Maybe you'd like to play some games this weekend? Maybe you'd like them to be completely free? Maybe you'd also like them to be games you don't own; games that will stop letting you play them on Sunday unless you pay a reduced price to secure their continued use? That's a bizarre set of conditions, but whatever, Steam's got you covered. Both Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 and Gratuitous Space Battles are holding Free Weekend trials, giving you unpaid access to two completely different ends of the gaming spectrum.
Gratuitous Space Battles is a sci-fi strategy in which you design spaceships, construct a space-fleet, issue space-orders and then watch as your space-squadron battles it out against an army of spacejerks. In space. It's currently 75%, with the generously stocked Complete Pack costing £3.49.
CoDBlOps 2 is a purgatorial nightmare in which you're forced to endlessly and repetitively kill aggressors, all while smug and indifferent soldiers babble in an alien language of numbers, Zs and Xs, performing depraved rituals like "Noscope" and... Oh wait, it's just a relatively fun arcade FPS. It's 33% off, at £26.79.
Both trials will end at 9pm GMT on Sunday, at which point you'll have to start playing games you actually own or something.
The concept of distributing a game for no cost, once the domain of Facebook app-clones and mobile platforms, has quickly become commonplace in PC gaming. We've all seen clear evidence of such a phenomena, from the lessened emphasis on subscription models in MMOs to the availability of quality multiplayer shooters like Tribes: Ascend from a single download. In a blog post, Positech Games head and Gratuitous Tank Battles creator Chris Harris says the psychology of free gaming boils down to letting players set their own sense of worth before asking for money.
"Free to play works because it doesn’t ask you to value the game until you already feel you own it," he writes. "How much would you pay for Farmville to buy it outright? Maybe $5? But play the game for free for a month, build up your farm, invest it, and then hit a plateau in the game where you really need to buy coins to continue, and suddenly your game is worth a lot more than $5. You value the game you already own very highly, and so buying add-ons for it is just common sense. I suspect this is why DLC works so well and sells so well. You have already made a commitment to valuing the game by investing your time. Only a fool could try to rationalize not spending money on it now."
It's almost as if Harris stumbled upon the secret formula of free-to-play games: foster a sense of ownership to encourage microtransactions and DLC. Item-heavy games such as Team Fortress 2 and PlanetSide 2 let you try out a shiny weapon for a short period before taking it away, but that brief usage could boost the likelihood of a wallet getting pulled out simply because you determined your own measure of worth on the item you fleetingly "owned."
Let's hear your comments. Do you only drop dollars on free-to-play games after you've built up a sense of attachment to them, or are your buying habits more free-form?
I know a man who was once consumed by Gratuitous Space Battles. The stand-offish strategy lets you design a fleet, sketch out a plan of attack and then deploy them against the enemy. It's like cultivating a bionic army of space-pokemon. Once they're away, you can only watch as they're lasered, rocketed and bombed into shimmering clouds of galactic debris. My friend spent hours tinkering with the modules on each ship. He tried sending hordes of tiny fighters into the fray. He tried lone rocketeering behemoths. With every iteration his score increased until he entered the upper echelons of the global high score table. Then, one day, he was gone. All that remained was his chair, a puddle of alien goo and a note in cryptic cosmic shorthand.
I sometimes wonder what happened to that guy. I like to think he was recruited by some interstellar warmongers to direct their ships. Wherever he is, I'm sure he's playing the new Gratuitous Space Battles expansion, The Outcasts.
As you'd expect, the expansion lets you play as The Outcasts faction. It includes 10 new ship designs and some neat Outcast-specific ship modules like the "multiple target tractor beam" and a "decoy projector" to create wobbly holographic decoys. See that particular gadget in action and many, many lasers in the trailer below. The Outcasts is available now from the Positech site, or via Steam for $5.99.
If you're intrigued by Gratuitous Space Battles, check out the demo, and have a look at Positech's innovate tower assault/tower defense hybrid, Gratuitous Tank Battles (which also has a demo)
Positech's inspired tower defence/strategy game Gratuitous Tank Battles has just been given an expansion, which returns the tank-obsessed title to its World-Warring roots. The DLC, available for a modest £4.84, adds new American and German WWII units, plus a new single-player campaign comprising eight maps.
For the unfamiliar, Gratuitous Tank Battles takes place in an alternate future where World War I never ended. We were quite big on tanks back then, and that's continued to the year 2114. The Western Front moves the action back to 1944, which means lasers are out - at least for some of the missions - and old, authentic military equipment is in. Positech's Cliff Harris elaborates:
"Half the battles are set before the introduction of newer weapons such as mechs and lasers and are fought purely with the weapons of the time. The final 4 battles add modern weapons to the mix. Surely you have always wanted to fight against tiger tanks armed with laser guns?" Yes - yes we have Cliff, but it's rude to spy on our dreams.
The Western Front is available to buy direct from Positech, while other portals such as Steam will get it soon. If you want to spy before you buy, there's a DLC trailer below.
Fledgling space admirals can never have too many Flash Gordon effects and science-fiction noises. To that end, Positech Games has released a free update to its set-and-go tactical sim Gratuitous Space Battles adding direct unit control, shield shimmers, and shockwave ripples from explosions.
In the features video above, Space Battles designer and former shipwright Cliff Harris showcased how single units, squads, groups, and even individual weapons platforms receive order overrides alongside fire and movement commands. Although explaining direct control only works in single-player missions - campaign and online battles remain hands-off - Harris hopes the extra layer of control equates to stronger tactical options during a fracas.
And how about those shield and shockwave effects, huh? Both are carryovers from Positech's Gratuitous Tank Battles. Now, when my fleet spills its metal space-guts across its future nebula graveyard, I'll enjoy seeing my shields waver and shimmer under fire and my frigates distorting space as they blossom into spectacular fireballs.
Gratuitous Tank Battles is the result of experimentation with the tower defence genre, yielding a strategy game where you attack as much as entrench. Experimentation with units means players can make their own machines and turn them on their foes. And experimentation with AI means the computer can use your creations against you in an endless arms race of tanks, mechs and laser-toting Tommies.
Fittingly for a world where the Great War never ended, very few units will make it through: hundreds will die in a pointless bloodbath to gain just a few inches of ground. But GTB’s fields of death are thrilling to die on, over and over again. The key is asymmetry. Playing a map as the defender gives you a traditional tower defence game, where you plop down turrets and defensive forces to try to stem the incoming tide. Attacking is more like the ‘reverse’ tower defence of Anomaly: Warzone Earth – you decide the order and routes of your units in the hope of breaking through the cyber-Kaiser’s defences.
But what really makes both sides of this top-down strategiser stand out is the unit customisation. Much like Positech’s previous game, Gratuitous Space Battles, you build your own units. Pick a hull and add whatever weapons, armour and engines you desire. Trenches full of riflemen giving you trouble? Put together a heavily armoured flamethrower tank to smoke them out.
But there’s a catch: any unit you design can also be used by the game’s superb, adaptive AI. So that flame tank you treasured as an attacker is now a rolling fortress on the defence. A long-range laser turret will fry an enemy before he gets close, but next time out you’ll have to deploy some heavily shielded mecha-men to take it down. You’re forced into a continual arms race with yourself and, in keeping with the WW1 theme, one you can never quite win.
The campaign is a little on the short side with only a handful of official maps available, but you can browse an abundance of user-made missions. Budding Field Marshalls can edit maps and upload their forces online, custom units and all, for anyone to defend against. The ease with which these challenges can be shared and downloaded extends your playtime immeasurably.
More problematic is the game’s tendency to crash faster than a biplane over Belgium. Starting or finishing a map, as well as saving and deleting units, can potentially result in a short sharp trip to your desktop. You’ll rarely lose any significant progress this way, but it still makes for a frustrating experience.
But these are minor issues that continuous updates will fix, and they don’t take the shine off an otherwise excellent game. Gratuitous Tank Battles is both challenging and strategic, and the clever use of AI and customisation results in a successful bout of experimentation.
As part of Steam's regularly awesome Midweek Madness sales, the Best of British Indie Bundle packages seven indie games crafted by the skilled folks across the pond. Lasting until 4pm PDT Thursday, the $10 deal provides a sampler of excellent strategy and action timesinks, including Introversion Software's DEFCON, Alex May and Rudolf Kremers' Eufloria, Mode 7's Frozen Synapse, Positech Games' Gratuitous Space Battles, Puppy Games' Revenge of the Titans, and a double-whammy finisher of Size Five Games' Time Gentlemen, Please! and Ben There, Dan That! The value-candy gets even sweeter as most of the included games (with the exception of Gratuitous Space Battles and Size Five's goods) carry Steam Achievements for your hunting pleasure in addition to saving nearly $70 in your still-recovering-from-Summer-Sale wallet.
Which do you prefer? Tanks or spaceships? Actually, it doesn't really matter. Despite the name, Gratuitous Tank Battles is far more than just a re-skin of 2009's Gratuitous Space Battles, which put an emphasis on pre-engagement preparation instead of real-time commanding. It also featured the most spectacular 2D space battles I've ever seen.
Positech's new game is set in an alternate reality where the Great War continues to rage. "Soldiers still fight in the trenches of the Somme, although rifles have (mostly) become laser rifles and giant armored mechs stride across no-mans land," reads the official website. Play on offence, and you'll be tasked with taking a squadron of customised tanks in to battle. We're talking proper customisation too: chassis, guns, armour and the likes. You can even paint your tanks silly colours. If you're more of the defensive type, you can create maps of turrets and future weaponry for other players to conquer. Read our full preview here.
Gratuitous Tank Battles is available to pre-order from the official website for $22.95/£14.63. I've embedded their most recent trailer below.
Some inquisitive fellows on NeoGaf have been raiding the Steam content registry for clues, and seem to have come across some entries suggesting that that Alan Wake may be heading to PC.
In further support of the Alan Wake PC release rumours, Just Push Start spotted an interview on Finnish site YLEX in which Aki Järvilehto from Remedy said "we have received feedback from a lot of PC gamers, and I have to admit that yes, we somehow ignored that. Let’s see if in the near future we could have some positive news to tell you about dating!" We love positive news about dating!
Way back in 2006, Alan Wake was the poster boy for Intel's Core 2 Duo CPU, and was regularly demoed on PC to show off its multi-threading tech. Then, all of a sudden, it became an Xbox 360 exclusive, and the PC version vanished. As a PC version was worked on heavily in the run up to its release, it theoretically shouldn't be too hard to resurrect it for a Steam release. It'd coincide nicely with the downloadable Alan Wake follow up story, Alan Wake's American Nightmare, which is heading to the Xbox 360 early next year.
It's not just Alan Wake haunting the Steam registry files. DIY Gamer have spotted evidence of a very tasty new Humble Bundle. The registry entry suggests that a new bundle may include Super Meat Boy, BIT.TRIP.RUNNER, Jamestown, Nightsky and Shank as a starting lineup, with Gratuitous Space Battles and Cave Story+ to be added after the bundle has kicked off. If accurate, that's a fantastic collection. How much would you pay for that bundle, and would you like to see Alan Wake come to Steam?
What would the word be like in a hundred years time if the leaders of the major nations in The Great War never called it a day. There would be gratuitous giant robots, of course, tanks, trenches, laser beams and huge flamethrower towers at strategic intervals. See all of these in action in the latest trailer for Gratuitous Tanks Battles, spotted over on RPS.
It's predecessor, Gratuitous Space Battles almost destroyed Tom Hatfield's brain with its build-focused brand of strategy. GSB was all about tailoring the set up of each of your ships. Once they were in battle, they acted on their own, and all you could do was sit back and see how your carefully laid plans played out. Gratuitous Tanks Battles will require more involvement. As a defending player, you must place and upgrade your defensive towers sensibly to repel the waves of enemy tanks. As an attacker, you have to choose set up your forces, choose their routes through the battlefield and focus their fire.
Creator Cliff Harris also mentions on the Gratuitous Tank Battles site that "a built-in map editor will allow easy sharing of custom maps and defensive challenges with other GTB players in a similar fashion to GSB's challenge system." Which is great news unless you happen to be Hatfield's brain. The trailer says it's out "soon-ish," the site says it'll be out before the end of this year.