Beating the Next Gen Consoles - a New PC

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It doesnt feel like that long ago I got my first custom PC. I picked out parts based on a $500 budget and the end result was great. Based on that budget, however, it didnt exactly age well. Right now it wont play any game released in the past year on anything higher than low, and even then its a toss-up whether it will run at a decent framerate or not (Guild Wars 2, for example, bogs down with any large number of players on screen). So, that leads us to new PC time. I kept the old one afloat for the past year by putting an SSD in there. And that helped a lot for general use. Boot up times dropped drastically, Windows itself became really snappy and the computer because a pleasure to use again. But a lowly solid state drive can only do so much. i9dUE7wGQtkNC.jpg This time around I wanted to go a good deal bigger than before. I proved my point at the time that a more than functional gaming PC could be built for $500, then not much more than a PS3 (and to be fair, it runs almost every console port at far higher settings than a PS3). But I have no need of that this time, and I can also claim a small amount of my PC through benefits. So where I may have gone mid-tier, I ended up going mid/upper tier. I could have built a faster computer, certainly, but I feel the corners I cut were acceptable.

The end result:
Intel i5-3570K, Cooler Master Hyper Evo AS Rock Z77 Extreme 4 16GB Corsair Vengeance (low profile, black) 3GB XFX Radeon 7970 750W Antec HCP Corsair 600T (white) 120GB Patriot Pyro SE 1TB Western Digital Black 1.5TB/2TB Western Digital Greens ibmVkDuqotaXTr.jpg The SSD and Green drives are carryovers from my old computer. I did a fresh install via the Windows 8 upgrade (I do not care much for Windows 8 so far but thats a whole other post). I havent had a chance to do much benchmarking or any gaming, but the computer is relatively quiet and very fast. Noise initially worried me as my previous computer was mostly quiet (Antec Sonata III) but its only a tiny bit louder with the fans on low, and I dont think Ill have to turn them up until I do some overclocking. Even once that 7970 kicks up to full speed the computer isn't any louder, which is a nice change. The old one was a tiny bit quieter at idle, but got noticeably louder while gaming. This one doesn't get much louder under load. ibbYagAKQaqiy8.jpg Poking through my old blog posts makes me realize that my old computer was only actually three and a half years old. I could have sworn it was four or five - I guess it just feels like it aged worse than it did.

Gaming is Better Than Ever

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I've seen a lot of laments, complaints, and general whining on forums the past year or two about the state of gaming. How games were so much better back in yesteryear, how creativity is completely absent from current developers, how certain genres simply don't exist any more or instead have taken over the entire industry (and caused a complete, catastrophic meltdown of course). This, of course, is bull**bleep**: rose tinting at its finest, selective attention, or just plain ignorance. Now don't get me wrong, I have my share of complaints about certain games, as obviously not every game created is a gem. But this has always been the case - every gaming system has a relatively small number of great games, a bunch of mediocre filler, and then some absolute crap. This is true of everything from the 2600 and Intellivision through the SNES/Genesis and on to the last several generations. The same is also true of copycat genres, where right now people like to point at Call of Duty for ruining gaming. Has Call of Duty's success resulted in a sea of me-too gritty first person clones? Sure. There are easily more generic shooters this generation than there ever have been before, from your Medal of Honors to your Homefronts and MAGs and on the sci-fi side, Killzone to Resistance and more.
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Is this game to blame for the downfall of gaming as we know it?
I don't like the series but good on people if they buy and play something they enjoy.
This is not a new phenomenon. Do people forget past generations? The PS2 had a sea of weak JRPGs and character action games. The PS1 was also a dumping ground for RPGs. And the SNES and Genesis and even NES suffered from crappy platformer overload to a degree that makes Call of Duty seem saintlike in comparison. The one area where I will concede gaming could use some work is with nickel and diming, from DLC (amount, pricing, and release schedules) to online passes and preorder bonuses. On the other hand, I don't miss aspects of previous generations - insanely high pricing on cartridge based systems ($120 Chrono Trigger, anyone?) and a much longer period of time for prices to fall, for one.
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Yes, DLC could use some work.
Right now gamers benefit hugely from quick price drops - some more than others as I know there are many people who like to buy games on release day whether they play them immediately or not. But $20 drops within a month are common, $40 off not unheard of and other than the odd Nintendo or Blizzard game you won't see any game still at full price a year after it releases, if it can even last six months. Preorder price deals are just as easy to score, whether it's ten bucks off or twenty bucks off, either in gift cards or full on instant credit. Gaming's never been this inexpensive. There are also two (or more) price tiers that result in a huge variety of gaming genres - on the PS3 and 360 we have PSN and XBLA releases in the $5-$15 range, smaller games that can afford to be more experimental. The 360 also has its indie scene, which while lacking some of the quality of the fantastic PC indie library certainly makes up for it in variety. These are not full fledged $60 retail titles, of course, but the type of people who whine in those threads don't seem like the ones to care whether they're playing a big name AAA budget game or some crazy and original proof of concept some guy made in his basement during the evenings for a year. And the sheer number of these indie games and their variety is mind-boggling.
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The Indie scene is more vibrant and more varied than any past generation.
It's that variety that makes me completely question anyone who longs so loudly for past years. There are so many under the radar releases that if anyone who's into a particular genre cannot find new games, they simply aren't looking. Even the JRPG, which has seen a massive decline in popularity (and quality) in the past generation, is still alive and well on the DS and PSP, mostly through a sea of generic grind-happy stuff. But I get the sense it's that type of archaic throwback that would appeal to those who complain most. The 'purist' gamer, maybe, the Japan-centric ones who automatically view anything developed in the west with disdain, as the complaint threads almost always link the Call of Duty decline with western gaming's influence. Links to the past are easier than they've ever been before, too. Competent to great emulators exist for almost every platform you can think of, from smoothing out PS1 graphics to playing Wii games at 1080p. Good old Games and other digital distribution services on the PC make it easy (and cheap) to pick up some of the classics. Steam sales toss out games at rock bottom prices. And even on the mobile side iOS is home to some great ports of handheld games from Plants vs Zombies to Phoenix Wright that don't suffer from a lack of buttons. Sure, I complain a lot about the games I play. I complain because I love gaming and I'd like to see certain mistakes corrected. I like discussion. And I love the current crop of games we've got - the last few years have served up some of the most enjoyable gaming experiences I've ever had, whether we're talking sim-style racing in Forza 4, a weird blend of Zelda and twin stick shooter in The Binding of Isaac, old school tough platforming in VVVVVV, WRPG near perfection in The Witcher 2, 3D platforming bliss in the Mario Galaxies, and I could keep going on because this generation is a goddamn goldmine. I just feel sorry for those people who cannot see or refuse to see that. They're missing out a ton of great games for the sake of stubbornness or ignorance.

Some of my favourite games of the generation

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Borrowed from another forum, but I always leave things out on lists like this - there's just too many great games out this generation. It makes the frequent threads in a lot of places complaining that gaming's been dumbed down or nowhere near the quality of 8/16bit consoles or 'the worst generation ever' seem kind of insane. I think games are better than they ever have been, and I've been gaming since the mid 80s. kuUZW.jpgBatman Arkham Asylum. If you asked me to pick ONE game of the generation this would be it. I've played it through at least half a dozen times, probably more. Arkham City is good too, certainly, but it's merely more of the same and in many ways loses impact in its shift to a larger open world with sidequests. Arkham Asylum is tight, beautifully designed, paced well, does a Metroidvania type ability system in a smart way, has simple but extremely satisfying combat, fantastic voice acting, clever unlockables and so on. Its only real flaw is a weak final battle but oh well. Borderlands. This one is weird because in many ways I think it's a janky game but it's oh so much fun to play I don't really care. The pacing is all over the place, the story is terrible outside of Tannis' recordings, and the 'millions of weapons!' thing just resulted in a ton of weapons that look and act almost the same. But shooting dudes in the head and popping them like gourds, unleashing a rapid fire explosive machine gun into Crawmerax while enjoying a minute-long bleed out and best of all - seeing the bastard die and then rain weapons everywhere. You know you've mined pretty much everything there is to get out of a game when the game's best loot is so mediocre compared to your own loadout that you just leave three quarters of it lying on the ground. Forza 4. And I guess by extension Forza 3 and Forza 2, although each of them has made the previous game obsolete. But there's nothing better for sim style racing on consoles (sorry GT5, you're mostly **** and Forza 4's car selection, rivals mode, and improved painting options just made for a hell of an experience. My only regret is that I haven't played as much of it as I'd like. ZNbnS.jpgProject Gotham Racing 4. Part of me likes this better than any other racing game this generation. It still looks beautiful, especially the weather effects. The car sounds embarass Forza 4's. It manages such a perfect blend of arcade and sim that it makes it hard to go back to pure arcade racers. And if anyone hasn't played it yet, it's also dirt cheap. Fallout 3. I think that New Vegas is the better game, but I've played a lot more Fallout 3. I blame New Vegas' bugs I guess. Either way I've got 1500 achievement points in the 360 version and got pretty close in the PC version before being interrupted by something else. Some of its DLC is pretty flaky (Anchorage and Zeta are boring and way too combat focused) but Point Lookout is fantastic and highlights what the game does best - atmosphere, crazy characters, and VATSing people in the head with a shotgun and laughing at the gibs that fly away in slow motion. Bioshock. Bioshock 2 is the better game but Bioshock did it first and I give it props for that. It's still something I don't really want to play through again because it's such a unique experience that I feel it would lose something the second time through (plus after playing Bioshock 2 its shooting just feels archaic). But its voicework, story, and especially atmosphere made for something truly special. Would you kindly indeed. Left 4 Dead. Again the second game is technically better but the first just feels more special somehow. Unlike Bioshock I'm not even sure how I'd describe this. Little things, like having to cock your shotgun if you reload it from empty, a slightly different feel on melee hits, a tighter selection of special infected and a more straightforward Game Director just made the game more fun for me. The second is fun too, certainly, and things like the three-shot assault rifle and (yum) desert eagle are sorely missed whenever I play the first game. Best zombie game of the generation, and crowning witches never gets old. xwZRu.jpgRock Band 3. Like Forza's entries the third Rock Band made the first two obsolete - but in a good way as you can play almost all of their entries. As a testament to my love of this series I need only look at my collection - I have probably ten physical Rock Band discs, from Beatles to (blech) Green Day, Lego, and the various track packs from country to heavy metal and the random ones too. Including actual DLC I've bought I think my Rock Band 3 track list is in the 400-500 region, though I'd have to fire up the game to see for sure. Anything I can import I have. Lego games. These are not good games. I know this. They have pretty awful level design, are too easy outside of some obtusely designed puzzles, and each game is basically the same grind for studs, multipliers, and characters. But I love them. They make me feel like a kid again. I've played almost every single one to completion, unlocking everything in the original Star Wars and Indiana Jones and coming close in Pirates, Harry Potter and Batman (though I think Lego Batman is a legitimately poor Lego game). Sacred 2. I hated this game when I first played it. I love that it's one of the few console games that runs at 1080p but holy **** does it have some awful art design. Your selection of characters consists of some of the most idiotic looking things I've ever seen. Its customization system with skills and augments and abilities is incredibly awkward to use and so poorly explained by the game that it doesn't inform you that one skill (blacksmithing) is actually broken and does nothing and that everything is permanent and memorizing too many runs can actually backfire by increasing cooldown times. Even the weapon and armor pieces contain an incredible number of modifiers, from cooldown times to move speed to elemental weapon damage or skill increases. Like Demon Souls, you pretty much have to read up about the best way to customize your character before you even start or else you could find yourself 30 levels in with the most useless character imaginable. But the game is fun in spite (or because?) of it, offering such a vast open world with massive towns, quests galore and one of the few local co-op hack and slash RPGs out there. Tiy2K.jpgValkyria Chronicles. Every site lists this as a JRPG, which it's really not. It's half action game, half strategy game, and is one of the few excessively Japanese games that I've actually been able to stomach. It looks beautiful, the strategy is simple but fun (and more fun when you level up scouts to the point where the game breaks), and the story is cliche but still amusing. It also has many reasons to replay, bonus missions, hidden weapons and so on. Also, John DiMaggio with his Randy routine. The Professor Layton games. I never really got into the Phoenix Wright series, the writing didn't do much for me and the 'guess the evidence' bits got kind of old fast, but Layton's kept me interested the entire time. I love the art style, the music, and all of the puzzles that aren't matchstick puzzles. It's not a genre particularly well represented these days and no one has managed to make a good knockoff of it yet outside of (maybe) Puzzle Agent. The Professor and Luke and everyone being silly and asking you to solve their puzzle before they tell you anything makes the games charming. "You know, this reminds me of a puzzle..." Super Mario Galaxy (and 2). Unlike Fallout 3 and Bioshock I have a hard time picking between the two Galaxy games. The second is the better game, but I hate its crappy Mario 3 style level selection and the Mario head ship. The first game also has a more interesting story to its benefit. BUT, the second game doesn't have manta racing or garbage clearing, which were utterly godawful. So I'm torn. Either way, the platforming is fantastic, the levels are imaginative and fun and you're never doing the same thing all the time, with the second game in particular throwing so many twists of the Mario formula at you that you simply cannot get bored. And holy **** is the music fantastic. Terraria. Like Minecraft, but fun! For creating stuff Terraria obviously isn't as good but there's more to find when you're exploring and more game elements to give you goals, crazy world events, secret bosses, and a ton of interesting items to find or craft. qxtZV.jpgMass Effects. I like the story of the first the best but the structure of the second. The third is a good game but not up to the standard of the first two (and I didn't hate the ending like everyone else seemed to). I think I like the games mostly for the interesting sci-fi world they created, which is hard to do as everything gets compared to Star Wars or Star Trek and usually have few defining features of their own. But characters like Liara and Garrus are memorable as hell and moments like fem-Shep (the only right Shepard) leaping out of the pit after **** Saren up and the music swells...it's moments like that where I love playing games so much. Binding of Isaac. I really like this game and I don't really know why. It's pretty maddening to play as it's a Flash game and chugs like mad whenever a lot of enemies and projectiles are on screen. It's got an extremely offputting design with you finding items like your mom's used pad or bra and powerups from pee to a coat-hanger (haha abortion jokes) and enemies that fire lasers from theri vagina-like bellies...it's just twisted. It plays like a twin stick shooter infused with old-school Zelda, it's hard as **** and it's also incredibly fun and rewarding. Tales of Vesperia. Best JRPG this generation, although this isn't great praise given how most of them have been utter crap Some of the story beats are silly and the way you need to follow a FAQ if you don't want to miss any side content is utterly maddening, but the characters are a lot of fun and the main character Yuri is unique in that he's a JRPG hero that isn't whiny or weak or obnoxious. He does kind of look like a chick but the similarities end there. Combat is quick in typical Tales fashion, but this game just works where I usually can't stand the Tales games. I think the cast of characters is the main reason for that, and having a story that doesn't trickle at a glacial pace helps too. And despite being too well hidden the side content is a lot of fun as are little perks like unlocking titles for characters (some of which have alternate costumes) or finding hidden events during boss battles. I'm sure I'll think of more after I hit submit. I do like posting about games that I hate but there's also a LOT of stuff that I love. I strongly believe that gaming's better than it's ever been, even with little issues like on-disc DLC, preorder bonuses and so on.

I've never understood Sonic

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There was a thread vaguely like this over on NeoGaf a while back, I believe, but I was thinking about it again as I fired up and played Sonic CD (on XBLA) for maybe half an hour, and I think during the entire time I had a pretty blank look on my face. JIXQl.jpg So here's my admission regarding Sonic as a character and Sonic as a series - I've never understood it. I don't get the love for it, I don't get the sheer number of Sonic games, and I certainly don't get (but this is a bit separated from most of the games) the disturbing Sonic fan art out there. You know, the Sonic/Knuckles romances. The pregnant Sonics. And so on. But the games I just don't get, and I never have. Some of them are decent games, certainly - the closest I come to really enjoying a Sonic game is probably Sonic 2. But even that one feels like it's missing something. Sonic has a bit too much momentum to really be precise, and parts of Sonic CD that I was just playing require you to slow down and move around, but when doing that Sonic is little more than a third rate Mario game. The fast parts are more fun, but then you get levels that throw wrenches into that speed, knocking you back into spikes or what have you. Memorization, maybe. I also don't like their very old-school arcade-like structure, where you start at the main menu and go, and if you turn off your console you start all over again. This is alleviated by save states and the saves allowed by the XBLA/PSN/PC releases but it's still something that felt archaic when the Sonic games first came out on the Genesis.
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I won't even really touch on the 3D iterations of Sonic as they're pretty awful games all told and I know that a lot of Sonic fans pretend they don't even exist. And maybe me never really getting into Sonic has to do with me being a PC and SNES gamer at the time, but it's not as if I had no exposure to it - my cousins all had a Genesis and I played a lot of the first Sonic mostly because it was the only decent game they owned for a long time. And my girlfriend brought with her a Genesis and Sega CD, so I have all the original versions of them now. It just feels like it's a game that I feel obligated to like, but unlike the vast majority of those sort of games I cannot even objectively see why it's so loved. And I can see why people like Call of Duty.

Laptops, iPads and Vitas, oh my

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My laptop is now an archaic purchase, being three months old at this point.

When the iPad was announced, I immediately preordered it. It's a superfluous device, certainly, but I told myself before the announcement of the iPad 2 that I would buy one when they finally tossed in a retina display. They finally did, so it was an easy decision.

The Vita I had intended on holding off on until it saw a price drop, as I'll be honest - the current game lineup is the typical 'good enough' crap that you see at any console launch. It's about on par with what came out with the 3DS. Anyway, I caved there because Future Shop threw up a trade in deal where I effectively made money off boxing day deal games I purchased, and that coupled with an employee discount on a memory card dished up a Vita and a 32GB memory card for just over a hundred bucks. Granted, the only games I have on it are Patapon 2 and the free Motorstorm RC game, but I'm effectively set for any PSN sales on Vita games and whenever Persona 4 comes out.

The iPad.

Let's get this out of the way first - the screen is goddamn gorgeous. Couple it with beautifully designed apps like Flipboard that put a new spin on things you use every day and you end up with a device that makes a fantastic replacement for most computer-based browsing.

It's also been surprisingly good for my daughter, as the sheer number of interactive kids books is kind of daunting. I don't trust her alone with a $500 piece of tech, naturally, but as long as I'm beside her I don't mind. Looks like the libraries here have electronic kids' books too, so I don't have to buy any actual apps other than the really neat interactive ones (like Monster at the End of the Book).

Gaming I haven't done much with, as it's not really a concern for me. I did play a world of League of Evil 2, which in no way taxes the iPad hardware but does work surprisingly well with a virtual dpad and jump/attack buttons. And that's good, as the level design is very similar to Super Meat Boy. I'll also pick up Carcassonne whenever I reload on discounted iTunes cards, as it seems perfect for the tablet, and I'm really damn excited for an iPad version of the Baldur's Gate games as well as Epic/Chair's upcoming Infinity Blade dungeon crawler.

Airplay is neat too, though kind of pointless - lets you stream anything on screen to your TV via Apple TV. I have the old one so I'm limited to 720p, but it's more of a novelty than anything else as unless you hook up via HDMI it's obviously not going to be ideal for WiiU type gaming due to the bit of lag it introduces. It's more suited for showing off pictures and video and web pages and the like.

The Vita

It's an interesting piece of tech, I'll give it that. The screen has really nice black levels, although as I picked it up after my iPad it perhaps didn't get the best shot at impressing me. The analog sticks feel pretty good for Motorstorm, although the idea of playing a shooter on there seems like a horrible idea and reports of Uncharted's heavy auto-aim kind of confirm that - the sticks are too short for any real precision. Are they better than the 3DS circle pad? I dunno, my finger certainly fits into the circle pad better and it seems to be easier to control my range of motion on the 3DS, but maybe I just need some practice. I will say this - the Vita sticks are an absolute joy to use after that abomination on the original PSP models. I don't know how they managed to make something so bad and actually go to market with it - it was functionally useless and made playing any game that used it a chore.

Anyway, the Vita. I'm glad it has a touchscreen, although I can't say I'm very impressed with the user interface. It's ugly and clunky - when something actually makes the 3DS feel user friendly in comparison you know Sony has fumbled. I know they've never been big on having quality software, but surely a slight tweaking of their cross media bar could have worked. There's no unity on the Vita, it feels as if every little element of the UI was designed by a different person.

Rayman Origins looks really pretty, though, and is a joy to play. But I'm not paying $36 (digitally) for a game I already own on consoles and can play with local multiplayer and 1080p.

Cheap Gaming Laptop

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I confess, my original intention with buying a laptop was solely for work - I needed something I could take on the go, or work in other rooms more easily as having a toddler around is a bit disruptive when you work from home. Any of you with kids also know that 'a bit disruptive' doesn't really capture the extent of it.

While the price of laptops has dropped quite dramatically since I last bought one in university, there's one segment of the market that's not nearly as large - the subnotebook. Yeah, stuff like the Macbook Air, sort of.

My main issue with the most popular size of laptop (the 15.6) is that it's not the 15" it used to be - it's been increased along with widescreen displays to the point where it's not significantly smaller than a 17" laptop...and that's what I used to have. I know from experience that it's hellish to lug around and not really portable in any sense of the word.

So I wanted a 13 or 14" model. The problem there is that the vast majority of those size computers are either glorified netbooks (underpowered) or ultra low consumption processor based (overpriced), like the Macbook Air. That generally leaves a $700 gap between the two sets, which is a little ridiculous.

Enter Acer's Timeline series, which forgoes the netbook processors like AMD's E-350 or E-450 for some i3 and i5 stuff and, to my surprise, actual build quality on laptops that range from $500 to $800. They also come in 13.3", 14", and 15.6" models, with very little difference between them in terms of features.

I ended up buying a weird little model available in Canada that has an i3 (not super fast, but plenty fast for my purposes) processor and a slightly larger hard drive than international models. It was also on sale for $480, a little more than what I was hoping to get, but with such a dearth of decent 14" and lower computers, I can deal with it.

The bonus for me was seeing this thing in store, for that price, at that size (very portable), about an inch thick at most, and then noticing that it actually has a graphics card. No integrated video on any of the Timeline X models, I guess, they all have GeForce 540Ms. They're not going to blow anyone away, mind you, but they are a significant improvement over integrated Intel stuff and from a bit of initial fiddling, this thing will run games like Left 4 Dead, Civilization V, and even Dragon Age at native resolution and high settings, and quite smooth. I doubt I could output it to my TV at 1080p, but it compares quite favourably to my aging desktop and is way more than I ever expected from a sub $500 laptop considering most of those are pretty bargain bin.

It's also kind of depressing knowing what this thing cost, and that I paid nearly four times as much for my laptop back in university.

(lid is actually made of metal, although no other surface on the laptop is)

Traditional Shaving, Part II

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The antique single-blade (and single-edge) razor I was using ended up being mostly a gateway into the world of wet shaving. I still think it's a unique razor and I may use it from time to time, although as I've found out, the blades for it are incredibly hard to find unless I resort to hardware store razor blades...which aren't really meant for shaving.

The double-edge single blade option is still incredibly popular in other countries, though, and I ordered myself a replica razor as well as an assortment of blades to try out, as they all vary in sharpness and angle, good for different people and different methods of shaving (or people who have a soft/rough touch).

The razor is a Lord, made in Egypt, oddly enough, and looks a lot like the old Merkur razors from the 60s. It's comprised of three pieces - the handle, a protective piece, and a lower bit to push the blade flush up into the guard (as well as collect cut hairs). It's pretty simple compared to the adjustable ones you can buy or those that twist and have the entire top pop open for the blade to be inserted...but hey, it cost less than $10.

The blades are more interesting as they're what really make the shaving experience. I've only gone through two of them so far (Derby and Blue Bird), both are made in Turkey and Russia (and so are the others, other than the Japanese Feathers), and both seem to be pretty forgiving.

I'm not looking forward to the Feather blades, as I've seen them described online as the sharpest razor blades you can buy. Some people love them because they work so well, others not so much because you need an extremely gentle touch otherwise you'll end up with more blood than stubble on the blade.

But the best part is that unlike the single edge ones I had been using (or any expensive cartridge multiblade), they're dirt cheap. Dirt cheap as in less than a quarter a blade, and a blade is good for at least a week or two of shaving, depending on the blade and how much of your face you have to do. In my case the last longer because I have a goatee and don't need to shave my chin.

The catch is that unlike my old-ass razor, these ones require a bit more precision because you are able to adjust the angle of the blade by tilting the razor's handle. It results in a slightly more frightening experience (at first) but a lot more control with how close you cut. So far I've been ending up with cheeks that are softer and smoother than my girlfriend's, which isn't something I can say about any razor I've used in the past. They're great - and well worth trying out.

Shaving with a 100 year old razor

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Or "I just peeled my face with an antique."

I've been curious about so-called 'wet' shaving for a few years now, about people going back to a simpler era where shaving involved a single blade, a brush, a block of shaving soap and a whole lot of manliness.

Now we've got five blade razors that have $5 refills and shaving cream in cans. While I don't mind canned shaving cream/gel, I will admit I hate buying razors because they seem to go dull faster and faster. The two or three blade ones I was using when I started shaving in the 90s lasted far longer somehow.

Anyway, other than cost the main draws of single blade shaving is that you avoid in-grown hairs, irritate your skin less, and have more control over what you're doing. It's not quite to the level of a Sweeney Todd style straight razor, and while I admit those look damn cool, I'm not confident enough to scrape my neck down with what is basically a sharp knife.

The brush lathers the soap, which in turn gives a good starting point for your shave - unlike canned cream you have a thicker, more substantial paste to smear around. It's kind of like comparing canned whipped cream to stuff you whip yourself - the canned cream shrivels to nothing in a minute or two because it's all air forced in at the last minute.

And the shaving itself avoids irritating because you aren't shaving below the follicle, a la multi-blade razors. I'll admit I was skeptical when I read some of the stuff about it, but it makes sense and having done it, I will admit I got an extremely smooth shave with what is essentially a hardware razor blade. I didn't nick myself. And I did it with a razor that will hit its 100 year birthday in a few months.

It's one of the few cases where the older way really is better. And having grown up with commercialized razor 'tech,' I'm surprised.

How not to work on a backlog

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With Blockbuster clearances, online deals, and trade-in deals, it's been a tough month for my backlog. Normally I try and work it so that the backlog get smaller, not larger, but I've had a tough time with it recently.

It's hard to say no to games that are $2.50, even if they're not the greatest games ever made.

$2.50 pickups:

  • Heavenly Sword
  • Ratchet & Clank: Tools of Destruction
  • Haze (I couldn't resist)
  • Bioshock
  • Viva Pinata (whatever the second one is called)
  • Bourne
  • Eternal Sonata
  • Infinite Undiscovery
  • The Club
  • GRID

$5 pickups:

  • Riddick: Escape from Dark Athena
  • Rock Band: Country
  • Rock Band: Heavy Metal
  • Rock Band: Classic Rock

$10 pickups

  • Splinter Cell: Conviction

$20 pickups:

  • God of War 3
  • Sin & Punishment
  • No More Heroes 2

Trade-in pickups:

  • Fallout: New Vegas (free after turning in Wario Land Shake It and Super Paper Mario, both of which I hated)

I also bought the GOTY edition of Borderlands new the other week, so that's 17 games (20 if you include the Rock Band track packs) added to my backlog and I have NO idea when I'll ever get around to them all. Let alone the dozens that were already on there.

At least Steam sales have been relatively tame so far, consisting of games I don't care about or games I already own.

The disappointment of Playstation Plus

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In hindsight I probably shouldn't be surprised, but against my better judgement and due to some sort of "Oh hey it'll get better," I decided to drop fifty bones to Sony when they launched their service even though I already owned the key freebie of that month, Wipeout HD.

I think it's been three or four months since then. What has Sony given me in exchange for my $50?

-A bunch of really bad PS1 games. Don't get me wrong, I don't think all PS1 games have aged worse than Lindsey Lohan has the past two years, but most have. The RPGs are those that suffer the least because they don't rely as much on fancy 3D effects - and 'fancy 3D effects' of PS1 vintage look downright hideous now. So even games that were moderately playable, like the Syphon Filters, are basically unplayably ugly and awkward now. Plus, the Rally game they served up for PS+ members wasn't even good when it LAUNCHED, so yeah. Thanks for nothing.

-Some themes and avatars. Who buys these anyway? They're as ridiculous as they are on the 360, and I've bought none of those over the years. I notice other PS+ users like to add up the original price of avatars and themes when they're calculating their own personal PS+ value, but I don't - I wouldn't have bought them if I didn't have PS+, I'm not saving a bloody thing by downloading them now. Plus, I'm not even using them in most cases.

-Full game trials. Not interested. They're all of games that released more than a year ago, and in every single case so far, I already own them. Even if I didn't, I'd have to download 6GB+ of data just to have the chance to play the game for an hour. Hooray?

-DLC. This one is particularly annoying, as they give out free DLC for games that are not on sale. If you already own that game and enjoyed it, chances are you already own the DLC. If you don't own it already, you probably don't really care about it. If you want to play it for the first time, you'll still have to pay for the full version of the game. And in every case, it's been old DLC.

-Minis. These are mostly iPhone ports - overpriced iPhone ports, too. I refuse to add up the original cost of them because they are available cheaper somewhere else, and most of them just plain suck. There's a top-down wipeout knockoff that isn't bad, however, and Fieldrunners is still fun even if I played it a year ago on my iPod Touch. The other selections have been awful.

-PSN games. This is the key section of what PS+ can offer and for me it's been pretty sad. We've had Wipeout HD, which is a great game, but I already owned it. Then we had Critter Crunch, another fun game that I already own because it was on sale earlier this year for $3 or something ridiculous. Same with the pinball game, which was also cheap earlier this year - I already bought that too. So far the only game they've served up I didn't already own is Mushroom Wars, which is basically Galcon with mushrooms. It's okay, but I wouldn't have paid for it.

Here's the rub - the UK has received far better stuff, from Little Big Planet to the ENTIRE SEASON THREE of Sam & Max. That's a $20 value, and one I would happily say goes towards my initial investment because it's a game I want to play and one I don't already own.

So is PS+ a bad service or have I just had bad luck? Even if I didn't already own the games I do, I'd have a hard time saying the service is a good deal. Sadly, the most interesting thing about being a subscriber is that you get discounts on certain games/DLC...which is a bit offensive because it's like paying money for one of those fundraising coupon books. Only, you're fundraising for Sony's shareholders.