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title="Permanent Link to Face Off: Do boss battles have a place in modern games?">face_off_boss







In this week's Face Off debate, Tyler goes left, then right, then left again to dodge Evan's precisely timed barrage of attacks against traditional boss fights in modern games. Are they an outdated trope which should be reserved for arcade-style experiences? Is there some common ground, where boss fights and modern ideas can coexist?



Read the debate below, add your argument in the comments, and jump to the next page for opinions from the community. Tyler, you have the floor:



The Debate

 

Tyler: Why shouldn't games use a tried-and-true design template? Here’s an analogy: you spend a semester learning, then face the ultimate challenge in the final exam. It’s hard. You might have to repeat it again and again to pass, but it makes earning the right to advance to the next level meaningful. My degree would just be a piece of paper if I passed on attendance alone.



Evan: Thanks for comparing bosses to school exams, something universally disliked by mankind.



Tyler: I know, but see, what I’m saying is, because tests and bosses are- OK, fine. I guess I didn’t do myself any favors with that analogy. But are you just going to critique my rhetoric?



Evan: Let’s try this again, with less sarcasm on my part. So you’re saying that without a demanding test punctuating a player’s progression, being told “You won!” or “You advanced to the next area!” by a game isn’t as meaningful. Correct?



Tyler: I’m not saying games need boss fights to create meaningful progression, but the old-school structure still works where it’s used well. Bosses get the big set pieces—the explosions that would just be worn out if they weren't a sparingly-used reward. They can be crazy, huge, monstrous things. They can seem insurmountable at first, and when you turn one to dust, you are the hero. You’re Bruce Willis at the end of Die Hard. Happy trails, Hans.



Evan: I see bosses as an antique trope. They’re a lazy roadblock-in-antagonist’s clothing, and I think designers generally use them out of convenience or tradition, and not because bosses are the best or most creative way of structuring a game. Plenty of modern games have used bosses in a way that feels completely out of place—BioShock’s pathetic end boss was one of the only stains on one of the best games of the era. Ken Levine has admitted this.







Tyler: You’re right, mecha Andrew Ryan was too conventional for BioShock. That was an avoidable error—Wolfenstein 3D wouldn’t have worked if it built to not a fight with mecha Hitler, but BioShock? BioShock should have ignored tradition. That doesn't mean design traditions are universally bad or lazy, though. They give us historical learning to draw from, and that’s valuable.



Iterating on a design only leads to better versions of that design—not in every case, but over time. We’ll only get more and more amazing boss fights, and I’m happy to allow for some failures.



Evan: But designers aren’t iterating, they’re regurgitating. For the most part, bosses are still being implemented in the same form they were 10 and 20 years ago. What would you cite as an example of a great modern boss?



Tyler: Dark Souls, all of them. Sorry, is that game too “antique” for you?



Evan: Actually I’m glad you bring it up, because Dark Souls demonstrates what I’m talking about. The fun I had fighting its bosses relied on difficulty more than interesting design. Dark Souls is saying: “You’re fragile, so let’s make you fight things that have a bunch more HP and do more damage than you. Boss: DESIGNED!”







I don’t find that totally unappealing, but it’s mechanically mundane: pattern recognition, timing, and fighting an enemy with an enormous hit point bar isn’t tried-and-true--it’s overdone. That template originated in in the 2D arcade games of the ‘80s and grew ubiquitous through the console games of the ‘90s. Do we really want games that are just a series of homages to the techniques of the past, or do we want new ideas and new experiences?



Tyler: We want both! And sometimes we want a combination. We can want whatever we want. Alright, that last one isn't a very good argument, but how about this: it’s true that the best examples of boss fights come from arcade-style games and Japanese console series, making a “modern” PC-centric argument more difficult, but even Valve draws from that collective design learning. I thought Portal and Portal 2 climaxed just fine, and those are plenty modern.







Evan: I remember enjoying the ending of both games, but I think I was enjoying the narrative execution more than what I was being asked to do with my mouse and keyboard. Glados and Wheatley are both entertainingly written, and both Portals incorporated original, lyrical songs that provided as a surprising payoff for all your hours of brain work. But as an activity, as a test, I’m not sure if I’d call Portal and Portal 2’s bosses stimulating.



How to beat the end of Portal 2:



Stand behind a pipe as Wheatley fires a bomb at you. This will break open the Incredibly Obvious White Gel Tube.

Put a portal in front of you, and put a portal on a surface that faces where Wheatley’s shields aren’t. Stand there.

While Wheatley is stunned (because it wouldn’t be a boss if they didn’t have a “paralyzed” state), retrieve the cores and then just like, walk up to him.

Repeat.



It does a lot of the work for you--you don’t even have to consider where to place the gel, which was something Portal 2 taught you how to do over and over. It was a narrative success, but if we’re judging bosses by their test-like traits, I’d say it was a pretty easy exam.



Tyler: You’re right, boss battles tend to be exercises in pattern recognition and repetition. They require a binary win/lose state, and winning in one shot would be a bit anticlimactic, so you wear them down in stages. But what about Half-Life 2: Episode 2? That wasn’t a standard pattern-based test, it was a whole level. Conceptually, is that still a “boss?”



Wait. No. I’m unplugging my keyboard and walking away before I turn this into a semantic argument about “what is and isn’t a boss.” I’ll plug it back in after I’ve sat in the corner thinking about what I’ve done for a minute.



Evan: Yeah, I agree that it’s pointless to argue whether Half-Life 2: Episode 2’s incredible sawmill/Strider showdown is or isn't a boss. Mostly I’m interested in encouraging designers to throw out the notion that bosses or “tests” or endings require something like a binary win/lose state, or that they have to replicate something players already understand. I like that Left 4 Dead’s crescendo events make it possible to win and lose simultaneously--you or a teammate might’ve died, but if one person completes the finale it’s considered a success.



Mainly, I don’t want any more Human Revolutions. It was a legitimate tragedy that the reboot of one of the defining, agency-driven games of our time reverted to “let’s put the player in the room with a guy that they stun and then shoot until they kill him.”



http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SKuLO1WeuTg



Tyler: You’re right again, but I don't agree with a universal conclusion. Yes, “shoot until they die” is out of place there (and no fair using Human Revolution, which had bad boss fights for many reasons), but even so, I want to face the villain, and sometimes I really just want to win the fight. The hero’s journey, and all that! There’s a place for challenging the idea of binary win/lose states, as in L4D, but there’s also a place where John McClane shoots the bad guy, and it’s a place I’m not done visiting.



I don’t want to miss that confrontation because we're just too sophisticated for traditional boss fights. True, there are better ways to handle that confrontation, and that’s the experimentation I want to see.



Evan: “The hero’s journey, and all that” is exactly what I want more designers to deviate from. Not to derail our discussion about bosses, but I’m sick of being everyone’s savior.



Now that i think of it, Far Cry 3 represents one of the recent attempts at iteration on boss design. It’s an open-world game with maybe last year’s best villain, but Ubisoft’s solution for bringing you face to face with Vaas and other big bads was throwing you into these frustrating, (and I hate to use it like it’s inherently a bad word, but) linear, drugged-out hallucination sequences. Why did they do that? Because they wanted the player to have this prolonged encounter with the villain, and a dream sequence creates this context where they can bend the rules and allow the player to shoot the villain a whole bunch of times before they die.



Tyler: You sure have a lot of examples of bad boss fights, but they don’t add up to a rule—and at least Far Cry 3 tried to justify its boss confrontations a bit differently, even if it didn’t succeed.



And on your first point, sure, things can get really interesting when we deviate from archetypal hero narratives. What if I’m just a person in DayZ, on an island with zombies, what do I do? Fascinating, and I can’t wait for more. But why can’t we have both? We don’t have to stop saving the world to also find out what happens when we can’t save the world, or when the final boss is actually Jonathan Blow’s internal emotional struggle.



Evan: It sounds like we’re approaching something that resembles consensus. I think we’re both interested in boss encounters or “difficult trials” that are built on new ideas. I guess part of my criticism stems from the idea that Western game design has won out over Japanese game design over the past 10 or 15 years, and that bosses represent a dated trope that was perpetuated a lot by Japanese games.



I’m especially frustrated when well-funded projects, staffed by dozens of talented people, rely on templates like locking you in a room and throwing a single, durable enemy at you.



Tyler: Have you played Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater? I know, another Japanese console example, but I think The End is a brilliant modern boss fight—it’s a sniper battle, a long back-and-forth which can be won with a kill or non-lethal takedown. That’s the kind of boss fight experimentation we need more of in PC games. We don’t need to do away with them altogether.







Evan: I’m a closet Metal Gear Solid fan, so I’m not going to fight you on this one--The End works for the same reasons HL2: Ep. 2 does--Konami built a whole, intricate level around that character, imbued him with some unpredictable behaviors, and the result was this interestingly-paced jungle hunt that didn’t simply have one solution, yeah. A lot of MGS’ bosses do rely on some tropey pattern-recognition stuff, but he’s one of the best examples of combining “Japanese difficulty” and Western sensibilities. There’s a lot of that in what Kojima does.



Tyler: Yeah, we’re at least within sight of each other now (nice hat, by the way). Neither of us mind having that big confrontation, or even sometimes sticking to narrative tropes, we just want cleverer approaches. That is, we don’t want designers to force traditional boss fights into otherwise non-traditional games.



We want them to design climactic experiences that make sense, and “dodge, shoot, dodge, shoot” can be fun, but it only works in games wholly designed in that arcade style. When you force it into something like BioShock or Deus Ex, it’s a mechanical and narrative let down.



Evan: Ratified.



That's the debate! As always, these debates are exercises meant to reveal alternate view points and cultivate discussion, so continue it in the comments, and jump to the next page for more opinions from the community.











@pcgamer I hated ME3. Without boss battles, the story was basically about fighting mindless enemies 4 cutscenes. And Kai Leng don't count.— Nathan Hansen (@NathanHansenWDN) March 20, 2013





@pcgamer outdated. but also fighting endless waves, survival style is boring too.Simply, keep "boss" fights at random times throughout.YAY— derps | ADLT (@Batou079) March 20, 2013





@pcgamer Dark Souls did it well. Bioshock did it well. I like the idea of roaming boss fights with the black knights and big daddies— Nicklaus Lacle (@NLacle) March 20, 2013





@pcgamer Like anything else, boss battles have a place if they fit the game. They are often overused and obvious, though.— Ben Price (@bk_price) March 20, 2013





@pcgamer Japanese-based games have it on tight, I don't see much from NA titles.— Abdelrahman Al Amiri (@_Bu3ouf_) March 20, 2013





@pcgamer Boss battles are a needed mechanic but also needs to be well implemented using the games key features e.g. Zelda style or DMC!— Russell Jones (@RusDJones) March 20, 2013





@pcgamer Bosses are essential.The problem is every boss is the same now, people don't put the effort into creating original fights anymore..— Niek Kerssies (@KIPKERssIEs) March 20, 2013





@pcgamer The Boss is the one unique super baddy that gives us the challenge I seek in a game, otherwise its just CoD— Zack McCloud (@ZackLynx3187) March 20, 2013





@pcgamer depends on the game's style. A bit outdated. only not that bad. but don't really need it anymore if the gameplay is strong enough.— Tony J. Vodka (@tonihato) March 20, 2013





@pcgamer Yes Boss battles should be the climax of a game - compare Hitler Robot of Doom vs UN victory in Civilization 3— Logun (@Logun0) March 20, 2013





@pcgamer For something like a Strider or Reaper I think yes; otherwise, I feel it's outdated, as games like Mirror's Edge or Far Cry 2 show.— Davehonored (@david_shea) March 20, 2013





@pcgamer No tool in a writer's box is ever obsolete, but just as hammers aren't for fixing electronics, not every game needs a boss battle.— Jacob Dieffenbach (@dieffenbachj) March 20, 2013





@pcgamer @deadspace is doing this right. Minibosses that sometimes prove more intense than the "end boss", it's about nonlinear progres— CosmicD (@CosmicD) March 20, 2013

PC Gamer
rel="bookmark"
title="Permanent Link to Face Off: Do boss battles have a place in modern games?">face_off_boss







In this week's Face Off debate, Tyler goes left, then right, then left again to dodge Evan's precisely timed barrage of attacks against traditional boss fights in modern games. Are they an outdated trope which should be reserved for arcade-style experiences? Is there some common ground, where boss fights and modern ideas can coexist?



Read the debate below, add your argument in the comments, and jump to the next page for opinions from the community. Tyler, you have the floor:



The Debate

 

Tyler: Why shouldn't games use a tried-and-true design template? Here’s an analogy: you spend a semester learning, then face the ultimate challenge in the final exam. It’s hard. You might have to repeat it again and again to pass, but it makes earning the right to advance to the next level meaningful. My degree would just be a piece of paper if I passed on attendance alone.



Evan: Thanks for comparing bosses to school exams, something universally disliked by mankind.



Tyler: I know, but see, what I’m saying is, because tests and bosses are- OK, fine. I guess I didn’t do myself any favors with that analogy. But are you just going to critique my rhetoric?



Evan: Let’s try this again, with less sarcasm on my part. So you’re saying that without a demanding test punctuating a player’s progression, being told “You won!” or “You advanced to the next area!” by a game isn’t as meaningful. Correct?



Tyler: I’m not saying games need boss fights to create meaningful progression, but the old-school structure still works where it’s used well. Bosses get the big set pieces—the explosions that would just be worn out if they weren't a sparingly-used reward. They can be crazy, huge, monstrous things. They can seem insurmountable at first, and when you turn one to dust, you are the hero. You’re Bruce Willis at the end of Die Hard. Happy trails, Hans.



Evan: I see bosses as an antique trope. They’re a lazy roadblock-in-antagonist’s clothing, and I think designers generally use them out of convenience or tradition, and not because bosses are the best or most creative way of structuring a game. Plenty of modern games have used bosses in a way that feels completely out of place—BioShock’s pathetic end boss was one of the only stains on one of the best games of the era. Ken Levine has admitted this.







Tyler: You’re right, that was too conventional for BioShock. That was an avoidable error—Wolfenstein 3D wouldn’t have worked if it built to not a fight with mecha Hitler, but BioShock? BioShock should have ignored tradition. That doesn't mean design traditions are universally bad or lazy, though. They give us historical learning to draw from, and that’s valuable.



Iterating on a design only leads to better versions of that design—not in every case, but over time. We’ll only get more and more amazing boss fights, and I’m happy to allow for some failures.



Evan: But designers aren’t iterating, they’re regurgitating. For the most part, bosses are still being implemented in the same form they were 10 and 20 years ago. What would you cite as an example of a great modern boss?



Tyler: Dark Souls, all of them. Sorry, is that game too “antique” for you?



Evan: Actually I’m glad you bring it up, because Dark Souls demonstrates what I’m talking about. The fun I had fighting its bosses relied on difficulty more than interesting design. Dark Souls is saying: “You’re fragile, so let’s make you fight things that have a bunch more HP and do more damage than you. Boss: DESIGNED!”







I don’t find that totally unappealing, but it’s mechanically mundane: pattern recognition, timing, and fighting an enemy with an enormous hit point bar isn’t tried-and-true--it’s overdone. That template originated in the 2D arcade games of the ‘80s and grew ubiquitous through the console games of the ‘90s. Do we really want games that are just a series of homages to the techniques of the past, or do we want new ideas and new experiences?



Tyler: We want both! And sometimes we want a combination. We can want whatever we want. Alright, that last one isn't a very good argument, but how about this: it’s true that the best examples of boss fights come from arcade-style games and Japanese console series, making a “modern” PC-centric argument more difficult, but even Valve draws from that collective design learning. I thought Portal and Portal 2 climaxed just fine, and those are plenty modern.







Evan: I remember enjoying the ending of both games, but I think I was enjoying the narrative execution more than what I was being asked to do with my mouse and keyboard. Glados and Wheatley are both entertainingly written, and both Portals incorporated original, lyrical songs that provided as a surprising payoff for all your hours of brain work. But as an activity, as a test, I’m not sure if I’d call Portal and Portal 2’s bosses stimulating.



How to beat the end of Portal 2:



Stand behind a pipe as Wheatley fires a bomb at you. This will break open the Incredibly Obvious White Gel Tube.

Put a portal in front of you, and put a portal on a surface that faces where Wheatley’s shields aren’t. Stand there.

While Wheatley is stunned (because it wouldn’t be a boss if they didn’t have a “paralyzed” state), retrieve the cores and then just like, walk up to him.

Repeat.



It does a lot of the work for you--you don’t even have to consider where to place the gel, which was something Portal 2 taught you how to do over and over. It was a narrative success, but if we’re judging bosses by their test-like traits, I’d say it was a pretty easy exam.



Tyler: You’re right, boss battles tend to be exercises in pattern recognition and repetition. They require a binary win/lose state, and winning in one shot would be a bit anticlimactic, so you wear them down in stages. But what about Half-Life 2: Episode 2? That wasn’t a standard pattern-based test, it was a whole level. Conceptually, is that still a “boss?”



Wait. No. I’m unplugging my keyboard and walking away before I turn this into a semantic argument about “what is and isn’t a boss.” I’ll plug it back in after I’ve sat in the corner thinking about what I’ve done.



Evan: Yeah, I agree that it’s pointless to argue whether Half-Life 2: Episode 2’s incredible sawmill/Strider showdown is or isn't a boss. Mostly I’m interested in encouraging designers to throw out the notion that bosses or “tests” or endings require something like a binary win/lose state, or that they have to replicate something players already understand. I like that Left 4 Dead’s crescendo events make it possible to win and lose simultaneously--you or a teammate might’ve died, but if one person completes the finale it’s considered a success.



Mainly, I don’t want any more Human Revolutions. It was a legitimate tragedy that the reboot of one of the defining, agency-driven games of our time reverted to “let’s put the player in the room with a guy that they stun and then shoot until they kill him.”



http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SKuLO1WeuTg



Tyler: You’re right again, but I don't agree with a universal conclusion. Yes, “shoot until they die” is out of place there (and no fair using Human Revolution, which had bad boss fights for many reasons), but even so, I want to face the villain, and sometimes I really just want to win the fight. The hero’s journey, and all that! There’s a place for challenging the idea of binary win/lose states, as in L4D, but there’s also a place where John McClane shoots the bad guy, and it’s a place I’m not done visiting.



I don’t want to miss that confrontation because we're just too sophisticated for traditional boss fights. True, there are better ways to handle that confrontation, and that’s the experimentation I want to see.



Evan: “The hero’s journey, and all that” is exactly what I want more designers to deviate from. Not to derail our discussion about bosses, but I’m sick of being everyone’s savior.



Now that i think of it, Far Cry 3 represents one of the recent attempts at iteration on boss design. It’s an open-world game with maybe last year’s best villain, but Ubisoft’s solution for bringing you face to face with Vaas and other big bads was throwing you into these frustrating, (and I hate to use it like it’s inherently a bad word, but) linear, drugged-out hallucination sequences. Why did they do that? Because they wanted the player to have this prolonged encounter with the villain, and a dream sequence creates this context where they can bend the rules and allow the player to shoot the villain a whole bunch of times before they die.



Tyler: You sure have a lot of examples of bad boss fights, but they don’t add up to a rule—and at least Far Cry 3 tried to justify its boss confrontations a bit differently, even if it didn’t succeed.



And on your first point, sure, things can get really interesting when we deviate from archetypal hero narratives. What if I’m just a person in DayZ, on an island with zombies, what do I do? Fascinating, and I can’t wait for more. But why can’t we have both? We don’t have to stop saving the world to also find out what happens when we can’t save the world, or when the final boss is actually Jonathan Blow’s internal emotional struggle.



Evan: It sounds like we’re approaching something that resembles consensus. I think we’re both interested in boss encounters or “difficult trials” that are built on new ideas. I guess part of my criticism stems from the idea that Western game design has won out over Japanese game design over the past 10 or 15 years, and that bosses represent a dated trope that was perpetuated a lot by Japanese games.



I’m especially frustrated when well-funded projects, staffed by dozens of talented people, rely on templates like locking you in a room and throwing a single, durable enemy at you.



Tyler: Have you played Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater? I know, another Japanese console example, but I think The End is a brilliant modern boss fight—it’s a sniper battle, a long back-and-forth which can be won with a kill or non-lethal takedown. That’s the kind of boss fight experimentation we need more of in PC games. We don’t need to do away with them altogether.







Evan: I’m a closet Metal Gear Solid fan, so I’m not going to fight you on this one--The End works for the same reasons HL2: Ep. 2 does--Konami built a whole, intricate level around that character, imbued him with some unpredictable behaviors, and the result was this interestingly-paced jungle hunt that didn’t simply have one solution, yeah. A lot of MGS’ bosses do rely on some tropey pattern-recognition stuff, but he’s one of the best examples of combining “Japanese difficulty” and Western sensibilities. There’s a lot of that in what Kojima does.



Tyler: Yeah, we’re at least within sight of each other now (nice hat, by the way). Neither of us mind having that big confrontation, or even sometimes sticking to narrative tropes, we just want cleverer approaches. That is, we don’t want designers to force traditional boss fights into otherwise non-traditional games. We want them to design climactic experiences that make sense, and “dodge, shoot, dodge, shoot” can be fun, but it only works in games wholly designed in that arcade style. When you force it into something like BioShock or Deus Ex, it’s a mechanical and narrative let down.



Evan: Ratified.



That's the debate! As always, these debates are exercises meant to reveal alternate view points and cultivate discussion, so continue it in the comments, and jump to the next page for more opinions from the community.











@pcgamer I hated ME3. Without boss battles, the story was basically about fighting mindless enemies 4 cutscenes. And Kai Leng don't count.— Nathan Hansen (@NathanHansenWDN) March 20, 2013





@pcgamer outdated. but also fighting endless waves, survival style is boring too.Simply, keep "boss" fights at random times throughout.YAY— derps | ADLT (@Batou079) March 20, 2013





@pcgamer Dark Souls did it well. Bioshock did it well. I like the idea of roaming boss fights with the black knights and big daddies— Nicklaus Lacle (@NLacle) March 20, 2013





@pcgamer Like anything else, boss battles have a place if they fit the game. They are often overused and obvious, though.— Ben Price (@bk_price) March 20, 2013





@pcgamer Japanese-based games have it on tight, I don't see much from NA titles.— Abdelrahman Al Amiri (@_Bu3ouf_) March 20, 2013





@pcgamer Boss battles are a needed mechanic but also needs to be well implemented using the games key features e.g. Zelda style or DMC!— Russell Jones (@RusDJones) March 20, 2013





@pcgamer Bosses are essential.The problem is every boss is the same now, people don't put the effort into creating original fights anymore..— Niek Kerssies (@KIPKERssIEs) March 20, 2013





@pcgamer The Boss is the one unique super baddy that gives us the challenge I seek in a game, otherwise its just CoD— Zack McCloud (@ZackLynx3187) March 20, 2013





@pcgamer depends on the game's style. A bit outdated. only not that bad. but don't really need it anymore if the gameplay is strong enough.— Tony J. Vodka (@tonihato) March 20, 2013





@pcgamer Yes Boss battles should be the climax of a game - compare Hitler Robot of Doom vs UN victory in Civilization 3— Logun (@Logun0) March 20, 2013





@pcgamer For something like a Strider or Reaper I think yes; otherwise, I feel it's outdated, as games like Mirror's Edge or Far Cry 2 show.— Davehonored (@david_shea) March 20, 2013





@pcgamer No tool in a writer's box is ever obsolete, but just as hammers aren't for fixing electronics, not every game needs a boss battle.— Jacob Dieffenbach (@dieffenbachj) March 20, 2013





@pcgamer @deadspace is doing this right. Minibosses that sometimes prove more intense than the "end boss", it's about nonlinear progres— CosmicD (@CosmicD) March 20, 2013

PC Gamer
rel="bookmark"
title="Permanent Link to See Doom partially ported into Garry’s Mod">gmDoom







As far as giving an older game the Source treatment, GhorsHammer's gmDoom port project is probably the quickest to elicit a "Holy %)#@" out of me since Black Mesa. It chainsaws out the UI, enemy, and weapon sprites from the proto-FPS and stitches them into Garry's Mod with astonishing smoothness. I can't imagine how downing a Strider with a blast from the BFG would work, but after seeing it in action in GhorsHammer's video, I can't imagine how it wouldn't work.



The mod is undergoing a final round of bug testing and tweaks, and it'll show up in Steam Workshop sometime this week for download. It looks like the Frankensteinian bridge between Doom and Source flows both ways, as you're seemingly able to set up fights against classic hellspawn such as the Cacodemon and Revenant while touting Half-Life 2's arsenal. That includes vehicles, and running over crowds of Imps in Episode Two's muscle car while blasting E1M1 sounds all kinds of awesome.
PC Gamer
rel="bookmark"
title="Permanent Link to Gabe Newell: Valve’s business increased by 50 percent last year">Dota 2







Valve boss Gabe Newell stepped up to the stage during last week's BAFTA awards to receive the prestigious Academy Fellowship for his contributions to gaming. Presumably momentarily distracted by accepting a trophy modeled after a smirking face, a bewhiskered Newell fielded some interview questions over the normally airtight subject of Valve's business performance that hinted at the monumental scale of the studio's prosperity.



Newell chalked up Valve's successes largely to user-generated content on open platforms such as Steam Workshop before sharing some jaw-dropping numbers. "There's sort of an insatiable demand for gaming right now," Newell said. "I think our business has grown by about 50 percent on the back of opportunities created by having these open platforms.



"And just so people understand how big this sort of scale is getting, we were generating 3.5 terabits per second during the last Dota 2 update," he added. "That's about 2 percent of all the mobile- and land-based Internet activity."



Wait, what? We're not exactly sure what Newell meant when he dropped that bombshell of data info, apart from maybe claiming responsibility for all those times my connection speeds chugged while browsing these past few months. Still, it seems entirely plausible—Dota 2 has a lot of players, and the MOBA recently took the crown for the highest concurrent user amount of any Steam game ever. If any Steam game can feasibly take a bite out of the entire Internet, Dota 2 holds the best chance.
PC Gamer
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title="Permanent Link to The Half-Life 2 Spherical Nightmares mod is good and you should play it">Half Life 2 Spherical Nightmares







Some mods want to re-invent the game they're based on, but when that game is Half-Life 2, there's no need. In mods like Minerva (highly recommended, if you haven't played it), the creators treat Half-Life 2's weapons, enemies and environments as building blocks, playfully rearranging them into new scenarios to hone the craft of level design. With no fresh art or spectacle to fall back on, it's up to the pacing of each environment to keep the player fascinated.



New singleplayer mod, Spherical Nightmares does a rather good job of that. You start in jail, interred (ineffectively) by the G-Man, who reprises his role as Creepy Distant Voyeur Dude from the Half-Life games. Your first steps are cautious and exploratory, but as you clamber out of the dark bowels of the facility you'll stumble into escalating firefights that pay homage to Half-Life 2 and - in a challenging train ride section - Half Life 1 as well.



There's a haunted house vibe to the dimly lit starting corridors as well. It never stoops to FEAR level scare-craft, but you'll walk into black and white flashbacks showing a time when the facility was full of people yet to be munched on by an army of invading headcrabs. It's clear from the disturbed inmates and foggy Blair Witch visuals that ALL WAS NOT WELL. Look at this man walking pensively away from a game of chess. Who is winning? Why is he leaving? Probably because a strange man in a yellow suit with a crowbar is photographing him through the glass. Sorry, man.



Try queen to bishop 6 - hey, come back!



There is shooting. It is a lot like the shooting in Half-Life 2. This is no bad thing. The first proper fight is a slightly unexpected change of gear, but it moves from a vantage point with a heavy machine gun down into a courtyard with a LOT of combine soldiers in it. Here I rediscovered the pleasure of the right-click twin barrel shot on the Half-Life 2 shotgun, and there's a sneaky Ravenholm razor in one corner for Gravity Gun aficionados. It's easy to forget how challenging the Combine can be in numbers. They're still not terribly good at understanding cover, but the way they split, flank and use grenades is unnervingly effective.



The courtyard fight contracts into a vertical staircase fight (more good news for shotgun fans), which marks a slight shift in pace that feels like a studied attempt to recreate the gentle rhythm of Valve's levels. Half-Life partly controls pace with the expansion and contraction of space, ushering players through its sections with a subtle peristalsis motion that's emulated here. The brief sewer section teases daylight a few times before you emerge into the sunlight, another thoughtful touch.



Don't you hate it when your shotgun suddenly catches fire?



It looks good, too. Spherical Nightmares embraces the extra frills of the Episode 2 version of Source, and is lit sparingly. The engine looks increasingly dated, but the decision to use Valve's cohesive assets keeps things clean and unified and there's a lot of variety in the two hours or so it takes to complete. Don't expect much in the way of story resolution, however. Perhaps we'll learn more about the sphere and its innards in a follow up, but that won't be any time soon. Spherical Nightmares took five years to make.



Fancy giving it a shot? You can download the mod now from ModDB. Extract it to your Steam->steamapps->sourcemods  folder, restart Steam and it'll pop up in your library. you'll need Half Life 2: Episode 2 for it to work. See if you can find this guy on your travels.



NOT YOU AGAIN.
PC Gamer
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title="Permanent Link to Garry’s Mod has earned nearly $22 million over seven years">Garry's Mod



Source: http://bit.ly/XQp76W



Garry's Mod, that wonderful physics sandbox of posable characters doing very silly things, has done rather well since attaching a $10 price for its tomfoolery back in 2006. Last December, GMod passed the milestone of 2 million copies sold, an accomplishment made possible by word-of-mouth and creator Garry Newman's regular feature updates. Responding to a fan's question in a blofg post, Newman reveals the mod accrued an astounding $22 million over seven years, but he also says taxes took large bites out of the monstrous moneydollar amount.



"Over seven years, GMod has made about $22 million dollars," he writes. "We get less than half of that though. The tax man gets a bunch of that. Then when we take money out of the company, the tax man gets a bunch of that too."



A Google Image search for "Garry's Mod tax man" sadly doesn't provide an appropriate response image for Newman's achievement, instead showing a balloon chair, ponies, and a Teletubby mugging a Companion Cube. Wait, what am I saying? They're all appropriate.



As for the future of Garry's Mod and what's next for Newman and the rest of his team at developer Facepunch Studios, Newman lines up a few upcoming features in the works.



"Hopefully, we’re gonna get the Linux version out," he says. "Then hopefully we’ll move to SteamPipe, and I’ll get the NextBot stuff hooked up. Then I want to do another Gamemode Contest. But I want to knock out a bunch of gamemode creating tutorials first to help people get their foot in the door."



By the way, if you're leery of plopping down a Hamilton for a constantly updated playground of imagination ("Garry's Mod what are you thinking" in Google), you can grab the old-but-free Garry's Mod 9 from Mod DB.
PC Gamer - PC Gamer
rel="bookmark"
title="Permanent Link to PC Gamer UK Podcast: Episode 85 – Horse Parking Simulator 2013">Martin-Chris-TomS-610x239







After a break, we're back. Chris, Tom Senior and Marsh discuss Antichamber, DmC, The Witcher, Destiny, the inner workings of Valve and a game called Half-Life 2 that is pretty good aparrently.



Also featuring an ass palace, places where one may or may not take a horse, the playground circular saw craze of the 1990s, a wonderous squirrel experience, and possibly the most inept attempt to begin a podcast since the last time we tried to begin a podcast.



We also talk about Rome II, Aliens: Colonial Marines, and the games of David Johnston.



You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, or download the MP3 directly. Follow PC Gamer UK on Twitter to be informed when we're putting the call out for questions. Alternatively, follow us as individuals:



Tom Senior - @pcgludo

Marsh - @marshdavies

Chris - @cthursten



Show notes



Our review of Antichamber.

Smudged Cat games.

Half-Life 2 is a good computer game! Who knew. No link here: just registering my surprise. Again.

Our review of the petition-tastic DmC: Devil May Cry.

Some pictures of Destiny, Bungie's game about a magic space ball or something.

A blurry screenshot of whatever Respawn Entertainment are doing.

Via Eurogamer: the PS4 will not block used games.

MAXIMUM SQUIRRELS "Nine out of ten." - Martin 'Marsh' Davies

Our Aliens: Colonial Marines review, Kotaku's report on its troubled development, and a xenomorph with a tiny little invisible piano.

Someone call a doctor. Chris has a case of not-really-thinking-this-through.

PC Gamer
rel="bookmark"
title="Permanent Link to Black Mesa: Hazard Course mod sends Half-Life’s tutorial deeper into Source">Black Mesa Hazard Course







After using a Xen relay to slingshot itself across an interdimensional portal known as "the Internet," Black Mesa and its updates to Half-Life 1 continue to influence satellite mods that restore extended chunks of Gordon Freeman's tale. Next in line for Black-Mesa-fying: the Hazard Course, Gordon's optional and educational pit-stop for teaching movement and shooting basics.



Along with the standard face(granite?)-lift to the Hazard Course's bunker-like training areas and twisting pipes, the mod hopes to add a few new characters and areas for that extra bit of distraction as you eternally run late for that silly test chamber appointment. A notable planned addition is the tram station and the brief meeting with a few scientist overseers from the PlayStation 2 version of the game (here's a video), which is a rare opportunity to see one of the lab's normally stuffy pencil-pushers shirk procedure over a liability contract.



The mod just moved into its alpha stage after its team announced the first connection of all playable areas just yesterday. You can track the mod's progress over at Mod DB, and here's a few more screenshots showing off the completed work so far.











PC Gamer
rel="bookmark"
title="Permanent Link to Black Snow co-op mod: because it’s better to flee the darkness with a friend">Black Snow







Forget for a moment about debating what happens to horror's impact whenever another player enters the scene. When you open a murkily lit doorway framing a pitch-black hallway seething with malevolent abominations of shadow, you'll want someone close by to cling to...or a giant, stuffed teddy bear. The Black Snow mod for Half-Life 2 is sadly bear-less, but its new co-op mod-in-a-mod revisits the atmospheric creepiness with up to four players and up to four pairs of pants ready for wetting.



Piggybacking (with permission) on the original single-player Black Snow, the co-op mod adds a few necessary communication binds such as a character, radio, and inventory key. You're also equipped with a flashlight, since foraging for items in the dark sort of gets easier when you have a bit more light. That's just me, though.



The objective in Black Snow's co-op stays the same: gather items, solve puzzles, and fight bravely run away from Very Scary Things. As part of a response team sent into the eerily silent Amaluuk Research Station housed within the icy grip of Greenland, you need to figure out what happened, where everyone went, and oh my God what is that thing runrunRUN.



If you're ready, head over to Black Snow co-op's website and give it a download. Be sure to grab your nearest teddy-friend for support.
PC Gamer
rel="bookmark"
title="Permanent Link to Face Off: Do romance options hurt storytelling?">romance_facaeoff







Player-directed love stories are typically accomplished with "romance options." The options are characters, and in the mechanic's simplest form, if you do and say the right things to an eligible character, he, she, or Asari will fall in love, bed, or both. But can love—and more importantly, good storytelling—blossom from dialog options and cutscene trysts?



In this week's Face Off debate, Tyler says love is a bad game, arguing that writer-driven affection is preferable to mechanizing intimacy. Across the debate hall, T.J. cherishes the player-driven relationships that motivated him to save universes. Read more opinions on the next page, and argue your side in the comments. It's what the internet is for!



Tyler: "Alright team, we designed an interesting, complex character, but something’s missing. What’s that you say, every libidinous teenager? Wouldn't it be neat if players could manipulate the character's variables with the goal of fulfilling their carnal fantasies? Yes! Instead of a character, we’ll make a doll that comes to bed and says 'I love you' when you squeeze it."



T.J: OK, I’m going to refrain from derailing this whole thing with an anti-neo-Victorian rant on how our society is irrationally afraid of sex, and make my case this way: relationships are a core part of being human, and just about any story about humans. Adding player romance to a game makes it feel more real and complete as an experience. Thinking about it from a gamist “manipulating variables” perspective is missing the point. And it’s kinda gross.



Tyler: What’s gross is connecting with Liara in Mass Effect, and then getting her in bed by skipping down an obvious, color-coded path. I’m not against portrayals of sex and relationships, especially not with blue monogender aliens, but achieving intimacy shouldn't be about choosing the right dialog options.



I liked bonding with Liara, but when we reached that inevitable moment of passion, our interaction went from engaging character development to an erotic fanfic on Tumblr.



T.J: And you would know what erotic Tumblr fanfic sounds like.



Tyler: I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Fanfics on Angelfire pairing off Mulder and Evangelion. I watched scenes of glitter and Spock near—alright, I'll go ahead and lose this reference like tears in rain.



T.J: Please do.



Tyler: I'm an explorer, what can I say? Anyway, what I was saying is that alluding to romance would have been more effective than making it a binary goal, a hedonistic achievement. The latter cheapens the character and ultimately lets us down.



T.J: Well-done romance in games goes far beyond simple hedonism. To use another example from the same franchise: romancing Tali created one of the most emotionally striking moments in Mass Effect 3, and it had nothing to do with sex. I wanted to help her rebuild her home. I wanted to settle down there with her, and give her the life her people had dreamed of for so long.



Would I have wanted that even if she hadn’t been my character’s romantic partner? Maybe. But the impact would have been far, far less... impactful.



Tyler: I can’t believe you brought that up, you insensitive boor! Don’t you know what happened to me and her? It didn’t have to be like that, Tali...



T.J: I don’t care how things went in the Tyler is Shepard timeline, which is clearly the darkest timeline. And I think you just proved my point.



Tyler: Jerk. Well, you’re right that giving players more motivation than “save the universe because, like, you’re on the front of the box and stuff” is part of what makes Mass Effect great, and building a romantic relationship is an effective way to design that motivation. But is presenting a stable of romantic candidates the best way to go about that? I don’t think so. It makes my “relationship” the result of deliberate calculation, which ruins it for me.



In Half-Life 2, however, I don’t even talk, but the subtle tenderness between Gordon and Alyx is a one way ticket to motivation city.



Gordon doesn't have words, never mind dialog options.



T.J: You have a point with Alyx, but I think in a game like Mass Effect, where so much about the protagonist, as a person, is determined by the player, you should be able to choose who they are romantically interested in. And you need a few, varied options to make that a possibility. There is a place for doing it the Half-Life way, but I feel more personal attachment in games that do it the BioWare way.



Tyler: I’ll respond to that, but first we have to stop dancing around the real problem and just say it: I don't want to reinforce negative gamer stereotypes, but trying to ignore every opportunity to make an immature joke about “reaching the story’s climax” or “doing it BioWare style” is just killing me.



T.J: Based on Dragon Age, I don’t know that I ever want to “do it BioWare style.” But that just further illustrates my point that the sex scene is not the reward.



Tyler: Anything raunchy, salacious, or simply involving the letter “x” will motivate some, but I’ll give you that developers aren’t required to justify their intentions or gauge player maturity.



My real problem is that interactive storytelling is still clumsy. It’s getting better, and some decisions work, like whether or not to do space violence here, or save a space colony there, but building a relationship with tacky dialog wheel winks and nudges feels crude. I’d rather romantic intentions stay ambiguous or writer-dictated until there’s a game sophisticated enough to make it feel natural. Right now they just feel like dating sims.



T.J: It’s all a matter of perspective. Sure, the tech isn't there yet to simulate the depth and nuance of a real-life romance in a player-directed system, but you could say that about a lot of things: the way the space rifles work, the way the space villagers react to your presence. Games inherently require abstraction. And personally, I’m willing to deal with the level of abstraction we see in game romances right now for what it adds to my personalized narrative. Which, at times, is quite a lot.



Tyler: Nuh uh, games should be just like real life ...would be a terribly dumb rebuttal. Alright, so your point about abstraction is a good one, but I still think author-driven romance is superior. Put one of those little black boxes in front of your TV and play Ico. That was an expression of affection, if not quite the same kind as we've been talking about.



The point is, wooing characters who are programmed to be wooed just makes me feel weird. Unless, of course, I’m using “wooing” to mean "shooting up a floor full of suit-wearing dudes like that scene from 1992 John Woo film Hard Boiled". I’m totally cool with that kind of Wooing.



T.J: The only thing that could make that better is getting the girl at the end.



Follow Tyler and T.J. on Twitter to see day-to-day debates as they happen, and jump to the next page for opinions from the community...









@pcgamer They can hinder when it's forced or poorly written, but the best relationships can really enhance the experience.



— Eric Watson (@RogueWatson) February 13, 2013

@pcgamer They can be too heavy handed, clumsy and unnatural. Though romance is often just that, stories about it shouldn't be.



— Modred189 V (@Modred189) February 12, 2013

@pcgamer They feel forced and are ultimately unnecessary. I'd much prefer a well scripted single romance path that I could chose to follow.



— Garviel Loken (@SeventyTwo_) February 12, 2013

@pcgamer Mass Effect romance is no better or worse than what it wants to be: Captain Kirk and a Green Alien Chick/Ensign going at it.



— Jacob Dieffenbach (@dieffenbachj) February 12, 2013

@pcgamer if done right, they add a nice nuance.ME did it decently, but can be expanded upon without hindering the main story.



— Chris K. (@ChuckLezPC) February 12, 2013

@pcgamer If it feels like part of the story then fine. If it's an afterthought for content/controversy/publicity then it feels gimmicky



— Roman (@romanwlltt) February 12, 2013

@pcgamer brilliant. They make me care for characters. I like Garrus' bromance too



— Alex Filipowski (@AlexFiliUK) February 12, 2013

@pcgamer yes definitely. That's part of the reason why I love the Dragon Age series so much. Romance with certain char. Really brings you in



— Nick Ellsworth (@NE4Guinness) February 12, 2013

@pcgamer If I wanted to play a Japanese dating simulation... well, I don't, so there you go.



— HerpsMcDerps (@LoneCommandline) February 12, 2013

@pcgamer It forces emotional character interaction as you will invariably show favouritism. More emotion = more immersion



— AEON|Dante (@nzaeon) February 12, 2013

@pcgamer Three ME games (well, still a bit left of the third), and I have yet to even find any of the romance options. Art imitating life.



— Frode Hauge (@frodehauge) February 12, 2013

@pcgamer Depends on whether its tactfully done. A Nick Spark's story would murder an otherwise immersive game like ME.



— Andrew (@Drewoid13) February 12, 2013

@pcgamer They can allow for greater immersion and more dynamic stories.They shouldn't be the main focus but they should be in RPG's for sure



— Denholm (@DenholmFraser) February 12, 2013

@pcgamer The problem is that the romance is essentially between two puppets. I'm not sure you can replicate proper romance in games.



— Michael (@AchillesSC2) February 12, 2013
...

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