End of another year - same OS, but the box got a new mobo and CPU, which has speeded it up, and of course, a new graphics card. It's been a so-so year for games - Generals: Zero Hour is excellent, Generals was excellent; I still play Counter-strike a fair amount, though interest is waning (especially after the half-baked into of Steam. Enter the Matrix was a complete disaster in my opinion on the PC, it just didn't play well at all - it seemed to be an OK game trapped in a terrible engine and control method - maybe the console versions were better. I think this is maybe why I spend less time on my PC than I used to - the games just aren't there at the moment - no Half-Life 2, no Doom 3, and very few decent other games that I'm interested in - maybe 2004 will be better. However, it's good that more decent UNIX and Linux tools are arriving for Windows, and that Microsoft have got some pretty good freebies too.
This month has been an update month - updated the BIOS, the VIA drivers, graphic card drivers and all - not a lot of noticeable change though! Still, driver updates are just that under the bonnet changes which should hopefully stop me having problems. Been playing Generals: Zero Hour, and to quote my friend Sean, this is the game that 'Generals *should* have been. Generals was too easy, and the role playing elements promised in the previews was virtually non existent. All that changes in Zero Hour. There are 5 more missions per team, and they're all pretty cool, and a bit more of a challenge than the original game. There is also a 'General's Challenge' mode where you play as one general against another, and you're limited in your weapon choice by that General's fetish - so you might have cheap, great planes, but no tanks! This is much more what we were expecting in the original. Also, all armies get some cool new units, so overall, even though Generals was good, this really polished it off - shame it had to happen on a second attempt.
A few bits of note. I finally fixed my Steam/Counter-strike 1.6 installation. The problem was that I put it in widescreen mode to see what it looked like and it did the old trick of going outside the monitor frequency. Unfortunately, there didn't seem to be an obvious way to fix it. I searched for config values, registry keys and such, but no luck. I tried to un-install and re-install. No luck. Finally I un-installed, and deleted any folder which looked related (isn't it great how many un-installers don't un-install half of it!), as well as cleaning up the registry. All that did the trick, and now I have a functioning installation. Beware software offering widescreen. Finally, I thought I'd put a few apps down here which may prove useful - although mainly for tech folk! If you're looking for a port scanner, the big player is the excellent nMap. I use ICEOWs for opening files compressed by UNIX. As mentioned before it's probably worth a few minutes to take advantage of Microsoft's generosity and download the PowerToys collection [here]. There's a few good bits there. Also, whilst we're trying to get freebies out of Microsoft, try these from their server resource kit.
A few little titbits of news here: following on from a series of events (my linux mobo dying, and a friend wanting my Athlon 800 for an old mobo of his), my Windows machine now sports a Barton core 2500 Athlon XP, and my Linux box now has a 2000+. I doubt I need to upgrade anything else for a while. The 2500 was pretty cheap - 9,000yen. I also took the opportunity to rebuild my Windows box, as I no longer needed a 2 partition system, so I put XP back on with NTFS on a single 30GB partition. It seems happier too - and SETI works again. I also upgraded my Antivirus to version 8, and it's good to see they've simplified the interface a bit, though it doesn't like doing updates with firebird as my default browser for some reason - looks like it can't install an ActiveX tool correctly. So I have a new antivirus system (my old McAfee was v6 I think) and Zone-Alarm ticking away there. Feel a bit safer about leaving it connected now :). On the games front, Counter-strike 1.6 came out after a LONG LONG wait, and with it brought the new 'Steam' distribution system. Basically, this this will monitor for updates on selected applications (notable Valve games) and install them if you like. It also manages aspects of the games too. You can even buy games (such as Half Life 2 when it comes out) via this too. It's a full distribution system. Like 'All Seeing Eye' it'll also help manage friends online and servers! The downside is that you feel like it knows too much! Still, the CS 1.6 download including Steam is 350MB! ( The 1.5 update was about 100MB). It's a biggie! Still, I've had no problems with it so far. But enough of this back end yawn - what about the damn game!?! The big change is the new riot shield making the carrier pretty safe, except they have to lower it to use a pistol, and they move really slow when they carry it - a fast opponent can be around it and kill you pretty easily. However, a wall of these with team-mates with AWPs and AKs behind them could be a different matter. Games like Dust and Aztec will be different. It'll take a couple of months to see how this weapon blends into CS. There are a few tweaks to the graphics and skins/textures, but nothing too amazing. The menus have totally changed, as they're integrated with steam now, and are more window based than before. I think this is actually an improvement in some ways, and should avoid some of the clumsiness of the old interface. All in all, some interesting changes, but the core fun of CS plays on. Excellent!
Strangely my PC seems be killing my SETI setup ... it disappeared, I reinstalled it, it disappeared. I have no idea what's going on. I didn't get any of this month's viruses, but anyway, I installed Zone Alarm. After training it, it seems quite good, and lets you know about all those little programs which for whatever reason feel the need to access the internet every time they open. We also had a lot of fun at a LAN gaming session this month, hours and hours of Counter-Strike which went down well. Certainly having the LCD and the trolley made getting all my stuff over town to Zak's place. I am thinking of getting a carry harness though.
I've finally done a registry hack so my XP box auto-logs in as me, so that SETI can auto start. I'm sure there's a setting for this, but we couldn't find it in the 10 minutes we could be bothered to look. Therefore,we just did a good old-fashioned registry hack. And now we have what we want. Security blah blah blah :-) I still need to rip Enter The Matrix out and re-install it to get rid of the patch. Before the patch the game was slow and kludgy...after it it's just un-playable. Also on the game front, I'm looking at Enemy Territory, a bolt on for Return To Castle Wolfenstein. I like the solo of TCW, but the Net game seemed a bit oo sloppy - especially compared to the awesome Counter-strike. As Windows is my base OS at work, and as I work in the IS team, I get to see and use some cool tools, and I thought I'd mention a few here for those who are interested. One is Diskspace Explorer, a cheap utility out of Eastern Europe for visibly seeing what your hard disk is filled up with.
Only a bit this month - and mainly about Enter the Matrix - the patch screwed mine completely - graphics un-viewable now - but hey, it's faster. Sad sad sad. I also finished C&C Generals and agree that it's just too easy. The first Chinese missions are the only ones with any amount of challenge, but now I'm going to play it through on a harder difficulty and see how that goes. It has to be aid though that it is a great game though - run out and buy it now!!!
May 2003 Well, a bit of stuff on the PC this month - a bit of hardware, and a bit of software. The hardware was an nVidia GeForce 4 Ti 4200 8X 128MB graphics card, to supplant my ageing GF2 MX. To run a basic test, I ran 3DMark2001 on my old setup as a benchmark, and it scored 2916 points - after installing the new card, the system scored 9347! Bit of an improvement. The new card isn't cutting edge by any stretch, but as my system is now pretty much maxed out, it made sense to stick in a card which complimented it. C&C Generals is now a totally different game - everything looks truly amazing now. I've also finished it - my advice is to play it on the Hard level. I can't express how much difference the card made to not only how the game looked, but also how much better it flowed because of it. On the negative side, I got 'Enter the Matrix', and I have to say that it's a very disappointing game - so obviously not finished - it plays very slowly and has real control issues and bug problems. In fact a patch released for it has made it virtually un-playable on my system due to graphics problems. Even before this is wasn't great - it reminded me very much of the ill-fated 'Oni' game - fighting and guns, and doing neither well. It is a nice Matrix themed game, but it just doesn't work. The fighting is repetitive and there aren't many moves, and the guns don't have the selection of other games such as Counter-Strike. There's also a few driving levels which are just pathetic - the game engine just can't do them. Anyway - play Counter-Strike and wait for Half Life 2!
Sorry - not had much time on the windows box this month - I'm hoping to get a few games of Generals in before the end of the month, but who knows!
Only 2 things are of any importance on my Windows PC this month: Command and Conquer: Generals, and All Seeing Eye. C&C:Generals is the latest in the C&C franchise, and features the first fully 3D engine in that series. At first, it looks very Blizzard/Warcraft 3 like, and certainly Westwood have leaned that way to a certain extent. The screen area is now letter boxed, and several elements of 'classic' C&C games have gone, to be replaced by a more 'Warcraft 3 'style. Certainly, it takes a couple of hours to get over these bits. Also, the plot line for the single sections is non-existent, no cut scene video moving the story-line along like Red Alert 2 had, just a mission briefing to go somewhere and do something. This is a shame given the idea behind the game - Chinese, GLA (Arab terrorists) and US forces going at it. The graphics are amazing though - but so are the specs - a minimum of a P3-800! It plays OK on mine at medium detail, but at high, it just crawls. even at medium though, when I fire a nuke, the explosion (which looks awesome) is going at about 2 frames a week. We reckon you'll need a 2GHz P4/AMD XP, a GeForce 4 and about 768Mb RAM minimum to play this on high. Despite that, it is a damn good game, and worth trying. Of course my other great gamin love in Counter-Strike, and I've been playing with a server location lately called All Seeing Eye. It's like GameSpy, but less Big-Brother-esque and much easier to use - it scans for servers in real time and you can filer them on the fly by a number of factors, including their location, meaning I can easily search for lower ping servers here in Tokyo.
demo Every now and then I like to browse some eye candy, and a great place to do that is on the demo pages of nVidia. They have a lot of pretty cool 3D demos you can download and gawk at. Some of them are pretty cool. My only complaint is that a few of them don't seem to work sometimes. I'm not sure if ATI do the same thing, but I think you have to admit that they're a bit of easy marketing. *tools* I've mentioned them before, and I'll mention them again - Sysinternals - a site renowned for it's free admin tools such as psTools. If you're a network/server admin, just any kind of IT person working on a Windows network, you really should download a few of these - they'll make your life a lot easier.
A new year on my XP box, and I've been playing with some new software. It's from MS...and it's free. It's nothing special, but as one of my major issues with XP is some of it's overblown interface, anything which tames it is useful. The 2 main bits of software are TweakUI for XP, and Timershot, both part of the PowerToys package, and downloadable to all. TweakUi is well know to many on the NT side of things, used by many companies to tweak images for users, to put certain things out of reach - the new TweakUI does more of the same, and as I said - on an OS like XP which seems to have lost some of the subtlety of 2K, that's useful. Timershot is a web-cam app which takes timed pictures and allows them to be saved to another machine, locally, or -it claims - to an FTP site, though it's interface (contrastingly) is pretty basic, making the FTP transfer with password a little more tricky. Anyway, they're free and worth a download. The PowerToys are really useful sometimes, though some are obvious rips offs from other OSs - the Alt-Tabs preview is straight from OS X, and the virtual desktop selector is straight out of X11/KDE. Still, if your only box is XP, and you want some additional functionality, check them outhere. I was also looking at the hardware side and such through 2002, and it has to be said that there's been little work on my Windows box - a new CD-RW and the AND XP 2000+ CPU and that seems to be it, and a late move to XP. Not much really, and indeed 2001 only saw a new graphics card and a few minor bits. Hmm. I guess the incrementalism of the PC world is a good thing for my wallet! In the next 12 months, I don't really see much change either - I think my next upgrade will be the whole box to either a dual CPU or AMD 64bit, or even the P4 HT based system. No plans yet - no need given the power of my Mac, and that my windows machine now is purely for games, and a few other Windows only apps.
Not much added to the XP box. for every good feature I find on the OS I find something that just annoys me. I've been updating the software on it and it seems to be running OK, but the interface is still kind of counter-intuitive. Actually, it falls into the normal MS trap which is it making decisions for you because it knows best, and I'm sure for many, that's fine, but I like to have a little bit more control over my OS - I don't like it running off to do something I don't want it to. Still, I've updated my Kyodai Mah-jongg and it still kicks arse over other versions. Actually, if you haven't you should check the authors news page - he's on a bit of an anti DirectX binge at the moment.