L4D Blog
Product Update - Valve
An update has been released for Left 4 Dead 2

- Fixed an edge case where a Survivor that should have been incapacitated from taking damage would be killed instead, even though the Survivor wasn't on third strike.
- Cheat-protected some sound mixer commands to prevent exploits.
PC Gamer

Welcome to schadenfreude corner. Today we submit for your approval the story of a CS:GO league player banned mid-match during an ESEA livestream.

YouTube user Megaberna captured the moment that ESP's Flex was booted from today's Main league game against Grandpa Berets.

According to ESP's leader 'espgodson', the team had no idea Flex was running hacks. In fact, Flex was only playing as a stand-in, as the ESEA require that two members of the previous roster are present for the first few matches of a season.

"Everything was very rushed and we only needed him to play 2 matches," 'espgodson' writes in a Reddit thread. "Anyways, just wanted to come on here to say that none of us had any idea he was cheating and absolutely no one on our team would ever intentionally do something like that."

Another comment in that same thread claims that, after the ban, Flex admitted to having used cheats on ESEA servers for the past week, and that he did it to stop himself from playing the game.

This is far from top-tier pro-drama; Main being the third division of the ESEA league—under Premier and Invite. Nevertheless, it's entertaining to see a competitive player get publicly shamed for cheating during a livestreamed match.

For more on cheating in Global Offensive, check out Emanuel's detailed investigation into what is a million-dollar business.

PC Gamer

Three Lane Highway is Chris' weekly column about Dota 2. And Smite. It's about Smite now too, apparently. The amazing fan art above is by Reddit user Pitran.

I've played Dota 2 almost exclusively since July 2012. For a long time it was the only game of its type that I played, and I've spent an order of magnitude more time with it than any other game of, well, any other type. I wouldn't be surprised if the time I've spent learning to wizard exceeds the time I've invested in games generally over the last two years. I held, for a long time, that you couldn't play more than one of these games seriously. I still believe that. Over the last few weeks, however, I've made a concerted effort to learn another—Smite. It's taught me a few things about the genre as a whole, and made me question a few further things that I held to be true about Dota 2.

Here's one new idea: surrender mechanics directly benefit support players. Back in July of last year, I wrote this article about why Dota 2 doesn't, shouldn't give its players a surrender button. I haven't entirely changed my mind about that. I still believe that the 'white flag' option makes these games less interesting overall. The Dota 2 experiences you remember are the late-game upsets, the incredible comebacks. Surrendering truncates the game, closes off possibilities, places hard limits on all of that fascinating complexity. In the abstract, I maintain that if a player is in a position where they must surrender then something has gone wrong with the game's provision of comeback mechanics. What I now realise, however, is that the decision to surrender is, in and of itself, a phenomena worth examining. The possibility of surrender creates new dynamics that alter the way you perceive the story of a match.

Dota 2's lack of a surrender option means that regular matchmaking games always end when one team destroys the other team's base. They can end no other way. It takes carries with good items and smart play by core heroes to do this, and the run of patches following last year's International have attempted to do away with ten-minute death pushes by giving defenders more options. Not only do games run longer, but the most important characters, in the end, are almost always the ones at the top of the farm priority pyramid. Earthshaker might start the ball rolling, but Faceless Void gets to kick it into the goal.

The same is true of Smite, to an extent. The role of the support, in both games, is to control the first half of the match so that it is your carries, not the other guy's, who ultimately succeed. This is where the 'Soccer Mom Crystal Maiden' meme comes from, and why support players are generally so rare—the role requires you to give up a substantial portion of your claim to glory. I've been playing support exclusively since I started to learn Smite because almost nobody volunteers to do it. As in Dota, everybody wants to play a solo roaming hero or carry. They want to make the big, game-ending plays—not the subtle supportive ones.

Teams can surrender in Smite, however, and this alters the prospects of what a support player can achieve. The goal stops being 'how do I ensure we have the best possible lategame' and becomes, in part, 'how do I break their spirits to the extent that there is no lategame'.

I'll give you an example. I've been playing a lot of Ares, a durable support who lacks burst damage but whose ultimate ability can completely turn a teamfight. The spell is called No Escape. Chains fly from Ares towards enemy players in a radius as he leaps into the air. After a few seconds he crashes down, dragging every player chained towards a central point and stunning them. Dota fans: imagine the lovechild of Magnus' Reverse Polarity and Disruptor's Glimpse. New Smite players tend not to buy the crowd control-breaking items that would get them out of dodge, so in these low-level brackets No Escape can act as a game-ending psychological weapon.

Case in point: my last game. The scoreboard is relatively even twelve minutes in. Both teams are almost entirely comprised of junglers and high-damage solo mages. As support Ares, I'm the exception. One of our guys disconnected at the beginning of the game and didn't come back for a few minutes, ceding an early gold and experience lead to the other team that we're only just clawing back. They've grouped up to push down middle lane. I tap two key combinations into the Tribes-style audio command system.

[VD2] Defend middle lane!

[VVVR] Ultimate is ready!

I approach the clustered enemy team from behind, from the jungle. The third-person perspective makes shooter-style sneak attacks a possibility. My blink is on cooldown, but I'm among the enemy team before they have time to do much about it. No Escape connects with all five. During the leap I draw them forwards, closer to our tower. They're dragged into a Chronos nuke; into that impassable ring thing that Odin does; into Loki, who presses a bunch of buttons I guess. (I'm still learning the gods.) Full teamwipe, a five-to-zero victory. They surrender immediately afterwards.

I wasn't the character who picked up the multi-kill, but I, the support, was the character who ended the game. I'd dealt the killing blow to morale in a way that I couldn't aspire to do to the enemy's base.

While I still don't think that a surrender mechanic is ultimately right for Dota, its presence in Smite has demonstrated the role it can play in redistributing power among the team. It allows for demonstrable displays of authority among 'subordinate' player roles, and creates scenarios where victory emerges from something other than a mounting lead in farm or experience. These kinds of psychological early wins play a huge role in Dota 2, of course, but I think the greater emphasis on the power of late-game carries makes them less visible to players who aren't specifically looking for them.

'Momentum' is a word that comes up a lot while discussing the way that teams win games of Dota, and I've written before about the way that this can be thought of both in terms of game mechanics and team psychology. Wins tend to beget more wins, because you've gained a material and emotional advantage. 'Snowballing'. Recently, I've been thinking about this slightly differently. I think there comes a point in the game where your team is in a position to decisively flip the 'victory switch', to turn an advantage into a done thing. This means more than just following the trajectory your momentum has laid out for you—it means identifying an exact methodology for ending the game and then pulling it off. It means closing off uncertainty and confirming victory; if a team's surrender represents a collective willingness to lose, then flipping the victory switch means collectively voting to win.

In that Ares game, the 'switch' could be defined as the moment we planned and achieved a one-sided teamfight victory. In a game where the majority of players on both teams had found themselves taking inconclusive trades in the jungle, a single convincing five-on-five was needed to establish dominance. In a sense, our opponents were right to surrender when they did: that fight in mid demonstrated superior capability stemming from a better-rounded draft, and it is reasonable to assume that we'd be able to repeat that success throughout the game and ultimately win. It was the beginning of the end and therefore, in some ways, the end itself.

Teams throw away their leads when they fail to make their advantage appear insurmountable. In Smite, the version of this I've seen most often is the single-lane death push. The key objective in the game is a Titan which, unlike the Ancient, can fight back against an attacking team. It loses power with every lane of buildings that you eliminate, but players on a roll typically attempt to punch through a single lane and win the game the most direct way they can see. This is often a really good sign if it happens to you, because it demonstrates that your opponent is willing to take risks—they are keeping the possibility space of the match open even as they attempt to end it, giving you options rather than decisively flipping the switch that takes your options away.

In a Smite match like that, that 'switch' might constitute the destruction of a second lane of towers, another Phoenix, or the Fire Giant. In Dota 2 it might be a faked-out split push that baits enough teleports to open up Roshan, followed by a jungle invasion that catches the smoke gank designed to counter the push your opponent believes is coming. These strategies are rarely seen in mid-level pub matches because they require teams to stop, assess what it would take to undo their own advantage, and then act decisively to reduce the chance of that happening to near-zero. It requires a desire to end, not just finish fast.

Learning to play a game with a surrender option has helped me to get better at identifying these moments, because it gives you unique insight into the mind of the enemy team. A surrender call tells you the exact point at which you have successfully drained hope from the equation: where even they agree that the victory switch has been flipped, and flipped by you. Over the course of a couple of weeks you learn the various shapes that moment can take.

That it sometimes takes the form of a play by the guy who buys all of the wards is a bonus, all things considered.

To read more Three Lane Highway, click here.

PC Gamer

The Counter-Strike: Global Offensive professional scene has suffered another gutshot, as evidence has come to light appearing to corroborate claims that an August 2014 match between iBUYPOWER and NetcodeGuides.com was fixed. Text messages posted by Ashley Blacklotus Leboeuf, a former girlfriend of Torqued player Derek "dboorn" Boorn, indicate that the outcome was prearranged, and that alternate accounts were used to place bets on behalf of other team members.

The authenticity of the exchange was confirmed by The Daily Dot, which posted screen caps of the exchange as part of a detailed investigation into the affair. Boorn acknowledges in the messages that iBUYPOWER "really did throw the match," and that community member Duc "cud" Pham used alternate accounts to place bets on the outcome. Information provided by the betting site CS:GO Lounge, meanwhile, confirmed that Pham used "smurf accounts" to place nine maximum-value bets on the match, each of them earning him a return of nearly $1200.

Perhaps most incriminating, CS:GO pro player Shahzeb "ShahZam" Khan, who now plays with Cloud9, issued a statement acknowledging that he placed a bet on the match based on advance knowledge of the outcome. Leaked images of a chat between Khan and an anonymous third party prior to the match were the first indication of a fix, although prior to this he had refused to comment on their authenticity.

"The day of this match I had placed a bet on iBUYPOWER. I brought up the bet while talking to Casey Foster, he then voice-called me on Steam Friends and told me to change my bet. He made it very clear the match was going to be thrown," Khan said. "I didn't want to get involved with any of it but I changed my bet, as I thought would be logical at the time while also sharing this information with a friend whom I assumed to have bet the same."

The CS:GO Lounge said in a statement that it does not tolerate match fixing, and that "hopefully this will now bet he last of match-fixing drama that we have."

PC Gamer

One of the most common things I hear from CS:GO players is that they have no intention of playing Competitive mode. For a variety of reasons, too: it's intimidating, it's unfamiliar, and it's a 45-minute commitment to being judged by strangers, potentially. But it's also the best way to play CS:GO—if you've been reading along, you already know.

I wanted to create a guide to getting into competitive play, but I decided that doing real-time coaching for a Competitive virgin might be an interesting. I grabbed GamesRadar's Lucas Sullivan, whispering sweet tactical nothings in his ear throughout his first match. What we recorded, I hope, represents a collection of some of the adjustments in mindset, positioning, and behaviors that players need to make when transitioning to competitive play.

PC Gamer

Three Lane Highway is Chris' weekly column about Dota 2.

Way back when, I wrote something about how it wasn't very useful to think about Dota 2 as a single game. My argument was that players approach the game in such diverse ways that many are no longer adhering to the same rules as one another. This is the source of the game's most vicious arguments in solo pub play—between the two people who both want to go mid; between the carry that wants to play for the late game and his team who'd rather win; between the armchair generals and those who are playing—shock!—for fun.

I've retreated from solo ranked over the last six months. I simply don't enjoy it. 'Real' Dota 2, for me, takes place with a full team of five people and probably involves a drafting phase. That's not to say that there isn't tremendous skill involved in raising your solo MMR, but it's not a skill I'm particularly interested in. Nowadays, my focus has shifted to teamplay, macro-level strategy, and putting together a hero composition that works.

Somewhere along the way, I've learned a couple of valuable lessons about Captain's Mode—particularly if, like me, you and your friends occupy the middle part of the skill ladder. Needless to say, people at the top don't stand to learn much from a man who can't stop blinking into Disruptor ults. For everybody else, I hope you find this useful.

Meta isn't better

There's a corollary between playing Captain's Mode and aspiring to be a pro—it is, after all, the mode that most closely resembles professional play. It's tempting, in this environment, to assume that professional-style picks and bans are always the right picks and bans. That simply isn't the case.

The metagame is a product of, and specific to, the very highest level of play. 'Top tier' doesn't really mean 'powerful', it means 'powerful in the hands of the best players'. If I'm playing against a random stack in team ladder and their first bans are Brewmaster and Razor then I take that as a very good sign: in the majority of cases their captain is thinking about a game they've watched, not the game they're playing. If I see this from a team I actually know it's an even better sign, because targeted bans are always preferable at a level of play where players have limited hero pools.

In the middle of the pack, I'd argue that pace or teamfight-controlling heroes like Silencer, Faceless Void and Tidehunter make for bigger bans than the current top tier. These are heroes that can strongly entrench a lead, and in general mid-level players struggle most when playing from behind. When picking, always go for heroes that you're familiar with over heroes that pro teams are drafting—unless you want to practice them, and you're willing to lose.

Under pressure

This one might actually be applicable to pro players, but only in certain circumstances. Try to be conscious of the amount of pressure that you're under. You may not feel any, in a regular match, or you may be playing in an amateur tournament or in-house and feeling nervous. Be conscious if you are in any way off your game, because players that are not affected in some way by pressure are incredibly rare.

In game terms, nerves act as a straight debuff to everything you attempt to do. If you are a 4K player normally, you have to assume that you're going to be a 3K or 3.5K player under pressure. Draft with that in mind. I love Brewmaster, but there are days when I know my brain just isn't in the right space. In those circumstances, I should play Centaur Warrunner. The same goes for the whole team—if you're in game two of a best of three and you've lost the first game, playing safe with the draft isn't a bad idea. This principle is how my team has ended up two games from the grand final of the Rektreational games industry tournament despite doing awfully in the first game of almost every match: we think too hard about the first game, and then we pick lots of big circular spells in the second and third.

2 EZ

Credit to Blitz for this one: when assessing an enemy draft, or your own, don't just look for synergies and obvious combos. Look at how easy it is for your opponent to achieve what they want to achieve. If you see a Magnus, Sand King and Gyrocopter, you can see the kind of teamfight they want to have. But as dangerous as that seems, it relies on a number of things going their way. That Magnus needs to be able to land his ult. Their team needs the presence of mind for everybody else to be in position—and so on.

On the other hand, a team with a lot of reliable stuns has far more room to move because it means less if any one member of the team makes a mistake. Answer ambitious drafts by making the game easy for yourself with disables and AoE and you'll win matches that, on paper, you should lose. It's for this reason that I secretly love Wraith King as an early pick: you can cycle him through a couple of roles if needed, he has a reliable stun, he answers wombo combos relatively well and—most importantly—he seems to bait out complicated powerplays from the opposing captain. It's after you draft WK that you see people draw Wex Invokers or Diffusal Blade carries, and unless you're playing teams who are particularly individually skilled at those roles they've probably just backed themselves into a corner. Then you beat them up in that corner.

The unifying theme, here, is staying humble. Know what skill bracket you belong in, why you're there, and what you can practically hope to achieve in the match ahead. Bear in mind that you won't always be able to make the big plays that you want to and that, when it comes down to it, you're probably better off picking another character with a ranged stun than going for whatever it was that Team Secret ran last week.

To read more Three Lane Highway, click here.

Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Alec Meer)

shots fired, and all that

Turtle Rock and 2K are currently on the receiving end of an Internet Frown due to their approach to DLC and pre-order gubbins in their impending humans vs monsters multiplayer shooter Evolve. They’d pared some pretty major stuff, including playable monsters, off into bonus payments, and as well as their various editions and DLC being simply confusing, there’s been concern that the game experience might be harmed by such bestial partitioning.

Turtle Rock now claim otherwise, and that this isn’t them cynically holding back finished content in the name of extra moolah. … [visit site to read more]

Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Philippa Warr)

Rek'Sai

Part of a miscellany of serious thoughts, animal gifs, and anecdotage from the realm of MOBAs/hero brawlers/lane-pushers/ARTS/tactical wizard-em-ups. One day Pip might even tell you the story of how she bumped into Na Vi s Dendi at a dessert buffet cart.>

For about as long as I’ve been playing MOBAs I’ve been aware of how monsters are portrayed in their game art. I love a good monster, just as I really like playing characters which fit different moods so when games seem to be holding back or skewing one particular direction I try to work out why and how I would change that. Here’s one of my ideas, plus some context.

Idea:

A Discworld MOBA would be a great idea, especially in terms of introducing more varied body types under the pronoun “she”. The point is not about losing busty ladies, but adding more diversity.

… [visit site to read more]

PC Gamer

The PC doesn't have a platform holder, and that's a blessing. But there's no denying that Valve's role is an important one in the industry, and that its decisions often have a tremendous impact on our hobby. With great popularity comes great responsibility: here's how we'd like to see Valve apply itself this year.

Make TF2 exciting again

Phil Savage

My favourite Valve thing of 2014 was the anticipation around the release of Love and War update. There was excitement, there was speculation, there was a funny Source Filmmaker video. It was everything a TF2 update used to be, with one exception: the update. There was a time when TF2 updates warranted the amount of excitement they received. The class events were significant. They dramatically changed the way you could play a class—giving new, divergent tactics to familiar operators. Also maps. TF2 launched with six maps. It now has over 70.

The Love and War update didn't have that game changing feeling... Sorry, I'll try that again. With the exception of the Conga taunt, the Love and War update didn't have that game changing feeling. The weapons were good, but I don't think weapons—even something as well-defined and desirable as the BASE Jumper—carry the same weight they once did. When there's only one way to play a class, a new item set has massive ramifications. Now there are multiple ways to play, and one more doesn't make as much difference.

In all, 2014 was a quiet year for TF2. Even the long-anticipated End of the Line community update was muted by Valve's decision not to include the Snowplow map. Their reason, supposedly, was that it was deemed too confusing and challenging for new players . And this is from the people who made Hydro. This is my worry with Valve now. It feels like they're afraid to take risks. The most exciting new inclusion of the year was the grappling hook, and that happened without fanfare as part of the Mann Co. Beta initiative.

Imagine if the same energy and excitement leading up to the Love and War update was rewarded by a new game mode, new maps and a goddamn grappling hook—all definitively released, rather than hiding away in beta. TF2 would, once again, feel like an event. Yes, maybe one of those maps would be terrible, but that would only make it more exciting when more maps appeared—these ones learning from past mistakes.

Aside from the Halloween event, every map added to TF2 in 2014 was released into beta. In 2015, I'd love to see the confidence come back. To see the TF2 team declare something ready—not just with a release, but with a week-long build-up that showed how a seven-year-old game could still feel fresh, exciting and essential.

Make the Steam Controller work

Tyler Wilde

It feels like ages ago that we were all talking about Steam Machines and the Steam Controller. It wasn t really that long ago, but Valve went pretty quiet on both fronts after a generating a lot of interest. I m still interested—not so much in Steam Machines, because if I stick a PC under my TV it ll probably be a laptop or something I build myself, but in the Steam Controller.

I m fascinated by what Valve s trying to do with the thing. Back when Evan tried it last year, he found the trackpads unwieldy, but if Valve can really design a new kind of controller that both emulates a mouse (and it ll never be as effective, of course) and works for games I d rather play with a d-pad or analog stick, then we may have a new best PC gaming controller in our hands. It s promising that, after we were a bit unimpressed by the first demos, new mockups keep appearing, which suggests that Valve is still tinkering with the whole design. I hope we see the latest prototype soon, and I m betting we will at this year s GDC.

Grow CS:GO

Evan Lahti

CS:GO became, with plenty of breathing room, the second-most played game on Steam in 2014, hitting 400,000 concurrent players for the first time this month. A lot of that growth is owed to CS:GO s reawoken popularity as an e-sport: more people than ever are watching competitive Counter-Strike, and the recent DreamHack Winter tournament (even with a bit of controversy) was an exciting watch.

But Valve s content updates, patches, and e-sports aid hasn t come close to the support given to its flagship game, Dota 2. CS:GO s support isn t proportional to its popularity, and Valve faces a playerbase that s hungry for anti-cheat fixes, new maps, weapon skins, and ways to engage with the game they re invested in if they want CS:GO to retain its position as the most popular FPS on PC against games like Evolve and Rainbow Six Siege.

Valve needs to continue to keep pace with hackers, and it needs to look to the old days of TF2 for ideas on launching in-game events that don t simply feel like money-grabs veiled in playfulness. But what would really propel CS:GO is a proper, The International-level major tournament—something that Valve owned and operated itself rather than relying on CS:GO s great-but-fragmented leagues to build interest around it as an e-sport.

Beyond that, I d love to see a CS:GO API opened up. Part of Counter-Strike is eliminating bad habits, and right now there s no easy way to track your match history (beyond watching your last few replays) or dig into meaningful stats.

A full year of Dota 2 updates

Chris Thursten

In 2015, I'd like to see the Dota 2 team continue to open up about their plans and processes. At the same time, I really hope that they're able to make this a bigger year for the game than last year. A lot of time has been invested in an engine update that will introduce custom game modes and make it easier for Valve to develop new additions in the future. That's great news - and user-generated content represents a potentially exponential increase in the game's scope. At the same time, I don't think I'm alone in wanting a stronger run of official updates. That means more new heroes in 2015 - potentially the first Dota 2-specific heroes - and proper seasonal events.

Valve may not see it the same way: they could argue, convincingly, that the future of Dota 2 was and should be in the hands of its community. Be that as it may, I think the last couple of years have shown that leaving everything up to the wisdom of crowds creates confused expectations and entrenches divisions. From the pro scene to the potato bracket, the Dota 2 community could use a bit of stability - and a solid year of official updates from Valve could help establish that.

Steam would benefit from a visual overhaul

Andy Kelly

Steam s feature set took a big step up with the addition of curators and, er, the colour blue in the client s basic skin in 2014. I would like to see a bit of housecleaning on the design of it—maybe contemporise the fonts a little bit. Reskinning is obviously an option, but I d like Valve s basic layout to be little more up to date. It s still very similar to when I first signed up years ago. On the one hand, that familiarity is nice, but on the other, Big Picture Mode and the Steam app on iOS show how much cleaner the basic layout of Steam could be with a refresh.

The thing we all really want

Chris Livingston

Let's address the strider in the room. For years now, every single bit of Valve news and every update Steam pushes through has resulted in a fresh round of sarcastic yet subliminally hopeful chatter: Half-Life 3 confirmed!

To which I say: slow your roll, Internet. We've got some unfinished business to attend to. A broken promise. A missing chapter. A little something called Half-Life 2: Episode 3.

I'm confident this is, deep down, what we all really want: another two-to-three hours of content using the same assets and enemies from Half-Life 2. We want to fight more slow, stupid Combine soldiers while they issue their familiar barks. We want to solve yet another giant see-saw puzzle with the gravity gun. We want to stare at a brick wall waiting for a new level to load, then run through the new level for three minutes, then stare at another wall while the next level loads. We want to climb back into that rusty, ugly-ass car and hit the gas only to immediately hit the brakes because the radar is showing a supply cache. We want to spend more time watching Alyx Vance do a bunch of cool things like bashing zombies with the butt of a shotgun or using a sniper rifle or climbing over walls, which we, as Gordon Freeman, cannot do ourselves for some reason. Most of all, we need to hold Valve accountable for their promise, made in June of 2006, that the three episode series will conclude by Christmas 2007. That's the "three" that's important, here. Not Half-Life 3. Episode 3. Make it happen.

j/k, of course. This year, Valve, just announce something, anything genuine about Half-Life 3, even if the announcement is that it's never going to come.

...

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