I’m not a particularly keen, or good, gamer. My PC games are mostly limited to a few Call of Duty titles (for the interactive, cinematic experience), a few variations of the Chinese game mahjong, chess, the magnificent Dear Esther (which has unfairly been described as ‘a walking simulator’), and quite a few LEGO games.
A couple of weeks ago I downloaded Valiant Hearts via Steam; it was on special offer. I finished it last week—it was brilliant!
Valiant Hearts is set during world war one, which ties it in nicely with the centenary of its outbreak.
It follows the journeys of four ordinary people’s experiences of war.
Emile is a French farmer who becomes a prisoner of war, and later escapes.
Karl is Emile’s (I guess) son-in-law. He’s a German, living in France, who gets recalled back to fight for Germany.
Freddie is an American soldier who is fighting to avenge the death of his wife in a German bombing attack.
Anna is a Belgian nurse who attends to wounded soldiers (both German and allied forces) on the battlefield.
Besides the playable characters there is also a dog, Walt, who can be used to solve puzzles. You can also stroke him, and tickle his tummy, which is a really sweet addition.
I found the game entirely gripping. From the artwork, to the music and sound effects, to the puzzles, to the characters, to the historical detail. While the characters and story line is fictional, it is based on historical fact which makes it all the more moving.
I love that one of the main characters (Anna) is a woman, and a strong woman at that. She is brave and compassionate.
I had read quite a few reviews before I played the game where people confessed that they cried at the end of the game. As the final level was loading I considered this. I had been moved by the stories, I had identified with the characters, but I didn’t feel this was enough to make me cry.
I was wrong. As the final level progressed, I cried.
If you’re looking for a great adventure-style, puzzle game, then I can thoroughly recommend Valiant Hearts. It gets a 10/10 from me.
My Google Nexus 4 has been playing up lately: taking ages to connect to WiFi and burning up battery extra quickly. Time for another factory reset, I thought, so plugged it into my PC to backup my ebooks, music files and photographs only to discover that it no longer showed up in Windows Explorer.
It turns out that a recent Windows 8.1 update has prevented many Android users from connecting their devices.
This afternoon we had a visit from Isaac’s godfather, the fabulous Mike McQuaid. As we stood in my study watching the boys playing LEGO® Marvel™ SuperHeroes on my PC I remarked to Mike that I wished that there was an option to use both my monitors, rather than squeezing the two-player co-op onto one 1920 x 1080 screen.
Mike was pretty certain that should be possible and after a quick ‘google’ he unearthed information about NVIDIA® Surround, which “joins multiple displays into a single immersive viewing surface”, typically used for full-screen gaming or watching full-screen video. However, we soon discovered that it requires three displays and I have only one.
This evening, not taking no for an answer I did some internet searching of my own and discovered SoftTH which claims to do the same thing as NVIDIA® Surround but on any number of monitors regardless of whether their resolutions match or not, and so long as they are plugged into a PCI Express graphics card.
I read somewhere that configuration could be a bit cumbersome but it actually turned out to be fairly straightforward. The trickiest bit, to be honest, was locating the game files (see below).
\Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment\LEGO® The Lord of the Rings™
I have a fairly decent graphics card (NVIDIA® GeForce GTX 660) so this worked for each LEGO game I tried. I didn’t play each game for long so I couldn’t attest for how reliable this is played over hours, but I couldn’t see anything that might suggest that it wouldn’t. A few notes from my 30 minutes experience of this…
Taskbar on monitor two
I discovered when returning to the games that if I had any other applications open on monitor two (I’m running Windows 8 here) then once SoftTH was running it still showed the taskbar.
My workaround was to right-click the taskbar before the game started and select “Auto-hide the taskbar” which slid it safely out of the way.
The first real niggle I had was when selecting a new character why does the game present the character table in such a squashed-up way?!
The same is true when both players change characters at the same time.
Not suitable for one player
My second caveat is that as beautiful as the periphery scenery looks while playing, game play isn’t very sustainable if you are playing a single player game because your character stands right in the middle of the screen, and so is divided between the two monitors.
My last word of warning is more of a hunch than from experience: I imagine that certain pre-rendered cut screens throughout the game may display in a strange way as they are not optimized for such a wide screen.
UPDATE: Actually, the cut screens on the whole were okay. You do lose some detail as you’re essentially viewing them through a huge letterbox, but it’s mostly viewable.
Targeting is disrupted a little
UPDATE: One thing I’ve noticed is that targeting with certain objects is now a bit off with the double-screen set up. For example, on the opening level with Hulk and Iron Man you need to target a water cannon at Sandman: where you direct the cannon and where it actually sprays are two different locations. On the next level you need to target one of Captain America’s locks, but it’s near impossible to line it up properly without quickly nipping back to a 1920 x 1080, single-screen resolution.
On the whole, I was really impressed. It was simple to set up, with absolutely no configuration from me.
I’ll show this to the boys tomorrow and see what their verdict is: usable or not? Then I’ll report back.
The Windows RT upgrade (for Surface tablets) was removed from the app store until they could figure out what was going on. Microsoft released a “recovery image” yesterday to try to address the issue. Time will tell if it has worked, I can’t see past the search engine results noise of it having been removed.
The Windows 8.1 upgrade disappeared from my Windows 8 store for a day or two as well, but re-appeared last night. I’m still not going to try to upgrade again until I know for sure that it will work.
Windows 8.1 was meant to address some of the criticisms of the original Windows 8 release, particularly the removal of the Windows start button and that Windows 8 boots to the new Modern/Metro UI start screen, rather than to the desktop.
I have to say that I have been a huge fan of Windows 8 since the beta. I had the beta installed on my laptop right until the RTM edition was launched. Since then I’ve defended Windows 8 to everyone and anyone.
Windows 8 has been, by far, the fastest, most stable, most secure version of Windows I’ve used (since my standalone, not-connected-to-the-internet version of Windows for Workgroups 3.11 in the mid-90s). My desktop PC boots up and is working within about 20-30 seconds. Compare that with my Windows 7 Dell beast of a PC at work which can take about 10 minutes to start up and become fully responsive.
As for those two criticisms about the lack of start button and not booting directly to the desktop, well Start8 from Stardock (USD $4.99) addresses both those issues.
Firmly ticked is the configuration option in Start8 that reads “Automatically go to the Desktop when I sign in“.
I rarely use any of the Metro UI applications (occasionally TV Catch-up, the Steam tile app, and a couple of games with the boys) so it makes sense for me to jump straight to the desktop. This application saves me a click.
To be honest I installed Start8 mostly to make the PC more accessible to my wife Jane, who uses it occasionally. I didn’t want her to have to bother with the convoluted Windows 8 nonsense of Win+C > Settings > Power > Shut down, or Win+C > Settings > Control Panel to access the Control Panel. I reality though, I use those features most.
I also have to confess that I really like the Windows 8 start screen. My grumble about the traditional Start menu in XP, Vista, 7 is that it’s a mess. It lists everything that is installed and gives everything equal status.
The Windows 8 start screen allows me to customise it for my own needs, my own priorities.
And if I want to see everything: Win + Q takes me there.
I can pin to the taskbar those applications that I use most frequently, the rest I can pin to the start screen and arrange into named groups. It’s so easy my four year old boys can use it.
I used another paid-for application from Startdock to customize the background of my start screen: Decor8 (USD $4.99).
A desktop-centric Windows 8 PC
This gives me the best of both worlds: the speed and stability of Windows 8 coupled with the desktop-centric focus of Windows 7.
In each version of Windows that I’ve used I’ve tweaked it and wrestled with its user-interface to give me the experience that works for me. With Windows 3.11 I used Calmira, in Windows 98 it was power toys and TweakUI, in XP I created my own toolbars. Why should this operating system be any different? Surely that’s one of the beauties of Windows.
I really don’t understand these grumbles of “I hate Windows 8 and the Modern/Metro UI!” To be honest, I don’t notice the juxtaposition of desktop vs Modern/Metro UI much. I ignore most of it. I don’t have a touch screen, I have all the Windows desktop applications that I need and only occasionally dabble with the odd Modern/Metro app. And Start8 and Decor8 allow me to quickly tweak the rest
And so back to Windows 8.1. I would rather like to upgrade sometime soon.
I tried it on Friday.
It all seemed to be going well until the second boot when it halted the screen that Windows 8 shows when it’s booting up. The little spinner just kept on spinning… for about 30 minutes. So I rebooted the PC… and it did the same until it quickly flashed up a blue screen of death (BSOD) and about 10 minutes later returned me to Windows 8 and a message similar to this one but with error code 0xC1900101 – 0x40017.
I’ve been closely following, and contributing to the thread on the Microsoft Community. People have had limited success it would appear with certain workarounds working for some but not others: uninstall graphics card drivers, uninstall SteelSeries Engine software, unplug everything, etc.
I have a SteelSeries mouse. I could uninstall it and try the upgrade again, but do you know what? It’s 2013. Why should I have to? Modern operating systems should just work and upgrade without any kind of hardcore hardware geekery.
I’m going to wait until either Microsoft have figured out a way for the operating system to work around or quietly remove incompatible device drivers or until Steel Series have made their drivers compatible with Windows 8.1. Which in my opinion they should have done by now.
Windows 8.1 was code-named “Blue”. It looks like they omitted “…Screen of Death” at the end of it.
Disappointing, and at a time when Microsoft is fighting to stay relevant this seems to me to be a terrible blow to its reputation. As I said, I’ve been almost evangelical about the stability and reliability of Windows 8. I’m not at all confident about upgrading to 8.1 now. That’s not a good thing.