal with the rising costs required to make games, be sure to post a comment!

Games to Play...

Another quick update today.

I picked up Assassin's Creed on Steam for $10. Even though the game is fairly repetitive and the controls are a bit awkward with mouse and keyboard, it's fairly fun. Unfortunately, it seems to crash with my video card drivers (I have the latest drivers from Nvidia installed). Hopefully this will be addressed in the next driver update and I can continue playing the game.

I also ordered The Sims 3 from Gogamer.com. Judging from reviews, the game has been streamlined substantially and no longer features all the tedium of the first two games in the series (after all, going to the bathroom every six hours got pretty tiring). The game is also now a lot more open in the sense that you can roam the entire neighborhood without sitting through a single loading screen. This alone means that the game is a lot more dynamic in nature and opens up a lot of gameplay possibilities. I have a feeling I'm going to be kept well occupied with this game throughout the summer.

My camera arrived and I've been taking lots of shots. I'll upload a few when I take some good ones.

I'm officially finished with high school and have my graduation ceremony this Saturday. I'm very excited to attend UNC-Chapel Hill next year, it's the first time I've looked forward to school in years.

That's pretty much all for today. I'll consider writing a quick editorial tomorrow if I feel inspired. As always, thanks for reading and remember to leave a comment.

E3 2009--Day 1

After being toned down for a few years, E3 is back and as big as ever! Here's the news from today that's caught my attention:

1. Left4Dead 2 Announced

Easily the biggest announcement for me personally today. I have mixed feelings about this sequel. On the one hand, I feel let down that Valve is abandoning a game that I feel I payed too much for, which I was hoping would be regularly updated with free new content a la Team Fortress 2. But on the other hand, I'm glad that Valve is starting from the ground up to create essentially what L4D should have been from the beginning. With more content, an SDK available from launch day, a better matchmaking system, and a tweaked AI system, L4D 2 has a lot of potential.

2. Crysis 2 for consoles and PC

I'm hoping this will be a worthy sequel to the original. Please don't dumb this game down to please consolites, Crytek! Console gamers appreciate complex games, too!

3. Trine

Although not a newly announced game, more footage of Trine is being shown at E3. This 2.5-D platformer has a very interesting aesthetic s.tyle that has me intrigued.

4. Forza 3

The Forza franchise is great, not only because driving the cars is a lot of fun, but because the customizability options and the sheer number of cars provides incredible long-term value. I might have to whip out my 360 again to play this.

5. Monkey Island Series Remake!!!

This puts a huge smile to my face. I never got to play the originals.

6. Alan Wake? Splinter Cell Conviction?

I'll be keeping my eyes on these games as we get closer to release. I want to keep my expectations in check, but both could be great games.

What games that have been announced at E3 make you excited? What announcements do you anticipate?

Ordered A New Camera!

This isn't really game related, but I couldn't help posting it here. I finally got around to saving up for a DSLR. I've been interested in photography since I was 13 when I purchased a film SLR camera, but the hassle of having to develop my film really kept me from shooting much. I'm hoping that with the convenience of digital I can return to photography.

I was between getting a Nikon D5000 and Canon 500D. Ultimately, I decided on the Canon. Even though the image quality is (slightly) worse at high ISO's, I already have some Canon lenses I can use with it. Plus, I prefer the large, 3-inch LCD over the Nikon's smaller and lower-resolution 2.7-inch swivel screen. The Nikon D5000 is a great choice for anyone new to photography, though!

The best part is I can shoot 720p videos at 30FPS and even 1080p videos (albeit at only 20FPS). I have a feeling I'm going to have a lot of fun using this feature this summer.

Plants vs. Zombies

I apologize for that last post, it really had no place on a gaming website. Anyways, I've been playing Plants vs. Zombies, the new Popcap game made famous by a trailer. It's kooky, it's weird, and it's a lot of fun. I'll try and write my first impressions tomorrow. Ah, yes, talking about games again. Feels much better. :)

Emotional Venting of an Agnostic

I consider myself to be an open minded person. I can accept the fact that people are different than myself, that they have different belief systems, etc. I don't mind religious people IF they support their beliefs with a convincing argument, or IF they acknowledge the notion that science and religion occupy different realms (or magisteria as Stephen Jay Gould might say. By the way, I don't personally believe this, I tend to side with Richard Dawkins in that "the universe with a supernatural presence would be a fundamentally and qualitatively different kind of universe from one without. [...] Religions make existence claims, and this means scientific claims."). However, every once and a while I explode, typically when they don't support their argument or support it with a mixture of logical fallacies, misinformation, or just flat out sloppy thinking. Here's one of those instances of me exploding on the Off-Topic forum:

Oh God isn't believable, but it's absolutely reasonable that something imploded upon itself, the universe was created, the sun was created, as well as everything in the Universe, including the Earth, which ended up having the perfect temperature, perfect amount of oxygen, and the perfect amount of water to sustain life. Then, in water, bacteria evolved from water or something that's not life (WTF, impossible if there's no God), then human beings, who can destroy and hate and love and communicate with language, evolved from bacteria? Also, how can only one planet out of the trillions and trillions of planets have life (or if you believe that there could be extraterrestrial life SOMEWHERE, out of millions or billions)? Are you saying a planet like Earth is one in a billion? There HAS to be a God for something as amazing as LIFE to exist. Think about it. LIFE. that didn't come naturally. Also, if the universe was just created at some point, when did time begin? Is that when everything began? The beginning of the story? The Big Bang? God has existed forever, which is the only explanation for the beginning of the universe and time. There is no natural explanation for when time began. Forever is not natural. Anyway, all this is what I believe. You can believe what you want, but remember, you're just one of the millions in this world taking the easy way. God DOES exist. You'll find out after you die.thequietguy

The following is my response:

I see a number of flaws with your argument. Where should I begin?

First off, the big bang theory actually is well supported by evidence: http://xkcd.com/54/ That's the COBE mission data by the way, which matches up almost perfectly with expected values. A huge triumph for science to say the least.

Second, science is far from perfect and it does not pretend to be omniscient. There are things even theoretical physicists can't explain. Here's one of my favorite quotes: "The fact that life evolved out of nearly nothing, some 10 billion years after the universe evolved out of literally nothing, is a fact so staggering that I would be mad to attempt words to do it justice."~Richard Dawkins

Third, ever heard of Miller and Urey? Read up.

Fourth, who's to say that we didn't just "win the lottery" so to speak, ergo we are inherently biased and can draw no conclusions about the likelihood of life. Also, the universe may operate under Darwinian principles so that certain seemingly unlikely events are actually statistically favored.

Fifth, coincidences are real people! Why should we jump to making supernatural assumptions? Remember, Occam's razor.

Finally, I don't know when time began. Ask an astronomer/theoretical physicist, they can probably tell you a guesstimate. It might be wrong, but that's the beauty of science: it acknowledges the fact that it's not always right and changes as a result!

Do you guys have any advice on how I can prevent these paroxysms? I really need to work on it before I get out of hand.

A Guide to WHO Pandemic Levels

PHASE 1
No animal influenza virus circulating among animals is reported to cause infection in humans.

PHASE 2
Animal influenza virus is known to have caused infection in humans and is therefore a potential pandemic threat

PHASE 3
Animal or human-animal influenza virus causes sporadic cases or clusters of cases in people, but no human-to-human transmission, except in specific circumstances

PHASE 4
Human-to-human transmission of an animal or human-animal influenza virus able to sustain community-level outbreaks.

The ability to cause sustained disease outbreaks in a community marks a significant upwards shift in the risk for a pandemic.

PHASE 5 (We are here)
The same virus causes sustained community-level outbreaks in two or more countries in one region.

While most countries will not be affected at this stage, the declaration of Phase 5 is a strong signal that a pandemic is imminent and that the time to finalise the organisation, communication, and implementation of the planned mitigation measures is short.

PHASE 6
The virus causes sustained community-level outbreaks in more than one region.

Designation of this phase will indicate that a global pandemic is under way.

Phase 7

Zombie apocalypse. Infection is highly contagious and may result in symptoms including but not limited to: uncontrolablle salivation, insomnia, nonsensical moaning, aggressive temperament, photophobia, and a sudden and inexplicable urge to consume human brains. The WHO advises stocking up on shotgun ammunition and reinforcing your basement for refuge.

Maybe all that time playing Left4Dead wasn't for nothing after all...

Battlefield: Heroes First Impressions

I spent a few hours playing BF: Heroes yesterday and today. Here are just some quick observations:

1. Much like Quake Live, it's free and browser based. Does anyone see a trend here?

2. Graphics are certainly interesting, with a colorful cell-shaded look reminiscent of games such as Zelda: Wind Waker, Okami, and Team Fortress 2. It's a plus in my book, although the visual style isn't as fresh as it was back in 2003.

3. I suck at 3rd person shooters. Seriously, I've lost like 80% of the games I've played and my K/D ratio is around 1:5.

4. Vehicle controls are very finnicky. It is especially difficult to fly planes.

5. Menus are well organized, but it takes forever to get around. Also, registering to play the game takes like 20 minutes. I far prefer the menus in Quake Live, which make it very easy to quickly jump into a game.

6. Only 3 classes? I realize that each can be customized quite a bit, but still...compared to Team Fortresses' 9 it's a little underwhelming.

7. Gunplay isn't that great in my opinion. The camera makes aiming difficult and the guns just aren't all that satisfying to use.

8. At least there's a lot of variation in the weapons to keep things interesting. I like the fact that you level up and can unlock new equipment.

9. The sound effects are very cartoonish and fit the aesthetic theme well.

10. Needs more music. I can only hear that whistling motif so many times before I go mad.

11. At the end of the day, Battlefield: Heroes is a fun, free game, but it has very limited play value until more maps and classes are added. It's a good thing the game is still in beta.