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HAF Boxes and Sinful Space Games

A couple hours before I need to set off for work today, and the best thing I can think to do with that time is to spam my blog.  Considering how early I got up today, I would be better served by taking a nap  Oh well, I suppose I do have a few things to talk about.

 Cooler Master HAF XB review source: PCWizKid

First, I went ahead and splurged on a Cooler Master HAF XB.  At $99, it's sporting a mid-range price, but I imagine I should be able to pay that back well before I'm done with this rather innovative case.  I spoke more about its interesting features a few days ago.  The main reason I splurged was because I realized there's a chance it will handle all my sound issues in one fell swoop.

I've been rocking a Apevia X-CRUISER-AL/420 for 5 years now and, while it is a reasonably well-reviewed case, I have to say it has not been my favorite.  I somehow did not realize it would have a door when I bought it, blocking access to my DVD-ROM and power button, something you'd better have a really good excuse to do, and all this one has is three rather pointless dials.  The wiring on my particular unit may be a bit shoddy in that one of the USB ports never worked right.  Over the years, the feet have found means to snap off and this (combined with wear and tear over the years) may be partly contributing to the rattling noise of the case in operation, so it was clearly time for a replacement.

With any luck, the HAF XB replacement will handle all of the sound issues I'm having.  If not, the larger motherboard access panel on the bottom of the motherboard tray of the HAF XB may be necessary for the installation of a quieter heat sink which (I've learned) typically involve removing the default AMD mount and replacing it with an actual heat sink brace on the bottom of the motherboard.

Neither the HAF XB nor my new CM Storm Trigger keyboard have arrived yet.  I suppose that's to be expected when you purchase the cheapest shipping available.  Hey, a fella has to pinch his pennies somehow if he's going to maintain the pretense of frugality!

 Sins Of A Solar Empire impressions source: TotalBisquit/TotalHalibut/The Cynical Brit

The only game I've really played since the last entry would have to be Sins Of A Solar Empire: Rebellion, a reasonably flawless "standalone expansion" of 2008's Sins Of A Solar Empire and several of its expansions.  The resulting game runs rock solid, smooth, and has one of the best designed GUIs of any game I've ever played (with the exception of the left "unit summary" bar which randomly jumps down to the bottom of long lists as I attempt to scroll it).  Having taken a well-received game and simply made it better and more featured, it's little wonder Rebellion landed on many PC Gaming reviewers' "runner-up/honorable mention best 2012 strategy game" lists.

Would I say SoaSE:Rebellion is a triumph among 4X games or amongst real time strategy games?  In truth, I would say it's a bit of a hybrid, and suffers slightly as a result of lacking cohesion.  Your decisions are not quite as cohesively respected as they would be in (typically turn-based) 4X games, because there's always an aspect of split-second timing, unreliable unit positioning, and individual unit AI priorities that comes with RTS.  Nor is Rebellion quite as frantic as a purely real time strategy game, it's really quite plodding, although there is a speed control you can use to boost the speed of the game. 
As this chart demonstrates, Sins Of A Solar Empire has a proper unit for any job.
I know from experience with the 2008 title, Sins Of A Solar Empire, that the units are balanced in a somewhat "rock, paper, scissors" fashion.  I like that as, combined with maneuvering units towards/away from different weapon ranges (a very RTS trait) the "rock, paper, scissors" approach gives the players an opportunity to be expert tacticians that can sway battles against superior odds.

I will say, however, that there are some flaws at work here that undermine this.  The glut of new units have thrown off the original balance somewhat: why bother having a good mix of units when you can just throw a well-upgraded starbase or titan at them?  Also, it seems that the "heavy cruisers" with their "composite" weapons pretty much allow you to boil down later fleets to just them and a few support ships to blunt incoming damage.

Perhaps the most annoying aspect of Rebellion's combat is that ship movement is imprecise.  Moving a fleet into an enemy gravity well to do battle often results in capital ships wandering out of formation to get focus-fired to death.  I've noticed many of my forces will either not engage the enemy or engage terrible choices of enemies that split them off to be defeated.  Sometimes, they'll steer directly into minefields without me ordering them anywhere near that.  All of these movement snafus require micromanagement on behalf of the player to prevent, which is strange because this game is often heralded as being a game for macro managers.

I am somewhat bothered by how slowly damage updates in this game.  If you sic a bunch of ships on a meaty target (such as a starbase or capital ship), you see a bunch of weapons firing off and impacting but, when you hover your mouse over the target, you'll only see the shield/hull values for that unit update once every 3-5 seconds.  This is problematic because it's hard to get a good sense for exactly how much damage is being done to the target.  All those shots being traded feel much more cosmetic (less real, more flashy lights) than they should.  I wonder if there's a setting to enforce more rapid damage updates?

That said, playing Sins Of A Solar Empire: Rebellion gets me excited about space games all over again.  It's not exactly a new infatuation for me, and it's only by the slimmest hair that I didn't end up the Space Game Junkie (a marvelous blog I shall frequent, BTW).  There's just something about the style and way Sins Of A Solar Empire presents itself which is extremely "right" for Sci-Fi, space-borne computer games.  A similarly well-done style I've seen was in Big Block Games' Black Market

Black Market review source: NerdOfGamers

Maybe I should keep playing Sins Of A Solar Empire: Rebellion because, the more excited I get about space games, the more likely I am to get around to making my own.


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