The Republic of Gamers

10 04 2010

…And its northern counterpart, the Democratic People’s Republic of Gamers.

Well, here it is: My first unboxing in several years. I’ve had the same PC since graduating high school, and while it’s still usable, for the last two or three years I’ve been wanting something with a graphics card, a built-in camera, a bigger hard drive, and less tape holding it together. So this is my graduation present: An ASUS G-series gaming laptop.

I guess I get a free copy of World of Warcraft with it, not that I need anything else to take up my time. I’m used to not being able to play anything newer than about 2004 on my old machine: With integrated graphics, I could coax Half-Life 2 out of it, and could play some of the newer low-graphics games, like Braid or World of Goo, but anything more taxing than that was off-limits. Now I’m going to find myself looking through game sales for $10 copies of new games. This could be dangerous.

Everything about this laptop is a little ridiculous. My room looks like the most stereotypical nerd cave right now: The box for this is stacked next to my friend’s Airsoft submachine gun and a copy of a Y2K book called Time Bomb 2000. The box is weirdly heavy; I’d known this was going to be a big laptop, but it shouldn’t be much heavier than what I have now.

Okay, that’s why. The power brick is literally brick-sized. I could build a house with some mortar and enough of these. No hope of a two-pronged AC adapter plug here.

Aaaaand here’s the cover. Not seen here: The lights that shine through the two sides and the icon in the middle, which reads “Republic of Gamers.” This is clearly not something you take to a business meeting. The BIOS screen at startup is also the Republic of Gamers logo, which coalesces out of flames with a little explosion noise. Tasteful is not exactly in this machine’s vocabulary.

ASUS is taking a page from Apple’s book, with the chiclet keyboard; unfortunately, they don’t seem to have osmosed any of Apple’s design philosophy. Their version of a “understated yet striking design” is “inspired by the iconic F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighter.”  My coblogger and I affectionately call it the Batbook. That said, this actually looks pretty good, and I find the ostentatious design kind of endearing. And I’m not really buying this for the aesthetics anyways.

It really isn’t much bigger than my old Pavilion. It’s a bit thicker, and the screen is 15.6″ instead of 15.1″, but the weights are similar, and they occupy a similar amount of space on my desk. I’m not sure what I’ll do with my old computer at this point. With a full reformatting, it should be pretty usable, and I’d like to keep it around as a server or backup. It’s not its fault it doesn’t have a graphics card, and that you can’t clean the fan without taking the entire thing apart. One of the things I’m particularly pleased with about the new ASUS is that you can get into everything except the processor and heat sink through a single panel on the bottom of the computer. Likewise, for the first time in my life, I actually own a computer that can load games running a contemporary engine. I’ve spent the last three years basically playing anything new and 3D on other people’s computers, and it’ll be great to be able to actually try some things out on one of my own.

I’m keeping myself from buying anything until I’m done with most of my work, but I loaded and played through the demo of Zeno Clash, a surrealist first-person brawler game that I think I’m going to have to get after this semester is out. It’s not the highest-graphics thing you can get–it came out a couple years ago–but it was still too much for my old computer to handle, and the Asus runs it beautifully. I’ll have to try something like Metro 2033–a post-apocalyptic Russian game that, for all its being set almost entirely in dark corridors, has graphics requirements that are close to my new computer’s limits–but $50 is pretty steep for anything, let alone a linear shooter that sounds suspiciously similar to the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series.

I always feel like a bit of a traitor to interactive media for liking storytelling in games, but it remains one of my favorite elements. One of the things I like about Zeno Clash so far is that it’s distilled the game into perfect segmented doses of story and fighting, and that it’s got a story I’m legitimately interested in hearing. It’s also gorgeous. I snarked about office buildings and factories in FPS games, but ZC really takes advantage of virtual reality’s predisposition for surrealist landscapes. I wish the voice acting had been better–on Gamasutra, the developers mention that this was something they had trouble with–and there’s still something weird about the characters’ movements when they’re not fighting, but overall I just hope the rest of the game lives up to my early impressions of it.



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