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Asus ROG GM703 – Two year review

Asus gaming machine. It turned out to be pretty good, but two years later, I'm looking for something new.
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At the time I bought this, ASUS and MSI were the two top contenders. Both were solid brands with good history and all the features I wanted, but MSI has a weird obsession with making the keyboard perfectly rectangular at the expense of shoving all the keys together. As soon as I noticed the ASUS had a more spaced out keyboard and even a few media keys, the choice was obvious. In practice the keyboard is easy and natural to type on, though for some unknowable reason, there's no light indicating Num Lock status and no easily accessed END key which is REALLY annoying.

That aside, the coloration and controls are good, the performance is good, it's much thinner and lighter than my Qosmio and, most importantly, there's an empty RAM slot so I could upgrade from 16GB to 32 very easily (which I did).

The screen is crazy bright and I don't think I've used it on even 50% brightness yet because I'd likely get a burn from the glare. I think the macho ROG symbol is a bit childish but I wouldn't mind it too much if I could at least customize the color of the glowing ROG eye on the back of my screen.

Grr. So manly! Chest thump! WOOO. Look at my menacing laptop!

At the one year mark, I noticed two other problems. The function keys are shifted slightly further right than they should be making it too easy to hit the wrong one or the delete key when you mean F12. Additionally the fun keyboard color feature is less so when the color is weak and without definition. Either it's weakened considerably over the year or it was never as bright to begin with. Either way, the advertised color and reality are starkly different.

It's a shame. It's not an important feature, but I thought the lighted keyboard would be cool; not dim.

Second: I noticed this problem early, but didn't want to deal with it because I waited so long to buy the laptop that I just couldn't bring myself to return it. Every now and then it has problems with the disk hanging. I can move around, click windows, and so on, but disk-heavy programs (in particular VMware which I use for virtual machines) seem to lock hard. After that, the computer becomes incredibly slow in all programs (particularly any that would use the disk). If I try to shut it down, it hangs for so long that I usually just force power it down and when I restart, my login screen is wrong and I have to reset it.

I'm still not entirely sure if it's Windows 10 problem, a VMware problem, or an ASUS problem, but I figured it was better to point it out in case others had a similar issue.

In the end, it's a good laptop that did what I wanted it to. It has a few downsides that aren't critical enough that I wouldn't choose Asus again; but it wasn't great enough that it's my top choice for the next laptop either.
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Horizon Zero Dawn – Complete Edition (inc Frozen Wilds)

Horizon Zero Dawn - Complete Edition
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Without a doubt, Horizon Zero Dawn is still one of the best games I've ever played. Fantastic visuals, great gameplay, incredible story… this is the complete package if anything ever was.

I had some trouble getting a working copy of the Frozen Wilds expansion and eventually did so by getting this "complete edition" which includes the base game and the Frozen Wilds expansion in one. Once I finally was able to play, I started from a new game and enjoyed it just as much times as the first two playthroughs. There were a few new skills, a few new characters, and of course the entire new area with new machines, new contacts, new stories, new collectibles and new challenges.

Story-wise, it perfectly meshes with the existing narrative in a way that makes it seem like a part of the original game – exactly what you'd want for an expansion. It gives some new weapons and armor that seem overpowered by comparison to the base equipment (and even the best options in the main game), but that's ok because the level requirement for Frozen Wilds makes it a good idea to only tackle when you're most of the way through the main story or at least well equipped and experienced. Despite that I still had some trouble with the machines there so fair warning: they're beastly.

The only downside I could point to was the ridiculous arm and neck waggling the characters did in talking scenes. It was like watching someone who mistakenly thought they were supposed to animate power rangers (who can only express emotion through constant flagellation of their bodies). It was out of place compared to the rest of the game, but really is a piss-poor animation style and is out of place anywhere.

I suppose most people wouldn't care as much as I did and I admit it was a very minor annoyance in an otherwise flawless game so I still recommend it. If you like great story-based single-player epics, this is as good as they come.

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Horizon Zero Dawn

Horizon Zero Dawn - PlayStation 4: Sony Interactive Entertainment America LLC: Video Games
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I first became interested in this game when I heard of the concept: bows and spears versus big robot dinosaurs. There's clearly much more to it than that, but I never regretted it playing it. Besides beautiful graphics, and exceptional gameplay, it has one of the best stories I've ever seen. Finding out what happened and how gave me tingles. This is a rare treasure to be sure and I highly recommend giving it a try if you have even a little interest in the descriptions or reviews you've read (click the pic to go to Amazon and learn more if you wish).

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Sony will let you Play the EU version of a game, but won’t tell you it’s incompatible until it’s too late

Horizon Zero Dawn - Easily one of the greatest games I've ever played.
(See online!)

I first became interested in this game when I heard of the concept: bows and spears versus big robot dinosaurs. There's clearly much more to it than that, but I never regretted it playing it. Besides beautiful graphics, and exceptional gameplay, it has one of the best stories I've ever seen. Finding out what happened and how gave me tingles. This is a rare treasure to be sure and I highly recommend giving it a try if you have even a little interest in the descriptions or reviews you've read (click the pic to go to Amazon and learn more if you wish).

That said…

I received the game as a gift a few years back. Since then, there has been DLC released that adds game content and it has been long enough that I thought it might be fun to play again. So, during a week's vacation I took this last Christmas-time, that's what I did. I bought the DLC, though it was strangely difficult to do and downloading it was a pain, but off I went and fired up the game. It was just as great as I remembered.

Look for the TEEN rating sticker. If it says PEGI with a colored number instead like this one, it's a European disc
(Image used under: Fair Use doctrine)

I had a good time, but as I neared the end, I wondered why the DLC content hadn't activated yet. I looked around, read some guides and did some testing: hours of time to eventually learn the problem: I had a European version of the game.

Well crap.

So, I understand why companies want to region lock games and it isn't always about greed and making more money. It can be about exclusive content, meeting legal standards and so on. Whatever. The point is that all of that should be invisible to the customer and if they're not going to be compatible with other types of content (DLC, exclusives, extras, etc.), a little warning would be nice.

Whoever bought it for me as a gift clearly didn't know the difference and why would they? I didn't know the difference either until I did deep digging online. The game installed and played fine without any warnings or tips or indications of any kind that it was the wrong region. Even when I tried to install the DLC content, it didn't explain the issue, it just failed with a generic error.

You'll take store credit and be grateful for it! You're lucky we're even giving you that! (basically what Sony told me)

With no indication of a real problem vs a random glitch, I went online to buy it, but still Sony didn't warn me the version of the game and DLC weren't compatible and happily charged me for content I couldn't use. Then, when I called to customer service for a refund, they made it sound like they were doing me a huge favor by giving me – not a refund, but an in-store credit.

What should Sony have done?

Customers aren't experts on game systems, programming, laws, or any of the other factors that drives how the Playstation system, store, and network operate (nor should they be). All they are responsible to do is buy games and play games and it's in Sony's best interest to keep it that simple.

They could have sent up warnings at three points in the process (install, in-game DLC purchase, online DLC purchase). They could have just directed me to the EU store for the DLC. They could have sold me the EU DLC directly. They even could have blocked the install and play of the EU version of the game.

Here's the US version of Overwatch. Notice the "T" rating in the corner instead of the number that the EU uses.
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Any and all of these would have been preferred to making people jump through hoops. Not only did I have to waste my time and money, if I ever want to play the expanded content for one of my favorite games, I'll have to re-buy the whole thing (because the save games are apparently also incompatible which means I'll have to start over too!). And for what? Preventing all of this would have only required a trivial bit of computer code like this:

if (region = EU) then:

That they couldn't be bothered is surprising below the standard I would expect from a company who's been doing this for this long. Regardless, be careful and don't make the same mistake that I did.

You shouldn't have to know or care about this, but until Sony puts in the effort to make this work seamlessly, be careful. If you get a Playstation game, make sure it has a US-looking rating (which uses letters while the EU uses numbers.)
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Man Hunts and Beats Teen for Mocking Him Online

(Image is in the Public Domain)

For anyone who's participated in forums, online games, or any other system where you can communicate with random strangers, you've probably encountered people who make you angry. Some are just people who you don't get along with legitimately, and some are "trolls"; people who toy with others for their amusement.

What makes people trolls is generally the anonymous nature of the Internet. Sadly, this is often a perceived anonymity only. Just yesterday, I found a post I didn't agree with and wanted to comment on it. Since the author had locked comments, I did a little web research and found her real name, school, e-mail address, and other sites she posted to. I was only looking for some means to contact her, but the information was fully filled out on these sites with no protection at all.

Imagine her shock to find out how easily she was found (and to be honest she called me quite a few names at first though we did have a good conversation after that).

Sadly, most people don't realize how difficult it is to be truly anonymous. The only things keeping you safe in many cases is that you've never given anyone enough reason to look you up. And now we get to the real story.

Online games can be tense and frustrating. For example, the first time I played an online competitive game, I was completely crushed in seconds and insulted repeatedly for my efforts. I chose to stick with offline gaming but others weather the storm and build their skills to the point they can keep up and even be good enough to win.

However, there are just going to be times that someone is better than you. That's frustrating enough, but when they're rude and insulting, it can be maddening. And for context, understand that the people who are the rudest are often younger males who believe they don't have to "pull any punches" since they don't have to face the consequences of their actions (an idea that was excellently portrayed in Disney's Pinocchio).

My point is, this kid was being an ass with abandon. What was his opponent going to do? Hunt him down and hurt him? Turns out the answer was yes.

And believe it or not, there's a lot of support for the attacker online. The sad fact is that there are still consequences for what we do, even if we're online. Similar to the adive every parent must give to their children of how posts last forever, we must also teach our kids not to draw undue agression. After all, how do you know whether the person you're "Teabagging" has the ability and desire to come after you in person?

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China Forcing Prisoners to Play Video Games for Money

Photo shamelessly stolen from the source article

I've always thought that prisoners should be made to work to support themselves and others. Maybe the Chinese have hit on something with this:

"Prison bosses made more money forcing inmates to play games than they do forcing people to do manual labour," Liu told the Guardian. "There were 300 prisoners forced to play games. We worked 12-hour shifts in the camp. I heard them say they could earn 5,000-6,000rmb [£470-570] a day. We didn't see any of the money. The computers were never turned off."

The Guardian says that prisoners were beaten if they couldn't make their quota so maybe they're taking it too far, but the idea itself is still sound.

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PS3 Versus the World

Sony has been going crazy trying to keep clever users from unlocking the PS3 to run homebrew (like the Wii hack which I love!).

First of all, companies are trying everything they can, but in the end it won't amount to much. Consider that all it takes is one person anywhere in the world to figure out the encryption codes (not the real name, but it's simpler) who then shares it online (like in this hilarious example where a user tricked a Sony spokesperson into sharing a PS3 related code to his audience of thousands on Twitter!).

And yet companies get increasingly difficult and stupid about trying to protect their games which only makes things harder for the legitimate users (obligatory comic referencing this concept). All I can say is good luck Sony.

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Farmville Addiction Leads to Baby’s Death

Today a severely depressing story of a baby that was shaken to death for interrupting his mother's Farmville time.

A normal parent knows interruptions happen and can deal, but someone suffering from an addiction is different. They're obsessed and nothing else is as important!

The Mashable article says this:

Needless to say, it is Ms. Tobias — and not the game itself — that is responsible for the death of her 3-month-old son.

While this is completely true, I don't think it's right to say that Farmville was not involved and bears none of the responsibility. The game, is fun, engaging, bright and feeds into people's innate needs to build, organize, nurture, and escape (all signs of addictive games), but worst of all, Farmville punishes you for not playing. When you stop playing, your animals and crops die.

At some point, the people who make Farmville had a meeting to decide how to keep people playing the game and came up with the death idea. To be fair, maybe they didn't realize how this would lead many people into addiction, but it has and that fact is pretty obvious by now.

Even Mashable agrees:

FarmVille, named one of the “worst inventions” in recent decades by Time magazine, has more than 60 million members, most of whom access the game through Facebook (Facebook). Some players have found it so addicting that they’ve lost their jobs and racked up debts north of $1,000.

In the end, what company owns up to this and apologizes or changes their ways even in the face of deaths and misery that they had a hand in causing? Instead, they'll blame the user saying that it's totally their responsibility for becoming addicted. So the only choice you have is to handle it yourself.

You have to manage or completely avoid games that are (allegedly) built addictive. Just do a search for "name of game" addictive and if there are pages and pages of results, you just might want to steer clear.

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12 Year Old Boy Uses World of Warcraft Skills to Save Sister’s Life

(Image used under: Fair Use doctrine)

So you think all those online games rot your brain, make you slovenly, and are a complete waste of time? You're still right, but there are some unexpected benefits it seems.

A Norwegian boy who apparently plays the popular online game, World of Warcraft, used the skills he learned in the game to save his sister and then himself from an angry Moose.

Hans and his sister got into trouble after they had trespassed the territory of the moose during a walk in the forest near their home. When the moose attacked them, Hans knew the first thing he had to do was ‘taunt’ and provoke the animal so that it would leave his sister alone and she could run to safety. ‘Taunting’ is a move one uses in World of Warcraft to get monsters off of the less-well-armored team members.

Once Hans was a target, he remembered another skill he had picked up at level 30 in ‘World of Warcraft’ – he feigned death. The moose lost interest in the inanimate boy and wandered off into the woods. When he was safely alone Hans ran back home to share his tale of video game-inspired survival.

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Story of Gaming Addiction

(Image used under: Creative Commons 2.5 [SRC])

This is a heartbreaking account of someone's battle with gaming addiction. Posted here so I can look it up later.

This pretty much sums it up.

"I hated level 40," she said with a sigh. It was the first time we'd spoken in eight years, and she had never forgotten the night I spurned her advances in favor of gaining a level in EverQuest.
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DLC or "Downloadable Content" generally refers to addons you can purchase for games on computers or game systems. Sometimes this can be fair in terms of price vs value, but they can also be predatory.