Sunday, February 24, 2008

Technology Owns.

In mid-February, I purchased a laptop. I had planned to just get a very basic computer that would suffice for maybe a year or so, until I bought an uber-PC, probably a desktop. Turns out I got far more than I had hoped for and got a pretty darn good deal on it, as well. I hadn't been this excited to buy something since back in October of 2000, when I had to wait line for midnight to arrive so I could be one of the first people in the area to own a PlayStation 2. Don't laugh; it was an important release... honest.

I spent many hours searching online, comparing specs and prices from a few manufacturers and retailers. I went with an HP Pavilion because that's what I've grown accustomed to lately. I have used a Hewlett-Packard for a little while now, and I've been somewhat impressed by the quality of the computer, for lack of a better explanation. The screen itself seemed nicer in comparison to any of the computers I've ever used. While shopping around I found that in my opinion the overall construction of the HP laptops felt... sturdier, I suppose.

I finally settled on the specific model I wanted only to find that not only was it sold out online at the main retailers, but that the local stores had none in stock either! I have worked for Best Buy in the past, so I asked a manager and former co-worker of mine to search around for me. He managed to find me the very last one in the four-state area and had it shipped to his store so I could pick it up. I was pumped, to say the least. A few days later I picked it up and bought myself a spiffy laser mouse (I hate touchpads). I didn't need an external keyboard because I have a full keyboard complete with numberpad. This was no accident.

I have a 17-inch widescreen high-definition display, which is awesome for watching video. Coupled with more RAM than I will probably ever need and a dual-core processor, I can multi-task with ease and keep the various program windows on-screen and in view at the same time. For instance, having a browser window open with other, smaller windows along the side. Not a thrilling story to tell by any means, but with me it's the little things that really matter. Spec sheets aside, having minor conveniences impresses as much as anything else.

I was somewhat disappointed to get stuck with Windows Vista, preferring that it had come with XP. However, while I think it's better to have adopted the new operating system later (when the kinks are worked out), I haven't hated it as much as I thought I would. In addition, I can and probably will be soon adding XP to the computer as well. I have it already and just need to install it. Vista is pretty to look at and in some ways I prefer some of the smaller details, but for sheer functionality and compatibility with current software, it would have been better to end up with the already-established XP. I'll live.

This laptop is adequately designed as the "entertainment PC" it claims to be. As mentioned above, the screen resolution makes for quality gaming and video display. My graphics card provides ability to finally dig into some PC games, which I have yet to explore much in my gaming career. With the hard drive space I've got (lots), I am able to store plenty of movies. I've already taken to making copies of my DVDs so I can quickly access some of my favorites without a need for the discs. My iPod enjoys the new laptop as well, with plenty of space to store and manage music. I love having music going all the time.

It came with a TV tuner card, which allows me to watch & record television right on the computer. I hadn't realized that these were even made, but it came with the machine so I was all for it. In addition, I can watch Blu-Ray movies on this laptop, and I must say that they look very nice indeed. (Go-go Blu-Ray, domination of HD-DVD all but complete!) I'm enjoying having everything at my fingertips, and games have been interesting to play with a mouse-keyboard setup as opposed to a controller like I'm accustomed to using.

Web browsing is of course the bread-and-butter of most people's computing experience, I would assume. There isn't much to tell on this front other than the ability to fit a few different windows on my screen at once so I can flip back and forth between them at will. I also like leaving my Gmail open pretty much around the clock. My laptop has a built-in webcam and microphone for communication as well. These are nice additions for keeping in touch.

I've already learned a lot and intend to keep trying out new things and getting into exactly how computers work as time goes on. Now that I have a functional tool to work with, I can experiment to my heart's content. I spent quite a bit of time researching and removing various software that had been pre-loaded on the machine. Starting from an almost-clean slate, I know what belongs and what doesn't, for the most part. I'm trying to keep a good eye on the performance and keep everything running smoothly. With a little (read: plenty of) help from my friends and some studying of my own, I've figured out quite a few new things I hadn't tried or heard of before buying this machine. It's been a lot of fun.

So far so good, 'cause I love my new laptop. It's a convergence of convenience and power, and the entertainment value is high for me. Its tech won't last me forever, but it'll bridge the gap until I care enough to go for more, and certainly will make a nice sidekick computer for use as a secondary screen or for portable purposes later, assuming I have a desktop for most of my usage.

Here are a couple pics of what the computer itself looks like. These don't show the finish on the casing, which is actually very sleek and stylish. I like it, anyhow. Sleek black with a silver inside, and backlit control panels using that cool blue LED light color. Gotta love it.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Dark Oblivion.

As Dead Rising reached closure, it was time to strike up another adventure. Delving into the game library revealed The Darkness and Oblivion, which both deserved attention. It was going to be another bolster for the ol' gamerscore as well as keep me preoccupied until some other life events took place (which may be another post).

The Darkness was a quite fun, if fairly brief, romp through gritty streets and subways. You play a mobster-type guy with a "heart o' gold" named Jackie. Just so happens that Jackie ends up endowed (possessed?) with demonic powers. Gunplay, execution-style killings, mob hits, subway travel, profanity, angry mobsters, crooked cops, family betrayal, trips to the brink of hell, and even breakdancing ensue.

This game was one of the more aesthetically pleasing I've played in a while. While not every aspect was in itself top-of-the-line, the attention to detail and truly authentic feel of the city streets was astounding. I also enjoyed the dialog for the most part. I think the voice actors did a pretty nice job, though the script was sometimes trying too hard. All in all, I had a nice time getting through The Darkness which I finished in two or three evening sessions.

The real story of the month is The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. This game isn't exactly "new" by release standards. However, I purchased the game mere days after getting my Xbox 360 over a year ago and played it for hardly an hour. At the time it didn't capture my attention, partially because I knew it was a big game and would require lots of time. I was into Gears of War heavily during that timeframe, and thus did not have time after work and before online deathmatches to squeeze in exploration-heavy RPGs.

Oblivion is the offline replacement for FFXI while I'm not online. The dungeon-crawling is rewarded often with new treasures and skill increases. Myriad options are available for your character creation, including race, facial features, birthsign, job class, and more. My character ended up being a cat-dude with statistics predisposing his style as stealthy.

Rei, as I named him, emphasizes stealth, illusory magic, and a dash of swordplay. I took the more evil route right away, being one to pick locks in order to pillage townspeople of their hard-earned assets. I joined the Dark Brotherhood, who are essentially assassins-for-hire, as well as the Thieves Guild in order to reinforce my current playstyle. Later on I can do things like fight in the Arena as a gladiator-type warrior, join the Fighters or Mages guilds for various odd jobs, then head through the main storyline.

I'm sure impending doom nefariously threatens the game world. Too bad, 'cause I'm having too much fun raiding people's houses, killing monsters, executing assassination contracts, robbing the wealthy, plundering caves and the like, and buying houses all over Cyrodiil (the setting for Oblivion). "Thieves get rich, saints get shot, and god don't answer prayers a lot." That about sums up the game so far.

February will see a FFXI reactivation, as I will need to send a borrowed item back to Supergirl (sorry I forgot, Supes). Also interesting in the gaming world is the (re)release of Rez on Xbox Live Arcade. Rez HD is well worth the ten bucks Microsoft is asking for it, and its 200 achievement points will serve as a thinly veiled excuse to play through the game yet again. I own a pristine copy for my PS2 but it never hurts having a great game in two formats.

Until next time~