Tuesday 23 November 2010

Good old Games

I had a dream tonight...
Talk about a weird start, but there's a point to it, so I'm just going to continue typing whether you decide to read or not :D

There was a young guy once, nice, knew what work was and how to work it. He wasn't very tall and had this curly hair that made him an instant geek the moment you laid eyes on him.
Anyway, this guy once did a favor to another guy. I unfortunately forgot what the favor was, but the important thing is that the favor was made and that the other guy didn't forget about it. As it turns out, the other guy became a big time games publisher with lots of power (and money to go with it).
So our young guy likes games. A lot. And he likes good games. Since he knows how to make things going, he once decides it might be nice if he made a little old site which sold good games. Naturally, publishers that would go along with his ideas aren't exactly lining up and all he gets are a few good, but old games. Hence the name of his site: Good old Games.com.
Trying to increase site traffic and purchases, our guy sets on a long journey to his old friend he once did a favor to. He has to walk up the steep slope towards the mansion. He passes man-made canyons that the road to the mansion carves into the mountains. Finally he arrives and rings the bell.
The old friend, now a big time publisher, remembers him and gladly invites his old friend inside. He listens to his story and he listens to his plea for a title that would help his site gain a few hits. Finally he speaks and proposes such a title...

Here my dream ended. Oh, the title btw was The Witcher 2. If it's half as good as the first one, it's going to kick ass. I have no idea whether the dream is in any way connected to reality or not, but I thought it might be a nice start to today's blog. What I am sure is that the dream was most probably influenced by a shock I got yesterday when I actually bought one of the GOGs off the site.
It was a classic title and I bought it just for nostalgia and also because at the time I was playing such titles, I couldn't buy it. There was no internet and no shop accessible to me at the time and we kids would just exchange floppies. The particular title was The Settlers 2.

The shock however didn't come from the game itself, but from its manual. Let me cite a couple of lines from it:
Credits: You must be dying to know who those weirdos are that give up years of their lives just to give you a little fun (and rob you of your few remaining hours of sleep). Now at last you can meet them.
Quit program: WARNING! Use this button only in the most extreme situations. It leads to an immediate intrusion of reality into your life.

Ha, ha! Hilarious!!! When was the last time you read a manual like this? Not to mention that the manual itself was quite informative.
Today's manuals are 10 pages EULA and then a few pretty pictures of the game interface (5 pages tops) making them more like pamphlets instead of manuals. Certainly little or no helpful info in there at all.

Anyway, I really hope things get going for these guys at gog.com. They really do have some of the all time classics. Not to mention all is DRM free. The only unfortunate detail is that the newest game on stock that I saw was Far Cry. Hopefully this promo will put them on the map and allow them to pose some real competition to the likes of a certain DRM infested publisher that I purposely won't name.

May the gods of commerce allow them to sell 5 mil copies of TW2 and the DRM infested competition a paltry handful only.

Friday 12 November 2010

Dell U2711

Update: please also view part 2 of my Dell U2711 coverage.

As I already wrote, I was quite set on getting me a new monitor. Not that the old one died on me, but I wanted a bit more resolution and maybe a bit more color goodness. Gaming features would rock too, but as it turns out - there is such a thing as wishing too much...

So off I go and get my mind set for the Dell U2711. Reviews are good, folks are praising it all over the place and whatnot. But the price is a killing 850€, which is a bit high for me. It's not that I can't save up this kind of money, rather that I'm reluctant to spent so much money on one piece of hardware.
However, this is a monitor after all, a piece of HW that is far less likely to go obsolete within a year than my Powercolor Radeon 5870 LCS. Still, a lot of money it is, so I started looking around:
The usual suspects like German eTailers didn't give much joy: the lowest offer was for 750€ so while I might save 100€ on the monitor, I'd spend this money again on the postage :( Same for British, Swiss and Austrian...

It turns out that solution offered itself in the least likely of places: right next-door, in Croatia that is. The monitor costs just about 5000 HRK over there, which is about 680€ (all taxes included). That's about 200€ savings just from looking around a bit. Naturally, I got suspicious because I really didn't expect price to be lower in Croatia. If anything, they are usually a bit more expensive...
So off to forums I went. Turns out, the U2711 on sale in Croatia seems to be some other variant. All monitors have model number U2711b. Many users complained about some non uniform yellow tint in random monitor sections. Impossible to calibrate away, naturally.

So before I decided to take the plunge, I had to make sure the monitor I bought would actually be what I set out to buy: a superb monitor with excellent viewing angles and color reproduction. So I called the Slovenian Dell support and told them exactly what I was about to do. I explained how I bought the monitor outside Slovenia because of price. I also mentioned that the monitor I bought was defective and asked whether I would receive support in Slovenia despite the fact that it wasn't bought here. Note the use of past tense. Anyway, I immediately received replies from two distributors that I can bring the monitor to them and I need the monitor itself and the foreign invoice. That was all. No complications, no fuss.

So off to shop I went and got myself a nice monitor of dreams :)
Naturally, I got a b variant so the issue of yellow tint remained open until the relevant tests would be performed. The included color calibration sheet showed no apparent problems with colors. DeltaE was way below 2 for all but 3 colors and even with those it barely topped 3.
I unpacked as fast as possible, drooling like a waterfall every second of it :D

Here it is, placed in my corner of Zen and peace:
I guess it's immediately noticeable that this monitor is *HUGE*. Yes, it's size warrants the extra emphasis :) Note that from wall to left-side plank there's 70 cm of space. All used up! My old Samsung 215TW looks a midget compared with this beast! I also apologize for image colors, I wasn't exactly playing around with camera white balance ;)

The second issue I had with this monitor was that I had to rearrange the desktop icons completely. The extra 1000 pixels horizontal are simply too much to ignore. Some rearranging was needed so that they no longer cramped in one corner of the new monitor.

There was an unexpected positive side effect as well: the built-in USB hub allowed me to move my mouse charging cable, the Logitech Unifying receiver and the wireless gamepad receiver to the monitor, which reduced the cable clutter a bit.

Immediately after that I went checking for the infamous yellow tint of the b variant. I fired up all the monitor test patterns I could find. I also wanted to run Nokia monitor test, but unfortunately that seems to be a 16 bit app and didn't work on my 64 bit Win7. I promise to make a similar freeware app shortly, just as soon as I get tired of looking at the colors of this beauty :D
Naturally, all my fears were directed to uniform grey and white patterns where any color uniformity problems would be immediately visible. Turns out my vision is definitely bad. Where all those forum users saw yellow tint, all I saw was perfect white, perfect gray. How lucky I am to have bad eyes :)

Additionally, I'm also lucky to see all the vibrant colors and other goodies this excellent monitor has to offer. Compared to my old MVA monitor, the colors are quite a bit better, though not explodingly so. Turns out my old Samsung had excellent colors to begin with and that gamut can only do so much for your colors. The friend who bought the old monitor praised it quite a bit. I also got the confirmation that the old monitor had quite a bit of lag. Turns out lag is much easier to detect when you have multiple monitors at your disposal :) Promise #2: I'll grab an old CRT at work and test the lag as well. Expect an update shortly.

Off to the bad - (bored): yes, I do have one issue with the monitor. Here are the pics. Comment will follow, but I guess the pics will be enough for you to recognise my issue:
From left to right, these are all pictures of Word 2007 and a document in different viewing modes (page size A4):
1. 3 pages side by side, print layout
2. 2 pages side by side, print layout
3. 2 pages side by side, full screen reading preview
4. 1 page, print layout, portrait mode

Just so that there's no misunderstanding: the resolution is high enough for each of these viewing modes to be perfectly readable. And also - this monitor with its stand does not support pivot mode. I'm still waiting for my wall mount arm to arrive which will enable pivot goodness for me. Pivot was one of the reasons I wanted an IPS panel.
This said, there isn't a good layout I can choose to read / edit two pages at one time on this monitor. This was a lot easier on the old monitor (16:10) which fit the 2 pages perfectly on the available screen. I also hoped for pivot to allow me single page reading, but even that one is too high. I guess it never occurred to me to do some simple math before I ordered the monitor :) To be honest, doing the math beforehand would not affect my purchase decision. I wanted 2560 and this was the smallest monitor that provided it. 24" would be better but...

Well, there is one thing this aspect ratio is good for: games!!!
Running older games, the downside is that low res textures really do show on this monitor. One tends to notice that if the rendered object went from 60x60px to 150x150px :)
Newer games like Civ5 or Oblivion (with texture pack mod, naturally) however look gorgeous. Naturally, after firing up Dirt2, I had to turn down AA from 8x to 2x (ouch, that hurt!), but boy, does the game look good.

Every vibrant pixel of it!