I can finally look forward to the best chance I have for merging my consciousness with the Heavy as he bellows his way across Gold Rush. Valve put out a notice yesterday announcing the Oculus Rift's VR sorcery will soon work for Team Fortress 2 in a free update later this week, marking the first Valve game to take advantage of the Kickstarted, consumer-priced goggles.
Rifters, as I'm calling them from now on, can switch on a new "VR mode" in the free multiplayer shooter's options to make use of the hardware's low-latency head-tracking and high FOV. Speaking to Engadget, Valve programmer Joe Ludwig says Team Fortress 2 was "sort of the obvious choice" for the Oculus' shakedown because of the community's willingness in the past to serve as guinea pigs for trying out new major features from the developer. Well, guinea pigs who stab, immolate, and blow up each other, but you get the idea.
As with anything even remotely involving Team Fortress 2, Rifters will bag an exclusive hat modeled after the goggles, seen in the crazily grainy screenshot below. (In other words, wave goodbye to your "decline trade" key.) The Oculus team hopes for a consumer version of its VR headset sometime this year, and other big-name games are already under the modder's anvil to include support for it.
Valve boss Gabe Newell stepped up to the stage during last week's BAFTA awards to receive the prestigious Academy Fellowship for his contributions to gaming. Presumably momentarily distracted by accepting a trophy modeled after a smirking face, a bewhiskered Newell fielded some interview questions over the normally airtight subject of Valve's business performance that hinted at the monumental scale of the studio's prosperity.
Newell chalked up Valve's successes largely to user-generated content on open platforms such as Steam Workshop before sharing some jaw-dropping numbers. "There's sort of an insatiable demand for gaming right now," Newell said. "I think our business has grown by about 50 percent on the back of opportunities created by having these open platforms.
"And just so people understand how big this sort of scale is getting, we were generating 3.5 terabits per second during the last Dota 2 update," he added. "That's about 2 percent of all the mobile- and land-based Internet activity."
Wait, what? We're not exactly sure what Newell meant when he dropped that bombshell of data info, apart from maybe claiming responsibility for all those times my connection speeds chugged while browsing these past few months. Still, it seems entirely plausible—Dota 2 has a lot of players, and the MOBA recently took the crown for the highest concurrent user amount of any Steam game ever. If any Steam game can feasibly take a bite out of the entire Internet, Dota 2 holds the best chance.
Garry's Mod, that wonderful physics sandbox of posable characters doing very silly things, has done rather well since attaching a $10 price for its tomfoolery back in 2006. Last December, GMod passed the milestone of 2 million copies sold, an accomplishment made possible by word-of-mouth and creator Garry Newman's regular feature updates. Responding to a fan's question in a blofg post, Newman reveals the mod accrued an astounding $22 million over seven years, but he also says taxes took large bites out of the monstrous moneydollar amount.
"Over seven years, GMod has made about $22 million dollars," he writes. "We get less than half of that though. The tax man gets a bunch of that. Then when we take money out of the company, the tax man gets a bunch of that too."
A Google Image search for "Garry's Mod tax man" sadly doesn't provide an appropriate response image for Newman's achievement, instead showing a balloon chair, ponies, and a Teletubby mugging a Companion Cube. Wait, what am I saying? They're all appropriate.
As for the future of Garry's Mod and what's next for Newman and the rest of his team at developer Facepunch Studios, Newman lines up a few upcoming features in the works.
"Hopefully, we’re gonna get the Linux version out," he says. "Then hopefully we’ll move to SteamPipe, and I’ll get the NextBot stuff hooked up. Then I want to do another Gamemode Contest. But I want to knock out a bunch of gamemode creating tutorials first to help people get their foot in the door."
By the way, if you're leery of plopping down a Hamilton for a constantly updated playground of imagination ("Garry's Mod what are you thinking" in Google), you can grab the old-but-free Garry's Mod 9 from Mod DB.
Valve are currently beta testing a selection of additions and changes to Steam's Community pages. Not only have they separated out general community activity from your own contributions, and created a Community Home as an all-game version of the Game Hubs, but you can also upload artwork for any Valve game. It's not all charmingly crude MS Paint scribbles, though, as Valve's artists have created an installation for this digital gallery, featuring concept, prototypes and posters for everything from Portal to Dota 2.
Artwork can only be uploaded for Valve games right now, with the rest of Steam's extensive library set to follow in the future. To use the new features, you'll need to opt-in to the latest Steam Beta Update from Steam's settings menu. You can also view them in-browser by joining the New Steam Community Beta group.
Steam has also updated Workshop entries to provide more detailed stats to creators, as well as new tabs for each Workshop item, letting Subscribers create discussions and view a full update history. More details of that update here.
Mar 4, 2013
How to news, lesson #53: Can't think of an appropriate image? Slap in some graphs at an angle!
It's a new month, meaning, for the most part, very little. Still, fans of minor incremental gains and losses in granular data do get the joy of a fresh Steam Hardware Survey, reducing down Steam's userbase into a comparable list of percentages. February's numbers bring strong gains for Linux, a new chunk of Windows 8 users, and the continued and seemingly unstoppable dominance of Windows 7.
The combined total of all Linux distros is 2.02% - still a fledgling next to the other major operating systems, but one that's growing quickly. December's confirmed Linux userbase accounted for 0.8% of the Steam user pot, meaning in two months Steam Linux gamers have more than doubled. It's worth remembering that in the interim Steam did host both a major Linux-focused sale, and a free TF2 penguin. One indie developer noted on Gamasutra that, during the sale period, his Linux sales figures were almost triple that of Mac.
Elsewhere on the list, Mac falls 0.37% to 3.07%. Given that the number is that low, despite Mac offering a wider library for longer, it seems inevitable that Linux will eventually become Steam's second major OS as its support continues to improve.
Meanwhile, Windows 8's slow but steady progress means it nearly accounts for a tenth of Steam users, currently accounting for 9.63%. Windows 7 is on a downturn, but a glacially slow one. It lost just 0.42% of Steam users, and accounts for 69.31% of the platform's population. This is almost certainly not the conversion rate Microsoft were hoping for. In fact, Windows XP 32-bit is still beating Windows 8 64-bit, although the respective rates of loss and growth mean the old war-horse may finally be toppled in the next couple of months.
Quick Disclaimer: Inevitably, whenever we do this type of Steam hardware round-up, someone points out that Steam doesn't represent the entirety of PC gaming. They're entirely right! What it does do is offer a handy glimpse at a relatively broad cross-section, encompassing both AAA and indie, with a bit of free-to-play thrown in. It's far from perfect, but it is what we have easy-to-analyse data for.
The ongoing debate over the ethicality of microtransactions is hot enough to make the sun look like an ice cube, but it's difficult to overlook the financial benefits of prolonging a game beyond its launch content—just ask EA, which recently stated it's seeking to add purchaseable items in all of its games. Consumer concern is natural, but former Epic designer Cliff Bleszinski thinks wallets are a stronger measure of approval than complaints. In a lengthy blog article, he specifically brings up the business practices of EA and Valve, stating he's "tired" of the former taking the brunt of ire surrounding the subject.
"I’m going to come right out and say it: I’m tired of EA being seen as 'the bad guy,'" he writes. "I think it’s b******* that EA has the 'scumbag EA' memes on Reddit and that Good Guy Valve can do no wrong.
"It blows my mind that somehow gamers don’t seem to get that Valve is a business, just like any other, and when Valve charges $100 for an engagement ring in Team Fortress 2, it’s somehow 'cool,'" he continues. "Yet when EA wants to sell something similar, it’s seen as 'evil.'
"Yes, guys, I hate to break it to you, but as awesome as Valve is, they’re also a company that seeks to make as much money as possible. They’re just way better at their image control."
Are we all just hungry for hats?
Bleszinski goes on to claim "making money and running a business is not inherently evil" and compares Origin's currently unfavored reputation with Steam's reception during its shaky first years.
"People love to beat up on Origin, but they forget that, for a good amount of time, Steam sucked," he writes. "No one took it seriously for the first while. When Gabe pitched it at GDC to my former co-workers years ago, they came back with eye-rolls. Who’s laughing now? All of Valve.
"It took Valve years to bang their service into the stellar shape that it is in these days. Yet somehow, everyone online forgets this, and they give EA crap about trying to create their own online services. Heaven forbid they see our digital roadmap for the future and try to get on board the 'games as services' movement."
He finishes with a simple piece of advice: "If you don’t like EA, don’t buy their games. If you don’t like their microtransactions, don’t spend money on them. EA has many smart people working for them, and they wouldn’t attempt these things if they didn’t work. Turns out, they do. I assure you there are teams of analysts studying the numbers behind consumer behavior over there that are studying how you, the gamer, spends his hard earned cash."
Response was swift. A NeoGAF thread ballooned with various comments ranging between hostile, sympathetic, and fearful.
"It's one thing to say you'll start putting microtransactions in every $60 game you'll make and another thing to have microtransactions on a-free to-play game, where a big percentage of that microtransaction money actually goes to the players, who themselves make items to sell," writes one poster.
"Overall, if I see DLC that I don't like, I just ignore it," writes another. "If a game has too much DLC to the point in which the main game is really lacking in content then I just won't buy the game. Simple. Don't get why some are acting like they are being forced into doing something."
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?