Revenge! Charity! Stamps! These will be the dominant market forces in Team Fortress 2's economy of death over the next week or so. A post written in the guise of TF2's announcer on the TF2 blog announces that three "absolutely unique one-of-a-kind hats" have been added to TF2. They won't go on sale in the Mann Co store, though. One of each will be awarded every day to the player that gives the most gifts, wins the most duels, and buys the most map stamps during that 24 hour period.
Tying rewards to map stamps is quite a nice move. Each stamp corresponds to a community made arena and all proceeds from stamp sales go to that map's creator. The investment needed to take the duelling hat is harder to justify. You need to buy an item to initiate duels in TF2. The cheaper way is to incite others to duel you and then win, sidestepping the item cost and earning an additional tick towards hat victory. The hat earned for giving gifts could prompt some players to clear out old items they've been hoarding in their backpacks, which will hopefully result in lots of apparently random acts of generosity.
"LET ME GIVE YOU FREE STUFF!" "GIVE ME FREE STUFF!" and "DUEL ME YOU COWARDS!" may become standard battle cries in the TF2 in the days to come. As the madness unfolds, you'll be able to track stats like headshots and gib shots using Strange Parts, which can now be found in crates. These can by used with Strange Weapons to keep track of your actions. "Strange Parts are still a work in progress," says the blog. "So if the mood takes you, visit the TF2 forum and let him know what you're interested in tracking."
Valve have just announced Steam Collections: a new feature which will let anyone create lists of Steam Workshop mods that let players subscribe to the lot in one click. You can make Collections of anything in the Steam Workshop, but right now only Team Fortress 2 and Skyrim have Workshop content live. Skyrim is where it works best: all the mods in the Workshop are available to play, and Collections make it even easier to get them into the game.
Case in point, we've created two to get you started and show how they work: The PC Gamer Skyrim Mod Collection: Improvements, for the community's best tweaks and touches, and another for our favourite New Content - much more substantial additions that change the game, but still for the better. You can subscribe to either in one click, add both, or even pick and choose from within our selections.
The idea is to let the community help filter the vast amounts of awesome player-made content coming out. You can rate Collections, so the community favourites will be easy to find and subscribe to. Future Workshop games can let players bundle mods, maps and campaign tools into a Collection, making it super simple for us to expand our games. They're already pretty diverse: our Skyrim packs are loadouts of mods that you can install and play all at once. The TF2 community, meanwhile, are making themed sets of content, sometimes by multiple authors, assembled into packs like Valve's class updates.
Expect more games to get support soon. Earlier in the month, Paradox announced that Gettysburg: Armored Warfare will ship with an editor and integrated sharing via the Workshop. And Valve have already mentioned they'll be using the Workshop for Portal 2 maps and Left 4 Dead 2 content.
Just like the Steamworks toolset and Steam Cloud features, it’s up to developers whether they’d like to use Steam Workshop and Steam Collection features in their games. As far as we can tell, it's a massive win-win for modders, gamers, and modding gamers alike. We'll be updating our Collections as we find more cool stuff, and starting a few new ones. In the meantime, here's Valve's blog post about them.
Mar 15, 2012
Sometime soon, I'm going to be called to defend the honor of PC Gamer against Notch, Robin Walker, Yogscast, Freddie Wong, friends of PCG Brian Brushwood and Veronica Belmont, and other people that are more important than me. The men behind TF2 Mix-up have organized another showmatch, a 9-on-9 battle royale between web celebs that benefits Child's Play.
Want to play with us? Donators are eligible to fill a vacant player slot. On April 1, the event's organizers will randomly pick three donors who will each be offered a place in the match along with some signed merchandise. Donate more, and you'll increase your chances. Donate here. The match's date is secret, but it should be held sometime in April. We'll post the match video once it's available, assuming I don't dishonor you all.
Mar 12, 2012
Would Bomberman have been better if its little arsonists were replaced with angry one-eyed men with grenade launchers? Absolutely yes. A pair of modders spent just 24 hours coding this multiplayer Bomberman mod for Team Fortress 2. The rules are simple: use sticky grenades to blow a path to nearby enemies, and then reduce them to a blood splatter using more bombs when you get there.
It looks like the bombs don't behave in quite the same way as they did in Bomberman. The old explosions would obliterate almost the entire length of a corridor, but there's still plenty of destruction, and a lot more blood. There are power-ups, too. These will increase your Demoman's running and reloading speed. The map's currently playable on rotation on the modders' server. You can get there using the link below the video on the MechatheSlag site.
Mar 10, 2012
Evan, Josh, Tyler and Chris reflect on our week of coverage, talks, and appointments at the Game Developers Conference right here in our backyard of San Francisco. That includes MechWarrior Online, Valve's "History of TF2" talk, the infamous Steam Box, SimCity, PlanetSide 2, and (duh) Mass Effect 3. Josh also checks in about the SWTOR guild summit, reported on in more detail here.
PC Gamer US Podcast 308: GDC 2012 Recap
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Mar 9, 2012
The American eSports fan faces a dilemma tonight. Do you brew coffee and stay up until the Intel Extreme Masters finals start at 3 AM Eastern (9 AM Central European Time), or do you go to bed early and wake up in time to watch the games? Or do you do none of the above and catch the replay? The day starts with Counter-Strike, ESC v. Na`Vi, then moves on to StarCraft 2 and PuMa (Terran) v. MC (Protoss) at 6:15 AM Eastern. Finally, it's the League of Legends final between M5 and Dignitas, and even that, if the last few days have been any indication, will have a far, far larger audience than either StarCraft or Counter-Strike. If you need to be caught-up on what you've missed at the IEM, you can check out the video archives here.
As dilemmas go, choosing how to enjoy the IEM finals is not a bad one to have. Especially when you compare it to what the Evil Geniuses team is dealing with right now. One of their new contractors, StarCraft caster Jake "Orb" Sklarew, was caught using a racial slur in StarCraft 2 matches. EG CEO Alex Garfield quickly dimissed Orb and released a lengthy statement explaining where he stands with regard to racist behavior in the gaming community. Shortly thereafter, Orb made his own apology to the StarCraft community. Look for us to follow-up on this story soon.
But back to games. Last weekend, shooter fans could tune into the ESEA LAN tournament, where the Counter-Strike: Source championship went to the Dynamic team, and the CS 1.6 title went to Back2Back Gaming, the first non-Evil Geniuses team to win the finals in five seasons, now that EG has stopped competing in Counter-Strike.
But perhaps some of the best competition at the ESEA was the final between Classic Mixup and defending champ Quantic Legacy. Despite Quantic holding a match advantage from an extended series (as they had defeated Mixup in their first meeting, and that win counted in the final), Mixup took the championship by winning two consecutive best of three matches. You can see the start above, and the entire match should be available on eXtv's YouTube account.
Replays from the MLG Winter Arena are now available online. As I've said before, they are well worth watching.
Korean Zerg powerhouse DongRaeGu has been on a tear this last week. He kicked it off last Saturday by winning the GSL final and then helped help out his MVP team into the Global StarCraft 2 Team League.
The IGN Pro League is at SXSW this weekend. The main attractions are tomorrow, with a LoL all-star match at 4 Eastern and a one-on-one StarCraft 2 match between Stephano and White-Ra at 9 Eastern.
As always, this is not meant to be a comprehensive eSports news and events roundup. That way lies madness. Please feel free to suggest other events and videos in the comments.
Mar 8, 2012
We’re fresh from Valve’s “Team Fortress 2: From the Orange Box to Free to Play in Just Four Years” GDC 2012 panel hosted by programmer Joe Ludwig with some fascinating numbers. I know, you’re probably thinking you know the whole story already (HATZ!), but we there were more than a few cold hard numbers from TF2’s four year journey that surprised the hell out of us. Want to know where and why Valve is spying on you, or how much they pay community contributors? The answers are below.
That’s how much Team Fortress 2 increased its concurrent player base by once they threw the free-to-play switch in June 2011. That was by no means a “last resort” decision, the kind made by many a languishing MMO, but one hard learned by Valve’s unbelievably awesome tendency to drastically lower the price of its games on Steam. We’ve all seen games drop by 75% without warning, and it goes without saying that such measures will undoubtedly increase sales. However, Valve’s Joe Ludwig revealed something even more interesting in TF2’s case: the volume of new games sold at sale price actually offset the loss in the discount.
But live games of Team Fortress 2’s magnitude rely on continued developer support, which requires money, which back then solely hinged solely on the sale of the game. And therein lay the problem. “Each person can only buy the game once,” said Ludwig, also adding, “We can only earn revenue from people who have never played our game.” How do you encourage new players, while maintain existing fans? The solution to that equation was somewhere between that magic “hey, under $10!” price point, and how to fund consistent updates that’ll keep people coming playing. So not only did the decision to take the three-year old game free-to-play increase player counts by four hundred percent, it did the same for revenue... You know the rest of this, don’t you?
That’s how many item trades have gone down in Team Fortress 2, courtesy of 8 million transactions between 1.7 million players totaling for one incredibly successful HATSTRAVAGANZA! But have you ever wondered “Why hats?” Ludwig made the answer seem so simple. Before embarking on Valve’s first free-to-play venture, their research revealed three basic player reservations under the umbrella attitude of “Paying for items is icky.” First of all, they found players hate to be nickel and damned in fake, virtual currency. Okay, not a problem. Obviously, not every game will have the benefit of reconfiguring a platform like Steam to float the idea of real money worth, but it’s because of this that TF2 was immediately able to skirt horrible, horrible problems of basic math. “This will cost you this, and you won’t have $1.67 of Space Bucks left to do nothing with.”
The second micro-transaction hurdle was that players hate the idea of “paying to win.” Early experiments with boosted apparel fell flat, as people disliked the idea of giving big spenders even the smallest advantage, and much more interestingly according to Ludwig, because “players don’t like being told what to wear.” So it was decided that only cosmetic alterations were to be sold in the item shop, with unlocking skill left to Achievements, crafting, and other more traditional means.
Lastly, players, especially ones who are part of a long-established game, don’t want to be forced to purchase anything. And honestly, what’s more useless than a hat? “It grafts simply to the headbone,” claimed Ludwig, making them easy to compatibly model, and thanks to the highly distinct look of each class, they barely so much as alter character silhouettes. Players who originally bought the game were given an “Proof of Purchase” lid to kickstart their reluctant obsession, trading hats has since become an in-game currency of its own and have continued to randomly drop ever since.
That’s how much money has been handed out to community contributors, who receive a cut of what their hats make in the item shop. No, hats can’t give you advantage. But they’re still awesome nonetheless! They can be simultaneously worn as badges of honor, show support for a passion, and be waved like a flag of individualistic flare. So technically… they’re invaluable in a way. The TF2 team couldn’t crank out enough to meet rabid demand, even after the allowed players to submit their own designs for approval.
Enter the Steam Workshop, where the dev team could finally let the community decide what items made it into the game and when. Obviously, the cream rises, but using fans as a filter also eliminated duplicates, infringements, design theft, and thanks to the second-to-none expedience of Steam’s certification process, even had the ability to be topical and reflective of the zeitgeist.
Seemingly overnight, TF2 was able to raise $300,000 for Japanese earthquake relief last year, and the desire for hats has virtually redefined how we trade, gift, and purchase all digital items (at least on Steam) without fear of being scammed. Currently, there’s only one other game integrated with Steam Workshop, but if you know what it is, you know TF2 is in good company. (*coughSKYRIMcough*)
That’s approximate amount of views Valve’s “Meet the Medic” short has enjoyed on Youtube. It’s fairly safe to say you’ve probably seen it, but within those quirky, enjoyable promotional materials, which include all manner of teasers, posters, and comics, lies the shadiest thing you didn’t know Valve was doing. Wait, that should’ve sounded more fun… okay, remember the Meet the Engineer teaser?
You may remember going apeshit over a robotic glove and-BOOM- it was in the update. However, in less than thirty seconds, Valve crammed in a dozen or so references, winks, hints, and yes, even misleads. They’re Valve, that’s what they do, and almost immediately TF2 fans everywhere went about creating volumes of speculation threads… where Valve is watching you. Why would Valve spy on fans pouring over teases that aren’t even real? Because they’re not real yet. The TF2 team keeps a keen eye on what hidden glimpses are getting attention on message boards and social media avenues because that’s where “players are secretly voting on what goes in the update.” Ludwig slyly exclaimed. Valve loves to stir up speculation, but it takes the sting out of the head-scratching a bit once you realize they’re basically focus testing what you want, and what makes it into the final game. Such is the case with the Engineer’s glove: it hadn’t even been developed until eagle-eyed viewers caught a glimpse of it in the teaser and went nuts.
The Games Developers Conference has just begun in San Francisco. Devs from every corner of the industry are congregating to talk about their craft. It’s a very exciting time.
GDC is less console iteration and booth babe than E3. It's more about quiet announcements and candid industry chatter. That said, this year’s show is already shaping up nicely, especially for us PC gamers. We have men on the ground, sniffing out scoops in real-time.
Will Valve open the Pandora’s box that is the Steam Box? What’s the mystery game that EA are due to announce on Tuesday? What will Sid Meier have to say in his keynote speech? Are Hitman Absolution’s crowds extremely good or a bit good? Read on for the highlights.
The conference begins low-key but unpredictable. Today, we’ll be attending various talks from indie developers and meeting up with Paradox Interactive. Tuesday is a similar affair, though some Planetside 2 news might break later on.
Things get really exciting on Wednesday. Lord of Civ, Sid Meier is doing a talk on Interesting Decisions, Notch is having a Fireside Chat, Square Enix are talking Deus Ex and Valve are talking TF2. There’s also rumours of a mystery game getting announced by EA in their Game Changers conference. It could relate to more Sim City news, or something even more exotic. IO Interactive will also be unveiling Hitman Absolution’s outstanding-looking crowd tech.
We’ve got a bundle of interviews on Thursday with some of your favourite devs, but we can’t give away too much yet. We’ll also be attending postmortems on Portal 2, The Old Republic, Fallout, The Witcher 2 and League of Legends. It’s going to be one hell of an insightful day. Keep an eye on our GDC 2012 tag for more.
Bioware kick off Friday’s schedule with a talk on Contrast and Context in Story and Cinematics. There’ll also be discussion from Zynga and PopCap, an analysis of recent Indie hit Dear Esther, along with chats on experimental play sessions, game dev parent’s rants and the nature of game reviews. We’ll almost definitely have something to say about all that.
And then it’ll be over. The most exciting developments won't be on the schedule, so keep an eye on our GDC 2012 tag for more. Excitement!
Writing a regular column about free games has been one of the most transformative jobs I've ever taken. Buried away in the depths of the internet are some remarkable things, and being able to unearth them, then share them with a huge number of like-minded people, is always an absolute pleasure.
It's also changed the way I think about games, changed the way I write about games, and even inspired me to make games. All this from spending one day a week playing mostly amateur creations then scrawling down some words about what I made of them.
I've played some fantastic games while preparing these columns. Nous, a fascinatingly dark abstract shooter that poses as a personality-evaluating AI, was one of the more intriguing ones. It's a game that spins an unnerving story through its only character, who flits worryingly between help and harm. It's immaculately presented, and alternately amusing and sinister. A real gem.
Or how about Wonderputt? It's a crazy golf game among the most delightful freebies I've ever seen. It presents an ever-changing landscape, a world that morphs around you as you progress through its 18 holes, and one of the most fabulously animated things. It only lasts about 15 minutes, but I spent that time with my face fixed into a grin.
For absolutely no pennies, you can experience things unlike anything else in our medium. Take Terry Cavanagh's At a Distance, a co-op game that asks two players to sit on a local network, exploring an abstract maze, making changes to each other's versions of the world as they work to solve its ultimate puzzle. Haunting and abstract, it's a fascinating look at how we can work together within games in new and exciting ways.
The Snowfield, too, is an experimental game. In it, you explore a harrowing wartorn environment, a place where the snow continues to fall and haunting sounds emit from its farer reaches. Soldiers who are still standing walk among the dead bodies, crying. It's not polished, but it's utterly affecting.
And, more recently, Unmanned's split-screen dialogue-choosing and mundane-task-completion contrasted stunningly with the more hard-hitting elements of its storyline. Its central character is often unpleasant - a liar and a cheat and a racist, if you let him be - but the questions it asks you as a player go far beyond those that are a part of the game itself.
Then there's been the bigger games. Portal was free for a while (it's currently just £7). World of Warcraft got a stripped-back free-to-play version. Team Fortress 2 went almost entirely free as it continued to expand, and Bungie's Marathon trilogy turned up without charge. That even the major studios occasionally give us something for nothing is a lovely thing: it might often be a smart business decision, advertising other titles or enticing in new players, but it still presents us with opportunities to try out some truly special releases without stretching our wallets.
Perhaps most importantly to me, I've spent time delving into the Adventure Game Studio community. AGS is a free-to-use game engine that's powered a number of commercial games, such as Time Gentlemen, Please! and Gemini Rue, but it's also the tech behind a huge number of free releases created as projects of passion. Being astonished by the quality of Keys of a Gamespace, Egress and Donna: Avenger of Blood inspired me to make my own game - Masked - in AGS. And I'm currently working on an even bigger project that utilises it.
I've revisited older games and I continue to find new ones. Spelunky is still, I genuinely believe, one of the best games available on PC - a free roguelike platformer with an stupidly ruleset and a fascinating environment to explore and destroy. Digital: A Love Story is an indie adventure set in the late 1980s, and sees your teenage character embark on a touching journey of discovery. And the terrifying but brilliant Dwarf Fortress recently got an enormous update.
This week, Flatland: Fallen Angle turned up with the best name in the world and a minimalist, noir-esque vibe. It's a game in which you play as a triangle on the run in a two-dimensional city. (Its 'Appreciation Version', which functions on a pay-what-you-like model, recently fell foul of PayMate - who cancelled and refunded all orders without notice, deciding only to inform the developers afterwards that they don't work with games because 'teenagers steal their parents' credit cards to buy them'.) Meanwhile, Russian Subway Dogs sees your canine character scurrying around the underground picking up scraps of food, fighting with other dogs, and - most importantly, of course - exploding bottles of vodka.
This is my last free games column for PC Gamer, but those fantastic free games won't stop coming, and I'm sure PC Gamer will continue to write about them.
Recently, I interviewed some developers as part of a feature I was writing. I wanted to find out why, when they are clearly such talented designers, artists and programmers, they persist in giving away their creations and asking for no money in return. Some of them worked full-time in the games industry and made their freebies on the side. For others, it was just a hobby. But one thread ran through every one of their answers: games are awesome, we love making them, and we want as many people as possible to benefit from that.
In what can often be a cynical industry, these developers are quite remarkable people. Long may their fabulous work continue.
Thanks for reading, folks.
Feb 27, 2012
Notch is currently busy "streaming development of something that probably never will be released at all," which seems a shame, because it's a lovely little Team Fortress 2 RTS. You can watch Noch magically turning numbers and letters into scenes of TF2's eight classes fragging each other in the livestream box above. Don't worry, "Herp Derp Herp Fortress" is only a working title for now. You can suggest some alternative names in the live chat happening alongside the stream on Notch's Twitch TV channel.