Dec 15, 2014
We write about FPSes each week in Triggernometry, a mixture of tips, design criticism, and a celebration of virtual marksmanship.
There isn t enough poetry being written about guns. Not literal limericks or sonnets (that would be creepy), but words that dig into and capture what makes one game s AK-47 more fun than another s.
Weapon feel continues to be the nebulous catch-all for the nuances that make guns fun. Most of the reviews of shooters I read offer the same praise: guns feel great or feel really powerful. If the writer s being generous, they ll use a word like punchy to describe an SMG. I ve been guilty of this too during my six-year term at PC Gamer.
Months of work goes into designing, animating, and balancing the things that put the S in FPS, so maybe we should take a moment to talk about what makes a good gun good.
I think the visual design of weapons matters far less than we think it does. There s a tendency, probably because they re planted right in front of our perspective at all times, to think of guns as a collection of aesthetics: firing and reload animations, SFX, screen shake, particle effects, and the death animations they produce. Those things make a gun, right? So if those things are good, surely we have an interesting and fun video game weapon, right?
No. Consider the AWP: it s olive green, it s bland, and its simple animations are more run-of-the-mill than Rambo. The only aesthetically remarkable thing about the most revered, iconic, and infamous sniper rifle in a video game is that it s a bit loud. And yet thousand-comment debates erupt when Valve tweaks the way the AWP s scope works. Why?
A gun s look and sound are part of its personality, sure. But if you ask me, great video game weapons have meaningful, interconnected relationships with other game elements. Those elements differ from game to game, of course. In CS case, the appeal of the AWP is born from the fact that CS is an FPS with body-part-specific damage modeling and no respawns. In that context, it s the only gun that grants an instant kill if you tag someone above the waist.
That feeling of possibility is fun within the strict rules of CS movement: if you can hit it, you can kill it… but you also can t be moving too much when you fire. With that power comes responsibility, too. Killed players surrender their equipped weapon in CS, and stolen AWPs not only save your team $4750 but act as a kind of trophy. This is doubly the case in CS:GO, where a player s custom AWP skin reminds all spectators which irresponsible player allowed their AWP to fall into enemy hands. Buying an AWP, then, to some extent, announces to the rest of the server: I think I m a good enough shot to protect this valuable asset from the other team.
All of this makes the AWP a weapon with abundant meaning. Even its shortcomings (slow rate of fire, difficult to use in close quarters) are a source of fun: the noscope is a revered skillshot.
In Tribes case, its weapons shake hands with its player movement really well, arguably the quality that defines it as an FPS. Again, like the AWP, the Spinfusor isn't visually extraordinary: it fires discs at a medium speed, and its animations and SFX are pretty modest. But the Spinfusor is the perfect fit, the perfect baseline weapon in a game where your targets are typically skiing along the ground at high speed. Its splash damage leaves room for error and its relatively slow travel time creates an exciting feeling of uncertainty as you admire your shot. Like throwing up a three-pointer in basketball, you get to experience that arc of Will it go in? It might not go in. It went in! as the disc travels toward its target.
The Fusion Mortar creates the same sort of feeling while operating as a parabolic siege weapon. The design of the weapons actually encourages you to spend as much time as possible in the air: the threat they pose encourages you to master movement to have the best chance of staying alive. In each of these examples, the weapons strengthen the meaning and significance of core systems like movement, damage modeling, or weapon purchasing.
When Valve resubmitted Left 4 Dead 2 for classification in Australia earlier this month, many wondered whether the company had plans to re-release the game. Well, anything is possible, but in the meantime if you own the censored version of Left 4 Dead 2 a free patch is now available on Steam which will grant you access to all the gratuitous violence you've been deprived of.
It's good news for Australians, as until now we've had to jump through hoops in order to play the unedited version. Originally denied classification in 2010 due to its extreme violence, the game was resubmitted for classification following the introduction of an R18+ rating back in early 2013. The patch can be accessed via the Left 4 Dead 2 Steam page over here in the 'downloadable content' section.
To make matters better, if you've never played the game before then it's currently available with a 75 per cent discount, which is nice. There's never been a better time to hack zombies to death with wrenches.
If you live in Australia and play video games you probably visit the Australian Classification Board website occasionally. You do this because a) you want to make sure a new game isn't banned, and b) to see if the notoriously leaky website has revealed, say, Half-Life 3. As for the former, many will remember the rage back in 2010 when the Office of Film and Literature Classification denied Left 4 Dead 2 classification in Australia, which forced Valve to release a censored version in that region. The censored version sucked, to put it kindly.
That was back when there was no R18+ classification in Australia. Since the new category rolled out at the beginning of 2013 things have started to improve, though both Saints Row 4 and South Park: The Stick of Truth were altered in Australia last year to protect our sensitive little souls, incapable as we are of distinguishing between video games and real life.
The upside is that Valve, for some reason, has resubmitted the full uncensored version of Left 4 Dead 2 to the board, and it has passed with an R18+ rating. Most PC gamers will have acquired the full version through other channels anyway, but for what it's worth: you can now play the full, uncensored version of Left 4 Dead 2 in Australia without fear of retribution. Which is nice.
Whether this means Valve intends to reissue the game (either itself or through its then-publisher Electronic Arts), we don't know. But it's a nice gesture nonetheless. You can now indulge in gratuitous zombie dismemberment without fear of reprisal.
Aug 7, 2014
The Dota 2 Workshop update is even more interesting than it first appears. The new tools include an overhauled edition of Valve's Hammer level editor, and the update download adds a 64-bit build of Dota 2. Both contain allusions to the next generation of Valve's Source engine. Set the Half-Life 3 alert to DEFCON beige.
Technically-minded modders and map-making enthusiasts are busily dissecting the tools in detail, but it's immediately clear that Hammer has been greatly improved. The interface has been overhauled, and the editor now renders the level in real-time as you tweak level geometry. It also runs on a new file structure. When you open a file in the editor, you can now choose to open a new "vmap" file, or an old fashioned "Source 1.0 Map File". The community is still puzzling over the advantages offered by the new directory system, but it looks like Valve are laying important groundwork for future releases.
It's interesting to note how user-friendly the new tools are. Dota Redditors are already having fun with functions that let you sketch out levels quickly (via DarkMio) using tilesets. As well as Dota 2's traditional forest set, there's the wintry Frostivus set and this one. Valve have a history of encouraging user-created content, including campaigns and levels. Hammer's complexity surely stunted the potential of Left 4 Dead's ecosystem a problem Valve tried to circumvent with Portal 2's lovely level-creation tools. Nu-Hammer could serve as a friendlier entry point for tinkerers.
In addition to all that, the latest Dota 2 update also adds a 64-bit version of the Dota 2 client, which you'll find tucked away in steamapps/common/dota 2 beta/dota_ugc/game/bin/win64. It contains numerous references to second-gen elements, like "engine2.dll", "materialssystem2.dll" and "vphysics2.dll", and comes with a colourful new console. It's a bit premature to say that Dota 2 has been ported to Source 2 wholesale, we're likely looking at an interim step as Valve roll out tools designed to support their current games and future projects.
This is quite exciting nonetheless. Publicly Valve have been laser-focused on Dota 2, but are of course rumoured to be working on Left 4 Dead 3 and, what was it again, Hearth-Life? Bath-Life? As someone who likes Valve games, but can't quite get into Dotes, I wait in meditative stasis for a new Valve happening, be it an announcement or an ARG. Our time will come.
May 23, 2014
Counter-Strike creator Minh Le has been talking to goRGNtv about Valve's most anticipated projects. He's seen artwork of Valve's next Half-Life game, and more of Left 4 Dead 3, which has been rumoured since the Valve database leak late last year.
"I don't know if I can talk about that, to be honest," says Minh of the new Half-Life, "but I think it's kind of public knowledge that people know that it is being worked on. And so if I were to say that yeah, I've seen some images, like some concept art of it, that wouldn't be big news, to be honest." Sorry Minh.
"But yeah, I guess I could say that I did see something that looked kinda like in the Half-Life universe. It wouldn't surprise anyone if I said they're doing it, they're working on it, yeah. So to go on a limb I'd say I did see some concept art for Half-Life 3."
Minh doesn't sound entirely sure, there. The artwork could have been for Half-Life 2: Episode 3, which Valve promised a long, long time ago. Everyone assumes that Valve have dropped the episodic structure to start a full sequel, but Valve have never commented on those specifics. Gabe Newell has repeatedly confirmed that Valve are still working on Half-Life, though, sometimes in code.
Valve haven't talked officially about Left 4 Dead 3, however. "The one thing I'm really excited about is Left 4 Dead, the new Left 4 Dead," says Minh Le. "I saw it, it looks great. I was really excited when I saw that. I was like 'wow, this looks great'.
"I really enjoyed Left 4 Dead, it was just one of those games that really just changed the industry. I think at the time there wasn't many good co-op games, so it was like yeah, this is a great co-op game."
Mihn Le left Valve years ago, so it's not clear when he saw the work he's talking about in this interview, recorded last week. He was hired by Valve to work on Counter-Strike, but he left in the late 2000s to work on Tactical Intervention. Valve, meanwhile, are also supposedly working on a new iteration of the Source engine. Will L4D3 take advantage of that new tech? Will we learn more at E3 next month?
Thanks to Total XBox for the heads up, via the many eyes and ears of GAF.
Apr 30, 2014
In the UK, most arcade machines are gaudy, flashing money-sinks, designed to trap the arms of extra-strength-beer-swilling drunks as they attempt to pry loose change from the coin return slot. They are places of hellish despair, rich with unique smells and suspicious stains. In other countries, they also contain the promise of fun, friendship, and not stepping in a puddle of sick. Nowhere is this more the case than in Japan, where an array of popular arcades can still attract the interest of developers. Valve, for instance, are now collaborating with arcade specialists Taito on an arcade port of Left 4 Dead.
An informative trailer has surfaced on the port's official site:
Titled Left 4 Dead: Survivors, the concept will likely be similar in scope to Valve/Taito's previous collaboration, Half-Life 2: Survivor.
That's right, there was a Half-Life 2 arcade game, and it looks amazing. Terrible, sure, but also amazing.
In fairness, those are modes designed for arcade. The game's story mode is... sort of Half-Life 2. If you squint a bit.
If we're all very lucky, Left 4 Dead: Survivors will be similarly terribrilliant.
Feb 20, 2014
By Ben Griffin.
Picture Left 4 Dead on Avatar s world of Pandora. Picture hordes of exotic wildlife, some friendly and some not so. Picture Bill, Zoey, Louis and Francis replaced by four interplanetary Hunters charged with protecting human colonies in deep space. And picture a 30ft-tall beast gunning for them. Picture that, and you ve gone some way to picturing Evolve, the new four-on-one sci-fi shooter from Left 4 Dead makers Turtle Rock.
Founded in 2002, the developers made their name with the Valve-owned Counter-Strike: Condition Zero, and later Counter- Strike: Source. Then after a prod by Valve to design their own property, the Counter-Strike custodians replied with arguably the best zombie game ever. That was six years ago.
We wanted to do something big before people forgot that we were the Left 4 Dead developers, says Turtle Rock s executive producer Matt O Driscoll. We learned a lot from that game in terms of multiplayer and co-op. Evolve carries the Left 4 Dead DNA.
In Evolve, up to five players face off in class-based combat. Four of them band together as Hunters, while the last plays the monster, which will be different on each map. On Forest Ruin it s the Goliath the angry dad of the Star Wars Rancor with armoured skin and fire breath. O Driscoll likens each 20-minute match to an epic boss battle. Unlike most scripted encounters, where you aim for a glowing weak spot and dodge a flurry of forecasted attackers, fights here are organic. They evolve .
We learnt that people like playing cooperatively, says Phil Robb, founder and art director at Turtle Rock. We re always looking for experiences we want that nobody has given us. That s where a lot of our game ideas come from. As far as what we brought over, it s a lot of small things. Incapacitations, for example: People don t just want to die. We want to give them a chance to come back.
A lot carries over, but much has also been left behind Valve, for example. Certainly Valve had a big part in the initial days of Turtle Rock, Robb says. We worked very closely with them, we learned a lot from working with them. But some of their things are a little different from the way we want to do things. We have often been asked this question: You did Left 4 Dead, but how much did you really do? We re not going to sit here and say a bunch of words and expect you to take our word for it. We re going to make a kickass game. We ll do our best to prove that Turtle Rock is the real deal, and we don t necessarily need Valve to be great... as much as we respect and love them.
Turtle Rock want to establish their own identity, and the way to do that is Shear. A topographically scattershot ball of rock spinning on the end of the Milky Way s longest arm, Shear is Earth if humanity languished in the middle of the food chain. We ve broken from the bounds of the Solar System and spread out across the galaxy. There are colonies everywhere, and the farther you get from Earth, the more inhospitable they become. There is no planet farther than Shear. It s one big frontier town, and people are settling there or trying for the same reason that they settled in the American West. Money. Opportunity. A new life.
Early on, we tried some experiments with making the planet super weird, but at some point you take that too far and people become uncomfortable, Robb says. You want to create a world where people understand the rules... so you draw heavy inspiration from Earth environments. That s the ice, desert and lava levels confirmed, then.
I think you see that in pretty much every science fiction movie ever, he adds. Star Wars certainly did that with Hoth and . Avatar did it too. You ll think that you re in a jungle on Earth, but then something pops out and you re like, Oh, that s new.
That s where our Hunters come in. They re planet tamers think Liam Neeson in The Grey armed with armour-piercing bullets rather than poems. They drop down from ships and safeguard colonies from sharp-toothed natives. The thing is, Robb says, these guys are used to dealing with a certain level of wildlife, but they get here and the monsters are a bit above what they re used to. So they find themselves in a tricky situation. These things are intelligent and they ve got some mysterious unknown agenda that we don t understand.
Pitting differently-powered players against each other recalls Left 4 Dead s Infected mode. The main difference here being that, rather than monsters hunting humans, for the most part humans hunt monsters. So what s to stop the bigger and faster Goliath simply legging it?
On the mode I played, Hunt, the Goliath must meet its own objective to win: here it is destroy the generators. Thing is, he starts as something small and squishy no match for a team of heavily armed Hunters. So his aim is to roam the map killing and eating its fauna in order to bulk up. The first of many different types and builds of boss, Goliath is a King Kong type who can scramble up vertical surfaces and leap like Ang Lee s Hulk. In terms of handling he reminds me of Left 4 Dead s Tank Goliath can charge, wrench and throw rocks from the ground, and flail around with his slab of a forearm.
Only after evolving is he ready to tackle the generators. There are three stages of evolution think of them in terms of height. Stage one: 10ft. Stage two: 20ft. Stage three: 30ft. Before the match starts you ll choose two abilities, and then an extra one upon each evolution. The general rule with consuming creatures is that the tougher they are, the quicker you ll evolve. Those long-armed sloths are a pushover compared with that imposing herd of dinosaur deer with blue spiral snouts, but they don t drop nearly as much meat. The fiercest animals give health bonuses and damage buffs, but sometimes they re better left alone entirely. Turtle Rock call these elite animals .
One such elite bathes in a cloudy shallow pool on Forest Ruins, an alligator-snapping turtle hybrid the size of a train carriage. Robb explains: One of the cool techniques as the monster is, say you re a little bit banged up but you need to bring the fight to , go hang out by the Tyrant pool. He s more standoffish against a stage three monster but he loves to eat Hunters. So you sit around there and sooner or later you re going to knock one of those poor buggers into the pool and he s going to eat them and all hell breaks loose. It s a really great strategy for the monster to use.
Indeed, there are numerous ways to utilise Shear s wildlife. As a stage one Goliath fleeing the Hunters, I spot a reaver den and cut through it. They re too small to pose a threat to me but they ll certainly give humans a hard time. Then, after lengthening the gap, I circle around and gobble up all the freshly killed reaver corpses. Yummy.
The wildlife stands in for Left 4 Dead s common Infected, but they re fewer in number and not as consistently aggressive. Sloths might give you a swat if you walk too close but they re not out for blood. The monkey-like reavers, on the other hand, are. Pack animals, they ll come after Hunters. At one point a Jockey-type jumped on my face and exploded in a green cloud of noxious gas. But what of Left 4 Dead s memorable horde technology? In terms of that sense of being overwhelmed we were not really aiming for that, but a different kind of tension, Robb says.
When you ve gorged on enough local wildlife to fill your bar, you can evolve. Choose your moment though, because just like a teenager in puberty, you re especially vulnerable during your transitional period. A ground-trembling roar echoes around the level when you grow, signalling that the Hunters are about to become the hunted.
However, if the Goliath instead wants to play it safe and evolve further before risking an engagement, Hunters have ways of finding him. They can follow the roars, feel vibrations in their controllers, and look for flocks of unsettled alien birds that give away the Goliath s position. There are also sound spikes to stick in the ground that alert the team to suspicious movement, electric mines (up to eight of which can be planted at once), and waypoints. For the latter, clicking the right stick paints a yellow marker on the horizon in order to guide teammates towards areas of interest. If you happen to highlight the monster as you do so, this marker glows red.
All Hunters have jetpacks as well. Navigating Shear s craggy terrain would prove impossible without them. They re limited by a cool-down timer, but Evolve is generous with it. If you fall short of a steep cliff, you ll automatically amble your way up to save being separated from your buddies. There are also Hunter-only perils. At one point I plunged down a deep human-sized hole that took an entire jetpack boost to escape from.
Each of the four Hunters has a unique role in the team. As the Trapper, Griffin can capture the monster. His harpoon gun restricts its movement, and he has sole access to sound spikes. His most important ability is the mobile arena. If timed correctly, you can trap the monster under a huge blue dome for a limited time. This is where the Markov the Assault comes in. His close-range lightning gun and long-range rifle make him the ideal damage-dealer, and when the going gets tough a personal shield makes him momentarily invulnerable.
If the Trapper and Assault are the front-man and guitarist of the group, Support man Hank is the drummer. His laser cutter deals moderate damage, but his shield gun makes him great backup: aim it at someone to reduce their damage. He also has a cloak, and anyone inside its radius will be rendered completely invisible to the monster, who will have to It s not just the boss you need to watch for these sloths are riled, too. The Hunters protect the generator from a third tier Goliath. All the characters have cool little touches, like cigar-chomping Hank. rely on infrared smell-o-vision (click the right stick to take a sniff). Hank also has the fiercest ability of the team, a fearsome orbital strike.
Lastly, Medic Val s medgun emits green beams of health, and her healing blast instantly replenishes teammates within the radius. She s important in tracking, too. Her tranquilliser rifle slows the monster to a crawl, while her anti-material rifle pierces its skin. If teammates target the area where it hits, they ll deal extra damage.
Combining powers is key to victory. For example, restricting the monster s movement with the harpoon gun, trapping it with the mobile arena and then slowing it with the tranquilliser rifle allows the Support to line up an orbital barrage. These characters are designed to be memorable, too. Griffin looks fresh from the outback with his Aussie hat and hunting knife. The bruiser Hank has a lucky playing card strapped to his bicep. Markov heaves a pair of chunky Tesla coils on his shoulders. In both shape and colour, these characters are immediately identifiable in a firefight.
Each class contains several characters, too. All the Assault guys are big guys. Markov has these double Tesla coils but the other guys have things. We want the monster to take a look and base his strategy on who he s facing. Once you play it long enough you ll learn what characters can do. Oh there s Markov, I m going to play this way to counteract what he can do. Each one of the Assault guys does damage their own way, says Robb. This, he hopes, will lend longevity to the game.
Indeed, there s a lot more to come from the currently pre-alpha Evolve. Despite the absence of Valve, first contact leaves me impressed with its distinctly Left 4 Dead level of polish. Turtle Rock have evidently learned from the masters and grown as a game-maker. They ve evolved, and perhaps the very idea of co-op will, too.
Jan 28, 2014
It s only appropriate that a major leak in the games industry would come from an anonymous source with a pseudonym like crazy buttocks on a train (CBOAT), a NeoGAF user who recently posted images of Left 4 Dead 2 s Plantation level (the final chapter of the Swamp fever campaign) allegedly rendered in Valve s Source 2.0 engine.
The most compelling evidence here are the images themselves: six and a half Power Point slides out of 20, with a good look at the Plantation manor from the outside. You ll notice immediately that the game, real or not, looks far better than anything the Source engine as we know it is capable of the lighting, level of detail, and amount of assets in the frame (most noticeable in the vegetation).
Four of the slides previewed on the left show the stark difference between the level as it appears in Source and as it is rendered in Source 2.0.
The final half slide references Redesigned Tools & Workflow, followed by more technical details.
Valve Time has also obtained an image of The Plantation separate from the slides.
As far as rumors go, this one sounds pretty believable. If it s not, I am in awe of the effort someone went through to fake the information.
CBOAT, it seems, has quite a reputation. He s known mostly for his predictions about Microsoft s Xbox One, some of which were wrong, some of which were kind of right. He predicted, for example, that the native resolution on some Xbox One games will be lower than it is on PlayStation 4, Dead Rising 3, and other, mostly Microsoft related information. Not all of it exactly accurate, but close enough that he can t be dismissed entirely.
Here s what we do know for sure: Gabe Newell has confirmed that Valve will grace us with a newer version of the Source engine at some point and that it s waiting for a game to roll it out with. He didn't say what game, or when. Valve is not super into the when question, in case you haven t noticed.
However, another recent leak supports the theory that the new Source engine and Left 4 Dead are linked, somehow, at least more than other Valve properties. In August 2013, a photo of an internal Valve changelog list referenced "L4D3" as well as "Source2," indicating that the game will use Valve's new engine.
We have reached out to Valve for comment. This is the internet, after all, and there's every possibility the leak is entirely fake.
Technically, I'm aware that the employees of Valve have regular jobs, doing regular things on irregularly mobile desks. Even so, when picturing Clint Hocking's year and half stint with the company, I can't help but imagine him strapped into a central development node, where tendrilled mind probes extract creative ideas to be fed into the Almighty Feedback Formula. I'm not saying that's definitely what happened, but if it is, it's perhaps understandable why he'd leave. Which he has.
News of Hocking's departure comes via his LinkedIn account and personal blog, where his biography states: "From 2012 until the end of 2013, Clint worked as a designer and level designer at Valve in Seattle."
Hocking is probably best known for his work at Ubisoft, where he was creative director for Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory - a game that, to this day, remains the highpoint of that series. He was also the creative director for Far Cry 2, which is either the best of the worst Far Cry game, depending on your fondness for emergent situations, jamming weapons and malaria.
In typical Valve style, we don't officially know what Hocking was working on. But based on leaked information taken from their internal database, he was suspected to be part of the team developing the yet to be announced Left 4 Dead 3. As yet, there's no information about his next project, but hopefully it'll evoke the same manic clash of systems that defined FC2's best moments.
Dec 25, 2013
Not killed enough undead monstrosities this Christmas? Let Valve fix that for you. Left 4 Dead 2 is now free on Steam. In case you've missed it thus far, Left 4 Dead is blooming brilliant. You and up to three human buddies fight through 90 minute missions set in different zombie-infested locales across America. The zombie throngs are managed by an AI director, which measures your health and stress levels and doles out varying degrees of punishment to match your perceived mood. Watch out, also, for the special infected - hideous supermutants with unique ways of punching/eating/melting your face.
The Left 4 Dead 1 maps have all been ported into the sequel, making Left 4 Dead 2 the definitive entry in the series. There are also plenty of fan-made campaigns and mods on the Steam workshop, including a Helm's Deep Lord of the Rings map and a mod that turns your party of survivors into Velociraptors.
According to a Left 4 Dead 2 Steam announcement, the game will be free until 10AM PST 26/12/2013. Go, go, go.