The story of Jón Gnarr, who in 2010 was elected mayor of Iceland's capital and largest city, Reykjavík, could be mistaken for a story from EVE Online, the sandbox MMO created by Icelandic developer CCP. In EVE, players form corporations and take part in fascinating, often-bizarre political and military shenanigans. In Iceland, Jón ran for office as founder of "The Best Party," which he says wasn't, and still isn't, a real political party.
"It was supposed to be a complete nonsense party," said Jón during a Q&A after last week's EVE Online Fanfest in Reykjavík. "We promised whatever people wanted us to promise, but also promised to break all of our promises."
Icelanders apparently appreciated Jón's honesty, and he earned international fame after becoming one of the world's most fascinating and whimsical mayors. Though he claims he didn't even know what he was running for, he wasn't surprised when he was elected. "I could sense that people appreciated The Best Party," said Jón. "I mean, it's the best party."
Jón Gnarr, CCP, and Hættuspil
With a population of only 320,000, stories about Jón and stories about CCP are really stories about Iceland, all intertwined as part of the country's recent history. And here's where they intersect:
Before becoming a politician, Jón was already well-known as a comedian in Iceland, and appeared in one of Iceland's most popular board games, Hættuspil, which translates to "Danger Game." The man on the cover, dressed as a perturbed woman, is Jón Gnarr, and the company behind it was CCP.
Hættuspil's success funded the initial development of EVE Online, which was the plan all along, so Jón—the mayor of Iceland's capital—deserves some small credit for EVE Online and CCP's success.
An obsession with "building armies"
Jón says the people of Iceland are proud of CCP and what it's done for the country and Reykjavík, but he doesn't play EVE himself. "I suspect that EVE Online could be an obsession," he told us.
"I've been, yeah, I was obsessed with Warcraft and...uh, yeah," he continued, the crowd laughing in acknowledgement. "And Half-Life, and I just had to erase it and get rid of it."
After the Q&A, Tom Senior and I caught up with Jón for a few more questions about his gaming career and obsessions. His favorite game is Heroes of Might and Magic, followed by Elite.
"I played Elite on an Acorn Electron, and I was fascinated by it," he said. "It was quite time-consuming, it took a lot of time...and then of course, Warcraft came about. I dropped out after StarCraft, because it has become way too complicated for me. And the same happened with Might & Magic, it just became too complicated."
What did he enjoy so much about the original Might and Magic? "Building armies," Jón said laughing. "Building an army was my goal and pleasure. But I easily get addicted to games. I couldn't quit."
Danger Game returns
"One more turn" syndrome is the reason Jón now forgoes gaming in favor of taking walks and listening to podcasts, but his relationship with CCP isn't over. To celebrate EVE Online's 10 year anniversary, Jón is reprising his role in an English version of Hættuspil to be bundled with a new Collector's Edition.
Pre-orders are now open to get the box of EVE memorabilia, along with the first chance for us to play CCP's debut game, which set off a decade-long cascade of incredible stories from in and out of the EVE universe. If you don't play EVE, 149.99€ is real steep for just the board game, but perhaps CCP will decide to sell it on its own. Of around ten Icelanders I asked during Fanfest last week, only one hadn't played Hættuspil, and the rest gave glowing reviews.
Alongside the likes of Slenderman and that ghost girl from Curse of the Blood Moon, another indie horror contender has been brewing in the original Half-Life engine. Cry of Fear is a free total conversion mod constructed on the back of Gordon Freeman's maiden voyage, and it's releasing standalone this Wednesday. Using 100% custom assets, the mod was developed by Team Psykskallar, which even went so far as to implement animated cutscenes and a few other non-native elements in the 15-year-old engine.
This release will be available on Steam as a stand-alone download that won't require the original Half-Life to play. Although, if you don't already own the original Half-Life, you could snag one of our highest-rated shooters of all time for $10 at this point. The original Cry of Fear mod is available on the official site.
Cry of Fear looks to take place in a dark, urban area, and your character is shown equipped with a pistol, a phone-mounted light, and a drab hoodie. Somehow, I don't think that's going to be enough to feel safe. Just a hunch.
Since the release of Black Mesa, modders have been bending and shaping its spruced up Half-Life assets to create Source upgrades of every one of the game's expansions, demos and curios. But mod group Tripmine Studios are attempting to go it alone, Sourcing up Gearbox's Opposing Force expansion entirely from scratch. The name of their project? Operation Black Mesa. Wait, what?
Confusing name aside, it's looking like an accomplished upgrade of Adrian Shephard's adventures through the bowels of Black Mesa. It's certainly looks more muted than the other Black Mesa's visual shock and awe, but the lighting seems to nicely capture the underground claustrophobia of HL1's dated engine.
According to Tripmine's team leader Antonín Žoha, the multiplayer portion of the mod is due to arrive in Q1 2014, and will bring "classic modes like deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture the flag and one brand new game mode for people who are also looking for something new." There's currently no release date for the singleplayer portion.
Despite the wait, you can already vote for Operation Black Mesa on Steam Greenlight. More details are available on the project's ModDB page. Also on ModDB are details of Tripmine's other expansion overhaul, Guard Duty, a Blue Shift remake.
There are a few notable things about the Kickstarter campaign for Double Action. Firstly, the final game will be entirely free. It's a spiritual successor to The Specialists - a Half-Life mod with similar John Woo inspired acrobatics to Action Half-Life, but with added bullet time slow-mo for the multiplayer mayhem. Secondly, the pitch video is refreshingly frank about the team's distribution of funds, project scope and disinterest in stretch goals.
Thirdly (and most importantly?), the codename for the game's first version is Boogaloo.
Double Action: Boogaloo is a multiplayer shooter with an emphasis on style. "You fill up your Style Meter by doing stylish things - stunting, brawling, headshots, and so on. When your style meter fills up, your chosen style skill is activated." Diving, sliding and rolling feature heavily as you fight in ridiculously over-the-top slow motion battles.
The team are looking for $18,000 for a summer blitz on the game's development. With no price tag on the game, there's no minimum funding amount to get your hands on it - instead, purely cosmetic items are available at certain tiers.
It's also playable right now. The pre-alpha client is available on the Double Action forums, although, as the post warns, "It is probably crashy and everything is a placeholder. You may find it difficult to use."
Why no stretch goals? According to the Kickstarter page, "Those things would only detract from the game's design and create additional busywork for us." Instead, they're interested in using additional funds to support the game through further development and a Valve engine license.
After using a Xen relay to slingshot itself across an interdimensional portal known as "the Internet," Black Mesa and its updates to Half-Life 1 continue to influence satellite mods that restore extended chunks of Gordon Freeman's tale. Next in line for Black-Mesa-fying: the Hazard Course, Gordon's optional and educational pit-stop for teaching movement and shooting basics.
Along with the standard face(granite?)-lift to the Hazard Course's bunker-like training areas and twisting pipes, the mod hopes to add a few new characters and areas for that extra bit of distraction as you eternally run late for that silly test chamber appointment. A notable planned addition is the tram station and the brief meeting with a few scientist overseers from the PlayStation 2 version of the game (here's a video), which is a rare opportunity to see one of the lab's normally stuffy pencil-pushers shirk procedure over a liability contract.
The mod just moved into its alpha stage after its team announced the first connection of all playable areas just yesterday. You can track the mod's progress over at Mod DB, and here's a few more screenshots showing off the completed work so far.
Now Black Mesa has fallen through a Source engine resonance cascade and out into the world, modders are piggy-backing off its upgraded assets to fill in the extended family of Gordon Freeman's original adventure. Black Mesa: Insecurity hopes to remake Gearbox's second expansion, Half-Life: Blue Shift, starring everybody's favourite beer-owing security guard Barney Rubble Calhoun.
"Overall what I hope to achieve is an experience similar to Black Mesa's in that the essence of what Blue Shift was remains intact while adding a major facelift and re-imagining to the rest," writes the mod's creator. He admits that this is a small project, being worked on during study breaks, but the team have already created a number of new models to go along with the repurposed Black Mesa files.
More screenshots below. The project's release is still "TBD," but yo can keep up to date with the latest work over at Insecurity's ModDB page.
It's been tested, it's been debated, and it's now available to all: Valve announces the official launch of the Steam Linux client after nearly four months in beta. Expectedly, a sale is going on for all Linux-supported games in Steam's catalog, including Crusader Kings II and Counter-Strike: Source.
The sale lasts until February 21 and takes 50 to 75 percent off the 54 games Linux users can slot into their brand new platform. Team Fortress 2 joins the revelry by automatically awarding a free and tradeable in-game Tux accessory for all Linux mercs jumping into the free-to-play shooter before May 1. Prepare for an avalanche of crates, Ubuntuans.
Grab the Steam Linux client and browse the full list of discounted titles on the sale page. Welcome to Steam, Linux gamers.
The Steam pages for Valve classics Half-Life and Counter-Strike have been updated with small, penguin-shaped icons. No, they aren't unsubtle emblems of a secret flightless waterfowl cabal, but they do signify newly added Linux support for both FPS games as part of Valve's compatibility push.
Valve recently released a Linux version of Steam and has since been retrofitting older games to run on the open-source OS. It's a neat affirmation of the company's goal to broaden the choices for PC gamers, but not everyone is convinced—id Software's John Carmack believes Linux is a useful tool but bad for business.
The faux movie poster that five minutes and Photoshop made.
Gabe Newell and director J.J. Abrams conversed on stage this morning at the D.I.C.E. (Design, Innovate, Communicate, Entertain) summit in Las Vegas. After a back-and-forth about player agency and storytelling (via Polygon's live blog), Newell revealed that the duo had been "recapitulating a series of conversations going on," and that they're now ready to "do more than talk": Newell suggested "either a Portal movie or a Half-Life movie," and Abrams said he'd like to make a game with Valve.
Abrams is the currently reigning king of big franchise sci-fi filmmaking, taking his throne in the director's chair of both the Star Trek and Star Wars series. He's also known for producing Fringe, Cloverfield, and the maddening tale that was Lost.
In 2010, Newell told us that if Valve were to make a Half-Life movie, it wouldn't hand over control to any Hollywood studio, saying:
"There was a whole bunch of meetings with people from Hollywood. Directors down there wanted to make a Half-Life movie and stuff, so they’d bring in a writer or some talent agency would bring in writers, and they would pitch us on their story. And their stories were just so bad. I mean, brutally, the worst. Not understanding what made the game a good game, or what made the property an interesting thing for people to be a fan of.
"That’s when we started saying 'Wow, the best thing we could ever do is to just not do this as a movie, or we’d have to make it ourselves.'"
There are no details on Newell and Abrams' project—be it game, film, or both—outside of the tease that they're talking. But they're talking, so how about some fun speculation? Who would you cast as Chell? Alyx Vance? Gordon Freeman? We love Bryan Cranston for the latter role, but he may have aged beyond Freeman. Is Hugh Laurie still a favorite?
Frankly, I'm not sure the Dragonball Z anime series appeals to everyone. It takes a special kind of patience to sit through half a season of two muscle-ridden warriors just taunting each other before commencing the clubbing. Thankfully, the upcoming Earth's Special Forces mod skips the drawl and cuts to the brawls between Goku, Vegeta, Frieza, and other characters from the show. The twist? Its stunning visuals are all built on Goldsource, the same engine used for Half-Life.
Earth's Special Forces isn't new. Its development team has worked on and released various alpha versions of the frenetic fighter for nearly a decade, but its not-so-New-Year's trailer shows off the most recent efforts of pushing the aged Goldsource engine to its absolute limit. Floored reactions are proof enough: "I absolutely cannot believe this is the Goldsource engine. Unbelievable," reads one comment on Reddit. "On what engine is this running? CryEngine 3?" asks another.
As for what you actually do in Earth's Special Forces, the mod's website explains it thus: "Select your favorite character and fly, power up, transform, melee, and beam your enemies into pulp. Each character is given signature moves and abilities to compliment different style of play. Some are stronger in hand-to-hand combat, others are better with energy attacks. Play in three different game modes: deathmatch, team deathmatch, and capture the Dragonballs."
Not many games offer a mode where you blow up half the planet while chasing after euphemistically named spheres, but Earth's Special Forces pulls it off in gorgeous style. You can grab an older and less-glossy alpha version here to check it out, though it carries significant bugs and non-working bots.