PC Gamer

Photo credit: Riot Games

Cloud9, Team SoloMid, FlyQuest, and Phoenix1 all flew out to Vancouver, Canada to fight for glory in the final stages of the League of Legends playoffs. Each team had ups and downs throughout the spring split, and despite the perception that spring is just a warmup for the summer split, there was still a lot on the line.

Cloud9 and TSM were fighting for the championship, and the honor that comes with it: both teams have been to the finals in the past multiple times, and have faced off against each other six times now. Both teams have been the best in North America at one point in their career, and both teams badly wanted that title back. Beyond the bragging rights and validation, the winner of the spring split also earns the right to represent North America on the international stage in Brazil. Meanwhile, FlyQuest and Phoenix1 are both young organizations who had faced struggles throughout the split. Earning third scores the winner a generous amount of championship points, which can take a team to Worlds. The dust has cleared, the winners have been crowned, and we’ve learned some important lessons from the final days of 2017’s spring split. 

Photo credit: Riot Games

Third place slugfest

The third place match only drew about five thousand fans to the Pacific Coliseum: large sections of seats were empty. Neither FlyQuest nor Phoenix1 have the appeal and draw of Team SoloMid and Cloud9. They’re both young organizations. Phoenix1 entered the LCS in the summer of 2016, and went through an incredibly rough first split where they lost their first nine games. Like their namesake, they rose from the ashes and fought out a won against the (at the time) undefeated Team SoloMid. That performance, led by their jungler Inori, was what turned Phoenix1 from a joke into an actual team that demanded respect. They escaped relegations, rebuilt their roster, and headed into spring ready to fight for a top slot.

Unfortunately, they ran into problems along the way. There were conflicts within the organization, and their support Adrian left. Jungler Inori, the face of the organization, was replaced with Cloud9 legend Meteos. It wasn’t until the very end of the split that the roster stabilized, with support Shady coming in on Week 9, just before playoffs. Inori returned to the roster, but spoke candidly about how it was tough to fill the shoes of Meteos. Even in Vancouver, when Meteos wasn’t in the city, the crowd chanted his name.

Anyone who didn’t show up was the poorer for it. Phoenix1 came roaring out of the gate against FlyQuest, taking a decisive game one. FlyQuest were a team that nearly didn’t make playoffs; they were one loss away from being seventh place, and Immortals would have taken their place. Balls, Hai, and LemonNation were part of the old Cloud9, and fans have often criticized them, suggesting that they can’t keep up with the new dynamos. This match was crucial to FlyQuest. They had the chance to prove that they were still contenders, that they weren’t holding new jungler and ADC Moon and Altec back...

Photo credit: Riot Games

Then, of course, there’s the business side of things. FlyQuest needs sponsors, they need to grow roots as an organization. While they have an affluent owner, that doesn’t mean much in terms of actually remaining sustainable in today’s LCS ecosystem. A third place finish in their first split, without that infrastructure, would have made a statement.

FlyQuest battled back in games 2 and 3, playing a slow and confident game. Like a glacier, they advanced forward, pushing Phoenix1 back and choking out their advances on the map. The teams traded back Kog’Maw and Ivern as priority picks, testing each others weaknesses in picks and bans.

Just when Phoenix1 looked shattered, they rallied. Inori, draped in the flag of his home province, pulled off a dominant 6-2-7 performance on Elise. Phoenix1 eventually took the series, and the third place finish. From a bottom of the barrel team to making third in a turbulent split, Phoenix1 proved that they are an org that has what it takes to overcome adversity and stick around in the LCS. 

Photo credit: Riot Games

Winner takes all

The arena was packed for Team SoloMid up against Cloud9, but the first two games were... disappointing. Cloud9 rolled over and showed their belly for the first two games. They were both over in fifty minutes, and everyone was puzzled. What happened to the Cloud9 of the spring split? Where had they gone? 

Maybe they were trying to intentionally trigger that reverse sweep magic, or maybe they just needed a couple of games to rally, because Cloud9 came back alive in game 3. Game 3 lasted as long as the first two games combined, coming in at just over forty seven minutes. Cloud9, led by Contractz and Sneaky, scraped out a win. Rolling off that momentum, they took TSM out in a clean game 4.

The stadium came alive. This was the series we had all been hoping to see. Game five was a forty two minute, edge of your seat match that swung back and forth between Cloud 9 and TSM, with both teams coming out ahead before falling behind due to a lucky teamfight or clutch maneuver. Finally, TSM made the dangerous choice to contest an Elder Dragon, Cloud9 engaged, and TSM turned and mopped them up.

Team SoloMid took the entire split, and are now heading to MSI to represent North America. They’ll have to prepare to face a higher tier of competition... including SKT T1, who are looking their strongest yet after taking the LCK championship from KT in a 3-0 match. While they may struggle internationally, at least they gave us in North America one hell of a show before heading off to Brazil. After Worlds, some NA fans questioned whether they’d be tuning in and getting involved in the LCS once again. The answer seems to be yes—as long as the games are this entertaining.

Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War III

After months of hype, Sega and Relic Entertainment's Dawn of War 3 lands tomorrow. In preparation, you may have taken part in last weekend's multiplayer open beta, or perused our review in progress—however if you're after some light relief ahead of time, this real life Space Marine Power Fist has you covered. 

Working alongside both Relic and Sega, the UK-based production company REWIND has crafted a working replica of the Blood Ravens' iconic melee mit that's best known for crushing skulls on the battlefield.

Using in-game DoW models to ensure likeness, the real deal is reinforced using an "iso-elastic kinematic camera stabilising platform" and a harness helps spread its weight while also holding two air canisters used to "power parts from an industrial pneumatic cylinder which delivers up to 3000 PSI to the Power Fist in addition to the user’s strength."

As this is getting increasingly technical, here's Sega with more on the Power Fist's specifications:

"The design of the weapon was recreated exactly from in-game Dawn of War models, and 3D printed in glass reinforced nylon monocoque. The 6KG fingers and impact elements were then CNC machine milled from aerospace aluminium to ensure durability. The in-game weapon when fixed to the mighty arm of a Space Marine, can punch through almost any defence, even hammering through the side of tanks to tear out the crew. While the real life version isn’t quite that powerful, it is capable of punching straight through a brick wall."

Sadly, REWIND's Power Fist doesn't appear to be for sale, however here's a making of-type video should you wish to give it a go yourself:

Dawn of War 3, the videogame, is due tomorrow, April 27.

PLAYERUNKNOWN'S BATTLEGROUNDS

In a post on the PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds official site, creator Brendan Greene announced the battle royale shooter's first charity event. The 2017 Charity Invitational will take place on May 4, and will feature 128 streamers from both North America and Europe. The proceeds will benefit Gamer's Outreach, a charity that "provides equipment, technology, and software to help kids cope with treatment inside hospitals."

From the post:

"We have split the event into two sessions, with 64 players from EU taking to the battlegrounds in the first 3 matches, and then 64 players from NA rounding out the event for the final 3 matches. We will have more information on the exact timings and match format early next week. We are splitting up the regions to ensure all participants can play on servers with the least ping possible, and to ensure as fair a match as possible for all involved."

The event will feature two-player teams, with 32 teams from North American and 32 from Europe. Each region will play three matches, "with the winners chosen from those that have the highest overall placement from all 3 rounds."

Above, you can see first four teams of streamers who have been announced, and the rest of the teams will be similarly tweeted out over the days leading up to the event.

FINAL FANTASY VII

I'm obsessed with the mouths in Final Fantasy 7. If you first played Square's groundbreaking 3D Final Fantasy on a PC, sometime after 1998, you might be thinking: the characters have mouths. So what? But if you played Final Fantasy 7 on the PlayStation, you're more likely thinking: Wait a minute. Mouths? What mouths?

On the PlayStation, the lumpy-limbed character models of Cloud and Barret and the gang had big anime eyes, square fists and absolutely no mouths. The more detailed battle models did, of course, but out on the field? Nope. But when FF7 came to PC a year after the PlayStation, suddenly there they were: little mouths, in the form of a terse line or a comically large, gaping black O. 

Why are they there? Who added them, and who decided they should be there? I started searching for the answers to those questions after looking into the history of the PC ports of Final Fantasy 7 and Final Fantasy 8, two rare, early examples of console games being ported to the PC. Because Eidos's name was on each box, I'd always assumed that the British company had ported Square's games itself. But after coming across this Gamefaqs thread and doing a little digging into Final Fantasy 7's PC credits, I realized that all of the development staff had worked at Squaresoft USA. So I set out on a quest to learn more about Final Fantasy 7's infamously quirky PC port: what it was like to port an early PlayStation game to PC, why new localization errors were introduced while others were fixed, and mostly, why the hell Cloud has a mouth.

It didn't go well at first.

Top: No mouths on PS1. Bottom: A comical O and a . Image via TheLifeStream.net.

"I'm not really sure," programmer Jay Fong wrote to me over email when I asked why the character models have mouths on the PC. Fong works at Obsidian now, and his gig as a software engineer on Final Fantasy 7 was his first real job in the games industry. "I recall we worked on the port for just a little over one year. After the project, I was promoted to a Senior Software Engineer position and when it was decided to go ahead and port FF8 to PC, I served as Project Lead. Some of the programmers had left right around the time when work on FF8 PC began so we didn't have as large a programming team as we did on FF7. But we also had more experience porting the FF PlayStation code base."

Total strikeout on the question that mattered most, but Fong still had plenty to tell me about the process of porting the Final Fantasy games to PC.

Final Fantasy 7 and Final Fantasy 8 for PC were developed at Square Soft, Inc. in Costa Mesa, California. The original development was done by Square Co, Ltd. back in Japan. According to Fong, on FF7 they had a team of eight programmers. There are nine software engineers listed in the Mobygames credits, though as Fong explained later, at least one engineer joined partway through the project. On FF8, Fong says it was only five programmers, but they finished the port in about a year, slightly faster than FF7. (There are five software engineers and two senior software engineers, including Fong, listed in the credits.) 

Image via Giant Bomb user clstirens

Porting Japanese PlayStation games, at the time, was no easy task—language was a serious barrier, and 3D graphics accelerators were in their infancy on PC. Here's Fong describing the development process:

"As far as tools, we were just using Visual C++ and Direct3D 5 at the time. The Playstation architecture was obviously different and some of the code was written specifically to take advantage of that hardware platform. For example, I recall the UI programmer had some unique challenges because the original Battle System UI update was hooked up directly to the Vsync which would update just the UI portion of the screen (bottom), something the PS hardware allowed you to do. This enabled the original UI portion of the screen to be updated at refresh rate making interaction feel very responsive, while the rest of the Battle System screen refreshed at a much lower rate. 

The documentation was the code itself, and the comments (if any) were mostly in Japanese.

Jay Fong

"Different programmers did have areas that they were responsible for: world map, field system (ie the pre-rendered area screens), UI system, battle system, mini games, etc. We tried to get as much of the original system's code compiled and running. All the data assets (models, textures, pre-rendered field backgrounds and FMV) were from the original PS versions.

"Obviously for low level systems that interfaced with PS hardware (eg, rendering, sound, FMV) we had to replace with PC-specific versions trying to mimic the original functionality. Something that the console programmers were able to do was to meticulously lay out the memory usage. This allowed their code to make certain assumptions about resource locations (such as specific regions of video memory for character textures) and they were able to do tricks like changing color look-up tables (ie, a palette) and manage dynamically streaming of data, like large Summoning effects while the character was playing the casting animation. We had to reverse engineer what they were doing and recreate the effect under Direct3D.

"The documentation was the code itself, and the comments (if any) were mostly in Japanese. We had a translator who we could ask to help us try and understand what the comment was referring to but that was still challenging since he was not a programmer. What really helped was when one of the original Japanese FF7 programmers [Kazuma Fuseya] moved to the US and joined our team. He was the perfect bridge between the two teams, being able to directly ask him questions and if he didn't know the answer he was able to get in touch with the original programmers, which helped immensely."

Some strange differences in item sizes in FF7 PC, via TheLifeStream.net

Today we typically expect the PC version of a game to be prettier, and run at higher framerates, than its console counterparts, but that wasn't always the case. Fong's comments help illustrate how console games, especially in the era before dedicated graphics cards were common, could make precision use of the hardware. Developing a PC game that ran as well across different systems was challenging enough at the time, before you added the complexity of translating the PlayStation's code to the PC. It's no surprise that the development team was mostly programmers, with only a single artist listed in the port credits: Jason Greenberg. Hoping he'd remember more about those haunting mouths than Fong, I tracked him down.

Greenberg now works as the animation director at Infinity Ward and has fond memories of his time at Squaresoft. 

"I was originally hired onto the project as a 3D artist," recalled Greenberg. "One of my main roles was supposed to be to help them with performance issues by reducing the polygon counts on many of the character and creature models." Luckily for the game, though less fortunate for Greenberg, the programmers were able to develop a PC renderer efficient enough to use the PS1's original models, without compromising on polygons. Instead of working as a 3D artist, Greenberg ended up doing touch-up work on the 2D art, increasing the resolution of assets from 320x240 to 640x480. 

Square wouldn't provide the original assets to re-render, so sadly I had to compress most of the FMVs from the 320x240 versions.

Jason Greenberg

"Mostly I focused on all the fonts and menu icons, and any textures used in the UI. Doubling the resolution of the Final Fantasy finger icon was actually a pretty cool thing to work on. It's literally iconic. There were no fancy upres-ing algorithms to use back then so I was basically filling in a ton of pixels by hand. You could imagine it wasn't all that creatively challenging and not the best use of my skillset as a 3D artist."

Greenberg also worked on Final Fantasy 7's FMVs, which were compressed for the PC release rather than improved. "Unfortunately we didn't have access to any higher resolution renders and they wouldn't provide the original assets to re-render, so sadly I had compress most of the FMVs from the 320x240 versions.

Making them fit in the disc space required and playback properly was quite a challenge. In the end, I don't think they looked as good as they could have. If only Sqaure had been able to provide higher resolution frames. We had the same issue with many of the backgrounds. These were simply too dense to double resolution and touch up by hand so most of them I think were the direct PS1 versions."

In 1998, you couldn't do the kind of 3D graphics work that went into Final Fantasy 7 on a normal PC. Greenberg had a $30,000 Silicon Graphics workstation on his desk "with probably Ssoftimage and Nichimen Graphics software on it to do the low-poly modeling" he never ended up actually working on, but he did put the hardware to use once. As a big chocobo fan, he created a new Squaresoft logo cinematic for the PC version. That's one bit of Final Fantasy 7's history we can definitively put a name to.

The rest of his graphics work was done on a typical PC with Photoshop; given the timeframe, I'd guess an early Pentium II system with a CPU in the 300 MHz range. Greenberg remembered that compressing the FMVs was excruciatingly slow, and any issues meant "hours and hours" down the drain. 

I asked Greenberg about some of the differences between PlayStation and PC cataloged here, like some objects strangely being larger or smaller. He said that at least on the art side, they were likely mistakes that never got caught in testing. The triangles used to point to exit points on the pre-rendered backgrounds, for example, are smaller in the PC version, perhaps due to the doubled resolution. That's "probably an asset that I missed," said Greenberg. "I probably should have up-resed those, but my guess is that they look OK at original size so no one asked for that."

Both Fong and Greenberg remembered the challenges that came with testing FF7's PC port. With translators on the team, the PC version benefitted from some cleaned-up English, which fixed some blatant mistranslations like "This guy are sick." It also amusingly introduced some new errors, but Fong and Greenberg recalled more pressing issues.

I've probably spent at least a full 24 hours playing that [final Sephiroth] battle.

Jason Greenberg

"We had a dedicated QA team on-site helping us test the game as well as do compatibility testing. PC compatibility is vastly better nowadays than what it was back then!" wrote Fong. "They had a guy whose job it was to essentially speed-run through the game, creating save games which were then used by the other QA members to hammer through each section of the game.

"I recall one bug that occurred intermittently was a crash at the start of the game, after the intro FMV as the train pulls into the station and one of the guys side-kicks a soldier. QA reported this bug as we were finalizing, which had all the programmers scrambling to repro and debug it asap. Exciting times!"

Greenberg recalled a crash bug that happened during the final boss fight, during Sephiroth's supernova summon. "Near the end of the dev cycle, many of us were done with our work, and simply had to help test the game as much as possible… If totaled I've probably spent at least a full 24 hours playing that one battle."

Not a good look, Jessie.

Fascinating stuff, but what about the mouths, right? Why does Cloud eternally look like an emoji-before-emojis? Why does Sephiroth look like he could swallow an entire hot dog whole? Did Greenberg know? 

"Great question. I'm wracking my brain to try to remember," he said. Uh oh.

"This is not something that we added on the art side since I never changed the model files in any way. I believe I remember that the mouths were just sitting there in the original texture files for the characters. I'm pretty sure the code to drive them was probably there as well, and we just enabled it or something. I wish I could tell you more, but I just don't remember it."

Is this victory? Or defeat? Greenberg gave me what may well be the story behind the character mouths in the PC version: they were actually there the whole time, but had been disabled in the PlayStation version before it shipped. Why? My guess is that a PlayStation plugged into a typical CRT TV with a composite cable resulted in such a fuzzy, low resolution image, you couldn't really see them, anyway. The eyes were bigger, and more expressive, and so the mouths were cut.

But it's possible there's more to the story—maybe the developers wanted the mouths to animate but never got around to it, or simply ran out of time to properly implement them. They're still there in the 2012 PC re-release, which fixed up the 1998 port to run at higher resolutions and play nice with modern Windows. I took one more stab at finding out, contacting William Chen, another engineer on Final Fantasy 7. His response? “It has been so long that I don’t have any memory of it."

Jay Fong recalls having to edit the timing of FF8's opening cinematic by hand for different languages.

That's where the story ends for Final Fantasy 7, though I did ask Fong if he knew why Square stopped porting the Final Fantasy games to PC after finishing FF8. "I recall Square decided to pull all development back to Japan shortly after FF8 shipped, but I'm not sure why they decided not to port FF9. If I had to guess, I imagine it was a business decision based on what they project the endeavor would cost versus the potential return in sales," he wrote. "FF10 was the first on PS2 so I'd imagine they had their hands full just developing the game for the new platform, let alone worry about porting it to PC."

There's precious little history around the PC versions of these games, and that's a shame—they're two of the first 3D Japanese games to make the jump from console to PC. That history deserves to be documented. What was a simple programming task in 1998 is now a mystery we may never know the answer to, because no one thought to ask. And this is for Final Fantasy 7, one of the most beloved games ever made. Few games have had 30,000 word oral histories written about them, and we still don't know the full story behind the damn mouths. What other fascinating bits of history have already been forgotten? (If you worked on either port and have stories to tell, or know why everyone in FF7 has an O face, drop me a line!)

And according to Jay Fong, while the developers were forbidden from adding easter eggs to the PC ports, there may be a unique version of Final Fantasy 8 floating around on a CD, somewhere deep in the bowels of Square, if it wasn't tossed out in the trash.

"We did play a prank on one of the FF8 producers. We edited the intro logo FMV, which started normally but after a few seconds it would briefly flash an awkward picture of him (let's leave it at that) and the frequency would slowly increase until it completely replaced the logo. We put it on a set of discs marked as 'Release Candidate.' Of course QA was in on this and they did have the real Release Candidate discs on hand as well. And no, it never made it out to the wild!"

MEGALOMANIAC

My first shot at world domination ended in failure. Well, not total failure, more like a B-plus. I did get close: 89 percent of the planet was under my thumb inside an hour, which I think is pretty good time. Looking back, I reckon my biggest mistake was merely bribing the president when I could've just bought my way into the office myself. You know what they say, if you want armageddon done right, do it yourself. 

Megalomaniac, due out on Steam on April 26, is an unabashedly political game that smacks of infection simulators like Pandemic and Infectonator as much as it does good old-fashioned satire. You play as Rich Savage Jr., physical manifestation of unregulated markets and son of a wealthy media executive. At first blush, this is a game about making money, buying stocks, undercutting competitors and pacifying any who dare question the ethics of monopolising the very air we breathe. It seems straightforward enough: you have about 80 years to acquire 100 percent of all markets, and you lose if you die of old age. 

But it’s also about mankind’s treatment of the environment, nepotism and sensationalism among the press, hive-minded consumerism, the Trump administration and the militarization of the police. Also you kill your dad and destroy the Earth. It’s silly and incredibly tedious, but also funny at times.

Your father s color-coded mood is shown in the bottom right. So, here, you d match it with sulk.

This is a text-heavy, menu-driven game, and not one for the weak-fingered. The core gameplay is this: click your character to cycle through manipulation techniques like sulk or whine until you match your father’s mood, thereby ensuring he gives you as much money as possible, and then spam-click your father as fast possible, earning a set amount per click. That’s honestly the main menu’s biggest attraction, but you can also indulge in persuasion techniques like arm twisting and blackmail. These play out as cursor-based minigames and yield greater returns. All the clicking lessens as your automatic daily revenue increases, but it’s a staple activity throughout.

I quickly cornered the market on accosting my father and navigated to the market menu, where I found an array of buyable stocks. My options were limited at first. Fisheries and slaughterhouses looked like big money, but I’d only managed to whine about $4 million out of my old man and their shares started at $22 million. So, I begrudgingly settled on the cheaper options of plastic surgery and magazines. Buying a chunk of magazines increased my influence, which in turn increased the amount of money I could pry out of my father.

After buying a bit of whatever I could afford, I had my hands in all kinds of cookie jars, from fashion and health to law and resources. It was only then that the cash high wore off and I actually started reading things. Megalomaniac gets better the slower you play it, which you’d never guess from its breakneck time cycle, in which a few minutes equates to several in-game years. The gameplay itself is simple as can be, a rudimentary vehicle for the game’s irreverent, parodic and critical messages.

Megalomaniac is the touch football of satire, never properly tackling any one issue but brushing against quite a few.

Megalomaniac is the touch football of satire, never properly tackling any one issue but brushing against quite a few. There around 60 stock options in the game, and the goal with each seems to have been to briefly summarize a contentious topic as cynically as possible. Most of the time it works. Plenty of entries are worth a chuckle, and if you’re not careful you might even seriously ponder a few. Short, sour and to the point, these descriptions make up about half of the real game, the other half being how you respond to scandals.

When I threw heaps of money at AI development, for example, laborers started rioting. Something about robots stealing all their jobs, I don’t know. On one hand, I could have reformed policy and subsidized relief efforts. On the other hand, that would have cut into my profits, so instead I paid my press contact to run stories denouncing lazy citizens. That’ll teach the jobless gits. In my experience you can spin your way out of most scandals provided you’ve got the funds, often by relying on such classics as “Let’s get those terrorists!” and “The immigrants did it!”. Despite my best efforts, my popularity eventually started to drop, so I turned to what is perhaps the pinnacle of visual metaphor to restore it.

Yes, the brown nose minigame consists of dragging a nose up and down a butt crack like the world's unluckiest credit card.

Megalomaniac is a text-based game with tedious mechanics and messy fonts. Suffice it to say, it’s not your standard kind of fun. It does offer a humorous take on dozens of today’s controversies, but I’d only recommend it if you genuinely care about and follow social and political issues. It can be obnoxious, but then so can politics, so in that sense I suppose it accomplished what it set out to do.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition

Here on PC, we're not exposed to a whole lot of our old console pal Mario. Back in 2012, a modder decided to remedy that with the Super Skyrim Bros mod for Skyrim, which created a new Mario-inspired adventure involving Goombas and Koopa Troopas, magic hammers and mushroom power-ups, and iconic bosses like Waluigi and Bowser. Plus, there's a whole big mess of hovering, collectible coins. I'm pleased to report that the Super Skyrim Bros mod is now also available for the Skyrim Special Edition. Check out the trailer above.

The mod isn't a full conversion—it doesn't transform the Skyrim you know and presumably love into Marioland. It creates a new, separate world for this adventure (in fact, it's even lore-friendly since it's presented as a dream), so you won't see any of the mod's assets popping up in your day-to-day Skyrim skullduggery.

Once installed, check your map for an abandoned house outside Winterhold. The house contains a note warning you not to sleep on a certain bed. I suspect you're not the sort to let a note push you around, so you know what to do from there. 

You'll find Super Skyrim Bros for the Skyrim Special Edition over at Nexus Mods.

The Witcher® 3: Wild Hunt

The Witcher 3 bestrides our list of the best PC games to play today, and also ranks high on the best RPGs of all time, so it's always interesting to learn more about its influences. Our colleagues over at TechRadar did just that when they asked the developers at CD Projekt Red to name their favorite PC games of all time. The Witcher 3 was presumably out of the running for this question, or the devs were humble enough to pick different games.

Lead level designer Mateusz Piaskiewicz got nostalgic for Quake, saying that making Quake levels in the '90s helped him get a job in game development. But it's the comments on old RPGs that are especially interesting. 

"Gothic II is one of my all-time-favorites on PC—it's one of my first RPG games, and one of most the immersive RPGs I played," said principal narrative director Mateusz Tomaszkiewicz. "I remember that I was very surprised how every NPC had their own place in the world; how they reacted to various player actions like entering their houses, taking their things, or even just unsheathing your weapon in front of them. This, plus the right combination of immersive gameplay systems, made the world feel alive and believable—you wouldn’t just enter a UI-based crafting panel and craft a sword like you do nowadays, you would heat up the metal first, then form it on an anvil, then heat it in bucket of water, and later sharpen it on a grindstone."

Game director Konrad Tomasziewicz, meanwhile, called out Ultima VII: The Black Gate as the game that made him want to develop RPGs. Check out the full article for more insight from the Witcher 3's dev team.

Missile Cards

It's a Missile Command situation: comets and bombs plunge from alien skies toward your base, and you need to defend yourself before you're wiped off the planet. Your defenses come in the form of cards: laser cards and missile cards, primarily, in this turn-based game from developer Nathan Meunier. Missile Cards is a bit of a casual game in that it's easy to learn and playing a hand only takes a few minutes. But it's tough challenge, and winning even a few consecutive hands isn't so easy.

Your base has a main module, which begins with a few ticks of health, and two sub-modules on either side, which can each take one (non-nuclear) hit before being destroyed. Cards—which represent both the falling threats and your defenses—cycle through an airlock, one by one. When a threat card, like a comet or bomb, reaches the right-hand slot, it appears in the sky over your base and begins to fall. Your defense cards, meanwhile, need to be picked up and placed in one of the four empty slots above the threats. It takes a few turns for your defenses to charge (there are also battery cards you can use to fill them more quickly) before they can be launched to destroy the threats.

There's an enjoyable bit of strategy involved in defending your base. If a two-point comet is about to hit your base, and you've got three points of health remaining, should you use your four-point missile to take it out? Or should you let it hit, in case a four-point comet appears later? Discarding cards can power an unlockable laser defense weapon as well, so there are times when it makes sense to throw away a powerful defense that needs time to charge in favor of powering your laser for a quick strike. You can also collect extra points with a tractor beam card, but that beam needs to be charged (so it'll take up a defense slot for a while) and takes a turn to use, which is risky if there are a lot of threats incoming.

Strategizing is fun: it's satisfying to plan the use of your cards carefully and a relief when a risky gambit pays off. However, Missile Cards can often feel unfair, such as when there's a long line of threat cards cycling into play and you simply haven't had enough powerful defense cards to fend them off. I guess that's just card games in general: You can't win every hand of solitaire, right? A string of losses, when I never have even the slimmest chance of winning, does put me off a bit, though.

There's also a progression system, and earned points can be spent on upgrades. Some are card-based, like a missile that can be manually targeted at the threat of your choice (typically, defenses will attack the nearest threat), a base-repair system that can restore modules over a few turns, and more powerful cannons and energy weapons. You can also slowly add to the starting health of your base, unlock a forcefield, and add a base-regeneration power. These upgrades take a long, long time to earn, as points for upgrades are doled out very sparingly, so you'll need to play lots of hands before you can become a Missile Cards powerhouse.

But it's easy to play a lot of hands: each round only takes a few minutes, so it's perfect for short and mostly sweet gaming during your breaks, at lunchtime, or when you've got a few minutes to kill. Missile Cards is built with GameMaker Studio and has a nice retro feel: attractive yet simple graphics with a catchy chiptune soundtrack. You can pick it up on Steam for five bucks.

Stardew Valley

After months of murmurs within the farming role-player's forums, Stardew Valley now has localisation in six new languages. Update 1.2 also brings with it improvements to controller support as well as a host of bug fixes. 

Surplus to its default English option, players can now sow and socialise in German, Spanish, Russian, Japanese, Simplified Chinese and Brazilian-Portuguese. 

Publisher Chucklefish bills this as the latest update's "biggest" new feature, however controller support has been improved across a couple of key areas—such as snapping between menu buttons as default, and accelerating faster in the event this function is disabled. 

On the bug fixes front, the following points have been resolved/adjusted: 

  • Fixed lighting shader not covering the whole screen on Mac and Linux.
  • Switching from 'Windowed Borderless' to 'Fullscreen' should now go straight to fullscreen instead of Windowed mode.
  • Wallpapers and floors no longer have a tile placement indicator showing a random object.
  • Increased stability of preference-saving code. This should fix infrequent crashes that require the player to delete startup_preferences.
  • Fixed a crash that can happen when a pig tries to spawn a truffle but there’s no space for it.
  • Fixed a couple of rare crashes that could have occurred at any time during the game.
  • Fixed a typo of the word ‘pronounce’ in the marriage event.
  • Fixed the player not getting the recipe for Cookies if they skip Evelyn’s event.
  • Farming level now affects crop yield prior to level 10.

Chucklefish also notes that update 1.2 is for now exclusive to PC and that while Steam players should see the update installed immediately, GOG players may notice a slight delay in its implementation.

Outlast 2

On the off-chance you've been hiding behind the couch since watching the duo of Outlast 2 trailers that landed last week, let me remind you that Red Barrels' latest survival horror offering is out today. You might've caught James' review yesterday, or his words on how it has one of the most intense endings of any horror game ever. Then again, you might have avoided all that as you're yet to play the first game. 

If that's you, let me tell you the Humble Store is giving away a copy of the original Outlast free-of-charge with every purchase of Outlast 2 for as long as stocks last. As it stands, Miles Upshur's venture into the Mount Massive asylum costs £14.99/$19.99 via the retailer, so by parting with £22.99/$29.99 for its sequel, you stand to make a decent saving. 

For the sake of recapping, here's an extract from Chris' 2013 review:  

"With no weapons to fight off the lunatics, you can hide – inside lockers or under beds – and watch as your pursuers either stalk slowly past to look for you elsewhere, or suddenly spot you, drag you from your hiding place, and tear you to pieces. Or you can run: vault over obstacles, leap across broken staircases, pull yourself into vents, squeeze between obstructions, and yank doors open and then barricade them behind you, all which feels fluid and natural, like a nightmare version of Mirror's Edge. When you're not running or hiding, you'll be scouring the building for spare batteries for your camera, for keys to unlock doors, or for the nearest exit." 

And here's another look at Outlast's launch trailer:

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