Nov 19, 2014
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - email@example.com (Alec Meer)
Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the crowdfunding waters – the Old Men Of Videogames are back, and they want your cash so they can pick up where they left off. Again. This time it’s Ron Gilbert & Garry Winnick, creators of Lucasarts point’n’click grandparent Maniac Mansion (not to mention a little game called Monkey Island), and they’re after $375k to make a spiritual sequel named Thimbleweed Park. … [visit site to read more]
Ron Gilbert isn't making a new Monkey Island game. This is a fact he's very clear about. A whole two parts of his seventeen point speculative design brief for the definitely-not-happening sequel are dedicated to ensuring you understand that it's definitely not happening. That aside, it's an interesting look at how the series' creator would handle a follow-up. Which he isn't.
For starters, it would be an "enhanced lo-res" game, combining retro art with modern techniques like depth of field and parallaxing. But the old-school vibe would go beyond the visuals: Gilbert also states his desire to make it a hardcore adventure. "You're going to get stuck. You're going to be frustrated. Some puzzles will be hard, but all the puzzles will be fair."
It would also do away with the latter games in the series. "It would be called Monkey Island 3a. All the games after Monkey Island 2 don't exist in my Monkey Island universe. My apologies to the all talented people who worked on them and the people who loved them, but I'd want to pick up where I left off. Free of baggage. In a carnival. That doesn't mean I won't steal some good ideas or characters from other games. I'm not above that."
Gilbert claims his imaginary sequel would be fully voice acted, retain the series' dialogue puzzles, and feature a rebuilt SCUMM engine. "Not SCUMM as in the exact same language, but what SCUMM brought to those games ... I'd build an engine and a language where funny ideas can be laughed about at lunch and be in the game that afternoon. SCUMM did that. It's something that is getting lost today."
So far, so promising, so why isn't the game being made? For one thing, Gilbert notes that he's no longer interested in working on games whose IP he doesn't own. "The only way I would or could make another Monkey Island is if I owned the IP. I've spent too much of my life creating and making things other people own.
"Not only would I allow you to make Monkey Island fan games, but I would encourage it. Label them as such, respect the world and the characters and don't claim they are canon. Of course, once the lawyers get a hold of that last sentence it will be seven pages long."
You can read the full thought experiment on Gilbert's blog, where he also goes into how the Kickstarter pitch might work: "No concept art or lofty promises or crazy stretch goals or ridiculous reward tiers. It would be raw and honest. It would be free of hype and distractions that keep me from making the best game I could."
Then, take a look at how our resident adventure expert Richard Cobbett would reboot the series.
Apr 16, 2013
Shacknews - John Keefer
Ron Gilbert's next game may be a puzzler for iOS, but he still gets nostalgic on occasion. For example, just how would he handle a new installment in the Monkey Island series? Hypothetically, mind you.
Gilbert tackled that question in his Grumpy Gamer blog, making it quite clear that he was just talking, nothing more. But if it did happen, he'd make it a fully voiced 2D game, and do all the things they couldn't do in the '90s with the limited engines and hardware. "Monkey Island deserves that. It's authentic. It doesn't need 3D. Yes, I've seen the video, it's very cool, but Monkey Island wants to be what it is. I would want the game to be how we all remember Monkey Island."
Before making The Walking Dead, developer Telltale Games made their own take on the franchise in Tales of Monkey Island. However, Gilbert said that none of those games mattered. "It would be called Monkey Island 3a. All the games after Monkey Island 2 don't exist in my Monkey Island universe," Gilbert said. "I'd want to pick up where I left off. Free of baggage. In a carnival. That doesn't mean I won't steal some good ideas or characters from other games. I'm not above that." The reason for the "a" is that the game would not be the Monkey Island 3 he had envisioned in 1992. "I'm not the same person I was back then. I could never make that game now. It is lost to time. Hopefully this one would be better."
As for going the crowdfunding route, Gilbert said he wouldn't do anything flashy, preferring to keep it "raw and honest." He doesn't want the hype or the distractions, but just to make a game.
"The game would be the game I wanted to make," he said. "I don't want the pressure of trying to make the game you want me to make. I would vanish for long periods of time. I would not constantly keep you up-to-date or be feeding the hype-machine. I'd show stuff that excited me or amused me. If you let me do those things, you will love the game. That, I promise."
Disney now owns the rights to the game after its purchase of LucasFilm and subsequent closure of LucasArts. Gilbert has said he wants to talk to Disney about getting the franchise rights to the series.
Disney's recent acquisition of Lucasfilm scored it more than the Star Wars franchise: it also picked up LucasArts and its catalog of games, including Monkey Island and Maniac Mansion, landmarks of Double Fine designer Ron Gilbert's career. While discussing his current project, The Cave (and his thoughts on The Walking Dead), I asked Gilbert how he felt about his work being under Disney's control.
"I would find it hard to believe that Disney would do anything with them, just because I think they just have a lot more important things that will make them a lot more money," said Gilbert. "Star Wars, for example, just to throw out one thing.
"And they’ve even said—even when they announced this thing—they said they’re really focused on mobile games. They’re just not doing PC games, they’re not doing console games, it’s just not their focus. So, I kind of don’t think they’re really going to do anything, and I think this probably wasn’t even on their radar when they bought Lucasfilm either.
"It’s kind of sad in a way. Yeah, I wish I owned Monkey Island and Maniac Mansion, you know? The fact that Lucasfilm owned them, I guess I was kind of OK with that, right? Because I made them there. But now that they’re owned by someone else--that kind of sits weird with me. It’s like, 'Well, if someone else is going to own Monkey Island, it should be me that owns Monkey Island.'"
I pointed out that certain developers have reacquired the rights to their franchises, using Kickstarter to fund sequels, but Gilbert doesn't imagine Disney would be easy to negotiate with.
"My only fear with Disney is that they don’t need the money. It’s not like I could ever offer them enough money to make it worth their while for them. They just seem to be a company that hoards IP, and that kind of worries me. If it had been anyone else but Disney that bought them, I would try to go put together some money and buy them back. But because it’s Disney, maybe not. But we’ll see, you never know."
Regarding his work at Double Fine, Gilbert says, "it’s good to know that it’s not owned by a big giant conglomerate."
Jan 10, 2012
Once upon a time it was easy. Just 15 years ago most games slotted into their categories with librarian-pleasing snugness. Take the adventure game.
In 1985 they were text games with a focus on storytelling and puzzle solving. Five years later it was the same but with animated graphics and mouse clicks replacing the typing.
But defining the genre now is like hugging fog. The once firm borders of adventures have crumbled and their ideas have diffused out into the wider gaming ocean. Today the definition of an adventure game depends on what school of thought you embrace.
Dan Connors, head of adventure specialists Telltale Games, sees the genre as a broad church. His definition is inclusive not exclusive. It includes Heavy Rain and Uncharted as well as his company's more traditional efforts such as the Back to the Future adventures.
"In the late '80s and early '90s it was very clear cut," he says. "Now you could attribute the dialogue trees in Mass Effect to adventure games. A lot of the scripted storytelling in Valve's games comes from adventure games. I think adventure games went out and permeated every single genre because they've always remained the best way to interact with characters in a world and to interact with an environment."
Others view adventures in more exclusive terms. "Stories in games need to mould themselves around what gameplay a game is trying to deliver," says Charles Cecil, founder of Broken Sword developer Revolution Software. "Uncharted is absolutely not an adventure game as I would define it, same with Heavy Rain. Both require considerable expertise with a joypad and an adventure is a cerebral experience rather than one requiring manual dexterity."
A lack of violence or death is also a common trait of adventures, he adds. But even then Cecil's definition has grey areas thanks to the likes of L.A. Noire, which lets players skip the action and focus on its adventure-inspired detective work.
A Brief History
While the exact definition may be debatable, the origin of the adventure game isn't. The first adventure is the aptly named Adventure, a 1976 text game created by Will Crowther on his workplace's PDP-10 mainframe computer. It let players explore a world described in text by inputting verb-noun commands such as 'go north' or 'get torch'. As well as exploring there were puzzles to solve and monsters to encounter.
Within a few months a Stanford University student called Don Woods had rejigged the game, adding more puzzles, locations and fantasy elements. Woods' version became a sensation in the mainframe-computing scene of the late 1970s. Other computer users began creating their own adventures and it went on to inspire MUD, the first MMO - but that's another story.
By the time the first mass-produced home computers began rolling off the production lines adventures were an obvious choice for making the leap out of the labs and into our homes. In 1978 the first commercial adventure game - Adventureland for the TRS-80 - reached the shops. Its success established the genre as a mainstay of computer gaming and its creator Scott Adams formed one of the world's earliest game publishers Adventure International to feed the growing demand for adventure games.
Adams wasn't alone for long. The following year the MIT students who created the Adventure-inspired Zork! formed Infocom to bring their adventure to home computer users. Around the same time in California the husband and wife team of Ken and Roberta Williams set up On-Line Systems (later renamed Sierra On-Line) to publish Mystery House - the first adventure to include still pictures of its locations in addition to the usual text. Soon text adventures went global, spawning especially vibrant adventure game scenes in France and Japan - although it was the work of Infocom and Sierra that dominated the text adventure era of the early to mid 1980s.
But as the '80s progressed the adventure game began to evolve. In 1984 Sierra came out with its fairy tale adventure King's Quest, which introduced animated visuals to the genre, and the following year Illinois developer ICOM Simulations released Déjà Vu: A Nightmare Comes True, which replaced text input with a Apple Mac-inspired point and click approach. By 1987 these two ideas - point and click interaction coupled with animated visuals - came together in Lucasfilm's Maniac Mansion. The text adventure had become the graphic adventure.
Lucasfilm's games outlet eventually became LucasArts, and it dominated the point-and-click era that followed with hits such as The Secret of Monkey Island (and at this time the adventure had mutated into a new genre - the visual novel - in Japan). In keeping with its roots in the movie business, LucasArts shifted adventure games away from Infocom's interactive novels to a more interactive movie with an approach drawing on the audio-visual and scriptwriting know-how of filmmakers.
By the mid-'90s adventuring's shift towards interactive movies reached its apex as the extra storage delivered by CD-ROMs allowed developers to add film footage, recorded audio and more detailed images to their creations. But for every CD success such as Myst or The Beast Within: A Gabriel Knight Mystery there were dozens of dismal games clogging the shelves such as Psychic Detective.
"They were an unfortunate blot of the history of adventures," says Cecil. "They came about because the bosses of publishers went to live in California because they thought it was cool to be near the film studios. Thankfully gamers just didn't buy them and it collapsed."
The adoption of 3D graphics and the success of the PlayStation blew the interactive movie dream apart. Players became more interested in the thrill of action than the slow, cerebral offerings of adventures. By 2000 the adventure game had become a niche genre, clinging on in places such as Germany but banished from the gaming mainstream. Deprived of an audience, adventure developers played it safe producing budget replicas of what was popular before the PlayStation.
It could have ended there for the adventure game, but in mid-2000s the tide started to shift. Telltale found success resurrecting LucasArts brands and selling them online as episodes rather than complete games. Then Nintendo's DS and Wii brought adventure games to a wider audience through games such as Hotel Dusk: Room 215 and most famously the puzzle adventuring of Professor Layton. Finally the success of the iPhone and other touchscreen smartphones created a gaming platform that had not just a mass audience but controls that were perfect for adventure games.
State of Play
Today adventures do sell in reasonable numbers and their number is spreading (there are even a few available on the Kindle). Cecil says the iPhone remake of Broken Sword sold three million copies, and Telltale is starting to release their games in stores with anticipated sales of 400,000.
Yet adventures often seem overshadowed by their past, partly because the point and click approach used in the LucasArts days is still standard. "It says something about how much love people have for the LucasArts style of gameplay that it's even talked about 21 years later as a one-to-one comparison," says Connors. "People still cling to this idea of what an adventure was in 1990."
But the way adventures function isn't as important as it might be for a first-person shooter says Dean Burke, creative director of the Hector games at Northern Irish developer Straandlooper. "The mechanics are rooted in the LucasArts games," he says. "But I feel that the reason people like adventure games is the characters in the stories. Adventures still have their flaws and could be improved, but the fundamentals will never change really. As with any form of entertainment it's about telling a good story."
While the core is unchanged, today's adventures place more emphasis on accessibility. "In the mid-90s adventure gamers liked the fact that they were getting frustrated so contrived puzzles sort of worked," says Cecil. "Now people want to play at their own pace."
As a result the puzzles are now more logical than the cryptic conundrums of old and adventures often include a hint option. The iOS version of Broken Sword, for example, has a hint option that offers a vague clue before, after several taps, the solution is revealed. "I was initially worried that people might find that it encouraged them to bypass the puzzles but it didn't," says Cecil.
More should be done though, says Jakub Dvorský of Amanita Design, the Czech developer behind 2009's robot adventure Machinarium. "Nowadays adventure games are more streamlined and accessible but they should try to be even more experimental," he says. "Any theme can be used for an adventure game and the developers should use their own new and distinctive approach to every aspect of game creation from plot and game design to graphic style, animation, music and sound."
The good news is that adventure developers now seem keen to experiment with new approaches. "The touchscreen is an extraordinarily good way of controlling an adventure because adventure games are very tactile in that you want to explore the environment," says Cecil adding that using first-person viewpoints, as well as the traditional third-person views, is something he is looking at.
Telltale, meanwhile, has tried to step away from the pace of traditional adventures with its latest game Jurassic Park. "We wanted it so that you come into the world and it makes you react and pulls you through it," says Connors. "We moved away from the 'I'm going to go through the world and interact at my own pace' and made it something where you need to react to the situation in front of you because it's a dangerous place. You know, we couldn't have it where you're trying to use a rubber chicken with a pulley in the middle on a dinosaur."
May 18, 2011
Welcome back to Cheap this Week, our round up the best deals in gaming every Wednesday. Here you'll find all sorts of delicious discounted gaming treats, compiled for your consideration. If one dose of cheap games a week isn't enough for you, SavyGamer.co.uk is constantly updated with offers plucked from bargain bins the world over.
Here are this week's deals:
I'm in the camp that preferred the first of the two Crysis games, but stomping around New York City in a power suit in the sequel was still hugely entertaining, and a league above most other FPSs.
I was just disappointed that the huge open levels and the chaos they led to were missing in favour of very wide highly detailed corridors. Likely a concession to get the game running on today's aging consoles.
Video: Shooting men.
Plain Sight, PC - £2
Hot off the press, this deal will be going live at some time just after 6pm. I'm not sure if they will be discounting the 4 Pack too, but it seems likely.
This discount coincides with an update released yesterday, with numerous bug fixes, tweaks to the perk system, and balancing. Patch notes here.
Quintin gave this a solid 8/10 when it came out a year ago. He said:
"There's nothing for it but to accept Plain Sight for what it is - a fun, smart, inventive action game that comes with a big grin and a cheap price tag."
And since that price tag is even cheaper than usual, I'd say it's time to get your robot on.
Splinter Cell: Conviction, Xbox 360 - £6.99 delivered
These are unsealed, but new. Not my favourite of the Splinter Cell series by a long shot, but at this price it's worth a go. Simon wasn't massively impressed when he reviewed it either:
"Where once players were free to tackle Splinter Cell's enemies in myriad, improvised ways, now the options are more limited, traded for an upped tempo that's more Arkham Asylum than Metal Gear. At its best, Conviction is played as a high-stakes puzzle game, taut and thrilling when everything is going your way. But when cover is broken, the floodlights go up to reveal a mediocre shooter. Perhaps the greatest irony of all is that Splinter Cell: Conviction appears brightest in the dark."
The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition, Xbox 360 400 MS Points (Xbox Live Gold subscribers only).
Classic point and clicker that, er, I didn't really like. Perhaps I need to give it another go, but it didn't really tickle my funny bone. Dan had this to say of the modern prettied up remake in his review:
"These bare bones form the skeleton of a truly marvellous game, however, and one that everyone should play. While it would be nice to have a more robust package, simply having such an unmistakable classic back in active circulation where new players can discover its dazzling inventiveness and giddy humour is victory enough."
This offer is available until next Tuesday, and if you're in need of MS Points, Amazon are currently doing 2100 for £14.99 delivered.
Video: The making of the remake.
Deal of the week
AI War: Alien Bundle, PC/Mac £16
Here's the complete version of the dead clever intergalactic strategy game, AI War. Included is the original AI War: Fleet Command, and the three expansions: The Zenith Remnant, Children Of Neinzul and Light of the Spire. Everything has been individually discounted too (see here).
You can either download them straight from Arcen's website, or the serials will optionally register on Steam.
Phill had this to say of Fleet Command in his review:
"The heart of AI War is in its asymmetrical nature, but that uniqueness permeates the entire game, from the way each fight works to your overarching strategy. There's an element of discovery in it that is partly due to the procedural nature with which the galaxies are created, but also down to the incredible amount of options each time you create a game."
Also of note this week...
- Age of Booty, Xbox 360 200 MS Points. Xbox Live Gold subscribers only.
- East India Company Collection, PC - £2.98 delivered
- Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition, PS3 - £21.85 delivered
- Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition, Xbox 360 - £21.85 delivered
Jan 11, 2011
Each year, our staff plays hundreds of games as we separate the good from the bad and the great from the good. Now, we separate the year’s truly exceptional from the rest, and crown our singular Game of the Year. Drumroll please...
Game of the Year/Realtime Strategy Game of the Year
Starcraft II - Wings Of Liberty
Years from now, PC gamers will remember 2010 first and foremost as the year that StarCraft finally returned. StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty hasn’t just wowed the hardcore PC faithful, it’s a beacon that’s drawn hordes of gamers back to their PCs, and reminded them what they’ve always loved about the kind of gaming experience you can only get here.
Its accomplishments are dazzling. With outstanding and innovative campaign mission design, and a meticulous, artful graphical update to its classic factions and multiplayer battles, it’s revitalized and restored confidence in the traditional resource gathering, base building realtime strategy game formula. We’ve heard suspicions voiced over the years that this formula had become outdated or in need of reinvention to be relevant, but StarCraft II has proven that the old-school model didn’t abruptly become un-fun five years ago.
What’s more, by applying the between-mission story mode (which harkens back to classic PC games like X-Wing and Wing Commander), to realtime strategy, Blizzard has cracked a problem that has plagued the RTS genre since its inception: making the characters who appear tiny on the battlefield feel like larger-than-life heroes, and bringing us in close to immerse us in the universe we usually only get to see from far above.
Finally, the spectacular multiplayer action is so exciting that it doesn’t even need to be played to be enjoyed—StarCraft II has successfully introduced gamers to the idea that games can be enjoyable as a spectator sport. In just a few short months, the audience for commentated professional-level matches and tournaments has exploded from a small and dedicated niche to a thriving community of hundreds of thousands of viewers who regularly tune in to view games on YouTube, GOMtv.net or Major League Gaming, and follow their favorite players.
In those ways and more, StarCraft II is a monument to PC gaming. It’s a game that can be enjoyed by everyone, from the newest and most inexperienced players to the gamer’s equivalent of the world-class athlete—and even those who’d rather just sit back and watch.
Next page: PC Gamer US's choices for Shooter, Puzzle, and Free-To-Play Game of the Year.
Shooter Of The Year
Call Of Duty: Black Ops
The unrivaled control of our mice and keyboards demands high-skill, athletic multiplayer experiences. Some of the PC’s finest multiplayer shooters (Tribes, Quake III, Team Fortress Classic) earned our respect by offering brutally uncompromising arenas that demand pixel-point accuracy and to-the-nanosecond finesse. Anything less is a waste of the agility and precision that we’re able to manifest with these devices.
Despite being designed as a cross-platform game, Call of Duty: created the kind of hyper-competitive itch that our trigger fingers love to scratch better than any other shooter this year. Its breakneck-paced, kill-or-be-owned multiplayer modes have an arcade feel to them, but Treyarch’s rejiggering of CoD’s multiplayer formula hooks us right in the competitive center of our brains. Being a successful player means summoning every ounce of marksmanship skill and tactical battlefield awareness that you can muster while allowing physics and playful weapons, such as an RC car bomb or a crossbow with exploding bolts, balance that tension with entertaining doses of dumb luck.
Technologically, Black Ops’ integrated video replay and sharing system sets a precedent in post-game enjoyment. Revisiting game-saving headshots or how-did-that-possibly-kill-him Tomahawk tosses in slow-mo with a free camera grant the same StarCraft II provides players to revisit, analyze and share your best moments. We don't forgive Black Ops’ botched launch or brain-dead single-player campaign, but it celebrates a style of multiplayer that belongs on the PC--a speedy death-go-round we can’t get enough of.
Puzzle Game Of The Year
There's more than one way to tell an adventure story--we just didn't realize it until Agent Nelson Tethers showed up with Puzzle Agent. Telltale replaced the usual pixel-hunting, inventory management and object-combination puzzles found in adventure games (which can all too often rely more on guesswork as to which items can be worn as hats than puzzle-solving techniques) with real brain scratchers. Whether we were bouncing Nelson’s snowmobile to safety, calculating the cargo capacity of swallows or solving word problems, Puzzle Agent’s puzzles added great gameplay to Tethers' surprisingly edgy saga and elevated a young genre--the puzzle-adventure.
Free-To-Play Game Of The Year
League of Legends
2010 saw games lining up around the block for the opportunity to entertain PC gamers for free, but none could match League of Legends’ steady stream of high-quality updates. The content machine at Riot churns out new champions every two weeks, along with new maps, items and meta-game systems. This year’s Season One update both opened up competitive play for top-tier players and strengthened the tutorial elements for newcomers. League of Legends continues to prove that a dedicated independent developer can make the free-to-play model shine.
Next page: PC Gamer US's choices for Roleplaying, Action, and Adventure Game of the Year.
Roleplaying Game of the Year
Fallout: New Vegas
Fallout: New Vegas shows us how great things can be accomplished by standing on the shoulders of giants. It demonstrates that the defining characteristic of a great roleplaying game isn’t flashy, state-of-the-art graphics; success as an immersive adventure depends much more on creating an irresistible, fantastical world, filling it with interesting characters— and then letting us mess with it.
Obsidian’s writing sparkles with fascinating characters and quests that pay loving homage to the franchise’s PC roots at every opportunity. Its main quest begins as a small-scale tale of personal revenge in the Mojave, but blossoms into an opportunity to decide the outcome of a wide-open conflict that will upset the balance of power of an entire region. Nothing empowers us as players more than seeing the effects of our choices play out, and Fallout: New Vegas’ conflict can be resolved in so many ways that it gives us a feeling of freedom and control virtually unprecedented among modern games. Roleplaying games don’t get a whole lot better than this.
And while it’s a cross-platform game, Fallout: New Vegas reminds us why the PC is more often than not the best place to experience an openworld RPG like this one. It looks far better on the PC than any other platform, and mods step in afterward to unlock its full potential. Fallout: New Vegas is truly our adventure.
Sports Game of the Year
Sports games saw a resurgence on the PC this year, defying the perception that great sports games show up only on consoles. Leading the pack is NBA 2K11, a brilliant homage to basketball’s greatest hero, Michael Jordan. Its sharp AI and crisp visuals are good enough to fool you—just for a moment—into thinking you’re watching and somehow controlling a live game between the very best players in basketball history. NBA 2K11 proves the PC’s strength as the most versatile of all gaming platforms—the perfect place to play any kind of game.
Adventure Game of the Year
Monkey Island 2 Special Edition: LeChuck's Revenge
A great joke never dies. LucasArts proved that again by bringing Guybrush’s sophomore mix-up with LeChuck into the modern era gracefully with Monkey Island 2 Special Edition: LeChuck’s Revenge. The artwork has been reinvigorated, new voiceovers give each character even more style, and the new interface is expertly tuned for adventuring. The most interesting new feature is the commentary by the original creators (Ron Gilbert, Tim Schafer and Dave Grossman) who chat casually with each other as you play. It’s the sort of fun behind-the-scenes look usually reserved for film, and it injects an already great game with plenty of fresh hilarity and insight.
Next Page: PC Gamer US's choices for MMO, Strategy, and Simulation Game of the Year.
MMO of the Year
Lord of the Rings Online
A lot of MMOs thrived this year, but their success was dampened by a lack of major updates or innovation. When it came to keeping us entertained all year long with small updates, plus throwing us the occasional party with huge loads of free content, LotRO treated its fans the best. Two new Epic Books’ worth of quests alongside the franchise’s memorable characters and two new regions were added; character creation and starter regions were completely revamped, in-game events were expanded and UI elements were improved—and then the game went free-to-play in September.
Turbine’s signature hybrid free-to-play subscription model proved to be a great success, generously letting curious players browse Middle-earth and sample the content before deciding whether or not to open their wallets. It’s quickly redefining the way a successful subscriptionless MMO is run.
The future’s looking good for LotRO—even with this year’s huge additions, it’s wisely pacing itself to avoid burning through the books’ story content too quickly. There’s a long road ahead before we’re knocking on Mordor’s door with the One Ring, and that road is lined with good friends (LotRO’s community is one of the most friendly and enthusiastic around), excellent gameplay and free updates, and at the rate Turbine is going, we’ll be enjoying the journey for years to come.
Strategy Game of the Year
It’s no surprise that Civilization V wins this award—Civilization has been one of the PC’s definitive names in turnbased strategy for almost two decades, thanks to the deep, addictive turn-based experience that you just can’t get anywhere else.
With Civ V’s reinvention in particular, Firaxis has demonstrated that the series—and the entire genre of turnbased strategy—is teeming with new ideas. Its revamped tactical combat addresses a long-standing weakness of the series and made the inevitable wars between nations more engaging; its colorful graphics and redesigned interface reach out to gamers intimidated by complexity, grab them by their eyeballs and, before they realize what’s happened, pull them into all-night gaming sessions that don’t end until one nation rules the world; and its in-game mod browser opens up the world of user-made content to gamers who would’ve otherwise never known where to look for it or how to install it.
Wherever the series goes next, we’ll be able to look back at Civilization V and say that it took us somewhere new and enthralling.
Simulation of the Year
Lock On: Flaming Cliffs 2
An expansion pack for a 2003 flight sim might not seem like a slam dunk for Simulation of the Year honors, but Eagle Dynamics’ expertly crafted Lock On: Flaming Cliffs 2 is a truly exceptional revival of an existing favorite. By taking a strong but datedlooking sim and turbocharging it with a modern engine, an impressive international collection of warplanes, detailed cockpit renderings and freshly upgraded terrain graphics, FC2 delivers one of the best combat flight experiences that sim fans have seen in years.
Next page: PC Gamer US's choices for Action-Adventure, Mod, and Innovator of the Year.
Action-Adventure Game of the Year
A masterstroke of minimalism, The Ball was the best gaming vignette of the year. There’s no dialog, sweeping cinematics or tacked-on multiplayer mode to burden The Ball—just a lightweight, focused, gameplay-driven short story. It benefited from this simplicity by giving us a campaign that felt paced and personal. As you kick the multiton marble around with your ancient Mexican gravity gun, it somehow makes the transition from object to character. You develop this subtle but strong relationship with the object—it doesn’t change or communicate, but it takes on the feeling of a pet following you through lava-soaked corridors.
Mod of the Year
Nehrim: At Fate’s Edge
It’s a total conversion for a four-year-old game (The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion), but Nehrim is so impressive that it was a contender not just for best mod, but for best RPG. Nehrim is massive, witty, occasionally vicious, incredibly ambitious and tremendously successful at injecting new life into a game that many of us have already played so much that we could scarcely imagine seeing anything new come out of it. Its world is wonderfully resolved—settlements look sensibly planned, residents have purposeful vocations, forests are dense and geography looks natural.
The dedication shown by the modders who took Nehrim from concept to realization is astonishing. Only on the PC do gamers have such power to shape their experiences.
Innovator of the Year
An unfinished, hyper-simple, low-fi independent game captured the imaginations of PC gamers more than anything else in 2010. But it isn't technical excellence that makes Minecraft the PC’s brightest innovator (although there's plenty of that). Rather, it's the way that it reveres players’ ideas. Minecraft doesn’t provide any goal, story or explicit reward for digging in the earth. Instead, it allows players to cultivate their own experiences out of the simple tasks of digging and building, punctuated by a few monsters every now and then. Players approach the blank canvas in different ways: erecting world-spanning railroads or waterfall wonders; strip-mining the ground for rare ores; exploring dungeons; creating multiplayer metropolises or hidden fortresses; using in-game tools for bizarre science—making each player's experience necessarily unique.
Minecraft also demonstrates that word-of-mouth on the PC is still the surest route to indie success. Minecraft sold more than 700,000 copies in 2010 by way of players sharing their creations and discoveries on YouTube, Reddit.com and forums. This remarkable popularity is only possible on an open platform like the PC, where Minecraft creator “Notch” can deploy weekly updates to the game and collaborate directly with fans on content and bug fixes.
While we wouldn’t expect Minecraft’s financial success to become commonplace, it opens up a new business model for self-employed developers: selling before official release in order to finance development.
Product Update - Valve
Updates to Monkey Island™ 2 Special Edition: LeChucks Revenge™ have been released. The updates will be applied automatically when your Steam client is restarted. The major changes include:
- Adjusted timing delays for certain puzzles
- Fixed missing music in Dinky Jungle
- Fixed music synching issue with the Bone Dance sequence
- Fixed various music cross-fading issues
- Addressed Cursor issues when using an XBox360 controller
- Added intro and outro credits sequences to the Classic version
- Added acceleration curve to cursor speed
- Increased volume level of "Classic" Chester
Product Release - Valve
Monkey Island™ 2 Special Edition: LeChucks Revenge™ is now available on Steam!
Expanding on the highly successful The Secret of Monkey Island™: Special Edition in just about every way, fans will now experience new unique special edition features and interact with the world of Monkey Island like never before.
Expanding on the highly successful The Secret of Monkey Island™: Special Edition in just about every way, fans will now experience new unique special edition features and interact with the world of Monkey Island like never before.
Online gaming innovator InstantAction may have just changed the way games are distributed on the internet, with the introduction of a service that lets publishers embed games like The Secret of Monkey Island as easily as a YouTube video.
InstantAction's new service uses thin-client, in-browser, and progressive downloading technology to allow publishers to stream video games directly to clients. Games like LucasArts' The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition, seen below, can then be embedded anywhere HTML code is accepted.
"It was only a matter of time before the Internet disrupted the extremely limited distribution channels available to game creators, enabling direct-to-consumer access and more control over sales performance and profits," said Evan S. Wilson, senior research analyst of Pacific Crest Securities. "The InstantAction platform virtually obliterates the obstacles to game distribution by making it possible for anyone to embed any video game anywhere on the web, just like embedding a video. For game creators, this opens up distribution channels that haven't previously been an option – especially for console-quality games. For consumers, it creates endless possibilities for game discovery, risk-free trial, and faster downloads."
Right now the service only works on PCs, but support for Macs and mobile devices is planned for the future.
The potential of such a service is mind-boggling. I mean, look at Monkey Island down there. LucasArts provides players with a 20 minute timed demo of the full game, after which they can unlock the full version for a modest fee. I'd imagine the need for distribution channels would quickly fall off, once people start embedding full games directly into blog entries, Facebook updates, or say, Kotaku posts.
"The InstantAction platform provides a brand new way to get games from their creators to customers, thus avoiding obstacles to publishing and discovering new games that are inherent in the traditional brick and mortar model," said Louis Castle, CEO of InstantAction.
"We give game creators a secure way to offer free trials, item purchases and pay-as-you play options, with a broad range of monetization formats and platform compatibility," continued Castle. "Gamers not only get the try-before-you buy and rent-to-own benefits; they can easily embed full games into their social networks, accessing their friends' lists and adding social features to games where they may not have existed. InstantAction not only changes how games are distributed and discovered, but how they are enjoyed."
For more information on this compelling new technology, visit InstantAction.com. Otherwise, enjoy the game!