PC Building Simulator: No Cash, Much Build

Finally caught PC Building Simulator going for 50% off on Steam the other day.

Considering that I was lusting after it during the Summer sale and still stingy not to bite at 40% then, I decided the threshold of 50% was sufficient for something I really wanted to play.

Prior plans for new computer replacement in real life are now overdue, thanks to the current pandemic climate we find ourselves in.

While mulling on plan B (buying parts in a face to face setting is now much more inconvenient – do I trust delivery options to not damage stuff in transit / wherever am I going to put a new computer case when prior room renovation plans are hold / which month can I take the leap on this for best financial management in a pandemic situation, etc. etc.), I needed a virtual stopgap to feed the “new PC” desire.

It’s certainly much cheaper.

And dare I say it, kinda addictively fun to be able to simulate build after build in a compressed amount of time.

Naturally, the first thing anyone would do (or at least I did) was jump into the Free Build mode to build a dream PC of choice, unrestrained by anything so prosaic as a budget.

Honestly, the build below is completely unresearched, so it cannot be considered “my” dream PC of choice, but given that my criteria was mostly “what is super-expensive in this catalog that also sounds good,” it is certainly -a- fantasy PC.

Random bits of shiny

It’s certainly not a maxed out 3DMark score. All stock parts, no overclocking, no doubled graphics cards or ludicrous amounts of memory, but just to get the feel of how PC building simulator worked.

Then I started in on the campaign, where the story is that you’ve taken over a modest little PC repair/build shop from your uncle. Customers send you email with their requests, and their PC if you accept. You order in any necessary parts and assemble and troubleshoot as necessary.

The simulation is both detailed and simplified enough to be satisfying. It glosses over real PC building woes like misplacing screws and trying to fat finger in parts in cramped surroundings without dropping or damaging them (or is that just me) but allows you to plan and systematically attack the assembly of multiple PCs, meditatively inserting components by mouse clicking and holding.

There is the satisfaction of meeting a customer’s requests and their parts budget, as well as color-coordinating cables and components for reasons of pure cosmetic vanity.

There is a simulation aspect of balancing the customer’s requests, budget and your own company goals – max profit, be super efficient, just meet minimum requirements, shortchange the customer, play unethically, or go the distance for super customer satisfaction at possibly time and labor cost to oneself? Or anything in between.

The above customer had a huge budget of $1500, and her requirements were exceedingly minimal. A computer that can play Euro Truck Simulator 2 (Recommended Spec). Heck, you could probably build a PC that fits those requirements for half the price, and save the customer money.

I was in the mood for a -nice- build though, and since the customer was agreeable to footing the bill for up to $1500 in parts… why not get top of the line components up to the budget and put it together?

The final result completely exceeded the requirements by far, but I liked putting it together. It was a PC I wouldn’t have minded owning myself.

The cherry on top? The customer liked it too! Sense of accomplishment achieved. Never mind that it is completely pretend.

The multitude of cases one gets to go through is fun. Some are dreams to assemble and disassemble, and others, well, you’re left cursing and swearing as you pull off both the sides and the top, just to get components to go in. Certainly helps contribute some ideas for further research when it comes time to figure out what real life case to buy.

Probably my only chance to get relatively up close and personal with artistic cases. Certainly nice to look at.

In reality, I’m far too concerned with factors like good ventilation, given the hot and humid country I live in, as well as ease of assembly/disassembly for regular dust cleaning.

There are some amusing mini-stories in the emails that customers send you, providing a sort of voyeuristic view of various character’s lives, a kind of simulated reality drama.

“The good news is, I found my hamster.” Emphasis mine. Riiight.

There’s a cute, almost campaign-like story saga which I guess might segue into the PC Building Simulator’s recent eSports DLC (which has more middling reviews at this point, so holding off on that for now). But the story in the main game itself is fun.

There’s this kid who is into League of Legends and dreams of being an eSports star. Mum doesn’t approve. Naturally, he saves up his own money, then sends you an email and begs for as budget a PC as possible, that can still play League of Legends.

Do that, and he starts winning a few competitions, mum’s opinion changing slowly as she sees the prize money come in. He comes back to you for PC upgrades through this little mini drama.

Here’s a sample where he wins some extra cash and wants to reward himself with some bling for his PC:

Good on ya kid, here’s some shiny RGB lighting and color-coordinated cables.

Because these little things matter when you value your computer.

And I guess that’s why anyone would wind up playing PC Building Simulator for long periods of time. Because you like PCs and find value in the simulated assembly process of multiple computers.

16 hours and counting for me. Worth it. Recommended if you like PC building (and aren’t burned out with repeating the process over and over.)

Sleeping Dogs: Quick Thoughts

Getting arrested is always a great prompt for reconsidering one's choice of career...

I was holding back on getting this game, mostly because I wasn’t sure when I’d ever have the time to play a GtA clone in between all the other games that usually take my attention, and it was always regularly going on 75% off so I could always get it another time, right?

Seeing one of my friends who rarely plays Steam games on a habitual basis pick it up and stick with the game for around 4 days running (a record for this friend, really) suggested there was something fairly captivating about this title.

At 80% off, I was finally moved enough to put down some cash to take it out for a spin.

Turns out… it’s pretty good.


The opening sets the scene for what to expect.

If you’ve watched any Hong Kong action / cop movie, the game hits several bullseyes on flavor and theme. While I don’t know how much is 100% faithful to the actual city, the architecture -feels- like it’s captured some of its essence.

Martial arts, that staple of the genre? Got it in spades. That’s what you’ll be using to beat up thugs most of the time, Batman-style, minus the utility belt.

Sleeping Dogs follows the story of Wei Shen, a cop going deep undercover in the triads, and his struggle to balance both sides of his existence.

That blood... it's not mine. At least, I don't think it is...
That blood… it’s not mine. At least, I don’t think it is…

The morality aspect is, unfortunately, not addressed very well in player-chosen interaction.

I was, at first, pretty thrilled to realize that there were both cop missions and triad missions to do, and that violent actions increased triad score, while doing un-cop-like things subtracted from cop score. But some of the illusion of choice fades away when you realize that it’s a linear story and the chapters won’t progress until you do the compulsory missions on both sides.

And more fades away even further when you accidentally kill your first innocent through vehicular manslaughter via controls that don’t let themselves well to finesse and realize the only ramifications are a small negative number to said cop score, rather than getting yanked out of the undercover mission, charged in court and jailed for being totally off one’s rocker.

I suppose it wouldn’t be a Grand Theft Auto type of game if you couldn’t get away with vast quantities of crime and carnage.

As much as I wanted to pretend to be a good cop at heart and immerse into the setting at face value, roleplaying for all it was worth, small little niggling details do tend to induce shortcut taking – like being stuck in a traffic jam of three cars while waiting for the traffic light to turn green (always takes forever when you’re waiting for it to) and having some dumb AI of a bus ram you from behind while you were STATIONARY and curse you in Cantonese for being a m—-f—ker that doesn’t know how to drive properly.

That’s exactly the time you decide to hit the accelerator and swerve into the perpetually empty lane meant for oncoming traffic, ramming the idiotic bus for good measure during the maneuver, and speed through the red traffic light to be on your dang way to the next mission checkpoint, driving on the left side of the road be damned.

(Nice as it feels for someone in a historically British colonized country to be able to drive in a game on the ‘correct’ side, for once.)

The story and cutscenes question lifetaking by an officer of the law, even while undercover – as in, they’re not supposed to, but the game itself throws you into scenarios where you have a gun and a dozen people shooting at you, and doesn’t give you any achievement or indeed, seem to have any expectations at all that you’ll try to do it the hard way by kung-fu disarming and beating down every one of them down with your fists, instead proffering tutorials on how to slow motion vault over tables and shoot multiple enemies in that same breath action movie style.

Very soon, I found myself deciding to treat the game less like a simulation of real life, and more with movie morality. Ie. Cops get to shoot at bad guys and the extras will just fall down out of scene and there will be no repercussions from this excessive slaughter.

That said, if you treat Sleeping Dogs like a movie, it’s a pretty fun one. With a decent amount of authenticity.

At least he doesn't grab the gun like how many movie actors would do it - with their fingers on the trigger.
At least he doesn’t grab the gun like how many movie actors would do it – with their fingers on the trigger.

I was especially impressed to find a not-insignificant amount of voice acting in actual Cantonese.

Yes, Cantonese. Not Mandarin.

The differences may not be entirely obvious to those unfamiliar with the region and speak neither language, but Cantonese is a dialect used in a region of China (the Guangdong Province, historically Canton) and historically, as migrants from this southern region of China spread further south into Hongkong and Malaysia/Singapore, they brought their language with them.

(Southeast Asia also picked up other chinese dialects from migrants from other regions of China, resulting in some rather colorful amalgamations of cursewords and slang from various languages like Hokkien and Teochew, mixed with the local Malay, but that’s another story.)

Mandarin, or Standard Chinese, on the other hand, originated in yet another region of China (Beijing and the northern regions), and has been used as a lingua franca and ‘official language’ by which people from one region could make themselves understood to people from another – especially regarding issues of governance.

Bottom line. They’re not the same. People in Hongkong speak Cantonese. People in China speak Mandarin. (More or less.)

As someone who can understand both tongues, even if one struggles to express non-babytalk sentences in either, it adds a great touch of authenticity to Sleeping Dogs to even hear some phrases in the right language. (They are subtitled in English, so you won’t miss any meanings.)

There have been some debates on exactly -how- authentic the Cantonese used is, and yeah, while I don’t doubt that true Hong Kong residents using their variant of Cantonese will find distinctly strange accents on some of the voice actors, I’m of the opinion that it remains understandably Cantonese.

Language, after all, is notorious for evolving over regions.

Take for example, this spin on English by a native Singaporean English speaker, Ruby Pan, as she takes us on a whirlwind tour of American English, British English, two kinds of Singaporean English and Filipino English. How authentic is her English?

I’m sure her American English will still sound accented to some American English speakers. Hell, people in two regions of America may still have an accent to each other. Ditto people from Britain or Australia.

But it’s more or less all understandably English until we really get to the more significant dialects – I probably would struggle to understand Yorkshire English as much as some would struggle to understand Singlish or Filipino English, for example, due to loan words from other languages, but the main part of it is still -mostly- English.

Some voice actors in Sleeping Dogs have distinctly better grasp of the intonation and timings of Cantonese (Mrs Chu, Winston’s Chu mother sounds particularly authentically fearsome, channeling every Asian mum and mother-in-law there is) and others, usually the younger ones, struggle a little more.

Others complain that there’s a heck of a lot of English used for something supposedly set in Hong Kong, and that it sounds weird to have sprinklings of Cantonese mixed into English phrases as if it sounds cool, or we were in some Firefly universe where people pepper in Mandarin oddly into every other English sentence (Trust me, Firefly speakers sound distinctly odd, probably because they are mangling each Chinese word they’re struggling to pronounce.)

However, people who grow up with two languages are known to code-switch, forming a linguistic blend that is sometimes only understandable by people of that community.

So in a sense, while it may not be fully authentically Hong Kong, the setting turns into an interesting fictional amalgam of Hong Kong triad mixed with American-Born-Chinese style Western gangsterism (thank you, Grand Theft Auto roots.)

H-Klub Radio, from the in-game radio soundtracks in cars, features songs from 24Herbs that evoke the setting really well – Hip Hop… in Cantonese…

Yeah, you kinda have to laugh, while enjoying it.

Some bits of Sleeping Dogs are more reminiscent of a cheesy Hong Kong comedy movie, but that’s ALSO part of the whole atmosphere being recreated, y’know?

I escorted a bride-to-be around as a chauffeur, and a simple errand to get a wedding cake somehow turned into a death-defying pursuit sequence where in a similar movie, stuntmen would be employed to fly on wires out of one car onto the hood of another.

I was laughing through most of it as the initially cautious and slightly freaked out bride screaming about damage to her car when I scraped it against a parking meter turned out pretty darned ruthless when she realized it was -her- wedding cake on the line. “What? FASTER. GO FASTER!”

Right after we (ok, I) rescued the cake by tossing the driver out of the van and taking over the wheel, we (ok, I) ended up “volunteered” to steal the perfect flower for her wedding. from a group of monks – which involved disguising as one and fast talk about balance and the cosmos, kung fu’ing one’s way out of the temple and shaking off the cops at speed post-heist.

The car wasn't too worse for wear at the end of the day, all things considering...
The car wasn’t too worse for wear at the end of the day, all things considering…

Controls and bugs-wise, it’s been a bit of a mixed bag.

I was really impressed to find that the game auto-swapped between keyboard controls and gamepad controls without much of a hitch. This means the tutorial prompts for keys actually stay pretty relevant, rather than the usual case scenario of trying to figure out exactly which keyboard key was mapped to button X or Y on a gamepad.

For a PC port, standard keyboard and mouse controls functioned fairly well and felt quite similar to a slightly clunkier Batman game for 95% of the time… with maybe just a tinge of unpredictable lag when pressing left or right mouse buttons to punch or counter… right up to the point I got a gun and was asked to shoot something.

This is where it broke.

Left click refused to shoot. With any semblance of consistency. It would beep repeatedly rather than shoot.

I’m not sure if this was because I did have a gamepad plugged in also and was thus on auto-swap, possibly causing some conflicts, instead of switching permanently to mouse-keyboard in the options, but after some struggle, I defaulted back to the gamepad to get through the sequence.

This is rather annoying, since the one place mouse aiming would have really come in handy would be aiming a gun, but well, that’s why I own a USB gamepad, for dealing with the vagaries of PC ports.


Then there were the repeating cases of the accidentally hijacked taxi, due to the same button being used for Hiring a Taxi (press and hold) and Hijack a Vehicle (just press.)

Moral of the story: Try not to stand near the front doors of a taxi, and make sure the conversation option is available, before hitting the button. Else you will end up chauffeuring yourself instead of getting someone else to do all the work.

Taxis, when they work though, are a pretty handy waypoint system for a negligible cost – useful for when one is too lazy to drive through Hong Kong traffic with highly dubious AI to get to the next waypoint.

I had a couple of audio skipping issues or the game tries to switch between fullscreen and windowed mode by itself, usually occurring after playing the game for a while – which could be due to my toaster’s poor specs as usual. Restarting the game or hitting Alt+Enter to switch back usually fixes it. Your mileage and luck on Sleeping Dogs playing nice with your hardware may vary.


But when all is said and done, despite the little niggles that would prevent me from paying full price for this game, I find myself wanting to know how the story is going to end.

Which ultimately reflects pretty well on Sleeping Dogs.

PC: Blindside(d)

A chance comments discussion over at Syl’s Raging Monkeys about the importance of other senses besides sight in games finally pushed me over the fence and encouraged me to pick up Groupee’s Bundle of the Damned.

Following in the vein of the Humble Bundle and Indie Royale lookalikes, this was some kind of pay-what-you-want game and music and stuff bundle with a scary Halloween theme. To be deadly honest, I have no interest in any of the music and couldn’t tell you if they were good or bad.

None of the games in the bundle are popular must-have great-deal games – on the contrary, none of the games were previously in my Steam games list of 600+ games. Given that I’m in the compulsive habit of collecting games that vaguely sound intriguing on Steam 75% off sales for over 5 years now, many are the Metacritic 55 score type of games that I couldn’t even bring myself to pay $2-5 for. (Maybe at $0-$1, I might try them some day, maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised, that kind of thing.)

… Except… Blindside.

The description of the game intrigued me a lot. It is ostensibly an audio-only adventure, best played with headphones to navigate a 3D environment made up of audio cues and can be played with your eyes closed to simulate “blindness.”

It’s available for the iPad and iPhone, as well as PC (Desura) and Mac.

I have to say, I’m now wondering if I should have gotten the iPad version instead. The gyroscope turning controls are apparently more natural to grasp.

Color me generally disappointed by the actual implementation of the game. On paper, it’s a very intriguing premise. In practice, if I have to hear “You have died. Reloading saved checkpoint” one more time, I might put a hole in my monitor, or maybe just rip the wires out of my headphones while tearing it off my head.

Is it just me? I know I’m very poor at auditory learning in general. I fall asleep in lectures, when people drone on for more than 30 minutes in meetings, and I tune out most nonfiction audio books that I optimistically borrow from the library after the first track or so. The only audio presentation I’ve ever managed to fully enjoy were the audio plays from SciFi.com, featuring Neil Gaiman’s Snow Glass Apples and Murder Mysteries.

Or is it the game?

I have no issues with the 3D environmental audio effect in Blindside. It is done quite well, and even I can hear that such-and-such sound is on my right, or on my left. (Telling apart if it’s forward or backward of me is a lot harder, though.)

Some may take issue with the slightly cheesy voice acting, which is distinctly on the slightly low budget side, but I’m ready to forgive it as it’s a low budget indie type of game.

My primary problem is trying to get a spatial sense of the ‘room’ exactly as the designers envisioned it (and thus placed audio cues to reflect their vision) plus navigate it with the given key controls according to that imaginary spatial picture.

Key controls are supposedly simple. Arrow keys to move forward, move backward, turn left and turn right.

Unfortunately, and it becomes very obvious very quickly, the question arises, just HOW MUCH forward movement, backward movement, left and right turning are we talking about here with one key press?

Perhaps this dates me, but I belong to the generation of adventure gamers (and MUDders) who envision things in terms of “rooms” and compass directions – a simplified navigation mechanic that lets you go in 4 directions, NSEW, or 8 directions if we throw in the diagonals (NW, SE, NE, SW), and 10 with up and down.

That was my initial spatial map, where I assumed one ‘forward’ would take me into room 1 – where room 1 might actually be part of a bedroom’s wall or some such, and to get to room 2, I would have to tap “turn left” then “go forward” once each. Room 3 would be ‘turn right’ then ‘go forward’, room 4 ‘go backward’ and room 5 ‘turn right, go forward, turn right, go forward’ and so on.

This sort of grid might be overlaid on top of an actual bedroom, say, where the TV might be at position 3, and the closet at position 3, the bed at position 5, and so on…

A little lost bumbling around in the dark later, and some squint eyed sneak peeking at the compass Blindside provides, it was clear, this was NOT how Blindside worked.

Back to the drawing board

In fact, the compass was very worrisome.

It had the eight cardinal directions, but if you notice in the picture above, both the north and northeast directions are highlighted to different degrees. One tap of the left or right key does not shift you to one of eight possible directions, there are MORE degrees of freedom than that. How much more, I haven’t counted, but if I’m ever bored, I might start counting the number of key presses it takes to shift from one fully highlighted arrow to the other.

Instead, in good faith, I tried to revise my mental spatial picture accordingly.

Let’s assume I’m in the center of a room. The narration says there’s stuff to my right and in front of me (that are creating distinctive noises) and so on. So far, so good. Just rotating in place, I can tell where they are in relation to myself.

The problem arises when you have to walk towards them. Basically, turn in place to orientate the stuff to the right of you, turn in place to orientate the same stuff to the left of you, turn in place to approximate somewhere in the middle of that means it’s ahead of you, press forward for an unspecified amount of time and hope that you bump into it. If you do, yay.

If you don’t, then that’s -really- a problem. Because now you don’t know where you are. Pressing forward some more, the game is mysteriously silent and refuses to tell you that you’ve bumped into…say, a wall. You can’t feel anything in an audio-only game, unlike in say, real life.

Gamely, you rotate a bit and press forward some more, hoping to ram into something, anything. The game still says nothing.

More rotations and forward pressing later, you may indeed bump into something the game decided was worth describing to you, or you may end up “sliding” along something – except you don’t know how far and in what direction you’re sliding, and indeed, what you’re sliding against.

In a safe environment with no dangers, this turns into a frustrating guessing game of rotating randomly and charging forward, hoping to encounter the desired goal and move on to the next stage. Eventually, assuming you haven’t given up, you do hit upon the ‘magic spot’ and move on.

Alas, the next sequence was even more annoying. Some bad things happen, and one basically ends up facing Something Loud, Awful-Sounding, and Distinctly Death-Causing should you run into it.

You are very very sure where it is, and that you don’t want to go there.

Problem now is, you want to go back where you came from, where there is a stricken lady screaming a stock phrase which goes something like “help, I’m scared! come back to me please!” on repeat loop.

Alas,  she sounds very muffled compared to AWFUL SOUNDING HORROR NOISE and try as you might, she is essentially ambient audio with little direction as compared to the distinctly not-going-there noise.

As for the rest of the ‘room,’ it’s supposedly an apartment corridor with doors, or some such, and you gotta get back to yours, except you have no idea where it is in relation to where you are now.

Well, shit. Ten minutes later of getting continually eaten by the awful noise because that seemed to be the only way to go forward and actually encounter something (going backward just backed me into an apartment door that wasn’t mine) and some more random rotation hoping to maybe get to the apartment door that was mine, I somehow blundered past the horrible thing back to the girl who had really good lungs and no imagination.

(Suggestion for the future, try continual environmental noises as the cue, not a girl saying the same thing on repeat loop for as long as it takes someone really bad at navigating to get to the next checkpoint. Less immersion breaking that way.)

A little later, I encountered the situation that made me give up.

I believe real blind people get by crossing roads with a combination of asking for aid, tactile feedback in determining where the curb is, a dog guide, and so on. I might be wrong, I don’t have any experience besides what I read on websites. I certainly appreciate that it is an everyday challenge for them.

But I’m convinced that they certainly do NOT fling themselves into oncoming traffic just based on the sounds of the vehicle driving into the distance and hope to survive in between the cars until they get to the other side. That’s just… plain absurd.

And frustrating as a game scenario.

(I did try. I counted my footsteps, hoping to walk an equal amount of distance between safe non-speeding car spots and eventually get to the other side / goal that way, but somehow, after the 4th or 5th car sound, I still got bowled over and squished by an oncoming car. I ran into some poles or other by rotating randomly, and while trying to figure out how to move away from the pole, got ran down by a car. I ran forward and smacked into the thing in the middle which was blocking my path (whatever it was) and while trying to figure out how to slide around it, had a car ram into me. I charged heedlessly forward hoping to avoid the cars on pure faith and was let down.)

Which ultimately is the most damning thing I can say about Blindside. I wanted to like this game. But it’s just not fun to play.

It’s like one of those read-the-author’s-mind adventure game puzzles, made much worse because you can’t see shit. On purpose.

P.S. I’d love to hear what folks brave enough to try it out think. And if you’ve any suggestions on how to navigate properly or how the ‘rooms’ are laid out, which seems to be the bulk of my problem with the game, I just can’t create a picture in my head that matches what the developers think I should doing.

I’m at the point where I think I might have to try and map every coordinate point of the first room keypress by keypress  in order to begin to understand how the hell stuff is laid out. Or maybe I should just go play another game because this one ain’t worth my time.