One of my earliest memories is coming home from the floppy copy shop, thrilled to play a knock-off of Ikari Warriors on the family's Tandy 1000. That thing came with a molded plastic dust cover, and pulling it off was like opening a window into another world. A family friend later soldered some extra RAM onto it (384KB total!), and the world was suddenly wider.
Gaming and I grew up together. In the 80s I spent days learning about (and fighting) autoexec.bat so my SEAL Team and Ultima VII boot disks would run, only to spend my time in the latter ignoring the story and living out of a cleared guard tower as a base for stolen loot. On the Nintendo side, the Zapper and Power Glove were wild and new. A local BBS formed my first brush with multiplayer - thanks, LORD. ROTT and Duke Nukem 3D soon clogged the phone line. We even got a 486 running Windows 3.1 from CompUSA with a sound theme voiced by Brent Spiner, which seems to have been lost to time.
In the 90s, the WASD standard came into vogue along with KB+M controls in the Quake era. I remember dancing around the pillars of the episode select area to practice what was being called circle strafing; this exotic maneuver where you didn't have to toggle the ALT key anymore to keep alternating between turning and strafing on arrow keys. My coffee always turned cold reading .plan files on Blue's News while Carmack talked about the original vision for QuakeWorld. Barely even blinked. Newspapers ran stories on VR and some game called Dactyl Nightmare that actually put you inside the game, if you could ever find it near to where you lived. People on IRC debated if Half-Life or SiN would be the next big shooter. We celebrated Half-Life going gold there with some former Quake community modders who were now working at the upstart Valve. From there, whole weekends were lost to Diablo 2 and Guild Wars LAN parties.
Each new PC bought or built seemed to mirror a major change in what gaming was and would become, at least until the 2000s and 2010s. By then I was building new rigs twice a decade just to run my Steam games a little faster, or to have a bit more fun at LAN parties. I still loved gaming, and Steam, and games like Left 4 Dead 2 gave us reasons to keep getting together over the years, but gaming felt settled. Standardized.
Reason for build
Enter VR. The Rift and Vive wholly captured my attention, as did John Carmack and Gabe Newell's endorsements. I decided to start saving pennies in 2013 for an 'everything' build to take advantage of the targeted 2015 release of both HMDs. I missed the mark a bit, as did they, but the extra time it took for the Rift and Touch to come out gave me a chance to revise my build and my thinking. At first, I was just hoping to build the meanest PC I could get my hands on in order to keep gaming as the family grew, but as the hype for VR grew I started scrounging for a larger and larger sum of components to better support whatever form it would ultimately take.
DADBOD is (go figure) a pretty average Skylake 6700k build in the comfy, doublewide Corsair Air 540 tower. We're not talking a complete custom case, watercooling loops, perfected cable management, or some kind of special circumstances - just years of love for the hobby turned into a pretty common setup. From a build standpoint it's the easiest I've been able to complete, and part of the reason for the case choice is so that one day I can more easily teach my sons how to upgrade it as I was once shown.
The wrinkle is perhaps the number of components hidden within, the number of accessories, and for me, the amount of time it took scrounging up all the parts. The first thing to note is that it relies on the sturdy, modular, modifiable and value-conscious Volair Sim cockpit rig with a one-TV setup instead of three monitors. Volair Sim makes this build extremely fun, even before VR came into the picture! Peripherals for the cockpit were bought only after long IFTTT searches yielded promising results from eBay, Craigslist, you name it - whatever would help complete the vision. Some parts had to be replaced or repaired mid-build, such as some overexcited young cousins who spun an office chair and shredded the Buttkicker cable. This was while it was on another setup, a little LAN box wired to my upstairs TV. The Corsair case probably sat in my basement for a year while I hunted for parts deals.
There are 7 drives - an Intel 750 NVME PCIE SSD for the OS (the main build pre-dated the Samsung 950 by perhaps a month so it was my only NVME choice), 2 repurposed and refurbished Samsung data center SSDs in RAID 0 for game installs, and 4 Seagates in a RAID 10 array for storage. I do regret the 750 a bit - it's blisteringly fast, but I planned to stick with Samsung for their M.2 NVME offering and just couldn't wait any longer. Boot-up on this rig is surprisingly slow as a result (15 seconds) - not what the Intel was meant for. It screams once Windows is loaded, not before.
I guess the goal at the end of this long build, which I think is finally now complete thanks to Oculus Touch, was simply to re-spark my passion for gaming and to build a sustainable rig that I can do everything with except transport to LANs. I've been at this gaming thing a while, and I still love it, but those heady days of discovering new controls, new games, and new ways to play have been gone to me for some time. VR is helping to bring it back in full thanks to Valve and Oculus.
For those of you who haven't tried VR - please do. Get to a Best Buy and check out either headset. If you love games, i'll be like you're learning to walk all over again. Shooting three hundred zombies in whatever game you're playing now won't compare to the first three you meet in Arizona Sunshine at life size.
Please do shoot along any questions as well.
Wanted to make some acknowledgements, as this build was especially painful in the early going.
Rella O'Connor from NewEgg - you killed it! Skylake procs were especially difficult to obtain when launched in August 2015, and my motherboard was going stale and running through its return period while the 6700k remained unavailable to buy. Rella stepped up and helped me make this build happen.
Bart from Volair Sim - a class act, and a company I hope sees even more success with his sim rig when more VR cockpit titles come along, especially Star Citizen which looks to use every type of control you could imagine.
Super Squirrel Squad, who has endured years of Teamspeak communication in near-100% soundboard form, usually because whatever rig I was tinkering with was half-broken or being rebuilt.
Less Special Thanks:
- Gigabyte - I'm on attempt #3 of using the GA-Z170X-Gaming 7. For one of the fullest-featured Skylake motherboards, the failure rate is worrying. The first one had DOA onboard sound. The next had USB ports flaking out within a year. I hope this one is solid. Customer Service certainly has not been - I hope to not have to ask for a replacement again. That said, I have the mATX Gaming 5 in my LAN rig, and that's been going strong.