PC Gamer

It's been almost a full decade since the Half-Life series last showed life, with the surprising, even shocking conclusion of Half-Life 2: Episode Two. And surely, we thought, Valve wouldn't leave such a stunning cliffhanger untended for long. Surely, that heart-wrenching finale meant that Valve had a proper finish already cooked up, and the infamously long Valve-time waits between games would be a thing of the past.

Surely.

The near-ten years since then has not resulted in either Episode 3, or a proper Half-Life 3. But much has happened. Through both official channels and clever hoaxes, our hopes have been raised up and then dashed on the rocks, again and again.

May 2006 – Confirmed 

The fun begins not with a hoax, but an actual, official announcement: Half-Life 2: Episode 3, in time for Christmas 2007! There was even talk of Episode Four! Because sure, why not? Gabe Newell said episodic releases would be "pretty frequent," ideally spaced out by six to eights months. By my calculations, that means we're just about due for Half-Life 2 Episode 16.

January 2008 - The faking begins

Half-life 3 fakes started pretty much as soon as The Orange Box was out the door. Just a few months later, this screenshot began circulating. It was obviously a fake, but it was a sign of things to come: the years of hoaxes, leaks, rumors, and wishful thinking that led to this article today.

October 2008 - Two million copies?

Just as things were getting into full gear for the 2008 holiday season, Valve's Doug Lombardi told Videogames Daily that Valve "may [show Episode 3] at the very end of the year." Emphasis on "may," obviously, as Valve ultimately had nothing to say. He also expressed worry about over-committing to Half-Life 3, saying that if the studio got too deep into it, "We have to sell two million copies or else we're fucked." Two million copies, you say? I suppose that seemed like a lot back then.

July 2010 – The blob shake

Half-Life 3 references are found in the Alien Swarm SDK, in object properties like "Ep3 Blob Shake Position," "Ep 3 Fire Cover Position," and "Ep 3 Blob Brain Cover Position." It obviously wasn't proof of anything, but we were so hungry for a new Half-Life by this point that it was taken as rock-solid evidence that Gordo and co. would be making their return any day now.

May 2011 – Bad advice

"Combine Advisor Roaming" code is found in the Portal 2 SDK. Advisors had previously appeared in Half-Life 2, primarily in Episode Two, but that particular slice of code was not in the Episode Two SDK. It was new! And then Valve removed it! Clearly there was something to hide, although by now probably everyone involved has forgotten what it was.

July 2011 – A small, strange room 

A brief, very strange video clip containing a hex string led to the discovery of a small Half-Life 2 map on Megaupload. Hidden in the tiny, decrepit room is a heavily distorted image of a face and an audio file that, when fed into a spectrograph, revealed... well, not a hell of a lot of anything, really. The Half-Life connection at that point was pretty thin but that's the conclusion everyone jumped to because we were all so desperate for some crumb of hope, and it did have the distinct look of an ARG in its early stages. Alas, Valve kiboshed the idea in short order, and that was that.

 December 2011 – T-shirt guy 

Some guy, who some other guy said works at Valve, wore a Half-Life 3 t-shirt to a "local game development event." The wearer of said shirt was cool with having a photo of the shirt taken, although not his face, which is perhaps telling although whether it's telling us that the over-sharing Valve employee wanted to keep his identity on the downlow, or that he was just some rando who dropped a fiver at a t-shirt shop, is impossible to say.

December 2011 – Wheatley gets involved

Valve whipped up a video for the 2011 VGAs featuring Wheatley of Portal 2 fame, complete with Stephen Merchant's voice, and also some science-y looking guffola in the background. Among it was a spot of Russian text which translates in part to "Lanthanum," derived from the ancient Greek "lanthanein," meaning "to lie hidden," and written, " ." That first character look familiar to anyone? Sadly, Wheatley didn't win his award, and we still don't have the game.

 December 2011 – Black Aperture 

The last month of 2011 was a big one for Half-Life 3. A couple of weeks after t-shirt guy made his appearance, a mysterious site appeared at black-aperture.com bearing a very similar logo, along with branding for Valve, Steam, and the Source engine. Alas, the hoax effort didn't even stand up to the cursory inspection of a domain whois check, but it's to the credit of the owner that the site is still up, now bearing a blurry ".../3" image.

April 2012 – P-powered

Proving that simple is sometimes best, an April Fool joker caused millions of fans to momentarily go nuts when he posted a Half-Life 3: Now Available image at store.steamppowered.com. Some legitimate news sites fell for it, so excited were they by the prospect of Half-Life 3 being honest-to-God real that they failed to notice the extra "p" in the URL. The site remains up to this very day, although it's now tagged with a notice that it is in fact an April Fool's joke.

April 2012 - Ricochet, too?

Valve honcho Gabe Newell confused everyone when he discussed the development of Episode 3 in the context of Ricochet 2, the hypothetical sequel to the Valve-developed battle frisbee game.

"We'd like to be super-transparent about the future of Ricochet 2," he said, "but the problem is that the twists and turns that we're going through would probably drive people more crazy than being silent about it until we can be very crisp about what's happening." I can't say that I'm really with you on that one, Gabe, at least not here in the year 2016. The good news, Newell added, is that "everyone who's working on Ricochet 2 continues to work on Ricochet 2."

And so now we sometimes refer to Half-Life 3 as Ricochet 2, and may forever.

June 2012 - Concept art slips out

This leak came to us through the bad luck of artist Andrea Wicklund, whose Picasa portfolio ended up spilling concept art all over the net. Images included Alyx in various get-ups, a crashed helicopter in the Arctic, and pictures of the alien world Xen. Interestingly, while the art was dated from 2008, it didn't slip out until mid-2012.

August 2012 – No responsibility is taken

The 2012 edition of Gamescom promised to be an exciting one: Games scheduled for exhibit that year included Dragon Age 3 and Half-Life 3! Before we could line up for plane tickets to Germany, though, a correction was issued. Eurogamer asked three separate times why the titles had been listed, but Gamescom would only say that it was "a mistake."

June 2013 – Jira leak, stage one 

Data from Valve's project tracking tool (Jira) leaked to the public, revealing that 42 people are attached to a Half-Life 3 mailing list. Obviously, there was no way to verify that the leak was real, and even if it was, determining the age or status of the mailing list in question was impossible too. Maybe 42 people were working on Half-Life 3, or maybe 42 people are just too damn lazy to unsubscribe from the list. (I don't judge. I have two Felix the Fish plushies, because it was easier to let Big Fish Games sock my credit card for 7 bucks a month than to figure out how to make it stop.)

June 2013 – It was just a joke, we swear

A motley crew of yuksters manages to "accidentally" convince people that Half-Life 3 is in development in a segregated section of Valve's studios, and that a reveal of the project was finally imminent in the pages of their own magazine, no less! Which gang of comedy doofuses cooked this one up, you wonder? I cannot tell a lie: It was us (but it was meant to be an obvious joke, not a hoax).

August 2013 - The pen is mightier

A Steam dev posted an announcement of the beginning of a Half-Life 3 internal beta on the community announcements page. Real developer, real community post but fake announcement, as a close look at the list of updates makes clear. The dev in question quickly copped to it, saying he didn't "expect it to show up everywhere." Because when has that ever happened before, right?

August 2013 – Mr. Overwatch causes a stir 

John Patrick Lowrie, voice of Odessa Cubbage and husband of Combine Overwatch and GlaDOS voice actor Ellen McLain, caused a stir when he explained that Half-Life 3 wasn't moving forward because of challenges with motion capture which of course implied that he had some insight into the situation. He even said that overcoming mo-cap limitations was "one of the things they're working on," meaning that it was gasp! being worked on. Progress! Except, four days later he took it all back, saying that he doesn't know nothin' about nothin', and nobody can prove otherwise.

September 2013 – Jira, part deux 

Jira leaks again! This time there was a new "Half-Life 3 Core" group listed, and the number of people on the project had grown, too. That's practically an official announcement, right?

October 2013 – European trademark 

A trademark filing for Half-Life 3, owned by Valve, appeared in Europe. Trademark filings are a great way to get an early heads-up on new game projects: Deus Ex: Mankind Divided and Gwent are two high-profile examples of games that came to light first as a result of a trademark filing. Half-Life 3 trademarked? Half-Life 3 confirmed!

October 2013, one week later – European disappointment 

Half-Life 3 de-confirmed. Fake filing. Why does this keep happening?

May 2014 – Minh Le has seen things 

Counter-Strike mastermind Minh Le told goRGNtv that he'd seen Half-Life 3 concept art, and the game is in fact being worked on! Sort of, anyway. More precisely, he said he saw something "that looked kinda like in the Half-Life universe," although he seemed surprised that anyone would be interested in such a thing. It also wasn't clear when he'd seen the material in question, since he'd left Valve several years prior to the interview. He was also clearly far more interested in Left 4 Dead 3 than anything to do with Half-Life. Thanks for nothing, Minh.

October 2014 – A bad idea 

The "We Want Half-Life 3" Indiegogo campaign wasn't a Half-Life 3 hoax or broken promise, just a monumentally bad idea. Basically, a couple of advertising types decided to crowdfund a harassment campaign to let Valve know that people really want them to make Half-Life 3. You know, in case that wasn't clear. They asked for $150,000 for their campaign (which, in their defense, they later clarified was meant to be a one-day lark rather than concerted stalking); they closed with a little shy of $1600.

June 2015 – Another fake site 

Sweet Aunt Petunia, a Half-Life 3 logo actually appeared on the Valve.Software website. Unfortunately, that site is not actually related to Valve Software, but for a few delicious hours (or minutes, depending on when you heard about it and how innately suspicious you are of such things) we could let ourselves believe that the light was finally shining. The site is still up and the HL3 logo still there, but the fine print makes it clear that it is "just a joke site." Half-Life 3 hoaxes are no joking matter, Timmy.

October 2015 – Dota 2 discovery 

A file named hl3.txt was found in a Dota 2 update, containing references to "Combine Pulse Ceiling Turret" and "NPCs that are in the same squad (i.e. have matching squad names) will share information about enemies, and will take turns attacking and covering each other." That's straight out of a Combine soldier AI script, but what's with the hl3 filename? Valve maintained its usual stony silence, but I think it's worth noting that a year later, Gordon Freeman still hasn't appeared in Dota 2. That has to mean something.

Jan 2016 – Confusion on Reddit 

Drama in r/HalfLife, billed as "possibly the first legitimate Half-Life 3 leak." What's interesting about this one is that as far as I can tell, nobody is entirely, 100 percent certain that it was a hoax. The information provided was deep, detailed, and not at all flashy in the way of most other gag teases, and its veracity was backed, in ways he couldn't or wouldn't make clear, by the forum mod. Eventually, the whole thing just fizzled out, without the usual "lol suckers" flourish at the end, which could be seen as further "proof" that the leak was real. But probably not.

 February 2016 – Virtual teasing 

The innocuous-sounding SteamVR Performance Test software, an app intended to determine whether or not your rig is up to the strains of virtual reality, is found to contain some Half-Life secrets in its code, including a high-quality 3D model of Dog, the super-strong, ball-fetching robot from Half-Life 2. Half-Life 3: The VR Experience, perhaps? Not likely: The software contained material from other Valve games too, including Left 4 Dead and Dota 2, and writer Chet Faliszek was quite clear on the point when asked about it last year. (He said "No.")

August 2016 – Gamescomedy 

Right there, large as life and side-by-side with Titanfall 2, was a poster proclaiming, plainly and boldly, Half-Life 3! And some fine print underneath, which might have been missed at first because the poster said Half-Life 3! Except it was actually Half-Life: 3, as in, "Half-Life: 3 editors who played it back then." It's not so much a hoax as a lazy gag, but we all spasmed reflexively and so it gets the credit.

And that brings us to today, at least until the next joke, leak, hoax, apparent ARG, or off-hand comment. We give it at least 24 hours before that happens.

PC Gamer

Hero shooters are the latest gaming trend, team-based competitive multiplayer shooters featuring objective-driven game modes and large casts of colorfully designed characters sporting fantastical weapons and abilities. That s a serviceable but still somewhat shortsighted definition. The hero shooters we have today already cover a range of styles and goals. They re all shooters, so we see a lot of overlap in how they actually play, but each one approaches things differently and has something distinct at its core.

Basically, hero shooters are like the Powerpuff Girls, so let s talk Chemical X.

We ll start with Blizzard s Overwatch, seeing as how it has become the poster child for the genre. Overwatch is popular for many reasons, but primarily because of its heroes and their diverse playstyles and personalities. Game director Jeff Kaplan said it best when we spoke with him at BlizzCon 2015: the heroes are the content of the game.

More than any other hero shooter, Overwatch puts individual heroes first, not overarching classes. This wasn t always the case, though. In an April interview with GameSpot, Kaplan said the Overwatch team started with a class-first perspective. It was lead hero designer Geoff Goodman who eventually proposed making as many classes as we could come up with and simply turning them into highly specialized heroes.

Overwatch heroes are roughly grouped into four classes, but hero-specific strengths are stressed more than in, say, Team Fortress 2. In Overwatch, you pick a hero based on who your team needs and who the situation calls for, whereas in TF2 you have more room to choose a class based solely on how you like to play, illustrating the subtle difference between team-based and class-based gameplay. A skilled Heavy can fill several roles and always be useful, but you can only do so many things with Roadhog or Reinhardt, which brings us to hero switching.

Instead of making individual heroes more flexible, Overwatch made all hero switching available on the fly. You can choose from several suitable heroes in any situation, but you can t take the same approach with all of them, at least not effectively. Reaper and Tracer, for example, are both offense heroes who can make short work of enemies, but they play very differently and have different counters.

This creates the type of rock-paper-scissors meta we see in MOBAs like Heroes of the Storm, which is a noticeable influence on the way Overwatch heroes interact, both as allies and as enemies. There s also a bit of fighting game spirit to Overwatch. The way they use huge casts to segment fundamentally similar gameplay forms an interesting parallel with games like Street Fighter V and Tekken 7, which also live and die by their rosters.

Heroes are obviously central to all hero shooters, but careful character design is of unmatched importance to Overwatch because each of its heroes must not only serve a unique purpose but also mesh well with tightly clustered teams. Everything starts there, and anything that encroaches upon the fun hero gameplay, as Kaplan puts it, is swiftly changed. Furthermore, Kaplan told Kotaku in July, maps and modes are quite deliberately designed to promote hero interaction by bringing teams together. This lines up with what assistant game director Aaron Keller told us in September: "if and when we release a new game mode in the future, it will be about teams pushing on a single objective.

At the opposite end of the spectrum and it is a spectrum, this genre-hopping blur of a genre we have Gearbox Software s Battleborn, which doubles down on MOBA elements while turning Overwatch s character design on its head. Overwatch is about selecting and re-selecting the most suitable hero, but Battleborn is about building a hero that does what you want.

In Battleborn, hero abilities aren t static. Heroes bring the same skills into every round, but through the game s helix system of A/B upgrades, these can be tweaked to fit the play style you prefer. Characters fall into designated classes like healer and skirmisher, but they can still wield a mix of offensive, defensive or supportive abilities, just not all at the same time. So, rather than which hero to play, the question becomes how to play your hero.

You can further customize heroes through gear which augments stats like cooldown reduction and maximum health. Gear functions like the items in Dota and League of Legends: earn currency and buy pieces as the match progresses, with the added kick and progression of collecting gear through loot boxes and, from your collection, building character-specific loadouts. The influence of MOBAs is even more obvious in Battleborn s waves of minions and its base-destroying incursion game mode.

This should also sound familiar to Borderlands fans. Tailoring skill trees to suit different play styles? Boosting your most relevant stats with equipment? Hoarding gear? That s a day in the life of a Vault Hunter if I ve ever heard it. And come to think of it, Alani could pass as a sister siren to Borderlands 2 s Maya. There s plenty of Pandora in Battleborn, that s for sure, just as Overwatch s focus on individual hero characters can be traced back to Warcraft.

Beyond prominent MOBA elements, Battleborn brings some promising ideas to the still-developing hero shooter genre. For starters, it has a story mode. It isn t a particularly spellbinding tale (though the stellar opening cinematic helps) but it does provide welcome context for the game s world and the motivations of its heroes, not to mention a more in-depth tutorial and testing ground. Meltdown, Battleborn s take on payloads, is also noteworthy. In it, teams defend their minions as they march toward the goal and try stop enemy minions from doing the same. This means players have two objectives and can choose to defend or attack in every round, which ties into the game s split hero development.

Overwatch and Battleborn alone illustrate some of the balancing acts hero shooters have to manage. Through the strict limitations it places on game modes and character abilities, Overwatch gains the freedom to create characters like Mercy and Symmetra, who aren t at all suited for offense roles. Battleborn is all about customization, so it s possible for players to consistently play the hero they re most attached to rather than the hero their team needs right now. There are pros and cons to each approach: I can t see incursion working in Overwatch, but Battleborn heroes tend to run together a bit, and there s no doubt as to who s winning the sales race. Somewhere between these two extremes lies Paladins, Hi-Rez Studios free-to-play contender. Lead designer Rory Drybear Newbrough described Paladins as half shooter, half MOBA when we spoke with him last December, and the current state of the game backs him up.

Although still in beta, Paladins foundation is well established, including its much-vaunted deck system. For each hero, you can build equippable decks of five cards which, once acquired mid-match, buff various abilities and help fine-tune your play style. It isn t as open-ended as Battleborn s helix system, but that s not necessarily a bad thing. The goal of decks, Newbrough said in a recent interview with PaladinsWorld, is to give players multiple build options without warping characters to the extent that they are difficult to identify or play around. This preserves the concept of instantly recognizable characters a cornerstone of hero shooters since Team Fortress Classic while creating greater room for player choice.

Paladins also pursues new combinations through its heroes, which, according to Hi-Rez COO Todd Harris, are predominantly rooted in the studio s own Global Agenda despite similarities to Overwatch. Some heroes overlap more than others, but even familiar abilities can be interesting when rearranged. For instance, Androxus wields a defensive deflection ability, generous jumps, a six-shooter revolver and a rocket-powered ultimate. Similar abilities are seen in Overwatch but the combination is novel, and Paladins is not devoid of originality. As Blizzard grapples with Symmetra s place in the meta, Ying offers a good example of how to combine turrets and teleportation in a way that s powerful and satisfying.

Even so, and even for a beta, Paladins has yet to hit its stride. Everything checks out on paper: it takes inspiration from the most successful hero shooter yet, the biggest genre in esports and lessons learned from Global Agenda. It s also free, which is a good thing to be in an increasingly competitive market. The trouble is that it doesn t yet have an identity of its own. Overwatch is a dynamic team-based FPS, and Battleborn, while a bit of a commercial flop, is firmly a first-person MOBA with added objectives. Paladins isn t quite there yet. It seems to know what it s made of but not what it wants to be, and in this it echoes the state of the hero shooter genre as a whole.

The good news is that the concern is not what hero shooters can t do, but what they haven t done so far. Creating new and interesting heroes is great, but they stand the best chance of finding an audience if they do something we haven t seen in hero shooters before. The only guiding principle seems to be to build game modes that intuitively support your heroes abilities, something Overwatch and Battleborn both managed despite being wildly different. There s no limit on what those game modes can be, only on what type of heroes suit them.

Overwatch makes a good argument for hero-driven design, and Battleborn shows that unconventional elements can be folded in without upsetting the core FPS gameplay loop. More importantly, Overwatch s 22 heroes can t do everything, nor can Battleborn s 25. Meanwhile, Paladins is still trying to figure out what its heroes are best at, something its forthcoming new mode, which Newbrough describes as a co-op experience against challenging AI, may answer.

This is perhaps the most valuable lesson for budding hero shooters like Gigantic, Lawbreakers, Battlecry, Dirty Bomb and who knows how many games to come. I don t want to see this genre become a race to dethrone Overwatch by way of character design. That s a loser s market, and hero shooters have the potential to revive and improve so many game types. It s all a matter of finding a niche and creating a good-sized roster of heroes who really synergize with it.

For one, objective-based multiplayer goes way beyond 'defend the thing and push the thing', or in Paladins case, 'defend the thing then push the thing'. Where s the fast-paced capture the flag hero shooter that promotes mobility and map awareness using heroes couched in creative movement? Lawbreakers definitely has a shot at filling that slot, but it often feels like more of an arena shooter that happens to have five classes which is fine, by the way. The point is, CTF is another classic game mode that could benefit immensely from a broad cast explicitly engineered with it in mind.

Then there s the big, white elephant that seemingly nobody is talking about: where is the hero shooter that shamelessly apes the original Star Wars: Battlefront? With droidekas, shock troops, engineers and plenty more unique classes, it s already half a hero shooter. Just imagine a modern spiritual successor, divorced from the tapestries of Star Wars but informed by the years of MOBA refinement on display in Battleborn. Sprawling, ever-changing battlegrounds peppered with command posts and crawling with NPC squadrons led by heroes I have a dream!

Future hero shooters should also consider options outside PvP. Players can work as a team without fighting other players, and PvE-focused games like Left 4 Dead are crying out for hero shooter cousins. Overwatch proved this in its recent dalliance with horde mode, the Junkenstein s Revenge brawl. As our own Evan Lahti said, that brawl didn t really work because Overwatch doesn t have the maps or heroes to support it. Where is the hero shooter that does?

For once, the bewildering vagueness of the term hero shooter can be called a positive thing. This cockamamy genre could become a nearly boundless formula for reinvigoration, a way to explore and experience familiar game modes from a refreshing new perspective via dozens of fun characters.

PC Gamer

Team Fortress? More like Scream Fortr oh, I see Valve already did that, as it's the name of TF2's annual Halloween event. Joe brought the slightly disappointing news that there would be no all-new giant spookathon this year; instead, the game is getting a few new titbits, while all the old Scream Fortresses will be returning, as with last year.

The TF blog announces that Scream Fortress VIII has just kicked off, bringing with it "three new Halloween maps! All classic Scream Fortress Maps! All-new contracts! New taunts! And a Creepy Crawly Case with the chance to get our newest unholy Halloween creation: a taunt Unusualifier!" Yeah, that's right, an Unusualifier look it up in your Lexinomicon.

What's more, for the duration of Scream Fortress VIII, "all unusual cosmetics that you unbox from any case or crate will have a Halloween 2016 unusual effect, and the chances of receiving an unusual cosmetic across all cases, even old ones, will be DOUBLED," says Valve. Double-things are almost always good news whoever heard of Single Fine, for example?

PC Gamer

After six years of consecutive harrowing Team Fortress 2 Halloween events, Valve took last year off to work on its then new Invasion update. It seems the same is true this year, as the developer is instead "working on something even better."

Similar to last year, every prior Scream Fortress event will briefly return including 2015's Merasmissions while a new Pyro Pack, improvements to Comp Mode, a new update, a new campaign, community maps, and a new taunt are but a few of the things TF2 is introducing to ensure All Hallows' Eve doesn't pass us by.

In typical Team Fortress fashion, here's some weird words taken from the game's blog:

"And it wouldn t be a Halloween pre-announcement blog post if we didn t scare most of you TO DEATH. For instance: What if just now you heard the rattling moon-lit sound of a SKELETON? No, nothing? Everybody still alive? Okay, but what if that sound was coming from INSIDE YOUR OWN BODY? Because there s a SKELETON in there RIGHT NOW? Oh, you already knew that, did you? Well, what if we were to tell you it s STEVE BUSCEMI S SKELETON?

"How did it get INSIDE you? What did he do with YOUR skeleton? Why don t you ask him, because he s RIGHT BEHIND YOU! No, look down! Farther! Because he s just a puddle of flesh with two BULGING EYEBALLS staring up at you! And a SNAGGLE-TOOTH! That s right, you just BODY-SHAMED STEVE BUSCEMI! Because it was YOU writing this blog post the WHOLE TIME! AWOOOOO!"

Make of that what you will. No exact date just yet, however you'll be able to revisit your favourite TF2 Halloween events at some stage "next week."

PC Gamer

The Church in the Darkness plays like top down Hitman-lite in a 1970s religious cult. Your character decides to check in on a relative and infiltrates the sect to figure out how they're doing and what's really going on at church camp.

You navigate buildings and avoid the scrutiny of the cultists by staying out of sight, but unlike most stealth games, they won't get suspicious if you're in their line of sight, only if you get too close. By investigating the buildings around camp and searching for supplies, you'll find tools to help out with the denser parts of camp. For instance, I found a worker outfit that decreased the 'suspicion' cone around each camper so I could navigate more freely. I got in without alerting anyone, but you're free to go guns blazing if you like. I have concerns about the stealth feeling a bit too simple, but until I know what kind of challenges and tools the final game has in store, I'll keep checking in.

All the while, the church leader spouts their doctrine over the loudspeakers, but it's never quite the same every time. Voiced by videogame VO power couple Ellen McLain (GLaDOS) and John Patrick Lowrie (TF2's Sniper), the two leaders' teachings change with each playthrough. During one, they might actually be a fairly peaceful, if peculiar, religious group. During the next, they might be getting ready to take the world down with them. It's a creative form of narrative direction that I hope will influence how players choose to go about infiltrating camp. If they're a nice crew, the moral impetus might be to get in and out without harming a fly. If they're bloodthirsty zealots, well, a few flies won't matter.

The Church in the Darkness arrives some time next year.

PC Gamer

Every once in awhile you find a crossover between two different videogames that on paper makes no sense until you see it in action. That's how I feel about Steam user Pancake's "MegaMan 6" collection of TF2 maps. Divided up into eight separate arenas themed after a different boss, you can now wax nostalgic about how much harder videogames used to be while cracking headshots as Sniper.

"It was really a combination of boredom and seeing how people create maps based on other old videogames," Pancakes tells me. "I saw that people loved playing Mario-themed maps and I wanted to test the limitations of how closely a map could resemble the original game it borrows from."

In that pursuit, I'd say Pancakes has done a damn fine job. The project has taken him over five years to complete, and it hasn t been easy. Serious limitations in the Source engine made running a map with eight separate stages quite a challenge, Pancakes tells me, and that's not to mention all the effort it takes to rip the sprites and artwork from Mega Man 6. Each arena is also accompanied by the respective music from that stage, which does wonders for driving home that Mega Man nostalgia.

While this is technically just one map, it's actually divided into randomized arenas that you'll be placed on each round. There's a standard king of the hill version but also a 'VS Saxon Hale' mode to use if you have the required mod. So far, the only caveat is that, unlike other custom maps, this Mega Man 6 bundle doesn't play nice with bots. You're going to need to spend quite a bit of time setting up proper navigation meshes instead of just letting the console do that all for you. There's a few guides to help you get started if you're interested, but you're better off forgetting the bots and wrangling up a group of friends to play with.

What amazes me is that this isn't even the first time someone's had the idea of doing a crossover between Mega Man and Team Fortress 2. DeviantArt user AgentMidnight made some excellent artwork depicting what TF2 would've looked like as a Mega Man game instead of the other way around.

If Mega Man was never really your jam, there's no shortage of Team Fortress 2 custom maps inspired by the games of yesteryear. Steam user Litronom has taken this obsession to a whole new level by creating several dozen inspired by old Nintendo games, including everything from Bomberman 64, Zelda, Banjo Kazooie, and more. Unlike Pancakes' maps, which strike a nice balance between being a homage and also being fun to play on, Litronom's maps are almost exact recreations of their source material not exactly the place to have a competitive match.

Either way, I love that mods continue to be a venue for people to express their passion for other games. They might just be a passing curiosity, but there's something so inherently satisfying about reassembling videogames inside of other videogames. So if you have any particular fondness for that golden age of consoles and are keen on reliving those memories, be sure to download the whole lot from the Steam Workshop.

PC Gamer

Joe Wintergreen is an Australian indie game developer who is currently working on mostly a stealth FPS under the Impromptu Games banner. He also recently delivered unto the internet a series of code snippets from the great FPS Half-Life 2 by way of his Twitter account. There's not much to see of the code, but that's not why we're here. What's really relevant are the code comments, and the light they shine on how the magic is made.

The first tweet in Wintergreen's thread sets the tone for what's to come:

Striders will intentionally shoot things up even if you're not in their line of sight, just because it looks cool:

Charlie don't surf, and the Combine don't dance:

Zombies had to be toughened up after the shotgun's power was increased, to keep things in balance:

This is a stupid fix but it works, so whatever:

There's only one fuck in the entire codebase, according to Wintergreen, and this is it:

Alyx Vance: Nice girl, handy in a fight, terrible eyesight:

Some of comments really give a sense of what goes into making a game and keeping it intact. One in particular is actually a multi-paragraph telling of how the Strider minigun was accidentally nerfed in the Orange Box because of a bug in the original Half-Life 2 that nobody noticed. There's also a bit about the low violence mode, and references to the Combine Advisors, large sluglike aliens with creepy psychic powers who ended up not being used in the game. [Correction, sort of: I've been reminded that they did appear in Half-Life 2: Episode 2, but you didn't actually fight them.]

It's a fun bit of videogame history, and there are quite a few more than just what's embedded here. If you've got a few minutes, you can catch the entire thread on Twitter.

PC Gamer

It's no secret that Overwatch takes quite a bit of inspiration from Team Fortress 2, but thanks to the efforts of Serbian modder Srpski eki (which translates to "Serbian Hammer") Team Fortress 2 is now taking a page from Overwatch's playbook. Srpski eki has recreated a version of Overwatch's escort map, Watchpoint: Gibraltar, that can be played in Team Fortress 2 through Steam Workshop and while it's not a perfect imitation, it comes pretty damn close.

As explained by Srpski eki , his version of Watchpoint: Gibraltar is in an alpha stage and is in dire need of some actual art as most of the level is comprised of featureless geometry. Despite its early state, eki 's map is still a fully functioning recreation and is surprisingly good at imitating Overwatch. Just about every mechanic of the escort game mode is carried over thanks to how similar Overwatch's escort mode is to TF2's payload mode. Even though the recreation isn't perfect, you'll hardly notice once the fight starts.

Because I have no friends, I went ahead and loaded a server with bots to play alongside me. They're far from a perfect substitute for humans but still do a great job of illustrating just how similar the DNA between Overwatch and TF2 really is. On offense, we were able to quickly push through to the final objective without much resistance because the enemy bots were too busy getting lost running around the level which was a bit disappointing. On defense, however, the round played surprisingly like Overwatch to the point of even having the same stalemates in certain parts of the map. Even despite the fact that TF2 differs from Overwatch in some fundamental ways, like needing ammo for your weapons, it's pretty amusing to see how the two are similarly structured. I captured a short video of a round against bots so you can judge for yourself. Also check out the gallery below for some close side-by-side comparisons between the Overwatch and TF2 version of the map.

The only real frustration would be the fact that, ultimately, Watchpoint: Gibraltar was built with Overwatch's heroes in mind. As similar as many of them are, I doubt that the map will be as balanced for Team Fortress 2's classes. Also, getting shanked by an enemy spy has made me wonder if there might be room for deceitful shenanigans with a new hero in Overwatch.

Right now there doesn't appear to be anyone hosting the map on the community servers, so if you want to give it a spin you'll need to round up some friends to play with or load up bots like I did. If you're unfamiliar with setting up bots in TF2, you can read this short guide on how to add them in your game. Because this is a custom map, you'll also need to generate a navigation mesh so the bots can move around, which isn't nearly as intimidating as it sounds. After you get the bots loaded, pop open the developer console (default is the '~' key) and type in "sv_cheats 1" and then type in "nav_generate". This will freeze the game for a bit while it does some calculations and then reload the map, allowing the bots to move around just be warned it's not perfect.

Now that I've played Srpski eki 's Watchpoint: Gibraltar, I'm honestly a bit surprised to see that modding Overwatch features into Team Fortress 2 hasn't been more of a thing, what with the two being so similar. The only other Overwatch mod I could find was this highly questionable haircut for TF2's Scout. Who said that people from Brooklyn couldn't be posh?

PC Gamer

Following the rollout of Team Fortress 2's major Meet Your Maker update earlier this month, Valve has issued a patch to address some of the biggest problems with the new matchmaking functionality. The company acknowledged last week a lot of the most pressing concerns, and many of them are now fixed thanks to the new patch.

First of all, match leaving in casual mode will no longer incur a penalty, but to balance that out, Valve will increase the penalty in competitive mode in a forthcoming update. "The current system increases matchmaking ban times based on the number of abandons over a period of time," the notes read. "We are making a change to more quickly move serial abandoners into really long ban times. We will also subtract the maximum number of rank points possible, per abandon. The amount lost will be far higher than what could normally be lost in a completed match."

As for changes that will come into effect with the new patch, queue times should now take less than 90 seconds across the board, and empty player slots in in-progress games will now be filled up more frequently. Vote-kicking functionality has been added, and players can now select their preferred maps (though if they're added to an in-progress game, that won't apply until the next match).

Valve also outlined further plans for future updates, including ways to address griefing and high ping. The full update notes are over here. In the meantime, read Josh Wilkinson's impressions of the new matchmaking update here.

PC Gamer

Matchmaking is a completely new experience for TF2. It combines the unfettered and wacky world of public play with some intense competition and small team sizes. From casual pubbers to competitive superstars, everybody will need to be aware of the differences and adapt to reach the top. Climbing the ranks from Fresh Meat to Death Merchant isn t easy, so here are some do s and don ts for both new players and experienced pros trying to excel in matchmaking.

Comp responsibly

The key to any good team is finding a composition that works. You need a balance of healing, damage, and mobility to win in matchmaking as in all 6v6. While the classic team composition in competitive TF2 has been one Medic, one Demoman, two Soldiers, and two Scouts, this has been turned on its head in matchmaking. Without any class limits or weapon bans, teams are free to run multiple Medics, while classes like Heavy can run amok with items like the Gloves of Running Urgently. The prevalent strategy at the moment in matchmaking is to run two Medics, two heavier classes such as Soldier, Demoman, or Heavy, and two Scouts. This gives your team a great balance, but teams can still succeed with a huge variety of compositions.

The most important thing to remember is that you need a Medic if nobody else is stepping up, take initiative.

Study the maps

If you re a diehard casual player dipping your toes into competitive TF2 for the first time, you ll need to learn the maps. Matchmaking omits maps suited for large teams (like Goldrush, 2fort, or Badwater) even though they are excellent in public play. Instead you ll find yourself on capture point maps such as the newly official Sunshine and Metalworks, along with Gullywash, Snakewater, Foundry, Granary, and more. Attack/Defend and Payload maps such as Gorge and Swiftwater are also featured, so it s important to have a good grasp on the maps before playing competitively.

Learning the names for areas as well as discovering all of the flanking routes is a necessity you should also use your new knowledge to flank your opponents and attack from alternate routes to gain an advantage in games.

Practice new skills

For any newer players, this is the perfect time to learn some advanced techniques. TF2 is a game with a lofty skill ceiling and many techniques that the best players use aren t obvious when playing casually. Matchmaking has also drawn in a broad spectrum of players with varied experience; if you want to get to the top then you ll need to know how to rocket jump, airstrafe, dodge, and aim like a pro. This will help you move around faster than your opponents, avoiding their shots and continuing to deal damage. While the game itself doesn t have tutorials for these skills yet, there are a wealth of guides online over eight years of them! With practice these techniques can become simple and the advantage they give you is staggering, especially in matchmaking where mobility is so important.

Don’t lose track of ubers

Due to its small team sizes, matchmaking revolves around the use of Ubercharges. Don t lose track of them, as your positioning and decisions to attack or defend should be based on which team has uber. Medics are the most important class in the game for both their healing and their Ubercharge, which give a huge advantage to the team. They can allow you to push through choke points, attack sentry nests, pull off a clutch defense, or destroy the whole enemy team. Be aware though that the same can happen to you, so it s important to roughly keep track of the enemy Medic s percentage as well as your own. Every 40 seconds, a Medigun uber can be built keep that time in your head and have a healthy respect for the German doctor and his patients.

Tweak your loadouts

All of the weapons that we in the TF2 competitive scene decided to ban are legal in TF2 s new matchmaking mode. If you believe a weapon is unbalanced and needs a nerf, there s no better way to demonstrate that than to use and abuse it. Using incredible individual weapons such as the Crit-a-Cola can be devastating, but also keep the synergistic weapons in mind such as the Disciplinary Action. Some classes practically require unlocks to be effective: the Reserve Shooter and the GRU spring to mind. Utilizing the right combination of these powerful unlocks can increase your team s abilities even without altering the composition.

Switch it up

Don t stick to a single class in matchmaking. While you may have a main that you love and adore, matchmaking is the perfect opportunity to test out your skills on a variety of classes. Only a few classes are useful all the time in matchmaking, and one of the core concepts in the game is switching up your classes to keep a good team composition for the situation. This doesn t mean you should play a different class every life, but like Overwatch, be prepared to switch it up to fit your team. The team needs mobility and damage at a midfight, a tanky defense when on last, and a lot of balance in between. Picking a class that fits those roles is a great way to start thinking about how you can best help your team to win.

Josh Sideshow Wilkinson has more than 7,800 hours played in TF2. In the last six years, he's climbed to the top of the competitive scene, placing 2nd in Europe last season with his team Perilous Gaming. Sideshow is also a writer, caster for teamfortress.tv, analyst, and tournament organizer.

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