Gaming Trends

It feels like ages ago, but it was only a year or so where I posited that the largest shift this generation for gaming would be cross-play. That was related to Dauntless, and it’s ability to link any version together. Frankly, there are nothing but benefits to having MORE people play in an online game. We’ve seen some bits of it moving forward – Fortnite, and PUBG do it now, Apex Legends is in beta. Genshin Impact is another big splash. I still think this is like the largest change to all gaming.

With these OS/hardware refreshes underway, fancifully called new consoles, there’s a common ground in that the foundational platforms are the same. No significant architecture changes, just “new” assets. It’s allowing for backwards compatibility for nearly anything currrent-gen, without real issue. It also means that the efforts to make crossplay work in the past are still valid. There’s more in common across platforms than not.

Some thoughts on current trends and where we’ll end up.

Exclusives

Last gen really only saw Sony do this with their 1st party games. Many GOTY candidates were in this basket, and XBOX users were left in the dark. Last of Us, God of War, Horizon, Ghost of Tsushima to name a few. XBOX was meh. Forza, Gears, and Sea of Thieves. This does explain Microsoft’s insane buying spree of late, Bethesda of note.

I’m sure we’ll continue to see exclusives, but only in relation to timed exclusives for say 6-12 months from the Microsoft team. Sony is a question mark, the drive a serious amount of console sales from their software. The trial run with Horizon’s on PC is the likely future, with again a timed exclusive model.

Software as a Service

So this is a buzzword that can be used for so much, but this is more like the PS and XBOX monthly gaming passes. This allows the platforms to have a consistent cash flow in exchange for keeping a useful digital library. This provides a ton of value to gamers who float from game to game, and tons of value to platforms for those who stick with a game for a long duration. It dramatically changes the cash flow for developers, where they are putting in millions of dollars and not getting that $70 one time buy.

Consoles are going to invest in partnerships with developers to get access to their services (EA and Ubisoft in particular) to increase the attractiveness of the service. Again, due to the shared architecture with PS, XBOX, and PC, the library of games just keeps on growing.

Updates and Networking

XBOX is in a decent spot. PS4 is so much better than PS3, but holy moly the amount of system updates preventing you from playing is annoying. Sony has said that this is further improved in the PS5, so time will tell. A big change here is more related to hardware, with SSD drives being so much faster than disk drives, which should dramatically speed up the install times. Game load times will be SUPER fast (Monster Hunter on PS4 takes 90s to load a zone that takes 5s on PC).

Now for games themselves, this is actually going to get much, much worse. We’re going back to the early CD days where you had multiple install disks because the storage media couldn’t handle everything. The XBOX S only has ~350gb and doesn’t have a disk drive. That’s about 6 standard games, but for the very big ones you may end up with only 1 or 2. As much as we have modular storage upgrades, my gut is telling me that industry is going to go the game streaming route instead.

Production Values

Graphically there isn’t much here that hasn’t already been seen on PC. 4K + ray tracing, everywhere. We won’t see 8K (nor can people really afford those TVs). That said, a console today is cheaper than a PC video card.

Voice acting is everywhere today, even in indie games. Musical scores are astoundingly solid and memorable. The mid-days are long dead. I don’t see much progress in this department, other than just a new baseline.

The weird spot here for me is going to be character creations. With all the AI tools we have around us, I’m surprised we don’t have a more mature “replicate this picture” in games.

Game Mechanics

This console run we saw “open world everything” and “rpg every system”, with Ubisoft certainly taking this to the extreme. With better processing power, I’d expect more procedurally generated content that increases replayability. I’d also expect there to be better support for player-generated content. To me it seems strange that things like Minecraft and Dragon Builders, and I guess No Man’s Sky, are not being explored in more depth. Hell, Roblox is a cash cow.

Rogue likes are everywhere, and mobile is covered in the concept of incrementals. We haven’t seen a big budget version of this yet, unless you’re counting FPS games here. We’re due.

Integration into the mobile space is severely lacking. I don’t mean ports to mobile, I mean having a companion program to “games as a service”. There’s an insane amount of money left on the table here, if only in the ability for the companion app to be in the players pocket during all waking hours. It obviously would need to be optional, but since all the consoles support Bluetooth and cloud connections, this shouldn’t be hard to sync up.

I would be ultra surprised if we don’t end up seeing Early Access games on consoles this generation. If there’s a way for a developer to make money on a broken game, damn sure they will do so. There’s a GOOD argument to be made around Fallout76 and Anthem being examples of this behaviour. Maybe EA gets a subscription service instead.

Maybe this is the generation where we see a return to Myst-like games of exploration, using FMV and VR. The PS VR toolset worked well, and Oculus 2’s requirement for permanent big-brother Facebook links is putting a ceiling on adoption. Using a standard framework, this is a great opportunity.

Mobility is weird one. Consoles are not exactly tied down like a desktop, but they aren’t exactly mobile either. Streaming would allow you to play the console from anywhere in your house, or from another location if the network supports it.

PCs

The days where consoles drive gaming progress are long behind us. Their best bet is home entertainment units, and at a stretch, a potential VR interface. PCs will continue to dominate the bleeding edge, and the indie scene is where we will see new game mechanics iterated upon.

I do think PC has some serious hurdles to get over, primarily on the absolute insanity of custom PC builds to play potato-quality games. Or, at a more extreme level, having to modify the core settings of a game (or find a mod) to allow a game to use all the parts in the PC. Driver support alone is bonkers. The future of PCs is in the hardware space. Larger/faster storage options. Smaller components with non-PhD cooling solutions. A continual price reduction on pre-built gaming rigs.

Mobile

Here is where I think the largest change will take place, specifically in the streaming area. Right now, Apple and Google “own” the app delivery method and they take a 30% cut. Game streaming services mean the game never really exists on the device, and all the compute is done remotely. Assuming the network speed is sufficient, you should be able to play pretty much anything through a streaming service.

Ok, an example. Fortnite right now can’t be played on iOS for fun reasons. Imagine Fortnite being deployed as a gaming stream rather than an actual app. This would likely break the Great Firewall of China and a whole slew of other interesting hurdles. Bluetooth controller, USB-C to HDMI, a TV, a streaming service and you have gaming on the go.

Future

Gaming today feels like magic. The audio/visual fidelity is right at the edge of the uncanny valley (RTX is crazy good). They bring more and more people together. The provide long term goals and a sense of continual progression and community. There are options for everyone. To me, the future is going to focus on gaming where you want with who you want. It’s going to be awesome.

Netflix and Commercials

An interesting report came out on the amount of commercial time saved through Netflix.  9 days is a LONG time.

I cut cable nearly 10 years ago and haven’t looked back.  My kids never really saw a commercial until we went on a vacation.  I can still remember them asking why they were stopping the show and how we could skip it.  I can still recall when VHS was viewed as the devil (speeding through commercials) and then TiVo.  How far that has evolved…

Back to the topic… that 9 days of commercials is a major source of income.  That’s money that isn’t being replaced, and I’m frankly impressed that the streaming services haven’t found a way to monetize that.  I mean, I don’t have any need for cable as there’s too much on Netflix (or other free services) than I have time to watch anyways.

My wife being a teacher, and me having some younger folks working for me…it doesn’t look like anyone under 30 actually has a cable plan anymore.  They just stream it, either with a plan or not.  (side note, this is certainly good for personal sanity by not having access to 24/7 news channels).

I’m a bit of the mindset that this is a FOMO issue.  Today’s society isn’t based on having a TV dinner on the couch.  You can watch almost anything at any time.  Live sporting events are the only wrinkle left in this… and the money there is draining faster than expected (*cough*ESPN*cough*).  When you don’t watch something like Game of Thrones, sure you miss out on the water cooler chats.  But then again, you miss out on the water cooler chats.  Fair trade.

 

Fundamental Physics

Right, so this one has nothing to do with gaming or social stuff.  It’s pure science. Two step background.

Stephen Wolfram is hopefully a familiar name since he’s the brains behind Wolfram Alpha.  Google gets you clicks.  Alpha gets you answers.  He also developed a natural programming language (Wolfram Language) which is not what most programmers are accustomed.  He’s also a trained physicist, with a focus on theory.

Next, physics has two main branches – relativistic and quantum.  The first works well for things we can see with our eyes, the latter with things we can’t see.  We know they are related, but we’re not able to say how.  There’s been work for many years on a unified theory.  It’s been the holy grail if you will, and so far tremendously out of reach.

He recently put up a very long post on progress on reconciling physics using his own toolsets.  I am amazed at both the material and the simplified explanations provided.  Theoretical physics is a different language that only a few people understand.  The explanation provided in his writings is simple enough that someone with a high school education should be able to follow most of it.

The real kicker here is the approach.  He’s starting with a near blank page and applying a single rule to modify a starting point.  Then he repeats that single rule multiple times and checks the results.  He’s found dimensions, gravity, black holes, quantum bits through the patterns.  He hasn’t found the right rule for our 3D space, even after 1000 rules.  He also realizes that simulating our model would need run through 10^500 times.  Some of that can be compressed, some cannot.  That means that there’s still tons of work left to do, but the signs here are just mind blowing.

Does this have a practical impact on day to day life?  Right now, no.  Even if we found the answer today, it wouldn’t impact us for 20 years.  Yet that development would change the foundation of other research, and most likely change the direction of science as we know it.  Quantum Computing was a pipe dream 10 years ago.  It’s here now in the trial stages and still has a while to go, but if it works at scale… holy shit.  A unified theory could finally help us breach the media-based propulsion challenges (e.g. you need fuel and can only go so fast).  It could change communications to be instantaneous across the globe.

Still no definitive answers, but this is the closest I’ve ever seen for a unified theory.  Wowza

Epic Game Store

I’m not on the hype wagon that Epic Game Store (EGS) is a new type of cancer on gaming.  Not surprised at the amount of gatekeeping present in gaming circles, but hey, to each their own.  People fear change, and Steam has been the mainstay of PC gaming for longer than gaming memory.  (Side note, the last “successful” launch of anything Valve related was DOTA 2 in 2013.  Aside from the twice-annual fire sale of  every PC game ever made.)

Does EGS offer everything that Steam does?  Hell no.  Neither does Origin.  Or Arc.  Or Battle.net.  Or the dozens of other storefronts/launchers.  Is EGS coming to take your babies?  Maybe.  Will it activate your webcam and stream you out to Russia?  Certainly.

And exclusives are a problem now?  Remind me how again I can purchase Diablo 3 on Steam?  Or Anthem?  Right.  (There’s an irony on this point that I get to later.)

Does it suck that I have to remember yet another password/id?  Sure.  Just like I have to remember 50 different ones for every website/service.

Gamers are notoriously fickle, and the things on reddit are often so blown out of proportion.  Mainly due to the fact that the largest complainers have the least amount of spine.

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Real effective boycott…

Game companies have learned to navigate through the sewers of gamer miscontent, and find out what motivates players.  And that point is almost entirely based on money.  If EGS has the same games as Steam, but offers them cheaper… then guess where people are going to buy their games?  Doesn’t matter if you have achievements or not.  Or trading cards.  Or wish lists.

I-Win Button

The thing that many people are skipping over is that Epic already has a multi million (~250m at last estimate) player install base.  Across every single platform.  PC, XBONE, PS4, Switch and heaven almighty – mobile.  That simply dwarfs anything else.

And the next logical step?  Cross-play.  Let’s be clear on one single and vital point.  Console companies have been notoriously proprietary – Sony worst of all.  Fortnite broke Sony.  10+ years of people trying.  EA certainly pushed hard.  Yet a single game, in about 2 months effort, broke Sony.  You can play Fortnite on any device – with a single account.

From a developer perspective, this is a major benefit.  Online games win/die by the amount of players available (since they are often the content).  Imagine having a game suddenly have 6x more available players due to a code change.  You haven’t sold more boxes… just allowed them to see each other.

Mark the Calendar

Epic released cross-play SDK tools in December. 2019 is the year that cross-play becomes an expectation in gaming. In an ever connected world, Epic managed to break down walls with barely a whisper.  I am both amazed at the quick transformation, and terrified as to what comes next.

 

New Rig

All that fussing and I decided to just go with it.

Of all the features I listed previously, there were really only 2 options that presented themselves – either the MSI Raider or the ASUS ROG Zephyrus/SCAR.

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Lots of pretty keyboard colors

As you can tell, I went MSI.  Three main reasons.  1) MSI is significantly less expensive for the same specs (I’m essentially losing out on Thunderbolt) , 2) it’s actually available in Canada, and 3) it has an expandable storage slot.  It also shipped in 3 days, which is pretty neat.

The slight quirk in this is that the model I wanted, the GE73 Raider, was practically impossible to find at a decent price.  I ended up spending $200 more for the GE75 Raider, which came out in January.  Four things impacted – the display (120mhz vs 144mhz), the graphics card (RTX 2070 vs GTX 1070), the display bezel is much smaller, and the lid doesn’t have strobing lights – yay!   Honestly, I didn’t realize what a difference a small bezel had.

I took the 500GB SSD main drive, with a 1TB HDD.  It has an extra NVMe / PCIe slot so I can add another super fast SSD later.  16GB of RAM, expandable to 32 if need be. The setup phase is the fun part, and to avoid having to download GB of games, I’m in the process of transferring what I can from Steam et. al to the new box.  Thankfully that’s pretty straightforward – just

One of the good bits is that MSI doesn’t have much bloatware.  One game optimizer, one to controls the keyboard lights (I turned them of to give 90mins more battery life), and Norton (which will soon be removed).

Anthem

The game doesn’t load all that much faster, which is a real disappointment.   I’m running it off the NVMe drive that has the highest possible read/write on the market.  The computer boots super fast, and other items are near instant… so this is clearly an Anthem issue.

I disabled motion blur, and have a few more tweaks to apply on the video.   It runs ultra smooth, with significantly more detail, and the display is so much crisper.  Feels a lot like when I swapped my my standard TV for an HD version.  I’d have to run FRAPS or something similar to get a FPS reading.  This is not the RTX 2070 MaxQ (that’s a smaller form factor).

I’ll need to run some other bits to see how it goes.

Other Bits and Bobs

I like the keyboard and numpad.  Good size, distribution, movement and weight.  That looks weird when I type it out, but people who use a computer daily understand the value.  Trackpad actually works, which was a concern for me with MSI.  Not that I actually use, what with a gaming mouse.

The sound is ridiculous.  It has 2 speakers and 2 woofers, which is better quality than all my bluetooth speakers.  The sound range is impressive.  The speakers point down, which isn’t much of an issue since I have a cooling pad.

Tons of lighting and performance options on this rig.  It’s going to take a while for me to figure it all out.  I have never been a fan of keyboard backlighting (it’s off now), but lighted USB ports in a dark room isn’t a bad idea.

The fans max out with Anthem, and are noticeable.  Less so than my older Clevo/Sager, but you know they are present.  Can barely hear them at normal mode – or when casting a video through Chrome.

While the same screen size, it is an all around smaller laptop.  Fairly close to 15″ laptops I use from work, as they have a larger bezel.

Older Laptop

I’ll need to reset some of the settings and clear some room to make it a family laptop.  More than capable to keep running for a few more years without needing to pump out ultra settings.  I’ll certainly need to transfer some things to the NAS, and other bits to the new box… and as with everytime I do this, I’m going to forget a few things.

Nice Gift

I am not a frivolous spender, and I tend to over research things.  Pretty obvious if you’ve been reading this blog the past few months.  It took a bit of self-convincing that this was the right time, and that the funds could be spent for what I wanted.  The good news in this is that since the bitcoin mining phase is dropping, now’s a great time to get a GPU.

Gaming Laptop Redux

When I was a kid, I really dug into every PC spec I could.  I spent hours building the darn things, and from x486 until about 5 years ago, I would help other people build theirs.  It was ridiculous the amount of info required to make that work, especially in the pre-internet days.  But then again, most people had a sound card and not a video card – and here we are with the ability to link multiple cards together, and have a hard drive the size of a business card.

 

Technically, the foundations of PC builds are relatively the same.  It’s the extra flavor bits that make it interesting.  The video above is both fascinating (200fps is bonkers), and worrying in that the amount of POST/OC config options take an engineering degree.  (Side note, the RTX2080ti used in the video goes for about $1200US.  There are 2 in this box.)

I’ve mentioned the debate on PC vs laptop a few times now.  Laptop just seems the most practical way forward for my particular situation.

Honestly, 95% of this drive is because of the technical issues with Anthem.  Sure my rig isn’t brand new, but it was top of the line 3 years ago.  I’ve played most anything on ultra/high without problem.  Yet Anthem makes CPU/GPUs melt, leverages Denuvo (I think) which makes HDD melt, and pretty much makes any non PC-enthusiast rig look like garbage.  Let’s just say that the bar to entry to enjoy Anthem is at the highest I have ever seen.  Day 1 patch is trying to lower that bar, otherwise I don’t see how consoles could ever make this work.  Reddit seems to think that the patch did address this.  Maybe not perfect, but the 90s load times from the beta seem closer to 30s.

Anyways, back to specs.  As much as there are advances in the desktop space (PCIe NVMe bridges!) laptops are not that far ahead.  The good news is that it’s a simpler affair, with only a few places where it will muck up.  Let’s go over the basics.

CPU – i7 Gen 8 – 8750H

There’s very little reason to go i9 on a laptop, as you’re going to end up with a tank of a machine, for minimal value.

RAM – 16GB, DDR4

Most games will take 8GB, so having double and room to expand again is important.

Storage – 256GB SSD boot, 512GB+ NVMe M.2 PCIe

This is really interesting!  SSD for boot, I think it a given.  Sizes are all over the place, and experience says 128GB is going going to be running near 80% capacity.  Active drive is more fun.  Traditionally laptops come with a 7200rpm HDD as the 2nd drive, and maybe a 2nd drive for NVMe.  The important part here is to note that not all M.2 drives are the same – there are SATA and PCIe variants, with the latter being much faster.  GEEK ALERT – SATA3 = 0.5GB/s, while PCIe = up to 15GB/s.

GPU – GTX 1070

While RTX are available, the gains are minimal and only 1-2 games actually support ray-tracing.  The question then becomes which one in the GTX10 field.  1050s are too old.  1060s will give 1080p, which in practical terms is going to give you ~60FPS.  1070s will not reach 4K, but they will get you to the 120FPS mark.  1080s are 4K ready and real beasts.  Also cost an arm and a leg, and can cook an egg.  There are sub variants of GPUs as well here, like a MaxQ.  Just don’t.

Display- 17″ with 120Hz refresh rate

17″ screens are found in really small form factors.  They also allow for a larger battery.  15″ I find I am squinting for details.  The refresh rate is tied to the FPS.  Well, not technically but they are close enough that you can map.  60fps = 60Hz.  If you can get more than 60fps, then get a better display.  Unless you are loaded with money, a 4K laptop is out of the picture.

Networking –  Killer

Not much debate to be had here.

Ports – 2x USB 3 + USB-C/Thunderbolt

Need at least 1 port for a cooling pad (with fans) that also acts as a USB hub. Maybe could get by without.  1 port for the mouse.  You need powered USB ports!  Rest usually works itself out.  The USB-C/Thunderbolt port is gravy – massive transfer speeds and is the best way to get a docking station / external monitor to work.  This is the hardest bit to find in a laptop, you need to know the exact model you’re looking for.

Ergo/Placement/Battery – Personal

I want a trackpad on the bottom.  17″ laptops should come with a numpad.  Speakers should be on the top of the keyboard tray.  Cooling is out the back/bottom.  Thin is ok, but a “standard” size is fine too.  I’m done with the giant 10lbs bricks.  Battery life should be at least 4 hours for non-gaming.

Summary

I’ll be honest, it took nearly a month to get that shopping list complete, with daily research bits.  Finding the exact machine that has all these parts in it… I won’t lie, that is a friggin’ challenge.  Right now it looks like a GE73 Raider.  Maybe a STRIX/Zephyrus.  The Alienware boxes are just too expensive.

Time to set a product watch and wait for a decent deal

Mock-Up Prices

I’m Canadian, so we pay for things in Timbits.

Let’s start with assumptions first – any piece that is listed as the same for PC and laptop, the laptop variant will have at least 15% less performance.  HDD and RAM are the only 2 components that can be swapped on laptops – restricting upgrade paths.  PC have much larger screen areas, and much better options.  I used the canadian version of NewEgg  as the price search tool, just for consistency’s sake.

Now understanding that this is not ever going to be apples to apples, at least conceptually it should be close.  The requirements are then:

  • i7 8700 (8th gen CPU)
  • 16GB DDR4 3000 RAM
  • 512 GB SSD HDD1
  • 2 TB HDD2
  • GTX 1070TI video card

Laptops

Given the fact that I can’t build a gaming laptop, I will be paying a premium for the build.

  • ROG Zephyrus M is $2500
  • MSI GP series for $2100
  • MSI GS series (thin) for $3600′
  • Razer Blade 15 (GTX 1060) for $2100

A “regular” sized laptop with a 1070 and a 60mhz screen seems to be the best price point, just around $2100.  It’s ~$500 more for a thin version, and another ~$500 for a 144mhz screen.

PC

This is more complicated, since I need all the parts, and arguably there is 10x more selection.  For the sake of simplicity, I will add baseline parts that are “middle of road”.

CPU  i7 8700K 500
MB Asus PRIME Z390-P LGA1151 160
RAM Corsair Vengeance LPX 16GB (2x8GB) DDR4 3000MHz 185
1HDD Samsung 970 PRO NVME M.2 2280 512GB PCI-Express 3.0 x4 SSD 220
2HDD Western Digital Purple Surveillance 2TB 3.5″ SATA HDD 100
VIDEO Asus GeForce GTX 1070 TI 8GB GDDR5 570
COOL Corsair Hydro Series H60 90
SUPPLY EVGA 750 B3 750W 80 PLUS Bronze Power Supply 100
CASE Corsair Carbide SPEC-06 Tempered Glass Black Mid Tower Case 120
WIN Windows 10 180
Total 2225

Now, I could shop around for better price points, hopefully all from the same supplier.  I still would need a new monitor.  And again, this rig would be ~15% more powerful than the laptop, perhaps a bit more.

Getting a custom PC build with this setup is ~$600 in extra costs as a minimum.  Some places had it closer to $1500.

One suggestion was to build a cheap box with my kid as a learning experience.  A quick search on that comes to around $700, assuming I don’t want it to catch fire.  Pretty much everything is 50% less cost, the video card is $0 (for onboard instead), and the CPU is around $100.

Conclusion

There is no viable conclusion on a blog, when cost comparing PC parts.  That’s farcical.  However, my gut telling me that I can pay near the same price between two products and get more for my money is quite attractive.  Further understanding that the PC build will last longer since it’s parts are inherently replaceable is also motivating.

I guess religion, politics, and PC/Laptop are topics that have no easy answers!

Technology is Crazy

Or maybe we’re the crazy ones.

After my daughter and I finished up her hockey practice, I decided to go and pick up the RAM for the laptop.  I had already done some digging into which specific specs I had in the box.  I need to properly set the picture.  We had stopped at Booster Juice so she was standing in the computer store with this big container and straw, looking at what most sane people would call a junk store.

Anyhow, I catch the guy at the counter and he asks if I have the old stick.  I don’t, but I spit out the important bits:  DD3, 8Gig, 1600Mhz, 1.35volt.  (Say that out loud for a second.)  The look from my kid like I was talking some sort of space language…It’s enough, and he looks through a wall of RAM to find what’s needed.  This tiny little thing and we leave the store.

There were a lot of questions in the car ride back.  I start explaining what all that jargon means, and she asks that golden questions “why is it so complicated?”, followed by the geek question “can we build a computer?”.  To answer “to make people feel smart” and “sure, but we need to to some studying first.”

Computer Jargon

Or perhaps, I should say the abundance of ridiculous choice.  There are a half dozen viable choices of thermal paste today.  RAM comes in multiple sizes, speeds, and voltages.  CPUs are near indistinguishable (i7 has been around for 6 years).  It’s near impossible to pick a motherboard, or know what you’re buying.  And video cards…sweet baby jeebers – the GTX1080 has 3 variants (base, VR, TI).

And that’s aside from things like proper cases, power supplies, hard drives, and cooling systems.  Feels like I need an engineering degree so that I have a chance to see reflections in a puddle.  It’s such a ridiculously high barrier of entry.

I won’t talk about POST tests… argghgg

Simple Solutions

The PC market isn’t dying, it’s simply getting a smaller form factor.  I do get that PCs are even more niche now, but let’s be honest, laptops are the way forward.  At $500 you can get one that can do nearly everything you need, including some basic gaming.  For $2500 you can get a super slim ultra powerful laptop too – know that it’s entirely covered by warranty, and that it will work when you boot it up.  And with decent power management options, it can get through a day of work without charging.

I could build a PC for half the cost, but it would be physically stuck in a single place and 3x the size.  It’s pretty hard to “co-game” with someone with a PC, while a pair of laptops is stupid simple.  A port replicator gives that desktop feeling too.

Next Steps

As much as I would like to build a PC, I think for practical reasons it will be easier to get a gaming laptop.  Practical in terms of use, not purchasing.  Looking at options:

  • Sager/Clevo custom build (exact specs, great price, massive size)
  • MSI make some amazing rigs, at different form factors.  Stealth is almost an ultrabook.  Titan is a tank.  Raider seems a reasonable size.
  • Alienware was bought by Dell and reports are all over the place.  Build quality is strong, but cooling & fan noise seem to be a problem.  They look amazing.
  • ROG fits in-between the last two, with odd price points.

Key points I’m looking for:

  • 16GB of RAM
  • 256 SSD + 1TB of hard drive
  • Upgradeable storage/RAM
  • Thunderbolt 3 port (for docking/daisy chain to other things)
  • GTX 1070
    • Not enough games actually support ray tracing, and this card is still gives 4K, at less than half the price of an RTX2080.
  • 8th gen i7 CPU
    • 9th gen is marginal performance (5%) for ~$100 more.
  • Solid cooling to keep CPU < 80, and physical laptop < 32
  • Low noise levels when fans are at load
  • Screen size isn’t all that important, but a 17″ would be nice

That fun stuff runs around $2500 – with that Thunderbolt port being the tough one to find.  More digging required…and no real rush either.

Gaming on the Move

I’ve been building PCs since middle school.  Not sure why it clicked back then, but it was a pretty big deal for a long time.  And frankly, back then I could build a PC in about 30 minutes – with the OS build being the longest part.  Today?  It’s still easier than most people think, but it’s more of a science.

It’s been about 10 years since I built my last box.  I certainly enjoyed it, and the super flexibility of applying upgrades over time.  Replacing RAM or a video card is pretty simple.  Replacing a CPU… well that gets rougher.  Cooling options were starting to get a bit too complex for my tastes.  The next upgrade was a gaming laptop – a Clevo tank.  It provided all the benefits of desktop gaming, but allowed me to move around with it.

There are downsides to laptop gaming.  Replacing parts is more complicated.  Hell… just getting the parts is hard, as most video cards are only sold to resellers.  Plus, it’s not like you can get a new keyboard, or a new monitor.  It’s a complete package, and you’re going to pay a premium for it.  Plus, the thing can get hot as hell so a laptop tray is often a good call.

The last one I purchased in 2015.  Solid box at the time, with a 970M card.  The 1070M  is ~100% better, but I can’t really find one to buy.  Box currently has 8GB of RAM, which could certainly use a boost to 16GB.  CPU is an i7 but a 4th gen.   I am pretty sure I can upgrade to 7th gen, if I can find a chip, again not exactly common.  I can’t get an 8th gen (let alone 9th), that will require a new motherboard and new RAM – essentially a new laptop.  So really the only viable option here is more RAM – $50 should be able to get a new 8GB stick.

I think I’ll spend the new few weeks scoping out other options.  I like the idea of building a great gaming rig and then streaming that in the house.  Pretty sure I could build an entire super rig for ~$1500.  Another top end laptop, that’s more like $2500.   Been a while, and the rust is showing.  Still, fun to shop!

 

Facebook and Ethics

Zuckerberg’s face is all of the media right now.  Quite a few items remarking on his poor social abilities.  He’s clearly on the autism spectrum and if I recall it’s more in-line with Asperger’s.

That generally means that the switch inside the head doesn’t register non-vocal feedback, and that the social skills never truly develop.  Socially inept.  We’ve all met people where social cues just go right by.  This is more evident in high school and college settings, where everyone is showing tremendous social growth, while others seem stalled.  As adults, the social aspects are usually screened out during the hiring process.  Or in.  Or the individual has learned some tricks to manage that lack of skill.

Or, they deploy a data harvesting tool with the guise of connection building, and become a billionaire.

Privacy

I work in IT.  Specifically at the intersection of consumer functions and security/privacy controls.  I know more than I should, or at least some days I’d prefer to know less.  First point – if you’re online you are giving up privacy.  Full stop.  Either you pay to control it (part of it at least, or the appearance of control), or you do it for free and give up that control.

There’s a reason it’s so easy to DOX someone.

The internet may be temporary – sites come and go – but it’s all archived somewhere.  It is both permanent and impermanent at the same time, making it really quite hard for people to navigate.  What people were doing 10 years ago is still being used to screen new hires.  That is not going away anytime soon.

Ethics

Ethics are a social construct.  We don’t eat dogs in North America, rarely eat horse.  In other parts of the world it’s a regular meal.  Ethically we have issues with that, while other do not.  That’s at the national level.  Even at the community level this changes.  Find two churches and you’ll find two different sets of ethics.

Now throw in someone who has no ability to understand the social implications of ethics.  They are not un-ethical in the sense that they purposefully go against ethical norms, but more so in that they just don’t understand the nuances of ethics.

For better or worse, this also means that they are immune from international ethics.  Say in one country, it’s entirely acceptable to scrape all user related data to make a giant database of behavior (China).  In another, the company must disclose all private data to the users (Germany).  A company working in both areas has to find the right balance, let alone their corporate policies to manage their service.  That Facebook said it would apply GDPR is a good step.  Considering that they fought it tooth and nail, is more like a thief admitting guilt after caught, but it’s still some progress.

I will say that for all the faults, the EU seems to take this more seriously than most other countries.  Canada would be wise to integrate those policies, as we tend to align the same way.  I mean that in the context of post-national ethics.  We’re all humans before we’re nationals after all, much more alike than dissimilar.

Silicon Valley

Generally run by people with poor social skills focused more on the what can we do, rather than why should we do it.  There’s a really good reason why so many harassment issues have come out of the woodwork in these companies.  A psychopath is someone who lacks empathy – they are not not just serial killers.  A lack of social skills is right in line with that behavior.

Many people are driven by power/money, and once bitten by that bug, it’s hard to go back.  People get blinded by their own agenda that they lose sight of the impacts of their decisions.  Uber simply didn’t care that there were existing markets, they just dropped down illegal cabs, paid a few fines and disrupted an entire market.  There’s only a small difference between that and WalMart moving into a small town, closing all the mom and pop shops, milking the town dry, then closing their shop down for good.

And we let them.  Because it’s practical.  Or it’s cheaper.  We’ll sell our souls to the devil without a blink of an eye.  Most times, we won’t even realize we’re doing it.  Or we think it doesn’t affect us.

Some Progress

The conceptual idea of adding more connections is certainly good.  It’s the foundation of the internet after all.  We are too soon into that space as compared to other social advances, for a web of ethics to have developed.  By breaking down the geographical barriers, we have exposed the sensitive nerves of ethic boundaries.  It’s much easier to ignore dog eating in China if you don’t ever hear about it.  Much harder to do when it’s on the newsfeeds, websites, and social media.

We’re growing.  We’ve taken a long swim in the infinite ocean and lost our footing at times.  The “go local” movement is meant to ensure we have both a foot inside our real space and the virtual one, and a better appreciation for both worlds.  There’s still a lot of work to do.  I’ll be spending my time educating myself and my family on the risk/reward facets of internet use.  Paying more attention to the terms of use, changing permissions on my devices, removing myself from some tools.  Still being involved, but under my terms.

And if it costs me more, or takes more time.  So be it.