Category Archives: Reviews

Reviews of programs, games, hardware and other gadgets…

Opera is becoming cool again with version 37

Granted, it is still far away from perfect, but if you are willing to make few compromises and do some of the things we already had before around corners, it’s shaping into a really fine browser…

Latest and greatest additions to Opera version 37 are 2 rather special features not found in any other browser by default.

Block Ads

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Are you tired of fiddling with silly AdBlock addons and extensions and you just want something that works, even if it doesn’t work on every single webpage to every last ad? And the benefit of being integrated is that it sorts out the garbage while rendering the page, meaning it’s the most efficient ad blocker available. It’s a very lite version with minimal settings, but it just works and I love it. You can exclude individual pages, but not individual elements. It’s also not possible to block elements yourself. But I’m fine with that as it works so well out o the box.

Video Pop Out

This one is a very innovative feature not seen in any other browser. It’s something I’ve been doing for ages with Media Player Classic (MPC HC), fired up a movie, set it to be always on top and moved it into bottom right corner. So I could browse the net while watching some movie or TV series. But you couldn’t do the same with, for example Youtube. You could move it to new tab, detach it and move and resize it, but you couldn’t set it “On top”. Now you can!

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When playing Youtube video, just click new arrow icon on the video and it’ll pop out of the webpage. Tab with the video needs to be open during playback, but doesn’t have to be in the front. If you look at the image above, I’m playing Youtube video in a “always on top” mode while doing something else in browser. It’s a tiny but really cool and useful feature. Pretty cool, right?

It is so cool that I’ve switched to Opera for a test trial. Been using opera when it was version 12.x but moved away after they wrecked it with Chrome core. But it looks like we’ve come to a point where it matured enough to be usable this moment and I can wait for few other things…

Need for Speed 2016 review

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So, here we are again. The new Need for Speed. I call it NFS 2016 because this is when PC got it, it was actually released long ago in 2015 on consoles. But since EA wanted to ensure better PC support, they postponed the PC release date to mid March 2016. But in general, this is a franchise reboot. So, no sub title or number for it. Just Need for Speed.

And off the start, I’ll just say that my experience is mixed as a whole. Part of me loves the game and other part of me hates it quite badly…

Visual and audible presentation

It starts with the presentation itself. Graphics wise, the game runs latest Frostbite engine. It looks spectacular and there is just no way in denying that. The engine is very fast and looks amazing. The game is set in Underground-ish world so you can expect night time only with lots of glare, reflections, neons and rain. The city is huge and has different areas from high speed highways, winding hill roads to dense packed city streets through central city or through industrial parts. The city on the other hand is kinda forgettable. Maybe it’s because of the night or my poor memory that is incapable of memorizing the streets. But I think it’s mostly because of the darkness which just sort of swallows the memorable buildings, landmarks and sections and in the end it all looks very similar. Dark and reflective. Which is strange, NFS Underground 2 was like that as well and yet I could memorize whole city very quickly. Hell, if I close my eyes I can drive through it in my mind and I haven’t played that game for 10 years at least.

Second thing, the audio. While car noises are very distinctive, I miss a bit louder engine noise and more distinctive supercharger/turbocharger whine. It’s there, but you really have to pay a lot of attention to hear it. And kinda kills the atmosphere. I want to hear the engines roar. Every petrol head loves that. But in general it’s pretty good. This experience however is again ruined by atrocious music design and usage. At first I was all thrilled when I first heard legendary tracks from old NFS games in the garage. But that soon became an issue by itself because those tracks are only being used in the garage, but never in the All Drive world or during races. While driving, I got the feeling there were 3 generic uninspiring forgettable tracks playing on some crappy 10 watt cassette player. I just don’t understand what the hell they were thinking. To me it seems like they finished the game and remembered they forgot to insert any music. So they picked bunch of old tracks and composed some crap for the driving part. And they were ok with it somehow. Very lazy EA.

Car driving model

Now, lets talk about the most important part of every racing game. Driving model. I’m happy to report they’ve done a good job here. Cars have very distinctive behavior and feel. They also behave vastly different depending on the drive type, FWD, RWD and AWD cars behave very differently and in general, they feel very good on the road. With wide range of car handling tweaks you can really tune car behavior to your taste and driving style. You can make them super sticky or you can make them crazy drifty. I like them somewhere in between. I need the cars to be responsive on corners and easy being thrown into a precise and controlled drift, but sticky enough so I get a fast acceleration when straightened. Only thing that I really dislike about car handling and drive model are the collisions with the world, something we’ve been complaining for quite a while and we are still waiting for the fix. A lot of times, you grind against the wall while racing and even though the wall is seemingly smooth, you just get stuck into it like you’ve hit a wall corner. I don’t know what goes wrong within the physics engine at that moment, but this shouldn’t be happening. I’ve never seen anything like it in any older NFS game. It was always just dramatic deceleration and lots of sparks, but that was it. Here, you’ll just crash for no reason simply for grinding against a wall at very tiny angle. It just feels awkward and weird and I really hope they’ll fix it in the future, because it’s a really annoying one. Same goes for slightly harder hitting of the wall sideways. It should destabilize the car and slow you down, but here you just crash most of the time. And I think this is still related to the same collision bug.

Cars customization

After car wide range of handling tweaks, we should also talk about car customization. And here is again the part which makes the game this weird mixed experience. They bragged about all this Underground-ish culture, customization of cars, bunch of stuff to do to your car. The reality is, car customization is VERY limited and horrendously clumsy. Each car has just 1 body kit available. ONE. And most of them look horrendous. C’mon, even The Run had 3 or 4 body kits and most of them were actually quite nicely designed from mildly aggressive to space looking. You want to spice up your car to be unique on the streets? Most of the time and I mean 80% of the time, you’ll see text “No parts available” when you move around your car. I’ve bought 8 cars so far ranging from tuners to muscle cars and sports cars and not a single one of them can be fully customized visually. Not even bloody Mitsubishi Lancer Evo which is a definition of a ricer. I understand Ferrari being anal about customizations on their cars, but I don’t understand it for all others. And even those that do have parts available, you’re again limited to mostly really ugly bits, one type of bumper, one type of side skirts, really butt ugly exhausts, no parts for lights and those that are available are stock lights with yellow cross taped over them (what!?) and 2 sets of identical lights. I shit you not, Lotus Exige S has stock front lights, yellow taped over ones and 2 sets of IDENTICAL carbon fiber. And that’s it. Anyone who played Underground 2 knows there were like 10 types of headlights and like 8 light temperatures from halogen to coldest xenon, at least 6 types of sideskirts and bumpers for front and rear. None of it is in this game 12 years or so later. Remember the dynamic modification of car parts from NFS Carbon where you could sculpt car parts? Well, this game has none of that either.

What they’ve put lot of effort into is car painting and stickies/vinyls for them. You can paint cars in countless many ways and people make all sorts of amazing designs on forums and on Need for Speed subreddit. But again, I’ve tried it myself and it’s so god damn clumsy I couldn’t be bothered to spend 5 more minutes in the editor. And I’ve just wanted to paint my BMW in the M colors from back to white front. Keyboard controls for it are utterly moronic, clumsy and imprecise. Shuffling vinyls through layers and doing symmetry on both sides of the car was a dreadful and painful experience. Aaargh, just awful. I know Underground series, NFS Most Wanted and Carbon had more basic vinyls systems, but they were at least usable and something inviting to do. In NFS 2016, it just isn’t.

The biggest grudge I have with the garage is possibility to rotate view when picking car parts. Camera is always locked when buying parts and you just can’t check how it looks from far away or at different angle. Because of this I’ve spent like 10 minutes shuffling rims back and forth because I just couldn’t decide at the given angle. Or for the body kit. You only see the car from the front. You can’t even know how the car will look like from behind until you purchase it and go into free look mode where you can rotate the view. When you waste 8000 credits for some crappy ass ugly body kit that looks horrible from behind, you’ll know what I mean. That’s so idiotic it makes my blood boil.

The Police and opponents

Every Need for Speed game that’s about illegal street racing also has to have cops in it. And I’m happy to report they are in this game! What I’m not happy to report about is how utterly crappy, incapable and boring they are. Not only they are so hard to find in the city they had to place police station icons on the map so you can even find them to complete daily challenges which usually involve something with the cops. And not only this, they also drive worse than my grandma and she’s not even driving a car. At all. They are slow and to do challenges or even initiate a police chase you have to intentionally crawl around at 60 km/h for 15 minutes and keep hitting them until you reach at least heat level of 3-4 where they can at least keep up with you for 2 seconds. They use some crappy Crown Victoria grade garbage and they don’t even bother apprehending you. And only way of getting caught is to get stuck in the impenetrable roadblocks by some stupid random chance. Gone are the insane high speed chases through downtowns and highways from Most Wanted 2005 where cops upgraded to Corvettes at higher heat levels, they started using Rhino SUV’s for roadblocks instead of normal cars and they even used helicopters to prevent you from evading at high speeds and a duo of Rhino SUV heading straight at you head on. There is just none of that here. Roadblocks are now just bunch of blue wooden crap with lights across the road that slightly slows you down when you hit it. And that’s that. Not even 1 police car next to it. Or concrete blocks with a police van. It’s the worst attempt at doing cops I’ve seen in my whole entire life. And with this part so horribly nerfed and broken, game simply doesn’t give the player that thrill of doing hot pursuits, because they are so dreadful I can’t even be bothered with them. I just do them for easy money for daily challenges and that’s that. Where in Most Wanted 2005, I could initiate a chase and have amazing fun in it for 10-15 minutes at a time. You can just forget any of that here. EA, seriously fix this shit. Like NOW.

Ai controlled racing opponents aren’t much different to be quite honest. Maybe I haven’t noticed it all that much myself, but I’ve seen quite a lot of complaining by others. The Ai ranges from retarded amoeba to idiotically capable drivers. They can be so bad you leave them behind by a lot in points or distance, but they can also be stupendously good for no logical reason. Especially in those timed circuit races where you have to get best lap time. The catch up system is a bit broken and needs some adjustment to make them feel more challenging, but not robot like.

The Story

I know not many people expect story in racing games, but if we again go back in time, Most Wanted 2005, Carbon and The Run tell a different story. And I loved those games for it. Especially Most Wanted 2005 which had really iconic and unforgettable cut scenes with original 3D game world and live actors merging. And I was very enthusiastic at first because the initial intro sequence brought back those memories. Until I realized it was just that. And that every next video sequence doesn’t really tell any story, just bunch of people doing some random almost unrelated stuff. And that’s suppose to tell me a story of some sort? Sigh. There is a hint of it, but it’s so uninspiring I don’t even care about it anymore. Your so called friends keep calling you and texting you and you keep showing up to places they say you should meet them up. And that’s all there is to the story. The cut scenes don’t interconnect races and happenings outside of the racing as they used to in Most Wanted 2005. One part of the game is racing and the other are video cut scenes and chats through phone calls. And they don’t give much impression they are related to one another. So much potential and they wasted it all. Even if some missions were scripted, at least it would be interesting and not this dull grinding of races. Hell, I absolutely loved QTE’s in The Run and I’d be the last person to appreciate QTE’s in any game. But I loved it in a freaking racing game. It brought story and action between races and it was freaking great. Why wasn’t that used here? Imagine all the possibilities with the cops, with other gangs with your “crew” of race friends. But nope, none of it is in this game.

Multiplayer

Lastly, the multiplayer which people say it even has lobbies, but I have yet to find them. You can invite people to races and even make crews somehow and even voice chat with people. Or so others say. In my experience, game has no lobbies. There is no menus like with NFS Hot Pursuit 2010 where you picked a game type, car class and waited for game to drop you in a lobby. Then you’ve waited for people to join up and start a game. It was very straight forward and it just worked. Instant races one after another. There is no such thing in this game. It’s again so clumsy and stupid I hardly ever do any race with actual people. And most of them initiated by others are Drag race or Drift which I’m not really interested in as much as I am in Sprint or Circuit races. I can’t selectively play just those. And that’s so stupid and infuriating. Stop making this seamless offline/online mode because it just doesn’t work. It never worked in Rivals and never will. Just bring back the damn normal menu lobby like in Hot Pursuit 2010 and be done with it. Doing random Sprints or Outrun races with real people is nice, but it just doesn’t outweigh the overall crappy and clumsy multiplayer.

Verdict

Like I’ve said, there are great parts of the game and there are really shitty ones. I keep wanting to give it a good review because I’m a huge fan of NFS series, but I just can’t because this game is mediocre at best. Which is very sad to say the least. I’m having some good time in it, but mostly me fiddling with various cars, their handling to emulate NFS Hot Pursuit 2010 drifty cornering and just driving around with no purpose, because I like doing that. But the game, if I judge it based on content it provides, it has very little substance. And for a reboot of the franchise, I just can’t shake off the feeling developers behind it don’t have a clue what Need for Speed franchise even is or should be. It’s giving me the impression not a single person from game development team has actually ever played any of the old (good) legendary NFS games like constantly mentioned NFS Most Wanted 2005. And that’s most likely the reason why it’s not as good as it could be. You make a reboot by taking all the best bits of old games and start all over. Not by dumbing it down or entirely scraping most of the good stuff we already had and loved in old NFS games. Because when you do it like that, you’ll end up with a mediocre or even really bad game.

Only thing that brings tiny bit of confidence is, unlike other times, EA or more specifically Ghost Games folks are actually reading feedback from people and are fixing stuff as well as adding new content (recent update brought expanded garage and new Drag racing mode as well as bunch of fixes). It most probably won’t change things like story, but there is a possibility they’ll fix moronic cops which could up the game value by at least 10x as far as I’m concerned. I love cop chases and so do other people. Bringing in more car customization parts is also a possibility. So, unlike other times when game remained the same after release, this game will evolve for the better. Slowly and in small steps, but at least something is happening.

It’s not a great game, but it’s not absolute crap either. It has its moments. Just decide if those that aren’t crap are important enough to you to justify the purchase of this game.

Life is Strange – A year later…

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My Episode 1 review:
https://rejzor.wordpress.com/2015/02/04/life-is-strange/

I can’t believe it’s been a year since this game was released. Well, the first episode at least. The last one was released in October 2015. And while I’ve finished first one immediately, I’ve left episode 2 somewhere in the middle and haven’t picked up the game for almost a year. I have to be in the mood to enjoy a game and I guess just few days ago was that moment when I was in the mood again. Picked up Life is Strange again. And wow…

I’m still a bit overwhelmed by the experience. So much, my mind is jumping back and forth trying to fit all the experience into sentences this very instant. Not a moment later. Ever since System Shock 2 and Deus Ex back in the 1999 and 2000, those two games were considered my all time favorites. They involved thinking, action, amazing story, emotional segments, I’ve considered them a benchmark for all games I’ve played after that. And then, around 15 years later, Life is Strange arrived… and it pretty much entirely shattered my perception of games.

The thing is, I’ve experienced a somewhat similar thing with another title from same developer (DONTNOD). It was the Remember Me. While it was again an action packed game, the memory remixing segments paired with Nilin’s backstory were so unforgettable, so freaking emotional. The Neo Paris art design, the feel of it as you walked through the city, Nilin as a person, her back story, the music support, voice acting… I know quite a lot of games that really push the storytelling and drama, but there is just something only DONTNOD team can pull off. And they’ve outdone themselves with Life is Strange. I mean, I’m sitting here, writing this article, listening to Life is Strange main menu guitar soundtrack almost in tears, like something is missing from my life now that I’ve finished the game. The experience was so emotional, so immersive, so vivid but at the same time totally surreal. I can really immerse myself into many games, but I’ve never ever immersed myself into any game as much as I have in this one. Maybe it’s because parts of Max’s life kinda reminded me of my own, maybe because of the whole surreal experience, maybe because of the whole artistic approach to it… I honestly don’t really know… DONTNOD really knows their mysterious ways 🙂

People complained over many things in this game, particularly the dialogs and the slang used, but remember, this is a game, not a reality simulator. What others thought the slang was cheesy, for me it was kinda cool in an awkward cute kind of way. It didn’t bother me at all and I think it even gave the game that special unique touch. Along with all the artwork in the game. While the game is technological marvel since it’s using a rather new Unreal Engine, what made it so unreal was the art design of the game. Developers didn’t push all the latest shaders and effects, instead, they’ve opted for a more artistic approach that will remain timeless. 5, 10 or 15 years later, it’ll still have its flair where most of other games will just look old and outdated, this one just won’t. Like true art that somehow just keeps up with the times even hundreds of years later. People often say games can’t be art. And they are so wrong. They can and they are art. This game certainly is a work of art. It’s just… everything about it. The visuals, the ambient sounds, the acoustic guitar music, voice acting, the animations, amazingly believable world design, the people you meet and talk to, the way you grow fond of people and friends as if they were real people, mind blowing twisted story, all those terrifying moments when you have to make tough decisions that can and most often change the fate of everyone around you.

And I’m intentionally not going into details here. I can tell you, I’ve experienced thousands of hours in games and I’ve never felt like this in the end. It doesn’t matter what genre of games you prefer, you have to give this game a try. I cannot pour my thoughts into words good enough to give this game a praise it deserves. Give it a try and maybe let me know down below in comments what you think about it. But remember. Take your time. Don’t rush it. Experience it fully. Talk to people, look at things, explore, take your time.

For me, only wish I have now is that I was able to rewind time myself, so I could go back to day 1 when this game was released. With no memories of the story and the experience, just the knowledge that the game is really good. So I could re-experience the whole thing again. And again. And again. It is that amazing.

Life is Strange. And it becomes even stranger once you experience this game…

Make files smaller without losing quality with FileOptimizer

I’ve been doing some research on PNG image optimizations, and I’ve stumbled across this program called FileOptimizer. On the surface, it looks like just another file converter that takes in one file type and outputs it in another with degraded quality. Well, you’d be wrong!

FileOptimizer is the only program I’ve found so far that is designed to optimize broad range of file types. It doesn’t only work with images, it can also optimize music, be it lossless or lossy format, videos, Word document files, PDF documents, archives like ZIP etc. All this without degrading quality further!

I know there are many unbelievers that will say it’s absolute bullshit, but FileOptimizer uses several highly specialized tools hidden underneath the interface that are actually dedicated to do just that. It processes the data in such a way that it removes and compacts data segments within a file, resulting in a smaller file. Data can be lossy to begin with, like MP3 for example and FileOptimizer will be able to decrease file size without affecting quality.

Which is useful when, for example you don’t want receiving party to fiddle with decompression of ZIP, 7z or RAR archives, especially if you’re unsure if they have archivers that support such archive types. Or for example when you want files smaller, but still readable directly by a device. For example, MP3’s on USB drive in your car. You can’t have 7z compressed MP3’s. Not only standard file archivers do nothing to MP3’s, they’d also make them entirely unplayable in car stereo. And in many cases, even compressing with 7z LZMA2 didn’t yield any gains, but FileOptimizer did. So, that’s why 🙂

FileOptimizer_Screenshot.png

I’ve done some testing with my files and while results greatly depend on the content of files, there are quite significant gains for certain file types and very small or none for others.

Image optimizations

As you can see on the screenshot of the program above, the gains are quite big. Almost 8KB big avatar was compacted down to just 3KB. I did use lossy optimization for PNG, but the end result is indistinguishable from lossless TrueColor PNG. Even edge transparency which is a problem for most PNG optimizers, was left in perfect form.

JPEG photos also got some gains. Very much depends on image, ranging from 0.5MB up to over 1MB. May not sound like much, but with 1000 photos, that’s 500MB to 1GB of saved space! Useful for online albums where space is usually very limited or simply on your computer drive.

Music optimizations

MP3 got mostly slimmer for around 1MB. I’ve also tested it with 1 hour long MP3 mix and it has compacted it from 142MB down to to 129MB. That’s 13MB less without any loss of audio fidelity (as much as MP3 has it anyway hehe). You may say it’s insignificant, but with 10 such mixes, it means I’ve basically saved enough space to fit in additional 1 hour mix on USB drive “for free”. Which is not that bad right? FileOptimizer is also able to convert VBR MP3’s that might be unplayable on some hardware media players into CBR (which is usually more compatible) without actually re-compressing the audio stream.

There were no size reduction with FLAC, APE and WAV files. At least the ones I had at hand.

Documents

PDF’s had huge gains across the board. Though be aware, FileOptimizer has lossy image optimization for images within PDF’s enabled by default. I recommend disabling it, because despite this option being disabled, look at the above PDF. It’s a full user manual for ASUS Sabertooth X99 motherboard. From 18MB down to 8MB! If you then compress it in ZIP, it goes down to 7MB and with 7z (LZMA2 Ultra) it’s 6MB. I’ve tried compressing original PDF with ZIP and 7z and it was still a 17MB big PDF document. Amazing! If you enable image downsampling you may gain even more, but the image quality within PDF’s will degrade.

Word files (.doc and .docx) did have some improvements, usually around 30% decrease in size. But there were also some documents that had no gains. Mostly those documents that were text only.

Video files

Several AVI (DivX) and MP4/MKV (H.264) were also tested and I did not get any gains or they were so small it wasn’t worth the time I spent processing the files. Apparently these are already as good as it gets from the beginning so no improvements here. Again, for files that I used for testing, your results may vary.

Others

FileOptimizer supports countless other file formats, some of which are more exotic than others. To see the full list, please check its official homepage. Just try and see 🙂

WARNING

As stated before, some file types support lossy optimizations at expense of quality. Make sure you’re using the correct settings before you inadvertently degrade files (it automatically creates a backup inside Recycle Bin for easy restoration but still). This especially applies to PDF which for some reason has image downsampling enabled by default. I suggest setting it to “None: No downsampling”. You’ll still see significant size savings even without this option. All other file types have lossless settings enabled by default so no need to worry about those.

Oh and you may want to enable “Copy metadata” options for images and music if you want to keep special file details like what camera was used to take the photo and the location if GPS was enabled on a phone etc.

I have also experienced what looked like program hangs/freezes with certain file types. Particularly when trying to optimize ZIP archives and APE/FLAC files. So you won’t be surprised if program stops processing files half way through because it encountered some of these files. I suggest processing them separately. Only JPEG files or only MP3 files at once. Not mixed together with ZIP/APE/FLAC etc.

DOWNLOAD

FileOptimizer

AKG Y15 earphones review

Yeah, I’ve wrecked another pair of Sennheiser earphones by dragging my entire laptop with them, effectively bending the 3.5 jack plug, making it lose connection in certain positions. I loved those Sennheisers MX470 😦 Anyway, I already know Sennheiser makes good earphones, I’m just terrible at not breaking them 😀

So, this time I’ve decided to go with AKG. A very reputable Austrian company specialized in audio equipment. So I got myself the AKG Y15.

AKG_Y15

“In-ear” earphones, but not with those terrible silicone thingies that go deep inside ear canal. I don’t like that. They aren’t anything crazy or expensive. But they do have pretty interesting specs…

AKG Y15 have rather high frequency response range. 17Hz up to 23kHz is quite significant. Which means sound will have incredible clarity, but such headphones/earphones almost always lack a bit in the bass department. If you’re crazy for that, look at some other earphones. But this doesn’t mean they have no bass. It’s there and it’s not bad, it just isn’t as deep as it was on Sennheiser MX470 that I had before.

Construction is good though, I miss a bit of rubber where earphone and cable are merged. Cable is grinding directly on plastic. Otherwise the construction is quite good with very compact straight 3.5 jack. It’s really tiny and I like that so you can fit it anywhere, even to phones that are in thicker silicone cases with small phones cutout. Cable is split into two earphones using symmetrical arrangement.

Left earphone has a side indicator, meaning you can touch a tiny dot bulge on the left earphone even if there is zero visibility, so you never mix up L and R channels. Something you’ll also find on Sennheiser earphones. I quite like this tiny detail, it’s very useful.

Another strong point is the volume control. If I’m honest, I hate these things because they bloody always make sound crackling if you just slightly touch them. But not this one. Here, the volume control is big, sliding button with quite precise movement that doesn’t make audio crackling even when intentionally moving the slider. It’s not that cheap wheel type or tiny sliding one. Which is by itself a bit of a problem. It has quality, but being big means it’s a bit heavier. It’s not super heavy, but if it’s swinging around in mid air, you’ll feel its weight pulling the cable a bit.

AKG_Y15_Volume

While these are in general very good earphones, they do have a one rather significant downside. Cable is stupendously short. It’s exactly 1m long and that’s so short I can’t watch movies on laptop while leaning back on the sofa while having laptop on very edge of the living room table. Or almost anywhere while leaning back on the chair. Might be good for running so you don’t have to deal with miles of cables, but for my purpose, too freaking short. I had to order cheap additional 1m extension from eBay for like $2 to make them properly usable in my usage scenarios…

AKG_Y15_Extension

I’ve ordered AKG Y15 from German Amazon for 17.42€. It’s not super cheap and it’s not super expensive. I’d call it “reasonable”. Just don’t break them as often as I do hehe 🙂

Pros and cons for AKG Y15:

+ amazing sound with decent bass
+ solid construction and design
+ high quality volume control
+ physical L/R indicator for handling in darkness
+ really compact straight 3.5 jack connector
+ price
– bass freaks might be slightly disappointed
– lacks some bendy cable protection rubber on earphones
– cable too short at only 1m

Noctua NF-A4x10 FLX 40mm and Noiseblocker XM-2 fan review

As I’ve posted not long ago, I’ve bought a new platform based on X99 chipset attached to ASUS Sabertooth X99 motherboard. And this motherboard arrived with special fan that you mount on a VRM segment of the motherboard for additional VRM cooling. Well, the stock fan is PWM and mounted on a special fan header which even when set at lowest speed makes it quite noisy and you can’t force the fan curve any lower. Too noisy considering the rest of the fans are almost dead silent. So, I’ve tossed it out and looked for alternatives…

After lengthy digging after 40mm fans (they really aren’t easy to find), there were few options at 10mm thickness that caught my attention. The Noiseblocker XM-2 that I already had, but is somewhat weak on the air pressure aspect, Gelid 40mm Silent Fan or Noctua NF-A4x10 FLX. I wanted the Noiseblocker BlackSilentPro 40mm but it only comes in 20mm thickness so that fell off my selection list.

I’ve checked bunch of resources and decided to go with Noctua. HalTech reviewed it and gave it very positive review on Youtube. Noctua is also known for high quality products (apart from absolutely terrible skin+diarrhea color scheme) and it has air pressure higher than some larger fans.

I was really enthusiastic about it…

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Till I actually got the fan. Yeah, that color scheme… but fine, it sort of fits to desert beige and grey found on Sabertooth X99. Presentation is amazing. High quality box with preview window secured with a Velcro “lock”, bunch of really high quality accessories like amazingly well sleeved cables, anti-vibration holders, slowdown resistor etc. Really top notch, but then again, for almost 15€, I wasn’t expecting any less.

There was immediately a problem with fitting of this fan inside the cooling slot on Sabertooth X99. This damn fan is not standard 40mm size, I had to grind away the pointy parts on the corners in order to even be able to fit this darn thing in the fan slot. After I’ve done that, second problem appeared…

Connected everything, fired up UEFI BIOS and tested this bad boy. And guess what, this fan is TERRIBLE. Considering it’s loaded with anti-vibration, anti-noise, anti-everything with superduper SSO2 150 trillion hours hydro bearings with SCD2 drive and the review from HalTech stating it’s dead silent, this fan is anything but silent. Sure, it’s a 4500 RPM fan, but even when you slow it down, it doesn’t actually get any more silent. Connected the L.N.A. resistor in between to slow it down to 3700 RPM and further slow it down using UEFI BIOS controls and the damn thing was still buzzing and hissing like crazy. There is a third problem with it, if you partially block/obstruct its air intake and that’s exactly what happens since rear exhaust fan partially covers it, Noctua starts making really annoying whining noise.

It’s the noise frequency which is so irritating it makes you think it has 10.000 mosquitoes electrocuted inside the fan and that makes it spin. Even when absolutely slowed down it makes this god damn annoying buzzing noise that was driving me insane.

Yes, the air pressure is phenomenal for such tiny fan and you can properly fell it, but there is no way in hell I’m gonna listen to this buzzing crap. Sorry Noctua, but you failed badly here.

Pros and cons for Noctua NF-A4x10 FLX:

+ high quality packaging and presentation
+ attention for details (quality cable and resistor sleeving)
+ amazing air pressure of 1.21 mmH2O @ 3700 RPM
– motor is emitting super annoying buzzing noise across entire RPM range
– partially restricting air intake creates horrible whining noise
– fan frame is not perfect 40mm standard (holes are, the frame isn’t)
– a bit expensive for a tiny 40mm fan (considering the noise problems)

Alternative? Yeah, I’ve gone back to my all time favorite fan maker, Noiseblocker, more specifically to XM-2 fans that I had for ages but somehow decided to neglect it and give Noctua a try…

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I don’t know what kind of witchcraft Noiseblocker is doing, but the XM-2’s that I have are old generation with sleeve bearing and they are dead quiet. At freaking 3800 RPM! New XM-2’s that you can buy now even come with Noiseblocker’s higher grade NB NanoSLI bearings. If their sleeve bearing is this quiet, how freaking quiet is the new generation of XM-2’s then!?

Anyway, XM-2 fits in the Sabertooth X99 directly without any modifications, is absolutely quiet at 3800 RPM meaning I’m running it full speed at all times and restricting its air intake doesn’t really change its acoustic properties. Air pressure is slightly lower as well as air flow, but if I have to trade that for silence, I’d do it any time. And I have.

Pros and cons for Noiseblocker XM-2:

+ attention for details (maybe not Noctua level, but still very good)
+ standard 40mm size
+ amazingly silent at full 3800 RPM
+ pretty color scheme
+ reasonably priced
– slightly lower air pressure and airflow compared to Noctua

Conclusion

If you don’t have to look at the ugly fan and you just need a high performance 40mm fan to cool system chipset or VRM, Noctua is certainly an amazing option. But if you want a high(er) performance 40mm fan that is also really super quiet at 3800 RPM, go with Noiseblocker XM-2. I’ll one day have to check out that Gelid, but for now, XM-2 is still my favorite fan. It’s just a better balanced product compared to Noctua which is amazing in some aspects, but also absolutely terrible in others.

Logitech gaming keyboards for 2015 are rubbish

I was in a need for a new keyboard. My 3rd generation of Logitech UltraX started acting funny with certain keys because I simply wore them out with usage. And since Logitech is not selling them anymore, I had to look for alternative options.

So, I’ve said to myself, I spend so much time in front of a PC, I already own the highest end Logitech gaming mouse money can buy, why not invest same kind of money into a proper high end mechanical keyboard that will serve my needs with perfection.

And this is the point where things went very, very wrong…

I like Logitech gear. I had 3 UltraX keyboards in a row because I liked them so much. I have a 4th generation of Logitech mouse, the G502, I also have Logitech G230 headset. Clearly I’m not a hater of Logitech gear. But from this point on, I might sound like I am one, because Logitech disappointed me on the whole line.

They brag about mechanical switches used in keyboards, all the precision, feedback, mechanical superiority blablabla. But when I touched the keys, they ALL felt like they’ll fall out any second. And when keys are all wobbly and cheap feeling on a product that costs as much as 199€, you start to wonder what the fuck happened there.

It was even worse when I tried lower end products like Genius Imperator. It’s a cheap gaming keyboard from a maker that isn’t exactly what a hardcore gamer thinks of first and it had rather solid keys. They weren’t wobbly, they didn’t even feel like they’ll fall out any moment. The keyboard that I then actually bought, the Cherry Stream XT, same thing. It cost me 30€ and it has nearly zero wobble when you poke the keys. They just go in straight vertical motion, they don’t rattle, they don’t wobble, they are placed there with precision. Sure, it’s not fancy mechanical, it’s using membrane contacts, but they made it better than (apparently) overrated mechanical ones.

I’ve tested Logitech G105 (membrane), G710+ (mechanical) and G910 Orion Spark (mechanical) and they all felt like absolute junk. I’d have to be insane and had to be already drunk from 2 liters of strongest moonshine to say, yes, I want that 199€ keyboard with wobbly keys that have idiotically shaped upper surface/edge. I was like WTF, people actually buy this poor quality garbage? Sorry Logitech, I wouldn’t pay even 50€ for any of them. They felt that bad.

Logitech, if you charge 199€ for a keyboard, I expect such expensive product to have rock solid keys that have only one job. To go up and down in a precise vertical motion. Not to the left or right side, not forward or backwards. Vertical with zero side motion. If the mechanical switches are wobbly by design, then surround them with a support mechanism that disallows that without compromising the feedback or the feel. One would expect that in 2015, multimillion companies would know how to deal with that. But apparently they don’t. or they aren’t even willing because people buy them en mass regardless. So, why bother, right?

And you know things are bad if I was willing to spend even as high as 199€ for a keyboard and then decided for a 30€ membrane based Cherry keyboard. Logitech, do your shit right, I know you people know how to make great gear, but what I’ve seen with the above mentioned keyboards, absolutely horrendous, poor, lazy, low quality products. Don’t do this shit ever again!

Life is Strange

Ha, I did fool you into thinking this is another depressing post about my life. I’ve left out the “review” intentionally from the title 😛 While my life is in a way strange compared to others, I’m actually talking about the game Life is Strange. A game about a cute, somewhat shy and introverted girl Maxine Cauldfield. A senior photography student at Blackwell Academy, Arcadia Bay, Oregon…

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I’ve stumbled across this game by pure chance on Steam and while I didn’t quite know what I’m going to get, I’ve decided to buy the entire season anyway. It was 19,99 € so it’s not that expensive. And I’m really glad that I have. It’s the weirdest and yet the most memorable experience in a way. Mostly because parts of her life kinda remind me of mine. That calm, dreamy mind, always being out of the spotlight, minding her own business most of the time, doing or thinking about things not many are interested in… I don’t know, could be just me imagining things, but it felt like when you meet someone who likes the same things you do and you’ve never met him or her before. You know?

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Game kinda plays in a similar way as Telltale’s The Walking Dead, just without the direct QTE sequences, but with a twist of being able to reverse time in order to progress, discover new things and even change your actions. But even with this ability, you are often not really sure if your actions will lead to a desired outcome few hours into the future. So, it doesn’t feel like you’re really cheating, it actually confuses you even further when deciding what to do. And it gives you a legal (no quickload/quicksave fiddling) ability to explore different outcomes in a single play through. Which is an interesting concept.

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While it plays similar to Walking Dead game, it doesn’t feel like it. Sure there aren’t any zombies, so that’s a good start, but the world is not all dark and gritty. On contrary, the game has this incredibly warm feel to it. The atmosphere is always warm, filled with pastel colors that glow in the sunlight. From artistic standpoint, it is one of the most breathtaking games I’ve seen in years and it’s really pushing Unreal Engine 3 into a whole new direction. This will be one of those games that will age well. I can feel it. It has low polygon count and low resolution textures in places, but it makes it feel even better because of it. Gives it that artistic feel and not just cold technological edge like found in lets say Crysis or latest Far Cry, where you expect nothing but insane sharp textures, millions of polygons for every detail and advanced shaders on all surfaces. Life is Strange is nothing like that…

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It looks amazing doesn’t it? I just can’t stop capturing moments from it…

While the game is jaw dropping in nearly every single aspect, there are some minor issues. Some might dislike the lack of proper lip syncing. At first it is a bit distracting, but kinda becomes an integral part of the game where everyone are kinda disconnected from the reality. But like I said, it might bother some. And if I’m honest, I’d expect a bit more facial expressions in a game that places heavy emphasis on human interactions and emotions. The facial expressions often look a bit bland and don’t really give the proper feel of emotions being expressed during a difficult or heart breaking moment. Could be that Walking Dead just spoilt me a bit with its really intense and deep facial expressions, but they really wouldn’t hurt in a game like this. Would help even further connect you with emotions and experiences of the characters in the game…

And the last thing, length of the game. Steam shows it took me 4,3h for the first episode. I’ve taken my time to explore, look at things, talk with people, toke pictures of Max, reverse some scenarios several times and it feels like it went past me in no time. If I multiply that with 5 episodes, it will be somewhere around 25 hours which is not that short though.

“Among the Sleep” was also a really short game and yet it still holds a really special place in my heart. So, it’s really too soon to judge the game’s length only after experiencing its first episode. We’ll see.

But even with all that in mind, it’s an amazing experience that I highly recommend to everyone. Especially if you like adventure games where you can drift away into this alternate world and just let go to emotions.

Next episode is due for March 2015. Looking forward to it…

StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty mini review

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I was sleeping under a rock for nearly 5 years since Wings of Liberty came out back in 2010. Yeah, that long already. I don’t really know why I haven’t bought it back then, especially since I was a huge fan of the original game. Could be the fact that the game arrived in a Terran campaign only, I don’t really know. But few days ago, after some weird coincidence, I’ve bought the game on Battle.net.

And I sure am happy that I have. I haven’t had this much fun in quite a while in a strategy game and I know also understand why they took sweet time to make each campaign on its own. Because it’s loooooong and really well executed.

Majority of the story is rendered using in-game engine and it looks really damn good for a 5 years old game. Incredibly good. I don’t know if they’ve updated it in between, but daaamn. There are some pre-rendered video sequences, but they are pretty rare. Campaign works in a similar way as it did back in the original, but they’ve expanded the whole thing further so you can do loads of stuff besides the usual strategy view of the battlefield. Like collecting credits to upgrade your army, hiring mercenaries, gathering research material, researching stuff, checking equipment and talking with the people on board of your battle cruiser. Yes, while you have the usual in-game upgrading of the units, you can upgrade them through Armory and Laboratory using special traits, upgrades and features that make them stronger. And I loved that part. I’ve always loved fiddling with the equipment used for battle. It still has that old school feel, but looks like a modern game. Very likable.

Anyway, it was a really good experience, If you haven’t played it yet and you do like strategy games, get it. I’ve started playing Heart of the Swarm and while it has some similarities, it plays quite differently, more hero focused and with different upgrading and that’s also cool. Will drop few words on that one when I finish it as well. And then I can’t wait for the third installment, Legacy of the Void. Can’t wait to see their campaign and their tech…

Alien Rage game review

Alien Rage. Probably one of the most overlooked first person shooter games (considering how I managed to entirely miss it since release back in Sep 2013!). But here and there, people come across them and this time, it was me. I picked it up on Steam at the beginning of January 2015 since it was on the deals list (otherwise I probably wouldn’t even notice it) and it kinda looked interesting. So I gave it a try. And man I’m glad I did…

To kick things off, Alien Rage runs on Unreal Engine 3 engine, so I don’t really have to brag about graphics much. It looks properly good. It’s all neon bright, glowing, sparkling and filled with amazing massive world scenes. It even has minor world destruction involved where cover objects get slowly disintegrated by the weapons, forcing you to move around a bit and not just stay behind one cover. Player movement is also typical for Unreal Engine based games which is also a very good start. I too often started a game just to find out aiming is totally awkward and that you move around like a giant wooden barrel. But not here. If game doesn’t flop on this point, it still has chances, but if they screw up this very foundation of a shooter, then it’s a real pain to play. Luckily, Alien Rage feels great in motion.

You can wield weapons from human and Vorus side, ranging from basic pistol with unlimited ammo to submachine gun, rifle, shotgun, RPG and sniper rifle or multibarrel chaingun. The Vorus side has more alienated weapons that are sort of equivalent of human weapons, just without any reloading and different behavior as well as a chance to operate Vorus vehicles (which was jolly fun!). Each weapon comes with two fire modes and all weapons also employ iron sights/aiming mode which is somewhat odd for a fast paced shooter like this one, but it integrates in to the game surprisingly well, especially since accuracy and usage of environment greatly rewards you. Either by making deadly explosions by targeting explosive crates or by doing headshots. And this is probably one of very few games where basic weapon, the pistol can be used through entire game. With good aiming, you can take out even heavy enemies or make deadly long ranged kills not possible with other short and medium range weapons.

And the main reason why pistol works so well through the entire game are player perks (especially the last tier!) that get unlocked through the game by doing combos, picking up bonus pyramids and just earning score points. When you have enough of them, you’ll gain a set of 3 perks out of which you can assign just one to your player slot (you have 3 slots). The game will give you 12 perks in total to choose from, so you can buff yourself up. I’m not gonna tell you what exactly you get because that’s the main charm of this game, knowing in advance will just ruin the urge to progress further. Trust me on that one. I can just tell you that they are very useful and make a huge difference and can also be freely re-assigned on-the-fly for various combat situations.

Especially because Vorus are a bit dumb, but they come in large numbers and some are really deadly, especially up close. And let me tell you, you will die a lot. And by a lot I mean A LOT if you won’t be careful. Your health regenerates in a similar way as it does in Call of Duty games and when you run out of it, well, you die. Game uses checkpoint system and sometimes these checkpoints are quite widely apart which means you’ll sometimes repeat same segments of the game even up to like 6 times. But for some really odd reason, despite me smashing over the keyboard and screaming quite often, I constantly had that need to beat the crap out of the Vorus and get over it. And I did. And when you do it, it’s so rewarding and you feel awesome to beat what it seemingly looked like an unbeatable level. I’ve played it on Hard which is actually the medium setting, but it was still seriously challenging game. So, if you want challenge, this shooter will certainly deliver it.

Another decent thing about this game are the Vorus. They come in the usual bunch of cannon fodder grunts, but unlike most games which throw you like 1 up to 3 bosses, hell no, Alien Rage will constantly throw massive bosses in your face. And they aren’t just shoot ’em till they die, you sometimes have to think how to take them down. It kinda brings back the good old times of first person shooters. And let me tell you, the bosses are really majestic most of the time. I mean, they are like these 15 or 20 storey buildings and you stand in front of them like a tiny ant. Good ol’ times.

Story, well you can get the glimpse of it in the trailer above. It’s not gonna win any Oscar’s, but it’s engaging enough and you get more of it through in-game audio logs left behind by a member of Vorus greeting party and a lab scientist who worked with Vorus. It’s all right. The point of game really isn’t story, as it is more along the lines of Serious Sam than lets say System Shock 2 or Deus Ex…

Oh and I have to compliment the dev team behind this game for one monumentally important and cool thing about this game. It has a FOV setting in the graphics menu. A properly functional FOV setting. Can you freaking believe that? Some Polish game developer and publisher managed to integrate this thing properly into a game that other multimillion game corporations apparently can’t. Do you hear EA, Activision, 2K and all you lazy bastards who force shitty narrow view angle on us PC gamers!? This is how you do it! So I don’t have to hack the entire game apart through game and config files just so I don’t get a gigantic headache after 5 minutes of gameplay. I was literally shocked to see this setting in the menu and also very happy at the same time. Thanks CI Games for this!

Oh btw, never heard of “CI Games” before? This is the old City Interactive, Polish guys behind a lot of rather mediocre games from the past. They’ve renamed themselves into CI Games and apparently, they have also turned a new page in games quality, because this one, despite not being a AAA title, it has a lot of qualities of those games. It looks good, feels good, is challenging and simply fun. It might be slightly short at only a bit over 7 hours, but at least it was all good within that entire time.

I can only say, give it a try and you might be positively surprised like I was.