Worried that the download copies of BioShock Infinite will sell out, when it lands on the 26th of March? You might want to sit and think about that for a moment, or alternatively you could pre-order the game from Steam - you know, before you know whether it's any good or not. Your wallet may or may not thank you in the long run, but at least you'll get a bunch of free stuff, including the spin-off Industrial Revolution puzzle game, some in-game tat, and a copy of the original BioShock. If an unspecified number of other people put their money down as well, you'll also get a copy of XCOM and several TF2 items, but I don't see how anyone would be interested in those.
Those TF2 items you won't be interested in include Vox Diabolus (a "Vox Populi anarchist mask"), The Pounding Father ("Heavy cannot tell lie. Heavy is first President of United States. Of crushing little baby men"), and The Steel Songbird ("Why not treat yourself to the haunting rhythmic symphony of bolts being constantly pooped by this mute, easily terrified incontinent bird?") However, they will only be unlocked if other people pre-order too - the counter is currently at 19%. The reward tier after that doles out a copy of the excellent XCOM.
BioShock Infinite is out in just a few weeks, and Tom was rather impressed with it in his recent hands-on with the game.
Feb 20, 2013
Whenever you download and install a game on Steam, the files rest neatly on your hard drive like a well-pressed stack of laundry for quick access and organization of custom mod files. Some older Source games creak along on an older format from an earlier age in Steam's saga, but in a new FAQ, Valve says it's converting the guts of these games to use the SteamPipe content delivery system for faster load times and an updated file layout.
Counter-Strike: Source, Day of Defeat: Source, Half-Life 2: Deathmatch, and Team Fortress 2 will soon traverse over to the steamapps/common section of your Steam folder instead of the older steamapps/ destination. The conversion is automatic: Valve says you'll need enough disk space "for about two full copies of the game" as it changes over.
Modders and mod users have a little bit of extra homework to do to ensure everything works. Custom files will need to be copied manually over to the new directory, and mod authors should start packaging their works as VPK files instead of in a ZIP.
ZIP files still work in a pinch, as Valve describes it:
"For example, if the ZIP contains custom player models that look like (heaven forbid) ponies, and one of the files is materials/models/player/scout/scout_head.vtf, then you might make a dirctory such as tf/addons/i_love_ponies. You should unzip the mod such that the custom scout head texture ends up at tf/addons/i_love_ponies/materials/models/player/scout/scout_head.vtf."
Check out the rest of Valve's FAQ for more detailed info on the changes SteamPipe brings. You can also download and join the ongoing Team Fortress 2 beta to see the updates for yourself.
It's been tested, it's been debated, and it's now available to all: Valve announces the official launch of the Steam Linux client after nearly four months in beta. Expectedly, a sale is going on for all Linux-supported games in Steam's catalog, including Crusader Kings II and Counter-Strike: Source.
The sale lasts until February 21 and takes 50 to 75 percent off the 54 games Linux users can slot into their brand new platform. Team Fortress 2 joins the revelry by automatically awarding a free and tradeable in-game Tux accessory for all Linux mercs jumping into the free-to-play shooter before May 1. Prepare for an avalanche of crates, Ubuntuans.
Grab the Steam Linux client and browse the full list of discounted titles on the sale page. Welcome to Steam, Linux gamers.
Feb 13, 2013
Guns are a constant character in modern games, but we don't typically take the time to deconstruct their personalities. How a gun animates, its behavior, and what we hear in our headphones has a lot to do with how much we enjoy a shooter. In service of highlighting some of the best examples of good design, Evan, Logan, and T.J. sat in front of a camera to talk about which game guns they like the most.
The six or seven guns we mention are a sliver of PC gaming's armory, of course. What rifles, blasters, launchers, or cannons would you contribute to the discussion?
In a first for the company, Valve let go an unspecified number of employees across multiple teams including hardware and Android development, according to a report by Gamasutra.
Valve hasn't released official word on the number of departures or how this affects its Steam Box project, but Gamasutra says it's hearing such descriptions as "great cleansing" and "large decisions" from those let go. "We've seen the number '25' tossed around, but are unable to confirm this," the Gamasutra article claims.
Yesterday, hardware hacker Jeri Ellsworth, who was hired by Valve to join its hardware team, tweeted a sudden announcement that she'd been fired and was moving on to "new and exciting projects." Elsewhere, the LinkedIn profile of Ed Owen, a senior mechanical engineer, shows an end employment date of February 2013 at Valve.
Though layoffs happen from time to time in the industry, Valve's reputation as one of the most secretive (and lucrative) studios in the business underscores the peculiarity of this development, especially when the terms "layoffs" and "fired" aren't normally associated with a company known for its free-form work philosophy.
We've reached out to Valve for an explanation and for further confirmation about how many people have been let go. We'll update this story if more information arrives today.
UPDATE: Garry's Mod creator Garry Newman tweets the appearance of a number of differences on Valve's staff page seen through Diff Checker. The comparison tool indicates the removal of nine employee bios from the People section of Valve's company page, listed below:
Moby Francke, Half-Life 2 character designer and Team Fortress 2 art lead
Jason Holtman, director of business development for Steam and Steamworks
Keith Huggins, character animator and animator for Team Fortress 2 "Meet the" video series
Tom Leonard, software engineer for Half-Life 2 and Left 4 Dead
Realm Lovejoy, artist for Half-Life 2, Portal, and Left 4 Dead. She was also part of the original DigiPen-turned-Valve team that created Narbacular Drop, the inspiration for Portal
Marc Nagel, test lead for Half-Life, Counter-Strike, and patch updates
Bay Raitt, animator for Half-Life 2, Team Fortress 2, and Portal
Elan Ruskin, engine programmer for Left 4 Dead, Portal 2, and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
Matthew Russell, animator for Team Fortress 2 "Meet the" video series
UPDATE: Valve boss Gabe Newell sent along his response to Engadget: "We don't usually talk about personnel matters for a number of reasons. There seems to be an unusual amount of speculation about some recent changes here, so I thought I'd take the unusual step of addressing them. No, we aren't canceling any projects. No, we aren't changing any priorities or projects we've been discussing. No, this isn't about Steam or Linux or hardware or . We're not going to discuss why anyone in particular is or isn't working here."
Feb 1, 2013
Gabe Newell and beard delivered approximately one interesting fact every 45 seconds or so over the course of his recent hour long talk at the University of Texas at Austin. Newell chatted a lot about success of the Team Fortress 2 barter economy and the huge amounts of direct income item makers have managed to turn around in the last year or so.
"To be really concrete, ten times as much content comes from the userbase as comes from us. We think that we're super productive and badass at making TF2 content, but even at this early stage we cannot compete with our customers in the production of content for this environment," Gabe began.
"The only company we've ever met that kicks our ass is our customers. We'll go up against Bungie or Blizzard, or anybody, but we won't try and compete with our own userbase, because we already know that we're going to lose."
Gabe threw out some really concrete and large numbers to illustrate his point. "The most anybody has earned in a single year is $500,000, so they're making content, selling it to other customers, and we have a revenue share with those people and their takeaway is $500,000.
"The first two weeks that we did this we actually broke Paypal because they didn't have - I don't know what they're worried about, maybe drug dealing - they're, "like nothing generates cash to our userbase other than selling drugs". We actually had to work something out with them and said "no ... they're making hats."
It sounds as though professional modelers from within the industry were making a killing. "We knew that people at other game companies had employees that were making more money being users in our framework than they were as employees at their company, so we're like, "okay, this is weird."
"We started to see things like inflation. We started to see deflation. We started to see users creating their own versions of currencies, mediums of exchange. Countries started to create regulatory structures. In Korea you actually have to create the equivalent of a W4 form for your players to account for the virtual income they get in playing your game."
And that was the moment that Valve decided to hire an economist. You can read much more about the intricacies of Team Fortress 2's complex, evolving hat economy on the Valve Economics blog.
Jan 27, 2013
This week has seen the release of several pre-rendered cinematic trailers. Exciting though they were, brows were raised, then furrowed, then frowned in the PCG office as we noted how precious little these dramatic scenes reflected the actual action of the game.
It need not be so. Even fully pre-rendered trailers can do a better job of encapsulating the games they promote - and probably do a better job of selling them too. We cast our minds back to our favourite trailers of yore, and picked out the five that we felt best captured the games within, while offering visuals that are every bit as thrilling, powerful and cool.
Save for a snippet of pre-rendered CGI at the beginning, this is pretty much just an expertly-edited grab from the game itself. Not only does this, succinctly explain the action and features of the game, but it creates an epic four-minute trajectory of awesome escalation. Then the camera pans back from what seemed surely to be its climax, to reveal yet another immense level of robotic carnage. Even now, six years after Supreme Commander’s release, the trailer still makes it look like the ultimate future of the RTS.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution
A cinematic trailer done right, Human Revolution’s pre-rendered preamble introduces us to the world with expert scene-setting. It quickly sketches out the themes and setting, establishing Jensen as an embittered cyborg with super powerful robo-arms, a vengeful purpose and uncertain allegiance. And then its action sequences, while slightly more fluid and dramatic than possible in game, do describe powers at the player’s disposal: invisibility, x-ray vision, and retractable elbow chisels. It may have flash camera angles, bespoke mo-cap, and sumptuous subsurface scattering - but it’s an honest evocation of the glories of the game itself.
Team Fortress 2
The jaunty crime-caper music and freeze-frame introductions make it clear: TF2 doesn’t have classes so much as characters. The game’s team-shooter action takes a backseat here to showcasing the vibrant art-style and humour, as well as articulating the distinct roles and capabilities of each of TF2’s nine classes. A multiplayer shooter might normally offer scant cinematic thrills, or struggle to communicate what it’s about without a dry breakdown of its mechanics - TF2 elegantly dances round these problems without being disingenuous about the game’s contents.
There’s no in-game footage here, but BioShock’s trailer nonetheless captures a tremendous amount of the game within its short three-minute running time. Its opening panning shot establishes Rapture - its majesty, its dereliction and the ideals that created it. Then the trailer quickly and unexpectedly segues into a thrilling action scene, witnessed in firstperson. The ferocious combat seen here is more dynamic than that of the game, certainly, but the battle establishes the core relationship of the game: that between the little sisters and the big daddies. And, by putting you in the head of an child-stealing aggressor, also demonstrates the game’s ambiguous moralities.
There’s little in the way of explicit action in this trailer, even though it’s shot within the game engine itself. Action isn’t what the trailer is selling, however - it’s selling the city itself. As Niko struts through its succession of quick cuts, the sheer variety of Liberty City is elegantly illustrated, and Niko’s many guises suggests at the freedom the player will have to self-define within that space. Meanwhile, the exquisitely cool LCD Soundsystem track reaffirms Rockstar as gaming’s foremost tastemakers. It’s a brilliantly simple and boldly idiosyncratic trailer, intriguing and evocative in equal measure.
We don't get too many kart racers on PC, and for that I'm entirely thankful. However, the word on the streets of Green Hill Zone is that Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is a good 'un - and it's power-sliding its way to PC on January 31st. Not only that, but this new version of the game features three additional characters, based on iconic PC series Total War, Team Fortress 2 and, um, Football Manager.
From Total War: Shogun comes a Samurai Guy, riding a samurai-themed vehicle that transforms into a plane, a boat, or a kart depending on the track's current surface. (It's not so special - all the vehicles do that.) He's joined by Football Manager's The Tactician, a genero-guy in a suit in a car/boat/plane that does a footbally effect when it transforms. So far, so terrible - BUT. They're saved by the appearance of not one but (sort of) three characters from Team Fortress 2: The Pyro, the Spy and the Heavy, who are swapped out depending on whether you're in the water, in the sky, or on terra firma. If you've always wanted to pit the cast of TF2 against a quite-fast hedgehog with an attitude problem, then your insane wish has come true at long last.
Here is a video of the entire gang in action. I have my fingers crossed for TF2 Tennis next:
(Thanks to PCGamesN.)
Someday, Valve will eventually run out of wonderful features to pack into its mega-gaming-hub Steam. Let's hope it's a long way off, because we'll all be busy poring over the user-written manuals, walkthroughs, and tips for our various games in the newly launched Steam Guides section of Steam's Community area.
Anyone can create and submit a guide for the game of their choice by clicking the new Guide tab on a game's Community Hub page. You can pretty up your words with images and embedded YouTube videos as well, and the guides also appear upon Steam's overlay whenever you're running a program. Neat. I can finally whip up my "How to avoid tigers" guide I've been planning for Far Cry 3 quickly and easily.
Head over to the Steam Guides page to take a look at the over 1,000 guides already created.
Valve will be delivering two talks at the next Game Developers Conference in March. No, you can stop swinging your replica Gordon Freeman crowbar with joy - both sessions will focus on the developer's work in the field of VR and wearable computing. One of them, titled "What We Learned Porting Team Fortress 2 to Virtual Reality," suggests that Valve have been attempting to port Team Fortress 2 to Virtual Reality. Granted, it's a subtle hint.
The talk will focus on the problems Valve have faced in the development of the port. According to the session description, "Several people at Valve spent the past year exploring various forms of wearable computing. The wearable effort included porting Team Fortress 2 to run in virtual reality goggles. This session will describe lessons learned from Valve's porting experience."
"Topics covered include an overview of what stereo support entails, rendering 2D user interface in a 90 degree field of view display, dealing with view models and other rendering shortcuts, and how mouselook can interact with head tracking in a first person shooter."
Valve's wearable computing genius Michael Abrash will also be hosting a talk, called 'Why Virtual Reality is Hard (And Where it Might be Going).' That both events focus on the challenges of VR gaming suggests the dream of the 1980s isn't as easy to obtain as they may have hoped, but Valve seem peculiarly dedicated to making it a reality.
Of course, this is no guarantee that a VR version of TF2 will be commercially available any time soon. But who knows, one day that Killer Exclusive on your head might seem close enough to touch.