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For Max Payne, the tragedies that took his loved ones years ago are wounds that refuse to heal. No longer a cop, close to washed up and addicted to pain killers, Max takes a job in São Paulo, Brazil, protecting the family of wealthy real estate mogul Rodrigo Branco, in an effort to finally escape his troubled past. But as events spiral out of his control, Max Payne finds himself alone on the streets of an unfamiliar city, desperately searching for the truth and fighting for a way out.
Surreal stages, events, or gameplay that somehow just don't fit have always been present, and even expected. Their crazy graphics, weird aesthetics and ideas make sure that we have absolutely no idea what's going on. But they have their charm, they are funny, or they're simply part of the experience—and so we love them.
Broken menus, wonky mouse controls, single figure framerates - this is the familiar story of PC gaming prowess held back by consoles. We understand why it happens: console-land was where the majority of sales were, and thus the focus of development. But that reasoning has never seemed, well, reasonable: a trashy console port can knock a chunk off your Metacritic rating, sour a huge potential audience against you forever and lose you loads of sales on a platform that can be extremely lucrative if only you know how to approach it.
It's really not that hard or expensive. After all, a pair of talented modders managed to make Dark Souls' PC version immeasurably better within the space of an evening, and while devs might not want to spend resources making hi-res assets just for PC, there's plenty of really basic stuff that can be done to not totally fuck up a game. Which, given the amount of time, love and money spent on these creations, is surely something that would please the developers and publishers as much as their beleaguered PC audience.
We've thrown together a list of tips, common foibles and fixes - add your own in the comments!
On release, Binary Domain defaulted to gamepad inputs which could only be changed by running a separate settings program. Gnnngggn.
PC configurations are as many and varied as the gamers that own them. A PC game has to account for this with its range of settings. Have these options accessible in-game, and don't require the player to drop back to the main menu to change them. Definitely don't put them in a separate trainer which forces you to restart the entire damn game. (Hi there, Binary Domain.)
For the love of Baal, let us change the resolution. And definitely let us change the resolution before embarking on a lengthy unskippable opening cinematic in enforced default shatto-vision. (I’m looking at you, Max Payne 3 - or trying to, anyway.) Better still, autodetect the native resolution!
Let us at them. Particularly if, for whatever reason, you've decided to give charge of your keyboard inputs to someone who has never actually seen or used a keyboard before. How do you reach the main menu in Binary Domain? Oh, that’s right, it’s Enter. Of course. Then, when in the menus, you press space to select and F to go back. Obviously, in-game, F is the interact key - except when interact is space. Argh. Incidentally, Enter is not the PC's equivalent of the gamepad's A button - it's the furthest you can get from both hands in normal FPS control mode. So don't make it the compulsory key to dismiss pop-up messages.
Some games are designed for and best suit a gamepad. That's cool. But for games which might easily be controlled by either a gamepad or a traditional PC set-up, please autodetect which system is currently under use. Most games seem pretty good at this now, but there are still some stragglers.
Let those framerates soar free into the vast open skies of PC gaming wonderment. Also, let us fiddle with things like V-sync - with the vast array of PC hardware set-ups possible it is unlikely you will have guessed how to best optimise your game's performance for any one PC. Why wreck your hard work with dropped or torn frames when you could just trust players to tweak the game to perfection.
FOV sliders, particularly in singleplayer games, should be a given.
Field of View
PC gamers typically sit closer to their screens than console gamers and this changes the effect of a limited FOV. Unless you are setting out specifically to discomfit and sicken the player, offering the ability to adjust FOV will only make people like you. You do want to be liked, right?
If your game cannot do this, you are probably going to Hell, where you'll be forced to troubleshoot for irascible Windows ME users for the rest of eternity. Sorry about that.
PCs typically come equipped with a mouse - the perfect device with which to gaily skip through menus. Please make use of it. Do not make us scroll through a gazillion options when a single click would do. Relatedly, make your menus pay attention to where the cursor actually IS. Console ports, like many carnivorous predators, seem to only sense movement. So you often see the wrong menu option highlighted and have to wiggle the cursor a bit to make it notice where you're actually pointing.
Mice are not thumbsticks. This should be quickly apparent from their different shape. Do not duplicate the analogue stick deadzone with your mouse acceleration. (Got that, Dead Space?) Also do not impose momentum on mouse movements. My world stops spinning when my mouse stops, not a few seconds later, Syndicate. And don't use autotargeting systems based on the assumption that there are 8 degrees in a circle.
Sleeping Dogs was a port done right. It also featured a man urinating into a toilet full of sick. A rare game indeed.
Social media integration
Games for Windows Live
Don’t do it. You may think that we PC gamers object to GfwL because we are a prickly bunch who resent having to install yet another wedge of corporate molestation replete with its own superfluous achievements system, fragmentary friends-lists, cross-promotional guff, easily lost log-in details and so on - particularly when we are already so well served by Steam. All that might be true of Origin or uPlay, but it doesn’t come close to describing the genuine horror of GfwL, which remains one of the most ill-conceived and poorly executed pieces of software it is possible to install on your PC. It’s hideously designed, hugely unergonomic, painfully slow, intrusive and prone to complete failure in every single aspect of its operation. It’s just unbelievably terrible.
Piracy sucks. We know. However, the solution should never be to periodically lose players' saves, punt them to desktop mid-game or prevent them from playing the game altogether.
Now, we’re not asking you to create an entirely new assets pipeline for the PC alone, but in many instances textures are created first at high resolution then scaled down to fit onto the itty-bitty consoles. You can make use of those on PC, you know.
We salute your ongoing commitment to PC gamers by releasing fixes after launch. But don't leave it until then to make your game playable. Don't leave it until launch day, even. There are good business reasons for this: reviewers will be playing your undercooked code; you'll burn your earliest purchasers and most loyal customers; you'll lose momentum building a community among players (particularly key if your game has an online component); people will be more likely to pirate your game if they think it's not worth the risk of an actual purchase.
When it comes to deciding what game gets my attention and why, I am absolutely ruthless. I don't care how much better it's going to get, I don't care that it's actually an amazing game and I just have to give it a chance. No. If you mess up in the first hour of a game, I'm done.
I call these missteps 'deal breakers,' in reference to when there is something you can't overlook in dating—something that outweighs all other redeeming qualities.
Deal breakers don't have to happen in the first hour, of course—most of them do for me because once you've already invested hours into a game you might feel obligated to finish what you started. There's almost this expectation, right? That you can't talk about a game unless you've played it from start to finish, even if we're not talking about a review or anything.
This expectation/guilt is what drove me to finish Max Payne 3, even though I think I outright dropped the controller when Max said that even he has no freaking clue what's going on in the game anymore.
Early on though, there's no remorse. It's quick and painless to drop a game.
Recently I tried picking up Planetside 2. I liked MAG; I'm excited by the idea of large-scale warfare. I figured that Planetside 2 would be a good idea to try out, since it's an MMOFPS that promises "epic, massive combat" in battles that might last "days or weeks." Alright, cool. That sounds like a great premise! Count me in!
So I boot up the game, I pick my faction, and I'm dropped into a match. I see players all around me, they're running someplace else. I look at my map. I don't know where to go or what to do, really.
Early on, there's no remorse. It's quick and painless to drop a game.
But I figure the best thing to do is to just follow other folks—I mean, this is a shooter, right? How complicated can the objective be? I'm probably supposed to go somewhere, capture a point or something like that. Simple stuff. All else fails, I know that left click shoots.
I play for twenty minutes, following people, going off on my own, scaling buildings to get a better view of what's happening. I die a few times. At best I understand there's an area where I'm supposed to be, but I have no idea what to DO there. So I stopped playing.
Could've looked it up. Could have asked people. ...Could play a game that just gets it right instead of rewarding shoddy introductory levels where nothing is explained. I'm not even sorry; again, no remorse—there are games that get it right and those are the ones I'm going to spend time with.
Then we have games that treat me like an absolute idiot and overexplain everything—the tutorial never effing ends. I hate those too, and have been known to stop playing a game if it becomes too grating. But at least these set ups make it so that I actually know what the heck is going on!
Planetside 2's approach, where little is explained, CAN work. The most sophisticated introduction to a game is the one where nothing is explicitly said, and instead everything is communicated through design alone. In this, Super Mario Bros is famous: there's a goomba coming, and you only have a few seconds to figure out how to jump. In jumping, you're likely to find out about mushrooms—the breakdown of that level and its design genius is a fascinating read.
Worse than both the under-explained and the over-explained start to a game is the boring start to a game. A game that starts too slow, takes too much of its time, assumes that you will be into it merely because it exists.
These games probably won't grip you with an in medias res start, which is kind of like a running start in the middle of the action, as in Uncharted 2. They won't even give you an interesting premise to go off from, as in The Walking Dead's opening scene where you're in the back of a cop car. No. You will suffer through the boring and you will like it.
Unfortunately, as much as I adore Persona 4, I wouldn't blame anyone for dropping it because of its 4-hour throat-clearing. The game doesn't give you enough in the start to truly appreciate the sleepy town of Inaba, and if it weren't for the strength of Persona 3, I'd likely not have put up with Persona 4—which reveals that yes, deal breakers have some wiggle room.
Video games are pretty eager to blame players for killing when designers are the ones that turn on slow motion every time I score a head shot.
I think it would be pretty cool to have a game about how cruel oppressive systems survive by pushing their problems onto individuals.
If 2013 continues this trend, there's gonna be a lot of unfinished video games in my library.
But ultimately, the reason that so many of my deal breakers happen at the start of the game is that it's the most important segment of the game. It sets the mood, the tone, the pacing—everything, really. If my introduction to something goes awry, what is to say the rest of the game is redeeming? I shouldn't have to stick around to find out.
Do you have any game deal breakers—stuff that makes you drop a controller and go, nuh uh, this ain't happening? Share below!
This video from The Creators Project shows the band talking about the process of scoring the game, focusing on the stadium level (maybe my favorite music in the game) and that climactic late-game moment when the vocals kick in.
They've also shared some of the musical "stems" they used over at the Creators Project blog. You can listen to those below, and check out the various ways the band would layer sounds to make the music more or less intense. If you've played that stadium level as many times as I have, this stuff will be very familiar. HEALTH's John Famiglietti points out that numbers 2 and 4 are dominant stems, so they won't mix.
Nifty. Makes me want to go crack wise and dodge some sniper-fire.
I can't tell you how many hours I've lost in Max Payne 3 doing exactly what YouTube user birgirpall is doing here. Poor Max. There he was, brooding and going on about not saving the girl and what is my butt doing? Trying to do 'trick shots' with his body. Can I clear this gap? Can he fit through here? What happens if I bullet time off this ledge? Oh my god, why is fire a one hit kill?
Whoops, I got stuck in this place I wasn't supposed to go. Let's see where else I'm not supposed to go! Dead, dead, dead. Geeze Max, you're no fun.
But sometimes it wasn't even a choice. There were some parts where I knew I had to move forward, but I couldn't find the way up. And apparently Max dearest can't jump or climb a freaking step, so I ended up dramatically lunging over the smallest of inclines.
It's stair climbing, Max Payne style. You wouldn't get it because you don't know how screwed up the world is.
Nothing nearly as bizarre as how birgirpall manages to make Max go flying after colliding with a scared partyer though. Woah.
If I have to endure another level in which I must escape from a burning building on the verge of collapse, I'll set fire to my house. I'll collapse through the floor, tumble twelve feet onto my back, crawl at tedious pace through a low section, traverse a room that's entirely on fire apart from a narrow path of miraculously not-on-fire floorspace and then climb a series of conveniently collapsed roof beams to safety.
"Phew!" I'll think, "I'd have been in a spot of bother there if I hadn't played through pretty much the same section in Black Ops 2, Max Payne 3, Far Cry 3, Medal of Honor: Warfighter and twice in Assassin's Creed 3 this year."
It's not the fire that's annoying. Things tend to catch fire a lot in videogames. No, it's the feeling that there are mission designers worldwide calling their set-pieces from the same playbook. You could tear out the pages, laminate them and resell the package as an Action Adventure Videogame Construction Kit. Shuffle the cards and lay them out in a row for an instant framework.
Let's have a go with the modern military shooter edition: escape a burning building - sniper section - flee a helicopter - warehouse section - fire at pursuers from the back of a truck - breach and clear - press X to kill prominent antagonist.
This section felt particularly incongruous when it interrupted the terrific free-roaming violence of Far Cry 3, especially considering the fact that Far Cry 3 has a fantastic dynamic fire effects built into the engine. The "escape from burning building" sequences that emerge naturally from Far Cry 3's systems are much, much better than the scripted sequence written into their early story mission.
But not all games aspire to create a dynamic open world, and nor should they. But in a dedicated, scripted action game there's an even greater need for new set-pieces and fresh settings.
Take Bulletstorm, whose opening sections dramatically undersold its capacity for bonkers theatrics. Sure, it had a "fire at pursuers from the back of a truck" bit, but in Bulletstorm's case the pursuer was a colossal red doom-wheel that careered about the landscape blowing up pipelines and threatening to stomp the player into a smear at any moment. If action games are determined to be rollercoasters, we're sorely in need of some new twists.
You press a button, and the beat drops. Forward you fly, straight into the perilous unknown, beats pushing against your eardrums as you push back against the controller. Tempo and harmony swim together, and you lose yourself in the rhythm of play.
2012 has been a fine year for video game music. The finest in recent memory, I'd argue. We've seen soundtracks of every shape, size and tonal color, compositional collections complementing games that have incorporated harmony and discord in ingenious, exciting ways.
Granted, my affinity for this year's music is at least in part because it was the year I started running Kotaku Melodic, and so my awareness of all things musical and video gamey has been at an all-time high.
But as the list below demonstrates, this year was something special any way you look at it. It was a year in which game design and music composition moved ever closer, where composers and instrumentalists played vital roles in development teams, and where game-makers demonstrated a greater than ever understanding of the many things video games and music have in common.
Here, in no particular order, are our picks for the best video game music of 2012.
I was expecting to like Gravity Rush, but I wasn't expecting its soundtrack to cast quite the spell it did. Sweeping and old-fashioned, Kohei Tanaka's score conjured old Hollywood in a way that few games even attempt. It mixed Django-esque gypsy jazz with rambunctious orchestral arrangements to build a tone all its own. I chose this tune, "Gravity Days," because it so well captures the soundtrack's charm. Though it was hard not to pick, "Pleasure Quarter," which marked the moment when I truly fell for Gravity Rush. The color palate switches; neons dot the night sky, the violin kicks in, and Kat takes flight.
Even among this heady list, the Hotline Miami soundtrack stands apart. Assembled by a collection of artists, it channeled the 80s-tinged, neon-drenched funk of the game perfectly, and is entirely listenable on its own merits. This track, "Miami" by Jasper Byrne (whose soundtrack to his game Lone Survivor is also outstanding), perhaps best captures the energy of the game. But other tracks from M.O.O.N., Perturbator, Sun Araw all elevate Hotline Miami to a level of deep, almost filthy glamor.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown
It's not an easy thing to make a turn-based game seem fraught and action-packed, but XCOM: Enemy Unknown managed it with energy to spare. Part of that is due to the game's brilliantly tense mission design, but some credit belongs to Michael McCann's brilliant score. McCann lent XCOM the same futuristic flair for the dramatic that he brought to last year's Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and his combat music gets me pumped like no other. Mix that with the eerie, keening sounds of a quiet ("too quiet") battlefield, and you've got one of the best strategy soundtracks in recent memory.
Few game soundtracks have ever charmed me like Botanicula's. When I first played the game, I described the it as weapons-grade joyfulness, and it hasn't lost an ounce of charm. And the soundtrack is a huge part of the game. Crafted by the Czech duo DVA (who make a surprise appearance in the game), the soundtrack relies on a combination of strange homemade instruments and human voices. DVA also created all of the sound effects in Botanicula, and the resulting soundscape blends sound design and music into a ramshackle jamboree of hums, whispers, grunts, bangs, clangs, and whistles.
I came to FTL a bit late. Though I'd been assured of its quality, I hadn't found time to play it until a few weeks ago. And Ben Prunty's cool, beautiful soundtrack grabbed me with a qucikness. The most remarkable thing about this track, "Civil," is how immediately iconic it becomes. Specifically, the chord progression at 1:38. The moment I first heard it, I thought "That right there is the core of this entire game." And so it is. The more I've played FTL, the more I've come to appreciate Prunty's range, but it always comes back to that moment in "Civil." His work invokes the best soundtracks of the past while conjuring something new, and it fits marvelously with the thoughtful, methodical pace of FTL.
Max Payne 3
I can only hope that Max Payne 3's soundtrack is the start of a trend. Rather than hiring a traditional film or game composer, Rockstar tapped the noise-rock band HEALTH to create the soundtrack for Max's return to glory. It would appear that after hiring the band, Rockstar got out of the way completely and let them do their thing. The result is one of the most uncompromising, exhilarating action game soundtracks I've ever heard. It's drenched in sweat, and at times feels like the music of Death Itself. It flattens the competition, a collection of compositions so distinctive that it enhances every moment of the game it accompanies.
Jason Schreier: I had some issues with Xenoblade Chronicles, the Monolith-developed RPG that came out back in April for Wii—yes, Wii!—but its soundtrack, composed by Yasunori Mitsuda, Yoko Shimomura, Manami Kiyota, and ACE+, is undeniably stellar. From peppy jazz beats to gentle guitar strums, Xenoblade's music is eclectic, sweeping, and catchy as all hell.
Mass Effect 3
The Mass Effect 3 soundtrack needed to achieve the impossible: Tie together one of the most heralded video game trilogies of the current generation (with one of the best series-wide soundtracks) and give us closure. And, somehow, composers Clint Mansell, Christopher Lennertz, Sam Hulick, Sascha Dikiciyan and Cris Velasco did just that.
It's fitting that a large number of musicians was required to tie Mass Effect room together: The series has seen a number of composers over its five-year run, voices that always managed to combine into a cohesive whole. Best of all, the Mass Effect 3 sound designers even managed to contribute, weaving the music from past games into the ambient sound of several scenes, knitting together a aural tapestry that transcended backing tracks. This piece, "An End Once and For All," was the only one I could choose as emblematic of the Mass Effect 3 soundtrack. It's the rare piece of video game music that sounds exactly as grandiose as its title claims, and it achieves that not with the synths for which the series became known, but with a solo piano, eventually augmented by an orchestra. We'll miss you, Commander.
Sound Shapes is an odd duck for this list, since it doesn't have a "proper" soundtrack per se; the game is its own soundtrack. But the game's levels, which essentially re-imagine sequencer nomenclature as level design, are laid out in a way that lines up with today's remix/mashup culture and allows players just enough control to put their own spin on things without undermining the compositional intent of the musicians. This track, "Cities" by Beck, is the most well-known from the game, but all of them—crafted by musicians like Jim Guthrie and Deadmau5, stand on their own. It's a soundtrack you have to play, and for that alone, it's worthy of mention. The fact that the music is great on its own merits only sweetens the deal.
Dyad is another game inextricably linked with its soundtrack. Part chaotic racer, part simulated drug trip (or, accompaniment to actual drug trip), David Kanaga's score dips and dives, accelerates and drops out, all in line with the motion on screen. By the end of the game, play and music have blended together into a kaleidoscopic, occasionally nightmarish, entirely unforgettable experience.
I found Polytron's Fez to be a pleasant surprise—the game had been hyped for so long that I wasn't sure what to expect. But when I finally played it, I found that the colorful, dreamily nostalgic game was both smaller and more specific than I'd been expecting. Rich "Disasterpeace" Vreeland's soundtrack was a big part of that, a lush and consonant blend of synths and plinky electronic drums that conjured wide spaces, bright skies, and was surprisingly naturalistic for a synthesized soundtrack. And that the audio tracks are laced with hidden symbols and secrets of their own is a bonus of the best sort.
Persona 4 Golden
Okay, yes, Persona 4 is really a game from 2008, and doesn't quite fall under the purview of this list. But 2012's PSVita "remix" Persona 4 Golden features several new tunes from series composer Shōji Meguro, and it's all so damned good that I felt like I couldn't leave it off. Persona 4's mix of complex jazz, triumphant pop, and weirdo ambient music feels more hip and present than most any game soundtrack. By the end of my first time through the game, I was entirely in love with the whole thing. Honestly, these songs are Inaba to me. This track, "Make History," is the new battle music for Golden, and alternates with the original theme to keep things fresh. I have fought hundreds of battles in P4, and this music feels as fresh now as it did the first time I heard it.
What more can be said about Austin Wintory's Journey score? I know I said up top that these are in no particular order. But. Wintory's achingly beautiful work sets a new standard for the emotional heights video game soundtracks can achieve. Journey wound up being a profound experience for me more times than once. Wintory's music is a large part of why.
Journey's score has been widely celebrated, and is the first game soundtrack nominated for a Grammy award. Every accolade it gets is deserved, not simply because the music is good (it is), but because it's uniquely informed by ThatGameCompany's design, and as a result stands as Journey's beating heart. Noble cello themes and resonant alto flute melodies evoke the seemingly endless loneliness of the desert; our slack-jawed wonder at the sheer scope of this endless basin of life. Soundtracks like this come along once in a great while; we may not hear its equal any time soon. But that's okay. These compositions aren't going anywhere, and thanks to them, Journey will remain a classic for many years to come.
So there you have them: Kotaku's picks for the best video game music of 2012. Of course, we may have left off your favorite, so I hope you'll all share your favorite tunes from the year in the comments. (I thought we had a great collection in our reader's choice post last week.)
For now, let's just take a moment to plug in some headphones and reflect on a fantastic year in music.
At the end of each year we hand out awards to honor the experiences that live in our best memories of the preceding months—the games that moved us with their ambition, quality, and pioneering spirit. None of the decisions are ever easy, and there's no secret formula: we pit opinion against opinion with straightforward, old-fashioned arguing until one winner is left standing in the GOTY battle cage. Look below for the first landmark of that exciting week-long debate: a list of our eligible winners in 11 categories, including Game of the Year.
Beyond recognizing what games we loved most this year, though, it’s crucial to call attention to a truth that connects them all: PC gaming is exploding. Our hobby is many-tentacled and unbridled—practically every niche, genre, and business model mutated in a meaningful way this year. Two shooters built on new, PC-only technology released (PlanetSide 2 and Natural Selection 2). Dota 2 grew into its adolescence. League of Legends’ Season 2 Championship drew an audience of 8.2 million—the most ever for an eSports event. Modders resurrected content that was thought to be lost. So many remakes and spiritual successors to old school PC games got crowdfunded that we're sure we’d miss some if we tried to list them all.
That said, the following list marks the peaks of this mountainous year, and you'll find out which games won in the next issue of PC Gamer, and here on the web soon.