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PC Gamer
title="Permanent Link to Report lists Steam’s most popular (and most untouched) games">Steam graphs

Have you played every single game in your Steam library? No? Neither have I and that accomplishment is apparently just a small sand grain in the over 288 million games in Steam collections that have never felt a press of the Play button. That's a surprising figure from a new report by Ars Technica researching the most active and popular games on Steam straight from the recorded statistics of some of the platform's 75-million-strong community.

Ars' method for its number flood involves sampling registered games and their played hours via profiles and their unique Steam IDs. With the help of a server for computational muscle, Ars randomly polled more than 100,000 profiles daily for two months to pull together an idea of which games see the most time on everyone's monitors. In other words, your Backlog of Shame (don't deny it, everyone has one) probably took part in some SCIENCE at some point. Exciting.

Some caveats exist, though. The data Ars looked at for its research only extends back to 2009, when Steam brought in its "hours played" tracking system. Owned and played/unplayed games are thus slightly skewed to not account for older releases from the early noughties, and any length of time spent in offline mode wouldn't get picked up by Steam either. Still, Ars claims its results deliver a good picture of Steam gaming trends for the past five years albeit with some imperfections.

Predictably, Valve's personal products stack high on the list in terms of ownership and most played hours. Dota 2 takes the crown with an estimated 26 million players who ganked faces at some point in the MOBA, but free-to-play FPS Team Fortress 2 follows closely behind with a little over 20 million users. Counter-Strike: Source rounds out the top three with nearly 9 million players, but it's also collecting dust in over 3 million libraries.

As for non-Valve games, Skyrim wins in activity, barely edging out Counter-Strike: Global Offensive with 5.7 million estimated active owners. Civilization V kept 5.4 million players hooked for Just One More Turn, and Garry's Mod boasts 4.6 million budding physics artists.

Want to know what the most unplayed Steam game is? It's Half-Life 2: Lost Coast, the Source tech demo given free to pretty much everyone on Steam who bought or fired up Half-Life 2. It hasn't been touched by an approximate 10.7 million players. I guess that old fisherman is feeling pretty lonely right now.

My favorite stat is the total of played hours divided by game mode, more specifically the separate multiplayer clients of the Steam versions of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 and Black Ops. The single-player campaigns for each respective title sits modestly within the mid-20-hour range, but the multiplayer side balloons well into the hundreds of hours. It's a pretty obvious indicator of where the biggest chunk of popularity resides in FPS gaming, but it's not like you wouldn't get weird looks for claiming you play Call of Duty for the story anyway.

See more of Ars' results in both number and pretty orange graph form in its report.
PC Gamer
title="Permanent Link to Three Lane Highway: how to communicate effectively in solo ranked matchmaking">Dendi Pudge

Three Lane Highway is Chris' sometimes earnest, sometimes silly column about Dota 2.

It's scary, talking to strangers. You probably spent the first ten years of your life being told not to do it, the second ten years of your life trying to summon the courage to do it, and the third ten years of your life doing it but wishing that you were somewhere else. Playing Dota 2 by yourself complicates this already complicated scenario. Language differences. Age differences. Wildly divergent opinions on topics like 'who's fault was that' and 'what are reports for'.

I'm going to outline the best ways to go about communicating in solo ranked matchmaking. You'll notice that all of the statements that I've chosen to highlight are preset phrases that can slotted into the game's chat wheel. These are automatically translated when you use them, which affords you an obvious advantage when matched with people who don't speak the same language as you. The best thing about using the chat wheel, however, is that it makes you look like you've been muted. This is the fastest way to convince assholes on the internet that you are one of them, earning you the kind of edgy cred coveted by awkward thirteen-year-olds everywhere. All of the benefits of being a histrionic pint-sized racist, without having to actually be one!


I find it helpful to always apologise clearly and well in advance, which is one of two things that my Dota experience has in common with my love life. Preferably, you'll apologise right when the game begins, as your heroes plop down into the fountain and you all begin the busy work of determining whose fault everything is.

Saying 'Sorry' at this point will make everybody feel better. In this way you can express sympathy for the 2800 MMR midlaner who knows that he's really probably actually somewhere in the 5700 range and yet somehow somehow! he's ended up trapped in the trench with shitbirds like you. Imagine being him. He dreams of restoring himself to his rightful place, playing mid against Dendi. He dreams of the moment when Dendi will give him a look and say good and then moments later he'll be onstage at TI4 lifting the Aegis of Champions into the air and then Dendi will walk over and clap him on the back and be like gooood and everything will be light and money and hope and maybe he'll get to meet Purge, too.

Your presence in this young midlaner's life is more or less proof that dreams are born to die, so damn right you'd better apologise.

Get back!

Let's be real: I have 'Get back!' bound to the 'B' key, and it's the best decision I've ever made. Do not allow cumbersome radial menus or finicky chat stand between you and and the ready expression of cowardice. There is no finer way to cover your ass than being the guy who thinks that everything you're currently doing is a bad idea. If you get wiped, it's because nobody heeded your warning. If both teams disengage, then it shows that you've got your finger on the pulse. If your team fights anyway, and you win, then at the very least you're the sensible one.

Never underestimate its ironic potential, either. Hammering your 'Get back!' key while your team is being relentlessly fountain-farmed at the end of an unwinnable game is a way of enlivening a difficult time with fun questions. Where would we get back to? Is it possible to climb into the fountain itself? What temperature is the water? Where does the water come from? Could Slark, like, get up in there and swim away? Questions.


'Dive!' is primarily useful because it lets you sound like a cool submarine captain: but don't believe for a second that this is the extent of its utility. Nobody likes a buzz kill. Plans are for StarCraft players. Call for a dive, rush in, fluff your disables, and die! Anybody who doesn't follow you in is obviously new. Except that 'Get back!' guy. He's cool.

Missing!/Enemy returned

There's nothing worse than forgetting to let your team know when an enemy has gone missing. This makes you culpable for anything that goes wrong in the match until that hero returns. By failing in this way you've handed everybody else on your team a free shot at calling you an asshole, and that is simply not how this game is best played. Dota 2 is about taking it in turns to call each other assholes.

For this reason, bind 'Missing!' and 'Enemy returned' and get used to spamming both along with your regular abilities or right-click attacks or whatever. Enemy hero wandered behind a tree? Missing! Enemy hero wandered back out from behind a tree? Enemy returned! Tree? Missing! Tree! Enemy returned!

Adopt the mindset of a toddler playing peek-a-boo: if you can't see them, they could be anywhere! They could be closing in on mid right now! Mid must be warned! Disaster must be averted! They are probably still behind that tree.

We need wards.

Here's an interesting fact: 'We need wards.' and 'Okay.' are the only preset chat options that end in a full stop. Is that an interesting fact? Probably.

In any case, this additional punctuation indicates that these are firm, assertive statements. There's nothing indecisive about saying 'We need wards.', and the full stop is there to ensure that you intone it in the same low voice you'd use when saying "we need to talk" to your partner.

That's what 'We need wards.' means, really. It means "this isn't working out". It means "our lack of vision on the other side of the river means that you don't take me seriously". It means "you don't care if I get ganked". But it's not all negative. By saying 'We need wards.' you are indicating a desire to open up a dialogue, as long as that dialogue concerns things that you do not like about somebody else.

Ultimate ready

Don't rely on strangers to check when your ultimate ability is going to be ready. Using the chat wheel or alt-click is a much more dependable way to indicate that you're hot to trot. Of all of the preset phrases that can be used passive aggressively 'Well played!', 'Game is hard', 'Nice' this is my favourite. Declaring that your ultimate isn't ready as your team rushes blindly into the enemy jungle is a way of suggesting a retreat without committing to a full declaration of cowardice along the lines of 'Get back!'

Best, though, is using 'Ultimate ready' to goad your team into fighting. I like to poke the button over and over, letting my allies know that hey! I've got something we could be making use of right now and hey! maybe we should initiate and hey! those supports aren't going to Culling Blade themselves, are they? Look at this! Echo Slam! You like it when I Echo Slam, don't you? Nudge, nudge, nudge.

If you keep it up, I've found that eventually somebody will give in and humour you. This is the other way that Dota is like my love life.


It's usually a good idea to apologise afterwards as well, I find.
PC Gamer
title="Permanent Link to Three Lane Highway: several exciting ways for friends to lose games of Dota 2 together">Disruptor

Three Lane Highway is Chris' sometimes earnest, sometimes silly column about Dota 2.

I've been in a few teams in the two years I've been playing Dota. I say 'teams', but what I mean is 'groups of five people that agree to put up with each other's ceaseless theorycrafting'. I'm in a team right now, in fact. We're called the Hot Dukes and if you play on Europe West you've probably beaten us.

It's a lot of fun. One of the things I like most about playing with a dedicated stack is learning new and imaginative ways to throw matches. I mean, we're not terrible - our matchmaking ratings range from Questionable to Pretty Good - and we're all capable of big plays in the right conditions. But we're nonetheless capable of falling on our asses with a weight and precision that belies the fact that we'd rather not fall on our asses at all. We've developed a methodology for screwing up that approaches science, and it's this methodology that I'd like to share with you today. If your friends are looking for new ways to extend the range of your throwing arm, or are simply looking for an explanation for why you lost that game, I think I might be able to help.

METHOD #1: Fighting One At A Time Like Movie Ninjas

You can substitute 'Movie Ninjas' for 'Assassin's Creed Guards', if you prefer. Either way, this is a corruption of the Conservation of Ninjutsu principle: the notion that one ninja might be a deadly threat, but an army might as well be a disposable mass of mooks.

You'll usually experience Fighting One At A Time Like Movie Ninjas after your team has had a good start. One or two of you are full-on snowballing, and you feel like you can take on the world. You've become the Good Ninja and the entire enemy team is just a great big horde of Bad Ninjas waiting for your righteous sword. You could take them in their jungle, under their tier two towers, in the Roshan pit, in the river, anywhere. Teamfights can go to hell: it's time to fight like awesome movie ninjas.

The enemy team will usually experience this phenomenon as a very long, very strange teamfight in which a series of suicidal semi-carries gradually feed away their early advantage by throwing themselves one by one into unwinnable situations. As each one dies they'll be replaced by other, equally suicidal semi-carries, running to assist their predecessors. Then the supports will follow, and then the first guy will have respawned or bought back and TP'd in and the cycle will start over. Your team might get a few kills, in this scenario, but will end up losing much more than you gain. The only reliable way I've found to stop a ninja cascade is to suggest a smoke gank: this forces everybody to gather in one place, and ninjas love smoke bombs.

In the event that both teams run at each other one at a time, this is not an instance of Fighting Like Movie Ninjas. It is a dance-off.

METHOD #2: Going To Camelot

Humans are social. We evolved to respond to one another in ways that serve the goals of the collective; we are built to cooperate. If we could pull this off perfectly 100% of the time we'd be absolutely unstoppable. We'd almost certainly have much better spaceships, and we'd definitely be much better at Dota. But we can't, we don't, and we're not. As the entire history of human culture has shown, our special degree of social intelligence is also capable of turning large groups of people into total morons.

Sometimes, when the circumstances are right, a team's natural empathy for one another can backfire. One person's stupid decision is taken as license for everybody else to make stupid decisions. The fact that somebody has spent an entire teamfight going "woooooooooooo" into her microphone means that everybody else will end up doing it too. Valve would argue that the wisdom of crowds is the most powerful asset at their disposal; unfortunately, their game often offers staggering proof that crowds can be dumb as hell.

Going To Camelot is what you get when one competent but disconnected group of people runs into five friends who probably lost the match when they spent the entire draft phase performing a mouth-trumpet rendition of the Game of Thrones theme. It is this principle that means that a team of five strangers sometimes has an advantage against a connected stack, because they are much less likely to overexcite each other and take the game to a silly place.

If you've ever found yourself wandering around the enemy secret shop with no clue what you're trying to achieve as your support Sand King gets stuck on a cliff while trying to de-ward and Disruptor uses a Clarity on Axe because he's forgotten which big red man he is then you are Going To Camelot. It feels innocuous, even harmless, at first: but you have recalibrated your social intelligence. You are idiots now. In five minutes your midlaner is going to be stuck in the trees near the enemy fountain and you will have no idea how he got there. At that point, mouth-trumpets are probably all you have left.

METHOD #3: Forgot About Dre

Counting is one of the most important skills you can learn if you want to be good at Dota 2 or life, and one particular number is much more important than all of the other numbers. That number is five.

There are five people on your team. Go on - count them! Five. Now, count how many people on the enemy team that you've seen so far. Anti-Mage? That's one! Shadow Shaman? Two! Centaur Warrunner? Three! Ember Spirit? Wow, you've seen four!

Don't celebrate too soon, hero - don't you think you might be missing somebody?


Your team Forgot About Dre. And now you have lost the game.

METHOD #4: Roshan's Law

Roshan's Law is one of the best ways to know for sure that you belong about midway down the food chain. You are deep into the match, probably losing, and you're not doing anything in particular. There are no enemies on your minimap, so you wander off to mop up a couple of hard camps or push the offlane back out to the river. You're making yourself useful, but not that useful.

An idea starts to form in the back of your mind. You're sure you know what it means when the entire enemy team disappears or at least, you think you used to. This silence means something. You're sure it does! The answer is right at the tip of your tongue.

"Guys! Guys, I think they're doing Rosh."

Roshan has fallen to the Dire!

At some point in your Dota 2 career you have picked up an extraordinary power: you are able to anticipate enemy Rosh attempts at the exact point when they finish killing Roshan. As you hone your ability, you buy yourself more and more time. Eventually, you're able to call it anywhere up to four seconds before the Aegis drops. Your supernatural ability to anticipate a game-changing mishap exactly when the information is least useful to your team is truly a marvel, a thought that provides a little solace as you pick listlessly through the rubble of your ranged rax five minutes later.

METHOD #5: BKB Hipsterism

The enemy has drafted literally all of Dota 2's most magical dickheads. Silencer! Outworld Devourer! Invoker! Luna, Lina, Lion! The game hasn't even started yet and you are already up to your ass in wizard nonsense. You are going to be taking some magic damage this game, let me tell you.

However, this isn't your first wizard rodeo. Would that it were; the first one's always wild. You and your friends know exactly what you're going to do. You're going to muscle through the midgame, build Black King Bars on every single god damn hero, and swagger through teamfights like a bunch of giant golden swirly winners. "Whatever, asshole" you'll say, as magical tears bounce off your perfect untargetable golden abs.

Then, for whatever reason, nobody does that. Despite having established very clearly that this was going to be a BKB game - or a Linken's Sphere game, for some - almost everybody simply doesn't buy one. You get a Drum and a Mek, and then your ancient explodes. Good job, team!

This is an example of the phenomena known as BKB Hipsterism. It's a useful and sometimes essential item, yes. But everyone buys them. They say nothing about you. Besides, is there anything more gauche than turning gold? God, no. I mean, look at that thing. It's a gothy golden skull on a stick. You might as well walk in wearing a treachcoat and a fedora calling yourself Mystery. BKB could stand for 'Burger King Breakfast' for all that it's likely to appeal to people who consider themselves to be tastemakers. And so you grow a beard and buy a Pipe instead. AND YOU LOSE THE GAME. AGAIN. GOD. GOD ALMIGHTY, GUYS.
PC Gamer
title="Permanent Link to EA’s new MOBA, Dawngate, opens its doors to a public beta">Dawngate

Dawngate has just leveled up and announced an open beta release. We wrote a bit about the closed beta almost a year ago, so EA's MOBA, developed by Waystone, has had a lot of time to marinate. If you re game for a new MOBA, head to the Dawngate website to sign up.

It s a new MOBA, but is it a different MOBA? When you drill down into it, Dawngate is trying a few new things. The game includes capture points, RTS-style, that provide a stream of resources to you and your team. Attack animations all seem more kinetic and interesting than in Dota 2 and League of Legends. The team at Waystone also mentions a flexible meta-game that allows players to approach the game how they'd like, though it isn't clear on exactly what that means.

Capture points, flash, and a new meta-game would be enough to stake a claim in the genre, but is it enough? Dota 2 and League of Legends are heavily entrenched in the MOBA ecosystem in the same way that World of Warcraft has dominated the MMO sphere for so long. It will take a game with a lot of new ideas and big risks to make headway Smite, for example, is doing well with a completely different perspective and control scheme. If it s too similar, there s no reason for players to step away from the heavyweights.

Speaking of new ideas: a look at Dawngate's website shows that EA has chosen to represent the game with three pieces of concept art. If you'll look closely, I think you'll find six reasons they think you'll be interested in Dawngate. Can you spot them all?

It's not like other MOBAs aren't guilty of the same, but it would have been nice to see a new artistic style from a MOBA that's apparently so committed to being different.
PC Gamer
title="Permanent Link to Smite interview: Hi-Rez COO Todd Harris on competing MOBAs, F2P economics, and religious sensitivity">smite-toddharris-teaser

During the three-day launch tournament for Smite, Hi-Rez Studios' actiony third-person MOBA, I met Hi-Rez COO Todd Harris in the crowded halls of Atlanta's Center Stage Theater. When I found him, Harris was busy corralling a group of popular Youtubers into teams to face off in a just-for-fun showmatch before Sunday's grand finals. As Harris and I headed out of the hallway to find a quiet place to chat, fans kept stopping him, shaking his hand and asking for a card with an exclusive launch tournament skin. I thought it was a little odd, at first, that a COO would be so well-recognized. But Harris is a regular fixture of Hi-Rez's YouTube comedy series. He seems happy to make himself look silly on camera. After the grand finals, he'll get up on stage and proudly proclaim that while Smite isn't the number one MOBA, it is the third biggest. He grins as he briefly chants "Number three!" into the microphone.

When we escaped the crowds, we headed up to a VIP area still bearing the scars of Saturday night's launch party. A security guard asked to see Harris's badge. Shouldn't they recognize you, I asked? "They usually do. He must be new!" Harris joked. Once we finally sat down to talk, Harris spoke candidly about the religious sensitivity around Smite, the game's profitability, and Hi-Rez's plans for future gods.

PC Gamer: Can you give me an overview of Smite from when you guys started it two years ago? to Smite as it is today launching out of beta.

Todd Harris: Three years ago, actually, beginning of 2011, we started experimenting with a new mode of Global Agenda. That was our first game, an MMO shooter. We took the assets from Global Agenda and started playing with a tower defense sort of game. We weren't thinking MOBA. wasn't the explosion it is today.

We played that game, and it was really fun. It was so fun that we thought that this could be its own game. Global Agenda didn't necessarily needs another game mode. So the team said, all right, we'll make it its own game. And as long as its its own game, what IP should we use? The science fiction setting we thought didn't work as well for that tower defense sort of game.

PCG: As opposed to something more fantasy or classical?

Harris: Exactly. Mainly because of weapon differences. We wanted to work with spells instead of guns, where people expect to be able to take someone out at a distance. And that wasn't the pacing and distance of engagement that seemed to make sense for the type of game we were starting to head to.

So we switched to a fantasy setting. Erez and his notebook, which has a thousand ideas at all times, one of them said make a gods vs. gods game at some point. We were like, well, this is the time to do it.

It was also a pretty big risk slash bet. We'd spent all this time on these Global Agenda assets and IP, and we could just move that over and have the game out more quickly. But we said this is really going to be a stronger game ultimately it will resonate more with players around the world. The team was super excited about the theme, our character modelers and animators.

We switched to gods and goddesses and quickly had a roster of 10 gods, ish. a little more simplistic at the beginning. We didn't fully embrace the 3D space. There were more traditional cone attacks and area of effect attacks. But it was always behind the back. Because our DNA is an Unreal 3 action game developer, Global Agenda was third-person behind-the-back, Tribes was a first-person shooter, that action game experience is in our DNA as a developer.

As the game development started to have its own personality, the idea of really embracing the 3D space started to show up specifically with mechanics like being able to gank from above or attack from above like Thor.

PCG: Like Zapman...

Harris: Like Zapman did over and over with Apollo, to escape, or to come crashing in, or to escape and then come crashing back in. So, yeah. We took the game and showed it at both PAXs and had a really good reception and continued to put more and more people on it. I mean, our beta process was close to two years.

PCG: That's a long beta. That's like a Google beta.

Harris: It is, yeah. But the game continued to grow. For us it wasn't important that it suddenly has this huge influx. We just steadily wanted to see more people being able to discover the game and be willing to try it even in a beta state. And it continued to get better. And it changed a lot.

From early beta to now, if you look at the characters and the maps and the UI, it's just night and day in a number of aspects. From a design standpoint, our Conquest, which is our traditional three lane map we've experimented with a lot of designs. We had jungles on the sides at one point. We had a more complex path through the jungle at one point. But they ended up being elements that we didn't think add to the game. This confused users ultimately, and didn't enhance the core things we were trying to do with the game.

And then aesthetically we've improved the game a lot. The artists have been hard at work. Every one of our modes really has a completely different art set from when we began in beta. And same with characters. We took a lot of characters that were already done and we redid them because the graphics weren't good enough.

PCG: So you had to do a lot of original art work to begin with when you switched over to this new style. Did you have a lot of engine tech you could bring over from Global Agenda to make that side of things easier?

Harris: We had a lot of experience with the tools. So there weren't a starting library of art assets, but our artists had been working with the modeling tools and specifically creating assets and lighting techniques and maps specific to Unreal 3 across three games and seven years of experience at that time. So that experience allowed them to do higher quality work more quickly.

And we had a lot of tech. A lot of what we spent time on was technology that lets us make a game design change and test it very quickly because we're a very iterative studio. The designers come up with what they think will be fun but then we actually playtest it every day and a lot of things end up changing. In order to not drive yourself too crazy, you want tools that let you do that. So the tools and the experience definitely helped us, and continue to help us, put out content that's good quality. And pretty quickly, also.

PCG: Are there any examples you can think of in terms of that iterative process that's really changed?

Harris: One of the biggest, this is a character one we do talk about this a lot, but it's an interesting one the original Sun Wukong that we did in the game, we looked at classical treatments of Sun Wukong and the team tried to research it, but the team came up with a character that is somewhat authentic to some early treatments, but not at all relevant to current Chinese understanding and depiction of Sun Wukong.

PCG: And that's a character that's been in so many...things.

Harris: So many games and movies, yeah. He's in pop culture. So we definitely missed the mark there. We took that character, previously known as Sun Wukong, changed his look and kit a little bit but preserved the same playstyle because people definitely liked it, and he got rebranded as Hun Batz, who's a Mayan monkey god. And it took us a long time to come out with a new Son Wukong that's very authentic and matches what people like. And he's a very popular character. That's an extreme example of iterating, or really replacing.

PCG: There's a real difficulty with dealing with characters like that, when all your characters are pulled from mythology or religion. It's really easy to offend somebody, or to just have to be really careful. What has the process of choosing which gods are in the game been like, and choosing what they'll look like, and how they'll play in a video game?

Harris: It's true, it can be a sensitive topic. For us, we wanted to start with a set number of pantheons, meaning families of mythology. So rather than just picking randomly or from the broadest number of gods out there, we wanted to give them families. So we looked across and tried to identify a few that were popular enough, or known enough, and had a wide array of gods that were historically depicted in combat.

That was our high level qualification. Okay, if they're traditionally depicted in combat, it kind of makes sense we could put them in this battleground of the gods. And that's where we came up with the families that we chose, which is basically Greek, Roman, Norse, Egyptian, Chinese, Hindu. And there has been sensitivity. We were in the press a lot specifically around our depiction of Kali, a Hindu goddess, who is actively worshipped today. The Chinese deities are also very actively worshipped in some parts, but it's just a different perspective and they're not criticized. In fact, that market wants more and more of them depicted.

So really, the Hindu example has been the most prominent case of really one individual leading a charge and creating some press. But ultimately we wanted to stay authentic to our vision of the game. And the reality is, I think, it doesn't really matter the people that are upset about that would not be playing our game. And we get, actually, many more emails from people that say they're Hindu and they're very excited to see that their gods are in the game.

PCG: Religion is obviously something you guys had to be careful about, but what about the goddesses in the game? The character art is fantastic, but every goddess in the game is extremely voluptuous and not many of them have clothes on. And that's something that the industry at large has been talking about more and more in games recently the depiction of female characters, being sensitive to that being a male power fantasy thing. Is that something you talk about at the studio?

Harris: It's something we talk about. For good or for bad, and this is not an excuse for it, the reference images we look at for most of these goddesses are much less clothed and more voluptuous than you see them in Smite. It's not an excuse, necessarily, but it is the reference image folks are going by when they reference Aphrodite or Niethe. But I personally do think it's important to show diversity in terms of body types for both sexes and I think over time you'll see more of that.

We do have cases of, like, Artemis, who's more tomboyish, and that's her character. There's Chang'e, who's covered up, a little more demure, which also fits her character (update: I misheard Ne Zha for Chang'e, who is a male God. Thanks for Todd for the correction -ed.). With Athena, we got some criticism, and probably rightly. One of the cards was a little more sexy than she needs to be, and some of the skins are, but her base is a little more warrior. I think you'll see more diversity, and it's a valid topic to talk about, definitely.

PCG: Going forward, are you going to expand the pantheons you have, or are there plans brewing for new pantheons?

Harris: Both. For this year it's mainly about rounding out the pantheons that we have. As we look at, say, roughly the following year of 2015, we want to expand the pantheons and particularly as we take Smite into new territories it makes sense.

We're in North America and Europe. Already we're working on China gods. That's the next territory of focus for us. But as we move into other territories, which we still have to lay out that roadmap, but say we expand into Latin America, where there are a lot of interesting things we could draw on from Brazil and other territories.

PCG: Like the Incans and Aztecs?

Harris: Exactly. We have Mayan now, but we could go a little south. Once we approach that we will potentially just pick, rather than doing a whole pantheon, we may just look at offering one or two per regions just so that those areas can be connected and see themselves represented.

PCG: Are there any gods you really want to see in the game?

Harris: Oh, there's tons.

PCG: Like who?

Harris: Well, one that we've kind of hinted is in our short term roadmap is another Egyptian god, Osiris, who's going to be pretty cool I think.

PCG: Like you said earlier, the MOBA space is huge now. What have been the priorities or the tactics for trying to compete with League and Dota and now Heroes of the Storm?

Harris: It wasn't really an original tactic because we started with Global Agenda, right we didn't think we were going to be competing with them, we were going to make an action game that had tower elements. It ended up being in the MOBA category. Fortunately, we don't really feel that we compete exactly head-to-head on the same things because of the camera angle. Most people who play our game say the combat feels very different. And we tend to see...there's not as many people that play League and Dota, but we have many people that play one of those games and also play Smite, because it's a different kind of experience.

The other thing is that we think we're growing the MOBA market, because we have a lot of FPS players or players of MMO PvP that like the WASD thing, and it's a gateway MOBA for them. They didn't like any other MOBAs because the controls didn't feel comfortable, but they like this. I think that's fortunate, a little bit by accident for us, that we're in that action category as much as the MOBA category, especially now that Blizzard also has a strong entry in the top-down.

I wouldn't be surprised if we see other companies trying to be in that category because they might think, oh, we can take on Smite and not take on Valve, Riot, and now Blizzard. Could happen. Big players there, right? With big budgets.

PCG: The spectator mode is really cool. When you were building out your launcher and the technology to go along with it , was that a big part of the plan, making a good spectator sport, having Twitch built into the launcher, stuff like that?

Harris: Yeah, the eSports support was big from the beginning. Again, PVP's a little bit in our DNA. We had that in Global Agenda. Esports were not quite at the level as they are. With Tribes, we had aspirations for that being an eSport. We invested a little in a spectator mode. But Global Agenda was like version one of the platform, Tribes was like version two, and now with Smite, it's like all that learning, plus more tech, we've got version three.

So from the beginning was: keep the game balanced so it could be competitive, not have it be pay-to-win or even grind-to-win. We deliberately said we didn't want any out-of-match leveling system like rune pages, anything that would affect your stats. We'd just have something like favor that's only cosmetic at the end of the day. It does give you entry into the league system but doesn't give you any stat bonus. And invest a lot in spectator mode and demos and integrating Twitch and all that.

PCG: That potentially takes away a revenue source for you, right? Not having rune pages or something like that in the game?

Harris: It does. Depends on the game whether it helps or hurts, but it's a progression element that some people certainly enjoy and it is a revenue potential stream. But for us, particularly because there's other games already in the market that people are comparing it to and maybe thinking about switching or getting their friend to switch, the idea that they would not be coming in so far behind...it already takes so much time with these games to learn the characters. If they felt that either they'd have to drop a lot of money, or put in a lot of hours, or both, we wanted to remove that.

So we said all right, no out of match rune page. In fact, let's do this god pack. People can pay $30 and get all the gods in the game and every god we ever release for a one-time price. So if I tell you good, and you say you don't want to pay much, from a competitive standpoint, you don't have to. You can pay once. So we made some decisions like that because there's already games out there and we wanted to be attractive to folks. And also, as gamers, we liked the idea of it being a balanced playing field at the very beginning.

PCG: Was that also partially a response to Tribes? I know there was some criticism over the free to play economy.

Harris: It was less that. There was criticism, as there probably is with every free to play game. In the early days Tribes was pretty grindy, but I think we addressed that. So that particular audience may not have wanted a free to play, but it was less that, more of looking at the MOBA space and what player expectations are within the MOBA space, and trying to basically meet or exceed those.

PCG: Is Smite profitable for you now?

Harris: It is. We've grown our studio from around 50 people around a year and a half ago, to 85-plus, all profitably through Smite, and we're growing very quickly now.

PCG: That's really great, especially for having been in beta that whole time. How long did it take for it to turn a profit?

Harris: If you look at it from just a project basis, it's hard to know, since we had people on other games for awhile and gradually moved them to Smite. Really I would say after the first year, basically, it was profitable from a project standpoint. But it's only more recently that it's been supporting the entire studio.

PCG: With the character roster you've got 50 or 51 gods now. Who are the most played gods and how many gods would you say, at least in competitive play, you're not seeing used very often?

Harris: I think our percentage of the pool that we've seen, even just in these three weekends, is pretty strong. Looking at just the two matches that were played, it looks like a larger percentage of the pool than other MOBAs, currently.

PCG: My eyeball guess would be 20, 25 at the high end.

Harris: I think it'll end up being around 25, probably, which is almost half of them, so that's pretty good. We see, obviously, even a higher percentage played in live. So we're pretty active about that. We do patches every two weeks.

In addition to new content, we're always looking at the play time and the power charts. We'll slow down a little bit, but through beta we were very actively making changes if gods were not popular or were too underpowered in general.

PCG: It's interesting for me to see who gets played in competitive games vs. me just playing casually. The gods that I really liked, and playing against other newcomers, was just wrecking face with, are not the ones played by the pros.

Harris: There's a lot of that. So we look at what's played in tournaments. We also look at the playtime for level 30 players vs. under-30, where there are big differences. And we'll also look at the play patterns for players that are high ELO behind the scenes vs. low. And we have to look at all that because there's very different patterns.

PCG: How do you balance a character that can be used by the pros very effectively but is not used at all at the low levels?

Harris: That's why we hire exceptional designers, and I say balance!

No, a lot of it is trying to understand one of the unique things with Smite is there's the stat balance, and with almost all the gods, there's this skill shot dexterity angle. So the balance team does have to put some factor for that in their balance spreadsheets, right? Because I don't hit my Ra snipes like those guys. I don't evade like Lassiz and Zapman and get out of those things.

PCG: It didn't fully register to me while watching the matches with the spectator mode, but when the pros juke like that, they do it without being able to see things coming. Which is like...how do you do that?

Harris: Our whole studio enjoys watching a lot of the eSports events, and other MOBAs, but one of the things that's unique about Smite is that dodging and evading being such a part of it, and is pretty exciting for the crowd to see those players. Which was intentional, we wanted the game to be quicker to the action, more kills, and a little more ability for that reflex action game element by an individual or a coordinated team to turn the tide.

PCG: Last question. Who's your favorite god to play?

Harris: My favorite is easy. It's Zeus. Just because he was one of the early gods, he's a little OP, I can win with him which means he's a little OP. And he's Zeus. He's the king. He's the main dude.

Thanks to Hi-Rez's Todd Harris for finding time to talk to us during the Smite launch weekend. For more on Smite, check out our 12 favorite plays from the launch tournament.
PC Gamer
title="Permanent Link to Three Lane Highway: why I am deadly serious about the phrase “wizard-’em-up”">Invoker

Three Lane Highway is Chris' sometimes earnest, sometimes silly column about Dota 2. It runs every Thursday on PC Gamer.

Are you interested in language? I think you should be, but then again I would say that. I peddle language for a living. Don't freak out, but I'm doing it right now. My rent is paid by the notion that some sets of words are of greater value than others. That's kind of a terrifying thought, really, but it's no more terrifying than the alternative: that in the future we will communicate about videogames by honking and pressing 'Like' buttons in a branded metaverse that we access by consenting to give over fifty percent of our brainpower so that Big Data can cloud-compute a solution to free will using our frontal cortexes.

I digress. I'm going to use this week's Three Lane Highway to talk about words. If that's not of interest to you, that's cool. I'd appreciate it if you'd still honk and push the 'Like' button, though.

There was a story that used to knock around the PC Gamer UK office about the provenance of the term 'first person shooter'. Before it came along, 'Doom clone' was the preferred term. This was the language of players, defined and propagated by enthusiast magazines. 'FPS' was the invention of game publishers who didn't want their game to be thought of as a copy. Imitation might be fundamental to the creative process, but nobody wants to own up to their influences at the point of sale.

'FPS' eventually broke through the defenses of buzzword-adverse magazine editors to become the standard phrase, but that's because it was a basically accurate description of the genre. It only became problematic when it emerged that we didn't really have a word for first person games that weren't shooters. That took a while, though: for a long time, 'FPS' served its purpose perfectly ably. Buzzwords are fine if they mean something.

This story is useful because it has a lot of parallels in the formation of the term 'MOBA'. Prior to 'MOBA', games that followed after the Defence of the Ancients/Aeon of Strife formula were 'Dotalikes'. This posed a problem for Riot and anybody else attempting to build a game in the same genre. Changing the terminology became a marketing necessity for them just as it had for Doom clone publishers in the late 90s. I hate to think about how much time this process must have taken when the result was a phrase as flatulent, ugly on the page, and vague as 'MOBA'.

This is not a League of Legends vs. Dota 2 argument. They are both great games, and Riot had the right to come up with a new term. That's not the nature of my problem with 'MOBA'. My problem with 'MOBA' stems from its lifelessness and lack of precision. Also, the fact that I can't hear it without thinking about this entirely terrifying kids' TV series from a couple of years ago.

Put it this way: Planetside 2 is a multiplayer online battle arena. World of Warcraft is a multiplayer online battle arena. Dark Souls is a multiplayer online battle arena. If you take the component parts of 'MOBA' at face value they could refer to more or less anything, and therefore they refer to more or less nothing. Discomfort about using somebody else's marketing term is one reason not to say 'MOBA'; the other is this fundamental lack of meaning.

But wait! You might say, if you were a rhetorical device. Isn't meaning more about usage and context than some notion of inherent correctness? If everybody agrees on what 'MOBA' means, does it matter that it doesn't stand up to scrutiny?

I think it does. Words attract meaning through use, yes, but they also shape the patterns of thought that surround their use. Imaginative language encourages imaginative thought and vice versa. I'd argue that the popularity of the term 'MOBA' contributes directly to the notion that these games can or should be stamped out conveyor-belt style. 'MMORPG' encountered the same problem: it was a simplistic descriptor that became incontrovertibly associated with a simplistic creative process. The term was not exciting, creative, or especially accurate: it had become one of Orwell's ready made phrases, a bad usage that "anaesthetises a portion of one's brain."

Finding a phrase to replace 'MOBA' is an opportunity to zoom in on the things that are exciting about this genre. It's an opportunity to frame games like League and Dota by what they achieve, not just what they are. The phrase 'action RTS' is dry and doesn't paint a clear picture of what you actually do in the game. 'Hero brawler', which is what Blizzard are going with for Heroes of the Storm, actually fares a little bit better: it points out a specific and universal game element (heroes) and attaches it to a situation (a brawl) that has a bit of colour. The best we could come up with at PC Gamer UK was 'lane-pushing game', but I'm not sure that's terribly exciting either.

This is why I ended up referring to Dota 2 as an isometric wizard-'em-up in PC Gamer's review last year. It was a joke, sort of: a way of abdicating responsibility for calling the genre anything. Then afterwards I realised that I liked the phrase that at the very least it reflected something of the feeling I got from playing the game. It is absurd, but the things you do in Dota are absurd too.

These games aren't remarkable because they are multiplayer online arenas, or because they combine action and strategy: they are remarkable because the situations they create are utterly arcane in a way that encourages deep investment. They're remarkable because they create communities of people who are uniquely able to discern incredible stories from the interaction of complex, unintuitive game mechanics. This is as true of Dota 2 as it is of League of Legends, SMITE, or Heroes of the Storm. These are eldritch, uncanny forms of entertainment. They are wizard as all hell. They include wizards; they have a wizardish quality about them; they encourage wizard-like behaviour in their players. Wizards.

You could pick another, safer word, but I don't think you should. These aren't 'safe' games they're laden with risk and nonsense and we should celebrate that in the way we talk about them. Put it this way: when some publisher rocks up and announces that they're making this or that beloved franchise into a MOBA, everybody rolls their eyes. It's easy to make a boring MOBA. I am arguing that it is very difficult to make a boring wizard-'em-up.

I don't expect history or the industry to go with me on this one. But you, the reader, have a choice. You can choose to live in a world where 'wizard' is a verb. I understand some of the reasons why you might not want to do that. I imagine they are perfectly fine reasons. I just sure as hell don't agree with them.
PC Gamer
title="Permanent Link to Dota 2′s fourth The International tournament announced for July, moves to new location">Dota 2

Some people are really good at manipulating wizards. As the makers of a game that features wizards (also: bears, succubi, venomous man-reptiles), every year Valve invite some of these people to a multi-million dollar wizard-off. That tournament is Dota 2's The International, and is one of the year's largest e-sports events. Valve have confirmed that this year's tournament will run from July 18 - 21, with tickets going on sale later this week. In addition, the event takes place in a new venue: Seattle's KeyArena.

"This year there will be 11 teams invited directly as well as four Regional Qualifiers taking place May 12th through the 25th," write Valve, explaining the tournament structure. "The winner of each Qualifier will receive an invitation, with the four runner-ups competing in Seattle for the final spot."

Tickets for attendance go on sale this Friday, and range from a general pass for $99, to a VIP package including "Meet & Greets" and after party access at $499. You can head to the Dota 2 blog for a full list of available packages and ticket opening times. Alternatively, for the rest of us, the tournament will be broadcast for free through Twitch and the in-game client.

The KeyArena is a larger venue than that of the tournament's previous home, Benaroya Hall. It's also being held a few weeks earlier in the year a fact that's already impacted upon the e-sports calendar. A few weeks ago, MLG announced that they'd be dropping Dota 2 from Anaheim this summer. One of the reasons they stated was the proximity of competing events.
PC Gamer
title="Permanent Link to Three Lane Highway: four and a half shocking Dota facts they don’t want you to know">Nyx Assassin

Three Lane Highway is Chris' sometimes earnest, sometimes silly column about Dota 2.

Dota 2 is a complicated game. Everybody knows that. It's so complicated that nobody understands it completely, and that's why we surround ourselves with experts who are able to pierce through Dota's thick fog of mechanical noise to deliver sound commentary and guidance. Today, I am your guide. Tens of minutes have been invested in bringing you the following Dota secrets: cold scientific facts that they don't want you to know.

FACT #1: Wards exist in a state of quantum uncertainty.

You will note that Dota 2 does not keep track of the amount of gold each player has spent on support items wards, smoke, courier upgrades and so on. This is not an error. It is impossible for the game to record this information because support items do not exist in the way that you or I readily understand.

Like Schr dinger's cat, wards only exist when they are observed by the rest of the team. Until this happens they are both bought and unbought, placed and unplaced. As a support player you may believe that you have bought and placed wards, but this is not the case until your carry, offlaner or mid agrees that you have done so.

This scenario is complicated by several factors. Every skillshot your team misses reduces the number of wards that you have effectively bought. Every time your carry is killed, your wards cease to exist: you never placed them, they had no warning, and everything everything! is your fault.

If an allied Mirana misses enough point blank Sacred Arrows, for example, then it is actually possible to reduce the number of observed wards on the map below zero. Not only did you not ward in the way that this particular player would like, you have not warded in the entire game. In fact you have warded so little that perhaps you are reducing the number of wards in other people's games right now.

"GG support no brain" Mirana might say, as another Sacred Arrow sails past an immobilised enemy three feet away. "Report rubick."

Just as the world seemed complete and unchangeable to the peanut-brained tyrannosaur, Mirana's belief in your failure will be unshakable long past the point where the game is lost. You could protest, but science is on her side: you might think you bought wards, but if you had bought wards, I wouldn't suck so much, now, would I.

FACT #2: Every time you use the 'report' function for anything other than its stated purpose, a child's ice cream melts onto a life support machine which, short-circuiting, electrocutes a puppy.

This one sounds like a bit of a stretch at first so I'm going to walk you through it. Let's say that you're in a game and it's going badly. In particular, one of your teammates a stranger is having a rough time. Let's say they randomed Broodmother, demanded mid, and have fed ten kills to Death Prophet in less than twelve minutes. They are pushing right up against their respawn timer. It is actually quite difficult, mathematically, to fail as hard as they are failing.

You don't know them, and you don't know their circumstances. They could be ill, or tired, or simply having a bad day. What you do know is that they suck; that they are, to wit, a noob. You probably suck as well, of course, but the matter at hand concerns Broodmother.

"Lol gg reprot brood" you tap into global chat, like a dickhead.

You open the scoreboard, click Broodmother, and select report. You glance at the options available to you and note that in actual fact having a bad game isn't grounds for official complaint. You ignore this and choose 'Communication Abuse'. You opt to leave a message for Valve: "ban feeder nub pls."

You are setting a remarkable process into motion. First, an automated system will analyse your report and the match from which it originates to discern whether or not it is valid. Having determined that you are being a dickhead, the report is passed on to the AI that controls Valve's network of 'Overwatch' satellites. These orbital platforms normally facilitate the day-to-day running of the company predicting global trends, locating talented modders, tracking dissidents, and so on but a false report triggers several dormant subroutines.

The Overwatch network will then begin searching the globe for a very specific scenario. It will look for an infant with an ice cream, a deathbed, and a small dog. The search can take days, weeks, months, but Overwatch is patient. Having located its mark it will then deploy an array of sun-directing mirrors and lenses. A faint beam of warm sunlight is directed earthwards, at the sprinkled summit of a child's much-anticipated treat.

Melting! Falling! Zap, beep, woof! Silence.


And all of this is your fault; all of this happened because you couldn't keep your shit together. Good job, player.

You might be wondering why Valve would install this functionality in this first place. You might argue that they have better things to do. To which I say: hey, man. They're an open company. If somebody wants to wheel their wheelie-desk over to Overwatch Control and install themselves some child-traumatising spacerays, then who are you to stop them? Stop being such a middle-manager. Jesus.

FACT #3: Regular Dagon usage drains ambient fun from the universe.

Fun is a zero sum game. They won't teach you that in school, but it's true. If you're having fun, somebody else isn't. Fun is, much like Hungry Hungry Hippos or capitalism, about stealing everybody else's marbles and hiding them where the 99% will never find them.

There are a couple of ways this applies to Dota 2. Carrying is the most obvious. Players who auto-lock mid for themselves have something of the Goldman Sachs intern about them, too; I can imagine them using the word 'rainmaker' without irony. But that's not what I want to talk about today. I want to talk about Dagon. A Dagon is more than a magic wand that incinerates people. A Dagon is a declaration. A Dagon says "this game is about me. This game is a fun-funnel, and the fun-funnel is in my mouth, and I am going to have all of the fun, and there will be none for you, peasant."

FACT #3.5: The sound effect for Dagon is actually a sample of Donald Trump's toup being blown off.

Here's the setup. You're half an hour into a game and your team is doing well. You're Io or

Necrophos or somebody and you're sitting on a pile of assist gold. You think to yourself: what do we need? You could pick up a Pipe of Insight, or a Veil, but it's kind of late for that. Your mouse cursor hovers over the Necronomicon. This would be a solid choice. When you're listening to your better angels you are a team player, and that extra pushing power, that bonus damage, that truesight: yes, you think. We could make use of a Necronomicon.

We. We we we. Why never 'me'? Why never 'I'? This is when you decide to take matters into your own hands. It's at this point that you make a stand for you. You queue up a Dagon and step confidently into the goddamn winner's bracket.

You'll feel great. You'll punish an Armlet-toggling Slardar with your hair-trigger 'fuck you' button and yell something like "beep boop buh-zap, motherfucker!" I know I have. What you can't know at this moment is that the life you have chosen will catch up with you. This feeling of power can't last. All the fun you're having is actively and exponentially draining creation's supply of goodness and joy. Every innocent Keeper of the Light that you pop is a sacrifice on the altar of your hungering id.

You blaze through the midgame like a streak of light the colour of hot blood. You are a ruiner; you create ruins. You sound like the crack of God's belt. You're the goddamn Laser King. But this story does not have a happy ending. You start stealing farm to make that next 1250G recipe. You do shameful things in the jungle. You bottom out alone in the Rosh pit, cursing whoever decided that you couldn't double-tap the hotkey to turn your Dagon on yourself.

You are responsible for accelerating the Fun-Death of the Universe. I'm no mathematician, but if there was a formula for calculating the impact of a Dagon on a Dota 2 match I'm pretty sure it'd look something like this:

Where n is fun, x is the level of your Dagon, and y is Keeper of the Light's pathetic old man tears.

FACT #4: Everything you believe in is a falsehood. Order, pattern, number, sense and hope are lies you tell yourself to give meaning to a meaningless existence. You are a speck, a mote of nothingness, clinging desperately to the notion that you have a purpose. There is no purpose. Reality itself hates you, and you are doomed.

This is more or less the principle behind solo ranked matchmaking.
PC Gamer
title="Permanent Link to The week’s highs and lows in PC Gaming">Highs_1

Every week, the PC Gamer team pick their most and least favourite happenings from the last seven days. Here you'll find the week's soaring highs and stagnant lows, picked from the news, the games we've played, the culture at large. The only thing that's guaranteed is there'll be no neutral opinions.

On this page, you'll find a profusion of positivity; on the next, a glut of gloom.



Samuel Roberts: I loved what I played of Alien Isolation this week. It's pretty cool that a game experimenting with emergent AI just happens to be based on a sci-fi franchise that has a recent spotty history when it comes to...well, look, the easiest way of putting this is, Colonial Marines was a pile of arse. This is so far from any other Alien game stylistically and benefits from Creative Assembly's laser focus on the values of the original Alien. Tom's experiences contrasted nicely with my own, so I'm now fairly confident in Isolation's potential replay value based on what I've seen so far.

Evan Lahti: Guys, Clockwork Empires could be special. I posted my hands-on with the indie, Dwarf Fortress-inspired, Lovecraftian colony-builder earlier this week, and as the rest of the press have begun to see the game at GDC they've been echoing our praise and interest. That includes our pals at RPS, who described it as "really exciting stuff."

We've seen a surge in popularity in games that generate emergent, personal stories in the past few years, and I have a feeling that Clockwork is going to be the next big one on that list. Gaslamp Games' eccentricity is infectious whenever I talk to them, and it's wonderful to see how that's extending to the design of their game--you can build barber shops on the frontier (and barbers operate as low-level doctors when none are available, apparently), and phrenologist will be a middle-class occupation for your colonists that's used to identify their character traits. Gaslamp's willingness to be themselves--that is, weird--is encouraging.

Tim Clark: An easy one for me: Sam and I getting to play Hyper Light Drifter for the first time. Most of the session was spent accusing each other of sausage-thumbed incompetence as our survival runs in the horde mode were cut short by sudden death, but when it came to the end of the hands-on it was a genuine wrench to hand the controllers back. Although developer Heart Machine isn't showing Hyper Light Drifter's main RPG elements yet, spending time with the gloriously whipcrack combat system, which is a frantic mess of slash 'n' dash moves fleshed out with a diverse suite of secondary abilities, has left me feeling entirely confident about the feel of the final game. And given its already startlingly cool looks, the hype for Hyper Light Drifter is only set to grow.

Tyler Wilde: That's cool, you all sat in rooms looking at screens with things happening on them. I mean, that's PC gaming for the most part. Totally understandable that you would do that, but here's a story from my week: I'm sitting in a room it's clean, nicely decorated. Someone's apartment, maybe. I turn my head and see another player sitting nearby. He turns his head toward me he's looking at me, right now, through his own Oculus Rift. What do I look like? It occurs to me that I don't know. I look down and my virtual chest shifts slightly. I seem to be wearing a hoodie like his. I see my hands, gripping a controller and frighteningly paralyzed. But what if I weren't paralyzed? What if I could get up and walk over to the strange, silent man sitting next to me? What if his mouth opened and he spoke? Later in the day, would this feel like any other memory of a place I'd been and a person I met?

I'm actually starting to worry about virtual reality, guys not that it won't be good, but that it will be too good. The Oculus Rift Development Kit 2 isn't there yet, but it's a lot better than DK1, and the consumer version is supposed to be another leap. And then there's five years from now, and 10 years from now. Are we heading toward the thing sci-fi writers have been warning us about all this time? Maybe. And maybe if we are, I want it to happen anyway. Long live the new flesh.

Chris Thursten: Given that I've been sat in a big empty office with Phil while the rest of you have adventures at GDC, the highlight of my week has been the release of Valve's Dota 2 documentary, Free To Play. I'd seen it a few times before - I watched an early cut at Valve in May last year, then saw the near-final thing at The International in August - but watching the community get to experience it has been a lot of fun. It's an accomplished exploration of what makes competitive gaming so exciting, and its positivity about the scene has brought about a great sense of positivity within the scene, which makes for a nice change of pace. I wrote about it in more detail as part of this week's Three Lane Highway column. I'd love to see more developers take their communities seriously in the way that Valve evidently do.

Phil Savage: It's been a week of cool tech, exciting previews, and being sat in a big empty office with Chris. And yet, the thing that excited me the most? New payment models for game engines. This could be a sign that I need to take a long, hard look at how I get my thrills, but let me explain what I hope Epic and Crytek's subscription models will mean. Unity has revolutionised the indie industry, partly because of its (relative) ease-of-use for those starting out in 3D development. But it's also the de-facto choice for AAA veterans moving to the indie space. Now, as increasingly more of these smaller studios appear, they'll have the option of an affordable version of tools they're already familiar with. Hopefully it's another step towards a future in which lines between indie and AAA are increasingly blurred, and a studio's budget is no longer it's defining characteristic.



Tim Clark: As a serious Left 4 Deadhead, I was a little disappointed to find I didn't entirely love my hands-on with Evolve here at GDC. It ought to work. The idea of four-player extraterrestrial big game hunting, with another person controlling the monster, feels rich with promise. The weapon set and abilities all make sense, and the art design is fine, if a little cookie cutter sci-fi. (The current monster, called the Goliath, reminded me most of '90s creature features like The Relic.) And yet There's something about having to chase around after an enormous beast with an equally monolithic health bar that feels unsatisfying. Perhaps that's no surprise: chipping energy away from tank characters or bosses is rarely satisfying in itself, and the core trap and track mechanic doesn't seem intrinsically fun enough to compensate. There's a logic to Turtle Rock's assertion that a human-controlled antagonist ought to trump an AI, but equally isn't that exactly the idea they set at out to disprove with the canny adaptive AI of Left 4 Dead, which had 'The Director' to drop in threats at the perfect moment?

Evan Lahti: Steam Controller. It made a rough first impression. It's also a bit concerning that Valve isn't showing a wider set of games with the controller, despite saying in the announcement that Valve had "fooled those older games into thinking they're being played with a keyboard and mouse." GDC was a perfect opportunity to showcase the flexibility of the controller on a wider set of the Steam library, but instead we got a point-and-click game, Portal 2, and a side-scrolling action game.

Cory Banks: I wouldn't say I was wildly excited about Goat Simulator when it was first announced. I don't particularly want to be a goat, and I'm not dying to be a goat farmer (though maybe I'd be great at it. Food for thought). But when I found out that Goat Simulator is little more than a joke physics game, I was pretty let down. The cool thing about our recent trend of mundane simulation games Euro Truck Simulator 2, for instance is that they highlight the complexity and challenge in tasks that we often take for granted in the real world. Once I found out that Goat Sim is a game where you toss goats, I started imagining how interesting a real Goat Simulator could be: maintaining farm land, balancing operational costs with revenue brought in from goat milking operations, deciding to start a petting zoo so Benny The Goat can entertain children in the town.

So maybe it doesn't sound fun on paper, but there's more game there than an Angry Birds clone. And it's not like hauling cargo across Germany was the most fun game pitch ever, either. But it worked. Taking a jokey concept and turning it into a full, complex game would have been quite a feat.

Tyler Wilde: Despite the $350 dollars I'm about to blow on an Oculus Rift DK2, I'm a little disappointed to hear that when CCP's VR dogfighting game EVE Valkyrie is released alongside the consumer model, it will be exclusive to the Oculus Rift on PC. The Rift may be the biggest VR headset right now, but there will be competitors (not counting Sony's Project Morpheus, though I expect someone will make PC drivers pretty quickly). I hope the industry agrees on some standards so that VR games can be made to work with as many VR headsets as possible, and I hope this Rift exclusivity doesn't continue past launch. I don't want to choose VR hardware for the games that work with it.

Chris Thursten: Honestly, this has been a pretty good week. I've not been especially enraged or disappointed by anything. In part, this is because I have been sat in a big empty office with Phil. My low point for this week is less a specific announcement, then, and more the general state of a particular game.

BioWare announced a form of player housing for Star Wars: The Old Republic this week - and it looks great. I got a huge amount out of SWToR during my time with it, and I'd love to see it succeed. Yet I'm all too aware of the way its haphazard transition to free-to-play drove players away and broke the back of a community I liked being part of. As much as I'm tempted to return, the way the game has been picked apart for monetisable bobbins makes it a world that I'm no longer really comfortable occupying. There's a parallel dimension where player housing is being announced after a long series of successful, story-extending expansions - the kind of thing the game desperately needed. I'd like to live in that dimension. Sadly, I don't.

Phil Savage: I'm starting to suspect there's a secret industry raffle, deciding the fate of beloved gaming franchises. "Sorry Dungeon Keeper, you're becoming a maligned mess of mobile microtransactions." "Congratulations Baldur's Gate, you'll get a competent series of Enhanced Editions, and a spiritual successor on Kickstarter." This week, it was RollerCoaster Tycoon's turn, and, on the basis of the mobile game's trailer, it's not a ride I'm planning to take. Atari also announced a "PC experience", but it's not just their refusal to use the word "game" that has me worried. Looking at the revenue report of a company recovering from bankruptcy, it's clear that their interests are in the "Mobile" and "Online" space. Given that, I doubt we'll be getting the sort of sequel that fans have been waiting nearly a decade for.
PC Gamer
title="Permanent Link to Three Lane Highway Revisited: Twenty-four hours, eight games of Dota 2, and $2,874,382">WorldStage_1

This article was written in late August 2013 and originally published in issue 258 of PC Gamer UK. I've been thinking about my experience at The International 2013 since watching Valve's Dota 2 documentary, Free To Play. As a companion piece to today's Three Lane Highway column, then, we thought we'd make the following available online.

It takes the five members of Alliance ten minutes to move around Benaroya Hall s curved mezzanine to the off-limits corridor that leads to their private balcony. They are surrounded at every step by fans, pushing up against windows and leaning over tables to sign T-shirts and mousemats. Their manager, Kelly, alternates between apologetic determination and abrupt for-the-camera enthusiasm as she attempts to shepherd five sudden celebrities into a single doorway.

A lot of players that get a lot of fame tend to become assholes, to be honest, Alliance captain Jonathan Loda Berg tells me later. I was a little bit like that when I was younger. It was something that I put a lot of thought into when we made the team I said look, if this is going to work it s important that everyone stays down-to-earth. I think it s also a cultural thing. Swedish players are a bit different we don t really take ourselves so seriously.

It is Saturday, August 10, the penultimate day of The International 2013. The Seattle-based Dota 2 tournament boasts the largest prize pool in competitive gaming, and Alliance have just secured their place in the grand final. They are the favourites to win. They have played ten best-of-threes since the group stages and won nine of them 2-0.

A few hours ago the Swedes beat Natus Vincere (Na Vi) in the upper bracket final, sending the Ukrainian-Estonian-German team to face Malaysia s Orange E-Sports at the top of the lower bracket. The three remaining teams in the tournament are guaranteed, at this point, $287,438, $632,364, and $1,437,191 respectively. Between $10,000 and $20,000 is considered a major prize in competitive Dota. When Alliance won Season 5 of China s G-1 Champions League, they pocketed $40,200. The seventh and eighth-place finishers at The International take more than that.

None of the players I meet seem concerned about the money. The answer I am always given is that it s simply not why they re here.

There is no physical template for a Dota professional. That can t be said for tennis stars or NASCAR drivers or hundred-metre sprinters, all of whom are separated from the audiences they entertain by equipment as well as by innate and acquired physical supremacy. In traditional sport, the wall between exceptional players and the rest of us is tangible. It is made of time, talent, money and muscle.

In e-sports the talent is invisible and the fame that results from it settles differently on every player s shoulders. The professionals milling around in the lobby of Benaroya Hall play the same game as everyone else, but they are shaped by it in a way that is specific to them. Specific, even, to their generation. The youngest player at The International is 17, the oldest 29. There is no precedent in sport or elsewhere for what they do for a living, how long it should last or what it ultimately means.

In the private communal areas where players congregate they divide themselves by language, nationality, and a highschoolish network of friendships. Every player in the room is talented and hyper-competitive but they collectively fit no other template. There are jokers and serious young men who talk in low voices about the business . There are troublemakers who drink until 4am and the players for whom competitive Dota was one branch on a path that also included traditional sport. It comes back to the competition. The International is the most important measure of a team s performance in a given year, and for each player it s an opportunity to be the best in the world at something.

So no, they ll say. The money doesn t matter.

The lower bracket final begins at noon on August 11. Orange are the last remaining Asian team and have dismantled two of the most talented Chinese outfits, TongFu and Team DK. Dota is huge in South-East Asia, but China traditionally overshadows the SEA scene on the world stage until

The International 2013. Orange Captain Chai Mushi Yee Fung is the most versatile player in the tournament, playing 18 different heroes over the course of a week. It s the kind of talent that earns deep respect from the audience, and it does not go unnoticed. In September, Mushi will announce that he is moving to China.

The first game runs long, but Orange are the playmakers. Mushi s Queen of Pain is dominant, his glass-cannon mobility matched by Weaver, Nature s Prophet and Nyx Assassin with Naga Siren as a safety net. They take the first game, but settle into a slower, safer rhythm for the second. Na Vi pick up the Siren and Weaver for themselves, and, back in their comfort zone, end the game in less than 25 minutes.

The deciding match lasts more than double that. Long games of Dota are often resolved by single plays, usually crucial teamfight victories or successful attempts on Roshan, a powerful computer-controlled creep that drops an item, the Aegis of the Immortal, which grants a player a chance to respawn instantly in the field. Orange opt for the latter, but the moment Roshan falls a single miss-click by Lee kYxY Kong Yang destroys the Aegis rather than claiming it. The line goes that it was the most expensive single click in competitive Dota, and afterwards kYxY is visibly devastated. He posts a Facebook update from his phone.


Na Vi are loved by the crowd. It s hard not to love them, or at least not loving them feels like lapsing into the role of a stodgy police commissioner demanding his maverick star detective s badge and gun. They play loose, creative Dota and respect no law. Sometimes they win through staggering imagination and skill and sometimes they seem to surf a wave of luck and bravado. Either way, they win games.

Their captain, Clement Puppey Ivanov, always appears to be about to smirk. He s known for his strategies and it is safe to assume at any given time that he is planning something. He is a constant presence in the lobby and at the signing table. In-game he takes a commanding support role assisted by Kuro KuroKy Salehi Takhasomi with Gleb Funn1k Lipatnikov in the offlane.

If Puppey is always on the edge of a smirk, then Danylo Dendi Ishutin is perpetually about to smile himself inside out. Dendi and Puppey are questioned together before the grand final by Valve s backstage interviewer: Puppey answers questions in deadpan as Dendi leans closer and closer towards him, staring unblinkingly into the camera, responding to every query with the word good.

The team carry is Oleksandr XBOCT Dashkevych. On paper, his job is to farm gold and experience in the opening stages of a match in order to give his team a powerful advantage later on. The first time I meet him he claims to be from Paris and also to be adult film actress Sasha Grey: you get the impression that there s somewhere else he d rather be, and in-game this manifests as aggression above and beyond what is expected of his role.

It was Na Vi that sent TongFu to the loser s bracket. They did it by using a trick called fountain hooking a combination of powers that sends an enemy flying into a friendly safe zone where they are destroyed. It was hard not to feel for TongFu. They played well, but were forced to respond to tricks that are alien to the professional scene. But that s what Na Vi do. They win games, and are loved.

In Benaroya Hall that love takes the form of a pair of pounding monosyllables: Nah vee! Nah vee! The only other teams that receive the same support are Dignitas and TeamLiquid, Americans and the de facto home side and in their case, the chant is USA! USA! Na Vi are what the crowd would want from an American team: they are confident, independent, and comfortably exceptional. Something of the generational quality of e-sports is expressed in the sound of a thousand Americans bellowing their support for young people whose parents grew up in the former Soviet Union.

Alliance wear slate-grey winter jackets with patches on their shoulders that make them look like ski instructors or an indie band that happens to be sponsored by a company that makes expensive mice. Loda pulls a short ponytail back through a trucker s cap and has grown out his stubble, presumably to indicate his veterancy. He has been part of the scene for almost a decade, and I ask him if he worries about his reaction times as he gets older. I ve just been waiting for the day when I feel like I m starting to get worse, he says. But this year I feel like I m actually improving. I guess when I go downhill I will stop, and I will look to do something else but I will always want to be involved in the scene. Loda is 25.

Alliance have been playing together for a year, with Loda as their carry. He has been friends with Joakim Akke Akterhall since high school, and the partnership between the two is as old as European professional Dota. Akke and Jerry EGM Lundqvist form Alliance s supporting foundations, providing the early-game advantage that enables the team s remaining two players, Gustav S4 Magnusson and Henrik AdmiralBulldog Ahnberg, to establish map control.

S4 is the youngest player on Alliance and plays solo mid. The area between the two towers in the centre of the map is narrower than anywhere else, and the early laning phase is conducted with knife-fight pressure. It s a young man s game. I used to play solo mid and when I got older I started to have too much respect for people, Loda says. As a solo mid, you can t have too much respect. You have to be fucking confident. You have to want to outclass them.

AdmiralBulldog is regarded as one of the best Lone Druid players in the world. The hero is accompanied by a bear that uses its own set of items. Playing him well means acquiring a vast amount of gold, often in tricky situations, while effectively managing two distinct characters at once.

Alliance s style of Dota is sometimes described as conservative, but it s better understood in terms of efficiency and built-in redundancies. Their backup plans have backup plans. If Bulldog s lane collapses, EGM and Akke will buy him time to farm up elsewhere. If Loda, EGM and Akke are under pressure, Bulldog will knock down towers until the enemy is forced to respond. Alliance have the ability to both vanish off the map and be everywhere at once, and they are unflappable. If Na Vi are freestyle kickboxers, then Alliance are patient masters of Judo. The way they approach training reflects this.

Some Dota players are not honest with themselves, Loda says, calmly. When they lose games they point out each others mistakes so they won t be the weakest link. I think it s very important to show that everyone is human and Dota is a game where everyone makes mistakes, every single game. If you just realise that you will be not be so afraid. You ll focus on the big picture.

The grand final is a best-of-five, and it begins with a mistake. The talk in the lobby is that Puppey has been holding something back. That something turns out to be a bizarre draft of heroes that gambles heavily on winning the game immediately.

It s a disaster, and Alliance take them apart in 15 minutes. There is visible discomfort in the Na Vi booth, and the crowd is subdued.

Na Vi s comeback is resolute. Both teams respect each others star players enough to ban their signature heroes instead of generally-feared characters like Batrider and Io. This means, unusually, that these heroes are played in every game Na Vi would rather deal with them than face Bulldog s bear, and Alliance feel the same way about XBOCT s Lifestealer. In game two, Dendi takes Batrider to midlane while KuroKy supports as Io, and Alliance are outmanoeuvred. The game ends a Na Vi victory after 20 minutes.

Alliance try a riskier draft for the third. They get Bulldog his Lone Druid and pick up a tournament-first Ogre Magi, a character with a powerful buff that indicates a plan to double-down on the pushing power of the bear. They are not so much outdrafted as outplayed. The momentum granted by Na Vi s quick win in the second game gives each player the impetus to play their hearts out in the third. Alliance tap out with 47 minutes on the clock. The crowd s response is simple: Nah vee! Nah vee!

It occurs to me that Alliance are suffering for having a name that is harder to chant. Those soundproof booths can block out the commentary team, but they can t block out a thousand stamping feet or those simple, pounding monosyllables. Nah vee! Nah vee!

Alliance are a different team in game four. S4 takes Night Stalker, a hero who is rarely seen in competitive Dota but who fares well against Puck a strong midlaner that both S4 and Dendi have an affinity for.

Puck is a showman s hero, a grinning dragonling that can teleport, phase out of existence, pin groups of enemies down, silence them and escape to do it all again. The return of Alliance s confidence is visible. They play like Na Vi, for a game, and for the first time an International grand final reaches a 2-2 stalemate. Benaroya Hall seems to contract around the teams on stage. Over half a million people are watching online.

Na Vi start strong in game five. Dendi plays Templar Assassin, the hero that holds the record for the most kills in a professional game his record. Puppey is on Enigma, arguably his best hero, and XBOCT s Alchemist has been a core part of every Na Vi victory in the final. KuroKy s Rubick helped to win them game three and he resumes that role. Funn1k takes Batrider this time, almost for luck. The teams crash together in teamfight after teamfight, but Na Vi have the edge.

Alliance have Io and Chaos Knight on EGM and Loda, a combination that is feared for its mobility. Bulldog is Nature s Prophet like Io, a hero that can teleport and Akke plays Crystal Maiden, a fragile support that helps secure early kills. S4 picks Puck, as if to prove a point.

It comes down to a killer push by Na Vi. S4 tries to evade getting picked off by Funn1k but can t survive alone; XBOCT, Dendi and Puppey storm down mid and go straight for the barracks. They rush up the stairs into the base and take the third tower. S4 buys back into the game, but Na Vi are unopposed: because Alliance are gone.

Na Vi s killing blow sails in, and is met with air.

Bulldog teleports to top lane and starts knocking down towers. EGM and Loda head south to do the same thing. The Swedes trigger the backup plan to their backup plan, abandoning their own core and a key hero, in Puck to expose Na Vi s ancient in a single move. S4 keeps them occupied until the point that they need to teleport back to defend. Then, he stops them.

As Na Vi bunch up to port back, S4 leaps in and uses his ultimate to pin them down. The psychological impact is immediate. Na Vi stagger and Alliance takes two sets of barracks. Orange s kYxY spent $350,000 on a single click. S4 earns $800,000 with another.

A last-ditch attempt at Roshan is Na Vi s best hope at staying in the game, but they can t risk making themselves vulnerable. Alliance reform and charge for the throne.

Competitive Dota is a game of numbers, skill, ego and trust. Games are won and lost on momentum, on great tectonic power shifts that beyond a certain point are irreversible. Alliance have just reminded the world that it is also a game about defending an ancient.

They know they ve won. Bulldog seems to be controlling his character by slapping the table and yelling. Na Vi s ancient explodes, and game five ends. In one booth, there is a lot of jumping and hugging. In the other, Na Vi remove their headphones.

Loda picks up the Aegis of Champions from its stand and lifts it into the air. He s shouting over the crowd, but from the back of the hall it s hard to tell what he s saying. It s something simple and monosyllabic, and it sounds a little like Loda! Loda! It would be un-Swedish of him to bellow his own name, but this would also be the time.

Photography by Philippa Warr.

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