Take a Break and Play Some Video Games This WeekendProductivity may be our main focus here at Lifehacker, but that doesn’t mean we don’t like to kick back with a good video game once in a while (after all, they’re more than just an entertaining time sink). This weekend, take a break and de-stress with some of your favorite games (and some tweaks to make them better).

Break Out the Ol’ Console

Take a Break and Play Some Video Games This WeekendOkay, it doesn’t necessarily have to be old, but the quickest way to get up and running (or shooting, or slaying, or portal gunning) is with a good old fashioned console and controller. Of course, there are any number of things that could get in your way. Those controllers can wear out pretty quickly, for example. If your buttons are feeling a little unresponsive, try fixing them with aluminum foil. Of course, for more complicated controllers—like those of the Rock Band/Guitar Hero persuasion—you may need to do a little more work. Though while you’re at it, you could give your controllers a bit of extra modding, like this vented fan that keeps your controller from getting too sweaty.

If you’ve really got the DIY bug, you can do a little modding of the console itself, too. Nintendo consoles are particularly hackable, with the Wii allowing you to back up and play your games from an external drive, and the Nintendo DS letting you play all your games from one cartridge. Consoles like the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 are a bit less hackable, but that doesn’t mean you can’t combine them in one computer case to create the ultimate gaming machine, now does it?

Lastly, if you want to go retro, be prepared for setbacks—a lot of those old consoles just don’t work like they used to. If your old NES or Genesis has bitten the dust, you can always just get those games on your PC or mobile device, complete with CRT filters to make them feel just like they used to. You could even turn your kickass XBMC media center into a video game console, and convert your old NES or SNES controller to USB—though it’d be a lot easier to just get a USB gamepad or USB adapter instead. And, if you just aren’t ready to say goodbye to your old console, you can give it new life by turning it into a cool, retro DVD player or something similar. Photo by Pedro Aznar.

Beef Up Your Gaming PC for Superior Performance

Take a Break and Play Some Video Games This WeekendConsoles are great for a lot of things, but PCs give you the most configurable game experience possible, so if you’re of a PC person, you better take advantage of it. You don’t have to build a whole new PC to get a good experience, though you may have to upgrade the hardware, since software tweaks can only do so much. If you’re looking to upgrade, check out our part lists for the best $600 and $1200 computer you can buy, as well as the video card benchmarks over at Anandtech to get the most bang for your buck. And, if you want to make one last ditch effort to save your dying video card, you can try sticking it in the oven before you go spending money on a new one.

While software tweaks won’t dramatically change your experience, they can give you a bit of a boost, which is great if your games are just on the wrong end of playable. The best thing you can do is overclock your video card, which is easy to do with a program like MSI Afterburner or EVGA Precision. You can also overclock your processor, which won’t necessarily help as much, but can still increase performance in games that have a lot of things going on on the screen. If you’re using a low-powered computer running something like an Atom, you’ll definitely want to overclock it for the best performance possible.

If you’re looking to have a little LAN party without carrying your tower over to your friend’s house, it’s worth mentioning the power of a VPN. It’ll let you game with your friends from home as if you were all on the same LAN—no need to deal with that game’s online services and other annoying players. Be sure to grab a good gaming headset too, so you can all talk to each other.

Lastly, if you’re still feeling retro, you can play a lot of retro PC games on modern hardware with tools like DOSBox or ScummVM.

Find Some New Games for Free or Cheap

Take a Break and Play Some Video Games This Weekend If your current crop of games is starting to feel a little stale after a weekend marathon, you might be thinking it’s time to grab some new ones. Of course, you could head to GameStop to buy a brand new game, or you could play some free ones from one of these great resources (Linux users are especially lucky on the “free” front with places like Penguspy offering so many free games). You can also trade in your used games without even leaving the house, and use that traded money to shop strategically for cheap games. Of course, stores like Amazon and Steam often have lots of sales and free games, too, so be sure to check them out.


Got any other gaming hacks, tricks, or just games you’re looking forward to playing this weekend? Share them in the comments below.