Pokemon GO: Gyms, Eggs, and Being Beefy

In the last post I talked about Pokemon GO’s basic gameplay mechanics and optimizing item use to gain maximum player level. Today we’re going to take a look at gyms, what they do and how to fight, how to incubate and hatch eggs, and what you can expect after power leveling.

So What Are Gyms?

After you reach level 5 you’re asked to choose one of three teams, Mystic (blue), Valor (red), and Instinct (yellow). Your allegiance has no effect on the game other than what gyms you can defend or attack.

Gyms are currently the only place in the game where you can battle with your Pokemon. They come in different levels, which I’ll explain in a moment, which determines how many Pokemon can be stored there. A level 1 gym can store 1 Pokemon, a level 4 gym can store 4 Pokemon, etc. Swipe left to see the rest of the Pokemon in the gym. If you come across a gray gym it means that no one has claimed it for their team, or the occupying team has recently been defeated and is up for grabs. To claim the gym for your team simply deposit one of your Pokemon in the gym.

Entering a friendly gym, controlled by your team, let’s you drop off Pokemon if it isn’t already full, or spar with your teammates’ Pokemon. Doing this increases your XP and your gym’s prestige level. Higher prestige results in a higher gym level, meaning more Pokemon can defend it from opposing teams. After your sparring match you’ll need to heal your Pokemon. Because it’s a friendly match your Pokemon are never knocked out, meaning you don’t need to use and recovery items.

Gyms controlled by other teams are a lot more interesting. In the friendly sparring matches you only choose one of your Pokemon to battle against the whole gym, one at a time, but here you’re selecting six. As your Pokemon’s hit points near zero, or if you have another one that has a type advantage against the opposing Pokemon, you can switch out during the battle. As you win battles the prestige of the gym drops, opposing Pokemon are kicked out, and eventually the gym become free for the taking. In suburban areas a gym might belong to a team for a few days at a time, but in busy areas with lots of trainers a gym might change owner multiple times an hour.

Defending gyms isn’t just for ego. Each gym you defend rewards you with coins, which can be spent on items like Lucky Eggs and Incubators, as well as XP. Individually each gym isn’t worth much, and bonuses can only be claimed once every 20 hours, so it might be worth the effort of finding a secluded gym without much foot traffic and claiming it.

So How Does Fighting Work?

The simple answer is that your Pokemon have two attacks, a primary and secondary. The primary attack typically does much less damage than the secondary attack. Quickly tapping on your Pokemon during battle will trigger its primary attack. While you’re doing this you’ll see a segmented blue bar near the top-left corner of the screen fill up. Once one of these segments is full you can tap and hold on your Pokemon to trigger its more power secondary attack. These attacks take longer to perform and can be dodged but can also deal massive damage.

The longer answer is that there are multiple attributes that contribute to the battle: CP, HP, typing, attack typing, and attack power. Since I haven’t defined these yet I’ll go ahead and do that now.

  • CP – Short for Combat Points, it’s a way to determine your Pokemon’s strength in battle.
  • HP – Short for Hit Points, this is how much damage your Pokemon can sustain before being knocked out.
  • Typing – All Pokemon have one or two types, such as grass, fire, flying, psychic, etc. Each of these types had strengths and weaknesses. Example, fire attacks do double damage to grass types.
  • Attack types – Each attack does damage of a certain type, like those listed above. These attack types typically correspond with a Pokemon’s typing, but not always.
  • Attack power – Each attack has a base amount of damage it deals before other calculations are done. A primary attack might have a power of 10 and a secondary attack might have a power of 50, dealing 5x the damage.

Like in the normal game, an attack with a power of 10 typically doesn’t do 10 damage. There are a number of calculations that are made to determine the actual strength of the attack and the damage dealt to the opposing Pokemon. We don’t have all the formulas and details for GO just yet, so here’s how things seem to work so far.

First off, CP rules everything. Even with a type advantage it’s incredibly difficult to take down a Pokemon with a significantly higher CP than yours. That is, against a CP 800 Weepinbell, your CP 700 Magmar is going to have a bad day.

Typing is the second most important thing to take into account. GO seems to follow the same strength/weakness rules as the current main Pokemon games, and it’s pretty easy to figure out who has the advantage. Fire attacks to double damage to grass types, but half damage to rock types. That said, Pokemon can have attack types that don’t correspond to their own typing. One example of this is my Slowbro, a psychic and water type, who happens to have Ice Beam, an ice type attack. Making sure you pair your Pokemon appropriately with the defending Pokemon of the gym is critical to getting the win.

Your Pokemon’s attacks and attack power will change during evolutions so unless it has already reached the end of its evolutionary line there’s no reason to pay too much mind here. Once you’ve got a gang of fully evolved Pokemon you can start evaluating which is going to be best suited for battling and start powering them up. Powering up your Pokemon increases their CP and HP at the cost of Stardust and candies. This can get very expensive so avoid powering up your Pokemon until they have a CP over 8-900 when caught, evolved, or hatched. They’ll end up stronger in the long run.

Speaking of Hatching…

Of the three ways to get new Pokemon hatching, or “incubating”, requires both the most and least amount of work.

Spin enough PokeStop medallions and you’ll get eggs along with your pokeballs and potions. Your eggs can be found by going to your list of Pokemon and swiping left. Tap an egg, then tap ‘incubate’, and select one of the incubators to put the egg in. Each egg has a distance requirement before it can hatch: 2, 5, and 10 kilometers. The game tracks how fast you’re moving so riding in cars won’t count for your incubating progress. The game also needs to be running for your progress to count, so keep that in mind before going out for a run. Eggs with longer incubation period result in stronger, rarer Pokemon, as well as more candies for that evolutionary line.

You start the game with one incubator that can be used unlimited times. As you level up you’ll receive additional incubators that can only be used three times each. If you’re going to hatch 2 km eggs they’re best put in the infinite use incubator since they hatch quickly and typically don’t have a lot of good stuff in them. You can choose to use them as you get them, wait to use them all simultaneously (which, combined with a lucky egg, can result in huge XP gains), or you can pay for additional incubators and go to town.

Life at a Higher Level

During your lower levels the temptation to power up seemingly strong Pokemon is overwhelming, but it simply isn’t worth it. Why? When I was a lower level, maybe 10, I evolved an Eevee into a CP 400 Jolteon and spent all my Stardust powering it up to a seemingly massive 660. Now, at level 18, 19, 20, I’m encountering wild Pokemon between CP 400 and 850 regularly. I evolved another CP 520 Eevee into a CP 1300 Vaporeon. That was without using a single mode of Stardust.

PokeStops are also dropping different items. They had started dropping greatballs but are now dropping ultraballs.

Basically, everything is better and I could have some pretty monstrous Pokemon if I had saved my dust and candies from pointless power-ups.

Pokemon GO: A Beginner’s Guide

Today I’m going to skip the rambling introduction and get right to the meat and potatoes.

What Is Pokemon GO?

GO is an augmented reality game, meaning it blends the game into the real world. Using your phone’s GPS you and your friends can search for Pokemon. All players share the same instance of the game, meaning that if one player finds a Pokemon other players should be able to find that same one in the same place. The main objectives are to collect Pokemon, train them to make them stronger, and defending your team’s gyms while battling other teams’ gyms. Also getting exercise and being social are important but that doesn’t really need explaining.

How Do You Play?

After downloading the game from the Google Play or iTunes App Store you’ll sign in with your Gmail account. Once you’re in the game you’re greeted by Professor Willow who gives you a brief overview of the game and its mechanics. You then get to choose your starter Pokemon, Bulbasaur, Charmander, or Squirtle. Which one you choose actually makes very little difference since you can’t go to gyms until your player level reaches five. Also, your starter’s CP, or Combat Points, are only 12 which is completely useless for battling or leveling up as I’ll explain shortly.

So now we need to catch Pokemon, but to do that we need Pokeballs. You get those by going to PokeStops and spinning the medallion, which drops items that are automatically added to your inventory. Once you’ve collected a bunch of Pokeballs it’s time to start catching Pokemon. Simply wondering around is usually enough to start some of your core catches: Pidgey, Weedle, and Rattata. For the first few player levels this is pretty much going to be your focus; spin, spin, catch, spin, catch.

“But that sounds boring!” I hear you cry. Yes, it might be hard not to evolve or level up that Krabby or Slowpoke you caught, but trust me, it’s worth it, and I’ll explain why later.

Tips For Catching Pokemon

In the bottom-right corner of your screen there’s a small list of nearby Pokemon. Tap this list to open a larger list of every Pokemon that’s around you. The number of footprints indicates relative distance each one is from you. If there’s a particular Pokemon in that list you want to catch, tap on it. The window will shrink and only display that Pokemon, along with its distance. If the number of footprints increases, or it disappears entirely, you’re going the wrong way. If the number of footprints decreases you know you’re on the right track. If there are no more footprints you’re basically standing on top of it. Look for russling grass in the game; this should give you a hint for where to look. Eventually it should jump out and you’re ready to catch it.

Once you’ve tapped on the Pokemon and the catching interface has appeared you’ll see the Pokemon and your Pokeball. Around the Pokemon there will be two circles; a white one that stays the same size and a green one that shrinks, gets big, then shrinks again. The basic goal is to throw the Pokeball into the white circle to catch the Pokemon, but you get more experience and a higher catch-rate for hitting the green circle. The smaller the circle the bigger your bonus.

You can also throw one of two ways. The first way is by simply dragging the ball up quickly with your finger and releasing. The second is by spinning the ball and throwing at an angle. This is a more difficult throw but gives you another boost to the catch rate.

Just like in the game, better Pokeballs will have better catch-rates. If you don’t have Greatballs, or if you really just want to make sure the Pokemon doesn’t get away, you can use Razz Berries to give a bonus to the catch-rate. They’re one-use items and only work each time you attempt to catch the Pokemon. This means if it pops out of the Pokeball you’ll need to use another Razz Berry to get the bonus again.

Leveling Up with Pidgey Power!

You can power up a weak Pokemon but you’ll end up using all of your resources, Stardust and Candy, and the end result will be a mediocre Pokemon and depleted resources. The best course of action is to simply catch a Pokemon that’s already strong and then level it up. But, in order to catch strong Pokemon, your player level needs to be high. So how do you do that? By taking advantage of an in-game item called Lucky Egg. This item doubles your player’s experience gain for 30 minutes. When combined with evolving Pokemon, your player level can make huge jumps. I went from level 10 to 14 in the course of about 10 minutes.

Each Pokemon caught gives you 3 Candy, plus 1 more if you transfer it to Professor Willow, for a total of 4. Pidgey requires only 12 Candy to evolve (a more typical amount is 50) and nets you 500 XP, or 1,000 if you’re using a Lucky Egg. By level 9 it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to have caught maybe 50 Pidgey, netting 150 Pidgey Candy. That’s enough for 12 evolutions. 10 evolutions times 1,000 XP each gives you 12,000 XP total, enough to hit level 10. Weedle is another Pokemon to use for quick leveling. They are at least as common and also require 12 Candy to evolve, so that’s easily another 12,000 XP, so you’ve gained another level. Repeat this for all the common Pokemon with low evolution costs and you’ll gain levels en mass. You’ll get another Lucky Egg at level 10, then again at level 15, so there are plenty of changes to bulk up.

Once your player level is up you’ll start getting better items from PokeStops, like Greatballs and Super Potions, and encountering Pokemon with higher and higher CP. Since you have hopefully not spent any of your Stardust you can start capturing monsters with a CP of 500+ right off the bat, which results in much higher CP in the long run.

Soldering and Desoldering guides

I’ve screwed up plenty of electronics trying to add or remove components with poor solder technique. Lifted pads, burned components, the lot. If I’m going to be attempting to repair and modify consoles and handhelds I should probably learn how to do things right. After searching YouTube I found these incredible guides filmed in 1980 and 1982 by PACE, Inc. These are definite must-watch videos if you’re interested in soldering.

Basic Soldering Lessons 1 – 9

Rework & Repair Lessons 1 – 8

Retr0briting a white PS2 controller

This spring I came across a Japanese Playstation 2. Not just a Japanese Playstation 2, but a white Japanese Playstation 2. For like $50. Normally fat J-PS2s run $80-100 so getting a non-black one half that was pretty sweet. It even came with the original white controller. At least, it used to be white.


Yeah. It’s kind of gross. I’m not sure if it’s UV damage or smoke damage, either way it’s pretty nasty. Maybe it’s supposed to be pale yellow? Let’s find out.

Top half of the controller compared to the inside of the bottom half.
Top half of the controller compared to the inside of the bottom half.

Oh no. Hell no! Ew, ew, ew! Not only is it gross yellow, it’s also filled with dirt. Since we’re going to attempt restoring the plastic we’ll need to tear it apart and clean it anyway, so let’s do that.

I'm done.
I’m done.

How? How?! At least this is the last time this controller will ever be this dirty.

After the bath I mixed up some Oxy-Clean and hydrogen peroxide. The peroxide was only 3%, not the recommended 6-12%, and I didn’t have xanthan gum to make it into a easy-to-apply paste, so I just had to dunk the top half of the controller into the liquid  solution (I couldn’t fit both halves in the container) and pray.

Brightened top compared to the yellow and original white.
Brightened top compared to the yellow and original white.
Brightened vs as-is.
Brightened vs as-is.

It looks surprisingly good but it’s still not where it should be. I’m guessing it was because the hydrogen peroxide was too diluted. Time to try a more powerful solution.

The top half of the controller looks yellow because of the lighting.
The top half of the controller looks yellow because of the lighting.

Continuing my testing on the top half I gave it multiple coatings and sessions out in the sun and didn’t see much of a change. Most of the reports I’ve read claim that it only requires 60 to 90 minutes in the sun, but after 2 hours I wasn’t seeing much, if any, change.


While not being white-white it’s certainly much better than it was (go back and look at the first picture again). I think this is as good as I’m going to get, so time to move onto the bottom.


It was hard to make out in photos but the lightening on the bottom was a bit uneven. I recoated it and let it sit longer but didn’t get a better result. I think the liquid hydrogen peroxide diffuses the light, lightening the plastic more evenly than using the hair cream. Regardless, the controller looks white at a glance, especially with indoor lighting, and it doesn’t feel like touching it is going to give me emphysema, so overall I’d say this was a success. Maybe in the future I’ll find a really yellow piece of plastic I can chop up and do some scientific testing.

Gameboy Advance Restoration – Day 2

In the last post I had finished taking the Gameboy Advance apart and scrubbing it clean. It made no difference at all but the prep-work was important for the next step: hydrogen peroxide and lots of sunlight. Note: The photos in the previous post were taken with my DSLR; these photos were taken with my phone so they’re going to look quite a bit different.

I wasn't able to get all the air bubbles out so I had to weigh the parts down.
I wasn’t able to get all the air bubbles out so I had to weigh the parts down.

At about 8 in the morning I set the container out in the sunlight. It was supposed to be sunny all day long so I figured this would be a perfect time to test how well the hydrogen peroxide works. What I didn’t realize is that our patio would be cast in shadow around 9 or 10, and since I was at work I couldn’t move it.

I probably should have left it at this state but I figured there was more color to be brought back.
I probably should have left it at this state but I figured there was more color to be brought back.

So this is the result after basically a full day of shade. It looks pretty good (by which I mean it isn’t that greenish black anymore) but I was curious if I could get the purple back if I left it in direct sunlight. I rinsed the parts, replenished the hydrogen peroxide, and placed it somewhere it would get full sunlight all day.

You can see the richer purple on the bottom of the system.

Once it was done I washed it again and put it all back together. It is purple, but it’s a faded, sort of ashy-looking purple; not quite what I was expecting.

With all the black banished from the plastic it’s time to restore the color. I had recently restored the plastic trim on my car using Back to Black, so I decided to try that on the GBA’s plastic shell. The bottle claims it repairs “light oxidation” but is “safe for all colors”, so why not give it a try?

Top half recently treated with Back to Black.
Top half recently treated with Back to Black.

The initial difference is pretty staggering. I was a little worried about the darker areas, not sure if they were stress marks or what, but it was just from there being a heavier layer of gel on those areas.

After a complete application.
After a complete application.

After treating the whole surface I buffed the remaining gel off and compared it to the correctly-colored plastic. In my mind it was looking a little better but comparing the before and after photos it pretty much looks the same. I noticed that where the gel was applied very liberally the color looked perfect before buffing and drying, so I did something a little crazy.

There's no kill like overkill.
There’s no kill like overkill.

Yes, that is exactly the color I was going for! Absolutely perfect! I knew it wasn’t going to last, but maybe it would at least help.


Maybe… maybe a 5% gain? I want to believe it looks better but honestly it looks pretty much the same. At this point I have fewer options. I could:

  • Wet-sand the top layer of plastic to bring fresh plastic to the surface, but lose all texture and effectively ruin the shell.
  • Paint it, and ruin the shell.
  • Replace the case with a new one.
  • Live with the faded case.

The unit cost me $15, plus 2 or 3 more for a replacement battery cover, and another $2 for the hydrogen peroxide. Average price for a Gameboy Advance is $30. A new shell is roughly $15 shipped, so if I go that route I’ll have spent the same amount of money, if not slightly more (plus time and gas) but I’ll end up with a basically brand-new unit. Not sure what my next move is going to be just yet.

Gameboy Advance Restoration – Day 1

A few days ago I was out thrifting and game hunting with a friend and decided to buy an atomic purple Gameboy Color. I’ve never owned one, and since I had no other way to play my GBC games I figured I may as well pull the trigger. It was pretty dirty for being bought from a store, but it wasn’t anything a little scrubbing couldn’t fix.

Today I checked Craigslist for a Gameboy Advance, looking specifically for something that needs some work so I could have a little project to work on. Instead I found a working unit for $15 with the only issue being a missing battery cover. With the retro game expos coming up I figured I could get a replacement for virtually nothing. After some typical Craigslist shenanigans I finally met up with the guy and noticed something interesting about the unit.


At first glance you’d think this is a black Gameboy Advance. In the sunlight, though, it’s hued toward a greenish yellow. And if you flip it over…


It’s purple. Except for the left side, where it’s kind of black.

It looks like the unit is suffering from some pretty extreme UV damage which gives me a few different options: A) Use a hydrogen peroxide solution to restore the plastic, B) replace the shell and side bumper things with new ones, and C) paint it. While I’m sure I could do an okay job painting it I have a lot of concerns about thickness and feeling of the paint. If I replace the shell I’ll be looking at another $12-15 plus shipping so I’ll be back up to the going rate of the unit, saving me no money at all. That leaves hydrogen peroxide. The typical recipe uses OxyClean (which I had but has since gone missing) but I’ll be attempting it with just hydrogen peroxide and a whole lotta sunlight. The next couple days are supposed to be very sunny so I’ll set it out for a day and let it sit for a second if it seems to be working.

Before that, though, it needed to be cleaned. So with the dark powers of Mewtwo to guide me I set to tearing down the system.


It was surprisingly clean. Not much dirt, no rust, just typical surface residue and a little button gunk. Hot water, scrub brush, and set it out to dry.

Tomorrow it goes in the hydrogen peroxide bath for about 12 hours and I’ll report back.

An Unlikely Friendship – AMD A8 and nVidia GTX

A while back I built a system for streaming; something inexpensive, portable, and powerful enough to record and stream multiple video inputs. I settled on an AMD A8-7650K. The price, performance, and beefed up integrated graphics proved to be an excellent combination. While building the water cooling system in my main rig my GTX 970 was laying around as well as my GTX 460. So naturally I did the unreasonable and compared the performance of the integrated Radeon R7 to a dedicated solution. But is it really all that unreasonable? The R7 proves to be an inexpensive platform for “console quality” but ideally a budget-based build leaves room to upgrade, so let’s see what happens when you do.

The system is composed of the afore-mentioned AMD A8-7650K APU overclocked from 3.4 GHz to 3.8 GHz in an MSI A68HM Grenade motherboard with 2x 4 GB sticks of Corsair DDR3 memory at 2188 MHz. Storage is a pair of Western Digital 750 GB Green hard drives in RAID 0. Power is courtesy of a 750 watt Corsair power supply. All of this is housed in an Antec P50 micro-ATX case which is badly in need of exhaust fans. During testing the stock APU cooler spins to defining levels despite the dual intake fans spinning at their maximum speed. The side panel was removed to exhaust hot air and keep the system ironically quieter.

For this round of tests the 460 will represent the “hand-me-down” video card you might get for free from a friend who’s upgrading their system. The 970 represents the “tax return” video card. Between these two cards we should be able to make reasonable estimates for how other cards, like a 780, might perform in a system like this.

The first test is 3D Mark’s Sky Diver test; a light snack for modern GPUs but provides a good baseline for integrated graphics and older video hardware. Unsurprisingly the integrated Radeon R7 was slaughtered in any test that woke up the GPU. Physics scores, which are CPU dependent, stayed the same across each test.

3D Mark's Sky Diver benchmark
3D Mark’s Sky Diver benchmark

Similar results can be seen while running the standard Fire Strike test.

3D Mark's Fire Strike benchmark
3D Mark’s Fire Strike benchmark

It should be worth noting that Fire Strike Extreme and Fire Strike Ultra can’t run, or shouldn’t, run on the integrated R7 or the GTX 460 due to both processing and VRAM limitations. Only the GTX 970 was able to run these tests. With each level of Fire Strike the graphics scores dropped quickly but the physics scores remained stable. Since only larger textures and resolutions are being used it makes sense that the physics scores wouldn’t change.

3D Mark's Fire Strike benchmark with the EVGA GTX 970 SC
3D Mark’s Fire Strike benchmark with the EVGA GTX 970 SC

Synthetic benchmarks only tell half the story, though. To get the other half let’s see what Lara Croft has to say about each of our GPU solutions.

Average framerates in Tomb Raider's benchmark tool
Average framerates in Tomb Raider’s benchmark tool

720p should be considered the default resolution for the integrated R7. If your computer spends its days plugged into a TV like this one does you’ll be hard pressed to notice any difference between 720 and 1080p. The game looks beautiful at normal settings and plays very well, even during scenes with explosions and collapsing caves. If you want to play with enhanced details or resolution you’ll need to add a dedicated GPU.

Average framerates in Tomb Raider's benchmark tool
Average framerates in Tomb Raider’s benchmark tool

That said, if you need 1080p resolutions the R7 may not be the best an option, depending on how demanding the game is. This is where the dedicated GPU solutions really shine.

Average framerates in Tomb Raider's benchmark tool. 1440 @ 2xSSAA, 4K with no AA.
Average framerates in Tomb Raider’s benchmark tool. 1440 @ 2xSSAA, 4K with no AA.

And of course, when you toss in your “tax return” card, you can start playing at 1440 and 4K resolutions, even on a 1080p display. By enabling nVidia’s Dynamic Super Resolution (DSR) your video card will render video at a higher resolution than your display, then downscale it to match your display’s resolution. The idea is that you get smoother, finer detail in things like hair, grass, object edges, etc. During my testing I lowered the anti-aliasing down to 2xSSAA on all of my tests and removed it entirely for the 4K tests.

So what’s the takeaway from all these charts and figures? The A8’s integrated R7 GPU does an adequate job at lower resolutions but is unlikely going to be a replacement for an Xbox One or Playstation 4. If you already own one and want to turn it into a medium-duty gaming rig a dedicated GPU will do the job just fine but you may still be limited by the raw processing power of the A8 APU.

PAX South 2016 – Days 2 & 3

With a correct perspective on what PAX South is we were able to start making the best of it. At PAX Prime our focus was on finding the key booths, playing the games we were the most excited about, and finding the most relevant panels. Down in Texas, though, we were able to dedicate all of Saturday to walking the show floor and sampling everything the vendors had to offer.

Yo, this is the convention center! At least, part of it. Seattle, step it up!

What games did we play? A few highlights would be a card game called Poop, Elite Dangerous, Cards and Castles, Freedom Planet (imagine if Sonic stayed 2D and 16-bit), Gungeon, Angry Video Game Nerd II: ASSimilation, a game like Mr. Driller but competitive, and a game where neighborhood kids use home-made weapons to fight monsters. We also entered as many raffles as we could which paid off big time. Well, maybe not “big time” but I did win a copy of Elite Dangerous and another member of our group won a SteelSeries mouse pad that’s probably the same size as her desk. Free games, free product (not just swag), beautiful weather, what’s not to love?

Frontier's Elite Dangerous booth. Boy have we come a long way since Descent.
Frontier’s Elite Dangerous booth. Boy have we come a long way since Descent.

I also go to meet some rad-ass dudes: Geoff Ramsey, who I was super awkward at but he was really kind and patient, and Matt Peak and Joel Rubin who are also really kind and patient. Seems to be a running theme with everyone at Rooster Teeth.

Matt Peak (right), Joel Rubin (left). Crouching because I tower over both of them.
Matt Peak (right), Joel Rubin (left). Crouching because I tower over both of them.

Hardware vendors were out in force with booths from HyperX, Zotac, DXRacer, OCZ, EVGA, Intel, AMD, Gunnar, and even a standind desk manufacturer who’s name I can’t remember or find in the program. Basically every part you needed to build and enjoy a PC you could look at and talk to someone about. Zotac even let me hold their AMP! Extreme 980 Ti (which I mentioned in the last post). Pretty cool stuff.

It's a magnet of the Zotac AMP! Extreme GTX 980 Ti! Adorable!
It’s a magnet of the Zotac AMP! Extreme GTX 980 Ti! Adorable!

A sign of how the industry is moving, PAX South saw not only Twitch in attendance but also XSplit (used for streaming to services like Twitch), GameWisp (a 3rd party solution for allowing streamers to subscribe outside of Twitch’s program), and Hauppage (makers of video capture hardware). There were also multiple panels on streaming, advising on proper ethics and work habits for prospective streamers.

PAX just wouldn’t be PAX without the Omegathon. Our group makes a point of always watching the final round to bring our PAX weekend to a close. We were skeptical that the Penny Arcade folks could out-do themselves after Spy Party and Mario Maker wrapped up PAX Prime 2014 and 2015. But they did, in glorious 64-bits, with Rare’s GoldenEye on the Nintendo 64. And because they’re evil they left the joysticks inverted.

After each winning one round and going 9 kills each in the third first-to-10 match, which included a 1v1 double-kill, Palpitatertot took the final kill and the victory over RugPisser.

[post video here]

Of course, video games and shiny video card’s aren’t what make up the soul of PAX, it’s just the shiny paint. The real reason PAX is so amazing is the people. People that run the event, you meet, and the friends to go with.

Our crew.
Our crew.

Our crew, the Juans of Gamelon, traveled thousands of miles and sacrificed sleep and sanity to experience San Antonio, at least within walking distance of the convention center. If I went by myself it would have been miserable.

Our King!
Our King!

There’s not much else to say. Games are awesome, friends are awesome’r. If you have the chance to adventure with people to a cool new place, do it. Do it, do it, do it!

PAX South 2016 – Day 1

The gaming club I belong to, the Juans of Gamelon, decided to make a pilgrimage to the Penny Arcade Expo. Except we already live in Seattle and attend PAX Prime every year. So instead we decided to invade the great Republic of Texas for PAX South in San Antonio.

Our flight over left at 11:00 AM PST and we eventually landed in San Antonio at 9:00 PM CT with a layover in Denver. There’s not much to say about the trip over, other than I got some quality time with Undertale and Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam.

Having attended the original two years of PAX and the last three years of PAX Prime I had certain ideas of what PAX was, of what it should be. It wasn’t really any of that, which is kind of nice. Even before getting here there was a marked difference in tone. Individual day passes were still available what must have been a couple months after going on sale; unheard of back in Seattle. (Edit: Friday and Sunday passes are still available!)

When we got to the convention center there was a long line to get in but it moved fast. Once inside and in the exhibit hall there was… space, a lot of space, separating the video games from the tabletop games. In the darken end of the hall with the glowing Twitch and Intel signs there was more missing. Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo, Sega, Square-Enix, Bethesda, EA, Ubi; the place was completely void of AAA studios and publishers with the exception of Capcom. Even the well known indie guys like SuperGiant Behemoth were nowhere to be found. Instead we saw a lot more hardware manufacturers like Intel, Zotac, DXRacer, and Kingston (parading as Hyper X) and small studios making small games. While jarring at first I don’t know that I actually dislike it. PAX Prime is a madhouse; not compared to PAX South but compared to something on the scale of E3. PAX South, on the other hand, felt like a reminder of those first couple years of PAX when it was in Bellevue’s quaint Meydenbauer Center. Do you want to talk to someone that works in the studio of the game you’re looking at? They’re right there. Want to see where the lead developer gets their inspiration from? They’re probably 10 feet away. Want to play a card game called “Poop”? By god it’s right there with no line and a friendly person eager to show you how to flush. It’s like a kid wearing their parent’s clothes and I absolutely adore it.


On the other side of the exhibit hall’s massive divide was the tabletop area, home to the Magic: The Gathering tournaments, various venders and studios, an PAX’s freeplay area where you can borrow virtually any game under the sun and make bitter enemies out of once close friends. This place was huge. Like, original Xbox huge. ‘Day-one patch’ huge. Not just huge, but full of gamers shuffling cards, rolling dice, moving figurines, cooperatively lifting objects with cranes attached to their heads… (yes, that was a thing). It was inspiring, like the shining yellow save points in Undertale. It just felt good.

* (The sound of shouty nerds fills you with determination.)


So despite all of the would-be short-comings of the event I think I actually prefer it this way. It’s like a breath of fresh air after the chaotic holiday season. I can’t really blame the bigger studios for not making an appearance, either. With most studios shipping back in November or pushing back until summer it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to invest so much money when you’re not in a position to see a return on that investment.

It’s now 3:16 AM on what will be day 2 of PAX South in under 7 hours. Tomorrow’s missions are to get this article posted (since our free hotel wi-fi isn’t connected to the internet), win Zotac’s raffle, and play every indie game I can put my hands on.

Oh, and a side note: Zotac let me hold their AMP! EXTREME GTX 980 Ti, a 2.5-slot tall graphics card that taller, wider, and longer than any card I’ve ever seen. And it costs $650-$700. What in the…

Passive Water Cooling Memorandum

I get inspired by a lot of things. Sometimes I’m inspired by idiotic and impractical things just because I find them fascinating and I want to apply the logic in more reasonable scenarios. After watching the Linus Tech Tips series Whole Room Water Cooling Project I started thinking about impractical ways to water cool my own system while keeping it as quiet as possible. For some reason I decided on using a fish tank to act as both a reservoir and passive radiator, relying on convection and evaporation to provide a powerful one-two punch of cooling.

Instead of jumping into the deep end I started with a very simple setup, opting to cool only the CPU since I wasn’t sure exactly how effective the tank would cool the water. The loop starts in the tank, flows through a water-feature pump submerged in the tank, though a soft tube to the water block, then back into the tank. The dimensions of the tank where a huge unknown since the volume determined how long the water would take to heat up and the surface area would determine it’s cooling characteristics. After a lot of research and goofing around in Excel I came up with this chart to determine how long it would take to heat a given volume of water with various heat loads (that is, how many components I added to the cooling loop and if they’re at idle or full load).

tank size

The processor I was using at the time, an AMD Phenom II X4 965, had a maximum heat output of 140 watts. Given that, we can use a range of tank sizes to determine how long it would take to heat the water. For example, it would take 6.6 hours to raise 10 gallons of water 30 degrees Fahrenheit, or from a normal room temperature to around 100 degrees, my target maximum water temperature. Given that a 100% workload across all four CPU cores for over 6 hours is not a reasonable workload I figured this was a good size, providing cooling under a worst-case scenario.

What the chart above doesn’t take into account is cooling; it only addresses heating the water. This system has essentially three sources of cooling: radiation through the sides of the container, surface radiation, and evaporation. Based on testing I did the tank was able to radiate 48-70 watts, depending on temperature, through the glass sides when the top was sealed. According to this chart a 30 degree Fahrenheit difference between water temperature and ambient temperature produces 130 watts of cooling per square foot. However, the tank I’m using has a surface area of 1.2 square feet, producing a total heat loss of 156 watts. That puts our total at 204~226 watts of cooling meaning the water should never actually reach 30 degrees above ambient. So far everything looks good, but how does it work in practice?


To test the real cooling performance of this system I ran Prime95 for five hours then let it idle overnight (I didn’t take measurements while I was asleep so there are no data points). We can see the average difference between CPU temperature and water temperature is 9.2 degrees Celsius which has more to do with the water block’s performance than anything. More importantly, the peak CPU temperature came in at 38 degrees Celsius. To put that in perspective, on the all-in-one water cooling solution that was previously on this same CPU I was seeing temperatures in the high 50s under gaming load which is much less stressful than Prime95 and on standard air cooling you might see high 60s, low 70s, or even higher if you’re overclocking. Compared to that, 38 degrees is absolutely frigid.

case and tank

At this point we know it works both on paper and in practice, but what is it like to live with? Let’s start with the bad parts.

It isn’t silent. Seems insane for a passive system but it really isn’t that simple. It’s quiet, sure, but only sometimes. The pump is cheap and meant to be used outdoors. The pump itself vibrates, meaning I can’t use its suction cup feet to mount to to the walls of floor of the tank as pictured above because it transfers that vibration straight to the glass and into the room. My solution has been to position it so that it sort of floats in the water, not contacting anything but the water. It still makes sound but you really only hear it when the rest of the system is off. Speaking of which, there are still other system components that generate noise. The biggest offender was my dual GTX 560 Ti SLi setup which, under load, sounded like four jet engines in a screaming match. When those were idle the case fans are the source of noise. Not much, but when the rest of the system is so quiet little noises become moderate noises. Basically by removing the one fan cooling my CPU I did little if anything to quiet the rest of my system down at all.

With evaporation being responsible for half my system cooling a lot of water evaporates. It takes a long time but the occasional trips to the drug store for more distilled water are a bit inconvenient. Summer time makes the system operate at a higher overall temperature, too, which increases the evaporation that much more.

It’s not all that pretty. I had bought the blue glass rocks to spice up the tank and had some plans to make it look nicer but I just never bothered. It takes up a huge amount of space and cleaning it between refills isn’t fun.

It’s not all bad, though, the cooling performance is insane and it cost half of what a typical water cooling loop would. In all this system should cost around $130 USD which is about the price of a radiator and reservoir alone.

If your goal is silent computing this isn’t the way to go. High quality air cooling can do much better with little to no maintenance. Traditional water cooling loops can achieve similar performance with quieter results assuming you’ve invested in high quality fans. That said, if your goal is to build a cheap water cooling loop that works well then I can’t think of a better solution.