The last couple of years, I’ve been keen to stay home an celebrate the new year privately with my wife and my best bud and roommate, Shon. It kind of works out because I don’t get any invitations to go anywhere anymore (I must’ve pissed off too many people or something), as I used in the past. So, we’ll stay up to midnight, alternate between Univision and KRON-TV. Univision because Spanish Television is far more interesting than any of the major media outlets (ABC, CBS, NBC, etc) and KRON because it is the last remaining local coverage of the San Francisco fireworks left on the air. Univision’s ads for their programming is also entertaining as hell, and it makes me want to brush up on my Spanish so I can follow along. Not to mention, the women on Univision (and Telemundo) are hot as hell.
This year’s San Francisco fireworks were pretty impressive; it looks like the city really went all out this year. San Jose, on the other hand, had nothing. When I was a kid, they used to do a huge party in downtown with the big black bowler hat coming down on top of the clock tower (I’m assuming as an homage to the ball dropping in Times Square) but I guess no one wants to pay for that anymore, so the city doesn’t do it. That stopped happening a while back, actually. The only city in the Bay Area that does any kind of major celebration is San Francisco. Oakland, given their distance from the city, probably lets SF pay for their show and then everyone goes to Treasure Island for a front-row seat. I know that it was mentioned that this year, it was an unusually clear night, so the fireworks weren’t obscured in the slightest. Even through the shitty cameras of KRON, you could see how awesome they must’ve looked from the ferry building.
In years past, I used to host a huge NYE party with all of the friends that were around back then. We had built up a gamers’ paradise tradition back in 1994, where we would hunker down at someone’s house and play games all night. In those days, that usually meant bringing over your Pentium PC, or an N64, or your PlayStation (original). My buddy, Ken, had his house in San Francisco overlooking City College with this huge balcony. With the lack of visibility toward the bay, we couldn’t see any fireworks, really. But we all brought food (I usually cooked), shared a lot of laughs, took breaks watching anime or sitcoms, and enjoyed the company until the wee hours of the morning. As time went on, we lost touch with some friends, made new ones, but the parties continued through until around 2009, when we decided to do a trip down to Disneyland for New Years.
Disneyland is a whole other ball of wax. It is crowded as hell. In order to make it into the park, you need to arrive at the opening of the gates at 9am and then be prepared to hang out in the park all the way to midnight. Disney’s California Adventure is a great alternative, though, and it also happens to be the one part of the park that serves alcohol. If you’re looking to ring in the new year with a flute, then you have to go to DCA. 2009 was the first and best year we did Disney. We went again in 2012, and it SUCKED. It was so packed, you could not move anywhere by the time you got to the Hub (the big circle in the center of the park). Kiss any semblance of personal space goodbye, because you were shoulder-to-shoulder with perfect strangers. I kept my hands in my pockets, and sure enough, someone kept trying to reach in to grab my wallet… it was a pickpocket’s dream.
People were getting trampled as we were trying to get the hell out of there and over to DCA, because I knew that it would be far less crowded. Sure enough, you could breathe over there. After that, I think Julia and I made it clear that if we should happen to be down at the Disneyland Resort for New Year’s in the future, we would choose DCA over Disneyland. A lot of fun, less people, you could get on a lot of the rides. The only drawback is that after the New Year is rung in, they shut down DCA and force everyone to either go home, go into Downtown Disney, or take their chances back in Disneyland. We went back to the hotel, obviously.
Next year, I don’t know where I’ll be to ring in 2017. Maybe someone will put together a party and toss an invite, or maybe I’ll just be home again. Either way, I hope that it’ll be the end to an amazing 2016.
Last Friday, I ordered a RAM upgrade for my gaming rig. I built it about two years ago and thought I was styling at 8 gigs, but since I had opted to buy an upgrade for my wife’s Mac mini, I figured that I could use another 8 gigs to bring me to 16. I ordered both of our upgrades off of Amazon, since I had a gift card that needed burning. I expected it on Tuesday, but they delivered it on Saturday morning, to my surprise and elation. I did what anyone would do; I installed the RAM, ran CMOS and saved the new memory configuration and then rebooted it.
When the machine came back up with a listing of 16 gigs and launched into Windows, I was pretty confident that I wasn’t going to have any troubles. Unfortunately, after about ten minutes of use and the launch of various programs that I start up every day, I was met with the following BSOD:
Close, but this is from Windows XP. Also, mine specified different files.
It dumped out into the BSOD and then came to a halt, long enough for me to get down the specific STOP code, which I was partially familiar with. I did what any good tech would do… I rebooted into safe mode and started working on it. I ran the various checks and utilities, I reset the page file size to reflect the new RAM total (for the record, take your pagefile off of system-managed, and set it to 1.5 times your physical RAM). And then I rebooted again into normal mode. I got a different BSOD complaining about IRQ not being equal, which kind of raises the ol’ eyebrow. At this point, I was getting a little concerned and feeling my frustration level rise. What if Amazon shipped me out some bad hardware?
3 of the 4 DIMMs failed a majority of the tests.
I downloaded Memtest86 at Josh‘s recommendation, and I find out that there’s a forked project called Memtest86+, which will now allow me to use a flash drive to install it and use it to boot up in. I run it, go to sleep that night and wake up to the screen you see at the right. Yeah, that’s a fuckton of errors, folks. Covering addresses for three (that’s right, THREE) of the four DIMMs that Amazon shipped me. They failed six of the ten total tests per pass, on three separate passes. I was absolutely livid over this. Because, it’s not like I went over to a brick-and-mortar and picked up bad hardware that I can drive and return to in order to get a replacement or a refund… I have to RMA this box of DIMMs back to Amazon and wait for them to receive it via UPS Ground, first.
Also, it was well after 2am on Sunday morning, so I was screwed until Fry’s opened up at 9am. I took out the RAM, put in the original DIMMs, rebooted.. and Windows worked like a champ. No errors or BSODs. At least I had a working machine to play with until the sun came up over the horizon. Which I did, because nothing alleviates frustration than tearing others a new asshole on Tribes for hours on end.
I was at Fry’s only two minutes after they unlocked the doors. Now, under normal circumstances, flagging some poor working schleb over there is kind of a crap shoot during their prime hours. They usually ignore me unless I stare someone down, or go to the desk and ask for assistance. However, when you’re the first person in the store, it’s like you’re a celebrity. I was walking through various departments to get to the computer component area and sales staff were all over me, asking me if I needed help. I guess they were all looking for that first commission of the day or something.
So, I made it to the right area. I was looking at the DIMM prices for the one I wanted, and within ten seconds, I had one on me asking me if I needed help. The thing about Fry’s is, never ask these guys for advice. Never. If you go in knowing exactly what you want, take down the Fry’s PLU number and then say, “I want one of ######.” They’ll go right to their computer, print out your little receipt so you can take it to the cage in customer service and buy it. If you don’t know what you want, then call a friend on your cell, look it up on Wikipedia, Google for it, do anything except ask these chuckleheads for advice. They don’t know shit about shit, other than making a sale. They will smell your lack of confidence and jump on you like a starving man at a free all-you-can-eat buffet. Anyway… I got the DIMMs and picked up a couple of cans of compressed air to I could clean out the case, then left the store to return home.
Don’t get me started on the bitterant, either. That shit is nasty.
The old set of RAM, the original 8GB I had installed.
I replace the RAM again, go through the whole thing. I clean out the case, which desperately needed it. As soon as I bring up the computer, I get a BIOS checksum error. I go into the CMOS, save the new memory configuration and reboot. Same thing, checksum error. It’s Award BIOS, I use my laptop to find out how to correct it, and it turns out that I never activated the backup recovery option when I installed it. To make matters worse, I’m running Revision 3 and the site says they’re up to Revision 11. Another RAM swap back to the original, I download the new Rev and apply it using the Windows flash utility. I restart the machine, the computer gives me ten short beeps and it shuts down. I restart it again and launch into CMOS, this time it seems to load fine. Save the config, restart.. ten short beeps and it shut down on its own.
I try restarting it, and it comes up, but it freaks out over the configuration. So I just reset the whole thing, delete it and flash it back to default. I don’t bother to save any of the old configuration files. It comes up again, this time with the full Gigabyte full-screen advertisement about the board. I jump into CMOS and reset the boot order, all the normal stuff. Get rid of the quick-load screen, I want to see POST, damn it! Finally, I got it back in order, I shut it down after I confirm it can load into Win7 without difficulty. I put back in the new RAM, just to be sure, and the same thing happens again. BSOD in Windows.
The package the new RAM arrived in.
Now, I’m thinking I have two bad sets of RAM and I’m about ready to drive back to Fry’s and replace it with a new set. Something in the back of my head tells me to try it one more time. I let it reboot, and I get three short beeps and then it shut downs. I go down the hall to let my wife know that I might be heading out to buy a new motherboard when I hear the Windows 7 startup sound chime in. While I was out of the room, it turned itself on and successfully started up.
I think it heard me.
It was running fine, now. I logged in and started doing some stress-testing, using HeavyLoad and DXDiag. HeavyLoad managed to get me to 75% RAM utilization and 100% CPU before I stopped it. DXDiag ran the little floating box test and I had no problems, there. I sat back in my chair, completely flabbergasted by the sudden development. Then again, given my long history with Windows, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.
I have had a long-running affair with the Tribes series since Dynamix and Sierra announced it as part of the Metaltech series back in the mid-90s. I had gotten used to the Sierra Games’ sim, which was based on FASA’s Battletech games, so I wasn’t sure how I was going to like the switch to a first-person shooter. After all, my experience with that kind of gameplay back then was limited to iD Software’s Doom, Quake, and of course, the original FPS that I played, Wolfenstein 3D. Although I might not consider it a first-person shooter, I feel that Descent falls into the same category. The feeling of being in a mech in the original Earthsiege (1994) games was awesome. I played them off and on, often times I would return for replay value. Later on, after Tribes was released, they came out with the mech sim game, Starsiege, which featured the same universe/backdrop that the rest of the series does.
Ah, the good ol’ loading screen for Tribes.
My first entry in playing Tribes was when it first came out. I played through the solo tutorials, but although you can shoot these dumb bots and get a feel for how the different armor classes work, and jet-packing all around the map. The very basic aspects of the game are transferred, and then after that, you’re on your own. The only way to really enjoy the game is to jump on a multi-player server and have fun. And of course, fun is relative. The fact is thatTribes is probably one of the most fast-paced FPS games out there, if not the fastest.
Dogfights are quick and utilize a wide array of weapons, from spinfusors (basically, glowing blue discs that impact with a nice-sized damage AoE), to plasma guns and cannons, mortars, mines, grenades, flares, and of course, my favorite… turrets! The original Tribes came with only three sets of available armor: light, medium, and heavy. What I always though was the best aspect of playing the game, was the mods… oh, the mods!
My clan (Clan Oni) was very much into two mod types: Rengades and Shifter 1.1/Shifter X. I wish I had kept all the videos I shot during those days, so I could put then online. Instead, I did a quick search on YouTube and found the following video that I think adequately shows the various classes from Renegades:
And here’s one from the Shifter mod:
Anyway, I wanted to give you a proper understanding of what Tribes is before I launch into my look at the latest incarnation. Do we all have a better appreciation for the game, now?
The login screen for Tribes: Ascend.
For those of you who don’t want to waste any time, let me just say this: Tribes: Ascend is a worthy successor to the lineage. After wasting my time with Tribes 2 and feeling better with Tribes: Vengeance, I feel like Ascend is what I had hoped would come next after playing the original for so many years. It carries on the speed, and picks up some of the better aspects of Vengeance that I thought were great changes (skiing, for one). Although they do add a lot of the mod changes into the base game, they’ve also integrated some of the ranking systems that we’ve come to expect from our FPS’, such as Call of Duty, Battlefield, and even Halo 3.
Ascend is a Free-to-Play game that really means it. While you have the option to pay for Gold in order to unlock more classes, weapons, and add-ons, you can also unlock the same items through gameplay. I started out a free player before I went VIP, and I did pretty well for myself with the basic weapons and earning experience points. Gold is the quickest way to get those unlocks, as the ratio of Gold to XP is kind of skewed. But play enough, you can rack up about 150,000 XP and spend it to unlock a few weapons or classes.
Since I play with my Technician armor the most, I equip this weapon every time and I ended up mastering it fairly quickly. Click on it to see the various bonuses.
Once you’ve acquired the various tools of the game, as you use them, usage allows you to master them. More exposure to them in the field will elevate the bonuses that you have with each one. Armor experience unlocks more health, or faster regeneration. Some of the toys you use, like the light turrets, will have a higher armor class and gain damage bonuses when firing at the enemy. When I play my favorite, the Technician class, my turrets will allow me to gain a lot of kills as people try to jump into my generator room to take it out in order to shut down the base guns and the radar dish. If they destroy my prized turrets, I’ll deploy them in a new spot just to keep things interesting.
As with the originalTribes, players recognize defensive and offensive patterns, so you have to vary it or else predictability is a killer. Just ask the Heavy Armor that insists on taking the same route into your gen room, and is surprised when you set mines down along his skiing path. Or the light armor that boosts toward your flag and then goes SPLAT against your sudden deployment of a forcefield on the other end. Those things are like brick walls to them, and given their speed, well… they leave a nice little splotch against the field and then I get the points for flag recovery.
My Technician-class armor character setting up defenses in the Diamond Sword generator room on the “Crossfire” map.
Before, I mentioned how fast the game can be. Ascend injects nitrous into the speed of gameplay, and seeing some of these guys float in and zoom by, you have to adapt and keep up as much as possible in order to successfully play and give as good as you get. Otherwise, you’ll be spending a lot of time respawning, and that’s no fun for anyone. The greatest thing about the game though, is that if you don’t think you can keep up with the speedsters, you can opt to defend the base or the flag through various means. The game gives points for defense and repairs just as much as kills and captures. And while everyone else on the game is more interested in taking flags and flying across the map, they’ll need someone to defend against the raiders who’ll baserape like crazy.
One of the best parts of playing is being able to ski!
And they will not hesitate to rack of generator and turret kills, people, trust me! On certain maps, there are numbers of choke-points for entry, and if you know the maps well enough, you can set up your defenses in the proper areas. Drop a turret in a spot they won’t see until it’s too late, but then get ready to have it destroyed the next time they come through. Make sure to set down some motion sensors/detectors to combat those pesky stealth guys, because you won’t see them until it’s too late. Or even at all… man, they’re sneaky bastards!
Dogfighting out in the field takes on a new dimension with the ability to ski. Skiing is essentially letting your momentum carry you along the slopes/angles of the map. If you fire your jetpack at the right time, when you land, should you do so on the downward slope of a hill or a mountain, you will pick up speed with you engage your ski thrusters.
All in all, though, I love this game. It has mixed everything I loved about the original with spectacular graphics and excellent features. I found this great video on YouTube that does a great job of portraying what I do on a nightly basis, now (courtesy of Gamespot):
If you’re interested in playing Tribes: Ascend, then feel free to use my referral link to download the game. I appreciate it! I’ll leave you with the full set of screenshots from my gameplay, below.
I have been playing an inordinate amount of Mass Effect lately. I love that game. It’s part RPG, part FPS and all awesome.
In other news, I finished writing the fifth part of Star Trek: The Quarterdeck Breed yesterday. Geez, it only took me like five years or so, eh? Five years for just shy of eight thousand words. I think that’s a new record. No, wait! KC took way longer. Anyway, go read it if you want to. It’s supposed to be a flashback story that has a happy ending. Spoilers for those who haven’t seen the end of the Deep Space Nine, yet.
And the reason I haven’t been posting as frequently is that November and December burned me out on posting every damn day. I needed a break to recharge my batteries.
According to most people’s posts, you’re supposed to list the things you’re thankful for. So, I guess I’ll do that a little later on in the post. I’ve been working my way through my desk and trying to unearth the surface of it, since it’s covered in papers, mugs, and assorted electronics.
This week, I’ve been playing a lot of Ace Combat 6, and I’ve been enjoying this game immensely. I’ve been a big fan of the Ace Combat series, having played the very first game on the PlayStation way back in the mid-90s. Since then, I’ve owned a PS2 and played all the sequels. Some were good, some were not so good. But each of them really relies on you knowing how to handle a fighter using a game controller. I’ve been indulging in some of the online ranked matches, too, and getting my ass handed to me on a regular basis.
Which reminds me, I should put up my gamercard for XboxLive on my blog somewhere.
I’m thankful for a lot of things… but I think if I had to chose one, I would be thankful that I’m happy with my life and the way it is right now. I’m married to a wonderful woman. I have a full-time job. I got my new laptop… I mean, the list goes on.
I hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving today.
PS: One more day of LJ posting. Then it’s bye-bye LiveJournal for good. Get on the feed, if you haven’t already.