Cybernaut 

Tired of games? Create your own

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If the number of Java programmers making and marketing small format online strategy games is any indication, there’s a lot of talent out there that remains virtually untapped by the games industry.

Giving this talent an outlet is the rationale behind Microsoft’s latest offering, XNA Game Studio. Starting Aug. 30 the company will give the public an opportunity to use this platform to create games that work with PCs and the Xbox 360. The price is right at just $99 a year – pro game developer packages often cost over $20,000, and companies often pay far more than that for the ability to make console games.

The XNA package gives programmers the ability to create 3D and 2D games and environments, and program how characters and objects interact.

The games created by XNA users can be shared with other XNA subscribers, and entered in Microsoft-sponsored contests. Although some programmers will no doubt take the plunge as a hobby, there are a lot of talented minds out there who will use this as an opportunity to market their ideas – with game sales forecast to break $12.5 billion next year there are worse industries to break into.

The XNA platform is based on the Visual C# Express 2005 programming language, and the software comes with massive development libraries that offer shortcuts to developers. You’ll need to be fairly computer literate to make full use of the software, but beginners who can handle complex concepts and follow instructions should be up and programming in no time. Making things easier, your $99 subscription gains wannabe developers access to hundreds, maybe even thousands of other developers, as well as shareware libraries and other resources.

You’ll need a PC with at least Windows XP SP2 to use the XNA software, or a new system running Vista.

Keep your system moving

Every new computer starts out lightning fast, then gets slower and slower over the course of its brief but hectic life – sometimes to the point where you’ll probably speed up your own plans to replace your system.

The thing is there’s no technical reason your computer shouldn’t work just as fast as the day you bought it with maybe a slight lag to account for the added time spent retrieving fragmented data from a hard drive that gets fuller by the day.

The main reason you’re slowing down is not age, but rather the fact that you probably have an increasing number of programs competing for time on your CPU and space in your memory – programs you might not even be aware that you’re running. Some of these programs could be spyware you’ve picked up and that managed to elude your security system, while others could be "bots" of legitimate programs that run all the time instead of when they’re needed.

The good news is that this can be easy to fix.

For PC users running XP there’s a simple way to find out exactly what programs are running at any given time. Click "Start", then "Run", then type "perfmon" and hit the Enter key. Choose "System Monitor" and click the plus sign in the tool bar to show system performance in real time. (Tip courtesy PC World – www.pcworld.com

The "Explain" button can be used to explain the purpose of any program you’re running and with the aid of a quick Google search you can usually decide if you want to run that program in the future. You may have to delete a few programs, or reconfigure those programs so they don’t run all the time.

Providing you’re running a legitimate, registered copy of XP you can also download Microsoft’s Performance Monitor Wizard ( www.microsoft.com under Downloads).

When you’re looking into your memory performance, check the RAM counter to see how much space you have available – if you have less than 10 per cent, and you’re running all the programs you need, it may be time to expand your memory.

For CPU the mark is closer to 80 per cent, not including the short spikes you get when you’re opening programs and large files.

Also, if you’re running your hard drive 40 to 50 per cent of the time, you might need a larger disk, to defragment your existing drive, or delete a few files to free up space. Because hard drives don’t have to store information sequentially, it’s good to periodically clean out and reorganize your drive to reduce the time your CPU spends looking for data.

Apple users have it just as easy. Go to the Applications folder and look for the plain blue folder near the bottom marked "Utilities". Use the System Profiler to make sure your system has the technical specs necessary to use the programs you’re having trouble with, and the Activity Monitor to track CPU and RAM usage.

Once again, don’t shut down or erase anything without doing a Google search first. A good rule of thumb is to avoid deleting "root" files until you know what you’re dealing with.

If you want to organize your hard drive, start with the Disk Utility. You can also download or purchase third party software that can accomplish the same basic thing.

If your slowness is Internet related, chances are it has more to do with the speed of your Internet connection than your computer’s ability to process the information. To check the speed of your system www.cnet.com offers a pretty good system at reviews.cnet.com/Bandwith_meter.

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