Here's a rather splendid new trailer for Bioshock Infinite; one that packs together grand vistas of the soaring city of Columbia, insight into its fire-and-brimstone ruler Zachary Comstock, and plenty of explosive combat against men and monstrosities. It's also likely to be the only trailer you'll see today that features a minigun-toting mechanical George Washington.
He only makes a brief appearance, but Comstock seems set to be a great character. His zealous, patriotic fervour seems like a nice counterpoint to the grand idealism of Bioshock's Andrew Ryan.
Also: a game trailer made entirely from footage of said game! What a novel idea. We approve.
The debate over the relationship between violent games and violent behavior continues inside and outside the United States. In its initial response to the tragedy in Newtown, CT, the US government said it intends to ask the Centers for Disease Control to “study the root causes of gun violence, including any relationship to video games and media images.” Critics cite studies that link aggression and violent games, claiming that interactivity as a component of games makes them unusually potent. One politician labeled games as "electronic child molesters."
It's an enormous and serious topic—one that we believe gamers shouldn't shrug off, but take it upon themselves to engage critics and fellow citizens on. In the interest of that, Logan, Evan, and Tyler hopped into our podcast studio (inappropriately, the room that most makes it look like we're inside an insane asylum) to talk about their personal relationship with violence in games.
Speaking to Edge, Firaxis Lead Designer Jake Solomon said the developer's early efforts of crafting an XCOM reboot back in 2003 turned out "awful." Sounds harsh, but considering the polish and personality of XCOM: Enemy Unknown, we're glad for the do-over.
"It’s a good thing it never went ahead, because I was way too young, I had very little experience, and I just wasn’t in the right place to make that game," he said. "It really took a long time until it made sense for the team and for the company."
After a few years spent waiting for Firaxis to construct additional wings in its underground complex, Solomon and his team took another second stab in 2008, the prototype for which eventually evolved into XCOM: Enemy Unknown, the well-received blend of tactical alien slaying and squad management which earned our 2012 Strategy Game of the Year award.
On the cusp of an open multiplayer beta for Crytek's maximally lustrous Crysis 3, Nvidia released an early version of its GeForce 313.95 drivers today. The GPU giant claims the drivers boost SLI performance for Crysis 3 by up to 35 percent in addition to other "sizeable SLI and single-GPU performance gains" in games such as Assassin's Creed III and Far Cry 3.
Nvidia says users should expect a 27 percent gain in graphics performance while playing Assassin's Creed III, 19 percent in Civilization V, and 14 percent for both Call of Duty: Black Ops II and DiRT 3. Just Cause 2 improves by 11 percent, and Deus Ex: Human Revolution, F1 2012, and Far Cry 3 all improve by 10 percent.
Demonstrating its mastery over orderly green bars, Nvidia also supplied benchmark charts for these games using four of its most recent cards: the GTX 650, 660 Ti, 680, and 690. With the 313.95 drivers, the company declares GTX 690 users can max out all settings in Crysis 3 and still achieve 60 FPS.
Grab the new drivers and check out the charts at Nvidia's website. Also try out the GeForce Experience—which we've talked about at length—to automatically optimize and configure your games based on your PC's hardware.
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.
The Game Developers Choice Awards are the other side of a coin that also contains the IGFs. Sure, indies are allowed into this GDC organised awards show, but they have to promise to be on their best behaviour. And wash behind their ears.
The nominations for this year's award - chosen by a panel of game developers - have been announced, with The Walking Dead and Dishonored scoring plenty of nods. Not the most, though - that honour goes to Journey, which is apparently a PS3 game about collecting scarves. Or something.
Dishonored picked up four nominations, including Game of the Year, Best Game Design, Best Narrative and Best Visual Arts. The Walking Dead also received nominations for Game of the Year and Best Narrative, as well as a chance to nab Best Downloadable Game. Wait, aren't all games downloadable?
Other PC relevant nominations include Game of the Year nods for Mass Effect 3 and XCOM, a well deserved Best Audio mention for Hotline Miami, and a Best Technology listing for Planetside 2. FTL also did well, being nominated for the Innovation Award, along with a shot at Best Debut for its developer, Subset Games.
Here's the full list:
Game of the Year Dishonored (Arkane Studios/Bethesda Softworks) The Walking Dead (Telltale Games) Mass Effect 3 (BioWare/Electronic Arts) XCOM: Enemy Unknown (Firaxis Games/2K Games) Journey (Thatgamecompany/Sony Computer Entertainment)
Mark of the Ninja (Klei Entertainment/Microsoft Studios) Journey (Thatgamecompany/Sony Computer Entertainment) FTL: Faster Than Light (Subset Games) The Unfinished Swan (Giant Sparrow/Sony Computer Entertainment) ZombiU (Ubisoft Montpellier/Ubisoft)
Humble Hearts (Dust: An Elysian Tail) Polytron Corporation (Fez) Giant Sparrow (The Unfinished Swan) Subset Games (FTL: Faster Than Light) Fireproof Games (The Room )
Best Downloadable Game
The Walking Dead (Telltale Games) Spelunky (Derek Yu/Andy Hull) Trials: Evolution (RedLynx/Microsoft Studios) Mark Of The Ninja (Klei Entertainment/Microsoft Studios) Journey (Thatgamecompany/Sony Computer Entertainment)
Best Game Design
Dishonored (Arkane Studios/Bethesda Softworks) Mark Of The Ninja (Klei Entertainment/Microsoft Studios) Spelunky (Derek Yu/Andy Hull) Journey (Thatgamecompany/Sony Computer Entertainment) XCOM: Enemy Unknown (Firaxis Games/2K Games)
Best Handheld/Mobile Game
Gravity Rush (SCE Japan Studio/Sony Computer Entertainment) Hero Academy (Robot Entertainment) Sound Shapes (Queasy Games/Sony Computer Entertainment) The Room (Fireproof Games) Kid Icarus: Uprising (Sora/Nintendo)
Spec Ops: The Line (Yager Entertainment/2K Games) Mass Effect 3 (BioWare/Electronic Arts) Dishonored (Arkane Studios/Bethesda Softworks) The Walking Dead (Telltale Games) Virtue's Last Reward (Chunsoft/Aksys Games)
Far Cry 3 (Ubisoft Montreal/Ubisoft) PlanetSide 2 (Sony Online Entertainment) Halo 4 (343 Industries/Microsoft Studios) Call of Duty: Black Ops II (Treyarch/Activision) Assassin's Creed III (Ubisoft Montreal/Ubisoft)
The latest adventure for Borderlands 2's Vault Hunters involves knocking the loot-stuffing out of Pandora's deadliest creatures in the Sir Hammerlock DLC, but why stop the madness there? Gearbox has been talking about a level cap increase beyond 50 for some time, and speaking to Official PlayStation Magazine UK, Producer James Lopez said we'll see more levels sometime during the year's first quarter which ends in March.
As Lopez explained, picking the correct moment to make everyone more powerful came from poring over player stats tracked by Borderlands 2's SHiFT system. "SHiFT allows us to see a lot more about the way players are playing the game and see what they’re doing. We wanted to give people enough time to get at least one level 50 and then see from there. We also didn’t want to wait so long that people were no longer interested or felt like it wasn’t coming."
It's unclear how we'll get the added levels—perhaps included in a future DLC pack or as a separate patch. Heck, with how wacky things get on Pandora, we wouldn't be surprised if Dr. Zed just randomly decided to shoot a strength-boosting syringe into our eyeball one day.
Lopez previously told Polygon the issue of ability balance and power-creep weighed heavily on Gearbox's decisions for adjusting character levels. "We try to find ways to balance it out and we also need to adjust the enemies so they are still challenging at the higher levels. It's one of those funny things where people assume that whenever they hit level 50 they're going to steamroll through everything."
Civilization V might be getting a second expansion at some point in the future. According to the Steam Apps Database - a website that trawls Steam's huge library - an entry exists for an expansion called "One World". This was spotted by a user of the 2K forums, who was presumably inspired by the addition of spies in Civ 5's last expansion, Gods & Kings.
While potentially exciting news for Civ fans, it's worth remembering that the Steam database isn't an exact science, and a content listing isn't a guarantee of release. Still, more Civ 5 content is hardly outside the realm of possibility. While Gods & Kings had some great additions, it wasn't an all-changing shift in how the game played out.
One World doesn't give many hints as to the possible direction of an expansion. Civ fans are speculating that it may refer to colonies, corporations, or enhanced economy and diplomacy options. Let's be honest though, at this point they're just throwing their wishlist at the wall and hoping that something sticks.
2K have responded to GameSpy's enquiries with the stock "we do not comment on rumors or speculation" line.
Blocky recreations of BioShock's city beneath the sea are a popular construction choice for Minecraft's watery areas. Builders Kevin, Jake, and Stewie of the HungerCraft community chose the impossible, sinking their Rapture remake entirely underwater with meticulous detail. The scale and sheer complexity of their project would impress even the industrious Andrew Ryan, I suspect.
This version of Rapture also happens to be the next arena for HungerCraft's upcoming multiplayer match on January 19 themed around—you guessed it—author Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games series. A playthrough video of an early build (via FPS General) synchronizes the opening moments of BioShock quite seamlessly with the map, including the swim to the rain-drenched lighthouse and the bathysphere descent to the briny depths.
HungerCraft is holding a random drawing for participating in the match, which you can sign up for after registering on the forums.
While Firaxis' Jake Solomon and I were talking about the addition of The Second Wave to XCOM: Enemy Unknown, our conversation shifted to the game's poorly-received first paid DLC, Slingshot. From there, he also reflected on players' response to XCOM's difficulty and how 2012 was a banner year for "consequence" as a concept in video games.
PCG: Other than The Second Wave, what XCOM updates will we see from Firaxis this year? Are you planning to release more DLC along the lines of Slingshot?
Solomon: Not along the lines of Slingshot. We haven't announced our next steps, although we have, I think, publicly announced that there is going to be more content in 2013. What I'm saying is that I don't disagree with anything anybody is saying that they want. We all, as a team, completely agree that XCOM is a great platform for more things, basically. More items and aliens and maps. We totally get that. It's just that those things take time.
That's the sort of thing that we're excited to continue to work with on XCOM. We look at XCOM as a sort of platform for this stuff. People should definitely know that we're committed to it. We hear what people want and we totally agree. We haven't heard anything where we disagree. We're in tune with that. We've got our ears to the ground.
That’s encouraging. A lot of people, including us, weren't totally satisfied with Slingshot. How have you personally, or Firaxis as a whole, received that feedback? Do you agree with it?
Solomon: I think we agree with it. What it really came down to is that that was a content-heavy DLC, but it wasn't a system-heavy DLC. I think that what people wanted… I don't know that we were surprised by some people saying, "Hey, what I wanted was more elements in the system. I wanted more aliens and guns and items." Whatever people wanted. I think that's something that we agree with, and we maybe weren't surprised by it. We just didn't have the throughput to add more items to the system yet. A lot of that, frankly, if I can be entirely honest, is probably my fault. My design came together so late that a lot of things… We spent a lot of engineering time at the end just on getting the game completed and out there.
Certainly people have enjoyed Slingshot, but the criticisms that it's linear and that it's unlike the rest of the experience are fine. I don't even disagree with that. I don't think anybody does. Our goal is to support people in the way that they want to play XCOM. We are not the kind of people to enforce a design philosophy on people. It's been fun to watch people play the game, put so many hours into it, and say, "Okay, these are the things we value. We value this thing and this thing. We want more of this and more of that." For us, it's our job to say, "Absolutely." If people are going to pay their hard-earned money for our product, it's our job to listen to that and say, "We can give you more than that." It's not like we disagree with it either. I think it's the sort of thing where, for us, it just takes time.
Appreciate your candor about that.
Solomon: Yeah, of course. If I try to be anything, it's honest. We have some exciting stuff coming up. The Second Wave is kind of the first step in that. Because it's free and… It's not adding more elements to the system, but it is adding more ways for the player to interact with the game and get some more gameplay out of it. Hopefully people will get a lot of enjoyment out of that.
Slingshot was criticized for adding disposable content to XCOM's campaign, rather than integrating new enemies, weapons, or other stuff that would have better improved replayability.
I saw on Twitter that you received a humorous but serious notification of your own death from a fan? A pair of dog tags that came from a fan…
Solomon: I have them sitting with me right now, yes.
How did you feel when you received that?
Solomon: Well, I thought it was awesome. Somebody went to the trouble to make dog tags for me, so I thought it was awesome. It's funny, because it sounds like I'm joking, but I'm not. My wife was really disturbed by it, because at first I didn't understand what it was. I got these two letters, both of which were addressed to my wife, to "Mrs. Jacob Solomon." And I'm like, "What the hell? Who's writing my wife?" But then I realized what it was. "Oh, wait a minute, this is a notification of death letter. Oh my god, this is so awesome." I didn't want to read it. I wanted my wife to read it. But my wife was truly… I'm not saying this as an exaggeration. My wife was disturbed by this. She was very disturbed. Obviously she's not as tied in to XCOM as I am.
I thought, "Oh, this is cool." But my wife was disturbed by the fact that somebody sent her dog tags with my name on them and then two letters that described my death, talking about how they're sorry for her loss. My wife… She didn't think it was funny. I think it's awesome. I personally find it to be the coolest thing I've received. But my wife… I had to take it to the office, because she hated even having that kind of stuff in the house. So yeah. I love it. I think it's a trophy. But it has to stay at the office.
A sniper helpfully cuts an escape route for a Muton.
Along those lines, now that you've had a few months after release—has the response to XCOM has changed your attitude about how contemporary gamers view death and losing?
Solomon: …Yes, it has. That's a good point. Too many times, as designers, we get into a sort of a back-slappy mode when our games come out and they do well and they're successful. It's very easy to sit back and pretend that you knew. "Oh, of course it succeeded, because I knew that we'd be breaking ground with this." That's not actually true. It was something we worried about quite a bit. What it came down to was that when we made any changes to that, it really didn't feel right. I just kept thinking, "If we do this, this isn't XCOM." We expected people to lose. We expected people to lose soldiers. We had the benefit, obviously, of playing the game internally. We really liked it. People on the team were actually playing the game towards the end of the project… I don't want to sound condescending. But it's rarer than you might think. So we had an inkling that it was going to work.
But it definitely has changed my perspective. The difficulty levels, like Ironman… I don't know that I've told people before, but Ironman came in very late. It wasn't an afterthought—it was something I wanted, because that was how I played the game—but that came in after alpha. Ironman came in well after alpha. It was a feature that I wanted, that I wanted really badly, and it came in far later than it should have. I didn't expect Ironman to become… For people who've beaten the game multiple times, it becomes the standard way to play the game. I did not expect that. That was not my intention at all. I expected it to be a little bit more like Diablo's hardcore mode, where just a couple of people play that way. Instead, with XCOM, it became, "Oh, no, that's the way you play the game, because that's how you experience that real sense of loss and emotion." I was surprised by that. It's one of those things where I constantly, constantly am thinking to myself, "Thank god we put that in." Because we all wanted it, but that was post-alpha, and there was a very real chance that it would be like… If the Ironman system had had a lot of bugs, it would have been like, "We can't fix this. This isn't going to work." Instead it's become this thing that has really taken on a life of its own.
"People on the team were actually playing the game towards the end of the project… I don’t want to sound condescending. But it’s rarer than you might think."
It has changed the way that I've looked at the game. Looking forward now, it's like, "Okay, if Ironman is a core part of the game…" What if, in the Foundry, you could say, "I want you to take this laser weapon…" Kind of like in Torchlight, where you can go to the guy and say, "I want you to enchant this weapon." There's a chance that the enchantment is actually a curse. I was thinking… That'd be awesome in XCOM, if you could be like, "Look, I want to shoot the moon on this. I want to push it with these laser weapons." And there could be a chance, if you're playing Ironman, where it's like, "Uh-oh. Laser weapons overheat." Maybe they do more damage, but they overheat now. It's changed my opinion on how people are willing to accept consequence. It becomes this enjoyable thing where, if you lay it out for them and they know what they're getting into, then consequence is something that they're willing to accept. They get a lot of enjoyment out of it. To that extent, I think all of us have been surprised by that.
Assault rifles: radical new treatment for the flu.
It's been an interesting 2012 trend for us at PCG as well, looking at DayZ and FTL...
Solomon: Right! FTL came out at almost the same time. Yeah, FTL gives you that same sort of experience. People are willing to deal with those consequences because they create those emotional experiences. I think that it makes your success authentic because your losses are authentic. As a gamer, you can get kind of tired of experiences where you know you're not actually risking anything. I still like playing games where maybe you're not risking anything, but it's fun to play games where you are putting something on the table.
You know what else? I think back to the PAX panel, the storytelling panel. That was kind of neat too, because that was before the game came out. One thing I'll say… It's been an interesting year in games, because you do have things like DayZ and things like XCOM. But also, The Walking Dead. Sean was on that panel, and I'm telling you… That was a game where it opened my eyes, too. It also has consequences, but it does it in a completely different way. That sense of… I played that game, and I won't lie. I went to it thinking, "This is not my kind of game." I'm more of a Minecraft, DayZ kind of guy… I don't want a story dictated to me. But man, I'm telling you, that game achieves the same type of emotional highs and lows, and it does it in a way that I completely didn't expect. For me, that game has been a major revelation. I love that game. It's shocking to me, because I don't love any other game that's even like that. That game does the same sort of thing with consequences, but it does it in a completely different way. Sorry, I went way off the reservation there.
No, this is good to share.
Solomon: Yeah. The idea of consequences is something really interesting, because DayZ is… I know you're a big DayZ player. That and Walking Dead and FTL and XCOM, you're right. 2012 was almost the year of consequence. Players, I think, are looking for authentic experiences. These are games that give you those real, authentic emotions when you play.
And difficulty, too, which I think of as being related to but separated from consequence. You look at Dark Souls as well, and the popularity that's had on all platforms. And Amnesia, in 2011. I think people are ready for brutal experiences again.
Solomon: I think that's true, and I think that it's been the sort of thing where… The pendulum swings a little bit. I don't honestly know. My head is so far down in my own development experience. But it's funny how all these things have coalesced. Maybe that's a coincidence, although it's probably not. It's probably people acknowledging that… There were some forerunners with Dwarf Fortress and Minecraft's survival mode. Then you have these experiences where then you do get things like FTL or XCOM or DayZ. I think people are ready for these experiences are that are bringing a little more of the challenge back into games. I love playing narrative-driven shooters, but there's a lot of ways to get your fill of that. Maybe there was a void that some of these games are filling.
Thanks for your time, Jake.
The Second Wave is being patched into XCOM later today.