John Gibson has been making PC-exclusive games for more than a decade. As President of Tripwire Interactive, he’s helped push Killing Floor, Red Orchestra 2, Rising Storm out the door of the developer’s Roswell, Georgia studio. He also happens to have a pretty nice sound system for his PC. We asked Gibson to weigh in on Valve’s trinity of announcements.
PCG: What's your reaction to SteamOS?
John Gibson: An open platform OS created by a company focused on gaming and meeting customers needs--how could we not be excited by SteamOS?
Are you actively developing for SteamOS?
Gibson: We actually just learned about SteamOS a few days before the rest of the world and we haven't gotten our hands on it just yet. Fortunately Valve gave us a heads up a while back that adding Linux and Big Picture support would "be a pretty good idea going forward." So we started working on Linux and Big Picture support soon after that. We've now got three of our four games released on Linux and one of those games with Big Picture mode support. That has put us in a really good position to take advantage of SteamOS when it is released since it is essentially Linux + Big Picture + Awesome Performance Optimizations + Other Cool Stuff. We'll be working on setting up the rest of our recent titles with SteamOS support in the not too distant future. We also plan on releasing our next unannounced title with SteamOS support right out of the box.
John Gibson, President of Tripwire Interactive "For years we've seen the Windows OS getting in the way of game development in many ways." What impact do you expect a Steam-centered OS and set of hardware to have on PC gaming?
Gibson: I believe that the combination of SteamOS, Steam Machines, and Steam Controller will be the best thing to happen to PC gaming since digital distribution, perhaps the biggest thing to happen to gaming itself in a generation. For the first time ever the entire path from game developer to the customer's hands is being created by a company focused on game development and giving gamers what they want. Digital distribution, particularly Steam, took two roadblocks out of the path--the big publishers and retail stores. Before digital distribution you couldn't get your game into customers’ hands without a big publisher and retail stores--both of which in most cases didn't add value at all for the end user, the gamer. This blocked a lot of innovative games from getting into gamers hands. Then you've got the OS as another step in the path. For years we've seen the Windows OS getting in the way of game development in many ways, and Apple has been pretty apathetic about gaming on Mac OS up until just recently. Getting an OS completely geared towards gaming, with all of the OS bloat that slows games down removed sounds like a godsend to game developers and gets another roadblock out of the way.
Next you have the hardware. PC gamers have been loath to move to the consoles because they are outdated so quickly and can't be upgraded, the game prices are bloated, and they can't stand the idea of giving up the quick responsiveness of the mouse and keyboard. Console gamers on the other hand have been limited to the closed console ecosystem where modding is cut off and things like Counter-Strike, Desert Combat, and Dota would never have existed. In the closed console ecosystems games like TF2 or our own game Killing Floor that constantly put out free content and provide value to the gamer wouldn't have been allowed to do all those free updates.
Steam Machines sound like the best of both worlds. It opens the door to the living room for developers like us to get our games into the living room on a platform that is open and allows the kind of innovation that PC game developers are used to. It also opens the door for a whole generation of console gamers to experience what they have been missing out on. It sounds like there will be a wide variety of Steam Machines that fit all gamers' budgets which is great. Since Valve have done the smart thing and left their platform open that will encourage competition between hardware manufacturers, which can only serve to keep the cost of the machines down and bring value to the gamer. Finally, if the rumors going around are true and this "input" that Valve has hinted about is a controller that allows you to have mouse-like aiming and control while sitting on your couch--well that is the holy grail of gaming right there. "We're incredibly excited about Steam OS and Steam Machines and will be supporting them fully." What are your concerns regarding adding SteamOS as a development platform?
Gibson: There are a few concerns that a developer has to look at when releasing a game on a new platform. What is the cost going to be to port/maintain compatibility and will we make our money back? How is the performance going to be? Is there good driver support? What we've seen in the past since Steam has come to Mac and Linux that about 10 percent of our game sales are now on those platforms. That extra 10 percent in sales was definitely worth putting our games on those platforms.
For our newer games we do have some concerns about maintaining two rendering paths--DirectX for Windows and OpenGL for Linux, Mac, and SteamOS. But actually the biggest hurdle for us is adding controller support to our existing games. Since they were designed to be played with a mouse and keyboard, and the interface was designed for a mouse and keyboard it will be quite a bit of work to get them functioning well with a standard console controller. We're now designing our newer games to work well with both mouse and keyboard and controllers from the start. Even with these concerns, we're incredibly excited about Steam OS and Steam Machines and will be supporting them fully. We think like most things Valve do this is going to be huge, and if I were Sony or Microsoft I would be very concerned right now.
Valve released this diagram of a hypothetical set of Steam Controller bindings for Portal 2. "What I like about the device is that Valve clearly took a 'clean slate' approach to it's design," Gibson says of the device.
Tripwire’s known for making PC-exclusive FPSes. How confident are you that Steam Controller is going to be an improvement over the Xbox 360 controller for first-person shooters? What do you like about the device?
Gibson: Valve actually gave us the heads-up about the controller a while back although we didn't know all of the details until we learned them today with the rest of the world. We haven't gotten our hands on one yet (very soon though) so I can only make assumptions at this point. The thing about Valve though, is they don't make claims lightly. They are PC gamers and shooter players. So if they say they made a controller that works as well as a mouse and keyboard then I'd put my money on them having done it and done it right. As a hardcore PC FPS player, and former competitive FPS player I really can't stand playing FPS games on a console controller like the Xbox 360 controller. Playing shooter games with the instant aiming and precision that a mouse provides is an extremely exciting and visceral experience. It is an experience a whole generation of console shooter players have been robbed of. "Honestly I couldn’t be more excited about this controller." If the Steam Controller can provide mouse-like instant aiming and precision then it will be a vast improvement over all previous console controllers. I actually play quite a few shooters on my mobile phone, and one of the things I had noticed was that using the touch screen on my phone to aim actually gave me pretty similar control and precision to using a mouse. So if the trackpads on the Steam Controller have that level of resolution and fidelity, I could see them working well for playing shooters.
What I like about the device is that Valve clearly took a "clean slate" approach to it's design. The ability to look around/aim as well as with a mouse was clearly at the top of the list, and I'm glad someone finally had the balls to take on that problem. Every new standard console generation I've waited with baited breath to see if any of the big console makers would tackle this problem only to be let down when I see their new controller is just like their old one. I also think the touch screen in the middle will be a really cool feature. I can't wait to talk to our design team and see what type of cool functionality we could use it for. Honestly I couldn't be more excited about this controller. I've been dreaming about something like this for over 10 years, and from the looks of it it's finally here.
Guns, guns, and more guns might just be some of John Gibson's favorite things—he's the President of Tripwire Interactive, the studio behind Red Orchestra and Killing Floor.
Name: John Gibson Occupation: President of Tripwire Interactive Location: Roswell, GA Twitter: @RammJaeger
Who are you?
My name is John Gibson and I am the President of Tripwire Interactive. Most people know me from my work on Rising Storm, Red Orchestra 1 and 2, and Killing Floor. I do a lot of business and leadership work here at Tripwire, but I also work on designs and I even get to code quite a bit still. If you love the weapons in Tripwire's games, I've worked on the code for most of them (along with some really talented artists, animators and sound designers). If you hate the weapons in Tripwire's games, well, I guess you can blame me for that too... "You have fallen into a pit of angry wolverines and are eaten..." What's in your PC?
My PC runs Windows 7 Ultimate 64 bit with an Intel Core i7-3930k CPU at 3.2GHZ, dual Nvidia Geforce GTX 470's in SLI mode, a Creative Recon3d sound card, dual Asus monitors, and Logitech Z-5500 THX certified speakers.
What's the most interesting part of your setup?
I guess it would be the Logitech 5.1 THX certified 5.1 surround speakers. Because I do a lot of work with the audio and weapons coding in our games I get to run a rocking sound system on my rig. Because of this, when we had our office space built they actually put a lot of extra sound deadening material in the walls to protect the innocent bystanders in the nearby offices. From what I hear though I still drive them nuts with my loud speakers...
Image hunt: Spot the copy of PC Gamer!
What’s on your desk?
Aside from the usual PC peripherals, I keep a copy of Military Small Arms of the 20th Century on my desk most of the time. My wife gave it to me as a gift when I got my first job programming games back in 2003 and I've used it for reference on every game I've worked on since then. On the shelf on the other side of my monitors is a picture of my lovely wife Jessica. That picture reminds of all the love and support she has given me throughout the years of getting Tripwire off the ground and keeping it going. Above that is a picture titled "The Full Armor of God" with a quote from Ephesians 6. That one keeps me focused on my faith.
What are you playing right now?
I'm usually an FPS person through and through, but lately I've really been sucked into Telltales' Walking Dead games. They remind me of the old Choose Your Own Adventure books from when I was a kid. If you never read those books they worked like this:
"You see two doors in front of you. If you choose the left door turn to page 5. If you choose the right door turn to page 10." I choose the left door and turn to page 10. "You have fallen into a pit of angry wolverines and are eaten..."
"I really enjoy stepping outside myself for a while and being a big kid playing make believe on my computer." But seriously, I love watching my decisions play out through the episodes. The writing and characters are amazing. Aside from that I really enjoy flight sims and racing games when I can be bothered to hook up my flight yoke or steering wheel and my TrackIR. Honestly though, I spend most of my spare gaming time playing Tripwire games. You would figure I work on them so much that I wouldn't want to, but I really enjoy playing them. Especially Rising Storm, because it started out as a mod created by a different team, it is a lot more fresh to me. I got to come in and play as a fan because I didn't work on it from start to finish. So most days you'll find me on servers leading banzai charges or burning people with flamethrowers.
What’s your favorite game and why?
My favorite game in the past few years was Mass Effect. The game really sucked me in with its storytelling and universe. If you go way back, the original Deus Ex is probably my favorite game of all time. If you go way, way back I really loved the original Doom so much that my band named one of our songs "Knee Deep in the Dead."
Why do you game?
I game because it allows me to have experiences that I could never have in everyday life. Whether it is storming the beaches of Iwo Jima or unraveling the secrets of a sci-fi universe, I really enjoy stepping outside myself for a while and being a big kid playing make believe on my computer.
How I Game is a weekly spotlight of developers, pro gamers, and community members. Know someone who you’d like to see featured? Drop a comment below.
Tripwire continues to create reasons to hop back into its four-year old co-op shooter. After bestowing a low-grav moon base map last Christmas, Killing Floor kicks off a new holiday event tomorrow, the Summer Sideshow Pier of Pain, bringing with it the first new mode since it released.
“Objective Mode” layers tasks like VIP escort and item retrieval atop Killing Floor’s standard, wave-based monster killing. The mode is initially playable on Steamland, a new map, but Tripwire is also including mod tools in the Pier of Pain update for the game’s community to create more Objective Mode maps. Tripwire invited me to an exclusive playtest of the map earlier today, shown in the video above.
Killing Floor will be free to play for a week beginning July 4. New weapons and skins are also packaged in the update as unlockables or DLC, shown below.
Community Steampunk Weapon Pack
The Orca Bomb Propeller - The Orca Bomb Propeller tosses little delayed explosive bombs. Good for those bank shots! Multichamber ZED Thrower - A steam-powered lead launching auto shotgun, with a secondary steam discharge that will knock enemies away! Single Piston Longmusket - A finely crafted long rifle from the Victorian era fitted with telescopic aiming optics. Dr. T's Lead Delivery System - Thy weapon is before you. May it's drum beat a sound of terrible fear into your enemies.
Golden Gun Weapon Pack 2
Golden Tiger-Striped Hand Cannons Golden Chainsaw Golden Flamethrower Golden AA12
Here at PC Gamer we like to play PC games. Sometimes, we even like to play them with other people. That’s why we’ve got a huge lineup of game servers hosted by GameServers.com. Feel free to hop on whenever, or join us on Community Friday or during our other random events.
All servers hosted in the US. We'll update this list with PC Gamer UK's servers as soon as possible. CS:GO Arms Race
The in-game matchmaking system only lets 10 players duke it out in Arms Race. Our server has room for 24 players with the latest and greatest custom Arms Race-compatible maps from the Steam Workshop. CS:GO Classic Casual
Our very first community events took place on the server we like to call: The Psychedelic Den of Map Experimentation. Try out some of the best maps available on the Steam workshop in our 24-player, 128 tick server. Rising Storm
Join the Axis or Allies as we battle it out on PCG’s Rising Storm server. Territories mode is the name of the game with our soon-to-be ranked server. Battlefield 3
Vehicle enthusiasts can drive around in our 64-player Battlefield 3 server. Watch out for mortars! DayZ
Part of the public hive, our DayZ server is a great place for you to scavenge for loot, meet new friends, or hunt down some bandit scum. Minecraft
A 32-player Minecraft server with the Tekkit Classic mod installed. Download the Tekkit client before jumping on to play! Team Fortress 2
Show off your hats and other accessories on the PCG TF2 server. We’re running the official maplist with support for 24 players. Left 4 Dead 2
If you’re looking for a reliable dedicated server for your co-op zombie escapades, look no further than the PCG 8-man Left 4 Dead 2 server. Pick your favorite flavor of L4D2 and murder some zombies. Unreal Tournament 2004
A staple of the PCG offices, now you too can join in on the fun with our 32-player UT2K4 server. GoldenEye: Source
If it wasn’t already clear, PCG loves mods. In fact, we love them so much that we’ve set up a 16 player GoldenEye: Source server for you guys to play on. Natural Selection 2
For whatever reason there’s a 10-slot maximum on our Natural Selection 2 server. We like to think that this encourages teamwork. Killing Floor
Another co-op zombie classic, jump into our 6-player Killing Floor server to play with other PCG community members.
If you’ve got server requests, plugins, mods, or other suggestions, email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Tripwire President John Gibson holds an M1 Garand inside the team's studio, one of the guns carried by the Americans in Rising Storm.
Earlier this month I visited Killing Floor and Red Orchestra 2 creator Tripwire Interactive to play Rising Storm, the upcoming standalone expansion to RO2 (look for a preview on Monday). After the demo, Tripwire President John Gibson and I got talking about the state of first-person shooters, and Gibson laid out a detailed criticism about the way Call of Duty "takes individual skill out of the equation." Gibson also expressed frustration over how difficult it had been trying to design a mode for Red Orchestra 2 that appealed to Call of Duty players.
PCG: How do you feel about the state of FPSes?
John Gibson, President: I think that single-player shooters are getting better. I think they’re finally coming out from under the shadow of the Hollywood movie, overblown “I’m on a rail” linear shooter. I’m talking about Call of Duty-style shooters. In the late ‘90s, you had the original Deus Ex, which was an RPG-shooter. And those kind of games almost took an eight year hiatus. And I’m so excited to see them coming back with interesting gameplay. Like the Fallout games, even though their shooting mechanics could really use some improvement, just mixing a really cool story, but not a linear story, one that you create yourself. The melding of RPG elements and shooter elements has been great. I’ve seen this reflected in a lot of the reviews, it’s like, “Okay guys, we’re tired of this on-rails experience.”
On the flip side, I’m really discouraged by the current state of multiplayer shooters. I think that, and I hate to mention names, because it sounds like ‘I’m just jealous of their success,’ but I’m really, I feel like Call of Duty has almost ruined a generation of FPS players. I know that’s a bold statement, but I won’t just throw stones without backing it up. When I was developing Action Mode , I got a group of people that I know that are pretty hardcore Call of Duty players. And my goal was to create something that was accessible enough for them to enjoy the game—not turn it into Call of Duty, but try to make something that I thought was casual enough but with the Red Orchestra gameplay style that they would enjoy. And we iterated on it a lot. And just listening to all the niggling, pedantic things that they would complain about, that made them not want to play the game, I just thought, “I give up. Call of Duty has ruined this whole generation of gamers.”
Red Orchestra 2. Gibson says he's "discouraged" by the state of multiplayer shooters on PC.
What did they complain about?
Gibson: It’s the gameplay mechanics that they become used to. The way that players instantly accelerate when they move, they don’t build up speed. “The weapons really don’t have a lot of power” . They’re all very weak. The way they handle... They’re like: “I hate Red Orchestra, I can’t play it.” Well, why? “Because the guy doesn’t move like he does in Call of Duty. Call of Duty has great movement.” Why is it great? “Because it just is, I just like the way it works.” So you don’t like the momentum system in Red Orchestra? “Yeah, it sucks, it’s clunky, it’s terrible.” Well, why? “It’s just because I’m used to this.”
I make it sound like there was a combative conversation, probably because I get a little emotional when I think about it. But it was really a calm discussion of, “What don’t you like?” and “It doesn’t feel like Call of Duty.” Almost every element boiled down to “it doesn’t feel like Call of Duty.” And really, watching some of these guys play... one of the things that Call of Duty does, and it’s smart business, to a degree, is they compress the skill gap. And the way you compress the skill gap as a designer is you add a whole bunch of randomness. A whole bunch of weaponry that doesn’t require any skill to get kills. Random spawns, massive cone fire on your weapons. Lots of devices that can get kills with zero skill at all, and you know, it’s kind of smart to compress your skill gap to a degree. You don’t want the elite players to destroy the new players so bad that new players can never get into the game and enjoy it. I’m looking at you, Dota. Sorry.
"If there’s no fear, there’s no tension, the victory is shallow. We want there to be some fear."
But the skill gap is so compressed, that it’s like a slot machine. You might as well just sit down at a slot machine and have a thing that pops up an says “I got a kill!” They’ve taken individual skill out of the equation so much. So you see these guys—I see it all the time, they come in to play Red Orchestra, and they’re like “This game’s just too hardcore. I’m awesome at Call of Duty, so there’s something wrong with your game. Because I’m not successful at playing this game, so it must suck. I’m not the problem, it’s your game.” And sometimes as designers, it is our game. Sometimes we screw up, sometimes we design something that’s not accesible enough, they can’t figure it out, we didn’t give them enough information to figure out where to go... but more often than not, it’s because Call of Duty compressed their skill gap so much that these guys never needed to get good at a shooter. They never needed to get good at their twitch skills with a mouse.
Players like Elliot and I, back in the Quake and Unreal days, you know, we had to get good at aiming. These guys don’t have to anymore. The skill gap is so compressed that like, “The game makes me feel that I’m awesome.” These guys, when I actually watch them play, they’re actually very poor FPS players. And I don’t think it’s because they’re incapable of getting good, I think it’s because they never had to get good. They get enough kills in Call of Duty to feel like they’re awesome, but they never really had to develop their FPS skills beyond that.
And it’s a shame because when you do that, when you create a shooter like that, you’re very limited on the amount of depth that you can give the game. It’s all gotta be very surface level, like I’m sitting there eating cotton candy and I never get any meat and potatoes. And it’s frustrating for me as a designer to see players come in and they’re literally like “In Call of Duty it takes 0.15 seconds to go into ironsights. In RO2 it takes 0.17 seconds to go into ironsights. I hate this.”
Gibson fires an MP40 during an audio recording session for Red Orchestra 2 in the Nevada desert. Gibson is frustrated by the way that Call of Duty has "taken individual skill out of the equation" for many modern FPS players.
Do you think it’s a matter of patience? Have these players lost their sense of patience?
Gibson:I think that’s part of it. The game is kind of spoonfeeding them, and making them feel great when they’re not. And like I said, that’s smart business, and I don’t blame Infinity Ward for wanting to do that. They’re selling millions of games and they have lots of people enjoying it, but I think there’s a depth of enjoyment there that a lot of these players are missing out on. And when you try to get them to branch out, their knee-jerk reaction is “The training wheels have come off, I’m gonna fall!” And I hate to see that.
It’s this weird dichotomy between, you know, single-player is getting much more depth, and players are just eating it up. They’re loving that. They’re buying these FPS-RPG single-player games like crazy. But multiplayer, “Ooh, don’t take my training wheels off.” I hate that. So we’re trying... we’re giving a little bit of training wheels, but we’re going to take them off occasionally in the shooters that we’re making, and hopefully we’ll get some of those people to branch out. I think for me though, I wouldn’t say I’ve completely given up on all of those players, but I’m not gonna try to make a game that tries to be Call of Duty at the expense of having fun gameplay that actually has depth.
Elliot Cannon, Rising Storm Lead Designer: Or creating a game that feels like you might be in a war, and you might die?
"One of the things that Call of Duty does, and it’s smart business, to a degree, is they compress the skill gap."
Gibson: Yeah. That’s one of the things that we do in our games, and it’s fear. When you play... I know there are modes in Left 4 Dead that are more hardcore, but when you play Left 4 Dead, and I’m really friends with Valve, so I hope they don’t get mad at me, but you do get spikes of adrenaline. But eventually that wears off because you figure out, well, as long as we stick together we’re never gonna die. In Killing Floor, when the Fleshpound shows up, you could be screwed. Half your team is probably gonna die. Your heart rate goes up, you’re freaking out, like “I can actually lose this shooter.” And if there’s no fear, there’s no tension, the victory is shallow. We want there to be some fear.
What do you consider your tools for expressing fear?
Gibson: Vulnerability is a big part of it, lethality. The ability to lose. There has to be... it’s kind of like, you know, if you’re gambling. If you go to the penny slots, you’re like, “Okay, yeah, whatever, I lost a penny.” But you go to the Roulette table, you throw down a thousand bucks, and you spin the wheel—you’re nervous at that point.
So, having the players have to take risks. Risk versus reward. They risk more, but the reward is greater. There’s more depth, there’s a bit more of a learning curve, but when you get that kill at long range with that bolt-action rifle, while the artillery’s flying around your head, and mortar shells are falling and guys are Banzai-charging you in the face, and your guy’s shaking, but you still kill him anyway. That’s an experience. You had some risk there, but you got a bigger reward. The kill wasn’t just handed to you. It wasn’t like “I called in the helicopter and it flew into the level and mowed down half the enemy team while I wasn’t even doing anything.”
Check back on Monday for an exclusive hands-on with Rising Storm.
We've now faced so many zombie apocalypses that it's amazing the shambling menace can elicit even the mildest increase in heartbeat. So while Killing Floor remains an enjoyable co-op FPS, any change to its morbid monsters is welcome. Especially when that change is in the form of in the form of H.R. Giger's face-smothering, acid-dripping, chest-bursting beasties.
That's what you get in Killing Floor: Aliens, an extensive mod that swaps out the game's setting, weapons and, most importantly, enemies for those from James Cameron's action sequel. Nearly two years in development, the mod's team say of the project, "AKF is one of the most comprehensive mods to date released for Killing Floor. The aim of this mod was to bring the feel and scope of James Cameron's Aliens to Killing Floor while in one hand remaining true to the franchise and in the other ensuring that it still retains the feel of Killing Floor."
There's a whole zoo full of Xenomorphs, from the tiny facehuggers to the giant Alien Queen, along with new weapons, maps and perks. You also get a full roster of characters from the movie - including Ripley - who the mod's makers claim now play and sound like their cinematic counterparts.
Download and installation instructions are available from the mod's website, or you can go here and install through the Steam Workshop.
Lambent Stew's free, web-based Steam Time Analysis tool laid bare my backlog of shame by breaking down time spent (or not spent) on each of my library's games like some sort of cold, ruthless PowerPoint presentation. The breadth of information provided is quite impressive. Over email, Stew told us the new build includes a few new features that further visualize users' habits.
You're now be able to compare your profile with those on your friends list for games owned, how many were played, and total hours played. (Our own Executive Editor Evan Lahti only played around 16 percent of his over 1300-game stable, the lazy bum.)
Similar to another homebrewed utility, a new worth calculator also provides combined figures for minimum, maximum, and current game prices in your library. Locating your own profile should be easier with improved search: just type in your Steam profile ID, and the tool should easily zero in on your data.
Check out the tool for yourself on Lambent Stew's website. How do you rank against your friends? What's your most-played game?
Games get a bad rap for being a solitary, violence-obsessed form of entertainment. But they can also be a collaborative, violence-obsessed form of entertainment. Just ask the close-knit PC Gamer team.
Tom F: Co-op based games teach us the value of teamwork better than any kitten based motivational poster, by showing us how many more of our enemies we can crush if we can just learn to work together.
Graham: They’re not just violent either. We can build giant penis statues together in Minecraft. No, wait, that’s bad. We can control egotistical millionaires in FIFA! Oh God, no. Rich?
Rich: Well, Supreme Commander celebrates the pioneering spirit, by asking us to build a host of clanking deathbots... I got nothing. Chris?
Chris: Uh. Diablo III shows that hell is easier with other people? Hm. Senior? Bail me out?
Tom S: I can’t, I’m too busy shooting these damn zombies. Stop intro-ing and let’s go play together.
Portal 2 - 2 players, Online
How does it work? You and a friend play comedy robots in co-op-only test chambers.
Why is it good?
Tom F: The puzzles get magnificently complicated when designed for two. You can jump through each other’s portals, so you’re often setting up a jump that your partner will perform. And because every puzzle requires two players, you’ve got to figure out where to put four different portals, and coordinate your approach. It bent my brain in the same ridiculous ways that Portal 1 did.
Graham: I use my portals to make a corridor slick with gloopy paint. Tom places his at either end of the corridor, creating the world’s first infinite slip ’n’ slide. I run down it and build absurd momentum, and as I reach terminal velocity, Tom moves one of his portals so that when I exit, I’m flung out over a chasm filled with acid. Co-op Portal 2 means entwining not just your portals, but your brains.
Minecraft - 2 to many, online or LAN
How does it work? Join a server and collaborate with friends – or strangers – to build the biggest, best, and most phallic structures you can.
Why is it good?
Rich: Within minutes, I was building a spa. I don’t know why I was building a spa. No one had said “let’s build a spa” in the chat channel, but there it was, forming before us. Graham, now-departed Craig Pearson and I, had hollowed out an underground chamber, constructed a raised dais of glass, and diverted water to create a lovely jacuzzi pool. Our subterranean sauna was lit by lava, and we sat in it, content.
Graham: My first time was on a new, private server with a few folks from the PCG community. In three hours we dotted the landscape with giant Darwinians, and built an underground bunker with launch missiles, library and steam rooms to avoid a player who had built an ugly golden bridge around the world. It felt like I’d spent an afternoon building sandcastles with friends.
Fifa 12 - 2-5 players, local
How does it work? Two or more players join forces to defeat the nefarious forces of Computron, the dark lord of kicking.
Why is it good?
Rich: Football is incredibly frustrating. FIFA recreates that frustration perfectly: genius moves undone by idiot players. But in co-op, I managed to reduce that frustration through one simple method: blame someone else. I think I’m great at FIFA 12 at the best of times; when I’m playing in co-op, I’m flawless. Graham, on the other hand, is terrible.
Graham: And Rich smells bad. For a while, we were playing two-on-two, but then our fourth man lost interest. We started playing two-on-one. Here’s what we found: the player controlling a team on their own has the advantage. To work together in FIFA is to anticipate the other’s moves, making runs and pulling away defenders. If you do it right, you’re unstoppable. If you’re Rich and I, Rich smells bad.
Diablo 3 - Up to four, drop-in, drop-out co-op across the whole campaign
How does it work? Every player you add to a game of Diablo III boosts the health of your enemies, increasing the challenge – but far less than it did on launch, when damage increased as well. Otherwise, it’s just Diablo III with more people.
Why is it good?
Chris: D3’s normal difficulty is very easy, but it gains a lot of life if you’re doing it with friends. Experimenting with new skills adds a slapstick dimension to demonbashing that’s better with other people. It’s basically that bit from Lord of the Rings where Legolas and Gimli are competing to kill the most orcs, strung out over 15 hours.
Tom S: Having a friend or two around gives you more freedom to experiment with new abilities. If you’ve got a Barbarian chum to wave and shout and take punches to the face, you can sacrifice a defensive ability for that demonic ghost bat bombing run skill you’ve been dying to try. Few things amaze and terrify a co-op partner as effectively as an unannounced demonic ghost bat bombing run.
Chris: It used to be that co-op Diablo III didn’t work: it was too diffi cult, and actually reduced the amount of loot you seemed to get. Patches have since redressed the balance, and working together to crack Inferno is a satisfying challenge.
Alien Swarm - Up to 4 players, online
How does it work? It’s a top-down shooter where you control a squad of four marines shooting aliens in a scripted campaign.
Why is it good?
Rich: People love swarms. The swarms of aliens in Alien Swarm (clue’s in the name), are best dealt with by coordination: one of your group becomes point-man, clearing rooms with shotguns and flamethrowers. Another takes up the rear, machinegun blaring to dissuade any would-be alien pouncers. This coordination is the result of a kind of natural, happy trance that players fall into, rather than tiresome enforcement.
Tom F: I’m a Medic, which used to mean I was the sensible, cautious, team player. Until I realised I could take a chainsaw. It’s terrible. It’s a terrible weapon, don’t use it. You can’t just charge into alien hordes, blade revving. OK, just one more go.
Trine - Up to 3 players, online or LAN
How does it work? Each player can transform themselves into a thief, warrior or wizard at any time. In the mode we play, you can have two Thieves at once if you like.
Why is it good?
Tom F: It’s a physics-based platform puzzler, which in co-op means dropping heavy objects on each other for fun. The wizard can create boxes and levitate them, and your co-op partner can stand on them. Most of our solutions involved carting each other around on telekinetic elevators.
Graham: Trine’s best class is the grapple-hooking, arrow-firing thief, because of the arrow-fi ring but specifically because of the grapple-hooking. In the singleplayer game, you’re forced to switch away from the thief to navigate obstacles and fi ght larger enemies. In co-op, two thieves are better than one, and combined you’re able to spend more time as a swinging idiot. The best kind of idiot.
Left 4 Dead 2 - Up to 4 players, online or LAN
How does it work? - There are lots of game modes now, but the one we play most is still the campaign: four players against the AI-controlled zombie hordes.
Why is it good?
Tom S: I ran through Left 4 Dead 1’s campaign on its hardest diffi culty setting with a group of regulars. We played in the 4 6 5 same small room for many hot, panicked hours until our cries of fear overruled the rattling pistol fire coming out of our speakers. The defence events and climactic mission fi nales offered us a chance to take stock and plan, but the best moments happened when those plans disintegrated in the face of an unexpected Tank charge, or a perfectly placed Witch.
The AI director never quite offered the longevity that it promised, and the monsters lost their scare factor after a while, but Left 4 Dead is still a superb, if harrowing, co-op experience. Ever since Valve ported the fi rst game’s superior maps into the sequel, Left 4 Dead 2 has been the better choice of the pair.
Tom F: There’s an achievement for winning a garden gnome on the fairground level, and taking it all the way through the rest of that campaign. For me, that is the game. It takes both hands to carry the gnome, so whoever’s holding it can’t fi re their weapons. You can set it down and grab it later, but among huge crowds of zombies and charging Tanks, it tends to get kicked around with alarming force.
So you take it in turns to sacrifice your firepower and carry the precious cargo, relying completely on your friends to protect you and your porcelain companion when it’s your turn. If a zombie does get to you, all you can really do is bash him with the gnome.
The carnival finale, set in a huge stadium, was just too intense for any of us to survive it gunless. So when the helicopter finally arrived to bail us out, the real challenge was a frantic scavenger hunt for a chipped red hat among the seething infected. Finding him, grabbing him, and making it out alive was the most nail-biting co-op experience I’ve ever had with the game.
Half Life 2 - 2-10 players, online or LAN
How does it work? The Synergy mod enables two or more of you to jump straight into Half-Life 2, Episode One or Episode Two’s singleplayer campaign.
Why is it good?
Tom F: Half-Life 2 is a huge and amazing adventure. And while there are a lot of great co-op games, there aren’t many that are huge and amazing adventures. People don’t make long, varied, story-driven journeys through meticulously detailed and gorgeous places when they’re making a co-op campaign. So a mod that makes Half-Life 2 and its two episodic expansions work cooperatively is an amazing discovery. I don’t know how it works, but it does.
Graham: Tom and I played through the entire of Half-Life 2, and into Episode Two, over many happy lunchtimes. The best part is the Highway 17 segment in Half-Life 2. You’re both given your own buggy to drive across the countryside, and the solitary bungalows that dot the coast are perfect for cooperative assault: one person bursting through the front door while the other circles around the back. The Combine only seem to be expecting one of you, for some reason...
Rainbow Six: Vegas 2 - " players in campaign mode, 2-4 players in terrorist hunt, online or LAN
How does it work? We play Terrorist Hunt: you and the other players have to clear out a big, complex building in which a fixed number of terrorists run around and try to ambush you. It’s brilliant.
Why is it good?
Tom F: Terrorist Hunt is an immediately exciting concept, because it feels more like a simulation of a real armed-response firefight than any campaign level could be. You can’t be sure the level designer isn’t going to have the terrorists suddenly come from behind you, because the level designer doesn’t make that call: the terrorists do.
Graham: It’s doubly cool in co-op, because the challenge is so overwhelming. Even with the foresight of a snake camera under the door, it’s just tough to take out six terrorists in a room before any of them kill you. So you plan: I’ll take the left two... You throw a frag... I’ll come from the other door... You rope down to the window. And then you completely screw it up.
Mass Effect 3 - Up to 4 players online
How does it work? Fight to complete a mixture of objectives on small but open levels against randomised enemy forces. Level up characters and promote them into the singleplayer campaign to improve Shepard’s chances.
Why is it good?
Chris: ME3 multiplayer takes what is good about co-op survival modes – last-stand heroics and impromptu acts of daring – and adds incredibly varied races, classes and weapons that prevent it from ever becoming samey. Right now, I’m enjoying a Quarian infi ltrator that disintegrates enemies at close range with the Reegar Carbine, a gun we’ve come to call THE PLASMA HOSE. I’m just as happy charging around as a Krogan vanguard, or racking up headshots as a Turian sentinel carrying a Black Widow.
Tom S: New classes and bizarre new weapons are added regularly through free updates. You’re always holding out against waves of familiar enemies, but the variety of ways in which you can off these enemies expands every month. The N7 classes BioWare added recently push the boundaries of what the Mass Effect universe can sensibly contain. The Shadow can dart across the map and slash foes with a psychically infused katana, the Destroyer’s weighty carapace gives him the grounding to wield a rapid-fire grenade launcher with decent accuracy and the Slayer is a teleporting martial arts expert. With so many powerful abilities to choose from, playing with friends becomes more about showing off than anything else.
Chris: BioWare’s free updates to the game have been excellent and generous, particularly the new maps. They’ve drawn me back to the game and kept it feeling fresh, which is essential for co-op.
Supreme Commander - 2-7 players, online or LAN
How does it work?
Start a multiplayer game, put all humans on team 1, and some nice tough AIs on team 2. Crush.
Why is it good?
Tom F: It’s not the first co-op game you think of, but playing it cooperatively is how we’ve had the most fun with it. It can be dauntingly complex, so it’s great to have friends in there to help out if you forget to build anti-air or crash your power economy. In theory. In practice what usually happens is we beaver away on our own bases in silence for seven minutes then one of us says “Shit, fuck, they’re dropping in my base and I forgot to build point defence again, have you got anything that can help?” and the other says...
Graham: No, soz :(
Tom F: It’s about hatching your own masterplans, surviving long enough to see them complete, then raining the giant robotic fruits of your labours down on the enemy at the same time. My giant laser spiders are ready! Your flying fortresses are ready? Let’s go! My towering Galactic Colossus is ready! Your swarm of invincible death bricks is ready? Let’s go!
Dawn of War: Last Stand - Up to 3 players online
How does it work? - Unlike the main game, Last Stand gives you only one hero each. You’ve got to fi ght off increasingly tough waves of enemies until you die (likely) or beat wave 20 (unlikely). After the match, you usually unlock new equipment for your character.
Why is it good?
Tom F: I didn’t really get Last Stand until I levelled up a few times. The fun is in discovering new builds, and the role they can play in your group. As the Ork, I thought I was the longrange damage dealer: my autocannon certainly works for that, and when enemies get close I use my teleporting armour to get away. The notion of using the much tougher set, the one that can’t teleport, seemed pretty ridiculous. Until I unlocked the knife. The knife doesn’t do much damage, but it regenerates your health. Add some armour bonus trinkets, a self-healing trait, and an item that stops me being knocked down, and I can turn myself into an unstoppable tank. Suddenly I’m the guy charging into a nest of Tyranids to keep them off my friends, and coming out at full health.
Tom S: In the grim darkness of the future, three dudes battle ridiculous odds in a small stone circle. The setup may seem contrived, but DoW2’s overlooked co-op mode does a much better job of realising the Warhammer 40K fantasy than the campaign. Absurdly powerful heroes dominate the fiction, so I got a kick out of levelling up my venerable Space Marine captain and testing him against the hordes.
Last Stand understands 40K’s scale as well. The final waves throw more foes into the arena than you’ll see in any of the singleplayer missions, so victory may seem impossible. After a few levels you can start combining your heroes’ most powerful abilities to create a maelstrom of death. The glorious slaughterfest that results is worthy of a Space Marine’s final heroic moments.
Killing Floor - Up to 6 players, online or LAN
How does it work? Fight together to fend off waves of mutants, then stock up on guns and ammo at a shop that’s never in the same place twice.
Why is it good?
Chris: Without its guns, Killing Floor would be the bleakest, muddiest depiction of Britain at the end of the world since a bunch of Romans said “let’s go home, it’s cold and everyone here is mental.” With its guns, it’s one of the most satisfying co-op shooters around. My favourite is the bolt-action rifl e, which takes mutant head-popping and turns it into an avant garde musical genre. Bang! Chunk. Click. Bang! Blargh! Splatter.
Rich: I like the dual desert eagles. They go ‘whump’, like a pie dropped down a hole. But a really big pie, one that kills anyone unlucky enough to be standing under it in a spray of arterial blood. And when it kills them, this pie, it makes everything slow motion for a while, so your team can marvel at your incredible pie-dropping-stroke-gun-shooting skills.
Chris: Definitely play it with voice chat, though. Partly so that you can coordinate properly and warn your friends when they’re about to be sawn in half, but mostly so that you can talk over the truly, deeply dreadful voice acting. I started playing it during the Portal 2 promo campaign, when all the shopkeepers were replaced by GlaDOS. It was a huge improvement.
Borderlands 2 - Up to 4 players, online or LAN
How does it work? The whole campaign is playable in drop-in, drop-out co-op.
Why is it good?
Tom F: Two reasons – for one, the different abilities of each class mix well in a team fight. It’s great to see your Siren pluck a boss up into the air, and into range of your Commando’s turret and your Gunzerker’s... gunzerk. Secondly, cooperative play is good for diffi culty spikes, and Borderlands 2 sure has those. Dealing with an inordinately tough boss is less frustrating when there’s a whole a bunch of you coming up with new ideas and tactics, and a wider variety of weapons to try.
Tom S: Almost anything can pop out of Borderlands 2’s unfolding robot boxes. It could be a revolver that shoots lightning grenades, it could be a glowing, five-foot-long sniper rifl e with an enormous bayonet on the end. Whatever you get, it’s always better to have friends there to go “WOAH” or “whaaaat” or “give me that immediately.” Borderlands 2’s batty enemies are more fun to fi ght in a team, a constant stream of new gadgets to crow over makes it feel like the best sort of trick or treat trip, the sort where you get bazookas instead of sweets.
Arma 2 - 2 to many, online or LAN
How does it work? Players can join and play custom missions with each other, or mess around in the weapon playground add-on pack, Private Military Academy.
Why is it good?
Rich: The first time I played an Arma 2 custom mission with Marsh and Owen, it ended with me rolling sideways up a hill and giggling like a maniac. The second time, we were shot before we realised what the ‘open backpack’ key was mapped to. The third time, we found ourselves on a hillside, standing next to a crumpled chopper. It was dark, but the sky was brightening slowly as the sun rose somewhere off in the east. It would’ve been idyllic, were it not for the crowd of ornery locals taking potshots at us.
Together, we made it into a nearby settlement, where our rendezvous chopper was settling down into the dust. We sprinted towards it, tracer fire whistling over our heads, as we howled fears for our safety down our microphones. We were silly men, but Arma 2 quickly made us feel like (mildly inept) soldiers.
Marsh: Most of the time, my Arma 2 experience seems to consist of dying instantly or getting stuck in rocks. But occasionally, you roll the incredibly-complex-emergent-behaviour dice and get a scene as gripping and fluidly dramatic as anything from Full Metal Jacket. I don’t mean the toilet-suicide sequence. Running for that chopper with a busted leg and three shots left in my pistol as the enemy tightened the noose was one of the most extensive workouts my heart has undergone in many years. And it wouldn’t have been half the experience without Owen and Rich bellowing, “COME ON! YOU CAN DO IT!” as I lurched the final few yards.
Have you got any plans this weekend? Maybe you're thinking about going somewhere nice or meeting up with a few friends. Fool! Weekends aren't about that any more. These days, they're for trialling games that have been made temporarily free to play, then pondering whether they're worth the rather hefty discount they've also been given.
From now until Sunday evening you can download and play the hardcore World War 2 multiplayer FPS Red Orchestra 2. Should you find doing that a pleasurable experience, there's a 75% discount in effect until Monday, bringing the game down to £3.74.
This is all to celebrate the release of the Fall 2012 Free Content Pack, which brings a new map - Barashka, from the first Red Orchestra - and a redesigned Countdown mode.
There's also a 75% discount on the Tripwire bundle, which includes both Red Orchestras, first-person puzzler The Ball, Dwarfs?! and the rather good zombie co-op FPS Killing Floor.
Anyone planning to give this a shot? RO2 was pretty wonky on release, but I've since heard that it's been fixed up nicely and is well worth a try.