The Strategy Gamer's Guide to Gaming on Vacation02 Nov 2017 0
Occasionally I and the spouse save up enough shekels for a really nice vacation, of which our destination usually involves a cruise ship. The food is great, but there are also culinary demonstrations, art auctions, nickel and dime slots, shopping on-board and shopping again at every port of call, all of which seem to be owned by Diamonds International. Great times, at least my better half thinks so and admittedly I’d rank them all on the fun meter just short of . . . a root canal. Without anaesthesia.
In such dark times, computer gaming is my salvation. The hustle and bustle of work and home doesn’t leave as much time for PC gaming as you might think, much less pushing pewter. A cruise, or any resort oriented vacation, is the perfect time to do your strategy or wargaming thing while your significant other does hers. Alas, all my lead would sink the Norwegian Gem, while NASA still needs my basement rig for International Space Station control. Thus my weapon of choice is a diminutive laptop hybrid produced by Taiwan’s Pegatron, a spin-off of ASUS, and named the Microsoft Surface 3, a Windows 10 machine.
Interested? Read on and I’ll discuss how I made this sanity saver work, and more importantly, go through some games that will run with little to no problem.
I have the low end Surface non-Pro 3, a good baseline since any better hardware you might have will work just fine for the games I play. This means working with an Intel Atom Z8700 quad core system on chip (SOC) microprocessor, 1.6 ghz up to 2.4 ghz burst speed. The cache is 2 mb and power consumption is a low 2 w. The SOC designation means that most other electronics for the computer are integrated into the Atom on the same wafer where the chip resides, allowing more efficient mathematics and faster speed. Graphics are onboard Intel HD integrated, which will run three monitors externally, or one at 4K HD. The screen on the Surface is 10.8 inches supporting 1920 x 1280 resolution. Memory includes 2 gb of RAM sprinting along at 1600 mhz and a 64 gb SSD hard drive, of which 37 gb are free for the user. There is also a slot for a micro-SD memory card of up to 200 gb, but I’ve had no problem using 256, the biggest out there right now. There is also a touchpad, support for a Bluetooth active touch pen and two forward facing speakers.
This is what you have to work with, all 10.5 x 7.4 inches and less than two pounds of it. You’ll also need a couple of peripherals, one of which is NOT a joy stick. Joy sticks are bulky, and according to my wife, immediately identifies you as a nerd high priest (. . . and this is a problem because, I ask?). Also, there are very few games, if any, that need a joy stick and will run on the Surface 3. Instead I’d grab an external, portable DVD drive like the LG GP65NB60 and a Bluetooth mouse like the Logitech M557. For the former, remember that some older games require the original CD to be in a connected optical drive for the game to run, while for the latter, the Surface 3 has only a single full side USB port, so if there is a Bluetooth option, use it and save the USB slot for something else.
Bottom line, if the game requires more than the specs above, it likely will not run.
First, many folks run specific third party software on their PCs to cut down on background Windows processes whenever they play a game. With the latest Windows 10 Creator’s Edition update, this is no longer necessary. Simply hit WIN-Key plus the G-key and you will activate the software’s native Game Mode. This provides a menu to select the settings that work for you.
Second, although you might be running games that are older due to their decreased hardware requirements, some games were simply not made to run under such advanced operating systems as exist today. However, you can attempt to run the game from inside Win 10 using Compatibility Mode, which runs the game as if it were on a Windows 8.1, 7 or XP machine. Right click on the game’s launcher icon, select Properties and then select the Compatibility tab.
Finally and most important, when you download and install games, do NOT use the default C drive. Save that disk for crucial items such as anti-virus and so on. Recall, on a Surface 3, you only have 37 gb of hard drive space on the C drive, and that is going to fill up very quickly. Instead, install your games and any supporting portal software (such as Steam or the Blizzard Battle Net app) on that 256 gb micro SD card you have slotted into the box. Yes, people use the SD card for storage of documents, photos and so on, but it can be used just as well for the installation and launching for a lot of games. During install, when the software provides you a default folder on the C drive for installation, simply change the C to a D. However, expect installation to be much slower than normal.
Finally, remember to insure your software can be run offline if you are using a gaming support portal like Steam. Especially on a cruise ship, Internet connection is not free and not cheap. Some games cannot run offline, but you might be able to launch and run if you immediately break the Internet connection.
Video Games on Vacation Master List
Here are the games I have tried and seem to work pretty well without too much tweaking, at least on the hardware noted above. Pithy comments accompany, and more are available upon request.
John Tiller Stuff: If the game in some way has a John Tiller pedigree, it will likely run without any problem. These are traditional hex and counter, turned based board games ported to the computer, but a few of the tactical efforts do have a 3-D and miniature sprite option. There are lots of games like this, mostly from three well respected companies, to include John Tiller Software, HPS Simulations and the Matrix – Slitherine Group. The one’s I’ve installed include John Tiller’s Campaign Series, John Tiller’s Battleground Civil War, Campaign Series Middle East, France 1914, East Prussia 1914 and Mexican American War. The latter game does carry on the disappointing trend of constructing terrain from different patterns of generic hex tiles vice the old Talonsoft games which had a painted on look. However with esoteric subjects like the Mexican War, I’m pretty forgiving.
BTW, much the same can be said with Gary Grigsby and Norm Koger designs, of which my favorite is the enhanced Operational Art of War III, soon to be TOAWIV.
John Tiller and the lads have also recently announced they will convert any HPS purchased game to the JTS version for free. They need to validate your purchase and issue a serial number. Then go to download & apply the update to your existing game install and then enter the serial number on first launch of the game - conversion done.
Area Based Games: I’m not a big fan of area based games, traditionally found at the operational and strategic levels of war, but again, in some cases the subject is unique, likely very niche, and thus selection is limited. In this regard and despite an aging software engine, the AGEOD operational series is what I play, made better by a unique sequence of play, sterling order of battle and personality research and some of the classiest game markers anywhere. I run Espagne 1936, Thirty Years War and Revolution Under Siege.
Real Time Strategy (RTS): Here the breakpoint for whether a game will run or not seems to be whether you can zoom into belt buckle level. If you can, it’s likely the game requires a lot more hardware horsepower than a Surface 3 can provide. Thus the Scourge of War and Total War series are both out. On the other hand, classic RTS games like the Command and Conquer series seem to run OK, at least the early games in the lineup. And don’t think playable RTS games are limited to non-historical subjects. Ultimate General: Civil War, which I have previously reviewed, is an excellent game with a very innovative campaign system as a bonus, and it works fine right out of the virtual box as it were.
Battle Academy/Archon Engine: Games running with this engine have not given me any problem at all (OK, maybe one little nit). These include everything in the Battle Academy base games plus the Mega Pack and also Pike & Shot, Sengoku Jidai and Field of Glory II. About the only thing I did have to tweak was to pump up the mouse pointer speed to warp 10, but that was about it, and it’s not a bad idea to do the same with all games. Otherwise no problems.
Remastered Games: These games are not just recoded to play on current operating systems, but have been normally redesigned with new, HD graphics and have a few extra features included as well. I had absolutely no problem with the recently released Remastered StarCraft, one of my very favorites, but I cannot say the same for the two remastered games in the Homeworld Remastered Collection. Fortunately the latter collection not only comes with the new remastered editions, but non remastered, classic versions of the original game as well. I’ve not tried this option yet, but the specs are promising.
GOG Games: GOG used to stand for Good Ole Games, a firm hailing from Poland. The company got its start taking older games and re-coding them so they run on Windows 8 and now Windows 10 machines. They do now offer more current fare, but updating “oldies but goodies” continues to be their raison d’etre. I’ve purchased 32 games here, to include several from the World War II Sudden Strike series and Homeworld Emergence (nee Cataclysm, name change due to a copyright issue with Blizzard) and they work with minimal tweaking.
My favorites are those with the Battle Academy engine plus Ultimate General: Civil War, this obvious nod to miniatures gaming is certainly not mandatory. And there are of course several more games from various firms not mentioned, but I think you’ll get the picture of what you can and cannot run on a machine small enough to take with you on holiday. No, they are not the very latest and greatest, nor do they have graphics so intense and realistic that you’ll beg for an Alienware laptop for Christmas. But they are fun, challenging, easy on the hardware and serve their purpose well. That is, of course, unless you like spending several hours shopping emeralds in Aruba. But not to worry, there are meds out there that can help.