PC Gamer

This article was originally published in PC Gamer issue 298. For more quality articles about all things PC gaming, you can subscribe now in the UK and the US.

There s never been anything quite like Garry s Mod, and I d hazard a guess at there never being anything like it ever again. It s a mod of the Source engine, made to enable just about anyone to build, pose or simply mess around with its tools and tricks. It s a freeform sandbox designed to let you do whatever you want.

At least, that s it at the base level. On top of making it easy for players to toy around, it also gives modders a framework to work on new, often absurd ideas. Entirely original game modes have been created in Garry s Mod, short films have been made with it using players as actors, or utilising complex stop-motion techniques. And it s one of the most popular games on Steam. It celebrates its 10th birthday this month, and, as of January this year, has sold 10 million copies.

Since its release in 2006, Garry s Mod has grown into a hub for a host of other games and weird concepts, primarily developed by fans and small teams. There s one, though, that really took the cake in its size and ambition: GMod Tower. First publicly available in July 2009, GMod Tower had one primary aim: to create a large social space within Garry s Mod where people could chat, play together, and generally create a community that would accommodate and welcome anyone. A hotel-style lobby for people to meet and chat, with the capability for the infinite rooms of an endless hotel tower.

It was developed by PixelTail Games, a group based in Washington, but brought together contributors from around the globe.

A team of four, working under the names MacDGuy, Mr Sunabouzu, Nican, and AzuiSleet, were the ones that worked on the first public release of GMod Tower, after some years of people dropping in and out of the project. It was one of the most ambitious things ever made in Garry s Mod, and was greeted with the success that sort of ambition often warrants. Mere hours after release, GMod Tower s website hit two million views. It was far too popular so much so that Garry s Mod s server limit was upped by its developers just to cope.

Featuring at launch a couple of minigames, a mode akin to Half-Life Deathmatch: Source and another not dissimilar to Super Monkey Ball, the mod was already fleshed out. There were even movie nights: players could get together and watch streamed videos while hanging out in the tower s lobby.

Its popularity was perhaps one of GMod Tower s many downfalls: it was a mod of a mod, made by a few fans that wanted to create something new. It didn t have the support of a regular income through sales, nor the power of a massive development team. As 2011 rolled into 2012, GMod Tower shut down, closing its doors without any clear intention to return.

GMod Tower came back with a bang. Over time, the game grew to having seven individual modes wrapped inside the tower. From minigolf to a game inspired by Mother 3.

As with any social space that is shut down, closed, or built over, those who had enjoyed inhabiting it were left disappointed. In the Steam group for GMod Tower, users asked where it had gone. The development team were pretty quiet. One Steam user summed up the prevailing mood, saying simply, I want to play again in gmod tower :( .

Then, in April 2012, GMod Tower returned almost out of nowhere, with a host of updates. Almost like a version 2.0, it arrived to a fanfare from those who missed their hub, their place to talk. It did come with a caveat, however: it had not been profitable or sustainable for some months. Hosting the servers was costly, and the team didn t want to rely upon microtransactions or adverts to fund it.

And yet, GMod Tower came back with a bang. New features, a new and improved lobby map, and more. Over time, the game grew to having seven individual modes wrapped inside the tower. From minigolf to a game inspired by Mother 3, PixelTail Games remained committed, and the players recognised that, rewarding it with their love and support.

With its re-release, the initial core ethos was reinforced: this was to be a social hub. Be nice, friendly, and kind, and you were welcomed with open arms into GMod Tower.

What distinguished GMod Tower from many other projects with similar ambitions to be welcoming to all, regardless of who they were, was that it worked, and it worked tremendously. The vast majority of stories from players are of a positive community.

For the game s fifth anniversary, in 2014, the developers held a small raffle. There was one requirement for entering: you had to tell a story of your experience in GMod Tower. Some of these stories were short and over in just a couple of sentences, but many were filled with emotion and love. Over a hundred people told lengthy stories of their experiences, archived on the game s forums.

People were naming the many friends they had made, even partners they met through it. GhostDj told of how an admin changed everyone s player models to dogs for an evening, and they ran around barking like one big pack. Boltaction17 said they managed to get over 20 people to dance to The Safety Dance by Men Without Hats, and it just made them happy to see everyone coming together for something so fun and silly. One user, Davem322, simply ended their story with We are a group. We are brothers and sisters. We are the Gmod Tower.

Over the years, PixelTail Games finished off a couple other projects in Garry s Mod, from a horror map called Gm_Apartment to Elevator: Source, the one true elevator simulator. But behind the scenes, they were working on something new. Something beyond GMod Tower: Tower Unite.

A standalone release, Tower Unite would move the concept on from Garry s Mod, and onto its own two feet, the idea being to create an entire game that encapsulated the ideals upon which GMod Tower had been built.

Once Tower Unite was released on Steam in Early Access, however, GMod Tower had to go down. PixelTail Games couldn t host both games, and Tower Unite was now their sole project. There were no official tools ever released for hosting your own tower the only way to play was through the official server. That meant that once PixelTail Games took their server down, that was it for the original GMod Tower.

I spoke to Macklin Guy, the founder of PixelTail Games, about GMod Tower, and moving on. As for why the company had to do so, the Source engine and Garry s Mod itself limited us our creations and ideas, Guy told me.

It was a constant battle for us. We knew we had to expand past being a mod when we had to take advantage of undocumented features of Source s level format just to get it running. A good chunk of the things we have done (and continue to do) in Tower Unite would never have been possible in Garry s Mod.

On top of being a force for good in the community, GMod Tower meant a lot to the development team working on it, too.

The project fostered countless connections made by the community across the world. This had a massive effect on the lives of all of us. People would log on daily just to hang out with their friends.

Guy even met his wife on GMod Tower. They ve been happily married for a year and a half.

Tower brought a lot of people together. Just being a small part of that has had a huge impact on all of us and is one of the catalysts that drives Tower Unite forward.

The tower closed down in April 2016, after just under seven years serving as Garry s Mod s largest social space. The PixelTails Games team said their goodbyes too, through a video reminiscing about everything that had gone on in the tower. There is no longer a way to play GMod Tower. While all the relevant files are available on the Steam Workshop, without the server it s impossible to play as intended. The customisation systems are gone, game modes no longer function, and, most importantly, there s no one around.

Every map is now a ghost town, a set of what once was in GMod Tower, a relic of the stories told by those who were there. Without the chatter of people having conversations around the place, the lounge is eerily quiet.

Many people who played GMod Tower have moved on to Tower Unite it picked up over $73,000 in an Indiegogo campaign, and has received regular updates since entering Early Access. It s distinctly similar to its predecessor, but Tower Unite also has its differences: it s not a part of Garry s Mod, and so lacks that infinitely wide variety of players to join in on the fun.

Because of that, those previous stories are being left behind, but that s so that others can create their own so that a social space like this can flourish on its own. GMod Tower, like Garry s Mod itself, might well be a flashpoint in games, never to be recreated in the same way again. While other social games have found success, the broad and absurd appeal of Garry s Mod meant millions of players could be introduced to a hub that would welcome them.

It s still fun to walk around that ghost town, and find the places where those stories took place. The roof where someone was going on a wild goose chase for an item, the cinema where people gathered to watch funny videos, or the fountain where players waved goodbye to the tower.

I don t think anyone will ever recreate GMod Tower; the stars aligned to make it such a welcoming place. But it s heartwarming to look around the place that made so many people of all creeds, cultures, and types happy. You can t call GMod Tower abandoned: it simply moved on. But the patch of virtual ground it was built on will remain special.

PC Gamer

Garry's Mod was originally released as a Half-Life 2 mod in 2004, before being re-launched as a standalone sandbox physics games in 2006. Over the next eight years, it rang up a cool six million copies—an impressive achievement by any measure. But in the year and four months since then, it's sold another four million copies.

With all due respect, I share Newman's apparent surprise and confusion. Four million unit sales of any indie PC game in a single year is remarkable, but to do it in the ninth year of standalone release is unexpected, to put it mildly. Strange, even. Garry's Mod is clearly very good at what it does, but it's been doing it for almost a decade now. So the obvious question is, Why?

Newman attributed much of the surge to YouTube, Twitch, and Steam sales, which he said have been having a snowball effect on sales over the past few years. The more players, the more videos and streams, the more people watching, the more people buying and playing and streaming, he said. The steam sales really boost that effect. On a pretty average day it sells about 3000 copies. On Christmas Day [this year] it sold just over 75,000 copies.

He also pointed out that the age of Garry's Mod, which is built on the Source Engine, can actually work to its advantage. Most Source Engine games run on anything, from the shittiest ten-year-old windows XP laptop to the latest Alienware monstrosity. And it doesn't just run on the shitty laptop, it runs really well. I think that's something we overlook as game developers—awesome performance should be considered a feature, with higher priority than graphics, he continued.

There was a lot of outrage and negativity when we announced that we were going to charge for it so I wanted to show people that this was a good thing. That the money would be used to develop the mod further and allow me to concentrate on it full time. People are amazed that a ten-year-old game is still selling really well—but I guess Windows is over 30 years old, and it's still selling. The only real difference is that I didn't bundle up and re-charge people for the updates we made. Hopefully people don't see it as such a bad thing now, in retrospect.

I'd say it's sure looking that way.

Thanks, GamesIndustry.

PC Gamer

The sandbox physics game Garry's Mod has been around for just about forever—since late 2004, to be precise, first as a mod for Half-Life 2 and then as a standalone release. It's sold more than six million copies since then, and after all this time remains one of the most popular games on Steam, currently holding 11th place on the top 100 concurrent players list. And now, more than ten years later, there's finally talk of a follow-up.

The word came during a PCGamesN interview with Garry's Mod creator Garry Newman, when the site asked if he'd ever consider increasing the game's longstanding $10/ 7 price tag. "We wouldn't raise the price now, I mean we re kind of working on a sequel, so it d be stupid to the raise the price, really," Newman replied. "It s early days. We re looking at having more VR stuff in it—that s the big point of it. And it won t be called Garry s Mod 2."

That's a long way from an announcement, and given the way that Newman and Facepunch Studios work—"at their own pace," you might say—anything more official may well be a long way off. The future of virtual reality may be a factor as well: If Oculus Rift, Vive, or whatever else comes along goes over big, Newman ought to have a lot more incentive to push a VR-centric sequel than he will if they tank.

PC Gamer

The internet may break this week under the weight of Opinions About Paid Mods, but it's worth taking a moment to hear Garry Newman's position. As the creator of Garry's Mod a fully fledged paid title with origins as a free Source Engine mod Newman is in the unique position of witnessing the transition from free to paid nearly ten years before Valve's announcement last week

"It s probably no big surprise that I m all for it," Newman writes on his website. "I sold a mod once and everyone was angry that it was happening, until it happened and they got a much better product than they d have gotten when it was released for free, then they seemed to calm down a bit. It has given me a career for ten years. It s bought me two houses, a bunch of cars. It s created a company that has hired 30+ people."

Newman argues that the fledgling modding marketplace will balance itself out eventually, with supply and demand dictating what sinks or swims, and what's paid or free. In this way, free mods will still dominate. 

"Some stuff won t be worth charging for," Newman write. "Some people won t want paying for their stuff. If a mod takes ten seconds to make and someone wants to charge $10 for it then they won t sell any copies because it s not worth it. This is how the market balances itself. They ll either have to lower their price or make it worth the price."

Meanwhile, those unable or unwilling to pay will inevitably find a way to pirate paid mods, he continues, and the possibility of stolen materials being uploaded shouldn't render the whole operation useless. 

"There was a time where they d almost completely stopped making PC games because of piracy. Should we really let the fact that sometimes people are assholes dictate what we do? Or should we just deal with it when it happens?"

Newman breaks down the pros and cons for each participant in a transaction, admitting that the benefits are weighed too heavily in Valve and the game developer's favour. "It s obvious that Valve and the game developer need to make money here too, enough to cover costs at least but it s the modder s work that is making the money," Newman said.

"I don t know whose choice that is though, but it feels like someone is being a greedy asshole. This is something that will get better with time."

It's worth checking out Newman's full write-up here. Gabe Newell also addressed concerns about paid modding on Reddit at the weekend.

PC Gamer
PC Gamer
steamcommunity.com


Microsoft bought Mojang yesterday you may have heard something about that. You may also have heard grumblings from some corners of the community that Minecraft creator Markus "Notch" Persson "sold out" by taking the money and abandoning his game and, by extension, his millions of adoring fans to the fickle whims of of a corporate villain. But Garry Newman, the man behind indie darlings Garry's Mod and Rust, says he'd do exactly the same thing if he could, and you probably would too.

Newman pointed out in a blog post that went up shortly after the Mojang deal was was confirmed that everything changes for an indie developer once he starts hiring people to work for him, because you're suddenly responsible for a lot more people than just yourself. Citing the case of Blitz Game Studios, which shut down in September 2013, laying off 175 employees, and then effectively re-launched in November under a new name, he wrote, "Those are the guys you don't want to be."

"I am sure more than the top guys at Mojang became very financially rich due to this deal and that's something that should be admired not seen as a bad thing," he continued. "Long story short, I d have done the same thing. The money is enough to very much take care of all the staff. The game is in relatively safe hands. Mojang s legacy is as a huge success story instead of a one hit wonder. Everyone wins. Can you seriously say you d have done it differently?"

No, Garry. No, I cannot.

PC Gamer
Garry's Mod


It could only happen on PC: Garry's Mod, a seemingly pointless sandbox allowing all manner of ridiculous and perverse experimentation, has managed to sell 6 million copies. The news comes via Garry Newman himself, who managed to drag himself away from mountains of cold hard cash for long enough to Tweet the news.

Garry's Mod originated as a Half-Life 2 mod. It hit Steam in 2006 and, according to figures from April 2013, has earned over $22 million. More than a year later, and since the game went standalone earlier this year, that figure has no doubt increased significantly. As reference, the game had sold a mere one million copies back in 2011.

Along with the new sales milestone Newman provided a platform breakdown for the title. The vast majority sold for Windows, 336,765 sold for Mac and 28,322 for Linux.

As for the future of Facepunch Studios, Rust is still in development, albeit in Early Access, while Riftlight is a newly announced topdown shooter which looks pretty sweet.

 
PC Gamer
suyr-newman-top


Garry Newman trolled me. I asked the Garry's Mod and Rust creator to show us his computer setup and he told me, flat out, that he doesn't use a standard PC. Then I asked him to send pictures of the setup and he included male genitalia on one of his monitors. Dude is messing with me.

But when you're Garry Newman, looking in on the ridiculousness of the industry, you can do that. You can see the notion that a game developer should have some hand-crafted PC with a giant case and laugh. You can get an email from someone about showing off your rig and decide to have a little bit of fun. And his rationale for his non-traditional working setup is fascinating.

What's in your PC?
My work PC is a Mac Pro running Windows 8.1.

3.7GHz quad-core with 10MB of L3 cache
12GB (3 x 4GB) of 1866MHz DDR3 ECC
1TB PCIe-based flash storage
Dual AMD FirePro D700 GPUs with 6GB of GDDR5 VRAM each

What's the most interesting part of your setup?
Probably the fact that it's a Mac Pro. It looks like a bin.



What's on your desk?
Mac Pro, 2 Apple Displays (connected via thunderbolt), a phone that I never use and a printer.

Do you have a gaming PC?
No I don't have a gaming 'PC'. The Mac is probably more powerful and sexy looking than any gaming PC I could build. I've never had any problems with performance. PC manufacturers have kind of got it wrong for 10 years when designing gaming PCs. I don't want a computer that looks like a motorbike, I'm not 12 years old. I want a PC that doesn't look out of place in my living room. I don't want to have to lock it away in its own room.

At one time I did build a smaller PC with a smaller case, but it was always a struggle to fit everything in, and even then everything was quite loud.

Even though I use a Mac I don't use OSX. This kind of makes me a sinner in both camps. PC users hate it because I'm using a Mac (even though it's just a PC) and Mac users hate it because I'm using Windows.

Blur added to obscure giant Rust penis.

At home I have an iMac with Windows installed. OSX has a tool built in to let you easily install Windows. It's not running emulated, it creates a partition and you boot into it. I have one wire coming from my computer, and that's plugged in the wall to power it.

The only disadvantages to using a Mac are the price and the fact that you can't really upgrade them (except for memory). To me this isn't a big deal because I'm rich as fuck so I'm more likely to just buy the latest model instead of trying to get 10fps extra in BF4 by upgrading the graphics card.

My days of taking my PC to bits to make it faster are over. In the same way that I don't take my TV or fridge to bits and change components. This stuff doesn't interest me. I just want to use it.

What are you playing right now?
Banished.

What's your favorite game and why?
Ever? My favourite game ever is probably Black and White 2. I don't know exactly why but it's a game that I return to and play through at least once a year.

Mr. Newman also sent a picture of his "PS4/XBone/Steambox desk" for inclusion:

PC Gamer
gmodkinect-610x343

You may have noticed some strange behavior in Garry s Mod if you played it a couple of days ago. An exploit that took advantage of the Source Engine s file sending mechanism made it possible to send files with any extension to the client or server. Strangely, this was used to change users Steam name to VINH'LL FIX IT, and using them to spam friends and players with the word cough over chat. The exploit is mostly fixed now, but Garry s Mod s own Garry Newman tells us it could have been a lot worse.
The worm as I understand it was transferred to the client as a dll, then when it loaded it crashed the client, in the hope that they'd join another server, Newman told PC Gamer in an email. When they did it downloaded the server's config file and looked for a rcon password. RCON, or remote console, allows you to control a server remotely. If it got one, it infected the server by uploading the dll and running it (it didn't need rcon to upload the dll, only to run it). And then the cycle continued.
Newman said he patched Garry s Mod within an hour of finding out about it, and that Valve did the same, but that it s still possible for the bug to spread via different Source Engine mods, so be careful what you download.
The effects of the worm were mostly non-destructive as far as we know, Newman said. Luckily the creator kept it pretty tame. It could have been a hell of a lot worse. I hope by being proactive and patching it quickly we avoided anyone using it maliciously.
PC Gamer
Steam graphs


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See more of Ars' results in both number and pretty orange graph form in its report.
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