Counter-Strike: Global Offensive - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Matt Cox)

counter-strike-global-offensive-new-de-dust-2

It’s hard to think of a map in a multiplayer FPS that’s more famous or popular than De_Dust2. Dave Johnston created the original version of Dust for Counter-Strike 1.0 way back in 2000, with Dust 2 coming out the following year. How many other levels are worthy of a sequel?

Valve recently gave the Counter-Strike: Global Offensive version of the map an overhaul, their goals being to improve readability, refine player movement and update the visuals. I had a quick chat with Dave to get his opinion on the changes.

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Dota 2

It was the middle of a Monday afternoon when Marco Cuesta, co-founder of the blockchain esports platform FirstBlood, gave me a call. After plenty of jargon and esports talk had been thrown around, Cuesta's vision for FirstBlood was clear: The future of esports, he says, is one where high-quality competition and rewards systems are made available to everyone, not just professional gamers, and FirstBlood is going to help bridge that gap. But whether or not blockchain technology and cryptocurrency will really help usher in this new era is not so clear.

What is blockchain, and how can esports benefit from it? 

Blockchain is basically a decentralized network that's powered by peer-to-peer communications and transactions. If you're a fan of HBO's Silicon Valley, think of what Richard Hendricks was trying to accomplish with a decentralized internet—it's similar, but different. Instead of having companies maintain everything on a few servers, entire groups of people can interact with each other on a "block" that records data and transactions specifically for those people. Once the interactions are complete, the data is recorded for as long as the network exists, and the next "block" on the "chain" is created after a new set of interactions begins. You can think of each block as a unique page in an ongoing ledger.

FirstBlood takes advantage of blockchain by offering a "juror" system that allows people to review the results of a match if they're disputed.

A big draw of blockchain is the use of encrypted currency, or "cryptocurrency". This is a type of digital currency that's usually invented by a company or organization for its customers or users. What makes cryptocurrency secure is a process called "mining". As defined by Digital Trends, "Mining uses algorithms to go through each transaction, encrypt the cryptocurrency, and add it to a digital ledger, essentially verifying it and cementing its position online." The currency is visible to everyone on a specific block, so it's virtually impossible to counterfeit. 

Esports and blockchain intersect in uncharted and untested waters. While the benefits of this relationship need time to fully manifest, there are a couple of topics we can discuss with some certainty right now. The first is security. Blockchain-based platforms aren't vulnerable to DDoS attacks, which are annoying to users and can cost companies a ton of money to clear up. Since blockchain replaces centralized servers with distributed systems of thousands of nodes, there's no single target for a DDoS attacker to hit.

The second is more pertinent to esports: the need for better scoring systems. Nothing's worse than losing a match due to lag or some other anomaly that was either out of your control, or abused by your opponent. One way that FirstBlood takes advantage of blockchain is by offering a "juror" system that allows people to review the results of a match if they're disputed, and adjust the outcomes accordingly. 

So what is FirstBlood?

In the simplest of explanations, FirstBlood is an app that syncs up with your Steam account, allowing you to compete against other players on a ladder for in-game rewards. Only Dota 2 is supported right now, but more games will be added down the road. Once the competition window is live, FirstBlood tells competitors which in-game custom lobby to join. They risk tokens (FirstBlood cryptocurrency) on themselves, play the match, and the winner walks away with the tokens. The more you win, the more you can compete, and the leaders win items that have real monetary value. It's still in beta right now, and while I can tell you that the ladder rankings have been fluctuating, FirstBlood could not provide user numbers at the time this article was published.

FirstBlood also wants to break more into the professional level of esports. The company already has its feet wet in that regard with Dota 2 thanks to BITS (Blood in the Streets) EU, a tournament the company hosted back in June. Some big names including Team Singularity, Danish Bears, and Gambit Esports fought for their piece of a $5,000 prize pool in front of Twitch audiences that capped at about 3,500 viewers per match. While these numbers aren't a whole lot to write home about, if nothing else, it tells us that blockchain is up to the challenge of hosting significant events down the road. BITS Americas is currently being planned for next month in early November.

Most recently, and perhaps most significantly, FirstBlood partnered with the China General Administration of Sport to host the China University Esports League (CUEL), in which players from thousands of universities compete in each year. If successful, it could be a very big step for the integration of blockchain technology into the esports industry. 

Though these tournaments and partnerships are great for blockchain, it's still a very new and unproven technology in the gaming world. Even in the business world, where blockchain is most popular, analysts suggest that companies be wary of how they utilize this technology.

"Blockchain won't be a competitive differentiator," according to an article by Forbes. "It's an eventual commodity function that will be embedded in every organization's processes where it's needed most. The differentiation will be in how companies use blockchain for competitive advantage." 

The burden on blockchain esports platforms to establish what that competitive advantage is seems hefty. Think about a game like Overwatch for a minute. There's already a built-in ladder, as well as a reward system that's easy to engage with. It's simple, you don't need to constantly win to earn rewards, and your rolling stats are saved to your player profile after you're done playing a match. Blizzard even uses the regional Skill Rating system as a measure of one's worth to Overwatch esports. This isn't unique to Overwatch, either. It would seem as though the highest skilled players would prefer to stick with the in-game ladder for practical and professional reasons rather than compete on another platform, and casual gamers wouldn't have the need for anything beyond what the game already gives them.

There are quite a few possibilities for blockchain in esports, but the real question is whether or not the technology is in a unique position to help the esports industry evolve. There are plenty of companies out there that have some sort of technology aimed at improving or advancing competitive gaming. Some of them tweak latency, some of them have special products, and some even track your stats to give you a tailored path to improvement. Most, if not all, even host their own tournaments with the help of various sponsors. The addition of cryptocurrency is a nice touch if you're into that sort of reward system, but it's difficult to say whether or not the enhanced security and other amenities of blockchain will have a meaningful impact on esports in the long run.

The fact remains that the future of esports is one where the professional product exists alongside similar experiences for players and fans of all levels. In a sense, as certain esports leagues begin to adopt franchised structures to help pull the industry into local ecosystems, other evolutions need to occur at the casual level to propel esports to a visible space within mainstream culture. It may or may not be blockchain that brings about that change, but companies like FirstBlood are ensuring that progress never stops.

Half-Life 2

A Half-Life 2 mod released this week adds locations, characters and story beats that Valve cut from the original game. Dark Interval takes all the tidbits of information we know about drafts of the genre-defining FPS and stitches them together into a standalone game. 

This week's release is just part one of the overall project, containing 11 levels in total including a revamped prologue, a reworked Kleiner's Lab section and a new locale called Manhack Arcade, where the player sees citizens of City 17 remotely piloting Manhacks (those annoying flying robots with twirling blades) to kill fugitives in the city.

The development team have filled in some of the gaps too, adding their own original work. "Dark Interval doesn't include original levels found in the 'leaked' version of Half-Life 2, and instead features brand new maps which were built from the ground up. It was decided that this was the only way to make them both stand out and be actually modern and not just modernised fix-ups," the creators said.

You don't need a copy of Half-Life 2 or any of its episodes to play Dark Interval, but you will need to download Source SDK Base 2013 Singleplayer, which is readily available in the 'Tools' section of Steam. Dark Interval can be downloaded here—that page has all the instructions you'll need to get it running. 

Here's some more screenshots from the mod:

Cheers, DSO Gaming.

Portal

Every week, we ask our panel of PC Gamer writers a question about PC gaming. This week: which old PC game do you revisit regularly? We also welcome your answers in the comments. 

James Davenport: Portal/Portal 2

I can't count the times I've played through Portal and Portal 2. With over 100 hours clocked in each, I'm an amateur speedrunner at this point. I treat every puzzle like a choreographed dance, a nearly unconscious performance that to any observer unfamiliar with the series makes me look like the master of all time and space. Because the Portal series is a game about momentum—you're always anticipating the resulting arc of a 'toss' of your body after leaping from a given height far above one portal—it's become my new way to skip rocks without a pond. Except these rocks tell jokes. And the rocks are always funny. 

Andy Kelly: Broken Sword

I've replayed the first Broken Sword more than any other game. There's an element of nostalgia to it, as it was one of the first games I really loved. But it's also a great adventure game in its own right, with an atmosphere you can get lost in and a genuinely funny script. There are TV shows and films I watch repeatedly because there's something comforting about the familiarity, and Broken Sword is the videogame equivalent of that for me. I know all the puzzle solutions, but I still enjoy reliving that mystery and travelling the world as amateur detective George Stobbart.

Chris Livingston: The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

I still jump into Oblivion a few times a year. When I do it's often for a specific reason, like to test a mod or write a quick diary for the site (like finding the ugliest NPC or trying to poison everyone with apples) but I always stay a while longer since I still enjoy the game and the world. It's the first Bethesda RPG I ever played, and while it's not much in the looks department (and never really was) it's still one of the best examples of a free and open world where you can do whatever you like, be whoever you want, and tell your own stories.

Tyler Wilde: Quake II

I've played hundreds of hours of Quake 2 multiplayer—CTF, Action Quake 2, Rocket Arena—but I don't think I've ever finished the campaign. Even so, at least once a year I spend an hour getting Quake 2 to launch without crashing to play through the first level. I think I just like hearing the sound effects, which deserve credit for how weird they are. They Quake 2 blaster doesn't sound like any other game's energy pistol, picking up armor sounds like someone chomping down on a bunch of screws, and the Strogg are just bizarre—clipped, blown out, grossly-distorted. The way unique scents can bring back memories, these sound effects do it for me. Now please enjoy a song someone tried to make using the echoey menu sound effects.

Wes Fenlon: NetHack

On-and-off for the past year I've been playing NetHack, which was first released in 1987. NetHack is actually older than me, although it's been updated as recently as 2015. I can't claim nostalgia, here, or some deep childhood bond with roguelikes. I never played Rogue and only played NetHack for the first time a couple years ago. But it's now a regular part of my gaming life, and even when I take breaks from it I'm thinking about my last run. What kind of scrolls I could've written if my blessed magic marker hadn't run out of juice; how unlucky I got rubbing a lamp and spawning a genie who didn't give me a wish; how lucky I was to find an adventurer's corpse wearing dragon scale mail, a key piece of armor that can reflect instakill magic attacks. I've never beaten NetHack, and I don't know if I ever will, but when I play I'm constantly in awe of how broad and deep it is. Last time my pet cat got turned into a magic brain-sucking floating jellyfish, and then turned into a chameleon. NetHack is weird.

Tim Clark: Hearthstone (obviously)

To the surprise of nobody, I play varying amounts of Hearthstone every single day, and have done for three years. During the doldrums between expansions, I just log in and crank out the daily quest to keep my in-game Gold top. But when a new set launches, and I've got a deck I'm really feeling on the go, I might play for as much as a couple of hours a day. The thing with any mulitplayer game, though, is that I feel the serotonin rush of winning acutely, so I find myself Jonesing for that buzz if I stop playing. Equally, the tilt from losing what can feel like unfairly can really sour my mood. So for both reasons I end up rationing my play in a way that I wouldn't with a big single-player game like The Witcher III. Right now I can't envisage a time when I ever stop playing it completely though. Which is both comforting and kinda scary.

Samuel Roberts: Shadows of the Empire

I put Shadows of the Empire in my list of the worst Star Wars games a few months ago, and I'm still sure that was the right call. You sometimes have this weird thing as a critic where something you like is clearly not very good, and you have to call it as such, even if you've got a real soft spot for it personally. This is one of those games. Shadows of the Empire is obviously a pretty bad third-person shooter that made slightly more sense on the N64, and yet I've played the PC version so many times. I'm not sure I could recommend it to anyone but those who played it at the time, though.

I still love it. I played it yesterday, and the opening Battle of Hoth level is still one of the best ever put in a game—and there have been a whole bunch of them now across consoles and PC, almost all of which look better than this. The sound and feel of everything, from the scale of the walkers to the way snowspeeders handle, just feels spot on. On foot, Shadows of the Empire is never as good, but for a Star Wars-starved '90s, playing an original story set between Episodes V and VI was a treat, even if Dash Rendar is a mildly ludicrous figure. I even had the Micro Machines set. 

Dota 2

Valve’s been tormenting Dota 2 players for a while now. The 7.07 update, The Dueling Fates, was coming, but when? And what would it bring with it? There were teasers, sure, but not much solid information. Lost and confused, players started wandering the streets, grabbing strangers and demanding to know when The Dueling Fates was coming out. The strangers didn’t know. 

But now we all do! Finally, Valve has announced the release date for the big update, and it’s soon: November 1. Now everyone can just relax. 

We still don’t know much about it, mind. Two new heroes are on their way, however, so that should shake things up. 

Everything will be revealed soon enough, however, as we can expect the patch notes before November. 

Left 4 Dead - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (RPS)

Sometimes you need a hand to hold, so we ve updated our list of the 25 best co-op games to play on PC with a headset-wearing friend or a muted stranger.

Whether solving puzzles, sneaking, shooting zombies or stabbing mythical creatures in the face, the existence of another player adds an element of unpredictability. You might synchronise your stealth takedowns and execute the perfect plan, but it’s just as likely that your co-op partner will constantly alert the guards and throw your situation into chaos. Luckily both success and failure are more compelling when you can take credit for the former and blame someone else for the latter.

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Dota 2 - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Brendan Caldwell)

Nemesis this

Who’s your worst nemesis? This week the RPS podcast, the Electronic Wireless Show, is talking about our most reviled enemies, against whom we hold deep, lasting grudges. Matt harbours a lasting bitterness for Silencer, the magic-cancelling war jerk of Dota 2. Adam is fuelled by a dark hatred for the final boss of Ancient Domains of Mystery, a giant ‘@’ symbol called Andor Drakon. And I still maintain a grievance against an entire electricity company in Final Fantasy VII. They killed my friends>.

And speaking of nemeses, we’ve had plenty of time to play Middle-earth: Shadow of War, the icon-hoovering game of anti-establishment orcs, which has us divided. The Evil Within 2 also gets some attention, as Adam runs from spectres and fails to stealth-kill hideous monsters, and I am publicly shamed in Tekken 7 by a robot who takes off her head and throws it at me. (more…)

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Alice O'Connor)

The iconic level De_dust2 has returned revamped to Counter-Strike: Global Offensive [official site], having been removed from the main playlists in February. This new version makes a few tweaks to how it plays and brings a fresh new look. Kiss that early ’10s murk and grime goodbye and welcome in this modern city. The new Dust2 hit test servers last week then fully, properly launched for everyone last night. (more…)

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Alice O'Connor)

Wotcha gang. Your old chum Alice here for this week’s charts, as everyone else has been fired. Out of a cannon. Blown into a jillion little pieces. Hence the Apocalyptic yellow tone to the skies today. Hold your breath when outside, and hold your breath while we count down last week’s top ten of the top-selling games on Steam.

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Counter-Strike

Image by DoctorRed2000 on DeviantArt

For the last few days, Valve has been teasing the release of a revamped version of venerated Counter-Strike map Dust 2, and yesterday they spilled the full beans on the new facelift. Valve's been refreshing old Counter-Strike maps for a while now, in an attempt to keep CS:GO looking as modern as possible, but messing with Dust 2 is a bit more of a risky proposition than modifying less-played maps like Train.

The more beloved a map is, the larger the potential backlash will be. Dust 2 has been a staple of competitive play for over 15 years, and was far and away the most played map in the game until its removal from the active map pool back in February. 

It's not surprising, then, that Valve's rework is so conservative. While all the assets have been replaced with higher-res, higher-poly ones, achieving the goal of bringing the map in line with modern graphical expectations, changes to the way the map plays are modest. 

The biggest change is to the visual clarity, which has been improved across the map. Most of the dark or busy looking areas that allowed players to blend in with their surroundings have been illuminated: the tunnels leading to B are much brighter thanks to a new open ceiling, and a lot of the crates throughout the map have been draped in white cloth to better contrast with player models. Bombsite A benefits from the deletion of the busy-looking doors at the back of A long, and some cleanup of the wall decoration along catwalk. These are bound to be uncontroversial changes, and are in line with what Valve has been doing with the other map facelifts.

There’s also been some common sense cleanup work that probably should’ve happened years ago. Stuff like widening the window from CT spawn into B site, and simplifying the scaffolding near CT-side mid doors, feels like pretty basic quality-of-life improvements that will prevent newer players from getting stuck on weird geometry or having their shots glance off of random pipes.

What impact will these changes have?

In the coming weeks we’ll get a better idea of the full ramifications of this update. A couple things to keep an eye on will be whether the new single car on A long (which replaces a pair of cars that were at odd angles in the map’s previous version) will actually be useful as cover now, and whether the increase in room to maneuver behind B site’s car will increase its viability as a hold point for CTs.

It s a healthy overhaul that makes some modest but interesting changes without reinventing the wheel.

There are also some subtle changes that may not even be intentional, and may or may not have a substantial impact on gameplay. Foremost among these is a problem we’ve seen already on some of the other modernized maps, but doesn’t seem to have caused enough of a ruckus to attract Valve’s notice: almost every previously-flat surface is now slightly bumpy (presumably for visual fidelity reasons), which affects the way grenades bounce off of floors and walls. Given how big of a deal smoke and flash placement is in CS, this may prove to be problematic in the long term, as it’s going to reduce the accuracy with which banked grenades can be placed.

Also on the topic of small, maybe-unintentional changes, the spawn locations have shifted slightly. A helpful redditor has pointed out after exploring the map that counter-terrorists can now get to their side of A long a full two seconds before terrorists can get to theirs, which may impact which corners CT players choose to hold, and which angles T players choose to peek from. Again, these are the kind of changes that will require some time to shake out, and we won’t know the full effect of this stuff until the competitive meta has fully adapted, which may take even longer than usual given there's a decade-plus of habits to unlearn.

But Valve seems to have struck a good balance with this update. It’s a healthy overhaul that makes some modest but interesting changes without reinventing the wheel. From a purely visual perspective, the new Dust 2 is beautiful, and undeniably an upgrade from the previous iteration. The terrorists have also gotten new higher-fidelity player models as part of the deal, and they’re a big improvement over the dated look of the existing models. (Puzzlingly, the CT models have not gotten the same treatment thus far.)

There are of course a host of bugs related to the new geometry, allowing for all manner of unintentional boost spots and weird clipping, but this has always been the case with these big map refreshes, and generally they get fixed in a fairly timely manner. Once these issues are addressed, we should expect to see Dust 2 re-added to the Active Duty map pool (possibly at the expense of Cobblestone) and the tournament circuit will quickly demonstrate what effect, if any, the update will have on the way Counter-Strike’s most iconic map is played.

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