Always a Sale

AlwaysASale

Psychology of Clearance

For as long as I can remember, I have always been a bargain hunter.  Few things feel better than finding that rare item on sale for as much as 50 to 75% off of its original price.  I know without a doubt that I got this instinct from my Mother, because when I was growing up I can remember my Grandmother joking that she thought I would end up being a “Blue Light Special”.  For those who are either not old enough, or not from the right region…  K-Mart used to have a literal blue light attached to a cart that they would drive around the store, and for thirty minutes a specific item in the store would be at a significant discount.  I remember my mother would always go to check out whatever these items were, sometimes whether or not we actually needed them.  So to say that allure of finding a deal is ingrained in my very fiber is a very true statement.  Thankfully my wife is much the same… so she gets it…  and in truth we simply don’t like spending more money than we need to on anything.  She however is always willing to carry it further than I am…  and there comes a point where I am sick of dealing with something and am willing to spend any amount of money to be “done” with it.

One of our favorite activities during the parts of the year when stores are changing out seasonal merchandise is to go clearance hunting.  We live in Wal-mart country, and are roughly two hours away from the central office.  This means at any time there are around thirty or forty Wal-mart stores within easy driving distance.  The trick of Wal-mart is the odd quirk that every store is essentially self governed to a certain bit, and this extends to what they choose to put on clearance.  So one store might have an item for full price, but a store ten minutes away might have it for 75% off depending on a whole bunch of factors.  My Lego habit has been fed by the fact that I can pretty regularly find whatever sets I want on deep discount… so that $200 set becomes $60…  or the $30 set becomes $10.  So the question always becomes… is this item good enough of a deal, and there have been times I have passed something up only to kick myself later.  For example when driving home from Pax South last year, I found Star Wars Lego AT-TE for $40, but ended up passing because it felt like we had already spent a silly amount of money that weekend.  I’ve kicked myself since because that was originally like a $150 set, and really freaking awesome.

The Steam Sale

AlwaysASale

So these instincts of bargain hunting and regret of the deals I have missed, carried with me into the digital world.  As a result the Steam sale has been one of those forces of nature that I never can seem to resist.  When I see that $60 game that I have always wanted to play… selling for only $5… it is really hard not to go ahead and pick it up and tuck it away for the day when I really get the desire to play it.  The problem being… I like quite literally everyone else I know is doing this, and as a result we have hundreds of games as a steam backlog that we “really need to play”.  Compound this with the fact that new games are constantly being released, it comes into a situation where there are just games that we own that we are quite likely never going to play.  Over the last year I have tried really hard to resist the lure of the Steam Sale, but usually I end up picking up at least one “deal” that looks too good to pass up.  Even though on some level the number of games that I have that I have not even installed…  is a massive stress point for me.

This past weekend for Thanksgiving there was predictably yet another Steam sale going on, with its own rock bottom prices on games.  I hit the site a few times to see what was being sold, and oddly enough had zero desire to purchase anything.  At this point we have done a bunch of renovations on the house, so there is definitely the desire to “spend no more money” going on, but I don’t think it was that.  There were also plenty of games that looked interesting to me, so I don’t think it was simply the fact of not having anything I wanted.  I think maybe it is just the fact that I have finally come to the realization that there is no limited quantity here, that I am racing to snap up before they sell out.  In a physical store… they have a limited number of items on the shelf, and when those items are gone… especially when clearance is concerned… they are not getting any more.  When you are selling a digital key to a digital game… there is absolutely no rarity going on there.  They can sell keys a virtually unlimited number of times… and be able to keep ratcheting that price downwards towards infinity, each time catching a new batch of purchasers.  A physical copy of Pokemon or Final Fantasy ends up gaining value, but a digital copy only serves to get cheaper.

Always on Sale

SpeedTest

I think another thing that is finally sinking in… is that I can purchase a game at any point and don’t need to have it waiting in the wings for me to play.  I have insanely fast internet right now, in fact I ran a test this morning for the purpose of this article and you can see it over on the right hand side there.  There is not a game that is available on steam that I cannot literally download in less than thirty minutes.  So it is not like I need to preload things to really be able to have fun… I can wait for the whim to strike me, purchase it in any of the many always on market places and be playing the game less than a half an hour later.  This is vastly different from the chunk of my life where I literally had to drive an hour away to be able to find any of the games I wanted to play.  There is a part of me that still attributed a value to having something on hand, rather than having to go out and acquire it…. since I still remember having to go from store to store looking for one of the last remaining copies of a new game.  Now I purposefully shun physical copies of things for the simplicity of knowing I can pre-order moments before the release of a game and still get the full benefit.

The other side effect is that there is quite literally always a sale going on somewhere.  Between Steam, Origin, GOG, Greenman Gaming, Amazon, Humble Bundle… and countless other minor retailers there is quite literally always a sale going on for any game I could ever want to play.  The only time this is not necessarily the case is for any game I might want to play on the Playstation 4.  There I am very much still at the whim of a single game store, since once again I am not a huge fan of buying physical copies of games for the console.  I greatly prefer the fact that thanks to my 2 Terabyte harddrive upgrade in it, I can have most everything I might want to play “on tap” and waiting on me to boot.  All of these things honestly make the individual digital games worth less to me than they used to… and this is maybe going to be a problem that the industry will have to deal with.  There was a time when I was willing to “snap up” a game for $20, and that degraded to $15… and then to $10… and now quite literally a AAA title has to be $5 or less for it to trigger that “buy now” instinct.  I feel like I am simply becoming desensitized to the effect of the “Big Sale!” and now it seems simply easier to pay the price something is currently selling for rather than trying to stock pile it for later.  This entire topic came up, because this recent steam sale seems to be the one that a good chunk of my friends also passed up.  Has the magic of the Steam sale finally lost its magnetism?  I’d be curious to hear some of your thoughts about this, because for me at least over the course of this last year….  the only “deals” that I have really snapped up are those coming from Humble Bundle or the PSN store.

Impressive but Still Beta

Auto Update

“Wow, I’ve never seen that happen before” is generally something you never want to hear uttered from an auto mechanic.  That said at this point my wife’s vehicle is fixed and ready to go and seems to have no negative impact.  Apparently on the Pontiac Torrent there are two different sizes of bolts that can be used to attach the tensioner.  Quite simply when they replaced that part they used the wrong one, and as we were driving Sunday the vibration and force sheared the bolt off completely causing the serpentine belt to shread, and at the same time stopping the flow of motion to both the water pump and the alternator.

The good folks at Hibdon were more than willing to fix the problem, and after getting the vehicle towed there yesterday morning they had already fixed everything by mid day.  It is one one of those “honest mistake” type situations, and I don’t fault them for it… especially since they are also the ones responsible for making it right.  It was a grand inconvenience but thankfully my wife really had nowhere that she needed to go yesterday.  I cringe when I think how much worse this could have gone had the bolt sheared and she lost power to major systems while out on the highway with no place to really pull to the side of the road.  We were likely saved by the fact that it happened so close to our home and we did not drive it long enough to cause a radiator boil over.

Steam In Home Streaming

steamstreaming One of the problems with having multiple machines is that ultimately the game you happen to want to play is not installed on the machine you are sitting at.  Yes I realize this is a first world problem, as I am extremely lucky to be able to have both a nice gaming laptop and gaming desktop, but this is something I have tried to deal with for some time.  I’ve tried gaming over various versions of remote desktop, and none of them work well enough to offer a passable experience.  I am not sure who mentioned it first, but the other day I said something about steam logging you out when you tried to log in a second machine.  Apparently this has not been the case for some time.  What happens now is that you see all of the games available installed from all of the machines you happen to be logged into on your network.  The cool thing about this is instead of the play button you now see a Stream button as shown above.

Last night I decided to try this out, and I had some mixed results.  This all started because I decided that I wanted to play catch up on True Blood which meant needing to hang out downstairs with my laptop.  True Blood is one of those shows where about halfway through the third season it went off the rails and I stopped caring about it.  That said at the same time I felt like after spending that much time watching it… I felt committed to seeing it through to the end.  Like if I stopped my choice to watch it in the first place would have somehow been invalidated.  Sadly this is how I end up feeling about most television, and why I am still watching Bleach after all these episodes… when essentially every season is EXACTLY THE SAME.  All that aside the game I wanted to play last night was not installed on my laptop, so it was either steam streaming or a 10 gig download over wifi.

Impressive but Still Beta

I have to say that the actual game play was rather impressive.  The game I was streaming was not exactly fast paced and action oriented… in that I was playing Divinity:  Original Sin.  There was a minor input lag, but I seriously might be the only one who actually would have noticed it.  For example I refuse to use a wireless mouse because I can feel the slight hesitation of the wireless lag…  whereas none of the rest of the world seems to be able to.  The biggest thing I noticed is that it felt like I was watching YouTube video.  Since you are in essense streaming video across your network, there was a certain measure of blurring and artifacting of the screen.  This was most noticeable when confronted with large areas of a dark color, but it was not bad enough to be anything more than an annoyance.

The deal breaker for me however was that every time I tried to alt+tab out of the game to check something… the stream would crash out, and in a game where saving your progress is important this meant that a couple of times last night I lost a bunch of progress.  Alt+tabbing is something that is just habitual at this point, and I have done it before I even realize I did it.  So all of the problems I had with Skyrim apply here, in that either I have to force myself to NEVER alt tab… or I have to deal with the consequences of my actions.  As a result I decided to just simply deal with installing yet another game in two places.  Unfortunately since Divinity: Original Sin does not use the steamworks cloud save functionality… this also means I will be manually copying saved games between the two machines each time I decide to switch systems.

Steam in home streaming is of course still very much a beta product, and hopefully they will fix the alt+tab thing.  When they do I can see myself using it quite a bit more often, especially as my laptop ages.  What this really gives you is the ability to play games using the full horse power of your gaming machine, while on another machine that simply acts as a viewer and input device.  I’ve even seen video of someone playing games at full frame rate using a chromebook with linux side loaded onto it.  If they ever get internet streaming working, and manageable lag wise… this means there might be a time when you could play all the games on your home machine from your tablet while travelling.  What I would love to see is for this to work in a more universal fashion, so I could play the games from my PS4 while sitting at my PC or versa vicea.  I don’t think we are anywhere near there yet, but it gives me hope that maybe at some point we will be.

Old Addictions

GameCapture 2014-07-08 06-38-41-777 Over the weekend there was a point where my wife needed to get out of the house and do anything.  She had been sitting in the house for over 72 hours at that point, and just needed to see something other than the walls around her.  While we didn’t really have much in the way of errands to run, I decided to co-opt the trip and run around and visit a few pawn shops.  I’ve always loved going to pawn shops, because you really never know what you might find there.  Since I hate paying full price for anything, they are a smorgasbord of potentially awesome things for cheap.  One of the various ones we went to had a bunch of their Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 games for as low as $5 a piece.  I picked up used copies of Tekken 6, The Simpsons Game, Metal Gear Solid 4, Heavy Rain and a copy of Fallout 3: Game of the Year edition.

One of the things I have always been curious about is playing Fallout or Elder Scrolls on a console, so for $5 I could not pass the the chance to see “how the other half lived”.  When we got home I had this grand idea of testing out all of the games… but never actually made it past Fallout 3.  I booted up the game and spent the next three hours playing it before I realized how much time had passed.  This is one of those games that I can play over and over and never quite get bored of it, and I always thought it was the ability to modify it that made it so intriguing to me.  Playing on a console I have no modding at all available, so I realize it really was the game itself.  I am completely happy to wander around with wastes with nothing but a pistol, dispensing justice.

Last night after we finished our walk I went back upstairs to cool down, and made the mistake of turning on the television and continuing the journey into the wastes.  Next thing I know it is 12:30 and I am scrambling to get back to Megaton extremely encumbered, but at the same time completely unwilling to drop any of my plunder.  This will be interesting to say the least.  One of the “mods” I always install when playing the PC game is something that removes encumbrance, because I absolutely hate playing the inventory management simulation that is a Bethesda game.  That said at this point I feel committed to seeing just how well the Fallout 3 experience translates to a console.  Additionally it has been a really long time since I have played Fallout 3, as more recently I tend to play New Vegas when I get the fallout itch.  It is amazing just how much more I like Three Dog, than Mister New Vegas.

#SteamStreaming #Fallout3 #PS3

Grinch Stole Steam-mas

Changing the Game

The first Steam sale that I can remember was back in 2008 during the Christmas break.  It was a truly magical event where we saw entire publishers catalogs neatly packaged for a specific price.  I remember picking up everything that THQ had released to date for something insane like $20 and I was completely hooked.  The deals were just flat out unheard of at the time, and I opened my wallet and gobbled up a ton of things that I had wanted to play, but never bothered to pick up.  From that point on there have been multiple tiers of interest in a game for me.  There are always going to be the games that I will preorder happily so that I can play day one hour one, but these are getting significantly fewer in number.

There is a slightly larger group that I am willing to pick up when it goes on sale for the first time, meaning that first time steam drops the price for a daily deal or a weekend special.  There is a significantly larger group that I am interested in when the price gets below $10.  Then there is another batch that I am willing to pick up if the price ever lands below $5.  Finally there is a group that I have no interest in whatsoever even if they were giving it away for free, and these mostly are made up of the sports games out there.  All the while I know in the back of my head, the game is just going to keep getting cheaper each successive Christmas and Summer steam sale.  Essentially the amount I am willing to spend on any game is now reduced because I know something like steam exists.

Grinch Stole Steam-mas

The only problem is this year it all feels so formulaic.  In part this is because the games we see for sale this year, we also saw for sale during the Christmas 2013 sale, and the Summer 2013 sale, and the Christmas 2012 sale, and the Summer 2012 sale… etc etc.  The awesome and horrible thing about steam is that the catalog never depletes.  They still regularly offer deals on games a decade old, and while these are generally pennies on the dollar…  you can only see the “FATE collection” on sale so many times before you stop giving a crap about it.  Over the last few years it has felt like the Steam sale was less an insane deal on games, and more this event that everyone wanted to participate in.  There were “games” to be played and “party favors” to collect, and a universal sense of loss of money as folks indulged in picking up all of those games they had been waiting for.

The problem is this year it just feels tarnished.  I still instinctively check the page each time a new set of games goes on sale, and for the most part there hasn’t been anything that really excited me in the daily sales.  I am not sure if this is a side effect of me just being more accustomed to preordering the games I really care the most about, or if it is a cumulative effect that over the years I have cherry picked most of the good things from these sales already.  This year the thing I have really indulged in so far is using this opportunity as a way to pick up the various DLC associated with games I already owned, since while the games go at a significant discount, it is usually the DLC that goes for pennies on the dollar during the steam sales.  I used this opportunity to pretty much unlock everything that was available for Borderlands 2, and at the same time freak people out as it spammed my steam activity thread.

You can tell the magic is pretty much gone, when there are multiple flowcharts floating around the interwebs showing users how to get the best possible guaranteed deals from the sale.  The base rule is to never buy anything unless it is on a Daily Deal, Flash Sale or Community Choice.  Daily deals of course change out around Noon Mountain time I believe, and then Flash and Community Choice swap out every 8 hours.  Then at the very end of the event, on June 30th this time around… there is usually an encore sale featuring the best deals of the entire run of the sale.  This offers a last chance to pick up some of the more popular items.  Since there is this formula however it takes almost all of the excitement out of the process.  Once upon a time it was super exciting seeing what new wonders would go on sale each day, now it feels like you have guess what games will be big sellers based on the past performance on the store.

Soured the Milk

The thing is, it isn’t just steam that has destroyed my willingness to pay “full price” for anything.  PlayStation Plus is this amazing program where you pay $50 a year and get 2 games a month for each of their three platforms (ps4, ps3, vita).  Over the course of my time being a subscriber I have gotten 150 games through the program.  This coming month we are getting Strider for the ps4, a title I would have eventually bought…. but was holding off just on the off chance that it might be a free title thanks to the PS4s currently limited software library.  Sure enough it is this month and my waiting paid off…  and the thing is, that is really way Steam and Playstation Plus and even Games With Gold has taught gamers.  If you wait long enough you will get whatever it is that you wanted for next to nothing… or maybe even free.  Sure this gives publishers a longer tail on the revenue stream, letting them make some profit off of games that have already cycled off of the store shelves, but it also lowers the total value of ANY title in the process.

At this point $60 seems absolutely outrageous to me to pay for a game regardless of platform.  If it is something I am really amped to play, I might do it…  but very rarely am I willing to pay that for something that is not an MMO.  $40 is really the sweet spot of where I start to be interested in a title, but it isn’t until it gets to $10 or so that I am starting to be willing to pick it up “just because it looks interesting”.  Essentially all of these programs have turned games into a commodity for me that I know will lower significantly over time.  As far as console gaming goes, I have purchased mostly used games for years… and even then I am not willing to pay the type of prices that GamesStop, Best Buy or even our local chain Vintage Stock has to offer.  Most of these places drop the sticker price by $10 and call it good.  In order for me to snap up a console game, it has to be at Pawn Shop prices, so $15 bucks or so.

Gaming Altruism

The Steam Sale has taught me to buy a lot more games… but has lowered the total price I am willing to spend on any single game.  The funny thing is…  this also has caused something completely different.  Every now and then there is a title that I believe in so much, that I am willing to buy additional copies and give away to my friends.  So this week Borderlands 2 was like $5 and one of my friends mentioned that they had never played the game… so BAM! I purchased it and gifted it to them, because like a really good book… I feel like that is a game that everyone should play.  This happens quite often in our little community.  Over the course of the week, I gave away several different games… but at the same time received several back from totally different people.  The prevalence of this happening has increased significantly over the years I have participated in the steam sale.

So while the total price given per item is less, there are several titles that get bought over and over to give as gifts.  A few of my friends keep a stock in their steam inventory of titles that they loved to give out to someone who hasn’t played them yet.  This has turned the whole process in a different direction for me, and when I see something like that happen it just makes me smile.  Games are to me like Books are to my wife… and just as there will always be a “must read” book that you have to share with everyone you know, there will be a “must play” game.  I am just happy to be in a place in my life where I can be generous like that without much issue.  It has always made me happy when I can turn someone onto something cool, be it a game or a song or even one of my favorite movies.  It is this act of sharing our favorite things that makes the internet such an awesome place to be.  Maybe in spite the formulaic nature of the steam sale,  there is still a little bit of magic left in that old top hat.

#SteamSummerSale2014

Corruption of My Youth

Confusing Dialog

2014-02-20 06_18_53-Steam - Error For the last week or so I have been having an odd issue connecting to steam on my desktop.  For random periods of time, steam cannot connect.  However if I wait an hour or so… it connects in just fine.  So far the online wisdom is that this has something to do with bad network drivers, but unfortunately nothing has changed on the system in the time it has occurred.  So right now I am at a complete loss for this intermittent behavior.  Would greatly appreciate any suggestions, especially if some of you have had this issue firing up the steam client… and better yet have found a solution.  At this point my plan is to try and dig up the reference driver for my network card and install that, wondering if maybe a windows patch jacked something up.

The odd thing is, steam only hates me sometimes.  Last night when I could connect I re-downloaded The Secret World and it was coming down at a peak of 10.5 megabytes per second.  It seemed like the download was only being throttled by my disk I/O.  Of note… I am really going to have to manually throttle steam because my system was really mostly unusable when it was downloading that fast.  The hard drive was going through periods of being busied out by it.  Games were completely unplayable during this time, so I am hoping that somewhere in steam there is a maximum speed setting I can ratchet down a bit.  It was nice to download 18 gig in 30 minutes though.

Black Screen Blue Logo

Win8RTM_10_Windows 8 Logo ScreenLast night the wild goose chase in search of bottles continued, and on the way home I had to hit both Michaels and Hobby Lobby to finish getting the last few of them.  So by the time I made it home I was just feeling out of it.  I had a bit of trouble with my gaming desktop, and then a bout of the reoccurring steam issues, and by that time I was just mentally drained.  I found out the hard way that Cyberpower PC, does the same bullshit that every manufacturer does.  Namely tries to put a 350 watt power supply in a PC designed for gaming.  I went to install a new video card, and noticed the size of the power supply, and didn’t even bother getting into the case.  I did however at that point unhook everything.

After connecting everything back up again, I went to boot the machine and it hung indefinitely on the black screen with the blue windows logo.  Thankfully I have a second machine beside this one, and I started furiously googling.  Internet consensus is that something was up with the power supply.  I had literally not doing anything other than unhook things… so after making sure the power cord was seated well a few times I got another idea.  I unhooked absolutely everything from the machine again.  This time only hooking up the monitor, mouse, keyboard, network cable and power cord.  Sure enough it booted up happily… apparently in the processes I had hooked one too many things to a usb jack on the machine and it did not have enough power to boot.

So the power supply issue is not only critical to getting this newer video card installed, but seemingly for day to day usage as well.  I realize it is a numbers game for companies, they try and put the smallest thing in a machine they can get away with.  I just don’t understand however why anyone would put something smaller than a 500W supply in a new machine.  Ultimately like it did me, it will bite the owner in the ass.  Long story short, I have a new Corsair power supply on the way and it should be here on Friday.  So I will be playing the swap power supplies game this weekend.  Generally speaking I like to pull one power supply with all the wires connected, then disconnect the PSU one connector at a time, replacing it with a connecter from the new one.  That way I am certain that nothing gets missed.

All Over the Map

Wow-64 2014-02-19 20-11-13-41 By the time I finally got to where I could start playing games last night… I was like a toddler desperately in need of a nap.  Nothing really seemed right, and in truth I should have just gone on to bed.  I played a little bit of everything last night, but only a few minutes of each.  I mined three or four resource nodes in Landmark, killed Onyxia and did Crown Chemicals in World of Warcraft, fired up Rift long enough to collect the weekly patron gift, played some of “that space game”, and finally spent the most amount of time playing some of “that elder game”.  But like Goldilocks, everything was either too this or too that.  I should have grabbed my 3DS and went to bed playing some Bravely Default.

The highlight of the evening was the fact that I picked up Chicken Tikka Masala on the way home from my errands from our favorite Indian place…  Desi Wok.  Even that just didn’t seem right, and I was only able to finish like half of mine.  Nights like that suck, where you don’t like the world and you are pretty sure that it doesn’t like you either.  Hopefully tonight I won’t have a bunch of running around to do before heading home.  I think that combined with the power supply issues are what put me in that mood.  What sucks is… I knew I was “in a mood” but I didn’t really know what I could do to snap myself back out of it.  I have yet to find my personal slider that allows me to back off on the “pissy” setting.

Corruption of My Youth

I think I have told at least part of this tale, but I never had a chance to “not” be a geek.  One of the cool things about being a teachers kid was that at the end of the school year, we got to rifle through the stuff left in kids lockers.  The janitors would come through and dump everything out into the hall, and if it was not gone by that evening they would come through with a big dumpster and pitch it all.  I felt this was a bit of a consolation prize for being stuck there as my mom cleaned her own room to get ready for summer.  Over the years I found many prizes, but none of them were as life changing for me as stumbling across a Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Players Handbook.  Mind you this was when I was in first grade, and upon receiving that book I absolutely obsessed about it.  While I didn’t fully understand much of it at the time, I started building games around the things that I found between its covers.

Marvel-Super-Heroes I wanted nothing more than to play a real D&D session… but I grew up deep in the bible belt and the popular consensus was that “D&D” would somehow make you into a mass murderer.  So all through elementary school I collected everything I could get my hands on, but had never really played any of it.  My parents obviously did not care, but the parents of my best friends at the time were absolute bible thumpers.  It was mid way through elementary school that I found another option.  Marvel Super Heroes by TSR was in reality a pretty damned crappy game system, but it was completely benign and with the little paper foldouts made it look like a board game and not something akin to D&D.  I kept all of the dice and such at my house, and for the most part their parents never questioned what they were doing.  I mean funny shaped dice would have been a dead give away… and something worthy of shunning.

penandpaper As I moved into my High School years I found friends with whom we could pretty much play anything… and we did, so many different systems.  While we didn’t really go back and play much D&D other than at conventions…  we did play an absolutely silly amount of the Palladium system.  The above image is a quick picture I snapped this morning of just a small sampling of the various palladium books I have accumulated.  The thing about that system that drew me to it, was the fact that if I or my friends could dream it up… we could find rules to build it.  The Rifts setting at the time completely blew me away, and I played it through most of high school.  Even though I don’t really play much anymore, because I don’t have a local circle of people to play with… I still pick up the books anytime I find them out and about. 

MMOs for the most part have become my new “D&D night”, and it just honestly fits my schedule better.  Occasionally I join in games run by friends over one of the various Google hangout pen and paper mods, but that is about as close as I get to the old tabletop experience these days.  So many of the things I have been into over the years, probably started with finding that first players handbook.  It got me interested in what that was all about, and got me into Time Warp comics for the first time in search of “more”.  It was through this connection that I go into Warhammer, Magic: The Gathering, and so many other geeky things.  While the bible thumpers seemed to think it would steal my soul, more than anything it enflamed my curiosity and creativity.  Pen and Paper games taught me it was completely okay to create my own reality.  That seems like a skill we could use a lot more of.

Hammerwatch

Steampowered Sunday #2

Steampowered Sunday episode was relatively well received, and that was a pleasant surprise.  So much so that it seems that my friends have conspired to grief me.  When I set forth on this journey I probably had a years worth of games to play before I needed any assistance.  However over the course of the week a good friend of mine, Ashgar, decided that I needed to play a game of his choosing.  So we made plans yesterday to meet up this morning and play some Hammerwatch multiplayer.  I have to say it was a really enjoyable hour, before I needed to leave due to some bad news.

Red Warrior Needs Food Badly

Hammerwatch 2014-01-19 11-49-58-97

For starters, Hammerwatch is the fruition of the yet another Steam Greenlight process.  You can buy it without discount for $10 from steam, and at that price I consider it well worth it.  However thanks to the insanity that is the steam sale, you can generally get it at a significant discount.  It is in every way the spiritual successor to the original arcade Gauntlet by Atari.  For those with no cultural reference to this king of all quarter munchers…  it is basically a four player game that focuses on each player providing a different class.  From what I have seen the single player game is just as enjoyable, but the real fun comes from multiple friends working together. 

Classes you have to choose from:

Paladin2 The Paladin

This guy is your basic melee class.  Special attack includes a really handy charge and if you time it just right you can deflect projectiles with the basic attack.  Upgrades later increase the frontal cone of the attack, which makes kiting mobs and killing them from the protection of a corner doable.

Ranger The Ranger

This is your standard archer ranged attack class.  We noticed that there was a significant damage drop off the further the arrows travelled.  Seemed to have the longest range of all of the classes but dealt the least damage.  Special attack is a bomb which comes in super handy when clearing large numbers of mobs.

The_Wizard The Wizard

This one threw me for a loop a bit.  I expected a long ranged fireball when in reality it only actually travels about 5 character lengths.  The special however is a really powerful dragons breath like attack that does massive damage to anything in a short arc in front of the wizard.

Warlock The Warlock

The Warlock is the oddest class.  It has the highest starting health, and really fast mana regen.  However it’s base attack is a relatively weak dagger melee attack.  The special however is a really powerful bolt attack with a range similar to that of the ranger but it seems to consume about half of the starting mana pool.  This is going to lead to some really different game play as I figure there will be a lot of the time you hang back waiting on your mana to recharge.

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Anyone who has ever played the original Gauntlet will recognize the game play immediately.  This is one of those games that I highly suggest you hook up a controller for.  Even moreso I found it far easier to control using a dpad as opposed to an analog stick.  By default player one will be set up to use keyboard controls, so make sure you switch things up before getting into game if you choose to play it with a controller.  The first thing to know about Hammerwatch is that the levels are custom designed and this is not a Rogue-like.  That means traversing each level happens in a non-linear fashion.  There were several times we had to go back to a lower level because a switch triggered something we could do down there. 

We started playing the game on normal mode, but to be honest we did not even last the first level.  On normal, heal options are very few and far between, so this lead myself and Ashgar to be moving around perpetually looking for the next apple or orange.  The positive however is that unlike its predecessor you cannot shoot the food.  You can however accidentally charge through two food items screwing your friend out of getting any.  Yeah I did this a few times when there were apples placed between dart traps.  Of note… the Paladin charge is totally a great way to cheese these.  Everyone else has to time the traps… something I learned when I was playing the ranger later on.

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Unlike Gauntlet, gold is not simply a scoring mechanism.  As you go throughout the level destroying barrels in the proud Diablo tradition, the coins you pick up get added to the purse of both players… which is a really nice mechanic.  I know I started out trying to ration my pickups to make sure I was not absolutely looting Ash into the poor house.  Additionally there are big coins that you can pick up called Vendor Coins.  If you look up in the lower right hand corner of the above screen you will see at this point we had picked up 4 of them, and each one gives you a permanent .5% discount.  The gold you collect is spent on vendors, and the above vendor is one that changes what your weapons do.  For example Sword Damage 1 increased the total amount of damage I dealt, and Sword Arc 1 as I mentioned above changed my sword swing from a 90* arc to a 120* arc making it far more useful.

During the course of the hour we spent playing we found weapon vendors, combo vendors and stat pool vendors.  The combo vendors introduced a new mechanic that if you kill 10 creatures within 1 second of each other you triggered your combo effect.  For example I ended up buying an ability that procced a heal whenever this happened.  Ash on the other hand decided to spend his gold on increasing the amount of time between kills, allowing him to get combos easier. 

Obviously both are useful and needed abilities, but unfortunately at the time we were near the vendor we only had enough money to purchase one.  Combo Nova was one I think we were both eyeing, as it did a huge AOE damage nova whenever you managed to get a combo.  The stat pool vendors were pretty self explanatory, allowing you to either increase your total health pool or your total mana pool.  I ended up purchasing a health pool bump which nearly doubled my total available health.  We were not nearly as good as we could have been about breaking barrels and picking up gold, so I imagine we could have likely afforded a lot more if we were more carefully clearing the rooms.

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My biggest suggestion while playing this game, is to trust your Gauntlet inspired instincts.  There was a mechanic that we just instinctively dealt with that did turn out to be exactly what we thought it was.  The game has mob spawners, that work just like they did in Gauntlet.  If you look above you can notice there are two brown spots on the ground.  I wish I had taken a picture of these before we destroyed them, but these were previously Beetle spawners.  Just like in Gauntlet they appear in a room full of the same kind of mob, and slowly over time spit out more of them.  They seem to be only triggered when you actually aggro the mobs surrounding them. 

The strategy that seemed to work is that Ashgar would gather up the attention of the mobs that were already spawned kiting them around… and I would make a beeline directly for the spawners taking them out.  One of the worst rooms we encountered had 5 worm spawners in them, and Ash through some streak of insanity managed to solo the encounter because I went off in a different direction.  That is another thing of note… this game is not limited to having both characters on screen at the same time, so as a result you can wander off in completely different directions and get lost.  I am thankful that we were both on mumble at the time as we went through the levels.  Ash and I play together enough, and have a similar enough viewpoint that our crude directions were usually successful in allowing us to meet back up.

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As you wander through the levels there will be various objectives.  If you look at the top of the screen you can see four indicators with numbers beside them.  These are in order…  Bronze Key, Silver Key, Gold Key and Extra Lives.  The keys work exactly like you would expect them to work based on the Gauntlet lineage.  You pick up a key and then walk into a wall of the same color.  There are many objectives that are hidden behind walls.  One sequence involved us stepping on four different runes, which then spawned a vendor coin and a treasure chest when the sequence finished.  The above image shows a sequence of four switches that apparently need to be activated to unlock the boss of the level.  We however did not survive long enough to actually see what a boss looks like.

The bane of our existence seemed to be spike traps…which I did not unfortunately get a screenshot for.  There were multiple varieties of these, some were switch puzzles that involved opening up a clear path through the spikes.  Other instances were simply timed puzzles that involved moving through them in a pattern as they cycled on and off.  In all cases however they were essentially a oneshot kill.  Figuring these out pretty much accounted for most of our lost lives.  I figure going in again we would fare far better.  The nastiest surprise is while moving across a large field of synchronized spike traps… that mobs would in fact follow you across.

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Like I said we started the game on Normal and found it to be extremely challenging.  Briefly before I needed to log for a bit we tried playing different classes on Easy mode.  Primarily the only real difference that I could tell is that they were a lot more healing options.  Where on normal there would be a single apple spawn, there might be three on easy.  The mobs dealt the same amount of damage and seemed to spawn in the same numbers.  We did extremely poorly because really… we chose classes that were not well suited for our play styles.  I tried the Ranger and Ash tried the Wizard.  In truth the Paladin/Ranger combo was just about perfect for the two of us, so I think switching to playing the game on easy we would have made it through to the boss without any issues.  I think we did fine for two complete noobs to the game.

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One of the cool things about dying however is that you get a nifty graphical breakout of all of the statistics of the last play session.  As you can see, Ash totally kicked my ass in total damage dealt.  While not worth taking a death for, it does seem to a little bit of a consolation prize that you get to see the cool info about what just happened.  To wrap things up, if you were like me and you spent large chunks of your childhood feeding your allowance a quarter at a time to Gauntlet…  this is a game you will really appreciate on so many levels.  If you are like Ash and way the hell too young to have experience Gauntlet when it was an actual thing…  but tend to have an appreciation for the classics.  This also will likely be a really fun experience for you.

However if you are someone who needs cutting edge graphics and deep story interaction.  This is not your game.  It is old school quarter munching dungeon crawling at its finest.  However in this case you cannot simply feed the beast more money to save your sorry ass.  You have a limited number of lives and cannot pay to make up for your lack of skill.  I figure given time I will cease sucking quite as bad as I did during this little play session.  I would definitely buy the game again given the chance, and I might gift it to someone in the future to spread the madness if playing this becomes a regular occurrences.

How Are You Liking This?

So I am curious… how are you enjoying Steampowered Sundays?  This is only the second one but I am curious about what you like and don’t like about this approach.  I am also interested in any suggestions for types of games you would like to see me play.  Generally I am looking for a game I can get in for a few hours Sunday morning and get enough of a feel for it that I can do a write-up.  Additionally I am limiting it to games that I have either not played at all, or have only played for less than an hour… preferably less than 30 minutes.  I have a large backlog of games so I am sure I can keep finding something that sounds interesting each week.

SteamWorld Dig

Steampowered Sunday #1

This is the beginning of a brand new segment for my blog.  In truth for awhile now I have been trying to come up with a good way to start this feature.  Originally I was going to call it “Sunday Indie Sunday” but that never really got off the ground.  The idea behind Steampowered Sunday is really simple.  Over the years I have built up a large backlog of titles from steam sales and the various humble bundles that I have never actually played or at the very least not really played enough to feel like I have given the game its due. 

My goal is to grab a “new to me” game each Sunday and give it a decent amount of play time.  Afterwards of course I will be writing a blog entry about the game.  This isn’t necessarily a review, but more my thoughts and impressions about the game play I just experienced.  My friends are already talking about griefing me by adding more games to my list.  So we will see how far I can actually make a dent and if I can actually keep up with this feature.

Steamworld Dig

2014-01-12_00001 The first title to explore seemed like an obvious pick… since the feature is called Steampowered Sunday, then why not delve into a game called Steamworld Dig.  This however is a playthrough that almost didn’t happen.  It seems that I found a bug in FRAPs, that no one really expected.  It seems as though frap is configured to ignore Steam, and instead of correctly searching for steam.exe in memory, they are just ignoring any process with steam in the title.  As a result…  SteamWorld Dig seems to be incompatible with fraps.  Luckily I remembered that you can also take screenshots through the steam overlay with f12.  While this is not exactly what I like to do… as I tend to disable screenshot functionality and have fraps do all the work… that way all of my screenshots end up in the same directory…  I made do.

2014-01-12_00004 I picked up Steamworld Dig some time ago during one of those insane steam sales.  Basically if it is a game that I have been wanting and it drops at or below $5 then it is pretty much an instant buy for me.  I know sooner or later I will get around to playing it, and especially now with this new Sunday feature.  The premises is deceptively simple…  Metroid-Vania with Mining.  In the game you play a robot miner who is coming to Tumbltown to follow in the footsteps of his uncle.  The uncle had the claim on the mine directly below the town, and as such your are exploring the mine looking for resources and upgrades.

2014-01-12_00009  The game employs an inventory system that looked deceptively like Minecraft, but in reality at least to the point at which I have played, you can only remove blocks, you cannot ever replace them other than with ladders that can be purchased for 5 coins each.  The result is that initially you can only store quantities of three different ores at the same time.  This quickly becomes an issue as before getting very deep you are regularly getting half a dozen different ores.  This involves a lot of running back and forth to the surface to sell your wares in the little town.  Each time you sell you are working towards an upgrade threshold cap.  Each time you earn a certain amount of money you unlock additional new upgrades.

2014-01-12_00013 The upgrades are then purchased with the coins you are earning from selling ore.  Initially you have access to the trading post and Cranky’s upgrade store, but I am assuming much like Bastion that over time other places may open for business.  The first upgrade you can get is to your pick axe which similar to upgrades in Minecraft allows you to mine existing ore types faster, and the ability to break new ore blocks that you previously could not.  Similarly in the second tier of upgrades you can add an additional bag slot allowing you to carry up to four types of ore at a time.  This of course means fewer trips back up to the surface, and more time down below mining.

2014-01-12_00015 As you explore, you will uncover caves that shoot off of the main dig.  These usually hide power ups and unlock new functionality.  For example the waygate above gave me the ability to equip run boots, which means while pressing down X on my 360 controller I can run, and in the style of Super Mario World, jumping while running increases the range and height of the jumps.  Additionally there are blocks that disintegrate as you walk over them, so in many of these puzzle caves the only way to get through is to run quickly over top of them.  All of this progression will seem extremely familiar to anyone who has played a Metroid of Castlevania game. unlock tools so you can get to new places and unlock more tools.

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The game play gets progressively more and more difficult which adds an interesting spin on the Metroidvania genre.  Since you cannot replace rock, you are essentially making your own playfield at all times by the choices you make as to what to dig and where to dig it.  This means you can make life hell as you remove the wrong block at the wrong time.  The game play is more about what you choose to leave standing and less about digging down to a specific objective.  Above you can see my first death as I managed to get squashed by a rock that until this point I did not realize would fall down when I mined under it.  This is also a decent time to highlight the lamp bar on the upper right corner of the screen. 

As you dig down your lamp light decreases at a steady rate.  There are various fossils that will wake up when you get close to them and spawn worms.  Killing these will drop an item that does two things.  Firstly it will refill one bar of your health, and secondly it will add oil to your lamp meter letting you stay down longer.  The only problem is it becomes pretty easy to dig deeper than you can possibly return from on a single lamp charge.  There really seems to be no penalty for going without lamp other than the fact that you cannot see what you are doing.  This means that you cannot identify what type of block you are mining your way into… which is suicide since there are the boulders that can crush you placed throughout the levels at an ever increasing pace.

The Wrap-Up

2014-01-12_00003 The game play is extremely fun and I found myself spending an hour or so playing the game before reaching a point at which I thought I could realistically write up this blog post.  The only thing lacking with the game seems to be a point.  I don’t necessarily mean that in a bad way, but both Metroid and Castlevania and the modern equivalent Guacamelee all have a narrative that drives the pace of the story ahead.  SteamWorld Dig on the other hand has a series of small objectives, but I am not sure if I am really building towards anything meaningful.  I am digging so that I can get stuff that will let me dig faster.  I don’t really care about the cast of robots that inhabit Tumbletown… yet.  Over time this might change, but at an hour into the game I really am not feeling like there is some great purpose behind what I am doing.

That is to say, the game is completely enjoyable without this deeper meaning.  The game play is fun, the controls are responsible and it has as good of a wall jump implementation as I have seen.  The problem is it just feels like there should be something more.  I mean I realize you wander into the town and find your dead uncle, but this doesn’t seem to cause much intrigue or story to happen.  Hell at this point I would even take a pokemon-esc “I want to be the very best” dialogue sequence to explain why I care about mining.  I realize these are robots, but even robots should have a reason why they are doing things.

Would I purchase the game again after having played it?  Honestly yeah I would suggest folks picking it up, but only doing so at a deep discount.  The game play is fun enough and it seems like a glorious time waster.  It is the type of game you can just zone out and enjoy the mechanics of.  The animations are cute and the sound design is really nice in places.  I just keep hoping that eventually I will uncover something even vaguely resembling a plot.

Beatstick Acquired

Ice Ice Baby

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We are still functionally iced in, at least in the way that everything outside is coated in a thick layer of ice… including both vehicles.  This has been the weirdest storm however as it has clung to everything but the concrete.  Additionally the temperatures have remained at just the right place to keep the ice from melting.  This means for the most part the roads are completely fine.  It is just lack of caring that has kept us in the house.  By the manifest restlessness upstairs from my wife, I have a feeling this is coming to an end today.  We honestly need to get out and about to pick up the last few gifts in order to be done for the holidays.

Right now on twitter, I have the name “Belgrinch Stole Xmas” and to some extent it is not just clever use of my existing naming convention.  I tend to be a big of a humbug when it comes to the holidays.  Over the years bad things seem to fall near the holidays, and when you combine that with the fact that Christmas as an adult is a massive let down if you don’t have children.  My wife and I have not put up a tree in over a decade.  For children, Christmas still is a magical time but for me I just see the hassle of having to run between four households and shop for a bunch of people you literally only see once a year.  I wish so much we could make Christmas be Thanksgiving 2.0.

Thanksgiving is pretty much my ideal holiday.  People get together to share a meal together, and there is no expectations past that.  You just have some good food, good conversation and then everyone goes on their merry ways.  Instead we have an awkward exchange of time as everyone tries to avoid the inevitable gift exchanges.  This year because of my aunt’s dialysis the timing is all messed up.  Normally we do all of this on Christmas eve, but instead this year everything is pretty tentative.  We considered going up tomorrow so we could just spend time with the family members we want to without the rest of the three ring circus.  For me it is about spending time with my parents and my grandmother…  past that it just gets progressively more and more awkward.  Namely I am trying to avoid being around my bigoted uncles as they seriously destroy what little inner peace I have… and make me feel absolutely dirty for being around them.

Beatstick Acquired

I have chronicled the hunt for one-handed weapons over the last few weeks.  My guildies and I have been running daily Heroic Scenarios for a shot at the 516 weapons that can drop there.  Additionally I have been working my way through both Throne of Thunder and Siege of Orgrimmar.  Yesterday I spent most of the day queued for the various ToT dungeons that have a chance of dropping a weapon.  Turns out the in game loot advisor thingy doesn’t list everything.  It seems there is a series of weapons that can drop off every single boss in the instance, and after killing Jinrohk yesterday I managed to get one of them.  The mace pictured above is Zeeg’s Ancient Kegsmasher and comes from that list of alternative drops.  While not ideal, I wish it was a 2.6 speed weapon and not the awkward 2.4 speed… but it is better than what I had and I am extremely happy to get it.

Additionally I managed to get through the Underhold section of Siege of Orgrimmar which unlocks The Downfall and a shot at another one-hander off of the Klaxxi council event.  I am honestly not sure what it is about Underhold, but every single group I would get into would spontaneously disintegrate shortly after finishing Malkorok.  There always seems to be either a mass exodus immediately after finishing the boss, or after failing that first time to Spoils of Pandaria.  Last night… fairly late… I actually managed to find a group that oneshot every single encounter there… including captain lunchmeats himself… Thok.  I won’t lie, I am not sure if I will actually ever queue for Underhold again unless a guild member needs it for something.  The queue is around an hour generally, and with the lacklustre success rate it seems like a bundle of frustration I can simply live without.

Christmas Gifts Abound

So I am bad at this… let me start out by saying that up front.  My intent in this section is not to be “look what soandso go me, neener neener” so you are going to see some thank yous, without me actually listing who they are directed to.  I figure the people read my blog and they will know it is heart felt and directed at them.  First up someone very awesome got me Talisman Prologue from my steam list.  This is a game that I have thought about picking up so many times in the past but never pulled the trigger.  I love the Talisman board game, and even the crappy american version that Milton Bradley released called Hero’s Quest.  Despite how much frustration I have built up over the years… I am still a massive fanboy for Games Workshop and Talisman seems to be one of their purest gaming experiences.  Really looking forward to seeing how well the digital version translates.

I am a massive sucker for the sandboxy shooter experience.  Everything I have heard from friends and read has said that Farcry 3 really takes this whole concept up a notch.  As a result this is one of those titles I have almost bought half a dozen times.  But thanks to another amazing friend the decision was made for me.  Again I plan on devoting some of my two weeks of downtime to exploring this game.  Quite honestly… I have stuff on my steam wishlist as more of a reminder to myself, and because steam emails you when one of those titles goes on sale.  I never in a million years expected anyone to buy me something off of it.  Thank you guys very much, it made me feel loved.

Last but definitely not least…  the League of Legends Mystery Gift madness is back in full swing again.  For those of you who are not indoctrinated, you can send a friend a random skin for one of the champions they have.  The price is 450 RP but you are guaranteed to get a skin that is of higher value, but it will be assigned completely at random.  The coolest part about it is there is a chance of getting skins that have long been retired or for whatever reason removed from the game.  One of the skins I have always wanted but never picked up is Chosen Master Yi.  Who doesn’t want to play as a Jedi Knight?  Huge thanks to another good friend for sending me a mystery box and giving me this awesome skin.

Arcade Box

Loft 1.0

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Currently I am known for being a fairly PC centric gamer, but this was not always the case.  Once upon a time I had a game loft with all of the major console systems prior to the Xbox hooked up and playable at any given time via a complex set of switches.  It was a ton of fun, but also a massive pain in the ass to remember which combination of video switches produced which actual game system being fed to the arcade style RGB Monitor.  Ultimately things happened that lead to at least in part the dismantling of the game loft, and other interests kept me from ever really rebuilding it in the same fashion.

During the summer we cleaned out the loft and set up the loft again, but this time I did not want to string cords all over the place like I had before.  Currently I only have my Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 hooked up long with a cable box.  The problem is… I still want access to all those retro games, or for me “the good old days”.  Essentially I decided I was going to create a dedicated emulator PC, but I wanted it to be something small and quiet.  I ended up going with a Foxconn Nettop machine similar to this one.

Something Simple

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The current iteration of the box relies upon XBox Media Center and quite honestly has been more fiddly than I would have liked.  As a result it is still sitting in my office instead of hooked up out in the loft as it should be.  So yesterday when an interesting thing crossed my feed I had to explore it.  One of my friends on G+ shared a link to a project called ICE.  Essentially it is an interface between Steam and the various Console Emulators, allowing them to be added to your game library and accessible through Big Picture mode.  Personally I thought this was a really awesome idea, as running a system through steam big picture mode would also give me access to a lot of the indie games that would run just fine through the nettop as well.

I did quite a bit of research into how it actually worked, as I did not want anything accessing my steam account and potentially compromising it.  Essentially it only acts as a go between, in a sort of batch file mode, automatically registering a bunch of roms with steam and configuring them to load the emulator and the file as command line arguments.  For the most part it works really well.  I had no problem getting the Nintendo 64 and Gameboy Advance games working, however I was unable to get any Super Nintendo title to work.  The list of currently supported consoles is a little something like this.

  • NES – Nintendo Entertainment System
  • SNES – Super Nintendo
  • N64 – Nintendo 64
  • Gamecube – Nintendo Gamecube
  • PS1 – Sony Playstation
  • PS2 – Sony Playstation 2
  • Genesis – Sega Genesis
  • Gameboy – Nintendo Gameboy
  • GBA – Nintendo Gameboy Advance

Arcade Box

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Were I only interested in having console games on tap… it would have been a pretty solid solution, pending I could get all of the games to register properly and get the super nintendo emulation working.  The problem is… I also want access to Mame which Ice currently does not support or have listed for future intended support either.  Why play a console port of an arcade game when you can just play the actual arcade title.  So this has lead me to search further for an easy to use solution, and I have landed upon a nifty piece of software called Maximus Arcade.

 

Once upon a time I worked as a developer at a Palm Pilot software company.  Before the environment got the life sucked out of it by corporatization…  we had this amazing Mame cabinet that one of the developers had built after hours… and then brought into the office for us all to enjoy.  Through a whole bunch of arcane bullshit he had cobbled together this really cool menu system that let us have over 4000 arcade games “on tap” at any given time.  Maximus Arcade seems like a piece of software that does all the configuration for you and just presents a really nice and cohesive interface.  Currently the software ships with all X-Arcade joysticks, but you can purchase it separately for the really paltry sum of $25.

So once again begins a little phase of me determining how best to build a Maximus Arcade machine.  Right now all suggestions are pointing at WIndows XP, specifically a derivative known as Micro XP.  The software has decent forums so I intend to do quite a bit of research there before I do the system build out.  The cool thing about it is, that it supports every console and arcade emulator I have heard of… as well as several that I have not.  So it seems like I would be able to grow the system to support anything I might want to add in later.  For the time being the important things to me are Nintendo, Super Nintendo, Genesis, Master System, Gameboy Advance and Mame and it seems to do all of those without issue.  I will keep you guys updated as I work on the build and get it rolled out into the game loft.