The new version of Valve s Steam Controller is out in the open at GDC, playable for anyone in attendance. We ve spent some time with it on the show floor, playing Portal 2, Broken Age, Dirt 3, and Strider.
This was my first time using the Steam Controller, Valve s gamepad designed to work with all the games on Steam: past, present, and future, and meant as a companion to SteamOS. Our last chance to play with the controller was at CES in January, when Cory said that he was hopeful after an admittedly short playtime that such a device could be fantastic.
My experience was far less encouraging. I was able to fit in more than half-an-hour with the controller on the GDC show floor. I played every game that Valve had on display one from four different genres and in each, I would ve absolutely had more fun and been more effective with an Xbox 360 controller.
The high sensitivity of the controller s dual, haptic trackpads was constantly frustrating. In Dirt 3, it was very hard for me to make fine steering adjustments; I seemed to only be able to oversteer left or right. As a result, my driving method boiled down to essentially see-sawing left, then right, then left again to correct and then over-correct my oversteering. I crashed a lot. My car was a wreck by the time I crossed the finish line, a lap time of 6:55 on Dirt 3 s Lake Gratiot course. The top AI racer finished in 3:04. Trying it mid-race, I actually drove best while using the Steam Controller s new d-pad.
Portal 2, one of the games using native support of the pad (as opposed to mouse and keyboard emulation) wasn t much better. I was able to clumsily and inelegantly solve a room in the first couple hours of the game, one where you re moving reflector cubes to change the direction of lasers emanating from the wall. When I put my thumb at the edge of the right pad, which controls your aim with the portal gun, it doesn t perpetually rotate your character. If I wanted to make a 90 or 180-degree turn, I had to swipe the pad right-to-left or left-to-right. And as I did that, the vertical alignment of my aim would shift a little, and I d have to correct it. I felt like a loading crane, moving along one axis at a time, picking up an item, rotating, and then moving again. It was so hard to be swift. I gave up after dying twice in the following room, where I needed to use orange (acceleration) and blue (bounce) gels to advance. It was a struggle to simply pan the camera downward, toward my feet, so that I could check that I was making impact with the blue gel.
I m glad to chalk some of my errors up to my inexperience with the device, but it s surprising how unwieldy the trackpads were in every situation. I didn t once feel comfortable, in control, or that Valve s hardware configuration was in any way an upgrade over a controller with analog sticks. I watched a lot of other players use the controller for the first time, and almost all of them echoed some version of The pads are way too sensitive. Valve employees scattered around the kiosks emphasized that you ll be able to adjust the sensitivity to a greater degree once the controller is fully released, but it s curious that Valve would showcase the controller in such a clearly unpolished stage everyone I saw using it at GDC seemed to be having a tough time.
The Steam Controller didn t strike me as either a good fit for casual, undemanding games as an upgrade to the Xbox 360 pad in first-person, 3D games. I thought that Broken Age would be a safe, easy context, but it was just as frustrating as Dirt 3 and Portal 2. How is that even possible? It was a fight just to put the cursor exactly where I wanted, and overshooting static objects made me feel completely silly.
At least at the outset of using this prototype, the new ABXY buttons feel shoehorned into the architecture of the pad. It s an odd placement for them, and they re maybe 80 percent the size of an Xbox 360 pad s buttons. I have pretty big hands, and the X button felt too distant to me. Even as I was navigating menus, I kept hitting B (cancel) when I meant to hit A (confirm). At the very least, I think it s a configuration that s going to require you to un-learn some of your muscle memory, which is unfortunate.
It s evident that the Steam Controller is still in development. At this prototype stage, Valve is actually still 3D printing the body of the controller itself, and the rigid, low-quality plastic doesn t quite feel comfortable. From a gameplay perspective, though, I m completely unsold on the Steam Controller as a viable way of playing PC games at this time. The games Valve had on display weren t flattering uses of the controller, and it s disappointing to know that I would ve played better with an Xbox 360 pad in every case.
It's Codemasters turn to flaunt their goods on Humble's digital sale shelf. Seven games, including various DiRTs, Overlords and Operation Flashpoints, have been bundled together, in a genre mash-up that has tiny imps erratically driving rally cars away from hyper-efficient snipers. Okay, so it's not that - it's the more traditional bundle of games collected for a pay-what-you-want price.
It's a good package, specifically for the quirky Overlord series, the excellent DiRT 3, and the kinda-fun DiRT Showdown. Unfortunately, the bundle does still necessitate a warning. With GfW Live's rumoured July 1st shutdown, both Operation Flashpoint: Red River and DiRT 3 could potentially stop working. While Codemasters have confirmed that DiRT 3 will be getting the Steamworks treatment, they've made no comment on their plans for Red River.
As always it's a two-tiered deal, with people who pay under $6 getting Overlord, the Raising Hell DLC, Operation Flashpoint: Red River, Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising and Rise of the Argonauts. Pay over $6, and you'll also be given DiRT Showdown, DiRT 3 and Overlord 2.
RIP Games for Windows Live, we hardly knew ye. On second thoughts, we knew ye pretty well, and we hated your malodorous guts - good riddance. Of course, with Microsoft's hated games service going the way of the passenger pigeon (I was going to say dodo, but a load of animals have sadly been made extinct since then), there's the little matter of what's going to happen to all the games infested with GFWL. Will they be playable after July 1st, when the service is being taken out to the woodshed to be shot in the head? It's still unclear, but it doesn't seem likely - unless developers take it upon themselves to patch their games.
So far, only Fallout 3, Bioshock 2, the Arkham games, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet and Toy Soldiers have extracted the service, leaving a few dozen games with the sword of DRMacles hanging over their heads. Thanks to Joystiq, we now at least know which developers and games are aiming to follow suit.
There's good news and bad news. Mostly bad, I'm afraid. The good news is that Super Street Fighter IV / SSFIV Arcade Edition, DiRT 3, F1 2010, F1 2011, Red Faction Guerrilla and Ms. Explosion Man will all replace GFWL with Steamworks (or in the case of RF:G, perhaps a DRM solution of its own), their respective developers have confirmed to Joystiq.
The sorta-good news is that Namco Bandai are "exploring options" to removing GFWL from Dark Souls and Ace Combat: Assault Horizon. If they don't remove it from the former at least, I imagine there'd be one hell of a stink come July 1st.
The bad news is that the Dead Rising and Lost Planet games, Resident Evil 5, Street Fighter X Tekken, Operation Flashpoint Dragon Rising and Red River, Iron Brigade, Fable 3, Gears of War, Halo 2, Blacklight: Tango Down and quite a lot of other games currently have "no plans" to remove GFWL. See my 'one hell of a stink' comment from earlier and insert the word 'massive' in there somewhere.
Joystiq are "still awaiting response" about GTAIV, Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War 2, Bulletstorm and a few other games. You can read the full list of games here. Thanks, Joystiq!
Like an unpopular and neglected combination of game client, social platform and DRM system, Games for Windows Live is fast approaching its ultimate shutdown. Oh, hold on, that wasn't a clever analogy. That's what Games for Windows Live is. In preparation for its sort-of announced shutdown, a variety of games have been looking at ways to hack off the dying flesh, in the hope that such self-amputation will stop the creep of necrotic tissue, thus ensuring the survival of the host. Okay, that was a better analogy.
Codemasters have become the latest developer to announce their detachment plans, confirming over Twitter that a GfW:Live free version of rally racer Dirt 3 was being worked on.
@TweetingTommy32 We are working on it but it may not be until the new year.— Codemasters (@Codemasters) November 9, 2013
Dirt 3 was the last Codemasters game to use GfW:Live. The developer's subsequent releases, including F1 2012 and 2013, Grid 2 and Dirt: Showdown, all used Steamworks. As yet, the planned fate of the excellent Dirt 2 - also tied to GfW:Live remains unknown.
Games for Windows Live's shutdown was briefly announced through the support page for Age of Empires Online, before the webpage was updated and the closure confirmation removed. That so many games have, or are planning to switch to Steamworks confirms that there's some truth to these plans. If the original date was correct, the service will shutdown on the 1st July, 2014.
We've already seen a Steamworks shift from Bioshock 2 and the Arkham games, and Capcom recently announced that they were "looking into what options are available".
On the cusp of an open multiplayer beta for Crytek's maximally lustrous Crysis 3, Nvidia released an early version of its GeForce 313.95 drivers today. The GPU giant claims the drivers boost SLI performance for Crysis 3 by up to 35 percent in addition to other "sizeable SLI and single-GPU performance gains" in games such as Assassin's Creed III and Far Cry 3.
Nvidia says users should expect a 27 percent gain in graphics performance while playing Assassin's Creed III, 19 percent in Civilization V, and 14 percent for both Call of Duty: Black Ops II and DiRT 3. Just Cause 2 improves by 11 percent, and Deus Ex: Human Revolution, F1 2012, and Far Cry 3 all improve by 10 percent.
Demonstrating its mastery over orderly green bars, Nvidia also supplied benchmark charts for these games using four of its most recent cards: the GTX 650, 660 Ti, 680, and 690. With the 313.95 drivers, the company declares GTX 690 users can max out all settings in Crysis 3 and still achieve 60 FPS.
Grab the new drivers and check out the charts at Nvidia's website. Also try out the GeForce Experience—which we've talked about at length—to automatically optimize and configure your games based on your PC's hardware.
Contrary to popular belief, the anticipated Oculus Rift virtual reality headset doesn't run on pixie dust and elf tears. Like all hardware, it needs software drivers. And while its 20-year-old creator, Palmer Luckey, focuses on manufacturing more developer kits to meet the exceedingly high demand, enthusiastic 3D fans are already planning homebrewed custom drivers. One such project is CyberReality's Vireio Perception which extends Rift 3D support to first-person greats such as Portal 2, Skyrim, Mirror's Edge, and Left 4 Dead.
As CyberReality describes it, Vireio (or Virtual Reality Input Output, but we like how the shorthand name sounds like an enemy boss) can "pre-warp the image to match the Oculus Rift optics, handle custom aspect-ratios (needed for the Rift's strange 8:10 screen), and utilize full 3D head-tracking." As we describe it: Whoa.
The drivers work with nine games so far: Left 4 Dead, Half-Life 2, Portal 2, Skyrim, Mirror's Edge, AaAaAA!!!, Unreal Tournament 3, Dear Esther, and DiRT 2. CyberReality plans to add additional games in the future after spending more time with the kit. If all goes well, the possibilities are enormous: Think of revisiting classics such as Thief or Deus Ex with full head-tracking vision. Oh, yes, this is exciting.
The Dirt series has always been a kooky marriage between Codemasters’ Colin McRae roots and the extreme (and extremely marketable) excess of ESPN’s X Games. Dirt Showdown dispenses with rallying altogether; instead it’s a showcase of arcade racing and trick-based showmanship, topped off with an overzealous announcer and wobbly dubstep.
Yet despite the focus on speed and destruction, Showdown is the most schizophrenic Dirt to date. The excellent car handling model that has evolved over the previous games – realistic yet accessible – sits uncomfortably against such arcade trappings as the purely cosmetic damage system or rechargeable nitrous. Boost slowly builds up as you drive, but to get a bigger increase you’ll need to ram, shunt and T-bone your way through the field. The problem is that bone-shattering crunches into another racer are as likely to put you sideways into a wall. The AI cars have a tendency to cluster together, so you’ll find yourself at the back of the pack before you’ve had time to adjust.
It’s a problem compounded by the lack of flashbacks, which in previous games let you rewind mistakes to have another go. In Showdown, when those mistakes are as much about luck as your own skill, losing this feature can frustrate. In the figure-of- eight circuits of 8-Ball mode, wrecking out at the last corner from a side-on hit is infuriating.
It means that in races, your best tactic is to ignore the additions and just race, using Boost in the few occasions that it’s available, but otherwise concentrating on a clean run to the finish line. Despite a lacklustre start on the bland Miami track, once you progress to later seasons and get to race on the snowcovered Colorado or neon-lit Tokyo, it’s a lot of fun. But this is ground that was covered before and better in Dirts 2 and 3.
Two other event types are included, each with their own set of cars to unlock and upgrade, and both feel more at home in Showdown’s roster. Demolition, including the destruction derbies of Rampage and Knock Out, and the Hard Target assassination mode, are romps of vehicular violence. Meanwhile, ‘Hoonigan’ events favour precision and skill, and as such are the only modes to feature flashback rewinds and licensed vehicles (including, brilliantly, a classic Mini Cooper). Gymkhana trick-runs make a return appearance, but the highlight is the Smash Hunt challenge. Here you target specific coloured foam blocks in a strangely compelling mixture of Simon Says and a driving test.
In all it’s a lot of game modes, spread out over multiple courses. But even with the variety, Showdown’s ultimately lightweight: you’ll fly through the campaign. It’s good, and at times even great, but comes across like an expansion to tide you over until the next proper release
UK-based Publisher and developer Codemasters have given up making shooters, choosing instead to focus on racing games. The company have launched a new publishing label - Codemasters Racing - that will be responsible for putting out Codemasters' upcoming games. They include the inconsistently capitalised but consistently good DiRT rally series, and the similarly speedy official F1 games.
Codemasters' comms chief Rich Eddy clarified the change to MCV. "In racing, we are number two in Europe and that’s not good enough. Racing is our DNA, it is our heritage, it is our specialisation and it is our absolute focus going forward." No clues as to where that leaves Dizzy in this shakeup.
DiRT Showdown will be the first gAmE (that's how you do it, right?) to be released under the new imprint. The change is surely a good move for the publisher. They're pack leaders in the racing oeuvre, but recent forays out of it haven't met with much success. A focus of assets and resources on the games they're best at makes sense.
The trailer above loudly announces that Dirt Showdown will be released on May 25. A demo will be released on Steam in a couple of weeks on May 1 if you fancy trying out Showdown's lively, arcade slant on the relatively serious rallying of the core Dirt games. That'll let us crash a selection of cars across a "solo and multiplayer event."
Showdown features rough and tumble races set amid boisterous carnival locations. Expect ramps, choke points, stunts and plenty of collisions. Previous trailers have shown crashes on the 8 ball arena, crashes in the midst of crowded night time contests and crashes during frantic midday bouts. If that's not enough crashing, there's a destruction derby mode solely devoted to dishing out points for big hits.
If you're to get hold of Showdown early, the "Hoonigan Edition" should be available to pre-order from Game and Gamestation, though the PC version doesn't seem to be there at the moment. The Hoonigan version comes with some extra car liveries, and online XP bonus and some extra in-game cash to spend on your cars. Check out the Dirt Showdown site for more.
Codemasters stopped by earlier with a preview build of Dirt: Showdown. It's living up to its billing as a more accessible, rough and tumble take on the carefully simulated physics of Dirt 3. You won't find any serious Rallying here, it's all about going wheel to wheel with your competitors, ploughing them into barriers and boosting past them to steal the win with brute force.
We'll have some more detailed impressions for you in a bit. Meanwhile, here's three new videos of three of the different modes available in Dirt 3, including your racing, demolition derby and more of the 8 ball circuit shown in the last Dirt: Showdown trailer. Click 'Read and Comment' for more VRRRRRM-SMASH.