Warhammer: End Times Vermintide is a pretty clunky name, but I guess snappy titles are the last thing on your mind when you're facing down an apocalyptic horde of man-rats. A metaphorical tide of vermin, if you will.
You can get a brief idea of what such a tide might look like in the above teaser trailer for Fatshark's co-op FP, er, B. That's first-person bludgeoner.
For more on Vermintide, check out Evan's first-look preview.
Nvidia held a press conference at GDC on Tuesday to announce "the world's first Android TV console," the $200 Nvidia Shield. No, not that Nvidia Shield from 2013. And no, not the Nvidia Shield Tablet from 2014, either. The new Shield is a slicker looking piece of hardware, but is built for the living room instead of being conveniently portable like the last two devices to bear the same name. It's also running Nvidia's latest mobile GPU, the Tegra X1, which uses the same Maxwell GPU architecture as Nvidia's latest graphics cards.
Nvidia claims some big things for the Shield. It can play 4K content. It can play console-caliber games. That is, console games from the Xbox 360 / Playstation 3 generation, like Doom 3: BFG Edition, Crysis 3, and Borderlands: The Pre Sequel (which ran at about 20 frames per second in an on-stage demo. To be fair, it's still unfinished).
The Shield has 3GB of RAM, 16GB of internal storage, and a slew of connectivity options: Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, HDMI 2.0 and USB 3.0.
The company says more than 50 games "optimized for Shield" will be available for the platform at launch in May. Remember, those are Android games, and while Nvidia's list does include the upcoming Batman: Arkham Knight, Android ports of AAA games are still fairly rare.
To pull most of the big games onto the Shield, Nvidia's expanding its long-in-beta GRID program into a publicly available subscription service. GRID is an on-demand streaming service which uses servers full of Nvidia GPUs to render games, encode the data as a video stream, and send it to your home via the Internet, so you can play a demanding game on limited hardware. Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang said the company has been working for years to shave off latency in the cloud gaming system.
GRID will have free and paid subscription models. No word on pricing. Paid subscribers will be able to stream games at 1080p, 60 fps. And subscribers will also be able to buy fully-priced new releases to stream.
If the ideas of an Android console and a cloud gaming solution sound familiar to you, despite Nvidia's "world's first" claims, that's because they should: we've seen these same ideas played out with the Ouya and OnLive, though neither had Nvidia's money or engineering prowess. We love it when Nvidia puts its full might behind developing new hardware to push gaming technology forward, but there's not much here you can't do with your PC already. There's not much here you couldn't do with a gaming PC five years ago.
The Shield system goes on sale in May for $200, with a controller included. A remote that you can talk to for Google voice controls and an aluminum stand for holding the system upright will be sold separately.
This year's catalog of GDC panels included some Counter-Strike: "Community Level Design for Competitive CS:GO" a series of words that are alarmingly up my alley. There was no way I wasn't missing a panel dedicated to competitive CS:GO, especially when retired Counter-Strike pro player Sal "Volcano" Garozzo and Shawn "FMPONE" Snelling (who we've featured previously on our site in the series "Building Crown") were doing the panelin'.
I'm still writing up my notes and recorded audio from the presentation, which I'll share soon in a separate story. After the panel, though, I pulled Garozzo and Snelling in front of a camera to get them talking about the state of CS:GO's esports scene and the immortality of de_dust2, likely the most-played map in the history of gaming.
Given that hardly a week goes by without some new crowdfunding car crash to wring our hands over, it s a relief to meet a team which seems to have its shit entirely together. At this year s GDC I met with Alex Preston, Beau Blyth and Teddy Diefenbach to find out how Heart Machine s hotly-tipped and heavily-backed Hyper Light Drifter is coming along. When I saw the game at the same event a year ago, only the co-op horde mode was playable. The story stuff, in which the eponymous Drifter searches the land of Buried Time for the cure to a mysterious disease, remained under wraps.
It was clear even then, though, that the crunchy combat and ultra-stylish animation made Hyper Light Drifter stand out, and feel like more than just another pixel art nostalgia trip. Yes, the game nods vigorously at classic 16-bit JRPGs, but it s fresh and modern too. It s also pretty hard. This time we did sample the single-player mode, as PC Gamer editor Samuel Roberts and I took it in turns to explore the top-down vividly coloured landscape whilst gunning down and chopping up the local fauna, passing the controller each time one of us died. Which was often.
The exact illness that ails the Drifter isn t clear, but it must be bad given the number of aliens he s willing to kill for the cure. There s not a lot of heroism in this story, notes Preston. It s a very selfish story ultimately. Or maybe the Drifter just likes watching their death animations, which are all gasping mouths, spurting blood, and clawing claws. Wonderfully evocative, given the deliberately limited palette. The weapons we get to try also have a consistently pleasing heft and plenty of variety. I particularly liked the reflective rail gun, which enables you to line up Paul Newman-style trick shots, whilst my colleague prefered landing massive splattery crits using the short-range blunderbuss.
Smartly, for the sake of both balance and encounter diversity, you can t just sit back and blast creatures into their constituent pixels. Ammo is stingily limited, and to replenish it you need to use your dash to get close and perform sword kills. Dash also functions as your Ninja Gaiden-style dodge, and you d better get good with it if you don t want to get known as the Hyper Dead Drifter. Samuel observed that the core of the combat is essentially running away , but I think, once mastered, you ll be flitting around the battlefield chopping heads and popping shots between judicious dashes.
Balancing difficulty on a game like this, without an enormous QA department, requires innovative approaches. Particularly as the people making the game are, inevitably, the best players at it, and therefore not necessarily best placed to judge what s easy versus what s annoying. Last September saw a three-day preview build go out to Hyper Light Drifter s backers, and more recently the team used students on a university game design course as their guinea pigs. One of the key pieces of feedback, which is heavily analytics driven, was that typical players were taking a lot longer to explore than the Heart Machine team had expected. This emboldened them to actually cut some content, on the basis they d rather go for an all-killer, no-filler approach. I would rather have a polished experience than a long experience, says Preston, and I think most people would.
This has meant losing some material that was either deemed extraneous or not as effective as the best bits. Preston describes the process as distilling Hyper Light Drifter down to a more refined, pure crystal meth version, rather than having it blown out everywhere.
I note that that no-one wants to play the bad meth. No! says Preston. Nobody wants the coke cut with baking soda. We want the pure Colombian. Diefenbach laughs and queries: Pure Colombian meth? No, coke! replies Preston. I switched drug metaphors.
What I don t expect will get cut are the boss encounters. We saw two, and both seemed fun and, putting it politely, quite challenging. In the first, Samuel was repeatedly crushed and frozen by a giant green crystalline queen. In the second, with Preston manning the controller, a giant cybertoad thing vomited up scuttling enemies. The sound effect isn t in yet though, so Preston provided an a cappella BLAAAAAARG each time the animation happened. Such is life on one of the highest profile indie games currently in development.
Once we re done playing, I ask the three of them if, given the increasing scrutiny on crowdfunded games, they feel any additional pressure to deliver a game that satisfies the backers expectations. I don t feel pressure, says Blyth, whose credits include Samurai Gunn, and who genuinely seems completely relaxed. Our community is very positive and Alex puts a lot of work into checking it and keeping up with people. Whenever we've had to push stuff [back], people have been like yeah, we good. You re just trying to make it better.
I wouldn't say pressure, adds Diefenbach. I think responsibility for sure. If I didn't feel like we had a handle on it, that would be a big problem because keeping the Kickstarter ecosystem alive is important. Maybe not necessarily to our game, because we have our funding already, but to our colleagues and other people. And, you know, if we ever wanted to kickstart something else, keeping accountability as part of that community is super important. If the floor falls out then that hurts a lot of indie development.
I think people found that Kickstarter is not just a pre-order system, says Preston.
I think people still think it s a pre-order system, says Blyth, laughing.
Communication with the backers is obviously key. It s when developers go quiet that the horses get startled. I think people are starting to become a little more wary of no-names, says Preston, or people that they can t necessarily trust, because there s been failures and scams here and there. Not just in games. With crowd-funding you have to be able to trust the people you put your money towards.
Diefenbach believes that many of the current problems with crowdfunding stem from misperception. There this conflict between what Kickstarter eponymously is supposed to be—which is a way to get a project started—and what it has become, in terms of audience expectation and how it actually works, which is [the idea] that you re funding the whole project. So that s why people are confused as to whether it s a pre-order or just supporting—and there are risks, because in the regular games industry, with a publisher or anyone else who s funding, you don t fund the whole game upfront. You establish a whole game budget, but then you fund a little bit and then you do milestones.
The release date for Hyper Light Drifter has always been kept deliberately loose. Early 2015 has become just 2015 , but from what we saw the game appears to be in rude health. The team sound confident that it will be out at some point in the second half of the year. Yeah, we re working hard to do 2015, says Preston. We have our schedule set and we re just working our goddamn asses off making it.
The focus now is on polish and fine-tuning to ensure the atmosphere and story come across as intended. Not that they re making it easy on themselves. The game will feature no words whatsoever, even in the menus. There will be a few cut-scenes to introduce more complex concepts, but again, all entirely wordless. Diefenbach grins when I ask him whether they just hate writers as he s walking us out. I don t think that s really the case though. I think the Heart Machine team knows that retaining a sense of mystery is a big part of what makes Hyper Light Drifter feel special. When it comes to being badass in outer space, maybe less really is more.
Valve has officially announced that the Source engine, the technology it first used for Counter-Strike: Source and Half-Life 2 in 2004, is getting a successor. Source 2 (which we've actually known about for quite a while) will be "available for free to content developers," according to Valve's Jay Stelly. "This combined with recent announcements by Epic and Unity will help continue the PCs dominance as the premiere content authoring platform."
It's not clear if Source 2 will be 'free-to-use' like Unreal Engine, which charges royalties on revenue, or if "content developers" excludes certain entities. We do know that it's targeted at both developers and modders.
"With Source 2, our focus is increasing creator productivity," said Stelly, according to the press release. "Given how important user generated content is becoming, Source 2 is designed not for just the professional developer, but enabling gamers themselves to participate in the creation and development of their favorite games."
Valve also announced a Vulkan-compatible version of the engine. Vulkan is a cross-platform graphics API formerly called 'Next Generation OpenGL.' Support for Vulkan is in line with Valve's push to get PC gaming away from Microsoft's DirectX API and onto Linux.
That's all they wrote about Source 2 (in the press release they sent us), so we don't know yet when Source 2 will be available, or what exactly the business model may be. Valve has directed us to a currently empty URL for more (www.steampowered.com/universe), so that's no help just yet. We've reached out to Valve with questions, and should be able to follow-up on the news soon.
Ahead of its SteamVR demos at GDC 2015 this week, Valve just announced a slew of new Steam-related goodies, including Source 2 and a new product called Steam Link.
According to a press release, "Steam Machines, Windows PCs, Macs, and Linux PCs will be able to take advantage of" Steam Link, which "allows you to stream all your Steam content from any PC or Steam Machine on the same home network. Supporting 1080p at 60Hz with low latency, Steam Link will be available this November for $49.99, and available with a Steam Controller for an additional $49.99 in the US (worldwide pricing to be released closer to launch)."
Steam Link sounds an awful lot like a low-power streaming box designed to serve as a living room client for Valve's Steam In-Home streaming technology. At $50, it'll be one of the most affordable streaming options around, but will, of course, require a gaming PC powerful enough to run and stream the games.
The press release also notes that Steam Machines from Alienware and Falcon Northwest are at GDC, with Steam Machines being released this November.
Valve's VR headset, with partner HTC, will ship "to consumers by the end of the year." Developer headsets will be available this spring.
Samuel and Tim got a chance to play an early build of Heat Signature at this year's GDC.
Samuel Roberts, Editor
Tim Clark, Global Editor-in-chief
Samuel Roberts: The last time I saw Heat Signature, Tom Francis s impressive procedurally-generated space heist game, I just about got to grips with its simple mission structure. Players dock their pod on these little green chambers floating through space, receive an objective, then go off to try and land on a larger enemy ship to perform some kind of criminal activity: usually collecting something illegally. The cycle then begins again. Each ship is randomly generated, so you never know exactly what you re facing when you dock. You can steal these bigger ships, too, and pilot them through the galaxy. It s like a 2D space sandbox to some extent.
This time, I had more of a feeling for the combat, which isn't a million miles away from Hotline Miami in being top down, mouse-controlled with a basic melee attack and weapons to collect. It s a bit tricky to get at first, but the arc of receiving your next target, swiftly docking with a ship, knocking someone out, stealing something then silently blasting off into space feels really strong. Of course, I m saying that like me or you pulled all that off without a hitch, which is just blatantly untrue, Tim. It took us both a while to understand exactly how Heat Signature works. A lot of hilarious failure with intermittent success.
Tim Clark: I knew from the get-go that my sausage fingers were going to betray me when it came to lining up the little pod with target airlocks. Despite the fact it s actually pretty forgiving in terms of the collision detection, I felt a terrible sense of performance anxiety as I clanged off hull after hull. It was a bit like failing an interstellar driving test, only with the creator of the entire universe holding the clipboard. However, once I got used to dabbing the thrusters a bit more conservatively, the get-mission/board-ship loop which Sam mentions began felt very moreish.
Heat Signature being a resolutely systems-driven game, the really fun stuff often happens with little warning. During one mission, I d barely stepped inside the ship I was meant to be hijacking when it came under fierce attack from another vessel. There was no time to parse what was going on before the hull had been cracked open and the crew had been sucked out to meet the chilly kiss of the void. Luckily, (relatively speaking), I hadn't been shot by any of the guards, so I wasn't bleeding out—but I was alone and adrift. Essentially the movie Gravity, but recreated with a few dozen pixels.
Hitting tab enables you to switch back to controlling your pod, then zoom back to collect yourself. I got pretty good at this part, because whenever you re shot whilst boarding, the guard who did the deed will carry your body to the airlock and toss it out like a bin bag. In space, no one can hear you complain about recycling properly.
Samuel: The ship coming under attack with you inside and subsequent recreation of Gravity was actually hilarious, Tim. It underlined how fun the elements of Heat Signature are when thrown together like that. Nothing even close to it happened in the rest of what was a pretty short demo, which bodes well for the chances of amusing, random chaos kicking off during ordinary missions in the finished game.
With the variety of your arsenal, too, there s room for experimentation in blowing things up. Detonation charges can blow spaceships in half when placed properly, and with a bunch of them in my inventory, I enjoyed irresponsibly planting them and then watching everything in the ship (including myself) get sucked out into the atmosphere. That sort of player-generated fun has a lot of mileage to me. You could fire a gun and attract a group of enemies, then detonate a room with them all inside to send them tumbling into space. I was a cowardly Hotline Miami player who constantly lured out groups of enemies with gunshots before beating them to death. This sort of tactic therefore appeals to me.
Ship Generation Concept Image
Click the arrows to enlarge.
A concept image showing possible different styles for random ship generation.
I m wondering how you found the combat, Tim. Basic melee attacks charge in a line, and you really don t have much of a chance when facing the enemy head-on. This is, in every sense, a stealth game.
Tim: Well, the disclaimer here is that I haven t sunk the insane amount of hours into Hotline Miami that you have. So, you took to smashing the guards skulls in with a wrench like a duck to a bloodbath. Meanwhile, I soon realised that I was going to have to lean heavily on stealth over combat to get any sort of piracy business done. I liked the fact that once onboard you can loiter in the airlock for a couple of seconds, while sketching out your plan for how to get to the objective.
One thing I m keen to learn more about is how the reward system will work. You can find ship upgrades, like improved coolant to help evade those pesky heat detectors, and additional detonation packs for blowing sections of ships away, but I d be keen to be able to find some more substantial rewards, either at random or for tackling really tricky missions. I guess there s a tension with replayability here, and not wanting players to feel punished for losing their stuff, because Tom suggests he expect the average life in Heat Signature to not last hugely long. So that maybe renders significant loot rewards pointless if you re going to be dead before you ve had much of a chance to use them. Do you think the structure seems compelling for long-term play?
Samuel: I think that those short lifespans actually make the upgrades seem more precious. Enjoy them, because they ll soon be gone! Tom teased other elements that ll encourage long-time play as well, which hold promise for the longer-term structure of Heat Signature. They re not in the game yet, but he wants to include a series of characters who you randomly encounter and unlock, who then have individual one-off missions, sort of like short stories within the galaxy that flesh out the fiction. He cited a revenge tale as an example, so that to me indicates that he s thinking ahead to what the player will be doing maybe five or six hours in. These instances would not be repeatable, which will make them feel special when they do happen.
Tim: Yeah, that stuff did sound interesting—and, contradicting myself here, I like the idea that if you balls up one of those missions then it s just gone for that playthrough. I m also keen to see how the different factions pan out. Tom seems committed to keeping them all human, but with different themes like industrial miners or junkers who cobble their ships together from salvage. He certainly didn't seem sold on the idea of aliens or robots, though the artist who s coming up with different ship designs has been making a case for them on the basis of the cool ship looks he s come up with.
Samuel: I like the idea of robots and aliens too, because I m an enormous child, but I also like that Francis is treating it as a serious sci-fi universe. Spaceships and stealing things. What s not to love?
Disclosure: Tom Francis is a former staff member of PC Gamer, though he never worked directly with either Sam or Tim. While Sam has been in the same pub as Tom a couple of times in the past year, they ve both made it very clear that they don t like each other. You can sign up to potentially be a Heat Signature tester here.
"So a bit of news: I have decided leave Dragon Age and move onto a new, upcoming BioWare project (which I can't discuss)," Gaider tweeted earlier this afternoon. "While it's hard to leave Dragon Age behind, 10 years is a long time to work on any one project. I decided it was time for something new."
Dragon Age wasn't Gaider's only contribution to the BioWare oeuvre. He also served as the lead writer on the Neverwinter Nights expansions Shadows of Undrentide and Hordes of the Underdark, and worked as a designer on Baldur's Gate 2: Shadows of Amn and the Throne of Bhaal expansion, and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.
Taking his place at the helm will be BioWare veteran Patrick Weekes, who's no slouch in the fiction-crafting department either: He has writing credits on all the Mass Effect games and expansions, as well as Dragon Age: Inquisition. "I'm honored to be continuing the Dragon Age story that @davidgaider set in motion, and I look forward to adding a lot of sexy unicorns now," Weekes tweeted.
Neither Gaider nor BioWare have offered any hint as to what this mysterious new project might be, but given that he's made the announcement about the move, I'd expect something to be revealed fairly soon. We'll keep you posted.