Friday, March 28, 2014

Getting Back Into Gaming

The new generation of consoles is out! Which means that I would normally buy the last generation of console, play a couple of games, get bored, and not using it anymore (I have a PS2 sitting here which hasn't been used in years).

I got to thinking about the cost and trying to justify it though and realised.... I don't need it. It's not that I don't want to play games anymore. It's just that I was looking at my options and something occurred to me. What if I just had a gaming PC? I'm sure I could build something comparable to the consoles of yesteryear at around the same cost for a modded console (it's important that I don't feel restricted by the damn things).

So I started to have a look and realised that the cost for MS Windows alone is a horribly significant cost.... that's insane. There are loads of really cool OSes out there and few of them demand $170. With a limit of $450, that makes up more than ⅓ of the total build cost. Yuck.

Windows XP is about to lose all support which means that hopefully people will be getting rid of their copies cheaply. Trademe currently has a copy with the certificate of authentication for $30. It makes an interesting, albeit insecure proposition. Do you really need the Internet for gaming? Can you forego a bunch of things like a web browser?

I spoke to a friend about my wanting to do some gaming and she told me that she used a separate hard drive for the same purpose. i.e. her normal computer with a hard drive that she'd plug in if she wanted to play games. I like the idea as it means you're not messing around too much with bootloaders. i.e. Windows ALWAYS wants to mess up your master boot record (MBR).

So I got to installing Windows XP on a separate hard drive. Once I got it installed I decided that I didn't want to mess around with unplugging and plugging in a hard drive when I wanted to play games. I could make it a little cleaner by putting in a SATA hard drive caddy... but why? Once Windows is installed on another drive, plug all the hard drives in at once boot into Linux and update grub. Easy.

GRUB's kind of ugly though. I mean it does some brilliant things. But why not go graphical? In goes BURG... Change the icon for Windows to be an icon of a game pad... Easy. Next, get rid of the graphical boot of Windows. This isn't at all necessary. It's just that I don't want to use it as Windows... I instead want to remove any Windows branding. It's to be a gaming platform...

There's a few bits I have no idea how to approach. Like the "Welcome" screen.... that flashes up for a second before loading up the desktop (and then thrashing the hard drive). The thrashing the hard drive bit is annoying. Although the desktop is up, you can't do anything for a minute or so. It's only going to get worse too.

I'm almost tempted to find myself a copy of Windows XP X64 due to the memory limit. I have 16GB in my computer. Windows XP can access 3GB of it - though the games I've tried thus far have absolutely no problem with it. In reality this is unlikely to be too much of a problem as I'm much less likely to have multiple intensive applications open at the same time.

Configuring Windows.... Set everything to performance. I don't need animations or the sort. Especially given that the end goal is to not use the Windows UI at all if I can help it. I disabled the paging file in the hope that it would lead to less hard drive thrashing.

The aim now is to write an interface in python and SDL (pygame)... something that can read a xml file or something similar to Linux's desktop files and build an interface from that. This requires a way to read .lnk files and grab some important information - the executable and the working folder. We also need a couple of other bits of information:-

  • An image to display.
  • Possibly a cd/dvd ROM identifier so that it can tell if a game disk is in the drive (though I'm finding myself tempted by the idea of taking a copy of the disk and storing it on the hard drive and using a iso mounting tool to manage it).
  • Tags so that you can group games by genre, publisher, title (i.e. Portal could contain Portal and Portal 2) etc.
  • An image to display.
  • Other executable with a description of their action i.e. uninstall, configure etc.
Equipment I'm considering buying.... another hard drive. I'm using quite an old drive at the moment that's quite loud but good enough for testing with. An xbox controller and receiver.

I'm writing this here as I want to be able to show off the software at some point if ever I build it...


  1. At some point, I have to agree with you. Playing with console or PC gives you unlimited personal experience over the game. On the other hand, what matter the most is the cost.

    For example, I am currently building a i7 procs and win 8 with decent 8 gigs RAM. I am also interested in buying around 1 - 2 gigs capacity for vga memory (ATI or Nvidia) for my job and gaming. This cause me to work extra to build that kind of spec. Some guy even told me to purchase alienware laptop instead of building PC.

    However, as time passed, which I am still stuck with standard spec of PC. I decided to move out from PC games to browser games. I know that my new preference is silly but hey, it lets me to have the same excitement, tho not as much.

    Anyway, I suggest you to try, one or two for a test. I know you are a hardcore gamer (or machine builder, lol) just by reading your writing.

  2. Umm.. hardcore? Hardly. I play games for a very specific reason - and it's a reason that only exists during certain times.

    I'm bored.... B O R E D. Bored. Boredom's not a burden anyone should bare. To a mind like mine this is torture. I hate it. I can't sleep. My mind is trying to hook onto a project... any project will do. Just something. In which case, games are something I can hook onto... Finish the game, look for the next thing. Unfortunately the next thing is more than likely some short term contract doing something that requires very little thought and just requires me to go through the motions...


    Oh and I'm definitely not a hardware guy either. I'm more interested in the way we use our computers. Do we really need a general purpose OS if we have a specific need? Shouldn't we be given a choice of interfaces and ways to interface with our computers?