It's the 24th of Evening Star, Skyrim's version of December. As I stand at the North Pole (Septimus Signus's Outpost, the north-iest point I could find), 7:59 clicks over to 8:00 p.m. It's time to deliver a present to every NPC household in Skyrim. (Confused? See Part 1.)
Coming to Town
I hop on Rudolph's back, then hop back off. I know I decided not to deliver to caves, but Septimus Signus is, like, right here. I run into his ice cave where he's pacing around. He looks cold. He doesn't even have a bed. I drop him a bear pelt.
Then I'm off for real! I hop onto Rudolph and fly my way to my first real stop: Solitude Lighthouse, home of an NPC called Ma'zaka. Ma'zaka's door is locked, but my new Knock spell works perfectly, and at 8:03 p.m., I break in. He's standing right inside the door and immediately warns me: "You're not supposed to be here." After stumbling around for a moment, I find his bedroom in the back, and drop a Amulet of Dibella on the floor next to his bed.
"Last warning," he says. "Leave. Now." Well, merry Christmas to you too, jerk.
I head to the Thalmor Embassy. Along the way, I begin to discover a few of Rudolph's flaws, namely, that when he collides with something, like a mountain or an invisible wall at the edge of the map, he plummets to the ground. Also, when I climb off his back, I sometimes continue to fly on my own. Trying to open doors when you're hovering eight feet above them is tricky.
Another problem: the Thalmor Embassy is locked, and needs its own key. My Knock spell can't open locks that can't normally be picked. Oh well. I drop an Amulet of Kynareth at the feet of the Thalmor Wizard guarding the entrance. "Just leave your refuse wherever you see fit!" she spits sarcastically at me. Ho-kay. I'm not really feeling the Christmas spirit so far. I'm off to Solitude.
I deliver gifts to the residents of The Winking Skeever, the city's inn, and magically pick the lock of Radiant Raiment. I crash around looking for the owner's bedroom while she issues warnings to me to leave. Before I can navigate my way out of her home, she starts yelling. "Guards! Help! Tresspasser!" That's when Christmas officially gets messy.
Outside, the guards try to arrest me, and I flee into Angeline's Aromatics. They follow as I run upstairs and drop some trinkets near the bed, then they block the stairs as I try to leave, while Angeline chants "You need to leave. You need to leave." I finally manage to maneuver past the guards and back onto the street. I make it into Bits and Pieces, leave an enchanted axe on the bed, and run into a massive crowd of guards by the door. There are so many soldiers I can't force my way past them. As Santa, I've only played the main quest as far as Dragonsreach, so I don't have a Fus Roh Ho Ho Ho Dah shout to blast them out of my way. I'm stuck! Desperate, I summon Rudolph, whose giant fat butt creates enough of a gap in the guards for me to squeeze through to the door.
There are now a dozen guards after me. After a few more quick deliveries to the remaining stores, my Santa speed takes me to the other end of the city quickly enough for the guards to lose sight of me, and I get to make a few deliveries in relative peace. I hit a few homes, drop a ton of loot in the extensive Bard's College, and visit Styrr in the Hall of the Dead, all without incident.
And I In My Cap
Then I head to the Blue Palace, where the guards immediately attempt an arrest again. Unfortunately, this time I accidentally pick the "Pay my bounty" option. This means they confiscate any stolen goods I've got. I've bought all my gifts legitimately, but I do have one stolen item: my Santa hat, since I "stole" it from the barrel in Dragonsreach. They unceremoniously strip it from me. My Santa hat! My festive lid! Gone! I'm deeply upset.
My giving mood has been spiked, and I start leaving charcoal for everyone else in Solitude. I'm pleased to see that charcoal comes in sticks, and those sticks look like poo, which feels fitting for these ungrateful citizens. Outside the city, even Rudolph isn't feeling cooperative: when I summon him, he appears on a ledge out of reach. I leave him there and run to the stables and farms outside Solitude on foot.
I then fly off to Mor Khazgur, an orc stronghold. We arrive with Rudolph sporting an arrow in his face due to us passing too close to a few angry bandits with no Christmas cheer but plenty of good aim.
The orcs are not thrilled to see me bursting into their longhouse and crashing around, dropping loot by their beds, but despite several stern threats they never get violent. A half-hour into my trip, I visit Dragon Bridge, then arrive in Falkreath at 8:40. They welcome me with open arms. Open arms that shoot flames and ice bolts. Someone even summons a ghost dog to attack me. Does real Santa have to put up with this crap?
I've hated Falkreath even before tonight: it sports a confusing multi-level layout that makes it hard to find doors that you can see on the map. Now I've also come to hate its easily-angered residents. Still, by 8:52, we're out of there, having either visited everyone or perhaps gotten sick of trying to visit everyone while surrounded by angry guards and wizards. Rudolph is having major problems by this point, crashing to earth every few seconds while in flight, meaning we're constantly being attacked on the ground by Forsworn, bandits, wolves, and sabre cats. No one seems happy to see Santa tonight!
Well, the first leg of my trip didn't go well. But at least that means things can't go worse, right?
Things go worse. Next time, on Serial.
I have two things to say about John Romero's Christmas present. First, it is glorious, and perfectly appropriate. And second, I am intensely jealous.
Brenda Romero revealed the gift, a detailed sculpture based on the Doom 2 level Icon of Sin, with a couple of photos on Twitter earlier this week. A closer look at the work and the process of making it can be had at creator Jason Hite's website, where he explains that some of the individual components were built from existing pieces—the Doom Guy is a "slightly augmented' HorrorClix figure—while others, including the central demon skull, are entirely hand-made.
Upon completion, the sculpture was sent to the Copro Nason Gallery in Santa Monica, California, where it went on sale for $6000. Hite told Polygon he also sent photos of the work to John Romero, who seemed duly impressed. "A few days later, out of the blue, John messaged me asking if the sculpture was still for sale," he said. "There was one other person who also expressed interest to me but had not confirmed yet, so I told John the sculpture was his!"
It isn't completely faithful to the game's famous final level—Hite replaced the numeric indicators with hearts and "possibly live" .30 caliber bullets—but he did make a point of including the most important detail: Romero's decapitated head, stuck on a stick, and hidden out of sight.
It's December 24, and for the benefit of those of you who've managed to hang on to some small amount of pocket change during this time of festive extravagance, I am here like an overweight guy in a red coat coming down the proverbial chimney to remind you that the Steam Holiday Sale is still going strong.
There's not a whole lot happening today, so let's turn our attention for a moment to today's Steam sale Daily Deals:
- Plague Inc. Evolved: $10
- Life is Feudal: $27
- Ultra Street Fighter IV: $18
- Far Cry 4: $48
- X-Com: Enemy Unknown: $7.50
- The Evil Within: $20
- Terraria: $2
- Lords of the Fallen: $20
- Gauntlet: $10
There are plenty of other ways to spend your money, as you'd expect from a Steam sale, including yesterday's deals, which are still available today (but probably won't be tomorrow), and 12-hour deals on Magicka, Talisman Digital Edition, Natural Selection, Supreme Ruler Ultimate, Car Mechanic Simulator Complete Edition 2014, and Sanctum 2. The 2014 Steam Holiday Sale runs until 10 am PST on January 2.
Tim told me before we started that he had played a lot of Don't Starve, but the reality of that didn't hit me until we got into the game and he became a well-oiled, survival machine. Don't Starve Together is a standalone, multiplayer version of the original that just recently entered Steam early access. It will be made free to those who currently own the original when it leaves early access, but Tim and I couldn't wait to get our hands on it. While it seems like not much has changed yet, sharing survival with another person can be a very different experience. Watch the video above to see me and Tim fight for our lives.
Tony's 2014 personal pick
I d been going through a dry patch when this came along. No game seemed to quite have that special spark to make me want to commit to it. So I didn t commit to anything, and got on with some gardening instead.
Then I saw my first trailer for Wolfenstein: The New Order, and knew I was looking at the next game I was going to play.
At the time, this bullets-and-boilerplate industrial Nazi shooter just seemed to offer an easy way back in. Lots of mindless carnage and muzzle-flash, but with an interesting aesthetic. Lumbering steampunk stormtroopers and fascist robo-dogs against a brutalist alternate-1960s backdrop, and a banging rock soundtrack that probably wouldn t be in the game anyway.
The New Order didn t disappoint, but it did confound my expectations.
The carnage was mindless, I ll give you that. I d say that you hit the ground running, except that actually you hit the fuselage running, because you haven t even set foot on the ground before you ve jumped out of a plane over the North Atlantic to land on another goddamn plane. Explosions! Giant robots! More explosions! If the whole game had been set in the bullet-filled, castle-storming world of that prologue, I would have had a perfectly good time.
Yet already there were hints of something a little more interesting going on. Did you notice that when Fergus saved you from slipping off the plane, the game seemed to linger for a moment on the act of him and Wyatt hauling you up to safety? Did you notice how that action was then oddly repeated at certain points in the game?
Leitmotiv—such a lovely German word, don t you think?
BJ was different too. No longer the emotionless, soulless killing machine of previous games, he expressed regret for a life unlived, compassion for fallen comrades. In a calculated up-yours to continuity, he didn t even look like the dark-haired BJ of the last Wolfenstein. MachineGames went right back to the fair-haired, implausibly square-headed BJ of the original—and made him human and likeable. He s the big, corn-fed college quarterback you want on your side, who takes the time to teach the panicking new recruit a trick to control his fear. Inhale, count to four, exhale. All there is to it. When was the last time you saw a tough-guy protagonist in a shooter who was human enough to even need a way to control his fear, let alone admit to it? Inhale, count to four, of course, becomes another recurring phrase.
It was the little touches I noticed most. The cheery crooked grin on the face of cliched Nazi supervillain General Deathshead. The old boy s so upbeat, so amused by life! Right now, he s amused because you ve somehow managed to break into his impregnable castle only to lock yourself in his giant trash compactor. What are you people doing in there?
Wolfenstein: The New Order, it turns out, is going to have fun with the format. It s going to be smarter, more inventive and sillier with the franchise than it even occurred to any previous developer to be. Not Raven, not Splash Damage. Certainly not id Software. You re going to watch the best part of fifteen years pass in a single time-lapse panning shot across a sanitorium day-room, because the developers thought that would be a cool thing to do. Later a uniformed harridan will show you some photographs on a train, and you ll fly to the moon.
I m not holding The New Order up as some kind of Academy Award eligible masterpiece here. BJ s internal monologues are pretty risible. But equally, don t let that blind you to what MachineGames have achieved. Even to consider giving an inner life to a man whose name is essentially Blowjob McBlastobits is an act of sheer game development heroism.
In Wolfenstein, MachineGames inherited PC gaming s oldest, most juvenile and unevolved premise: the big shooty man who kills Nazis. They had the guts and the vision to do something new with that, when everybody else played it safe. I d love to see what they did with Duke Nukem.
The Star Citizen "Imagine" trailer begins with a note stating that all footage was "captured in engine," which I think is an interesting distinction from being captured "in-game." Not that it really matters in this particular instance, because this video is really more about you than it is about the game.
Will you be an elite jet-jockey? A sharply-dressed trader, looking for the next big score? Perhaps an explorer, picking through ruins with a scanner in one hand and a gun in the other? Or maybe you'll find yourself standing on a flight deck somewhere, sucking back your third coffee as you wonder how you're going to cover the cost of fuel, your mortgage, and that wildly overpriced private school your wife insisted that your daughter attend.
It's all very aspirational (well, except maybe for that last one), and whether Star Citizen will be able to live up to its promises is a question that's a long way from being answered. The recent release of Arena Commander 1.0 is a big step in that direction, though, and good game or not, the boundless reaches of space sure do make for a pretty trailer.
Check out our game of the year awards 2014 page to find out how the awards were decided.
Tim Clark: I think it only sunk in how deep Hearthstone had its hooks in me when I found myself ignoring the World Cup in Brazil in favour of watching DreamHack Summer on my laptop. Watching Tidesoftime had become more exciting to me than watching James Rodriguez with a giant insect on his arm. Of course by that point I d already sunk hundreds of hours, plus a frightening amount of actual folding money, into completing my card collection.
No other game has gone from not being a thing to being a Really Quite Big Thing so fast or so spectacularly in 2014. It s testament to a design ethos that always tries to keep things simple and rewards players with something fun in every match.
Hearthstone s detractors, and our own review, will tell you that this is a game in which luck of the draw and RNG rolls are hugely important determining factors. And both are right. But knowing this has never lessened the thrill for me. Even if those gorgeous interactive boards, and my gloriously daft collection of creatures and spells, are essentially one big Technicolor Skinner Box, there s still no better feeling for me than Black Knighting a Taunted Ancient of War and almost being able to taste the other player s salt.
Actually there is: it s that one time I used Thoughtsteal to nab a Paladin s Equality- Wild Pyromancer combo and clear his entire board from nowhere. That was my favourite gaming moment of this, and indeed most other years. Hell, while the new Curse of Naxxramas cards were being rolled out, the whole Hearthstone scene felt like one month-long party, the metagame lurching crazily from one week to the next.
Samuel Roberts: My own obsession spluttered out, but only because I got hurt so badly by the game s brutal ranking system. I have never been interested in card games before, but the simplicity and generosity of Hearthstone made me sink about 40 hours into it without spending a penny. Millions of players, like me, were drawn in by the accessibility and the lovely presentation, and I wouldn t take back a second.
League of Legends' huge prize pool haul for its 2014 World Championships has been surpassed, with Hi Rez Studios' Smite bringing in more crowdsourced dollars for its own World Championship.
At the time of writing the prize money sits at $2.14 million, the third highest tournament reward in eSports history, but it'll certainly be higher than that by the time the Smite World Championship rolls around.
Admittedly while Smite has smote League of Legends' record haul ($2.13 million), it's still a ways off Dota 2's The International fund, which this past year hit a frankly absurd $10 million.
The Smite World Championship takes place January 9-11 in Atlanta, Georgia and will see the world's best eight Smite teams face off.
First place takes home 50% of the pool, second takes 20%, third 15%, fourth 10% and fifth to eighth all get 1.25% apiece. So regardless of where a team finishes, they're getting at least $26k. Sweet.
You can still make that prize pool go even higher by contributing - otherwise known as 'by purchasing Odyssey items for exclusive rewards'.
Or you can just sit back, slack-jawed at the amount of money on offer. I'm probably going to do that.
Akalabeth: World of Doom was Richard Garriott's first game, created as a school project back in the 1970s. It's famous mainly as the precursor to the hugely successful Ultima RPG series, although some fans go so far as to consider it the first Ultima game. Either way, the point that's of interest to us today is that it's free for the holidays on GOG.
The GOG package includes the manual, a wallpaper, and Windows, Mac, and Linux versions of the game itself. It's primitive stuff, even by retro-gaming standards, but did I mention that it's free? For those with (slightly) more modern tastes, the Ultima series is on sale as well: Individual games or bundles (including the Underworlds) are going for just over $1, or you can pick up everything for $6. The sale is on until December 26.
Rob Pardo, former chief creative officer at Blizzard and lead designer on World of Warcraft, has said there's 'a good argument' for eSports to be included as an Olympic event.
In an interview with the BBC, Pardo argued the definition of sports was now a broad one, and that eSports held great appeal worldwide as a spectator sport.
He also argued that eSports were set aside from something like chess - a 'mind sport' that has never been allowed in the Olympics - owing to its need for quick reactions as well as strategic thinking.
"I think the way that you look at e-sports is that it's a very competitive skillset," Pardo said, "You look at these professional gamers and the reflexes are lightning quick and their having to make very quick decisions on the fly.
"When you look at their 'actions per minute', they're clearing over 300."
There was the obvious acknowledgement of eSports facing an uphill battle to be recognised - even defined as a sport - but it's something Pardo said is open to discussion: "If you want to define sport as something that takes a lot of physical exertion, then it's hard to argue that videogames should be a sport.
"But at the same time, when I'm looking at things that are already in the Olympics, I start questioning the definition."
Though it being an Olympic sport would mean eSports players wouldn't be able to take home the huge paycheques the pros do...