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Half-Life 2

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PC Gamer
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title="Permanent Link to Mod of the Week: Double Action Boogaloo, for Half-Life 2">Mod of the Week







Amidst a flock of startled doves I dive left, my dual pistols blazing, and take down one enemy as another evades me by back-flipping off a wall. As I empty both clips, my dive becomes a prolonged sideways slide which takes me right off the roof of the skyscraper. I'm not alone: another thug sails over the ledge and joins me on my long plummet to the ground. While falling, I reload both guns and we trade fire all the way down to the street. Did I mention this happens in slow-motion? It's as if Jon Woo directed The Matrix when you play Double Action Boogaloo, a multiplayer mod for Half-Life 2.



Whoah.



What I described isn't some rare occurrence in Double Action Boogaloo. It happens roughly every ten seconds or so, because the mod is built on the elements required for such exciting, cinematic shenanigans: jumping, diving, sliding, flipping, running and gunning, and of course, slow-motion. Throw in some of Jon Woo's flapping doves and a few trench coats from The Matrix, and you've got a frenetic multiplayer action game consisting of nothing of movie trailer moments.



Fight ain't over til someone hits the ground.



Choose a player model of the three provided: Diesel, a biker, Vice, a hard-boiled detective, and Eightball, a somewhat familiar-looking gambler. Then, choose your specialty. The Marksman has better aim, reduced recoil, and faster reloading. The Bouncer punches faster and does more damage with his fists. The Athlete runs faster, dives farther, and slides longer (three things you will be doing a lot of). You can also pick a class that carries more grenades, and one that increases your slow-motion powers.



Startled doves included.



It's not just about shooting people, of course, it's about shooting people while doing awesomely acrobatic things. Shooting someone while diving is cool. Shooting someone and killing them while diving is cooler. Shooting someone in the head, thus killing them, while diving, is cooler still. The game rewards you for your coolness with style points that allow you to boost the skills of whichever specialty you've chosen. Gain enough points and you can activate bullet-time powers.



One sliding, two diving: the guy standing doesn't stand a chance.



Slow-motion doesn't seem like it would work in multiplayer. I mean, say I slow down the action. Doesn't the action slow down for everyone else, too? Well, yeah. Doesn't that mean anyone can enjoy my slow-motion powers at the same time I'm enjoying them? Well, yeah. That's why it's so cool! You have a slight advantage in that you choose when to activate it, but otherwise, it's like a gift to the entire server as everyone enters bullet-time and enjoys a cinematic shootout at the same time.



The kill-cam captures your finest moments.



There are a few maps to play, and they all feel perfectly appropriate for awesome movie-style shootouts. There's a subway station, complete with rushing commuter trains, perfect for leaping out of the way just in time to avoid being splattered. Also perfect for not leaping out of the way in time and being splattered. There's a couple of industrial maps as well, and of course, the best one, the rooftop skyscraper map, allowing for extended leaps through the air and long slides off of ledges, plus the awesome plummeting gunfights down to street level. Nicely, if you happen to fall off a roof alone, you don't have to fall all the way to the bottom twiddling your thumbs: a simple keypress will let you respawn topside.



Dive + headshot = Dive Kill. That's my kinda equation.



There are some objectives, sometimes, among all the high-octane carnage. Players may be targeted if they're doing well, letting everyone know where they are on the map so they can be hunted down. One player may be carrying a briefcase of cash, and sometimes a race will begin, leading players through several checkpoints. Mostly, though, this is a game about diving and rolling and sliding and shooting, and even when objectives pop up, the action never really slows down or changes.



Dodge, Dip, Dive, Duck, and Dodge!



In case I haven't been clear, this mod is super fun, full of crazy stunts and non-stop action. There's a first-person mode, which works quite well, though you miss out on seeing all the crazy moves your character is doing. There's a handful of servers available, and at least a couple nearly-full games going on around the clock. Get in there, load your double-guns, and dive in.



Installation: There's a self-installer right here. You'll need Half-Life 2 on Steam, and it'll even check if you've got Source SDK Base 2013 Multiplayer installed, and if not, will download it for you. Once installed, just restart Steam and Double Action Boogaloo will appear in your library.
PC Gamer
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title="Permanent Link to Source 2 tools teased in Dota 2 update">Dota 2 tools







The Dota 2 Workshop update is even more interesting than it first appears. The new tools include an overhauled edition of Valve's Hammer level editor, and the update download adds a 64-bit build of Dota 2. Both contain allusions to the next generation of Valve's Source engine. Set the Half-Life 3 alert to DEFCON beige.



Technically-minded modders and map-making enthusiasts are busily dissecting the tools in detail, but it's immediately clear that Hammer has been greatly improved. The interface has been overhauled, and the editor now renders the level in real-time as you tweak level geometry. It also runs on a new file structure. When you open a file in the editor, you can now choose to open a new "vmap" file, or an old fashioned "Source 1.0 Map File". The community is still puzzling over the advantages offered by the new directory system, but it looks like Valve are laying important groundwork for future releases.



It's interesting to note how user-friendly the new tools are. Dota Redditors are already having fun with functions that let you sketch out levels quickly (via DarkMio) using tilesets. As well as Dota 2's traditional forest set, there's the wintry Frostivus set and this one. Valve have a history of encouraging user-created content, including campaigns and levels. Hammer's complexity surely stunted the potential of Left 4 Dead's ecosystem a problem Valve tried to circumvent with Portal 2's lovely level-creation tools. Nu-Hammer could serve as a friendlier entry point for tinkerers.







In addition to all that, the latest Dota 2 update also adds a 64-bit version of the Dota 2 client, which you'll find tucked away in steamapps/common/dota 2 beta/dota_ugc/game/bin/win64. It contains numerous references to second-gen elements, like "engine2.dll", "materialssystem2.dll" and "vphysics2.dll", and comes with a colourful new console. It's a bit premature to say that Dota 2 has been ported to Source 2 wholesale, we're likely looking at an interim step as Valve roll out tools designed to support their current games and future projects.







This is quite exciting nonetheless. Publicly Valve have been laser-focused on Dota 2, but are of course rumoured to be working on Left 4 Dead 3 and, what was it again, Hearth-Life? Bath-Life? As someone who likes Valve games, but can't quite get into Dotes, I wait in meditative stasis for a new Valve happening, be it an announcement or an ARG. Our time will come.
PC Gamer
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title="Permanent Link to Half-Life 2 mod NeoTokyo released as standalone package on Steam">NeoTokyo







Competitive first-person shooters love to depict the gritty 'realism' of soldiers locked in an endless war of explosions and swearing. NeoTokyo isn't entirely different, but supplements its urgent shooting with cyberpunk and a nice soundtrack. After being successfully Greenlit in 2012, the Half-Life 2 mod is finally available to download directly from Steam now entirely free from its SDK dependencies.



If you've not played the mod, it's similar in style to Counter-Strike albeit a class-based Counter-Strike that's been clearly inspired by Ghost in the Shell. As the title elegantly suggests, it's set in future Tokyo, where a war is raging between the NSF and JINRAI. There are two modes to play Team Deathmatch and Capture the Ghost. The 'Ghost' in question is the top half of a robot lady. It is cyberpunk as all heck.



You can now grab the game for free directly from Steam, and, if you'd like to know what you're getting yourself into, can read up on NeoTokyo's peculiarities here.



PC Gamer
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title="Permanent Link to Half-Life 2 review November 2004, UK edition">half life 2 3







Every week, we publish a classic PC Gamer review from the '90s or early 2000s. This week, Ben Griffin provides context and commentary followed by the full, original text of our Half-Life 2 review, published in the November 2004 issue of PC Gamer UK. More classic reviews here.



What more can be said about Half-Life 2? Jim Rossignol's words below still do a fine job of summing up just why the world got worked up over a singleplayer shooter. November 2004 was a standout month for PC gaming, and indeed PC Gamer: a 96% for Valve's opus, 95% for Rome: Total War to a 95%, an 89% FIFA 2005, and Shade: Wrath of Angels with a, er, 59%.



But the game we called 'messianic' was all that mattered that month, and indeed, that year. Not only did it kick off Valve's (eventually) world-conquering Steam service, but it courted criminals too. After FBI involvement and a concerted effort from Valve's community, the stolen Half-Life 2 code was returned several anxious months later, but not after a making dear old Gabe sweat through a heavily delayed development schedule. Could this be the official birth of Valve time?



And Half-Life 2 still matters. Just shy of a decade on, memories linger in the collective conscious. The gravity gun. The hoverboat. Striders. Dog. Ravenholm, to which we definitely do not go. The game left an indelible mark on its landscape, and not only in terms of those iconic moments. Underneath it all, the Source engine gave modders and developers a good platform on which to base their game. It's still being used today albeit in a heavily modified form in Respawn's multiplayer shooter, Titanfall.



So there it is, one of the greatest PC games in history. Here's our original review in full.



Half-Life 2 review



It was all in that moment when I just sat back and laughed. I couldn t believe it was quite this good. I chuckled in muddled disbelief, expectations utterly defied. My nervous fingers reloaded the level, knowing that I had to see that breathtaking sequence one more time. It was then that I knew for certain: Valve had surpassed not only themselves, but everyone else too. Half-Life 2 is an astounding accomplishment. It is the definitive statement of the last five years of first-person shooters. Everything else was just a stopgap.



Half-Life 2 is a near perfect sequel. It takes almost everything that worked from Half-Life and either improves on it, or keeps it much the same. But that simple summation undersells how the Valve team have approached this task. Half-Life 2 is a linear shooter with most of the refinements one would expect from years of work, but it is also a game of a higher order of magnitude than any of the previous pretenders to the throne. The polish and the stratospheric height of the production values mean that Half-Life 2 is a magnificent, dramatic experience that has few peers.



It would be madness for me to spoil this game by talking about the specific turn of events, so spoilers are going to be kept to a minimum. We re going to talk about general processes and the elements of style and design that make Half-Life 2 such an energising experience. Key to this is the way in which Gordon s tale is told. Once again we never leave his perspective. There are no cutscenes, no moment in which you are anything but utterly embedded in Gordon s view of the world. Everything is told through his eyes. And what a story it is. Gordon arrives at the central station at City 17 a disruptive and chilling dystopia. And from there? Well, that would be telling. This is not the contemporary America that Gordon seemed to be living in during the original Half-Life. The events of Black Mesa have affected the whole world. The crossover with Xen has meant that things have altered radically, with hyper-technology existing alongside eastern bloc dereliction.







The world is infested with head-crab zombies and the aliens that were once your enemies now co exist amongst the oppressed masses. This very European city is populated by frightened and desperate American immigrants, and sits under the shadow of a vast, brutalist skyscraper that is consuming the urban sprawl with crawling walls of blue steel. It s a powerful fiction. City 17 is one of the most inventive and evocative game worlds we ve ever seen. The autocratic and vicious behaviour of the masked Overwatch soldiers immediately places you in a high-pressure environment. People look at you with desperate eyes, just waiting for the end to their pain, an end to the power of the mysterious Combine. Who are they? Why are you here? Who are the masterminds behind this tyranny? The questions pile up alongside the bodies.



Half-Life 2 isn t big on exposition, but the clues are there. You re thrust into this frightening near-future reality and just have to deal with it. Your allies are numerous, but they have their own problems. Your only way forward is to help them. And so you do, battling your way along in this relentless, compelling current of violence and action, gradually building up a picture of what has happened since Black Mesa. The Combine, the military government that controls the city in a boot-stamping-face kind of way, are a clear threat, but quite how they came to be and what their purposes are become aching problems. Once again Gordon remains silent, listening to what he is told so that you can find those answers for yourself.



But even with Gordon s vaguely sinister silence (something that is transformed into a subtle joke by the game s characters) there are reams of dialogue in Half-Life 2. It is spoken by bewilderingly talented actors and animated with almost magical precision. Alyx, Eli, Barney and Dr Kleiner are delightful to behold, but they only tell part of the story. There are dozens of other characters, each with their own role to play. And each one is a wondrous creature. They might be blemished, even scarred, with baggy eyes and greasy hair, but you can t tear your eyes away. People, aliens and even crows, have never seemed quite so convincing in a videogame. Doom 3 s lavish monsters are more impressive, but Half-Life 2 s denizens are imbued with life. More importantly, they offer respite. Half-Life 2 s world is a high-bandwidth assault on the senses that seldom lets up. That moment when you see a friendly face is a palpable relief. A moment of safe harbour in a world of ultraviolence. As Gordon travels he is aided by the citizens of City 17 and the underground organisation that aims to fight the oppressors. Their hidden bases are, like the characters who inhabit them, hugely varied an abandoned farm, a lighthouse, a canyon scrapyard and an underground laboratory each superbly realised.







It is this all-encompassing commitment to flawless design that makes Half-Life 2 so appealing. Even without the cascade of inventiveness that makes up the action side of events, the environments become a breathtaking visual menagerie. Cracked slabs and peeling paint, future-graffiti and mossy slate, tufts of wild grass and flaking barrels, shattered concrete and impenetrable tungsten surfaces City 17 and its surrounding landscape make you want to keep exploring, just to see what might be past the next decaying generator or mangled corpse. Whether you find yourself in open, temperate coastline or mired in terrifying technological hellholes, Half-Life 2 presents a perfect face. The first time you see ribbed glass blurring the ominous shape of a soldier on the other side, or any time that you happen to be moving through water, you will see next-generation visuals implemented in a casual, capable manner. Half-Life 2 doesn t have Doom 3 s groundbreaking lighting effects, but objects and characters still have their own real-time shadows and the level design creates a play of light and dark that diminishes anything we ve seen in other games. The very idea that people have actually created this world by hand seems impossible, ludicrous. The detritus in the back of a van, the rubbish that lies in a stairwell it all seems too natural to have come about artificially. Add to this the split-second perfection of the illustrative music, as well as the luscious general soundscape, and you have genuinely mind-boggling beauty.



But these virtual environments are little more than a stage on which the action will play out. And what jaw-dropping, mind-slamming action that is. What s tough to convey in words, or even screenshots, is just how much impact the events of combat confer. This is a joyous, kinetic, action game. The concussive sound effects, combined with the physical solidity of weapons, objects, enemies and environment, make this a shocking experience. Each encounter is lit up with abrupt and impressively brutal effects. Explosions spray shrapnel and sparks, bullets whack and slam with devastating energy. The exploding barrel has never been such a delight. You think that you ve seen exploding barrels before, but no: these impromptu bombs, like everything else in the game, are transformed by the implementation of revelatory object physics. Unlike previous games, the object physics in Half-Life 2 are no longer a visual gimmick they are integral to the action and, indeed, the very plot.



Gordon can pick up anything that isn t bolted down and place, drop or hurl it anywhere you choose. Initially this consists of little more than shifting boxes so that you can climb out of a window, but gradually tasks increase in complexity. Puzzles, ever intuitive, are well signposted and entertaining. If they re tougher than before they re still just another rung up on what you ve already learned. This is immaculate game design. There are a couple of moments in these twenty hours where something isn t perfect in its pace or placing, but these are minor, only memorable in stark contrast to the consistent brilliance of surrounding events. There is always something happening, something new. You find yourself plunging into it with relish. Just throwing things about is immediately appealing. You find yourself restraining the impulse to just pick up and hurl anything you encounter. (Free at last, I can interact!) Black Mesa veteran Dr Kleiner is remarkably relaxed about you trashing half his lab, just to see what can be grabbed or broken. Combine police take less kindly to having tin cans lobbed at their shiny gasmasks.







But the core process of this new physics, the key to the success of the game, is to be found in the Gravity Gun. Once you ve experienced vehicular action and got to grips with combat, Half-Life 2 introduces a new concept the idea of violently manipulating objects with this essential tool. The gun has two modes, one drags things toward you and can be used to hold, carry or drop them. The other projects them away and can either be used to smash and punch or, if you re already holding something, hurl it with tremendous force. A filing cabinet becomes a flying battering ram, dragged towards you and then fired into enemies, only to be dragged back and launched again to hammer your foe repeatedly, or until the cabinet is smashed into metal shards. Pick these up and you can blast them through the soft flesh of your enemies.



Killing the badguys with nearby furniture becomes habitual, instinctive. Or perhaps you need cover from a sniper picking up a crate will give you a makeshift shield with which to absorb some incoming fire. Likewise, you immediately find yourself using the gravity gun to clear a path through debris-blocked passages, or to pick up ammo and health packs, or to grab and hurl exploding barrels at encroaching zombies, setting them ablaze and screaming. You can even use it to grab hovering Combine attack-drones and batter them into tiny fragments on concrete surfaces. Soon the gravity gun is proving useful in solving puzzles, or knocking your up-turned buggy back onto its wheels. Yes, a buggy. I ll come back to that. The gravity gun isn t just another a weapon, it s the soul of Half-Life 2. Do you try to bodge the jump over that toxic sludge, or take the time to use the level s physics objects to build an elaborate bridge? Do you waste ammo on these monsters or pull that disc-saw out of where it s embedded in the wall? Of course, you always know what to do. When there s a saw floating in front of your gravity gun and two zombies shamble round the corner, one behind the other, well, you laugh at the horrible brilliance of it. Yeah, I think that was the moment that I sat back and laughed. It s just too much.



Sometime after these experiments in viscera comes Gordon s glorious road trip. Simplicity incarnate, the little buggy is practically indestructible, but also an essential tool for making a journey that Gordon can t make on foot. Dark tunnels, treacherous beaches and bright, trap-littered clifftops become the new battleground. Like the rest of the game there are oddities and surprises thrown in all the way through. The bridge section of this journey would make up an entire level in lesser shooters. And yet here it is, just another part of the seamless tapestry of tasks that Gordon performs. Also illustrative of the game as a whole is the way in which the coast is strewn with non-essential asides. OK, so you re zooming from setpiece to setpiece, but do you also want to explore every nook and cranny, every little shack that lies crumbling by the roadside? Of course you do. This is a game where every hidden cellar or obscure air-duct should be investigated; you never know what you might find.







Investigating means using the torch that, oddly, is linked to a minor criticism of the game. Both sprinting and flashlight use are linked to a recharging energy bank. It s clear why this restriction was imposed, but it s nevertheless a little peculiar. The quality of the game meant that I was searching, rather desperately, for similar complaints. Smugly I assumed that my allies in a battle were non-human because that way Valve dodged the lack of realism and other problems created by fighting alongside human allies. Of course my lack of faith was exposed a few levels later, when I found myself in the midst of the war-torn city fighting alongside numerous human allies who patched me up, shouted at me to reload, apologised when they got in the way and fought valiantly against a vastly superior force. What a battle that was. I want to go back, right now. The striders, so impressive to behold, are the most fearsome of foes. Fighting both these behemoths and a constant flow of Combine troops creates what is without a doubt the most intense and exhilarating conflict ever undertaken in a videogame. The laser-pointer rocket launcher is back and even more satisfying than ever before. Rocket-crates give you a seemingly infinite resupply to battle these monsters but it s never straightforward. Striders will seek you out, forcing you under cover, while the whale-like flying gunships will shoot down your rockets, inducing you to resort to imaginative manoeuvring to perform that killing blow. Even dying becomes a pleasure you want to see these beasts smash through walls and butcher the rebels, again and again. Oh Christ, what will happen next?



I could talk about how those battles with the striders almost made me cry, or about the events that Alyx guides you through so cleverly, so elegantly. I could talk about the twitchy fear instilled by your journey through an abandoned town, or the way that the skirmishes with Overwatch soldiers echoes the battles against the marines in the original Half-Life. I want to rant and exult over this and that detail or event, this reference or that joke. I want to bemoan the fact that it had to end at all (no matter the excellence of that ending). And I m distraught that we ll have to wait so long for an expansion pack or sequel. I even had this whole paragraph about how CS Source will be joined by an army of user-fashioned mods as the multiplayer offering for this definitively singleplayer game. But we re running out of space, out of time. There s so much here to talk about, but in truth I don t want to talk, I just want to get back to it: more, more, more... You have to experience it for yourself. This is the one unmissable game. It s time to get that cutting-edge PC system. Sell your grandmother, remortgage the cat, do whatever you have to do. Just don t miss out. By Jim Rossignol.
PC Gamer
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title="Permanent Link to “I did see some concept art for Half-Life 3″ says Counter-Strike co-creator. Left 4 Dead 3 “looks great”">Half-Life







Counter-Strike creator Minh Le has been talking to goRGNtv about Valve's most anticipated projects. He's seen artwork of Valve's next Half-Life game, and more of Left 4 Dead 3, which has been rumoured since the Valve database leak late last year.



"I don't know if I can talk about that, to be honest," says Minh of the new Half-Life, "but I think it's kind of public knowledge that people know that it is being worked on. And so if I were to say that yeah, I've seen some images, like some concept art of it, that wouldn't be big news, to be honest." Sorry Minh.



"But yeah, I guess I could say that I did see something that looked kinda like in the Half-Life universe. It wouldn't surprise anyone if I said they're doing it, they're working on it, yeah. So to go on a limb I'd say I did see some concept art for Half-Life 3."



Minh doesn't sound entirely sure, there. The artwork could have been for Half-Life 2: Episode 3, which Valve promised a long, long time ago. Everyone assumes that Valve have dropped the episodic structure to start a full sequel, but Valve have never commented on those specifics. Gabe Newell has repeatedly confirmed that Valve are still working on Half-Life, though, sometimes in code.



Valve haven't talked officially about Left 4 Dead 3, however. "The one thing I'm really excited about is Left 4 Dead, the new Left 4 Dead," says Minh Le. "I saw it, it looks great. I was really excited when I saw that. I was like 'wow, this looks great'.



"I really enjoyed Left 4 Dead, it was just one of those games that really just changed the industry. I think at the time there wasn't many good co-op games, so it was like yeah, this is a great co-op game."



Mihn Le left Valve years ago, so it's not clear when he saw the work he's talking about in this interview, recorded last week. He was hired by Valve to work on Counter-Strike, but he left in the late 2000s to work on Tactical Intervention. Valve, meanwhile, are also supposedly working on a new iteration of the Source engine. Will L4D3 take advantage of that new tech? Will we learn more at E3 next month?



Thanks to Total XBox for the heads up, via the many eyes and ears of GAF.
PC Gamer
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title="Permanent Link to Valve are collaborating on a Left 4 Dead arcade game">Left 4 Dead







In the UK, most arcade machines are gaudy, flashing money-sinks, designed to trap the arms of extra-strength-beer-swilling drunks as they attempt to pry loose change from the coin return slot. They are places of hellish despair, rich with unique smells and suspicious stains. In other countries, they also contain the promise of fun, friendship, and not stepping in a puddle of sick. Nowhere is this more the case than in Japan, where an array of popular arcades can still attract the interest of developers. Valve, for instance, are now collaborating with arcade specialists Taito on an arcade port of Left 4 Dead.



An informative trailer has surfaced on the port's official site:







Titled Left 4 Dead: Survivors, the concept will likely be similar in scope to Valve/Taito's previous collaboration, Half-Life 2: Survivor.



That's right, there was a Half-Life 2 arcade game, and it looks amazing. Terrible, sure, but also amazing.











In fairness, those are modes designed for arcade. The game's story mode is... sort of Half-Life 2. If you squint a bit.







If we're all very lucky, Left 4 Dead: Survivors will be similarly terribrilliant.
PC Gamer
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title="Permanent Link to Report lists Steam’s most popular (and most untouched) games">Steam graphs







Have you played every single game in your Steam library? No? Neither have I and that accomplishment is apparently just a small sand grain in the over 288 million games in Steam collections that have never felt a press of the Play button. That's a surprising figure from a new report by Ars Technica researching the most active and popular games on Steam straight from the recorded statistics of some of the platform's 75-million-strong community.



Ars' method for its number flood involves sampling registered games and their played hours via profiles and their unique Steam IDs. With the help of a server for computational muscle, Ars randomly polled more than 100,000 profiles daily for two months to pull together an idea of which games see the most time on everyone's monitors. In other words, your Backlog of Shame (don't deny it, everyone has one) probably took part in some SCIENCE at some point. Exciting.



Some caveats exist, though. The data Ars looked at for its research only extends back to 2009, when Steam brought in its "hours played" tracking system. Owned and played/unplayed games are thus slightly skewed to not account for older releases from the early noughties, and any length of time spent in offline mode wouldn't get picked up by Steam either. Still, Ars claims its results deliver a good picture of Steam gaming trends for the past five years albeit with some imperfections.



Predictably, Valve's personal products stack high on the list in terms of ownership and most played hours. Dota 2 takes the crown with an estimated 26 million players who ganked faces at some point in the MOBA, but free-to-play FPS Team Fortress 2 follows closely behind with a little over 20 million users. Counter-Strike: Source rounds out the top three with nearly 9 million players, but it's also collecting dust in over 3 million libraries.



As for non-Valve games, Skyrim wins in activity, barely edging out Counter-Strike: Global Offensive with 5.7 million estimated active owners. Civilization V kept 5.4 million players hooked for Just One More Turn, and Garry's Mod boasts 4.6 million budding physics artists.



Want to know what the most unplayed Steam game is? It's Half-Life 2: Lost Coast, the Source tech demo given free to pretty much everyone on Steam who bought or fired up Half-Life 2. It hasn't been touched by an approximate 10.7 million players. I guess that old fisherman is feeling pretty lonely right now.



My favorite stat is the total of played hours divided by game mode, more specifically the separate multiplayer clients of the Steam versions of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 and Black Ops. The single-player campaigns for each respective title sits modestly within the mid-20-hour range, but the multiplayer side balloons well into the hundreds of hours. It's a pretty obvious indicator of where the biggest chunk of popularity resides in FPS gaming, but it's not like you wouldn't get weird looks for claiming you play Call of Duty for the story anyway.



See more of Ars' results in both number and pretty orange graph form in its report.
PC Gamer
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title="Permanent Link to Half-Life 2′s City 17 recreated in the Unreal Engine, looks stunning">HL2 Intro







For some reason, the Source engine is lodged in my mind as the default baseline for what a game looks like. It's almost ten years old now, but because its characters aren't the angular blockmen of older engines everything since feels like an improvement on that default unit of Graphics. Until, that is, somebody decides to post screenshots of their Unreal Engine recreation of the opening map from Half-Life 2, at which point I'm reminded that we live in 2014 and have access to exponentially more Graphics.



That somebody is environment artist Jeannot "Logithx" van Berlo, whose UDK remake of City 17's train station is a beautiful thing. And as good as these shots look, van Berlo is now considering converting his recreation to the newer, sexier Unreal Engine 4. Ultro-Graphics!



"Still tons of stuff to do like creating all the exterior stuff, train interiors and some smaller models (monitors and props) but then Epic released UE4 in all its glory," van Berlo posted to the Polycount community's "What Are You Working On?" thread. "Please note that there's lots of placeholder models/textures/lighting and general derpyness in these pics," he writes. "Can't wait to get going with UE4."



See all three shots below.















Thanks, Dan Marshall.
PC Gamer
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title="Permanent Link to The future of PC gaming: virtual reality">futurepcgaming-vr







Illustration by Marsh Davies



All week long, we're peering ahead to what the future holds for the PC gaming industry. Not just the hardware and software in our rigs, but how and where we use them, and how they impact the games we play. Here's part three of our five-part series; stay tuned all week for more from the future of PC gaming.



Palmer Luckey has dedicated his career to virtual reality and bet millions of investment dollars on the idea, so it s expected that he would call it the most exciting technology of the last century. But it s still a bold statement from the young entrepreneur and founder of Oculus VR, and we told him as much during our chat at CES 2014.



I didn t say it s going to be the most successful, responded Luckey. But I think it is one of the most exciting, especially when you think of the potential.



Luckey has a lot of backup there; science fiction writers and scientists alike have been spinning tales of VR s potential for ages. All the way back in the 80s, Jaron Lanier the computer scientist credited with coining the term very accurately and excitedly predicted the virtual reality trends emerging in PC gaming today: massively multiplayer worlds, motion controls, and head-mounted displays (HMDs) through which we re immersed in stereoscopic visions of unreal places.



A US Navy hospital corpsman demonstrating a virtual reality parachute trainer.



And even before Lanier s predictions, there s been a persisting sense that virtual reality is both feasible and inevitable, which made growing up in the 80s and 90s terribly disappointing. The VR revolution just never came to pass. The technology never really worked in a consumer setting, and VR became a joke a list of novelty failures like the Virtual Boy.



Palmer Luckey and the Oculus Rift VR headset are putting that all behind us. It isn t a proven success yet, but it has proven that it s not a joke. By all indications, including the millions of dollars from enthusiastic Kickstarter backers and major technology investors, the virtual reality dream is finally becoming a reality.

Why VR works now

Consumer head-mounted displays existed before the Oculus Rift, but they weren t nearly the stuff of cyberpunk fiction. Shining stereoscopic images into the eyes is easy a plastic toy can do that but immersing the wearer s head in a world without making their stomach feel like an airborne water balloon is a lot harder.



Virtual reality that feels anything like reality requires an HMD with low-latency head tracking, high-resolution screens, minimal motion blur, and a field-of-view expansive enough to reach the peripheral vision. The first Rift prototype came near to solving these problems, but still made our managing editor, Cory Banks, quit Half-Life 2 with the contents of his stomach.







The latest hi-res prototype, however, strapped Cory and his stomach into a space battle with enough fidelity to keep his lunch secure. By overcoming its biggest critic the finicky human body virtual reality has proven that it s ready to arrive in our homes. It is no longer the stuff of failed Nintendo systems, theme park rides, and arcade installations of the 90s. It s real, and we ll be using it in the next year or two.



Mind you, modern VR technology is nowhere near the dreams of sci-fi writers we still need better motion control, haptic feedback, and face capture solutions but think of the Rift as the PC you would have played Doom on in 1993. We look back at those Pentium-powered antiques and laugh, but we bought them then because Doom was worth it. The VR tech of 2034 will make today s Oculus Rift look silly, but VR is just sophisticated enough now to be worth having, and that s why this is its watershed moment.

Game changer

The most important and exciting thing about this moment is that it isn t just about playing the same games with screens strapped to our faces. Virtual reality isn t a type of display it s a new gaming platform and it needs its own kind of games. In my ideal fantasy of the near future, we're still playing all the games we play now, but we have an expansive set of mutated genres made possible by VR.



As a first step, simulation makes sense. The closer technology gets to simulating reality, the better suited it is for simulations of reality. In the most basic VR scenario, you re sitting in a chair with a headset on, which makes it perfect for games about sitting in a cockpit or driver s seat. Expect VR support to be standard in driving, flight, and space sims Project Cars, for instance, already supports the Rift, and EVE Online developer CCP is making a dogfighting game designed specifically for the headset called EVE Valkyrie. Elite: Dangerous looks very promising as well see Andy talking about it below.







First-person shooters work in VR, too I played through part of Half-Life 2 with a Rift developer kit but slower is better. I doubt Titanfall would make a good VR shooter, for instance. Jetpacking up walls and being flung around by giant mechs might disorient even astronauts.



No matter how good you make a VR headset, it won t necessarily let you do everything you can do on a monitor without feeling disorienting," says Luckey. "And that s because a lot of things that you do in traditional games would make you sick if you did them in real life.



Call of Duty multiplayer, for instance, would probably not benefit from VR. Constant sprinting, 360-degree spinning, and bunny-hopping? No thanks and I doubt you'd get a competitive edge. That doesn't mean VR games will all be mundane strolls through static scenery, but even in a single-player shooter or on a psychedelic trip to Mars, I expect movement will need to be more natural. How often do you actually strafe across a room or walk backward around corners?



So, we ll move more like people move, and we ll also explore more with the Rift, just being in a place is instantly more interesting than it ever was on a flat monitor and more and more, we ll stop being asked to wield a gun at all times. In VR-land, pure shooters will further lose status as the dominant genre for first-person games. In their place, the survival-horror genre will continue its recent ascension Zombie Studios is already developing the Rift-compatible, properly terrifying Daylight and the less masochistic will find a greater number of first-person RPGs like Skyrim and exploration games like Dear Esther, The Stanley Parable, and Gone Home.



Many Oculus Rift demos are simply places to explore and experience, such as RedOfPaw's rendition of The Boiler Room from Spirited Away.



VR will be optimally used for simulation, exploration, and role-playing, and the games won t always fit into traditional definitions of games (as the last three I mentioned are either accused of or praised for, depending on who you ask). We ll visit foreign landmarks by exploring photorealistic 3D-scanned replicas. We ll bounce on the surface of the moon with friends. We ll dive into the Mariana trench in personal submarines.



These ideas call back to the multimedia CD-ROM experiences of the mid- 90s. The era s video encyclopedias and FMV games didn t earn the best reputation, but they ll come back in a much better way with VR. Consider Star Trek s reality-generating holodeck. The crew of the Enterprise didn t jump into the horrors of war as endlessly respawning soldiers. As much fun as that is (don't think I'm going to stop enjoying Rising Storm), I don't see it as the most exciting use of VR technology. No, Picard and crew experienced places, stories, and simulated people. They were role-playing, and even though the holodeck was just a plot device, I foresee real VR technology leading to the same thing. I also expect it to spur on advances in relatively un-advanced segments of game design and programming.

A new reality

For instance, role playing in virtual reality should lead to more convincing characters. Right now, short of hiring actors to populate my personal Sherlock episode in some kind of multiplayer murder theater, there s no way to have a natural interaction with a non-player character in a game. People don t fall in love via dialog wheel or blink idly when they have nothing to say, and as games start to feel more like reality, we ll expect their characters to act more like real people. AI and voice recognition will improve, and communication will become more important.



And when VR hardware is sophisticated enough, the goal of improving graphics and motion controls will be wholly replaced with the task of better simulating reality. That s the ultimate dream of VR from the perspective of many who have written about it a reality substitute, where people play, socialize, shop, and do business, as in Neal Stephenson s Snowcrash and other sci-fi fiction before and after it.



VR Cinema is a novel way to watch movies with extremely high resolution headsets, it could be a great way to share the theater experience with distant friends.



Virtual Reality starts out as a medium just like television or computers or written language, said Lanier in a 1988 interview with now-defunct magazine Whole Earth Review. But once it gets to be used to a certain degree, it ceases to be a medium and simply becomes another reality that we can inhabit.



Today, Luckey is saying much the same thing. When VR is going to be exciting is when it gets as good as real life at everything, he says. And you start to say, well, Why would I travel on a business meeting across the world just to go sit face-to-face with people, if we can just plug in Rifts and get all of the same nuance of communication we could have gotten otherwise?



But that s not to say that gamers aren t important, or that the goal of VR is to leave gaming behind. We re vital, according to Luckey and I agree because that grand cyberspace future will never get off the ground without us.



"Gamers are the ones that I think are most accepting of this kind of new technology," he says. "Gamers are willing to take time out of their day to go do something that s out of the ordinary and fantastical. And VR is one of the best ways we re going to have to do that."
PC Gamer
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title="Permanent Link to The future of PC gaming: virtual reality">futurepcgaming-vr







Illustration by Marsh Davies



All week long, we're peering ahead to what the future holds for the PC gaming industry. Not just the hardware and software in our rigs, but how and where we use them, and how they impact the games we play. Here's part three of our five-part series; stay tuned all week for more from the future of PC gaming.



Palmer Luckey has dedicated his career to virtual reality and bet millions of investment dollars on the idea, so it s expected that he would call it the most exciting technology of the last century. It s still a bold statement from the young entrepreneur and founder of Oculus VR, and we told him as much during our chat at CES 2014.



I didn t say it s going to be the most successful, said Luckey. But I think it is one of the most exciting, especially when you think of the potential.



Luckey has a lot of support there; science fiction writers and scientists alike have been spinning tales of VR s potential for ages. All the way back in the 80s, Jaron Lanier the computer scientist credited with coining the term very accurately and excitedly predicted the virtual reality trends emerging in PC gaming today: massively multiplayer worlds, motion controls, and head-mounted displays (HMDs) through which we re immersed in stereoscopic visions of unreal places.



A US Navy hospital corpsman demonstrating a virtual reality parachute trainer.



And even before Lanier s predictions, there s been a persisting sense that virtual reality is both feasible and inevitable, but the VR revolution just never came to pass. The technology didn't work in a consumer setting, and VR became a joke a list of novelty failures like the Virtual Boy.



Palmer Luckey and the Oculus Rift VR headset are putting that behind us. The device isn t a proven success yet, but it has proven that it s not a joke. By all indications, including the millions of dollars from enthusiastic Kickstarter backers and major technology investors, the virtual reality dream is real.



Why VR works now

 

Consumer head-mounted displays existed before the Oculus Rift, but they weren t nearly the stuff of cyberpunk fiction. Shining stereoscopic images into the eyes is easy a plastic toy can do that but immersing the wearer s head in a world without making their stomach feel like an airborne water balloon is a lot harder.



Virtual reality that feels anything like reality requires an HMD with low-latency head tracking, high-resolution screens, minimal motion blur, and a field-of-view expansive enough to reach the peripheral vision. The first Oculus Rift prototype came near to solving these problems, but still made our managing editor, Cory Banks, quit Half-Life 2 with the contents of his stomach.







The latest hi-res prototype, however, strapped Cory and his stomach into a space battle with enough fidelity to keep his lunch secure. By overcoming its biggest critic the finicky human body virtual reality has proven that it s ready to arrive in our homes. It is no longer the stuff of failed Nintendo systems, theme park rides, and arcade installations of the 90s. It s real, and we ll be using it in the next year or two.



Mind you, modern VR technology is nowhere near the dreams of sci-fi writers we still need better motion control, haptic feedback, and face capture solutions but think of the Rift as the PC you would have played Doom on in 1993. We look back at those Pentium-powered antiques and laugh, but Doom was worth it. The VR tech of 2034 will make today s Oculus Rift look silly too, but VR is just sophisticated enough now to be worth having, and that s why this is its watershed moment.



Game changer

 

What this moment will do for games is the most exciting unknown. It isn t just about playing the same games with screens strapped to our faces. Virtual reality isn t a type of display it s a new gaming platform and it needs its own kind of games. In my ideal fantasy of the near future, we're still playing all the games we play now, but we have an expansive set of mutated genres made possible by VR.



As a first step, simulation makes sense. The closer technology gets to simulating reality, the better suited it is for simulations of reality. In the most basic VR scenario, you re sitting in a chair with a headset on, which makes it perfect for games about sitting in a cockpit or driver s seat. Expect VR support to be standard in driving, flight, and space sims Project Cars, for instance, already supports the Rift, and EVE Online developer CCP is making EVE Valkyrie, a dogfighting game designed specifically for the headset. Elite: Dangerous looks very promising as well see Andy talking about it below.







First-person shooters work in VR, too I played through part of Half-Life 2 with a Rift developer kit but slower is better. With a Rift on my head, I spent more time than ever before walking around looking at the details of Half-Life 2's floors and ceilings. I also noticed that, when I took my time observing, I was able to create a better mental map of the levels than I recall making during any previous playthrough.



I doubt, however, that Titanfall would make a good VR shooter. Jetpacking up walls and being flung around by giant mechs might disorient even astronauts.



No matter how good you make a VR headset, it won t necessarily let you do everything you can do on a monitor without feeling disorienting," says Luckey. "And that s because a lot of things that you do in traditional games would make you sick if you did them in real life.



Call of Duty multiplayer, for instance, would also probably not benefit from VR. Constant sprinting, 360-degree spinning, and bunny-hopping? No thanks and I doubt you'd get a competitive edge. That doesn't mean VR games will all be mundane strolls through static scenery, but even in a shooter or on a psychedelic trip to Mars, I expect movement will need to be more natural. How often do you actually strafe across a room or walk backward around corners?



We ll move more like people move, we ll explore more with the Rift, just being in a place is instantly more interesting than it ever was on a flat monitor and more and more, we ll stop being asked to wield a gun at all times. Shooters will exist in VR-land, but they'll further lose status as the dominant genre for first-person games. The survival-horror genre will continue its recent ascension Zombie Studios is already developing the Rift-compatible, properly terrifying Daylight and the less masochistic will find a greater number of first-person RPGs like Skyrim and exploration games like Dear Esther, The Stanley Parable, and Gone Home.



Many Oculus Rift demos are simply places to explore and experience, such as RedOfPaw's rendition of The Boiler Room from Spirited Away.



VR games won t always fit into traditional definitions of games (as the last three I mentioned are either accused of or praised for, depending on who you ask). We ll visit foreign landmarks by exploring photorealistic 3D-scanned replicas. We ll bounce on the surface of the moon with friends. We ll dive into the Mariana trench in personal submarines.



These ideas call back to the multimedia CD-ROM experiences of the mid- 90s. The era s video encyclopedias and FMV games didn t earn the best reputation, but they ll come back in a much better way with VR. Consider Star Trek s reality-generating holodeck. The crew of the Enterprise didn t jump into the horrors of war as endlessly respawning soldiers. As much fun as that is (don't think I'm going to stop enjoying Rising Storm), I don't see it as the most exciting use of VR technology. No, Picard and crew experienced places, stories, and simulated people. They were role-playing, and even though the holodeck was just a plot device, I foresee real VR technology encouraging the same kinds of experiences. And with those experiences, I expect VR will spur on advances in relatively un-advanced segments of game design and programming.



A new reality

 

As one example, virtual reality should lead to more convincing characters. Right now, short of hiring actors to populate my personal Sherlock episode in some kind of multiplayer murder theater, there s no way to have a natural interaction with a non-player character in a game. People don t fall in love via dialog wheel or blink idly when they have nothing to say, and as games start to feel more like reality, we ll expect their characters to act more like real people. AI and voice recognition will improve, and communication will become more important to gameplay.



And when VR hardware is sophisticated enough, the goal of improving graphics and motion controls will be wholly replaced with the task creating more and more complex simulations. That s the ultimate dream of VR from the perspective of many who have written about it a reality substitute, where people play, socialize, shop, and do business, as in Neal Stephenson s Snowcrash and other sci-fi fiction before and after it.



VR Cinema is a novel way to watch movies with extremely high resolution headsets, it could be a great way to share the theater experience with distant friends.



Virtual Reality starts out as a medium just like television or computers or written language, said Lanier in a 1988 interview with now-defunct magazine Whole Earth Review. But once it gets to be used to a certain degree, it ceases to be a medium and simply becomes another reality that we can inhabit.



Today, Luckey is saying much the same thing. When VR is going to be exciting is when it gets as good as real life at everything, he says. And you start to say, well, Why would I travel on a business meeting across the world just to go sit face-to-face with people, if we can just plug in Rifts and get all of the same nuance of communication we could have gotten otherwise?



But that s not to say that gamers aren t important, or that the goal of VR is to leave gaming behind. We re vital, according to Luckey (and I agree), because that grand cyberspace future will never get off the ground without us.



"Gamers are the ones that I think are most accepting of this kind of new technology," he says. "Gamers are willing to take time out of their day to go do something that s out of the ordinary and fantastical. And VR is one of the best ways we re going to have to do that."
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