Bethesda E3 2018 Showcase Press Event Notes

We’re onto our third event at E3 2018, Bethesda’s E3 Showcase. Here are my notes from their press event.

Pete Hines’ Late Nite Comedy Special Pete Hines opened the show on his weird stage that put him in the middle of the crowd. He joked, pointedly, about the Rage 2 leak from Walmart Canada and introduced Rage 2.

Rage 2
When Hines said he was going to introduce Rage, we got Andrew W.K. instead of a trailer. W.K. and his band musically asked the audience if they were “ready to rage” and if they were “ready to kill” and “ready to die.” After the impromptu one-sided musical interview, Tim Willits from id and Magnus Nedfors from Avalanche Studios (they’re the ones actually developing Rage 2) appeared on-stage. They were extremely awkward, but not in a terrible way. Instead, you just feel bad for them that nobody is clapping during their pauses for audience response.

This guy in the audience was super tuned out during Andrew W.K.

Eventually, Willits and Nedfors introduced the Rage 2 trailer you can watch above. It’s a little strange that Rage is getting a sequel, it wasn’t well received, but I really appreciated some of the art in the game. The post-apocalyptic theme is also a little strange when you think about Bethesda having not one, but two post-apocalypse universes to keep track of with Fallout 76.

Of course, where Fallout can take its time to let you wander around the wastelands of America, Rage is more about a Mad Max style of quick, chaotic, open-world first-person shooting. The game made quick cuts between different scenes and adopts a kind of purple screen tone adjustment whenever the protagonist Walker gets really angry. There was an odd break to an infomercial screen on a computer monitor in-game that told us about some ridiculous collector’s edition of Rage 2. Supposedly it includes a wall-mounted, talking, decapitated head of a mutant.

Rage 2 will be out some time in Spring 2019 for Windows, PlayStation 4, and the Xbox One.

The Elder Scrolls Legends
It was a delight to see a fellow online community manager speaking for a game when Christian Van Hoose appeared on-stage after Rage 2 to talk about The Elder Scrolls Legends. Unfortunately I have no interest in a free-to-play Elder Scrolls CCG, but apparently it’ll be re-launching with overhauled visuals “soon.” Console ports will also be brought to the Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and the PlayStation 4. It’s already on Windows, macOS, iOS, and Android.

The Elder Scrolls Online
Game Director Matt Firor showed up on-stage to talk about The Elder Scrolls Online‘s MMORPG successes and to announce a new “dungeon DLC” called Wolfhunter “…based on werewolves.” They’re also going to release a new story DLC called Murkmire about the Argonians. The ESO folks have a blog post where you can read a little bit more about those here. Both of these expansions will be out later this year, without any specific date given. ESO has been out for four years now. It’s on Windows, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.

Doom Eternal
Hugo Martin and Marty Stratton from id showed up on-stage to introduce Doom Eternal, their new sequel to Doom (2016). They promised more of everything in the game, and more details at QuakeCon on August 10th.

Quake Champions
Another online community manager on-stage talking about their game. Joshua Boyle promised more tournaments at QuakeCon and DreamHack Winter. He also told the audience that you could get free access to the free-to-play game through the 17th of June. It’s a game that I want to give another shot, but I didn’t especially care for the free-to-play nature of it with lootboxes and other garbage along with character-specific powers when I first tried it. Quake 3 is still my favorite Quake, but you probably know that by now.

Prey: Mooncrash
Arkane’s Susan Kath and Ricardo Bare introduced a free update to Prey via a pre-recorded video. It’s out now, and it has three new modes. Story Mode, New Game+, and a Survival Mode.

Kath and Bare also introduced a new DLC coming out for Prey called Mooncrash that’s supposed to be infinitely replayable. They said the “hazards, enemies, and loot” would be different each time you play. The trailer demonstrated that each death resets the game world to a fresh state. That makes it sound a lot like a roguelike. Mooncrash is a $20 add-on to Prey that requires the base game, it’s available now on Steam for Windows, PlayStation 4, and the Xbox One.

Kath and Bare appeared on-stage after the Mooncrash trailer to talk about Typhon Hunter, a one-versus-five mimics multiplayer addition to Mooncrash. It’ll be out “later this summer.”

Wolfenstein: Youngblood
Jerk Gustafsson and Jens Matthies from Machine Games showed up to talk about Wolfenstein 2 on the Nintendo Switch on June 29th, and a game about BJ Blazkowicz’s twin daughters set in their version of 1980’s Paris.

Wolfenstein: Youngblood will be a single-player or co-op game for two players to play the daughters. BJ narrates the teaser trailer and says that “To survive you’ll have to embrace the suffering.” it’ll be out in 2019.

Virtual Reality Stuff
Pete Hines returned to talk VR. He said that Prey’s Typhon Hunter multiplayer would be available in VR, and it’ll also have a single-player experience where Transtar employees will solve puzzles aboard Talos 1, the space station from Prey.

Wolfenstein: Cyberpilot was also announced, it’s a VR game where you’re a hacker that takes over Nazi robots. “In our never-ending quest to bring our message of ‘Fuck Nazis’ to every platform possible.” Here’s a trailer for it. Wolfenstein: Cyberpilot will be out some time in 2019:

Bethesda Game Studios
Some of the following portions of the show weren’t excerpted into their own videos, this video above contains everything those portions of the event. The details for it on YouTube have pointers to different sections.

Skyrim: Very Special Edition
Pete Hines brought Todd Howard out to make some jokes about E3 before introducing the latest version of Skyrim. Spoiler: The trailer above introduces a silly interactive fiction version of the game for Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant. I believe this is something that you can play with today if you have an Alexa-enabled smart-speaker if you let the internet’s version of Wal-Mart into your home.

Fallout 76’s Rumors Were Right: It’s All Online
Todd Howard again said that Fallout 76 is four times the size of Fallout 4 and still set in the hills of West Virginia. Ron Perlman’s narration over the trailer tells us that “…in Vault 76, our future begins.” Howard spoke after the trailer this time to talk a little bit more about Vault 76, telling us that this was one of the first vaults to open and the people inside were there for just 25 years.

Another trailer plays, this time it is a gameplay trailer that shows us a little bit of what it looks like to wake-up on Reclamation Day when 76’s vault dwellers are supposed to wake up and leave to reclaim the earth.

Todd Howard tells us that there is “new rendering, lighting, and landscape technology” with “16 times the detail” that lets you view weather systems from across the map. This means it’s still the same janky engine but with new graphical bullshit. Howard also says that West Virginia “… is where the actual nuclear secrets are.” and that “The quest the overseer sends you on will take you through six distinct regions…”

Howard confirms the rumors and says that “Fallout 76 is entirely online” and that every character you meet in the game will a real person. Howard also said that you’ll be able to play the game single-player. “We’ve always wanted to see what our style of game would be with multiplayer” I believe that’s giving short-shrift to The Elder Scrolls Online, even though this isn’t a very similar game. Howard says that it’s a soft-core open-world survival game where “Death never means the loss of progression or the loss of your character.”

About the online, “you’ll be in a world with dozens, not hundreds and not thousands of other players.”

“You’ll decide the heroes and you’ll decide the villains.”

A short trailer plays that demonstrates teams of players rolling through the wasteland. Howard says that you can “build wherever you want” and a trailer plays that demonstrates how you can build anywhere with a Vault-Tec C.A.M.P. device, which I would guess might actually limit the radius around which you can build, to keep the jank away.

Howard then promises multiple nuclear weapon sites on the map that you can use. A trailer plays that tells us how to acquire launch codes and target nukes on the map and find rewards from the resulting destruction.

Howard says “we’ve built a platform with 100% dedicated servers that will support this game now and for years to come,” but that there would be a beta available later this year because Bethesda recognizes that their games sometimes ship with software bugs. Let’s be honest, at this point a beta is a glorified demo and an incentive companies use to encourage pre-orders of games of unknown quality.

Then Howard talked about the collector’s edition of the game that would include a glow-in-the-dark map of the new game’s world, figures, and a T-51b power armor helmet. It can make your voice sound weird and has a headlamp. There’s even a trailer just for that version of the game which you can watch here:

Fallout 76 will be out on November 14th, 2018 for the Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Windows.

Fallout Shelter
Howard said the free-to-play game is coming to the PlayStation 4 and the Nintendo Switch. These versions are out now. Todd Howard says that more people have played Fallout Shelter than any other Bethesda game.

The Elder Scrolls: Blades
Todd Howard announced a new free-to-play first-person RPG for mobile devices with “console-quality graphics.” The controls are supposed to be adaptable to tap-to-move or swiping and tapping gestures, and the game works in portrait mode as well as landscape. I think that’s pretty smart because I, at least, tend to avoid any landscape mobile games.

The game is supposed to have a few different modes. Abyss is a “rogue-like experience” with an endless dungeon, there’s a multiplayer 1-on-1 arena, and the main mode is in town mode. It has stories and quests and you can build the town.

Howard then said that the game would be available wherever they can make it work, including desktop computers, consoles, and virtual reality headsets. Apparently this is all a shared game world across platforms, good luck getting Sony to play nice with that.

Starfield
Todd Howard introduced a new single-player game called Starfield with a very short announcement trailer. Howard says they’ve been working on it for years and doesn’t say anything else about the game.

The Elder Scrolls VI
I hope you like mountains because that’s all we get about this today.

Overall
Bethesda is a strange publisher and developer. They love to talk about kicking Nazi ass when they talk about Wolfenstein, but our national embarrassment’s younger brother, Robert Trump, sits on Zenimax’s board. If Zenimax hates Nazis so much then Robert Trump needs to go.

Of the games they showed, I’m a little less interested in the Prey expansion than I was before I knew about it, Mooncrash now that I know what it is. $20 is a lot to pay for what looks a little bit like a new mode in Prey, but the Steam page for that expansion makes it sound more interesting.

Fallout 76 is very ambitious, but it looks like the same engine at the core as Fallout 4, which is not good, and I’m not sure that I’m very interested in the game unless it has story. Fallout 4’s story was incredibly disappointing and I dropped out of the game after it wouldn’t let me proceed with it in the way I wanted after the game revealed its biggest turn. I’d really like another Fallout spin-off with a lot of story like New Vegas, but it’s possible that 76 will be good as an open-world survival game for people that are into that. I haven’t been that interested in it.

The Elder Scrolls VI and Starfield are both interesting but we don’t really know anything about them.

Ultra Expensive HTC Vive Pro Out Soon

It’s $1100 for a complete set with the lighthouses, controllers, and all, or $800 if you want to reuse an original Vive setup. You get higher resolution screens, a better headstrap, headphones. Kyle Orland and Sam Machkovech reviewed it for Ars:

Despite the improvements, though, the Vive Pro still includes some of the same basic design problems of the original. The eyepiece housing (which now allows for additional room for eyeglasses, toggled by an easy button press and slider) still ends up pressed up tightly against the front of your face, creating a thick seal that traps heat and puts significant pressure on the sinuses. Any decently long VR session threatens to turn your face into a sweaty, red mess that can lead to significant steam buildup on the lenses. Worse, the front-of-face foam padding feels decidedly non-Pro. HTC has been showing this off at press events with a custom leather face cushion, and for this price, we wish they’d offered the same option as a consumer default.

There’s nothing that sounds more appealing than turning into a sweaty red mess. The resolution bump is the best part of the Vive Pro, but is it really worth paying over twice the price of the base Vive if you’re starting from scratch? Read the rest of their review.

Vive Pro Announced at CES Without a Price & A Disgraceful Anniversary for Valve

HTC announced a Vive Pro with higher resolution goggles than their original SteamVR virtual reality headset, built-in headphones (they were previously available separately), a more comfortable strap, a second camera and microphone are now built into the headset, and an official wireless module that is sold separately.

The resolution is the biggest thing here. The first Vive was only 1080×1200 pixels for the display going to each eye. The Pro is 1440×1600 per-eye. This should help to eliminate some of the issues the original had with text and other details. HTC also promises that it’ll be easier to adjust the headset to suit your eyes.

I still feel like it’s wrong to announce a thing without a price or any dates for when it’ll be available, but there you go. Maybe they’re trying to get out ahead of an upcoming Oculus announcement. I’m glad that the Vive is still a going concern because I don’t want anything to do with Oculus after the Palmer Luckey debacle. It would be even better if this means that HTC will lower the price of the original Vive but they might just put the Pro at a higher one and be done with it for now.

HTC also has their own store for software called Viveport available with or without a subscription. It’s available inside the headset now, and the gimmick is that there may be previews available of the different experiences it offers.

I kind of get why HTC might want a separate storefront from Steam, developers aren’t always going to be eager to go through Valve’s process for every kind of software and Valve might not want a billion short VR experiences crapping up their money hog. As it is, HTC claims over 1000 pieces of software in their store. I don’t think anybody wants to visit it, but maybe the interactive demos in VR will be useful.

It’d be better if Valve lowered the barrier for software to get onto Steam while increasing the level of moderation for absolutely disgraceful shit like Dating Lessons, the VR software from some MRA shitbags who want to turn normal men into people who “won’t take no for an answer.” That garbage is still available for sale a year after I wrote about it.

The 2017 iMac Pro

Lost during my recent travel was Apple’s release of the iMac Pro, the “pro” version of the iMac that was announced at WWDC. The iMac Pro gets you higher performance and what may be many features of the promised-but-yet-to-be-updated-since-2013 Mac Pro, but with a glued-on high-resolution (5120×2880 P3 color gamut) screen and absolutely zero upgradability of internal components.

For an iPad or iPhone, that’s fine, glue whatever you need together to make the device as thin and light as it can get. It’d be great if you could upgrade the storage in those, and if sometimes they would optimize for battery life over thinness, but here we are looking at a different beast. Despite the Xeon-based workstation hardware you get inside an iMac Pro, with modern desktops you really must be able to, at a minimum, upgrade the graphics processor in order to maintain performance for the lifespan of these devices

I don’t doubt that there are some people or businesses that would appreciate this design of high-performance in a completely sealed design computer, but I find some serious flaws in one of Apple’s proposed use-cases: the idea that this is for virtual reality developers.

Why would anyone deploy a VR app on a platform where the $5,000 iMac Pro is the only device that can support the final product? Sure you could do your work on the iMac Pro and cross-compile for Windows, but that seems like a bad idea if your main development computer isn’t also a device you can test for your primary distribution platform. This is the worst example of the inaccessibility of virtual reality today. Here’s a $5,000 computer and then you have to buy a $600 VR HMD to get started with using or playing VR. When a future VR headset is released any iMac Pro VR developers and users will either have to buy an external GPU or replace the entire computer. Anyone on a desktop tower using Windows can just upgrade their graphics card.

Of course if you’re working in video or audio production, or another field that requires high-end computation, this could be a good workstation for that. However, you have to also believe that Apple will continue to support the “pro” desktop platform that they have neglected for almost a decade with infrequent (Mac Pro) or half-assed (Mac Mini) updates.

This computer has so many caveats and despite the fact that the starting price is actually competitive with other similarly outfitted workstation computers that price is chief among the reasons why I don’t find it very appealing. Maybe the Mac Pro will actually ship next year and be truly modular to replace the Mac Mini as well as the 2013 “trash can” Mac Pro. 

I still dream of a modular desktop Mac that can do all these things and span a wider range of prices to include regular desktop parts (and prices) in addition to scaling up to workstation performance and price, without the glued-on screen. It’ll never happen, and that’s why even though I’m still writing this on my late 2013 MacBook Pro, I built a Windows desktop machine last year.

There’s Always Money in the VR Money Pit

Road to VR’s Ben Lang:

For VR to succeed in the consumer space, an ecosystem of developers making content that users want to buy is an absolute must. Oculus for its part has attempted to kickstart that ecosystem by investing hefty sums in content developers, and now the company says it’s starting to pay off.

This is immediately followed by three different bolded UPDATES: (with three months in-between some of them) desperately assuring us that yes there is money in VR, supposedly more than eight games have made over one million dollars. They might even be able to fund their comeback game if there’s no money in VR. Sure glad I didn’t name this site “Road to VR.”

Star Trek: Bridge Crew Looks Cool As Heck

In the 90’s I went to Star Trek conventions with other nerds who wanted to look at nerd things and circulate pirated tapes of Red Dwarf. With that context in mind I will now tell you that I am extremely psyched to play Star Trek: Bridge Crew because who hasn’t wanted to be on the bridge of a spaceship gesticulating wildly with a bunch of other lunatics in VR space to accomplish whatever Trek bullshit the game calls for.

James Davenport for Windows Gamer (who also produced that incredibly silly animated gif in the top there):

None of us know what we’re doing, and that’s the primary thrust of Star Trek: Bridge Crew. Four people work together on different substations of a ship, moving it around dangerous anomalies, scanning for threats, and shunting power to different systems.

However, it sounds like you’re going to have a difficult time getting the best out of the game as you need many friends with VR setups and even though the game’s multiplayer is cross-platform it’ll still be a hassle to get going according to Games Radar’s Andy Hartup:

You’ll probably never play Star Trek Bridge Crew. At least, not how it’s really meant to be enjoyed. That’s not because this is a poor game, or that it lacks features or fan service – it’s just too rarefied an experience. While you can crew both the USS Aegis and the Enterprise with fewer than four human crew members, it really isn’t the same experience. And while you’ll be able to find randoms or players from LFG groups to boldly go with, Bridge Crew is infinitely better when played with friends. So that’s four of you, with VR headsets, and a copy of the game, and the will and time to role-play Star Trek. Even we, a website that writes about games, VR, and Star Trek really struggled to put in the necessary playing time and overcome the technical hurdles to squeeze the best out of this wonderful game.

One thing that might make a fun multiplayer Bridge Crew experience slightly more likely is that anyone who buys an HTC Vive in June (you’re not going to wait for some kind of revision and price drop at this point, really?) will get the game for free.

Star Trek: Bridge Crew is $50 and available now for Windows with the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive HMDs on Steam, or Playstation VR on the Playstation 4.

Owlchemy Labs Scooped Up By Google

In your latest sign that VR software development is totally unsustainable as a standalone business, Owlchemy Labs has been bought by Google:

Today, we’re thrilled to welcome Owlchemy Labs to Google. They’ve created award-winning games like Job Simulator and Rick and Morty: Virtual Rick-ality which have really thoughtful interactive experiences that are responsive, intuitive, and feel natural. They’ve helped set a high bar for what engagement can be like in virtual worlds, and do it all with a great sense of humor!

This doesn’t bode well for Owlchemy’s future output. I look forward to their shares vesting and the developer’s inevitable exit back to independent companies who actually make games again.

Building a Gaming Computer in 2016

IMG 5347

This year I set out to replace my aging i7-2600k-based Intel gaming machine. Virtual reality games are incredibly demanding on your computer’s hardware and must reach a very high framerate or you will puke if the framerate drops while playing around in VR. They require the latest generation of processors at a minimum, and although I probably won’t have a first-generation VR HMD, I had access to a deal for about half-off a new processor from Intel and wanted to be ready for the second or third generation.

If it were possible, I would have bought an off-the-shelf computer from Apple. At various points Apple has made hand-waving gestures in the direction of orienting towards computer gaming only to drop support later on. It must not be a business they’re interested in because they do not build a decent gaming computer. The closest option Apple has is the Mac Pro which was last refreshed in 2013 and it costs over $3000 to start with an ancient workstation graphics card. It’s a beautiful computer that would handle everything I want to do with it besides gaming.

I’ll keep using Apple laptops for managing free software projects, writing, photography, and a billion more non-gaming tasks, but for gaming there is no substitute to a desktop computer. I know many people buy gaming laptops, but they’re difficult to keep up-to-date when you can’t replace the video card. That might be changing with the latest iteration of Thunderbolt, but you still won’t be able to alter much else internally if you want to keep many other components of the system up-to-date without replacing the entire machine. Not the worst thing in the world, it works for some people, but working on computer guts for the past 20 years is a habit that it’s nice to keep going with until there is a better option.

There have been some changes since I last built a gaming computer in 2012.

Component selection

The last time I built a computer PC Part Picker wasn’t around. It’s a fantastic site that has made it much easier to be sure that the components you pick out will fit together and aren’t the worst decisions in the world thanks to their user reviews from other people who have tried the same components and similar configurations. Using their compatibility checker helps you be sure that your CPU cooler fits in the case you’ve chosen, that the power supply has enough wattage for your other components, and that you don’t miss out on a required component that you’ll need. For example, unlocked processors from Intel no-longer include a CPU cooler and you might miss out on that if you hadn’t built a computer in the past four years.

Even with PC Part Picker there are still too many choices when selecting components. Motherboard manufacturer Gigabyte’s has over 20 different Z170 options that support the current line of CPUs. All almost completely identical to each other under two different categories of “Ultra Durable” and “Gaming.” I’d like to play games and not have my motherboard explode, thank you. There are hundreds of other options for power supplies, memory configurations, and every other component. Here’s what I picked.

CPU

Although the recommended specifications Oculus put out for their VR HMD included the lower-end i5-4590, I wanted to go with something that would last for a while longer. There are two processors that you might want to choose if you’re building a higher-end gaming computer, the Skylake i7-6600k and i7-6700k. I went with the 4GHz i7-6700k. It’s a step up from the four year old 2600k and gets a bunch of upgrades in jumping from Sandy Bridge‘s chipset features to Skylake. Skipping Ivy Bridge and the LGA 1150 socket’s Haswell family entirely makes it feel like a real transition to get to DDR 4 memory.

I chose the unlocked k model instead of the cheaper regular i7-6700 because the unlocked model is clocked significantly higher with a base clock of 4Ghz. The locked i7-6700 starts at a base clock of 3.4 GHz and has to hit a turbo boost (remeber that from your 486?) to get to 4 GHz.

Here’s the manufacturer’s page and here is an Amazon link.

CPU Cooling

Water cooling is almost the default now when building your own system. It used to be that if you wanted to use water cooling you would have select various components of a water cooling system and fill it yourself. Hoping all along that you put everything together correctly and that the system wouldn’t spew water all over your other expensive components once it was assembled and turned on.

You can now buy a closed-loop water cooler that is preassembled and filled. The downside to a closed-loop water cooler is that they only work with one component, CPU or GPU, and it isn’t as flexible in terms of configuration options as you could have configured one system to work for both with an open-loop. If you want to configure it for a GPU you would also generally need to purchase another bracket that matches your GPU to fit and most likely void your GPU’s warranty. Many cases look large enough these days that you could install two closed-loop water cooling systems, one for the CPU and one for the GPU, but that sounds like a ridiculous idea in practice.

The upside is that whichever you attach it to will run cooler and not expel heat directly into your case like traditional CPU heatsink/fan coolers do. Still, there isn’t much reason to choose a water-cooler over air cooling if you aren’t going to overclock. There’s at least some increase in upfront cost and a significant increase in risk that even a closed-loop system might leak and ruin components. That risk is why I still chose to go with air cooling this year and picked out the Phanteks PH-TC12DX CPU Cooler to match the case and its components.

The model name is completely goofy and not at all useful as a description of the product to a normal human. The cooler is so enormous that it has a special support structure that wraps around to the back of the motherboard with plates and connectors to help it remain attached since it’ll be constantly pulling that entire weight on the processor and motherboard if your case is at an angle. When I was first assembling the computer I missed one step in the incredibly poorly laid-out instructions and the cooler was not securely attached which cost another few minutes to re-attach it after it started to tip over like a shortsighted billionaire idiot’s rocket.

The cooler has good reviews, and despite the ridiculous support structure and poor manual it really isn’t that difficult to install. I’m not the kind of person who overclocks their computer and the current ambient temperatures in my workspace are too high to even think about it, that is why I am satisfied that this cooler is both efficient and quiet enough while playing games or just working at regular CPU clock speeds. It also includes thermal paste in a tiny syringe just like your typical Arctic Silver.

Here’s the manufacturer’s page and here is an Amazon link.

Memory

Although there are some Z170 motherboards that support DDR 3, why not get the most performance by using DDR 4 if you can?

DDR 4 memory might also be compatible with future processor chipsets, saving us a cost down the road when DDR 3 isn’t an option. There is some debate as to the performance improvements of overclocked memory, but I still went with what I thought was relatively safe 3200MHz memory choice from G.Skill. Their model name is, I hope you’re sitting down for this, F4-3200C16D-16GTZB.

Since practically every case is now another opportunity to measure the size of your e-penis through a window on the side, every component has to look ridiculous and memory is no exception. Red and brushed metal fins make these stand out as best they can if you care about that. I don’t, G.Skill is just a well-respected RAM manufacturer that reviews well and these modules honestly look less silly than some other choices like everything from Corsair.

Here’s the manufacturer’s page and here is an Amazon link.

Form-factor/Case

Small form factor computers aren’t just from Shuttle anymore, there are a wide variety of micro ATX and mini ITX compatible cases, motherboards, and power supplies designed to have full-sized graphics boards installed alongside. I really wanted to use NZXT’s Manta case. It’s beautiful and different from every other boring black rectangle computer case, but in the end it doesn’t make sense when I will need to plug in expansion boards and the mini ITX format of the Manta only allows for one expansion, the graphics card.

What about Micro ATX? Similar problem. These motherboards generally have two slots for graphics cards and one pci-express expansion card slot for other types of cards. You can plug something beside a graphics card into a graphics card slot, but doing so slows down the graphics board connectivity.

In the end, I’m back to full-size ATX with the Phanteks Enthoo Evolv ATX. A ridiculous product name from Phanteks but at least it is a proper name instead of a series of letters and numbers. Just like the CPU cooler, the Enthoo Evolv also had major issues with poor grammar choices in its manual, which didn’t help when I was trying to understand their design decisions while making my decisions in building this computer. The good news is that it is pre-configured so that you only have to connect one fan cable to your motherboard thanks to the modern convenience of a built-in fan controller. This is only a downside if you want your motherboard to be able to individually control each fan in your case and you can always go back to that though you’ll be able to have fewer overall cooling fans if you do so.

This isn’t really a fault of the manufacturer, but when I received the Enthoo Evolv ATX from Amazon it was delivered with the case’s exterior cardboard box as the only protection and that was completely soaking wet. Thanks to what I otherwise would have thought was excessive usage of plastic bags around the case itself, it was thankfully undamaged.

The case is the component that I think most people put the most aesthetic thought into, and I did the same. It was very difficult to pick something and there wasn’t anything as unique as the Manta in a full ATX option. While the Enthoo Evolv ATX is more understated than the Manta (what isn’t?) it fit in better next to my Macbook Pro by sharing a similar silver color option. Overall I am very happy with the aesthetic choice of the slightly tinted window being less e-penisy than a totally clear one and it is the sturdiest case I’ve ever owned.

The front panel of the case has no option for installing disc drives or anything else. It has a small door that hides two USB 3.0 ports, a headphone jack, a microphone jack, and a tiny reset button. Fewer cases sold today have the option to install a disc drive and I’m not going to miss it. I don’t watch movies on my computer via discs and it’s been a long time since I’ve had to use one for anything but older games that aren’t on Steam or gog yet. Windows ships on USB thumb drives by default. If you’re even slightly interested in using a disc drive you do have options, but I think I’ll be happy with running over to Best Buy to pick up an external drive if I need it. Welcome to 2016 fellow computer builders, my 2013 laptop doesn’t have a disc-drive either.

Perhaps the only real downside to the Enthoo Evolv ATX is that the windowed side-door has a tendency to come off when it is opened and the case is laying on its side. The side-door is only held on at the joints by two metal pins which don’t have any kind of cap on the top end, and it is nice to be able to remove it. Maybe this is just an issue with the one I received. It’s not a big deal and if you were to pick the same case I would just recommend that you take off the side-panel while working on it on the case’s back.

Here’s the manufacturer’s page and here is an Amazon link.

Data Storage

You’re probably already familiar with solid-state drives now, if not here’s what you need to know: They’re faster at everything, more reliable, and still more expensive per-gigabyte so you’ll probably want a secondary spinning-disk drive if you intend to store more than a few hundred gigabytes on your computer.

I picked the Samsung 850 Evo 1 Terabyte. It’s fast, reliable, and in hindsight I probably should have picked a more reasonably priced option from Sandisk which is almost $100 cheaper (Amazon link) though also slightly slower. Normal humans are not going to notice the performance difference between the two.

Samsung’s Magician software has an incredibly silly name but is absolutely required to install even though it attempts to override some of Microsoft’s settings for Windows. It has become essential if only as a firmware updates delivery mechanism for the SSD at some point. Their last major SSDs had a performance-loss issue that was solved with new firmware and other Samsung tools. I’m still not sure if I trust Samsung’s Magician software to adjust various Windows settings, but at least it can update SSD firmware without much of a hassle.

There is also the option of a newer SSD connection technology that skips SATA altogether and connects directly to the pci-express bus. While performance is important to gaming and especially virtual-reality gaming, this is absolutely not a requirement today and if it were somehow to become incredibly important you could use this SSD as the secondary drive and get the new technology as long as you pick a motherboard with m.2 connectors and enough pci-express slots if it ends up being something else. There are caveats to m.2 depending on the configuration of pci-express lanes supporting pci-express slots in addition to m.2, which cuts down on the speed of your graphics board’s connectivity. I wouldn’t worry about this for now, but it might become more important in the future.

It would be great if motherboard manufacturer’s had more options for people who do not care about SLI for video cards and instead focused on expansion options for other components.

If you decide to go with the Samsung 850 Evo as well, here’s the manufacturer’s page and here is an Amazon link.

For my secondary storage option I chose this 2TB Seagate SSHD. It’s a hybrid drive that has a small solid-state cache as well as the spinning discs we’re used to. The hybrid part is probably not strictly useful, but it should offer some small performance boost when I have a game installed to that drive.

Here’s the manufacturer’s page and here is an Amazon link for the Seagate 2TB SSHD.

Motherboard

This is one of the craziest things to pick. There are so many options that offer so many different choices of feature sets and aesthetic designs. I looked at options from MSI, ASUS, Gigabyte, and other smaller motherboard manufacturers. My last build had a Gigabyte motherboard, and in the end my current research indicated that Gigabyte is still a good choice.

Out of their 20+ Z170 options to match the Skylake processors, I chose the GA-Z170X-Gaming 7. It does claim to be “Ultra-Durable” as well as suitable for gaming. It also had a number of features that matched what I needed in a computer that should work for virtual reality headsets.

The Oculus Rift HMD currently requires 4 USB ports, and although the HTC Vive requires only 1 I wanted to be prepared for whichever headset would come down the line. This motherboard has plenty of regular USB 3.0 ports in addition to a reversible 3.1 USB Type-C port if it becomes more useful to have that down the line. Right now that port also supports Thunderbolt 3 which lets you daisy chain many devices so that’s why you might only need one of them.

This was also one of the few motherboards that has decent hardware for audio instead of some garbage realtek sound chip. If you’re planning to use an external or internal sound card it might not seem important to have good onboard audio, but I think it speaks to the overall quality of the board that it does have a higher quality option.

The downside to all motherboards with the 1151 socket for Skylake Intel chips is that the pins are in the socket. That might be good because it is generally cheaper to replace a motherboard than it is to replace the processor if the pins get bent or broken. This issue caused some headaches when my computer wouldn’t boot and I thought the problem was memory incompatibility due to the error the motherboard displayed on its handy two-digit hardware code display. My motherboard arrived with a few pins that were slightly out of position (you can see them in the bottom right of the picture up above) and putting them back into position was more difficult than doing it to the processor. As soon as the pins were back in place the computer booted right up with the 3200MHz memory at full-speed. Maybe we could move to a pin-less socket in the future with contact-pads on both the processor and motherboard.

Gigabyte’s software is frankly awful, but is still an improvement over my last motherboard. They have one utility to download that can download all of the other utilities. What is kind of crazy is that Gigabyte still ships the GA-Z170X-Gaming 7 with its software on a disc instead of a USB thumb drive. I ended up having to use one of my own thumb-drives to copy the networking driver over to the computer. This is probably an issue for all of the motherboards you buy today. I hope they can change this as every computer still has USB ports.

There are many cheaper motherboard options, I don’t believe that there is a similar level of value in many of the cheaper options.

Here’s the manufacturer’s page and here is an Amazon link.

Video Card

Both of the new Nvidia cards, the 1080 and 1070 are now available but almost only in the expensive “founders edition” until supply meets up with demand. You’re not a founder if you are paying for something and not receiving a share of the profit the company makes. For the first few weeks with this computer I was still using an older 970, 3.5 gigabytes of RAM and all. I just got a 1070 and don’t have much to say about it besides that it is faster than the 970. It might not be a big deal today, but it is the final component you need to be ready for virtual reality. HTC’s Vive and the Oculus Rift both require at least a 970. The 1070 should be good for a few years more than the 970.

The 1060 was just announced and will be cheaper than the 1070 and still faster than a 980 when it is released later this month. It sounds like a great deal for playing games today if you aren’t interested in virtual reality.

The one issue with this card is that the display port connector supposedly doesn’t work with the HTC Vive. Nvidia is investigating the issue. It is kind of ridiculous that it doesn’t work out of the box and that this wasn’t discovered and resolved by Nvidia earlier. VR support is a big deal for people buying these cards.

Here’s the manufacturer’s page and here is an Amazon link for a search for 1070 cards.

Power Supply

Brands of power supplies supposedly vary greatly in quality from model to model due to differences in which manufacturer actually built model x versus model y for brand z. I say “supposedly” because I have not personally run into an issue with a power supply in the past decade. These days I think you are fine as long as your power supply has some kind of brand attached to it that you have heard of previously.

There are, however, a few things you do want to be picky about when selecting a power supply.

I try to stick with around 650-750 watt power supplies for my computers because I never have more than one graphics card, which is generally going to be the one item that draws the most power. One graphics board and a good processor like the 6700k might not need 750 watts, but if somehow you were to get a not-so-great power supply what you would end up with is one that cannot meet the advertised wattage. By how much? A few hundred watts.

The other thing that I now care about that I did not before is the advertised efficiency of the power supply. That’s where you get your bronze or silver or gold rating. I’m not an electrician, so take what I say here with a few dump trucks of salt. My understanding of a power supply’s efficiency is how much of the wattage input into the supply is converted to waste heat, and how much is legitimately used for the output. So, if your 1000 watt power supply has a demand of 500 watts from the other computer components and the power supply actually uses 950 watts to supply those 500 watts to the components and the rest of those 450 watts are expelled as waste heat, well, then you’ve bought an incredibly shitty power supply and should have just gotten a more efficient 650 watt unit.

The final thing that you are going to want to look for in a good power supply is that it is modular. Modular power supplies let you choose what cables you need. So you could choose to hook up two hard drives, one video card, your motherboard, and you won’t have cables that aren’t connected to anything laying around your case.

All that to say, don’t cheap out on power supply. It’s a component that ages well and if you get a good one today you can easily take it on to your future computer builds.

I chose the EVGA SuperNOVA 750 G1. It’s the most boring component in the system, but it meets all of these criteria. This SuperNOVA is 750 watts, it’s got “gold rated efficiency” which equates to 90% efficiency “under typical load” according to EVGA, and it is modular.

Here’s the manufacturer’s page and here is an Amazon link.

Conclusion

Picking the right components for a do-it-yourself gaming computer takes more research and work than putting those components together. I actually tried to go to a Microsoft store and see what off-the-shelf options they had before buying this, they had no desktop computer towers. I tried Best Buy, they had nothing comparable in-store and every option they had online was way more expensive than building it myself and had lower-quality components. The same was true for all of the system builders available online.

After building your own computer there are many points of failure and many different warranties to keep track of. If one component fails and you do not have a backup you will be without your gaming computer for weeks. On the rare occasion when I have had Mac hardware fail I have been able to make an appointment and get the issue resolved or the computer replaced, by Apple, with a newer model at no cost to me. Sometimes on the same day.

All that said, this computer is great. It’s going to work well for virtual reality gaming whenever I’m able to get a headset in the next year or two, and I’ll be able to upgrade the components that need upgrading for the next 4-5 years without a complete rebuild.

The current recommended specification for VR is almost identical between the Oculus Rift and the SteamVR HTC Vive. It’s based on an i5-4590 and a GTX 970. Oculus even partnered with system builders to make systems that are VR-ready. That should be what developers are targeting as a recommended specification for their VR games for a few years. This build is based on the i7-6700k and GTX 1070, it should be good for a few more years after that.

Bethesda’s E3 2016 Press Briefing Notes

willits

Adam Sessler and Morgan Webb are back for the pre-show from the old Rev 3 and TechTV days to present the Bethesda pre-E3. It’s kind of refreshing to watch people who know how to act on camera as opposed to the awkward executives of other E3 presentations.

Glad to see Bethesda acknowledging the horrible massacre by wearing rainbow ribbons instead of pretending it didn’t happen. EA

They’re opening with a DOS screen booting and it’s launching… Quake!!! All pre-rendered, non-ingame footage but I am very happy to see characters returning from Quake 3. It’s called Quake Champions.

Here’s the trailer:

Tim Willits is coming out on stage to talk about how much he loves talking about Quake: Champions. Competitive, arena style first person shooter. Looks like per-character abilities. Undoubtly using the finest ioquake3 engine fork. More seriously Tim Willits is talking about the technical details in that it’ll support 120hz framerates and responsiveness.

Tim walks off stage after announcing that there will be more info at Quakecon. Haven’t been since 2008, wish I could go.

Pete Hines is onstage now to let us know about how successful Bethesda has been at making and publishing games.

Pete Hines is talking about The Elder Scrolls: Legends, a CCG. There’s a trailer Wake me up when it’s over.

It’ll be coming to iPad, Mac, iPhones, and shitty Android tablets.

A trailer demonstrates Fallout 4: Contraptions, which is going to add elevators and all of the components you need to build a rube goldberg machine.

The trailer moves on to Nuka World?! A theme park in Fallout 4?

Video continues on to Fallout: Shelter coming to Windows later on.

Skyrim is getting a big overhaul, graphically, and mods will be on the new console versions of Skyrim: Special Edition. As rumored.  Out October 28th 2016.

Here’s that long video:

Raphael Colantonio is here from Arkane to talk about another project they’re working on. He doesn’t get very far in before we’re watching a trailer for a game that looks to have a time travel component. Somebody named Morgan keeps waking up in a kind of short groundhog day scenario. Every time he looks in the mirror things change back and it’s actually Prey. Cool.

Raphael is back to tell us a few details and that the game will be out next year for Xbone, PS4, and Windows. More details at Quakecon.

Prey Trailer:

Marty Stratton from id is trapped in a pre-recorded blurry tan office world. He’s talking about Doom and thanking everyone for making Doom a success. Snapmap is done taking a snapnap and will receive a bunch of new upgrades, all will be free. He’s talking about two new multiplayer maps now. They’ll be free. He’s also talking about the first paid DLC coming to Doom multiplayer which will add new game modes, a weapon, and more.

 

Pete Hines is back to tell us that you can now download the first level of Doom for free on Playstation 4, Xbox One, and Steam. This week only.

Matt Firor is here to talk about The Elder Scrolls Online MMORPG. He’s talking about how the game sold, how the community is doing, and leads us into a trailer. If I don’t make it out tell my wife I love her. Tell my son I’m glad he can never kick me in the balls again.

On June 23rd ESO will launch into Japan. Some people in the crowd are way too loud. The Dark Brotherhood DLC will be out soon and a launch trailer plays. It looks fine, but this voice over is kinda bad? “Sweet mother” over and over again as gravely voiced dude narrates. Some guy gets stabbed in the nuts. A Hans Moleman production.

This is pretty cool. ESO gets this “One Tamriel,” players will be levelled to match the content they’re playing. So you can group with your friends once they get out of the tutorial and play together. Very, very smart move. I’ve long been frustrated by online RPG systems like in The Division where if you’re not at the same level you’re either dragging the team down or gliding through and trying to keep your buddies from dragging you down. I can’t praise this enough.

Pete Hines is here to tell us about refreshments and Blink-182.

Pete tells us about Bethesda VR. Holy shit he references Doom 3: BFG. The VR version of which never shipped due to Bethesda being butthurt over Carmack leaving for Oculus. Whatever happened with that lawsuit with Oculus? Anyway, you can take a “virtual tour of hell” or Fallout 4 in VR. Bet they won’t be using Oculus headsets! Ah Fallout 4 is coming to the HTC Vive in 2017. Exciting.

Harvey Smith is on stage to tell us about Dishonored 2. I loved the first one, not super excited for a sequel yet. We’ll see if Harvey can convince me. “Welcome back to the Empire of the Isles.” Harvey narrates the video. A camera pans through the streets. The engine has some big upgrades to audio and graphics. It looks more detailed. They’re calling it the Void engine. Name almost doesn’t matter since it won’t ever be released for others to use.

Harvey Smith is talking about who Emily Caldwin from the first Dishonored has become after she has grown up. Corvo is her father? Must have forgotten that from the first Dishonored. It looks like we’ll have the option of playing as Emily in Dishonored 2 and the in-game trailer is from her perspective. You could choose to play as Corvo, still.

More in-game footage and Emily is owning some fools. The weather changes, Emily comments on it and Harvey tells us that many machines are powered by wind. Emily turns off a turbine that was powering a field of light (forcefield to you and me) so that she can progress. The skill trees are new, as are many of the abilities for Emily.

More skillful murdering. There will be some time travel business in another level where you are inside a mansion that blocks your abilities. You can swap between two different timelines using a device that also allows you to view whats going on in the other timeline. So you could walk through an area, see enemies in the alternate version, and then step behind them so you can murder them.

Release date is November 11th, 2016, for Windows, Playstation 4, and Xbone.

Harvey Smith bids us goodnight after introducing a more traditional gameplay trailer. I like the cover of Fleetwood Mac’s Gold Dust Woman  You can watch that here:

 

Pete Hines is back. A collector’s edition is announced with Corvo’s mask and Emily’s ring along with over items. Pre-orders will temporarily include a remastered version of Dishonored 1 including all of the DLC.

Pete gives us a live stream look in on the teams at various studios and thanks them for their work. Nice way to humanize the company.

Pete bides us adieu as the showcase ends and we’re returned to Adam Sessler who is interviewing Matt Firor for the post-show.

My major disappointment is that id software will probably never release source code again without John Carmack. I wish their split had been amicable. They’ve been surprising us lately with the quality of Doom but I don’t know if their parent company would let them release source or if anyone at id has the will to fight for it. We’ll never see a Brutal Doom 2016 or anything like that without code.

Build Your Own 1/10th of a Pinball Cabinet

Jeremy Williams at an awesome VR Pinball cabinet or the newest episode of Black Mirror got real weird.

Jeremy Williams has an awesome guide up on Tested for building the first eight inches of a pinball cabinet, suitable for playing pinball in VR, and this video below demonstrates an older version of it in action:

It’s a pretty great build, even has an accelerometer for tilting the table.