Monitor Refresh Rate – Let’s Figure it Out

(I am in the process of doing the research before building a new PC. As I work through this research, I’m going to post some of the more useful/interesting tidbits I find along the way. This is the first of a series of quick posts.)

The plan is to build a moderately beefy computer. I’m not going the budget route, but I’m also not going the all-out, 4k-capable, 100fps ultra-settings PC, either. I think I’ll use the monitor as a starting point to build the system around. I’m selecting a 1440p monitor and will select components that will give me the flexibility to upgrade to the 4k realm if I so desire down the road. For now, I think 2560×1440 will be plenty of pixels.

It’s been a long time since I’ve bought a new monitor (I am still rocking this solid but definitely long-in-the-tooth Lenovo ThinkVision 24″ beauty pictured above) so I haven’t done any serious monitor research in over eight years. As you can see, the refresh rate on my ThinkVision is 60Hz. Back when I got it, no one fretted over refresh rates. It was all about resolution, and I specifically chose that model for its 1920x1200 resolution. Those extra 180 pixels turned me into a resolution snob. Oh you play at 1080p? That’s cute. My monitor eats 1080p’s for breakfast.

So since I’m not going for those ultra-high 4k settings, I’m going to look for a solid 2560×1440 monitor with a good refresh rate.

In simple terms, the refresh rate is how many times per second the monitor is able to change each pixel on the screen. While it is not tied to frames per second (that’s how many graphical images [frames] your graphics card can pump out), you need a monitor that can at least keep up with the power of your graphics card. If your graphics card is easily humming along at 100 fps, that old 60 Hz monitor isn’t going to keep up and you’re losing graphical “quality”. Having a monitor’s refresh rate be as close to the frames per second being pumped out by the GPU is essential to making the most of your system’s power. How fast you need is really a personal preference. This article I found at Digital Trends sums up what the majority of my research has shown:

In short, if you’re a gamer, we’d argue that you would see a greater, more obvious benefit from switching to a high-refresh rate monitor than you would in upgrading to 4K — as doing both can get inordinately expensive and taxing on your hardware. 120Hz or 144Hz displays make for smoother, tear-free gaming with less input lag.

The way it looks is this: the jump from 60Hz (where I’m currently at) to anything over 100Hz is going to be markedly improved. The sweet spot seems to be around 144Hz. There are newer screens coming out that top out at 240Hz, but now we’re in the realm of diminishing returns. The difference going from 60 to 120Hz is drastic. The difference from 120 to 240 is only going to be perceptible to the trained eye (that means not me).

So we’re looking for a monitor with a 144 Hz refresh rate, but that’s not all. There’s still things like response rate, sync’ing, and if curvature is all it’s cracked up to be.

Buttonmashing Chats – GenCon 2016

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In our first Buttonmashing Chat Chief Buttonmasher Tony and Board Game Frugalist Jason talk over a recent trip to GenCon, a Board Game Convention in Indianapolis Indiana.  We chat about board games, digital games, and some of the experiences at the convention, good and bad.


jasonJason (Boardsmasher): A few weeks ago I attended GenCon, the self proclaimed four greatest days in gaming.  I spent loads of time at that convention learning about new board games, playing some of the classics with friends, and meeting hordes (and I mean hordes) of interesting people.  I wanted to sit down with Chief Buttonmasher Tony to decompress from the experience and share with him the good, the bad, and the boardgames.

I know you were interested in hearing more about my experience Tony, what’s the first thing you want to know?

tony150x150Tony (Chief Buttonmasher): How was the smell? (I’m sorry, I had to do that).

What were the top games you went to see?

jasonJason: Hah, to answer your first question. The smells were fine as long as you stayed within arms length of the person next to you, even the people you came with. But we did go with a list of things that we really wanted to make sure we looked at. The internet is full of “Things we’re looking forward to at GenCon” lists and we used them to find a few games like Via Nebula, Last Friday, and a game called Arcane Academy.

Do any of those games intrigue you by title alone?

Via Nebula

Via Nebula in Play

tony150x150Tony: All of them, but Via Nebula especially.

jasonJason: You’d think it was a space game knowing nothing more, but it’s actually a pretty unique building and route management game set in a fog enshrouded valley.

tony150x150Tony: Can you elaborate on what you mean by route management?

jasonJason: Yeah, that alone doesn’t sound super exciting I suppose, but in this game it means that you have to clear a path through the fog to get resources. Those resources help you build and win the game, but the trick is that you can use the paths the other players blazed. You have to spend time thinking about what actions you want to take and what actions you think others may take that you can benefit from.

tony150x150Tony: Is the map random? How is the setup?

jasonJason: The map and board are the same every game but the resources get placed randomly at the start of the game so there are different paths you have to follow every game.  Its unique enough that it seems like it could be immensely replayable.  We only got one game in of it in the BGG Hot Games room but it was enough to make me want to come back for more.

tony150x150Tony: Did you end up picking it up?

jasonJason: We didn’t end up buying it because I’m a frugal fellow and I know after the post convention hype dies down I should be able to get a it a little cheaper than MSRP. If there’s one thing you know about me is that I can’t usually stomach paying full price for something when I can avoid it. That’s what makes going to these cons so great, you get a lot of value for the price you pay for a four day pass.

tony150x150Tony: Ok, so Via Nebula sounds like a keeper. What’s Last Friday? Do you play Chris Tucker or Ice Cube? Do you crack jokes about weed?

jasonJason: HAH, close? It’s actually a one vs many 80’s horror themed game where one player plays a vicious serial killer and the rest of the players play teenaged campers at an old campground. I didn’t play the killer because the moment I saw that one of the campers in the game was named Jason, I had to claim that pimply weirdo on a matter of pride.

tony150x150Tony: So what is the object? survive? outlast the killer? trap him?

jasonJason: The game is split up into several chapters.  In each chapter there is a different objective for the killer and the kids. It’s classified a hidden movement game because the moves the killer makes on the board are hidden to the rest of the players. It makes it pretty tense!

In the first chapter the kids had to find the keys to the cabins on the map and make it safely inside before being murdalized by the killer.

The killers job was to kill, but in the next scenario he was the guy on the run and we were trying to trap him. It was cool that there was enough variance so that it didn’t feel too samey.

tony150x150Tony: So who won the game you played? The pimply kids?

jasonJason: We did, yes! Although I do have to say that the job of the killer is best played by someone who has experience with the game. The complexities of the hidden movement were definitely challenging for our killer.

tony150x150Tony: That makes sense. Familiarity of how it would be played on the other side of the table would give the killer an insight into how he could avoid it.

Sounds like it would be satisfying to win as the killer.

So, what about Arcane Academy?

jasonJason: One of my regrets about the con. We actually never ended up playing it!  There was so much to do and see that we just couldn’t find the extra hours to get back into the hot games room to play it.

It’s coming out in a few weeks, I’m eager to watch some actual play videos to see how it plays, but it seems like something right up my alley.  Magic spells and board games? Yes please.

tony150x150Tony: Was there anything that surprised you? Something you didn’t expect to see but got you interested?

The gaming crew that we brought along

The gaming crew that we brought along to GenCon

jasonJason: I think my biggest surprise was how much my wife enjoyed everything at the convention.  This was the second time I’ve been to GenCon but the first time I brought her along.  Both her and I were expecting her to be bored of gaming by Saturday but as we were leaving we both were thinking of all the things we could’ve done if we stayed just a little bit longer.

tony150x150Tony: Nice! What was her favorite?

jasonJason: I don’t know that she had a particular favorite but I know that she enjoyed almost everything we played. We both generally enjoy light, moderately strategic, and not lengthy games so most of the ones we got to play we enjoyed.

It was a great time and I’m eager to go again next year, though I’m not sure how realistic that’ll be.  Maybe I’ll crash at your place and go to Origins 2017 next year?

tony150x150Tony: Yeah seeing your pics definitely had me intrigued to do a con like that.

Especially the giant size King of Tokyo.

Giant King of Tokyo

Giant King of Tokyo

jasonJason: Oh man, my monster face was epic.

I played 2 games of Giant King of Tokyo, which is exactly what it sounds like.

I got runner up in both of them which was a bummer since the winner got a convention exclusive King of Tokyo monster.  However, one of the winners already had a Space Penguin so she yielded it to me.  Convention win!

tony150x150Tony: Well it sounds amazing, if that what it was…

So you mentioned if you could have stayed longer you would have seen more — what would you go back and see if you could?

jasonJason: I think just demoing more games and spending more time in the Hot Games room.  Being able to play the latest and greatest was a big draw for us and gave us something to look forward acquiring in the coming year.

tony150x150Tony: Anything you were excited to see that disappointed or didn’t deliver?

jasonJason: One of the events we bought in to was an event called “Big Game Night” which was hosted by a company called AEG.  The draw is that you get to take part in playing their games, seeing the new stuff they’ve got coming, and leave with a cool box of swag.

It was a good concept but a few things kept it from being awesome.  One is that being so late on a Friday night we were pretty tuckered out so it was hard to learn new things.

Two is that the box of swag was essentially 75% empty boxes and 25% microgames.

From what I’ve heard those swag boxes have been getting less and less worth the price of admission ($32) to that event, so I probably won’t attend it next time I go to GenCon.

tony150x150Tony: So this is obstensibly a video game blog — I know you saw HEX there. We’re there other video games/apps on demo?

jasonJason: Hah, good point.  It is a “Gaming” convention so it wouldn’t be right if there weren’t at least a little bit of a digital presence there.

A lot of companies were demoing the mobile app version of their games, even some betting apps, for example comparethebets has some useful information on the android version. I even saw at the ascension booth that they were demoing a VR version of Ascension!

tony150x150Tony: Did you try VR Ascension? I would probably never leave.

jasonJason: Chalk it up as one of those things I wish I’d done.  Something else shiny likely caught my eye and I moved past it without thinking how awesome it would’ve been to experience.

It’s available now on Steam now with relatively positive reviews.  Worth checking out if you’ve got the kit.

tony150x150Tony: Well it sounds like a roaring success. Anything else you want to mention in wrapping up?

jasonJason: It was definitely a great time.  If you’re on the fence about conventions in general this one, while being overwhelming, has such a tremendous positive vibe going on throughout the halls.

Everyone was walking around with smiles on their faces.  It was fun to be a part of something so wonderfully geeky and fun, nerding out with 60,000 people and not even noticing the crowd.

Retro Video Games: What Was Lost

Nick wanders back to the glory days of Retro Gaming and contemplates what exactly has been lost between then and now.

Axiom Verge (2015) is perceived across the board as a throwback to gaming’s retro days. The 16-bit graphics and 2D platforming are the first evidences of this claim. Digging deeper, the game’s listing on Steam has been given the user-defined tag of ‘Metroidvania’.

This tag is a popular one now, denoting a game that shares characteristics with the Metroid and Castlevania serieses, both of which have titles that originate back to the mid 80’s – those sweet, blessed ‘ol timey Halcyon Days of yore. Those days when we should have been outside basking in golden rays of sunshine and playing with the other children but instead diligently hunkered down indoors and soaked up a different kind of radiation altogether.

Yes! The core mechanic in Metroidvania games is that of exploration, part of which requires the dedicated player to backtrack to areas previously visited, most likely equipped with an item that unlocks a new doorway or blasts a wall made up a of strong material or grapples specific points in the ceiling wherewith to swing gracefully over a lake of acid that was hitherto unpassable. Bossfights also served as prodigious gatekeepers, requiring the player to exercise grit and reflexes to defeat the monstrosity in order to further continue exploring. Often the spoil(s) of victory included that very item needed in three sectors past to open the way.

Super Metroid Start Screen

Axiom Verge possesses these things along with holding merits of its own. And seeing as how I think Super Metroid (1994) is one of the greatest games ever created, reason therefore dictates that Axiom Verge is right up my alley. I hearkened back to my retro gaming days recalling the righteous triumphs and blood-boiling defeats. But whichever way the scale tipped, I always had the dedication to press forward.

And thus I played Axiom Verge, dutifully so, trying not to compare every little detail to Super Metroid but also trying to slip into the mind of my 13-year-old self, to channel that youthful dedication and grit needed to progress through these levels and defeat these bosses. Because, contrary to many current AAA open world video games where there are more side-quests than stars in the sky, if you don’t beat this boss, you shall not pass…

“I’m Too Old For This Crap!”

But my existential channeling failed. I could not, and still can’t, beat the final stage in Axiom Verge. Not for lack of trying, mind you, but a lack of focus, dedication.

My attention waned and has thus drifted elsewhere, to other newer games or my steam backlog or to whatever is happening on my second computer monitor or the updates which my phone chirps are ready for my attention.

Oh, Axiom Verge is a fine game, worthy of every shred of praise it has received. Other players are significantly better at it than I am. Indeed. This is a classic case of ‘It’s not you. It’s me’. And maybe this can apply to you.

Clearly, my approach to playing games has changed compared to when I was a youths. I do not bemoan this because, despite all its other complexities and toils, being an adult is awesome. If anything I use this change as a crutch, as an excuse, for the moments when I perform poorly: I’m not sharp enough for this crap anymore! I don’t have time for this!

Axiom Verge Start Screen

Still, it’s interesting to look back and consider what exactly has changed, where has my unwavering gaming grit and dedication gone?

A few weeks ago, Sir Tony ButtonMasher brought Man Crates to my attention – Specifically the Retro Gamer Crate.

This product jarred something loose in my stubborn, inundated adult mind. Here, quite possibly, is the answer to the question posited above.

Upon first visit, my attention shifted from the image on the webpage – of the gaming console, cartridges and bounty of ‘sugar intoxication’ – to my desktop PC. Now just over three years old (and aging pretty stinkin’ well, I must say) this gaming computer is tapped into the entire digital world. Its computer brain can complete computer process faster than my meat brain can even comprehend. I can steal audio CDs, Skype, download, and virus scan on one monitor while I play Endless Legend (bought at a convenient 67% discount) on another.

“Just Play the Damn Game, Son”

Retro gaming consoles, conversely, were dedicated platforms. As the Man Crate page says: “Before there were streaming services, before there were all-in-one media boxes, a video game console had one purpose.”

Indeed. Just play the game. And when I was younger the video game console was my purpose!

Whereas now, I keep an eye out for heavily discounted games that I will never physically touch, nor will I ever fully ‘own’. The transaction consists of three clicks of the mouse. The game is then downloaded and ready to play in anywhere from 45 seconds to 15 minutes from some gaming and enterprise level servers.

The Retro Gaming Man Crate

The Retro Gaming Crate available at ManCrates.com

But, in the retro gaming days, these grey cartridges were the end result of weeks of chores and youthful entrepreneurial endeavors. We had to have someone drive us to the store to even attain them. The drive back from the store felt like an eternity, all the while the closest you could get to playing was gazing longingly at the box art and the cartridge nested inside.

These cartridges were all we had! Every single line of code had to be explored, conquered and exploited. And that sure enough took dedication, grit and plenty of sugar intoxication.

What the Retro Gaming crate captures is the essence of what gaming used to be. When our focus was laser-tight and our time and dedication had purpose.

One personal example comes to mind.

Rampage. The 1988 Nintendo port of the arcade classic will forever be stitched into my essence. The game, in summary, takes place over 128 days. Each day takes place in a different city of the USA. The player assumes the role of a monstrous lizard or guerrilla or werewolf mutated from human form and must destroy all the buildings in that city/day in order to move on to the next day.

Rampage Start Screen

It’s a simple premise but an absolute blast to play – especially as a kid who would be stuck at Grandma’s house for the weekend. Indeed. I don’t remember why I had to be at Granny’s that weekend but I knew that I’d be on my own with lots of time on my hands. It was a perfect opportunity to push the limits of my Rampaging abilities.

Plus, I had a goal, a benchmark to reach. Ryan Gold said that he got to day #97. That little bastard had been bragging about it during recess all week. Tired of his boasting I was dedicated to not only reaching day #97 but surpassing it, thus guaranteeing my dominance of morning recess discussions/bragging sessions.

And so, I packed up the NES, assured the rampage cartridge was stowed and traveled over the river and through the woods. Granny had an extra black and white TV in one of the small bedrooms upstairs. I had plenty of licorice on hand, which doubled as straws to slurp my orange soda. And there I planted myself, sitting on a pillow on the floor, my gaze glued to this little radioactive box sitting atop one of the dining room chairs. Thus, the weekend rolled forth with very little variation.

Innocence Gained

Whether or not I beat Ryan Gold at his own game is besides the point (plus, I honestly don’t remember), but as I sketch out this recollection I hope to illustrate the gamer’s dedication that has since been lost, something that even playing Axiom Verge could not bring back.

The dedication is more than just promising oneself to finish the game. It is about creating the setting and having the motivation to throw yourself into a game. More often than not, as adults, we try to squeeze in the time when we can, and as a result often end up skipping along the surface of an ocean of video games to explore, fathoms of which are well and beyond what we can see from the waterline.

May those afflicted with adulthood strive to channel — and make the time for — the innocence of youth, to reclaim the fervor, focus and dedication felt while playing all those retro video games.

Unsolicited Mental Objects – Fallout 4

(Unsolicited Mental Objects are a series of posts that we started as a sort of stream of consciousness to talk about whatever was on our mind, gaming-wise. I am currently making an effort to write everyday, so these should start popping up with regularity, along with other content.)

fallout_4After an extended break, Fallout 4 is back in heavy rotation. With the first two solid DLC packs having already dropped, I wanted to get through the main quest line before diving in to the DLC. That’s been my SOP for most games like this — finish the main game, then play the DLC the way the Lord intended (in the order it was released). I feel like there was a distinct order the developers had in mind and I want to stick with that.

Unfortunately for me, I put my playthrough on hold and the first two DLCs dropped before I finished the original storyline. No big deal, I’ll knock out the main quests and then work my way through the add-ons later.

So I’m working my way through a quest and it sends me to a randomly selected location to clear out some ghouls. I flip on my Pip-Boy and the quest marker is in the upper right corner of the map, a place I have never been.I dutifully head up there to find the “Eden Meadows” drive-thru. But I get up there and Eden Meadows is nowhere to be found.

It’s just a couple buildings, a dock and an older Asian couple looking for their run-away daughter.

Wait a second. This sounds like a quest that mysteriously appeared in my queue when I started playing regularly again. I talked to Detective Valentine about it and realized it was the Far Harbor DLC. I stashed that quest away to come back to later and now this randomly selected location was smack-dab in somewhere I had no intention of going until I finished the main story.

(I’ll reserve judgement on whether this was a good design choice or not for another post. Fallout 4 is massive and a marvel of development and programming. I’m not going to accuse Bethesda of not squashing a potential bug. I was helping out some Synths and Far Harbor fits that description anyway)

But this presented a dilemma, one that I have grappled with before. Do I sully my experience with the DLC, something I had been saving, to continue on with this quest? I have to further the story of Far Harbor just so I can make progress in infiltrating The Institute. I like to think my way of playing through content is the right way and now I’m forced to do something against the grain.

So I went to Far Harbor, ignored anything that might trigger another quest line, made my way to Eden Meadows, handled my business and got back to The Commonwealth. But in doing so, I still had to further the Far Harbor story a little and now it will wait, fallow, as I continue my quest to get answers from the Institute.

Sorry Mr. and Mrs. Nakano, your daughter’s disappearance will have to wait. I have some revenge to exact for my dead wife and lost son.

Steam Summer Sale 2016: A New Approach to Buying

It can neither be confirmed or denied – but we are all as sure as shineola – that the Steam summer sale will begin on Thursday of this week.

Steam has altered the way it handles these sales over the past two years, opting for a more straight-forward approach to providing discounts without all those ‘micro deals’ ala, daily deals, bundle deals, flash deals; the discount that is assigned to a game on the first day is the discount that shall remain for the duration of the sale.

This approach is definitely not as dynamic or, perhaps, as exciting as the hustle-and-bustle sales, and this trend seems to show that discounts aren’t generally as steep, either. I pooh-pooh’d this at first having found favor in the excitement of waking in the morning and checking what flash deal popped up while I fitfully slept and dreamed dreams of backstroking in all pool filled with all those green discount tags. Likewise, I relished in the opportunity to snatch up the deep, deep discounts, regardless of whether or not I really, truly wanted the game. And let us not forget the ‘encore’ sale when it was that last day scramble to scoop up everything on your wishlist now that the possibility for flash deals and daily deals are gone. Indeed. Steam sales were a time of a weird kind of methodological indulgence.

SteamNO

I have since reversed my opinion of this new, more temperate Steam sale setup because it coincides so nicely with a personal decision I’ve made concerning acquiring new games. The rule I’ve made for myself is thus: I shall buy a game when, and only when, I am prepared to immediately devote the time and attention to striving to complete it or have my ‘fill’ of it.

It is a simple rule and one that I hope will be effective in preventing me from making impulsive, money-dumping, backlog-bloating purchases. And now that Steam sales are more streamlined, I can adopt a different kind of methodology when it comes to buying, one where the games are in charge, not the discount tags.

Steam sales, however the setup, are traditionally about two weeks long. Two weeks is quite the chunk of time, especially when it comes to playing video games – there is the potential of significant turn-around. I foresee my gametime during the two weeks of this summer sale to be akin to a sort of 3-part stage production, and the players – the dramatis personae, if you will – are a select few items from my Steam wishlist whose purchase will be methodically timed based on what type of game it is. This way I can still take advantage of the succulent discounted prices but still hold true to the golden rule that I have set for myself.

ACT I – Nuclear Throne

Day one of the sale will begin with a BANG as Nuclear Throne blasts its way into my Steam library. I am in need of a new game with some gritty crunch. For a while there I was embittered in the Nuclear Throne vs. Enter the Gungeon debate. The former is more appealing because it places precedence in firepower over exploration, which the latter handles inversely. Nuclear Throne sounds like equal parts fun and enraging, but a game where player skill waxes strong with every failed run – signs of a true roguelike. And, like a roguelike, there is the possibility that the game will consume me, or the very real possibility that I will throw my hands up in exasperation, never to return. What better way to kick off the Steam summer sale by playing a wild card?

ACT II – Renowned Explorers

Whatever modicum of exploration sidestepped by choosing Nuclear Throne in the first act will be more than made up for with Renowned Explorers. This looks like one charming little exploration game, one whose obstacles are fun to overcome. I find much appeal in how many variables there are in just about every aspect of the game – from party composition to enemy encounters. Decisions need to be made on the fly. The historical setting is also a personal plus. The whole game looks upbeat and colorful. It might be one that I play with my 8-year old son. Depending on how well I recieve Nuclear Throne, Renowned Explorers may likely take up the bulk time of the Steam sale.

ACT III – Offworld Trading Company

Offworld Trading Company sounds fascinating. Certain games in the grand strategy or 4x genre may have various victory conditions, ways to win other than painting the map your color. But, let’s be honest: These other ways aren’t nearly as much fun. OTC grabs hold of these ‘other’ ways and runs with it, making non-military your only way of winning. Indeed. Victory comes by buying and selling, sabotaging and dominating the central goods market. And from the sound of it, matches have the potential of being fierce, intense and brief. I like this idea. The game sounds like it requires practice and intuition, especially in multiplayer. This is the perfect type of the game to carry me onwards after the summer Steam sale has ended.

There is also the very real possibility that I will pick up a handful of DLCs during this sale. This is an exception to the golden rule stated above since I have already put the time into the base games required for the DLCs. Most notably I will pick up a few for Dishonored and the “Shifters” expansion for Endless Legend. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll catch up on some Crusader Kings 2 expansions, but I’m honestly just a little burnt out from Paradox games – we’ll see… Steam sales do strange things to otherwise lucid and logical people.