Playing SimCity on a Surface Pro

YES, you can play the new SimCity on a Surface Pro. I did just that for a couple of hours last night. There’s even limited touch support. I was quite pleased with the experience.

There is one thing that you’ll need to know:

You’ll need to download a beta version of the Origin client from EA’s forums. If you’re running the currently released version of Origin (as I was) you’ll get a bogus error about “The game will not run in a virtual environment”. Thanks again to Scott Lowe at IGN for pointing this out.

There’s also one thing that you should know:

The game runs – in my opinion – just fine on the Surface Pro. Remember, though, that it’s a supremely portable two pound device and not a gaming PC that you can heat your house with. If you’re expecting it to run this game at 1920×1080 with all the graphical settings maxed out you’ll be disappointed. If that’s what you’re after then a computer with an Intel i5 CPU and Intel’s integrated HD4000 graphics might not be right for you.

I’ve fiddled with a bunch of options, and right now I’m running the game in a 1366×768 window. That lets me keep up with IM & Twitter while I’m playing without having to spend all my time working my ALT+TAB keys.

If you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some traffic problems to deal with…

Comic Wednesday

This Wednesday’s haul:

Marvels Iron Man 3 Prelude #1 (of 2)

AgentM says “Wanna know where War Machine was during @Avengers? Wanna more #MCU timeline info? Get the #IronMan 3 prelude comic. Also, it’s great!”. SOLD.

New Avengers Vol. 3 #1

It’s the FIRST ISSUE OF THE NEW AVENGERS.

All-New X-Men #5

The X-Men will always be my first true comic love. So far I’m really happy with where the series is going.

Iron Man Vol. 5 #5

This series is being written by Kieron Gillen, and it’s brilliant. If you’re not familiar with his writing, do yourself a favor and track it down.

 

What’d you pick up this week?

Extra Life 2012: Liveblog

24 hours are gone and so are we. $5,333 raised for Seattle Children’s Hospital. Thank you all!

It’s gametime! For the next 24 hours I’ll be gaming to raise money for Seattle Children’s Hospital.

We’ve already raised $2,500 $3,214 $4,581 but I’d love to see us get to $5,000. If you can, please DONATE.

There’s a livestream and chat running on twitch.tv/thevowel if you’d like to join the fun! It should be really entertaining when the sleep deprivation hits.

Sponsor part of the marathon!

For $100 you can pick an Xbox 360 game that I have and I’ll play it for 30 minutes. I’ve got most of the Xbox 360 games released in the US so there’s a good chance that I can play your favorite game – or the game that you’d like to see me suffer through! Want me to play it for another 30 minutes? Double your previous donation – $100 for the first 30 minutes, $200 for the next 30, etc. – and I’ll do it. Note: I’m not going to play Kinect games – I’m committed to playing for 24 hours, and if you have me playing Dance Central for hours on end I’ll collapse long before that.

We’ve already got a lot of time sponsored:

8-9AM: Borderlands 2 (thank you Kristy & Randy Pitchford!)

9-9:30AM: Avatar: The Last Airbender (thank you @keithkline!)

9:30-10AM: Banjo-Kazooie XBLA (thx @taskbaarchitect!)

10-11: NCAA Football 2013 (thx Kevin Brumit!)

11-Noon: Sonic 1 (thx @kudakeru!)

12-12:30: XCOM: Enemy Unknown (thx Sang Hong!)

12:30-1PM: Viva Pinata (thx Jared Sartin!)

1-1:30: Earth Defense Force: IA (thx Michael Bowen!)

1:30-2: Kameo (thx Matt Richenburg!)

2-2:30: Skylanders! (thx Peter Rysavy!)

2:30-3: Halo 3 (thx Nick Stinzianni!)

3-3:30: Perfect Dark Zero (thx Travis Pijut!)

3:30-4: Mark of the Ninja (thx Ali Black!)

4-4:30: Minecraft (thx Nick Finck!)

If that’s not your style, we also have Rewards for donations!

We started with the following rewards – but some of them are already claimed, and they’re first-come first-serve!:

For 50 donations of $10 or more:

Halo 4 Infinity Campaign Themes (thanks 343!)

For 10 donations of $25 or over:

Xbox LIVE Gold 1-Month codes (thanks Xbox LIVE!)

For 40 donations of $50 or over:

Your choice of Minecraft, Trials Evolution, Deadlight, & Joe Danger 2 – there’s 10 of each, so donate now for first choice! (thanks PlayXBLA!)

For 10 donations of $100 or over:

Borderlands 2 Season Passes (thanks Gearbox & 2KGames!)

Help the kids and get yourself something nice while you’re at it! Let me know what reward you’d like when you make your donation!

THANK YOU FOR SUPPORTING SEATTLE CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL!

Extra Life 2012: Countdown

In less than 48 hours I’ll be kicking off a 24-hour gaming marathon to raise money for Seattle Children’s Hospital. I’ll be streaming the whole way on twitch.tv so that you can watch – and join the chat and mock my skills or lack thereof.

We’ve already raised $937 $1,154 $1,701 $2,039, but I’m shooting for $5,000 this year!

DONATE HERE!

Sponsor part of the marathon!

For $100 you can pick an Xbox 360 game that I have and I’ll play it for 30 minutes. I’ve got most of the Xbox 360 games released in the US so there’s a good chance that I can play your favorite game – or the game that you’d like to see me suffer through! Want me to play it for another 30 minutes? Double your previous donation – $100 for the first 30 minutes, $200 for the next 30, etc. – and I’ll do it. Note: I’m not going to play Kinect games – I’m committed to playing for 24 hours, and if you have me playing Dance Central for hours on end I’ll collapse long before that.

We’ve already got some time sponsored:

8-9AM: Borderlands 2 (thank you Kristy & Randy Pitchford!)

9-9:30AM: Avatar: The Last Airbender (thank you @keithkline!)

NEW: 9:30-10AM: Banjo-Kazooie XBLA (thx @taskbaarchitect!)

NEW: 10-11AM: TBD (thx @kudakeru!)

NEW: 11-11:30: XCOM: Enemy Unknown (thx Sang Hong!)

NEW: 11:30-Noon: NCAA Football 2013 (thx Kevin Brumit!)

NEW: Noon-12:30: Viva Pinata (thx Jared Sartin!)

NEW: 12:30-1: Earth Defense Force: IA (thx Michael Bowen!)

NEW: 1-1:30: Kameo (thx Matt Richenburg!)

NEW: 1:30-2: Skylanders! (thx Peter Rysavy!)

Sponsor me! It’s for the kids!

…or…

Rewards for donations!

Thanks to some very generous friends I’ve got the following rewards to share:

For the next 50 donations of $10 or more:

Halo 4 Infinity Campaign Themes (thanks 343!)

For the next 10 donations of $25 or over:

Xbox LIVE Gold 1-Month codes (thanks Xbox LIVE!)

For the next 40 donations of $50 or over:

Your choice of Minecraft, Trials Evolution, Deadlight, & Joe Danger 2 – there’s 10 of each, so donate now for first choice! (thanks PlayXBLA!)

For the next 10 donations of $100 or over:

Borderlands 2 Season Passes (thanks Gearbox & 2KGames!)

Help the kids and get yourself something nice while you’re at it! Let me know what reward you’d like when you make your donation!

 

On behalf of the kids – THANK YOU!

Extra Life 2012

Less than a month from now – Saturday, October 20th – I’ll be gaming for 24 hours straight to raise money for Seattle Children’s Hospital with Extra Life.

Extra Life is a gaming marathon to raise money for the Children’s Miracle Network. It’s one of the great ways that gamers give back to those in need, and I’m happy to be taking part once again. This year I’m hoping to raise $5,000 for the kids.

I’ll be streaming all 24 hours live on twitch.tv. I’m excited to spend a day playing some of the great new games that are out like Borderlands 2, XCOM, Dishonored & more! I’m working on a collection of “rewards” to give out during the stream – stay tuned for more details on that front.

I’m also giving YOU the chance to decide what games I play.

I have most of the Xbox/Xbox 360 games that we’ve shipped since 2001. Is there a classic game that you want to see? Or is there a game that you want to make me suffer through?

If I have it, I’ll play the game of your choice for 30 minutes in exchange for a $100 donation to Extra Life. Want to make me play that same game for another 30 minutes during the marathon? Double the previous donation and I’ll do it. Etc.

PLEASE DONATE AND HELP ME REACH MY GOAL OF $5,000 FOR SEATTLE CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL!

If you have questions let me know in the comments or send a mail to extralife@thevowel.com

Thank you! See you on October 20th!

Gaming and Giving for Good (G3) 2012

Xbox LIVE is teaming up with Extra Life again to benefit the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.

What is G3? It’s a charity event that takes place on Xbox LIVE, this year on August 18th. You can find more information here.

Why should you support G3? All donations go to a Children’s Miracle Network hospital. In my case, that’s Seattle Children’s. It’s a fantastic cause.

How do you support G3? It’s easy, and there’s three ways you can help.

  1. Donate!
  2. Register for G3 yourself and raise money for your local CMN hospital.
  3. Help get the word out over Twitter, Facebook, etc.!

What am I doing for G3?

I’m getting together with three friends to play one of my all-time favorite co-op games – Borderlands! We’re finally going to take down Mad Moxxi and get the Big Tournament achievement.

  • There’s three challenges that make up the Big Tournament.
  • Each challenge has twenty rounds.
  • Each round has five waves.

Sounds like a tough go, doesn’t it? Friends tell me we’re probably in for six or seven hours straight if not more. Joining me in this challenge will be @Stepto, @justicar, & @EverettGresham.

We’re going to start at 6PM Pacific on Saturday the 18th (what time is that for you?). We’re not giving up until we see Achievement Unlocked.

We’re going to livestream it the entire way! You’ll be able to watch our pain and suffering on Twitch.TV.

Thanks in advance, everyone!

Upgrading my Atari 2600

For some time now I’ve been toying with the idea of performing surgery on my Atari 2600. Being decades-old, the only A/V output on it is RF. The quality of signals over RF is lousy by today’s standards, not to mention that most TVs don’t have RF inputs anymore!

Wednesday was the 40th anniversary of the founding of Atari, Inc. – and that was the push I needed to finally get this done. I was able to con @lawjick into coming over to help out, which was a really good thing because there were several points at which I really needed three or four hands to do this right.

Unfortunately I don’t have my childhood 2600 anymore, but I do have an Atari 2600 Jr. Rev. A that I picked up a couple of years ago. Here she is:
Atari 2600 Jr. Rev. A
(Looking for details about Atari 2600 revisions? Here’s the definitive reference)

The first order of business was to pop the case off. There’s just five screws on the bottom holding it on, and a number of small metal tabs that keep the RF shield in place. Once those are all removed, you’re left with a bare motherboard:
Motherboard

The area of the motherboard we’re going to be working on is in the lower right of the board, seen here:
Audio and Video happen here

Everything we’ll be connecting to is in the center of that photo. R41 (the rightmost of the group of three resistors just left of photo center), TP5, and C19 (the capacitor between two resistors just right of photo center).

We cut two old composite cables from my junk bin and soldered RCA jacks onto one end of each. Once we had that, there was only three things to do:

  • Solder a jumper from the lower pin of R41 to TP5.
  • Solder what will be the video cable to TP5 and ground.
  • Solder what will be the audio cable to the lower pin of C19 and ground.

That’s it! When that work is complete, it’ll look something like this (probably neater, though):
Upgrade Complete

I’ll leave one small bit of wisdom here. Test everything before you put it back together! If you take basic precautions there’s no reason you can’t make sure everything is working without the case and RF shield being attached. That’ll save you having to disassemble everything if, for example, one of your solder points is slightly loose. Not that I’d know anything about that.

Once you’ve validated your work and put the case back on, she’ll look like this:
Atari 2600 Jr. Rev. A + Composite

We tried about a half-dozen games in the testing process – Donkey Kong, Demon Attack, and others – but there was only one game that was appropriate for documenting the successful upgrade:
Atari 2600. E.T. Composite Video.

 

All the credit for this goes to Thomas Clancy and the crew at AtariAge. I was just following the excellent instructions in the 2600 FAQ.

Seattle Retro Gaming Expo

Today was the first day of the Seattle Retro Gaming Expo. We were there bright and early at 8:45, as people who pre-ordered tickets got in at 9 while everyone else had to wait until 10. The perfect plan to score the best gear!

Here’s today’s haul:From the 2012 Seattle Retro Gaming Expo

  • An Atari 5200 complete with AC adapter, two controllers, Star Raiders, Galaxian, Super Breakout, Defender, Football, Pac-Man, & Centipede.
  • E.T. for the Atari 2600 (how did I not already have a copy of that?!)
  • Sonic CD
  • X-Men for Genesis
  • 14 Game Gear games (including Sonic, Columns, & X-Men!)
  • N64 Expansion Pack (which doubles the RAM to a whopping 8MB)
  • Goldeneye, Perfect Dark, & R-Type III for N64

All of that ran me less than $200 including the $40 spent on admission.  The most expensive item of the bunch (other than the 5200) was R-Type III, but it was totally worth the $20 I paid. I’m a R-Type fan of the highest order – I’ve got a functioning R-Type cabinet, and what’s starting to be a fairly complete R-Type collection on console. At some point I’m going to need to sit down and figure out just how complete my collection is and figure out what it’ll take to finish it.

There’s a new PC in the house

A couple of weeks ago I came home to discover that I couldn’t access any of my media. My music, photos, and movies were all offline. They all reside on a Drobo that’s connected to a Shuttle PC running Windows 7, so I went to check it out. Someone probably turned it off by mistake, right?

At first glance, it’s definitely off. The power button doesn’t seem to have any effect. Is it plugged in? Yes. Is the surge protector on? Yes. Hmm. So I disconnected everything, carried it over to the nearest table, and removed the case.

Are computers supposed to smell like smoke?

This computer was 3-4 years old, rocking a Pentium dual-core with 2GB of RAM. It was slow when I bought it, but it was designed for low power-draw and silence – and it did that very well until the end.

Rather than try and figure out what component had committed suicide and replace it, I decided it was time to start over. I already had a great HTPC case sitting idle in my A/V rack – an Antec Fusion Remote Max.

Intel had just officially introduced their new Ivy Bridge line. I spent a couple of days shopping, reading reviews, and making up my mind. Here’s what I came up with:

In each case, there was a particular reason that I chose that component.

  • Motherboard: I’ve been using Asus motherboards for 20 years, so it was only a question of which Asus Z77 motherboard for me. The P8Z77-V is the least expensive model with an Intel Gigabit NIC instead of a Realtek one.
  • CPU: The i5-3570K is the lowest end of the Ivy Bridge CPUs with the new 4000HD integrated graphics. Since this machine is primarily a server and not used for gaming, I wanted to give that a shot. If it’s enough for my needs that’ll save money, keep the noise down, and dramatically reduce the power draw of the system.
  • RAM: This particular pair of DDR3 will run at 1600MHz with decent timing (8-8-8-24) while needing only 1.5V to drive it. A nice all-around set of specs for only a few dollars more than the cheap stuff.

Last weekend I got everything assembled and burned it in (Memtest86+ & Prime95). It’s connected through my receiver to my 61″ TV over HDMI. A few benchmarks show it’s actually much faster than I expected it to be. Most importantly my Drobo is back online – and oh, how I missed those 4TB of storage when they were gone.