Review of Antec skeleton case neglects to mention RFI issues

Sunday, October 19th, 2008

I will admit to being fascinated by Antec’s latest case. It’s more of a skeleton than an enclosure, providing mounting points for all of a computer’s components to screw into, fans, and nothing else. I especially like how up to four additional hard drives (in addition to the two it fits “internally”) can be clipped onto the outside. Despite the case’s goofy novelty, this really is something I could get into. I tinker with my computers a lot, often running them with the sides off in between swapping out hardware, so this wouldn’t be that much of a stretch. Heck, I’ve run computers with IDE ribbon cables connected to “external” hard drives sitting on top of the case; the skeleton case’s mounting option would’ve been really nice. And above all, I just like the idea of being able to see the components in my computer (which I paid quite a bit of money for) at all times.

But I’m also a bit of a realist. There is a good reason that all other consumer-level computer cases are, well, cases: it makes sense to put your computer’s delicate vitals inside of an enclosure. The case helps keep dust out. It also keeps objects from falling onto the computer’s components. Drop a sizable object onto a normal computer case and the worse that will likely happen is a large dent in the case. But even dropping a coin into the internals of an exposed skeleton case could short out some contact points on the motherboard, or get caught in a fast-spinning fan and turn it into slying shrapnel. Dropping anything larger could easily cause substantial damage to delicate internal components that a 1mm thick steel case wouldn’t blink at. And let’s not forget the problem of spilling food or drink. Spill something on top of a normal case and odds are good you can quickly wipe it up before it seeps in (and the case itself will deflect most of it). Spill something into a skeleton case, and you’re almost guaranteed some kind of catastrophic failure.

But even if you’re never clumsy, and you set up your skeleton case in such a way that there is zero probability of anything ever falling on/into it, there is another less obvious problem lurking: radio frequency interference (RFI). One of the reasons computers and most other electronics are sold enclosed in metal cages is to prevent RFI (even when the exterior is plastic, there will be an internal metallic Farraday cage enclosing the electronic components). Electronics are sold this way because of a sensible regulatory requirement by the FCC to prohibit your household electronic devices from interfering with other devices. Since the skeleton case doesn’t ship with any electronics in it, it can get past the FCC, but no computer retailer would be able to sell a pre-built computer inside a skeleton case. Computers, having all sorts of components in them running at various clock speeds, produce quite a number of radio waves of various frequencies.

The RFI produced by a computer can potentially interfere with nearby electronic devices. It might cause a hum on a speaker system, for instance, or produce static on a radio (ham radio operators on HF frequencies especially should stay far clear of skeleton cases). Depending on how severe the RFI produced by the computer is, and on which wavelengths, it could interfere with wireless mouses and keyboards, or even a monitor. There’s no way to be sure, really — the specifics of RFI are really finicky, and depend as much on the characteristics of the receiving device as of the computer in the skeleton case. The interference also works both ways, so your computer could suffer some rather catastrophic crashes if parts of its circuitry happen to be resonant with a nearby source of radio waves. Considering that I pick up low power AM radio through my bass guitar’s unshielded instrument cable when I turn the gain all the way up, it’s not far-fetched to imagine interference affecting an unshielded computer as well.

But I’m just making educated guesses. What we really need is cold hard data on how much RFI an unshielded computer puts out, and what sources of radio waves one might expect to interfere with the computer. Unfortunately, ExtremeTech didn’t examine this angle at all in their review, and my lack of a test bed (let alone the willingness to pony up $190 for the case) precludes me from finding out myself. So I really wish someone would do the requisite experimentation, because the skeleton case concept could be completely DOA for reasons less obvious than “you might drop stuff into it”.

The twisted relationship between game reviewers and game publishers is still going strong

Thursday, September 11th, 2008

It’s an open secret in the videogame world that game reviewers and game publishers have a twisted relationship. It’s very much “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine”. The majority of game review publications’ revenue comes from advertising bought by game publishers, and the publishers get publicity (and good reviews) in exchange. Videogame reviewers are so desperate for those engines of increasing readership numbers, exclusive previews of AAA titles, that they will trade away all journalistic integrity for them and allow their previews to be ghost-written by the publishers (e.g. in the case of Metal Gear Solid 4). The same happens with game reviews — witness how the head editor of Gamespot, Jeff Gerstmann, was fired for giving the AAA title Kane & Lynch its deservedly low score after Kane & Lynch’s publisher, Eidos Interactive, purchased hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of advertising on the site.

There is this persistent notion in the videogame business that AAA titles (the ones that are anticipated years in advance and have budgets in the tens of millions of dollars; the closest analogues are Hollywood blockbusters) are simply too big to fail. They are the standard-bearers of the videogame world, the theory goes, and so they must be good. Even if they aren’t, the game review media will unconsciously and consciously conspire to give them uniformly good scores. And the odd reviewer out, the one who dislikes the game so much he actually considers saying so in a review, dares not go against the consensus, as that will cause all of the rabid irrational fanboys to focus their attacks on him. And that’s even without the influence of big advertising dollars.

The most recent occurrence of this phenomenon is with the game Spore. Spore, as you no doubt know by now, is the largest of the AAA titles since the release of Halo 3 last year. Hyped up for years, with a truly astronomical budget, it was finally released in the past week. And yet it simply doesn’t live up to its potential (and that’s ignoring the huge Digital Restrictions Management fiasco). It’s just not very good, and the gaming public at large recognizes it as such. Personally, I would give it a 5 to 6 out of 10. Yet what does the game review
ing community give it? An average of score 86%!, as measured by Metacritic. Go on, read the individual reviews. Many of them discuss the shortcomings of the game at length, going into great detail about how each stage of the game is repetitive, boring, simple, and more toy-like than game-like, but then the review concludes with an incongruously high review score tacked onto the end, as if to jab you in the eye with their thought process: “It’s a AAA title; we can’t give it a lower score than this.”

Aye, the game review media, who are almost all in on it, can’t give AAA titles low scores (with the very occasional outlier, of course). They value their advertising dollars, and their jobs, over integrity. But the average gamer faces no such moral hazard. That’s why Metacritic’s average user review score is 55% — that’s a 31% discrepancy between how good the big reviewers say the game is and how good it actually is. And you only see this discrepancy with AAA titles. Reviewers don’t have any qualms about reaming a smaller title that deserves it, especially if it’s published by an independent publisher. User reviews and “professional” reviews match up rather uncannily in these situations. It’s just in the case of AAA titles that these scores can wildly diverge, and when they do, it’s always in the same direction: the pros rate a title much higher than its merits dictate.

And it’s a shame, because videogames can’t possibly match the respect and maturity of other entertainment forms, such as movies and music, until they have a reviewing and criticism industry with integrity.

This is what a maxed out Verizon FIOS connection can do

Sunday, August 17th, 2008

Having moved into my current residence less than a week ago, the next logical thing to do was to test out our new blazingly fast 20 Mbps downstream/20 Mbps upstream Verizon FIOS connection to see if we were really getting what we paid for. A simple online speed test reported numbers of 20.5 Mbps and downstream 18.5 Mbps upstream, which is very good considering I’ve never actually seen results that close to what was promised. But that was only a measure of momentary bandwidth. Next, I wanted to test our connection over sustained periods, to see if Verizon was going to automatically throttle us at some point.

So I opened up my BitTorrent client and let it seed from everything I’ve downloaded in recent memory. Then I kind of forgot about it and just left it running for 24 hours while I attended to all of the other tasks involved in moving into a new place. I think I may have accidentally left an upload cap in place, so I’m in the process of running the test again. But the results were still impressive nonetheless: When I checked on BitTorrent 24 hours later, I had uploaded 150 Gigabytes. That’s 150 GB in a single day, for an average sustained upstream bandwidth of 14.2 Mbps. That is really nice, and it makes me think I’m never going to have problems downloading torrents quickly ever again (as the download speed is largely limited by the upload speed thanks to the BitTorrent protocol).

So far I’m very impressed with Verizon FIOS. It’s definitely worth the $70 a month, split three ways, that we’re paying. This house having FIOS availability was actually an important part of choosing to rent it, as ADSL is way too slow and the only cable provider in the area, Comcast, is notorious for bandwidth throttling, traffic shaping, and pretty much doing everything else in their power to prevent having to give you what you paid for.

Improvements in broadband service are proceeding at an agonizingly slow rate here in the United States, with most providers like Comcast focusing more on limiting what their customers can do with their service than building out the critical infrastructure that is so desperately needed. This tactic can only work in the short term, and it will begin to fail spectacularly as the average American begins watching more streaming video on the web and starts buying products via digital download (up until now, Comcast has gotten away with cracking down on people who use lots of bandwidth because most of them are file sharers, i.e. involved in illicit activities).

That’s why it’s so refreshing to see a company like Verizon who isn’t taking the low road and is making a serious effort to deploy fiber to the home to provide the bandwidth that will continue fueling our digital revolution. As the New York Times pointed out recently, Americans now spend almost as much on bandwidth (in all forms — Internet, digital TV, mobile Internet, mobile phones, etc.) as they do on energy. Bandwidth is a vital input to our economy, and Verizon’s approach of actually giving us a lot more bandwidth is infinitely superior to Comcast’s approach. I highly recommend Verizon FIOS.

Brushing up against fame at the Good Stuff Eatery

Tuesday, July 15th, 2008

This past weekend on the night of my birthday (Woohoo, another year closer to death!), I joined in on an expedition to a new restaurant in Washington D.C., the Good Stuff Eatery. The friend that I went with is a local food review blogger and pretty thoroughly covered the food, so I shall cover the experience.

Coincidentally, a day before we headed to the Good Stuff Eatery, I was listening to Elliott in the Morning, a local radio morning show. Elliott was interviewing Spike Mendelsohn, a contestant from Top Chef who was opening up a burger joint in the local area. Lo and behold, the mentioned burger joint and the Good Stuff Eatery are one and the same, so I already knew a bit about the place before we went there. In particular I knew that I wanted to try the Blazin’ Barn Burger, which is inspired by the Vietnamese banh mi submarine sandwich. At work we get banh mis fairly often and they’re very good — think of a normal sub, but with pickled vegetables, jalapeno peppers, seasoning, and different sauces.

The Good Stuff Eatery was crowded, as one might reasonably expect for the opening weekend of a restaurant created by a celebrity chef. An old guy was managing the line outside the door (after which you had to wait in another line to order food). And, on a rather significant note to the two Top Chef fangirls who were amongst our number, Spike was there behind the counter, packing hamburgers into bags and chatting with customers.

I’d never heard of him before the Elliott in the Morning interview, so I didn’t develop a sudden outbreak of shyness like my friend over from The DC Dish. She was at first too afraid to even talk to him, and had me take a covert picture of him (which she didn’t put up on the blog, I see!). Meanwhile, I was chatting with him about the music selection in the restaurant, which was quite good — in the time I was waiting in line I heard Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here and some other classic rock. He revealed to me the secret of his music: the classic rock station on XM satellite radio.

This brings me to an interesting point: fame is situational. If you are well aware of someone who is famous, it is a Big Deal when you actually meet them. If you haven’t really heard of them before, it’s not a big deal. The awe factor of meeting someone famous comes directly from hearing about them repeatedly, coverage in the media, appearances in television shows, by reading their novels, whatever. If you merely hear that someone is famous without any reinforcement to back that up (as it were), it doesn’t affect you. So I didn’t feel a sudden outbreak of nerves when talking to a guy I’d just heard of a day prior, but the two fangirls who had seen a whole season of him on Top Chef understandably felt a bit different about it. Now if we were to run across, say, Neil de Grasse Tyson, I bet our roles would be reversed. But I return to the restaurant.

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“The Ghost Brigades” shows clear signs of Scalzi’s improvement as an author

Monday, June 16th, 2008

Having recently read Old Man’s War, it’s not surprising that I’ve just finished reading its sequel The Ghost Brigades. I liked Old Man’s War, but I found some significant flaws in it that hampered my enjoyment. Thankfully, most of those flaws were fixed in the sequel. The alien races aren’t nearly as implausible, not every character has the same dark cynical sense of humor (which is totally a projection of John Scalzi’s sense of humor, I should add), the writing style isn’t quite so absurd, and the cast of minor characters no longer consists solely of cliché cardboard cut-outs. In other words, John Scalzi has definitely matured as a writer between his first (or is it his second?) book and this one. I definitely look forward to reading the third book in this universe, The Last Colony.

Unfortunately, some things didn’t change. The novel is set in exactly the same implausible “science fantasy” universe, with hundreds of intelligent alien species that all happen to have roughly equal military capabilities, wave-of-the-hand FTL (“skip drive”), and a ridiculous over-emphasis on hand-to-hand combat. These aspects weren’t so grating as when I read the first book because I’ve been acclimated to them by now, but I still wish they weren’t there.

And ironically enough, after complaining bitterly that the protagonist John Perry in Old Man’s War was clearly a stand-in for the author, John Scalzi, I actually liked the main character in that book better than this one. The protagonist in The Ghost Brigades is Jared Dirac, a Special Forces soldier born into a cloned adult body. He’s fully intellectually capable from birth, yet has no memories, no past, no personality, etc. Eventually as the book progresses and he puts a few months on he develops more of a personality, but it isn’t one that I particularly feel any empathy for. The Special Forces (the “Ghost Brigades”) are bred from birth to be killing machines. They’re not emotionless by any means, but they are cruel, efficient, subordinate, and very focused on getting the mission done. In other words, not the best choice for a protagonist.

Judging by the progression from book one to book two, I’m guessing that The Last Colony will be even better. If John Scalzi just writes in a better main character, and refrains from having all of his characters exhibit the exact same dry sense of humor that he has, he has the potential to come up with something that is really good. That last part is a particular sticking point: one of Scalzi’s consistent weaknesses is an inability to write characters significantly different than himself. I don’t know if he’s capable of it or not; nothing even demonstrates he’s tried.

The caveats aside, put me down firmly in the “Endorsements” column for this book. Having read the first two in this universe and itching to read the third, I’d say that John Scalzi has done a pretty decent job. I can’t say the same for many other books I’ve read, some of which have left me with little desire to read anything further by the author. So like I said with Old Man’s War, The Ghost Brigades isn’t great, but it’s a good, fun read. I recommend it.

A Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Pageant

Friday, January 4th, 2008

Last night I saw A Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Pageant with my friends Greg and Kat. It was … strange. The cast consisted of eight kids, four boys and four girls. It took place in a very small theater located on a bustling block in Adams Morgan, DC. To get to the theater, you have to go up a stairway to an art gallery on the second floor (a head shop is on the first floor), to the back of the gallery, out the rear door, down a staircase, then through another door into a small building that houses the theater. The theater is unheated. It has rows of seats along two adjacent walls, with a large carpet in the opposite corner of the room that serves as the stage.

We sat in the front row, so the performers were very close to us during the play (it was awkward for the first five minutes). At some points they even brushed past us, and I noticed Kat having to uncross her legs so one of the kids could get by between her and one of the props they were using. So yeah, it was a very intimate experience. There were also only thirteen people in total in the audience (I don’t know if Thursday is a bad night for them or if the play simply isn’t doing well). But the whole thing was totally unlike the recent Broadway musical I saw.

As for the play itself, it’s exactly what it sounds like: the story of the life of L Ron Hubbard, as told in a pageant format. The premise is that, many years down the line, Scientologists have their kids enact an embellished version of the story of L Ron Hubbard (he’s born in a manger in the pageant), much like children presently do today with Christian legend. Except the play isn’t pro-Scientology at all. It’s a deadpan satire, talking about the absurdities of Scientology in a straightforward manner rather than making fun of them outright. That part of it was a success.

The actors were kind of hit and miss. I suppose the best way to describe it would be inconsistent. The younger kids made more mistakes (and I caught one of them yawning during the play!), while the older kids, who also had all of the solos, did a better job. The singing was decent and the costume design and set were very low budget, exactly like a typical pageant. If you go into this thinking it’ll be a well-polished play, you might be disappointed. But if you compare it to other children’s pageants, this one is better in every way (chiefly in that it isn’t brainsuckingly boring). It really helps that the music is catchy, original, and funny.

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Impressions of Lord of the Rings Online

Thursday, April 26th, 2007

The Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar open beta ended today in preparation for the retail release of the game. I played the open beta for a few hours. I didn’t really give myself long enough to get addicted to it, because I don’t want another World of Warcraft situation on my hands. And I don’t feel like paying monthly fees to play games (although you can buy a lifetime membership for $200. Hah!). But I did get a good impression of the game. Here it is.

The game looks, feels, and plays like a World of Warcraft clone. I don’t mean this in a bad way. Clearly, the designers looked at WoW, and said to themselves, let’s make that, but in the LotR universe. And you can’t really fault their logic. WoW is hugely successful, with over 8 million active subscribers. If LotROSoA (it will be fun using this acronym) captures even a fraction of that it will still be profitable. LotROSoA even has the same style of questing, with long continuous quest lines and trivial time-filler missions like “Get me six lynx paws.” The quest items even spawn like they do in WoW: only when you’re on the quest, and only when you haven’t gotten all that you need.

My character was a minstrel, which is basically the LotROSoA equivalent of a healer. The twist on it is that there are different tiers of songs, and they need to be chained together to reach the higher tiers. It makes combat slightly more involved than just hitting the same keys over and over again because you have to build up to bigger spells. I swear I’ve seen this kind of play mechanic somewhere else, though — maybe it was the monk class in EverQuest?

There are some new features, like the ability to “play as a monster”, but that’s not nearly as cool as it sounds. You’re not really playing as a world monster, you’re just playing as an enemy in the Battlegrounds-like zone. Since LotROSoA doesn’t allow you to play as the “evil” factions like orcs and goblins, the only way to get group PVP is to allow players to temporarily take control of enemy characters. Frankly, I think I prefer WoW’s PVP better, where you get to take your own character into combat rather than having to control some anonymous NPC monster half of the time.

My final verdict is, if you like World of Warcraft, you’ll like Lord of the Rings Online. That’s about all there is to it. I’d have to play LotROSoA more to see how much I really like it (something I’m not going to be doing). But I do know that I like the LotR mythos a lot more than the Warcraft mythos, which as far as I can tell, was made up for a computer game and then had its backstory fleshed out a bit. All other aspects being equal, I’d rather play LotROSoA than WoW because of its Tolkieny goodness.

Supreme Commander gets a great review (natch)

Thursday, February 22nd, 2007

Supreme Commander got a stellar 9 out of 10 review from Games Radar. The review is really worth a read, even if you’re not too much into gaming. At least you’ll see where the future of gaming is headed before everyone is doing it. Basically the review spends six pages raving about how awesome the game is (it really is) and only one page discussing some downsides.

I’ve already addressed all of the upsides in my previous posts on Supreme Commander, so I’ll just briefly re-consider the downsides that the review mentions. For one, they point out that the game is hardware-intensive. Yes, it certainly is. I hadn’t bought a new computer for three years and only just bought a new one right before Supreme Commander came out (not a coincidence), and even with top-of-the-line hardware, there can be significant chugging at times. What’s really scary is that the chugging seems to be due to processor limitations rather than graphics limitations, even though I’m using a very nice Core 2 Duo processor.

Simply put, the game is very ambitious. Like Total Annihilation, it will take a couple years after release before the hardware finally catches up with the software that Chris Taylor has graced us with. It’s not that that the game is unplayable; it most certainly is playable, and on small maps, it runs beautifully. But the ultimate promise of this game is playing on behemoth battlefields that are 80km on a side. Even the best hardware on the market right now can’t handle that without a degradation in gameplay performance.

The review also finds fault with Supreme Commander’s landscapes. They say they’re too sparse and they don’t really give a sense of scale. I disagree. I don’t know what they expected the landscapes to look like, but Supreme Commander is pretty dead on. I guess they wanted all of the worlds to be crammed full of various things — but that’s not particularly realistic. Having looked at lots of satellite photography, I can say that, although Supreme Commander maybe doesn’t have the most outlandish or interesting scenery, it is accurate, and it is what you’d expect to see when looking at scenery from so high up. Maybe the people at Games Radar were thrown off by the huge scale and didn’t realize that all of the environmental decorations they thought were missing are just so small that they disappear completely at all but the most zoomed-in levels. The Supreme Commander, for instance, which is the first unit you get on every level, is somewhere between 100 and 200 feet tall judging by the opening campaign sequence. So the base unit scale is already quite large, and when you zoom out to tactical and even strategic scales, what exactly are you expecting to see? You’re looking at dozens of square kilometers at once! You’d just expect to see the shape of the land, which is exactly what you do see in Supreme Commander. Individual trees aren’t visible at those levels, although you can see the green of vast forests.

So, the sense of scale really is there, it’s just that the Games Radar people didn’t realize how incredibly large the scale actually is, so they confused it with a lack of a sense of scale (something that can also happen when you’re, say, flying in an airplane).

Anyway, the short summary is that Supreme Commander is awesome. Buy it. You won’t regret it.

Supreme Commander demo: Final impressions

Wednesday, February 14th, 2007

So these are my last impressions of the demo before release. In my previous post I had some pretty negative things to say about Supreme Commander’s AI. After asking around in the forums and talking with people who’ve played the beta, I’ve been assured that the AI was, for some silly reason, “dumbed down” for the demo, and that it’s actually more challenging in the real game. I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, but I’ll be pretty damn annoyed if the retail game doesn’t end up shipping with an AI that can routinely trounce me.

I’ve just been running into silly situations with the demo AI. Like I’ll catch their commander outside of their base with an early game rush, and he sticks around to fight (and thus die) rather than wisely fleeing to the safety of his base. Other times, the enemy hasn’t built any defenses to speak of, and I just roll through their base over the course of a couple of minutes with my smallish army, slowly destroying it from one end to the other. The AI also seems to love building shipyards, but then never really attacks me with any navy to speak of. And its attempted assaults before the endgame (when it uses experimental units that actually pose a threat) are laughable. For instance, it’ll send along a string of twenty light-assault bots, which is easily repelled by a single Tier I point-defense tower. And it makes no real effort whatsoever to secure resources, especially the two mass-rich islands on the demo map.

But whatever. I’m putting the demo shortcomings behind me and I expect to enjoy the retail release immensely. I’m hoping that all of these issues (especially the dual monitor issues) are worked out. There’s just so much to love about this game. One little aspect that I’ve enjoyed is the formations. The game intelligently puts all of the units in a group into formation (artillery in the rear, heavy units in the front), and then you can just slowly advance the formation and totally wreck an enemy base.

By the way, a little birdie told me that Supreme Commander is now available on BitTorrent. I wouldn’t know anything about that, though …

(And I will certainly be buying the game when it’s released!)

See more of my posts on Supreme Commander.

Second impressions of the Supreme Commander demo

Wednesday, February 7th, 2007

Okay, I know it’s getting a little ridiculous, writing two blog posts about one game in one day. But it’s Supreme Commander. I finished up the campaign since I last wrote about the demo, and I just had to share a few more thoughts about the game.

This game play is really, really fun. It automates a lot of the things that make other RTSs annoyingly trivial and monotonous. For instance, you can set a construction unit to patrol, and he will automatically repair damaged units and buildings, help construct buildings, and reclaim hulks of destroyed units for resources. It’s so nice not having to worry about manually repairing each defensive emplacement after every little attack. The construction queue is very nice and saves a lot of time (you can even tell other construction units to assist the unit working the queue, so everything gets built faster). Patrols are setup very nicely; each node on the patrol path can be readjusted simply by dragging it, allowing quick alterations to patrol paths rather than having to start over from scratch.

Transportation is handled the best I’ve seen out of any game. It only takes three mouse clicks to set up a ferry route between two points using a transport aircraft. Then, just click with a unit on one end icon of the ferry path and he will automatically be picked up by the transport plane and ferried to the other side. This makes bridging rivers a snap. Even better, you can chain ferry routes together with other routes, as I did when I told my land unit factory on one island to automatically send units over to the ferry point, so they’d all eventually assemble in a fighting force on the mainland, ready to go into battle, without me having to micromanage any of it. It’s really, really nice.

I can tell a lot of thought was put into the unit mix. Combined arms are definitely necessary. Generally I will send in my land force first, and as soon as they start engaging, I send in my bombers at specific targets that need to be taken out; meanwhile, my fighters are patrolling above my advancing column, taking out any enemy air units harassing my guys. The naval units are fun as well, and I was able to take out an entire enemy base just by bombarding it from sea with my frigates. I also used a bunch of frigates as an interdiction fleet along a wide river. They took out the enemy overflights long before they reached my base, which they were trying to attack.

I just wish the demo had more content! I would really, really like to play around with some of those screen-bustingly huge experimental units, as well as the long-range artillery and the nukes. It was the artillery that made the original Total Annihilation so unique; nothing before, or since, has had artillery that could fire clear across the map, leveling enemy bases and requiring them to deal with it, either by a direct assault or counter-artillery barrages.

If I had to pick one thing above all others that I love about Supreme Commander, it would have to be the truly colossal explosion left behind in the wake of a Commander’s death. When a Commander goes up, the game slows down, zooms in, and takes control away from you for a little while, like a cinematic cutscene. A blinding explosion erupts and proceeds to fill the entire screen, laying waste to everything in its path. One of the Commanders I killed went down due to my aerial bombardment, and the explosion’s plume grew wider and taller, consuming most of my column of air units, disintegrating them where they flew. The Commander’s explosion even set off a chain reaction in the enemy’s buildings that caused the entire base to blow up in a huge domino reaction. After the explosion finally subsided, all that was left was scorched earth and a humongous crater that had been ripped into the battered surface. Over one hundred of my units had gone up in that explosion, but I did not care, for when the enemy Commander dies, you win.

Total Annihilation had explosions when the Commanders died, but they weren’t executed nearly as well as these. These are impressive by all counts. I guess the reasoning for the huge explosion is that Commanders have incredibly dense (antimatter?) energy cores that power them, and when the Commander is destroyed and containment fails, all of that energy has to go somewhere. I don’t particularly care about the reasoning, I just know that it’s a fitting end for the death of the most powerful unit in the game, which is, paradoxically, also the first and only one you start with.

See more of my posts on Supreme Commander.