I have one month to make an MMO: but I’m on vacation 4

Continuing my filler series (last one!), where I just write random stuff until I can get back from vacation and start working on the game again, here’s a continuation on my eclectic selection of peripherals that I use.

The screen: 34" Ultrawide

I think everyone will agree that two monitors are better than a single monitor. But…multi-monitor users are often reluctant to consider the alternative of a single large monitor. I think a single large monitor wins hand-down every time, and I think you also need to experience it to understand how or why.

The thing about smaller monitors (e.g. around 21"), is that you can’t really comfortably fit two documents side by side. It’s not quite wide enough. So you tend to use an application full-screen. Having two of these monitors suddenly lets you use two applications full-screen, doubling your windows open, which is obviously better than having only one screen.

But, what people who haven’t used larger screens before may not realise, is that something happens when the screen gets large enough: you stop bothering to snap windows to full or half-screen any more, and your window behaviour changes drastically. You no longer care about snapping or full-screen, you just make windows “big enough” and not worry about window management.

A 34" ultrawide is big enough to hold at least three, maybe four windows open at once side-by-side. More if you split vertically. You can see in the photo a couple of days ago that I had three columns side by side, with the Left column split vertically for smaller windows; Center column being where most of the coding is taking place; and Right column being reference material, or sometimes Discord.

Also perfect for movies. This is the latest Star Wars trailer

Things just feel a lot more seamless and easy to find than two monitors. And windows just stay where you leave them. You can easily recall where you put the window and find it, rather than hunt for its entry in the taskbar. I highly recommend a single large monitor over multiple smaller ones. Though they are quite expensive. It took me a long time to justify this expense, but I’m glad I did it in the end.

Also, one thing you don’t really appreciate until using a larger monitor is that curved monitors make sense when the screen is large. At about 34" monitor size you start getting the issue where you’re looking at the sides of your screen at quite a steep angle, and having a bit of curvature would help.

The one thing I haven’t experimented is what happens with a 4K 16:9 monitor of equivalent width. 4K 16:9 are cheaper and have more pixels than an Ultrawide. The question I want to ask is whether there are any downsides to having more pixels up top? Is there any benefit to having the ultrawide aspect ratio at all?

The mouse: ELECOM Huge Trackball

It’s huge and has a big red ball in it. Everyone loves big red balls.

I switched from a mouse to a trackball, and haven’t looked back. Don’t get me wrong, trackballs are just not as accurate as mice, and has that same old problem with old ball mice where you need to pop the ball out and clean it once in a while. I have to clean this trackball once or twice a week to keep it rolling smoothly. But, it has some major advantages over mice:

  1. More ergonomic. Maybe on par with vertical mice. There’s much less wrist strain, and your wrists stay at a more natural angle
  2. Less desk space usage. When desk space is at a premium, a trackball save space by not needing any more space than its footprint. When your desk is messy, you don’t have to shunt all the detritus away to make a clear spot for your mouse.
  3. Faster switching between keyboard and trackball. Because it doesn’t move anywhere on your desk, the trackball is always in a fixed location. So it’s easy to switch between keyboard and trackball without looking and without hunting around for a mouse. Plus, since it’s always in a fixed location, having a wired interface isn’t such a big deal because you can just tidy that wire away.
  4. Annoy other people who use your computer. Trackballs are rare, it’s intimidating for others trying to use your computer to have an unfamiliar peripheral.

However, there is a couple of disadvantages to trackballs:

  1. Not accurate for drawing. I’d say I’m relatively proficient at using a trackball, having used one for a few years, but my drawing skills are just not on par with using a mouse. I don’t know how I’d fare playing an FPS or other games with it, I suspect badly.
  2. As mentioned, having to clean it regularly.

After trying a few, I picked the ELECOM Huge, which as its name indicates, is a large trackball device. Like…really large. Here’s a size comparison with the mouse I normally use, an MX Anywhere from Logitech.

It’s got a slightly unusual thumb-operated Left click and scroll wheel, but you get used to it quickly. In addition to the usual L/R/Middle/forward/back buttons, it has an additional 3 user-assigned buttons, which is a good number of buttons.

The only downside is the driver is rather poor, with limited options for assigning functions to the buttons, though I suppose some light scripting/Autohotkey would solve it.

The rig: Zotac mini computer

Again, I have a slightly controversial choice for computer. While most gamers are going for the big beasts with plenty of room for expansion, sick lighting, water cooling, and full-length GPUs in SLI. I’ve left those things behind and have opted for the smallest computer I can get that still has a decent graphics card. The practical reason for this is that I also used to have to travel a lot, so a portable desktop became an extremely useful item to have.

I settled on the Zotac EN1060K, a tiny box that yet packs a moderate i5 and GTX1060 graphics (though slightly underclocked versus the full size ones). It’s hard to convey exactly how small this thing is for a fully fledged desktop. It fits in my messenger bag alongside my laptop.

I’ve never needed to expand it beyond adding 16GB of RAM, and a couple of SSDs (there’s a 2.5" bay as well as an M.2 slot inside).

After experimentation with different combinations of desktops and laptops, I think I’ve settled on the best combination for me in terms of convenience: a lightweight 13" laptop that has decent battery life that can be used for portability and doing stuff on the go. And that Zotac mini computer, with enough power for the desktop work that I do, yet still totally portable.

Anyway, that’s all I have for these filler episodes. I’m heading home tonight, and so will hopefully be able to resume more development-related blogs tomorrow!



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Yuan Gao (Meseta)

🤖 Build robots, code in python. Former Electrical Engineer 👨‍💻 Programmer, Chief Technology Officer 🏆 Forbes 30 Under 30 in Enterprise Technology