Category: Uncategorized


 By Max Neopikhanov

With the sheer number of components and parts in a computer, it’s often a challenge to get the most value out of your money when purchasing a new one or upgrading your current one.  You may be ready to pull the trigger and buy that laptop computer you’ve been researching, but you don’t know all the technical jargon and why you should spend extra money on additional, faster components. Or, perhaps you have an older computer that just might need a small upgrade or two to keep up with the Joneses.

Specification sheets and sales pitches frequently say the better computer is one which features a fast processor, good video graphics, and a wonderful, crisp HD screen, all of which wrapped in an attractive form factor, and at a reasonable price.  These particular features are often built into the computer without you, the consumer, having much choice beyond picking a different model or brand.  The computer appears to be exactly what you are looking for and, seemingly, all the choices have been made for you.

But when you arrive at the checkout page you’re met with two important decisions that can mean spending two, sometimes three hundred dollars more than you need to, RAM (random access memory) and Hard Drive (storage) size.

Hardware makers often stress the importance of having ample RAM to speed-up your machine when running multiple resource intensive applications, which is certainly true.  Likewise you need plenty storage space to hold all of these applications, along with photos, music, movies, documents and other files.

Unfortunately these two components are often marked-up and sold at a much higher cost to you.   In this guide I’m going to show you how easy and cost efficient it is to purchase your laptop computer, new or used, with the bare minimum RAM and storage space offered, and then upgrade each yourself for much less.

And alternatively, if you are happy with your current laptop computer but wish it were just a bit speedier when loading files or browsing the internet, or had more space for all of your important files, you may just need a cost efficient upgrade without plunking down lots of money for a brand new machine.

This guide will help you do the following:

  • Find out how much RAM and storage space a computer has
  • Identify how much RAM and storage space you need
  • Locate where on your computer you may access the RAM and storage drive
  • Purchase and install your new RAM and storage drive

If you already own the computer you wish to upgrade you may skip below to identifying how much RAM and Hard Drive space you need and how to find out what you currently have.

What Am I Being Offered?

If purchasing a brand new computer, whether at a computer shop or website, it is a good idea to find out how much RAM and storage space is being offered and for how much. Individual laptop RAM modules, or sticks, are called SODIMMs and are usually installed in singles or pairs in laptop computers.  If you plan on upgrading RAM yourself, choosing the most inexpensive option with only a single SODIMM is the best course of action because a second SODIMM can be cheaply purchased and easily installed without much hassle.  If in doubt about how many RAM slots a particular computer has, look over the specifications page or ask a sales representative.

For data storage most laptop computers have only a single slot for a single Storage device, either a Hard Disk Drive (HDD), which is the traditional storage solution, using very dense magnetic coated discs to store data, or a newer Solid State Drive (SSD), the newer storage technology that uses non-volatile flash memory that utilize fewer moving parts and less power.   Storage devises can range from a relatively small 32 Gigabytes, or GB, with each Gigabyte being 1000 Megabytes, well into the stratosphere of a Terabyte, being 1000 Gigabytes.

But why swap out one storage device for another when you can simply purchase your computer with a larger one to begin with? Well, aside from HDDs being available for cheaper when bought separately, you can turn the HDD or SSD that came with your laptop into a very nifty external drive that you can take anywhere!  With an inexpensive hard drive enclosure, a small box attached with a USB data cord, an extra unused HDD or SSD can become a supplementary mobile drive which you can use to transfer files to and fro different computers, very similar to a USB thumb drive, albeit with much more space!

How Much Do I Really Need?

For those using their computer primarily for document editing, web browsing, and streaming video will probably do  well a 500GB drive.  Audiophiles, video editors, and video gamers might need some more space;  a 1TB or larger drive, while on the more expensive side of things, would provide enough space to not have to make any compromises when storing large video files, music collections, and video games.

Most HDDs are fast enough for daily computer tasks, but for those in need of  faster performance instead of copious storage space might do well with purchasing a Solid State Drive.  These drives have no internal moving parts and instead of using a Disk to store data, use low power, high-speed flash memory that doesn’t need to spin at a high rate, like a standard Hard Drive, to be accessed by the computer.  SSD is a technology which has slowly been gaining recognition by technology enthusiasts and hardware manufacturers to the point of becoming quite affordable for many computer users.  The downsides to the technology include the limited amount of space compared to traditional HDDs and the higher cost per GB – as much as three times the cost, depending on the model of SSD.

Random Access Memory (RAM) isn’t nearly as expensive, and can be vital to a computer’s performance, especially  when using resource demanding applications.  A lot of numbers and nomenclature are thrown out at you in the computer’s spec sheet, Double Data Rate (DDR), and DIMM and SODIMM, 1066 MHz, for example.  Generally speaking, the higher the numbers, the faster the RAM will be.  It is important to note, however, that you must upgrade RAM modules with those of identical specification, such as DDR and speed ratings.  RAM is generally cheap enough that at least 6GB, which is plenty for all current operating systems and likely Microsoft’s next one as well, is a good idea to have.

 I Already Have My Laptop Computer, Which Sort of RAM and Hard Drive Does it have?

Most laptops feature an access panel on the bottom of the machine where you can have access to the RAM and storage drive.  Sometimes there are two separate panels for each, but swapping them out should be the same.  Once the panels are removed, take a look at the RAM modules and the storage drive.  Pushing back on the metal springs will release the RAM modules which you can then slide out from their slot.


On each RAM module should be a sticker, where written are its specifications, such as the Double Data Rate (DDR) and speed in Megahertz, along with the capacity in Gigabytes.  Make sure the replacement modules, or additional modules you might be installing, match the DDR and Megahertz specification of those already present.  If upgrading a system with a single slot, most machines will generally accept at least up to 8GB.  Whether using single or dual RAM modules,  running a 64-bit operating system is required for the operating system to use more than 3.26GB of RAM.  When using a 32-bit operating system, the machine will simply not be able to take advantage of more than 3.26GB of RAM regardless of how much is actually installed.

If using a Microsoft Windows operating system you can check if your computer is using a 64-bit or 32-bit operating system by right-clicking on My Computer  and then clicking on properties.


A storage drive, whether HDD or SSD requires only slightly more work to remove and should not pose much difficulty to anyone with a screwdriver.  The Drive generally sits inside a small metal case called the Caddy, which keeps the Hard Drive in place inside the computer.  Once the Drive is free from its alcove, you should be able to read its specifications written on its sticker.  Unlike replacing RAM modules, you are not limited to replacing your current drive with a drive with the same speed and technology.  The only requirement when installing a new drive into your laptop is that the replacement drive is of the 2.5” variety – it can be faster or slower, smaller or larger, Hard Disk Drive or Solid State Drive.



Wearing the one piece khaki jump suits with personalized name tags, heavy looking backpacks with bobs and switches that hum and buzz with iridescence, Peter, Ray, Egon, and Winston run onto a stage to overwhelming applause from a crowd of fans, the iconic theme song pounding in the foreground which fans just can’t help but sing along with: “who you gonna call?”

The Ghostbusters are back in New York — no not the original actors including Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd — but this time as a theatrical shadowcast starring Brooklyn College student Eliko Aharon, and have most recently performed at the BB King Blues Club in the heart of Times Square, 42Street.

Based on the first Ghostbusters movie from 1984, the Minions of Gozer is a shadowcast performance where actors perform scenes from the film while it plays on a projector screen in the background.  Established at the IFC Center located in the Greenwhich Village in Manhattan, the cast is hoping to perform the production at other venues in the city, and possibly at the Brooklyn College campus with the help of the theater department.

Aharon, 24, a Speech Therapy Major with a Minor in Art, discovered the Minions of Gozer shadowcast production in 2011 while doing a digital photography project at Kingsboro College when he saw several of the show’s cast members handing out promotional fliers.

After approaching them about possibly providing art design for the show, he was instead offered a chance to audition for the part of one of the four Ghostbusters, Ray Santz (Dan Aykroyd), which he immediately landed despite it being his first real acting gig.

“I was always interested in the movies growing up,” said Aharon. “There were the toys, the cartoons playing; Ghostbusters is a timeless classic.”

Aharon is currently one of the 14 cast members in the production which, according to show producer Angela Williams, works best with about 17.

Williams, 36, once a policy analyst for the city and now the director of Minions of Gozer, has helmed the production for nine shows since it opened last November at the IFC center.  A huge fan of Ghostbusters herself, Williams feels that the Ghostbusters films are still very relevant today despite being more than 25 years old, and exhibit some of the best qualities of New York City — where the films were shot and take place — and its inhabitants.

“I travelled to New York several years ago and I stumbled upon the firehouse [from the movie] and I wanted to recreate that moment of my favorite thing to life,” Williams explained. “I like the New York that’s portrayed in the movie, with curmudgeonly old people with hearts of gold.”

In addition to her directing duties, Williams helps to create and maintain some of the props and performs a few small roles during the production including operating slimmer, the tenacious and iconic green ghost who is brought to life through a puppet that’s been custom made for Minions of Gozer.

Much of the production’s budget goes into repairs and purchasing new props for each show, Williams explained.  “We tend to break a lot of things,” she said, laughing.  “I’m terrible at making things,” she said backstage while tearing up a white sheet into an impromptu ghost prop.

The show is, by theater production standards, decidedly low budget, mostly due to the largely amateur cast and home-made props. But as an entirely internally funded project is still an expensive endeavor for those new to show business.

The BB King performance is the first for which the actors were paid; each performer earned $20, said Aharon.  But money isn’t very important to the cast to whom the experience and fan support are enough reasons to keep the show running.

“It’s a low budget for a show but it’s a big budget for two people,” said producer Ryan Espin.” We are not doing it for the money, but because we love Ghostbusters.”

Espin,a 25-year-old web designer, is the show’s “co-producer, public relations, designer and Peter Venkman.” He and Williams provided all of the production’s initial funding for costumes, props, advertisement and other logistics out of pocket.

Some of the props are cheap, but others such as the essential energy beam proton packs that each of the Ghostbusters wear, cost about $200 each plus maintenance costs, said Espin.

Aharon spiritedly recalled an incident when his proton pack “completely fell off during one scene.”  A potentially harrowing and show-halting disaster in any normal production, the mishap apparently didn’t perturb the audience in the least bit, he said, and they instead laughed as Aharon continued delivering his lines without missing a beat.

According to cast members, this is all common fare in a shadowcasts, where performers don’t intend to take themselves too seriously.  Racy, off-beat humor and campy acting are the norm and are wholly embraced by the fans.

Indeed, at one point during the BB King show a cast member seemingly downed a good portion of a Jack Daniels Whiskey Bottle.  During another side bar, a cast member kissed another who was dressed in drag complete with a large 70s era moustache. Neither of the improvised scenes appeared in the original film.

Actors performing a film in front of an audience is not a relatively new concept.  The first shadowcast was born in 1975 with the Rocky Horror Picture Show film at the Weaverly Theater — now IFC Center — in Greenwich Village, said Williams.  In a time of flagrant discrimination and prejudice of gays, a few actors and theater enthusiasts decided to run a show where patrons could watch the Rocky Horror Picture Show and participate with the actors by shadowing the film on stage.

“It was a fun and safe place to hang out,” said Williams.

The performance has garnered a cult following over the years and continues to run at several theaters across the country — a cult following that Minions of Gozer cast hopes to someday meet and perhaps even eclipse.

Perhaps the most important difference between a shadowcast and a normal theater production is the extensive interaction between the players on stage and the audience members.  The production constantly breaks the fourth wall with self referential humor and impromptu skits that wouldn’t be out of place in an episode of Saturday Night Live – incidentally two of the Ghostbusters featured prominently in the films, Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd,  began their storied careers as cast members on SNL.

At the BB King show, several audience members were pulled on stage to hold up signs or dance with the cast who would often walk off the stage and start conversing and interacting with the seated audience.  What seems out of place in a normal theatrical production is one of the key tenets of Minions of Gozer.

“The first two rows are ‘slime square’, where there is a definite chance of you being pulled up on stage or being hit with silly string,”  said Aharon.

Before the show starts, a member of the cast walks between the tables and doles out $2 brown paper bags packed with an index card, a crunch bar, several pieces of toast, and other references to the film, for the audience to throw on stage when given the cue.

Confections fly in every direction and colorful lights flash around the room.

The actor playing Rick Moranis’ memorable and extremely socially awkward character, Louis Tully, runs up to a nearby audience member and asks, “I am the key master, are you the gate keeper?”   A big grin erupts on her face, and her response is drowned out by the throng of cheering fans and the loud speakers by the stage.

Aharon has spoken with members of the theater department at Brooklyn College and said that any potential performance at the school will depend on the overall cost of the production, which will likely come out of the producers’ pockets. One possible idea is to screen the film and perform everything outdoors with a projector, similar to what the cast did at an outdoor show on the beach at Coney Island last summer.

“I think it would be a great experience for BC students to have,” said Aharon. “It’s not just people sitting or watching a movie, it’s almost as if you’re in the film right there with you.”

Moreover, bigger venues and interstate touring are some of the goals for the show, said Aharon.  He hinted at the “possibility” of a Ghostbusters II shadow cast and even suggested that he’d love to do a Jurassic Park Shadowcast in the future – complete, of course, with many of the Minions of Gozer cast members he’s gotten to know.

“We’ve worked together for so long that they’re almost like my family members,” explained Aharon, emphatically, and with a warm smile on his face.

2 Dawn studio head, Ustaev at his workstation at home.


The video game industry made more than $70 billion in 2011, according to industry pundits.  But in the past few years, and  with an ever increasing attention to big budget spectacle and mainstream proliferation, the industry has become a tough nut to crack for those not financed by the 500 pound gorillas in the industry – Electronic Arts, Activision, and the New York Based Rockstar Games to name a few.

In his 2011 book on the history of video games, All Your Base are Belong to Us, industry veteran Harold Goldberg said that video game sales in the United States have become “bigger than movie theaters, DVD  sales, and music Combined.”

Some have shifted away from big budget, hyper realistic games like Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty. There are many small development teams who have given up directly competing with big budget titles and instead make small games for the smart phone and PC market.

Some games like the ever-so-popular Angry Birds or the Facebook farming simulation Farmville have gained unimaginable popularity within the mainstream.

2Dawn studios, an independent video game studio founded in New York City, is trying something different with their upcoming post-apocalyptic, multi-player shoot ‘em up Ravaged: They want to capture the big spectacle and first-rate technology found in AAA big budget titles, but at a fraction of the cost, and with complete creative control.

“The project got off the ground because me and a couple of friends got together and talked about what we could do besides our day to day jobs,” explained studio founder and head, Boris Ustaev. “We came up with a few ideas and said ‘why don’t we make a video game’?”

Unlike most other studios, 2 Dawn is a work-from-home virtual studio where each member contributes to the game during their free time, without the ever-watchful gaze of a major publisher.

The team of about four core members and just over half a dozen freelancers has been working for 30+ hours each week for the past three years in addition to their normal jobs – hard work that they feel should pay off when the game is finally launched this summer on Steam, the popular digital video game distribution service.

“We don’t have a venture capitalist behind us.  We don’t have a publisher, it’s just us,” said Ustaev. “We want to see if we could do it on our own.”


As a veteran of the visual effects industry with nearly 20 years of experience, 38-year-old Ustaev had done special effects in commercials for big names such as McDonalds, Starbucks, Ford, and Nickelodeon before getting into video games.

During the day he works at a visual effects company called the Mill, working in tandem with directors in coordinating film shots for special effects.

He ventured into the field by doing animation work for the now defunct New York City based Kaos studios.

“I had a friend of mine who wrote video games.  He had a start up and hired me to dome some stuff.  I then had a great idea that I wanted to make this video game that was post apocalyptic.”

After his work with Kaos studios, Ustaev began to think of possibly creating his own game.

“I loved video games a kid.  We had a commodore 64 and I grow up playing that and then the Atari and the Nintendo; they were a huge influence on my life growing up.”

Ravaged was conceived in early 2009 by Ustaev and a friend from Long Island who has contributed both financially and creatively to the project but wants to stay anonymous.

Though really wanting to make a video game similar to the Mad Max films, Ustaev wasn’t sure of the exact genre 2Dawn would be working in.  Early ideas of a medieval game with lots of sword combat and horseback riding ended up being scrapped because the team felt the animation would be difficult to pull off and the target audience would be smaller.

The team decided to go with the Mad Max inspired futuristic wasteland theme.

“Growing up I used to watch Mad Max with my father.  That genre stuck to in my head,” explained Ustaev. “My vision is: ‘how chaotic and crazy this world would be if it would fall apart?’”

According to Ustaev, most other games and films portray a science fiction take on the end of the world – he cited films the Terminator and Book of Eli as examples – but himself feels that “it’s more about the earth itself, about global warming – the world is changing.  It’s more about what happens to this planet as it gets older and older.”

After they picked the genre, the team next needed to figure out how to efficiently create the code that would serve as the basis for the game.  Instead of doing everything from scratch, 2 Dawn chose the popular Unreal Engine, made by Epic Games, which would serve as the backbone of the project.

To program a game engine, the core frame work of any video game, takes a large amount of resources and man power; so many developers and publishers lease an engine from companies like Epic Games, who in addition to making money from their own games, make money through giving their tools to other game developers.

Ustaev and his business partner looked for others who would be interested in the project and found several through online forums and message boards.

“The hardest part is to find people interested in doing it, and doing it on the side, since most people have regular day jobs,” said Ustaev.

“A lot of people would commit and say ‘Yes, I want to do it, it sounds fun.’ They would be enthusiastic for a week and then you’d never hear from them again.”

Jon Lorber, 41 and from Long Island, and Kenneth Payne, 42 and from El Paso, Texas, were two who joined the studio from the beginning and are vested partners with the company.

Lorber is one of the team’s programmers and has worked on different aspects of the game, and who, like the other team members, works on the game during his free time.

During the day he is a production manager who designs software at a, a sign shop in Amityville New York.

“I’m coming home from one job to work on another – this really is a second job,” he said.

Lorber attended Farmingdale University to become an aircraft mechanic but landed a job at the sign company shortly after college.  He did well in the company and stayed there for nearly 17 years.

“It’s something I probably should never had gotten into in the beginning, but since my work ethic was so strong, it took me from the ground floor up to production manager,”  Lorber said.

“My true dream has always been to work in games and games design and I’ve been programming since I was 12.”

He started programming on the Mattel Aquarius computer in the 1980s.  “It didn’t have any media to save files so I used to program games from Compute magazine, but I couldn’t save them so I would type them in, run them and then I’d lose them,” explained Lorber.

Twenty nine years later, Lorber is working long hours on a project he’s really passionate about.

“Right now I’m focusing on the user interface design and implementation.  I’m creating the main menus and option screens and the heads up the display,” he said.

He still can’t believe that the studio has come so far in the three years they’ve been working.

“In the beginning I didn’t know that this was going to be such a big project. I just knew that I wanted to work on a game and I wanted to work really hard,” he said.  “That’s what I typically do during the day at my job.”

Payne is the only vested partner not in New York and he’s never met any of the people that he’s worked with over the past few years.

To make ends meet, Payne runs an online business making midi switches for guitar amplifiers that he sells though his website and through eBay and works entirely from home.

“I work on [the game] during the day when I can and then the wife and kids get home.”

His wife Tiffany is also programmer but works on business applications.   “Every once in a while he shows me what he’s working on and it’s really cool.”

She added that “he does a lot of work during the day but there are so many nights when he comes to bed at three or four in the morning.”

Their six year old son adores video games and is fascinated with his father always playing games. “He’s always bugging me to play them but I tell him ‘No it’s my work computer; go play with the iPad,” said Payne, chuckling.

The work environment at 2Dawn is very different from the normal, centralized one at most regular development studios.  Teamspeak, a chatroom-like voice over internet protocol program is used extensively by all the studio members to communicate with each other.

“It’s almost like being at an office, but never ever seeing the person,” explained Ustaev.

Usaev said that every member of the studio can work on the files remotely without being together in a physical space and without overwriting each other’s work or causing confusion.

Payne thinks that the system generally works: “It’s nice because you have a lot of freedom but sometimes you’re not told what to do so you might go ahead and assume something and the other guys may not like it. Usually we’re on the same lines.”

Recently, the team started a fund-raising effort for the game on – a website designed to help start up companies raise capital for their projects.

The website pairs entrepreneurs with donors who want to help get a project off the ground.  Unlike normal investments, you may not necessarily receive anything tangible for donating money.

2 Dawn isn’t just asking for free donations: $25 dollars will get you a full digital copy of the game when it released, while those donating a staggering $10,000 will let you go on a “dune buggy adventure” with Ustaev and the rest of the team.

According to Ustaev, unlike many other projects that get off the ground on the popular crowdfunding website, Ravaged was in its last leg of development when the team started the funding.

“Kickstarter is probably the most awesome invention ever,” said Ustaev. “It shows you if there is an interest for your game and if there is a community willing to back your game.”

The other team members agree.  They said that the site can be a great launching pad for many businesses to work independently without having to rely on major outside investment.

“I don’t think I’d want to be part of a big studio because you’re making their game for them for an average salary.  I can do something here in El Paso for the same amount of money and half the stress.”

Lorber echoed that sentiment: “The kind of energy I’m putting into somebody else business is something I should put into my own.”

There is a price for independence.  According to Ustaev, the project has cost nearly $80,000 over the past few years –much of that went to paying freelancers for their work on the game.  All of it coming from his personal finances and the pocket of the studio’s anonymous partner.

Epic Games and Valve Software, the Engine developer and the owner of the online distribution program Steam, respectively, will take a combined cut of about half the profits, according to Ustaev.

Having worked in the film industry, Ustaev feels that it is still much cheaper than if he were to turn his post apocalyptic vision into a film.

“[The game] is much easier to do on my own, or get a few people involved, versus trying to do a real movie,” said Ustaev.

“Having the Eifel tower, for example, snowed in over 100 feet is something that’s not likely to happen but it’s really not that complicated to do in the 3D video game world.”

Special effects in movies can cost millions of dollars to produce.

Brick and mortar studios have historically not been very successful in New York, despite the large amount of money and talent flowing through the city.  Ustaev said that is why he’s trying something different.

“Good programmers in New York aren’t cheap,” he said. “The cost of living is just too high.  The amount of people needed to develop a game is a lot.”

2 Dawn is an attempt at a different business model, said Ustaev.

“I don’t want to get an office space, I want to do virtual everything.  This is kind of an experiment for us as well.”

It is an experiment that the studio members think is working well so far. And with the game nearly complete, they are excited to look towards the future as the hope that game will be a success. “It happened to be that I met the right people and I pushed forward with the right amount of energy,” said Lorber.

There are many jobs in the video game entertainment industry outside of the city but Ustaev doesn’t want to leave.

“I love New York, I’m used to the high paced life that New York gives you.   Every place is nice to visit but home is home and there’s nothing like New York for me.”

“My ultimate goal is to have a virtual studio full time,” said Ustaev.  “This way I can focus on one career.”

The team still has work ahead of them before the game is launched this summer but each member looks forward to reap the rewards of their hours of hard work.

When asked why the studio is called 2 Dawn, Lorber chuckled and replied:

“That’s easy; it’s a play on words.  Many nights I’ve worked till four or five in the morning, caught a few hours of sleep and then went to work. Basically, we were working till dawn.”

According to a Youtube video uploaded on September the 14th by ‘Eric from the Crown3DS team’, the 3DS has been hacked with a flash cart that can run 3DS software.

the Crown3DS, a large and obviously not for retail device is seen plugged into the 3DS’ cartridge slot and loading Ubisoft’s Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell 3D.

No other details are available right now but this does come as bad news for Nintendo, who have been struggling with poor 3DS sales and disenchanted and rapidly bailing stockholders.

Nintendo DS piracy was facilitated through similar, albeit commercial flashcarts, and has affected both the sale of software on the system and stock price.

Nintendo will likely patch any vulnerabilities through a system update before the Crown3DS is fully functional and ready for commercial – read illegal – sale.

Sony has just announced at their E3 conference that the NGP – now known as the PS Vita – will debut bu the end of 2011 for under $250 bucks (or 250 Euros) for the wifi version and $299/299 Euros for the 3G one.   Planned launch titles include Uncharted, Little Big Planet, Ruin, and Mod Nation Racers. Capcom have also gone on stage to reveal that their latest fighting game, Capcom X Tekken, will make a debut on Sony’s handheld with the protagonist of the Infamous franchise, Cole, as a playable character.

Sony is promising that over 80 titles are in development from big publishers such as EA, Ubisoft, Activision and THQ. Previously shown tech demos of Lost Planet 2 and Metal Gear solid 4, and Yakuza 4 were not announced or shown to be upcoming games.

Nintendo is looking to have some stiff competition come this holiday season, and a price cut to the 3DS seems to be inevitable considering Sony’s bold pricing of the Vita. Nintendo’s conference is slated for tomorrow and we shall see what they have in store for the handheld market.

With an ever-changing video game market it is not uncommon to see franchises established on one system eventually arrive on another.  No one would have believed that Sonic, Spyro the Dragon, or Crash Bandicoot would grace a Nintendo platform but they all have.  Halo began its life as a PC exclusive before it caught the eye of Microsoft, became a flagship title for the Xbox, and subsequently was ported back over to the PC a few years later.  Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto series, once one of the driving forces behind the unprecedented success of the Playstation 2, is now on all the major platforms. (Barring the Nintendo Wii)  The departure of PC centric developers like BioWare, Epic Games, and Lion Head Studios to multi-platform or console exclusive development has been disappointing to say the least.  Not because of a desire to keep these studios solely within the PC community, but because their titles haven’t really been the same since their shift towards console development.

Though it is evident that the success and proliferation of piracy on the net has caused some of these developers to jump ship and swim for friendlier waters, newer independent developers and some prolific console ones have braved the waters to try and reap some of the booty from the largely untapped treasure that is the PC games market.

Most of these games are released multi-platform to maximize profits and safeguard from PC piracy though there are several key experiences available only on PCs – at least for the time being.  The following games are great – though not always perfect – showcases for computers as viable gaming platforms.


The Witcher – Strong well acted lead role for a protagonist? Check. Immersive and original fantasy setting? Check. Gorgeous scenery and visuals? Check Check.  The Witcher, a breakout hit in 2007 and based on the fantasy novels of Polish writer Andrzej Sapkowsky, made a strong impact in the RPG genre at release; it’s dark and magical world resonated with a sense of stark realism and palpable issues not usually covered by the fantasy genre.  Racism, vice, political corruption and intrigue are all important themes back-dropping a world filed with cloak and dagger spies, cutthroats, mercenaries and ravenous monsters.  Though not open world like the Elder Scrolls series, The Witcher still managed to deliver a satisfying story while giving the player choice over matters of morality in the main story and the many side quests – always with varying shades of gray and often to weightily consequences. Perhaps one of the unfortunate shortcomings of the game was that that it originally shipped with several annoying game-play bugs, though fortunately they were patched and a re-mastered version containing additional material released.

The Witcher 2 has recently been released to wide acclaim and builds on the original’s engaging world and protagonist by upping the cinematic presentation, incorporating stunning graphics, and streamlining the combat and controls.  The game remains a PC exclusive for now but is slated to be released for Xbox 360 by the end of the year.  The PC version will definitely be the superior if your hardware can handle it.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.  The Shadow of Chernobyl series:  Released more than a year before Bethesda’s massive hit Fallout 3, Stalker allowed gamers to explore an irradiated world filled with mercenaries and mutants.  Not quite in a ‘wasteland’ setting, the game none the less made you feel like you’re in something very close, perhaps due to it taking place in the heart and surrounding area of the real life Chernobyl nuclear disaster.   Largely a first-person shooter with some RPG elements, Stalker is a semi-open world game where exploration plays an important part in a very bleak and dangerous world.  The game and its several sequels have great graphics and atmosphere while offering tight shooter controls.  Not quite as an RPG as fallout 3 the games still contain just enough role-playing elements to keep RPG fans engaged.  Like with the Witcher, Stalker and its sequels have contained some bugs that have kept the series back from universal acclaim, though most have been fixed through patches and by the community.

World of Warcraft: Little needs to be said for this titan of a game.  Even those not familiar with computer games – or RPGs for that matter – most likely know about WoW.  The game underhandedly revolutionized the MMORPG genre at release in 2005 and has since dominated it with more than 60% of the market share.  If playing a fantasy RPG full of orcs, goblins and elves with millions of other people sounds appealing, then World of Warcraft along with its several expansions could be worth trying as it still stands as one of the better MMO experiences available today.

Star Wars the Old Republic:  If there is any game with the potential to bite into the enormous market share of WoW, it’s the upcoming Star Wars The Old Republic MMORPG by Bioware – with over a million and a half beta subscribers already on board, the game is shaping up to be a big hit in the online community.  BioWare is pouring a tremendous amount of resources into shaping the story and the mechanics of the game and with a proper launch and a steady stream of content it might be the next big MMO to play.  SWTOR is slated to be released later this year.

Diablo III – This upcoming sequel in the classic Blizzard Diablo franchise looks to give fans what they want: bloody isometric action-RPG gameplay with plenty of loot to collect and monsters to slay.  The game is shaping up to be a great revival of an endeared franchise, much in the same way Star Craft II turned out to be.  Fans of the dungeon crawl have allot to look forward to, and Blizzard rarely (if ever!) disappoints.  Look for Diablo III to be out sometime next year -hopefully.


Crysis: Crytek has joined the club of PC game developers who have jumped on the multi-platform bandwagon with the release of their latest though not so greatest hit, Crysis 2.  It’s wonderful that console gamers can experience some of the tech and gameplay that has made the series into the blockbuster it is today, though the sequel by no means tops the original –  surprisingly not even in the visuals department.  The original Crysis’ open ended game-play and large jungle environments are replaced in the sequel with linear shootouts in a concrete New York City.  Sure Crysis wasn’t totally perfect; the story left much to be desired and the incredible graphics required a powerful computer, but ultimately the game delivered on its promise of being a super-soldier in a non-linear jungle.  The game’s last third section is amongst the best I have ever played, featuring Matrix inspired aliens and jaw dropping battle sequences.  Some gamers may ascertain that the game is shallow and focuses on visuals over substance.  The majority of these naysayers probably have never played past the demo level. Crysis will undoubtedly be remembered as a benchmark for computer graphics – it’s worth noting that though it won’t win any writing awards, it’s a blast to play from start to finish.

Team Fortress 2:  I thought this game was released on the consoles as part of the Orange Box? Why is it on this list? Yes Team Fortress 2 was released on both the Xbox 360 and the Ps3.  Yes it belongs on this list.  To say that console gamers received TF2 is as if to say that you can receive a half written book and call it a complete read.

TF2 is a multi-player team based online first person shooter featuring quirky characters not unlike ones you might find in a Dreamworks 3D animated film.  Different classes such as the minigun toting heavy weapons guy, the team-mate healing medic, or the long range sniper can be used to lead your team to victory through the capture of a particular objective, the capture of the enemy’s intelligence documents, or the pushing of a large cart full of high explosives.

The game as it is now on the PC is a wholly different animal, Valve software has revamped the game-play, added an enormous amount of free content and incorporated an online store for the purchase of premium content like hats and crafting materials to make custom hats.  The console versions are in comparison, a beta of the TF2 being played now.  The game was fairly good at its release in 2008.  In 2011 it stands as one of the most popular online shooters on the PC due to the extensive support by Valve Software.

Real Time Strategy:

Dawn Of War 2: Ready at Dawn Studios’ well crafted Dawn of War 2 is a shining example of how to expand the RTS genre by streamlining the game-play so that those who may not know the difference between micro or macro management can enjoy the game alongside strategy veterans.  The single-player campaign’s focused story takes place in the gothic-scifi universe of Warhammer 40,000, and revolves around a squad of well armed space marines. It puts the players’ control on the action rather than base and resource management; with a few RPG elements such as leveling up squad members and gear thrown in for good measure.  The multi-player is completely different beast with up to six players controlling multiple squads to outwit and outmaneuver their foes.  The single player campaign may be to simplistic for the hardcore RTS gamer, but anyone who likes a side of action and RPG with their tactics will appreciate the new direction Ready at Dawn goes with Dawn of War 2.

Star Craft II: As American football is to the states and soccer is to much of the world, the original Star Craft became somewhat of a past time for many South Koreans with televised matches and endorsements for professional players.  Indeed throughout the entire PC RTS community Star Craft reigned as the game of choice of millions of gamers despite being released over 13 years ago.   The good news is that purists need not fret, the sequel Star Craft II: Wings of Liberty has retained much of what made the original the hit it has been albeit with more focused and cinematic storytelling and an expanded multi-player mode supporting up to 12 players.  The plot revolves around a group of human (terrans) rebels as they fight both the powers-at-be and the multitude of alien infestations.  The game-play is much of your traditional RTS fare revolving around base building, resource gathering, and massive battles involving both infantry, armored vehicles, and space ships/ air support.  Unlike the original game the sequel only presents the player with the terran campaign an not those of the bug-like Zerg or the high-tech Protoss aliens – those campaigns are slated for future expansions.  It’s a small gripe in an otherwise outstanding game but should be noted considering Star Craft II’s hefty $60 price tag.  The next expansion pack will focus on the Zerg and will be out sometime next year.

Total War Series: If 300 pound space marines, savage space Orks, or the high-tech Protoss don’t have much appeal, and neither does base building or resource management, then the Total War series might be of interest to the RTS fan.  Grounded on history, the past two games in the series, Empire Total War and Shogun Total War, are excellent installments in a franchise where seeing thousands of troops fighting it out on screen at any one time is common place and the feeling of being part of a real historical battle is very palpable.  The campaign mode features turn based movement of your forces across the world map while managing finances, trade embargoes, and political alliances.  With installments taking place in Europe, North Africa, the Colonial Americas, Ancient Rome and Asia, the series has covered a large segment of history all the while featuring some of the best tactical gameplay in the genre.


The Sims: Out of all of Will Wright’s Sim games – including SimCity, SimLife, SimEarth -none have shaped and expanded the simulation genre as much as the Sims.  Perhaps it is only natural that gamers would be most fascinated with controlling the lives of a few animated characters.  He who has the power to command a computer generated individual to empty their bowels is truly powerful indeed.  Or so I’ve been told. Perhaps just me….

In any case though some of the games in the series have made it to other platforms, none have replicated control or attention to detail of the originals on the PC.  Partially due to the ungodly amount of expansion packs and spin-off titles that have presented the world of the Sims for almost every possible angle.  The latest game in the series, The Sims Medieval, has added RPG elements to a backdrop of a fantasy world full of heroes and wizards.  It seems that becoming a Monarch in a videogame is all the rage these days.  The Sims is still a good series for those looking to control all aspects of a group of hapless humans in their strife to live meaningful (or at least accident free) lives.

Games That Aren’t Exclusive but should be played on the PC

The Elder Scrolls series – It may be available on the consoles but the extensive mod community can only be found on the PC.

Fallout series – Like with Elder Scrolls expect the series to remain computer-centric under Bethesda’s development

Unreal Tournament – Epic may have shifted ‘gears’ and focused on Microsoft’s console but its original hit franchise may see a comeback in the future on PCs.

Command and Conquer – To say that the RTS is not suited for consoles is not a PC-centric view; it’s simply a fact of the limitations in console controls.  The C&C series should still be played on a computer. (unless those Nintendo Project Cafe touch screen controller rumors come out to be true!)

Dragon Age Origins – Perhaps Bioware’s swan song to the age of the infinity engine powered RPGs like Baldur’s Gate and Planescape: Torment.  Definitely a must play on the PC.

There are a ton of others that are not listed here

Game of Thrones TV Pilot

HBO aired today its brand new fantasy show Game of Thrones, an action drama starring Sean Bean of the Lord of the Rings fame. Clocking in at a little over an hour, the series’ premise is kingdom strife with political instability and intrigue; and aside from a well done intro sequence suggesting some fantastical elements, little else.  Overall well done acting and costume design is marred by an uninteresting plot, predictable characters, and blatant sexism and racism.

Although billed as a fantasy drama, the first Game of Thrones episode spends much of its time introducing as many fairly mundane characters as possible without giving us a reason to really care about too many of them.  In fact Showtime’s The Borgias, another medieval era drama, chronicles the rise of the very real Borgias family to the papacy (pope-hood) of Rome, and features more action than Game of Thrones, a show with burly men with over-sized wolf pelt coats.

The show seems to follow Ned Stark, played by Sean Bean, and his invitation to serve the king of the land as his right hand man.  His two sons and wife must deal with his decision and their place in it – whatever it may turn out to be.  Other Characters include a brother, Prince Viserys Targaryen III, and sister, Princess Daenerys, who are estranged from their homeland and must amass an army through a political marriage to reclaim their lost Kingdom. So it stands to reason that this must be facilitated through a union with a stereotypical savage – read minority – and essentially involving rape. It  can potentially sour some of the appeal of the show to certain people.  The sexualization of women doesn’t come off as a historical detail as it does in The Borgias, but as a strong attempt to sell sex to a largely male demographic. It’s all very confusing to boot.

The issues mentioned so far sour the experience but don’t  make the show completely unwatchable.  There are several great moments which immerse you into the world and give a sense of what life is like in the different kingdoms of the world, even if some of it is based on stereotypes.   If the show can capitalize on some of these nuances, bring more of the excellent visuals, and make us truly care about it’s characters then the show would be better for it.

Of all the recent hit dramas including Dexter, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead and The Borgias, Game of Thrones had the weakest pilot episode.  If you’re a fantasy fan it may be worth checking out, just don’t expect the rest of the Lord of the Rings crew to join Boromir.  If not, then the show is probably a pass as the characters can’t seem to hold the weight of the premise of a ‘realistic’ high fantasy setting enough to really be cerebral and provocative.  Then again, who knows, the show may catch its stride at some point.

Thousands of brave men and women – and a few, hopefully, supervised children – braved the weather and fierce competition to get a Nintendo Wii at launch.  I was amongst such a crowd for over eight hours at the Nintendo World Store in New York City.  One year later.  That’s right, a year later the system was sold out everywhere and was going for an upwards of $400-$500 on eBay.

While it’s certainly not Christmas time right now, the 3DS simply isn’t flying off the shelves.  It’s certainly reasonable to assume that if the demand for the system is exceeded by the supply, prices will remain fairly close to MSRP near launch.  The thing is, brand new 3DS’ are consistently going for $225-$230 including shipping.  That’s with buy it now prices, auctions can sometimes be even lower.

Now granted retailers make up the vast majority of 3DS sales yet one can’t quite grasp how so many are available at nearly $25 off MSRP.  When you factor in sales tax it can be closer to $40-50 off of MSRP. When you factor in shipping cost plus eBay fees, an eBay seller would receive something like $210 for the 3DS.   Sites like Craiglist also offer a plethora of people offering to sell new 3DS’ for sub-retailer prices.  Is Nintendo selling the 3DS to retailers for a lower cost?  If so why? Even sales of games must be low considering Amazon is offering a $10 coupon after purchasing a 3DS game – excluding a few such as Samurai Warriors for some reason.

Somehow I feel that the 3DS might not be as much of a success as the original DS was, and in fact still is.

From the time I saw the awkward pre-show interview with James Franco I knew this show was going to be a big deal:  James Franco was on planet pluto.  His co-host Anne Hathaway tried her darn hardest to impress the Academy and entertain the audiences.  James Franco gave up from the get go. You’ve done all us disinterested misanthropes proud Mr. Franco, I salute you.You sir, are a gentleman and a scholar – quite literally, Franco is working towards his P.H.D at Yale.

Having watched this years show I can safely say that I’ve had an education in what really makes the Academy giddy: old rich men with speech impediments. Oh, that and films like the King’s Speech will almost always clean house.

Not a single Oscar for the Cohen Bro’s or their outstanding True Grit.  Hardened, but not jaded, I’ve learned all too late that the Academy hasn’t given an Oscar for best picture to a western since Clint Eastwood’s excellent Unforgiven. The totally ‘unforgiven’ moment came when Hailey Steinfeld did not win an Oscar for best supporting actress.

Despite the uproar of condemnation for the Academy’s decision to leave the Social Network without any of the major awards, this show is probably a return to form for the Academy.  Based on the amount of positive reviews both the Social Network and King’s Speech are neck to neck in near unanimous acclaim.  Though if that standard of merit is used then clearly Toy Story 3 should have won, being the highest rated film of the year.

Colin Firth did a better job in the King’s Speech than in last year’s A Single Man and certainly deserved his Oscar, though  clearly there  was no competition. Christian Bale had more of a challenge yet still came out on top with an Academy Award for best supporting actor.

Probably the most liked actress of the year, Natalie Portman snagged the Best Actress Awards for her performance in Black Swan.

Inception grabbed up a few audio and visual Oscars as expected, as did Alice in Wonderland.

It was a pretty anemic Academy Awards over all, perhaps because of Franco’s deadpan delivery, or perhaps because the winners were so typical.  For better or for worse the Academy has gone back to form in their selection.  Hell they might as well have aired a re-run of  the 14th Academy Awards.

Even as I write this I still can’t believe that True Grit won nothing.

Wag the Dog: still relevant?

Ronald Regan famously had a plaque in the oval office that said ‘a man can go far in life if he doesn’t mind who gets the credit. In Barry Levinson’s Wag the Dog, the eccentric producer – played by Dustin Hoffman – tasked with fooling the media by creating a fake war for the President, learns this lesson the hard way, but not –thankfully – before a few laughs. The subject matter shifts back and forth from implausible hilarity to blunt analysis of our political system.  It’s very surreal at times to watch, especially when one considers the events that this too-real-for-comfort black comedy foreshadows. The film, probably created to be comedic dramatization of a possibility, became a mirror of what might have been going on at the end of the both Clinton and Bush administrations.   If only reality was full of such characters – George Bush need not apply.

The films’ plot revolves around a motley crew of film producers, song writers, and presidential aides, all brought together and spearheaded by a mysterious ‘spin doctor’, (played by Robert Deniro) and tasked with the dilemma of keeping the president’s sexual affairs with a firefly girl (think girl-scout) out of the media’s attention for 11 days till his expected re-election. The group comes off as some satirical jab at an Oceans 11 inspired ‘super-team’. The spin doctor cooks up a plan for a fake war with Albania to buy the president time till his upcoming election, and sets out to stretch it out as long as possible with the help of a overzealous producer (played by Dustin Hoffman). The plot takes some comedic liberties in the second half reminding us of the implausibility of the premise – at least in its presented execution – and of the fact that this is at heart a black comedy and not a ‘serious’ look at politics and the media in America. Taking that into consideration, the second half of the film turns up the wackiness to an 11 when the group meets the ‘fake’ MIA soldier they created (played by Woody Harleson), find -out that he has spent the last 12 years incarcerated in a military prison and is on heavy duty psychotics, and subsequently is gets into a ridiculous plane crash. All – including the schizo Harleson – manage to get away unscathed. The film by is now in nearly full throttle Seinfeld inspired comedy.

The chilling thing is how possible the idea of it all is. Certainly not in the comedic and often hyperbolic direction that this particular film took, but in the little things that the movie suggests: exacerbating armed conflict to lessen the importance of an important issue, reporting news that has no factual merit, and most importantly, cronyism that goes all the way to Hollywood and back. President Clinton’s administration dealt with the very issue presented in the film only a year after its release. What’s more is that there was in fact a conflict involving ethnic Albanians suffering genocide in Serbia in 1999, a year after the Lewinsky trial. In the same year President Clinton also attempted the ‘neutralize’ Osama bin Laden with U.S. cruise missiles launched towards terrorist training camps.

Clinton recovered from the scandal, partially because of the media’s sympathy, and partially because there were pressing matters at hand that ‘trumped’ his little sexual fiasco. Unfortunately we never meet the president in the film and therefore can’t have much sympathy for him – the humorous angle of the film wouldn’t allow for much sympathy if the film makers would give an objective portrayal. More so one can’t help grow disdain for the guy whenever the film shows an election commercial imploring the American public to not ‘change horses mid-stream’. Even the president’s own people acknowledge the cringe worthy and unwitting self-caricatures passed off as campaign ads. The president is, in fact, presented very much in the vein of Seinfeld’s George Steinbrenner, reduced to being a voice and a back of the head.

Journalists along with lawyers are considered to be the least trustworthy individuals, sometimes for good reasons – read: Jayson Blair, Steven Glass, and some of those who call themselves ‘fair and balanced’. Wag the Dog asks the viewers to take it a step further and think about the film industry and public relations representatives as other sources of influence and deception.  Regan himself was an actor, his political poise and manner of speaking surely enhanced by his acting experience. After all, we think better of well spoken presidents (JFK, Reagan, and Clinton) even if their time in office is marked by controversy. Perhaps the media doesn’t create our infatuations with powerful people but instead proliferates ideas created by someone else. At one point in the film Dustin Hoffman asks Robert Deniro, “Why are you doing this for the president?” to which there is no response. That is both paradoxically a weakness of the film’s realism and the strength of its argument: sometimes we don’t really know who or what is behind the scenes or why they are there. Particularly after President Bush’s two terms, where the press almost unilaterally supported Bush’s plan to invade Iraq, people lost faith in the press and their reporting on politics. That is quite a harrowing statement.

The film ends with a grim reminder that the powers that be will have their way regardless of the parties involved. A news update comes on a television screen reporting that an Albanian terrorist group is claiming responsibility for an act of terrorism.  The humor suddenly abates and the mirage of a star studded cast acting out ridiculous situations becomes all too real.

People often remember Clinton’s presidency as a fairly successful one by its end and in that sense he very well could have wagged the dog.  By the end of George Bush’s second term many Americans lost their faith in both him and the press that failed to scrutinize him and his administration.  That turning point illustrates how the film’s message of the untouchable nature of backdoor politics isn’t quite realistic.  Still one can’t truly know if the dog wags its tail, the tail wags the dog, or if that the knowledge of either is only privy to some charismatic producer or mysterious spin doctor.  This film is perfect for any conspiracy theorist that needs a good hardy laugh.