If I was nerdy enough to have a "favorite engine," it would probably be the Unreal Engine—not necessarily for its technical achievements (though you can't say it hasn't been an essential tool for developers in the past decade), but for its accessibility. The easy-breezy development kit has been especially kind to indies, and because of that, some brilliantly creative games have been built on the engine. Now Steam's flogging an Unreal Indie Bundle, and for $20, it's actually got a pretty admirable selection of games.
In the seven-game lineup, the stand-outs for me are the hypercute Dungeon Defenders and slick-looking Sanctum - these are two tower defense games I've dragged numerous pals into playing the past couple of years, and I'd feel pretty pleased with myself if I could drag the readers of PC Gamer into playing it too. Meanwhile, I'm also looking forward to giving Primal Carnage a whirl. While our preview in October last year thought it decent despite not seeming quite fleshed out, it's half a year onward, and I'm dying to see if those promisingly savage dinosaurs have cut their teeth on the beta stage and become truly, frighteningly awesome.
The other games included in the package are Q.U.B.E., The Ball, Unmechanical, and Waves. All up, the games are worth about $80, but in the Steam bundle? You can get 'em for twenty. Though there isn't a specified end date for the promotion, it's warning that it'll be around "for a limited time only."
In this episode we discuss the crime games of yesteryear, the team's adventures in Red Orchestra 2 and Chris' first faltering steps into Defiance. Also featuring round two of our' ongoing attempt to figure out Tomb Raider and what happens when Graham answers Twitter questions before he's had his milk.
You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or download the MP3 directly. You can also listen on YouTube. To ask us questions, follow the PC Gamer Twitter account - we'll put out a call in the morning before we record, which is usually a Monday. You can also follow us individually:
Chris - @CThursten Tom Senior - @PCGLudo Graham - @Gonnas Marsh - @marshdavies
Show notes Graham's Red Orchestra 2 review from a while back. Chris' Tomb Raider review. Last time, we promise. First footage of EA's next shooter, 'The Adventures of Captain Gets His Leg Trapped Man'. Current descriptions of Thief 4's plot describe Garrett as returning to The City, so it sounds like the new game isn't quite a straight reboot.
Tripwire Interactive is one of the handful of studios that have made the jump from modest modding origins to professional, full-time, make-your-mom-proud game development. Until last year, the studio operated out of the bottom floor of a Georgia church. And through releasing Red Orchestra 2 and the 1.7-million-selling Killing Floor (originally a mod), Tripwire has encouraged and regularly rewarded modders and map-makers.
As Red Orchestra 2 was being developed, Tripwire committed to creating an SDK during development, allowing modders to get cracking before the game's release. With modding support for modern games less ubiquitous than we'd like it to be, I asked Tripwire President John Gibson how hard it was for Tripwire to build mod support while they were developing the game itself.
"It was a honestly a massive effort. At some point and times we had our entire engineering team, our entire code team, working on just supporting the SDK while we were still developing . There would be like a month where we'd be like, 'Okay, this month we have to catch the SDK up so that the guys in Rising Storm can keep working.' It was a lot of work. But I think that it's worth it. One of the big strengths of the PC as a platform is moddability," says Gibson.
In addition to Rising Storm. Gibson mentions that more Red Orchestra 2 mods are in development: In Country: Vietnam, WWI mod Grabenkrieg, and vehicle add-ons. "As a developer it's so fun to me to be able to experience that content. Because when you're developing something, you see it ... and you play it a thousand times before it's finished. But when mod content comes out, I get to experience it just like a fan, and it's very exciting."
Gibson also offers a polite critique to DICE about Battlefield 3's lack of moddability. "They've openly come out and said 'We won't give out mod tools because we don't think that modders are smart enough or good enough--I can't remember the exact quote--to use our tools. And I think that that's just a shame because one of the things particularly in the early days that made Battlefield such a success was Desert Combat. I’ve heard from mostly reliable sources that 50 percent of the people that were buying Battlefield 1942 were buying it to play Desert Combat. And not giving out mod tools has limited Battlefield 3 to any of that kind of innovation," says Gibson. "It's a real shame because, you know, there might be some really cool shooter that would come out of that, or a really cool mod. And the fans are losing out because of that."
Tripwire's currently having a ludicrous sale on Red Orchestra: Ostfront 41-45, Red Orchestra 2, and Killing Floor through the Humble Weekly Sale, which runs through this weekend.
Tripwire's World War 2-based multiplayer shooter Red Orchestra 2 has just received an update adding four free new maps! And there's a free Steam weekend, giving you a chance to try out the game! And, right now, it's ridiculously cheap from a variety of places! You would think all these things would be cause for celebration. But no, war is a harrowing exercise in futility and despair and, given Tripwire's dedication to accuracy, they've marked the occasion with a thoroughly bleak trailer.
It's okay, we can fix this. Just mute the video and load up something far more appropriate for a modern game trailer. Thank heavens, I am now emotionally detached enough to continue.
The four included maps are picked from the winners of Tripwire's recent mapping contest. Admittedly this means that they were all previously available on the Steam Workshop, but it's nice to see Tripwire officially supporting their community. Plus it's handy for people too lazy to click a single subscribe button.
The free weekend coincides with an 85% off discount, both of which should run until Sunday. Despite this, it's not the cheapest place to get the game - both Red Orchestra 2 and the original Red Orchestra: Ostfront 41-45 are available as part of a pay-what-you-want deal in the Humble Bundle weekly sale. Pay over $2.90 and you'll also get Tripwire's enjoyable zombie co-op shooter Killing Floor.
Last week at GDC, I visited Tripwire Interactive's spot on the expo floor to get an updated gander at Rising Storm. Come watch Tripwire President John Gibson and External Producer Tony Gillham walk me through a gameplay demonstration against AI enemies and answer questions.
Relatedly, Killing Floor, Red Orchestra, and Red Orchestra 2 are deeply discounted on this week's Humble Weekly Sale. Read my recent hands-on with Rising Storm, too. Check back tomorrow for a video interview with John Gibson.
Saipan. Unlike Red Orchestra 2, most of Rising Storm's maps don't feature multi-floor structures.
You usually don’t get a second opportunity to make a first impression. When Red Orchestra 2 released in 2011, it was an authentic, ambitious, 64-player WWII shooter burdened by bugs and a few unpolished features. Tripwire’s self-imposed rush to beat Battlefield 3 out the gate roughed the edges of an otherwise brilliant FPS.
The Georgia-based indie studio patched the issues over time, eventually releasing a free “Game of the Year” edition that included new Action and Classic modes that catered to casual and hardcore players. But throughout 2012, Tripwire was also collaborating with a team of talented modders on Rising Storm, the standalone expansion that represents Red Orchestra 2’s second coming. "The overlap of precision, authenticity, and thick danger is still the most rewarding aspect of Red Orchestra." Rising Storm isn’t simply RO2 recast into the Pacific. “We have something started and created by a mod team, but polished to perfection by a group of professional developers,” says John Gibson, Tripwire’s president. What’s immediately impressive about the expansion is the way it embraces the asymmetries inherent to the American and Japanese infantry at the end of the war. It’s a seemingly uncrackable balancing problem, for example, that the Japanese mainly used bolt-action rifles while Americans carried the semi-automatic M1 Carbine and Garand, the Thompson, and the fully automatic BAR.
A counterweight Tripwire has applied against this is making Japanese soldiers harder to suppress, a trait chalked up to their willingness to die for the emperor. More tangibly, the islanders get bayonets and a Banzai charge attack—a sprinting move that mitigates damage and suppresses nearby Americans. Both of these effects improve in radius and intensity when used in unison with teammates.
A deadly duo: a Japanese mortarman takes range and location information from a teammate on Iwo Jima.
Some members of the Japanese team can also carry the knee mortar, a portable artillery. “There’s nothing the Americans can do other than run when they hear that whistling sound,” says Gibson. “So it helps balance out the Americans’ overwhelming ability to put bullets down range.” My first encounter with it is on Iwo Jima, where a crack member of Tripwire’s QA team fires it horizontally off the hill like a cannon, dialing me in from a hundred meters. The shell punts into my gut, an impossibly accurate shot from an indirect weapon. I wheel back on my chair, laughing and raising my hands helplessly.
Red Orchestra 2 continues to be a demanding game. Away from grey Stalingrad, neck-deep in island vegetation, it’s still a shooter that insists you use your eyes, ears, and intuition to stay alive. Acing an American with the bolt-action Type 38 or Type 99 is instant self esteem. The famous pling of a spent M1 Garand clip signals that a GI’s run out of ammo—but incredibly, the Americans can fake the sound by pressing a key, a tactic that was actually employed in WWII.
This overlap of precision, authenticity, and thick danger is still the most rewarding aspect of Red Orchestra. But as I keep playing, there are more moments of relaxed mayhem than I experienced in Heroes of Stalingrad—like taking a mortar directly to the liver. I fill my team’s flamethower soldier slot on a tough round on Guadalcanal. Under the blue-purple skybox, I curl around a bamboo hut and lock eyes with a Japanese rifleman inches away. My mouse hand flinches, his skin goes molten, and I giggle as a lengthy death animation plays out.
When a spider appears in your bunker, do the right thing. "Any burp of fire is a bright invitation to the Japanese to shoot you from across the battlefield." Later in the round, I arrive too late to a capture point that’s just been flipped by the Japanese. I linger lost outside the thatched, single-floor command structure. Some instinct rings inside me, and I flick a rope of heat through the window out of a need to uncork this hot potato of a weapon I’m running around with. Seconds later, four kill notifications with my name on them stack up.
Letting a messy, powerful weapon like a flamethrower into a gritty game of inches like RO2 might seem like inviting a dragon to a war reenactment, so it’s remarkable that Tripwire has balanced the thing while making it so absurdly fun. You’re heavy as hell, only have seven seconds of burn time before you have to refuel, and any burp of fire is a bright invitation to the Japanese to shoot you from across the battlefield.
The good design of these incongruous features is in part thanks to Elliot Cannon, an ex-Epic, ex-Crytek, veteran FPS designer that joined Tripwire in May 2012. Gibson pursued Cannon after learning that he was the author of his favorite Unreal Tournament map, Deck 16. “We needed some input from someone outside the inner circle that could come in and say ‘This is what needs to be different,’” he says. “Elliot came up with a lot of the ideas that are making the asymmetrical gameplay work.”
I’m glad for an invitation to revisit Red Orchestra 2, but Tripwire’s move to take Rising Storm’s theme and setting to its mechanical extreme is what has me excited. On paper, Tripwire's commitment to representing some of the real-life differences between the Axis and Allies seems like it would undermine game balance, but each round I played (all of which were filled with experienced testers) was heavily contested. This approach to designing Rising Storm has produced at least one completely insane tactic among the development team. Over weeks of map testing, katanas became a kind of souvenir weapon for American players, who would pick them up from dead Japanese. Noticing this, one Japanese soldier had the bright idea to drop their katana in plain sight, then use the alternate fire for their hand grenades—exclusive to the Axis side—to bury their grenades like mines and set a trap disguised as a trophy.
A Banzai charge. Static spotlights on Guadalcanal make a few of the map's lanes especially treacherous.
Tripwire President John Gibson holds an M1 Garand inside the team's studio, one of the guns carried by the Americans in Rising Storm.
Earlier this month I visited Killing Floor and Red Orchestra 2 creator Tripwire Interactive to play Rising Storm, the upcoming standalone expansion to RO2 (look for a preview on Monday). After the demo, Tripwire President John Gibson and I got talking about the state of first-person shooters, and Gibson laid out a detailed criticism about the way Call of Duty "takes individual skill out of the equation." Gibson also expressed frustration over how difficult it had been trying to design a mode for Red Orchestra 2 that appealed to Call of Duty players.
PCG: How do you feel about the state of FPSes?
John Gibson, President: I think that single-player shooters are getting better. I think they’re finally coming out from under the shadow of the Hollywood movie, overblown “I’m on a rail” linear shooter. I’m talking about Call of Duty-style shooters. In the late ‘90s, you had the original Deus Ex, which was an RPG-shooter. And those kind of games almost took an eight year hiatus. And I’m so excited to see them coming back with interesting gameplay. Like the Fallout games, even though their shooting mechanics could really use some improvement, just mixing a really cool story, but not a linear story, one that you create yourself. The melding of RPG elements and shooter elements has been great. I’ve seen this reflected in a lot of the reviews, it’s like, “Okay guys, we’re tired of this on-rails experience.”
On the flip side, I’m really discouraged by the current state of multiplayer shooters. I think that, and I hate to mention names, because it sounds like ‘I’m just jealous of their success,’ but I’m really, I feel like Call of Duty has almost ruined a generation of FPS players. I know that’s a bold statement, but I won’t just throw stones without backing it up. When I was developing Action Mode , I got a group of people that I know that are pretty hardcore Call of Duty players. And my goal was to create something that was accessible enough for them to enjoy the game—not turn it into Call of Duty, but try to make something that I thought was casual enough but with the Red Orchestra gameplay style that they would enjoy. And we iterated on it a lot. And just listening to all the niggling, pedantic things that they would complain about, that made them not want to play the game, I just thought, “I give up. Call of Duty has ruined this whole generation of gamers.”
Red Orchestra 2. Gibson says he's "discouraged" by the state of multiplayer shooters on PC.
What did they complain about?
Gibson: It’s the gameplay mechanics that they become used to. The way that players instantly accelerate when they move, they don’t build up speed. “The weapons really don’t have a lot of power” . They’re all very weak. The way they handle... They’re like: “I hate Red Orchestra, I can’t play it.” Well, why? “Because the guy doesn’t move like he does in Call of Duty. Call of Duty has great movement.” Why is it great? “Because it just is, I just like the way it works.” So you don’t like the momentum system in Red Orchestra? “Yeah, it sucks, it’s clunky, it’s terrible.” Well, why? “It’s just because I’m used to this.”
I make it sound like there was a combative conversation, probably because I get a little emotional when I think about it. But it was really a calm discussion of, “What don’t you like?” and “It doesn’t feel like Call of Duty.” Almost every element boiled down to “it doesn’t feel like Call of Duty.” And really, watching some of these guys play... one of the things that Call of Duty does, and it’s smart business, to a degree, is they compress the skill gap. And the way you compress the skill gap as a designer is you add a whole bunch of randomness. A whole bunch of weaponry that doesn’t require any skill to get kills. Random spawns, massive cone fire on your weapons. Lots of devices that can get kills with zero skill at all, and you know, it’s kind of smart to compress your skill gap to a degree. You don’t want the elite players to destroy the new players so bad that new players can never get into the game and enjoy it. I’m looking at you, Dota. Sorry.
"If there’s no fear, there’s no tension, the victory is shallow. We want there to be some fear."
But the skill gap is so compressed, that it’s like a slot machine. You might as well just sit down at a slot machine and have a thing that pops up an says “I got a kill!” They’ve taken individual skill out of the equation so much. So you see these guys—I see it all the time, they come in to play Red Orchestra, and they’re like “This game’s just too hardcore. I’m awesome at Call of Duty, so there’s something wrong with your game. Because I’m not successful at playing this game, so it must suck. I’m not the problem, it’s your game.” And sometimes as designers, it is our game. Sometimes we screw up, sometimes we design something that’s not accesible enough, they can’t figure it out, we didn’t give them enough information to figure out where to go... but more often than not, it’s because Call of Duty compressed their skill gap so much that these guys never needed to get good at a shooter. They never needed to get good at their twitch skills with a mouse.
Players like Elliot and I, back in the Quake and Unreal days, you know, we had to get good at aiming. These guys don’t have to anymore. The skill gap is so compressed that like, “The game makes me feel that I’m awesome.” These guys, when I actually watch them play, they’re actually very poor FPS players. And I don’t think it’s because they’re incapable of getting good, I think it’s because they never had to get good. They get enough kills in Call of Duty to feel like they’re awesome, but they never really had to develop their FPS skills beyond that.
And it’s a shame because when you do that, when you create a shooter like that, you’re very limited on the amount of depth that you can give the game. It’s all gotta be very surface level, like I’m sitting there eating cotton candy and I never get any meat and potatoes. And it’s frustrating for me as a designer to see players come in and they’re literally like “In Call of Duty it takes 0.15 seconds to go into ironsights. In RO2 it takes 0.17 seconds to go into ironsights. I hate this.”
Gibson fires an MP40 during an audio recording session for Red Orchestra 2 in the Nevada desert. Gibson is frustrated by the way that Call of Duty has "taken individual skill out of the equation" for many modern FPS players.
Do you think it’s a matter of patience? Have these players lost their sense of patience?
Gibson:I think that’s part of it. The game is kind of spoonfeeding them, and making them feel great when they’re not. And like I said, that’s smart business, and I don’t blame Infinity Ward for wanting to do that. They’re selling millions of games and they have lots of people enjoying it, but I think there’s a depth of enjoyment there that a lot of these players are missing out on. And when you try to get them to branch out, their knee-jerk reaction is “The training wheels have come off, I’m gonna fall!” And I hate to see that.
It’s this weird dichotomy between, you know, single-player is getting much more depth, and players are just eating it up. They’re loving that. They’re buying these FPS-RPG single-player games like crazy. But multiplayer, “Ooh, don’t take my training wheels off.” I hate that. So we’re trying... we’re giving a little bit of training wheels, but we’re going to take them off occasionally in the shooters that we’re making, and hopefully we’ll get some of those people to branch out. I think for me though, I wouldn’t say I’ve completely given up on all of those players, but I’m not gonna try to make a game that tries to be Call of Duty at the expense of having fun gameplay that actually has depth.
Elliot Cannon, Rising Storm Lead Designer: Or creating a game that feels like you might be in a war, and you might die?
"One of the things that Call of Duty does, and it’s smart business, to a degree, is they compress the skill gap."
Gibson: Yeah. That’s one of the things that we do in our games, and it’s fear. When you play... I know there are modes in Left 4 Dead that are more hardcore, but when you play Left 4 Dead, and I’m really friends with Valve, so I hope they don’t get mad at me, but you do get spikes of adrenaline. But eventually that wears off because you figure out, well, as long as we stick together we’re never gonna die. In Killing Floor, when the Fleshpound shows up, you could be screwed. Half your team is probably gonna die. Your heart rate goes up, you’re freaking out, like “I can actually lose this shooter.” And if there’s no fear, there’s no tension, the victory is shallow. We want there to be some fear.
What do you consider your tools for expressing fear?
Gibson: Vulnerability is a big part of it, lethality. The ability to lose. There has to be... it’s kind of like, you know, if you’re gambling. If you go to the penny slots, you’re like, “Okay, yeah, whatever, I lost a penny.” But you go to the Roulette table, you throw down a thousand bucks, and you spin the wheel—you’re nervous at that point.
So, having the players have to take risks. Risk versus reward. They risk more, but the reward is greater. There’s more depth, there’s a bit more of a learning curve, but when you get that kill at long range with that bolt-action rifle, while the artillery’s flying around your head, and mortar shells are falling and guys are Banzai-charging you in the face, and your guy’s shaking, but you still kill him anyway. That’s an experience. You had some risk there, but you got a bigger reward. The kill wasn’t just handed to you. It wasn’t like “I called in the helicopter and it flew into the level and mowed down half the enemy team while I wasn’t even doing anything.”
Check back on Monday for an exclusive hands-on with Rising Storm.
Tripwire have announced the winners of their community mapping contest. Over $35,000 worth of prize money was handed out in recognition of the expertly crafted World War 2 battlefields that mapmakers have created, fuelling fans of the military shooter for months and years to come. The grand prize went to Danh Truong for his Winterwald map, a harrowing icy assault on/defence of Soviet anti-air.
The winners for "Best Original Level", including Truong's Grand Prize map, are:
1. Winterwald by Danh Truong, winning $10,000 and RO2 laptop 2. Bridges of Druzhina by Kieran Tobin, winning $2,500 3. Coldsteel by Johan van Pelt - wins $1,000
The contest also looked at "Best Remakes", awarding quality re-imaginings of classic maps:
1. Gumrak Station by Maik Doktor, winning $5,000 2. Stalingrad Kessel by Florian Montaut, winning $2,500 3 (Tied). Arad 2 by John Cree, winning $1,000 3 (Tied). Rakowice by Johan van Pelt, winning $1,000
All the maps, along with runners up, are now playable from the Steam Workshop.
We've now faced so many zombie apocalypses that it's amazing the shambling menace can elicit even the mildest increase in heartbeat. So while Killing Floor remains an enjoyable co-op FPS, any change to its morbid monsters is welcome. Especially when that change is in the form of in the form of H.R. Giger's face-smothering, acid-dripping, chest-bursting beasties.
That's what you get in Killing Floor: Aliens, an extensive mod that swaps out the game's setting, weapons and, most importantly, enemies for those from James Cameron's action sequel. Nearly two years in development, the mod's team say of the project, "AKF is one of the most comprehensive mods to date released for Killing Floor. The aim of this mod was to bring the feel and scope of James Cameron's Aliens to Killing Floor while in one hand remaining true to the franchise and in the other ensuring that it still retains the feel of Killing Floor."
There's a whole zoo full of Xenomorphs, from the tiny facehuggers to the giant Alien Queen, along with new weapons, maps and perks. You also get a full roster of characters from the movie - including Ripley - who the mod's makers claim now play and sound like their cinematic counterparts.
Download and installation instructions are available from the mod's website, or you can go here and install through the Steam Workshop.