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Sep 28, 2012
Valve did a sneaky, small-but-significant thing recently: it expanded its "Top Sellers" list on Steam to include one hundred games. The sales leaderboard doesn't tell us exactly how many copies a game sold, but it gives us a vague idea of how well certain games are doing on Steam in a given moment.
It's an inherently misleading metric—take that as a disclaimer. Still, as we sit in the shadow of some of 2012's biggest releases, I'd like to take a crack at gleaning what we can from this moment in time.
2K's having a great end of the year.
The $50 pre-sale of XCOM is outselling everything but Borderlands 2 on Steam. We might be able to chalk that up to fairly generous pre-purchase incentives (which could include a free copy of Civ 5 if enough people pre-buy it). It might be mild evidence that demos still work, too. Borderlands 2's high concurrent user count over the past few days (reaching 123,758 last weekend) is also evidence that 2K will win the weeks connecting September and October on Steam.
Digital pre-orders are a thing.
XCOM isn't the only thing-you-can-buy-but-can't-play-yet doing well. Joining the unreleased are Dishonored at #7, War of the Roses at #12, Football Manager 2013 at #17, Company of Heroes 2 at #29, and Hitman Absolution at #51. Even though there's no chance of a game going out of stock, Steam users don't seem to mind putting money down in advance, especially if they're rewarded with bonus content or a small discount for doing so.
Where are the MMOs? Oh, right.
Zero MMOs appear in today's top 100. I might consider that unsurprising—we wouldn't expect too many people to be picking up competitors while Guild Wars 2 and Pandaria are drawing the attention, and neither are available on Steam. Still, it's a little surprising not to see RIFT ($10) or EVE Online: Inferno ($20) popping up anywhere.
Call of Duty remains a PC fixture.
The sense that Call of Duty remains a fixture for PC gamers is supported by SteamGraph data. Some form of Call of Duty make up 10 whole entries of the Steam's top 100. Many of those are map packs, but the performance of Call of Duty: Black Ops - Mac Edition (#41) is interesting to me. It released yesterday, September 27, and it's outperforming stuff like Civ V: GOTY and Natural Selection 2. Modern Warfare 3 is 50% off until October 1, and it's sitting comfortably at #5.
DayZ continues to have a long tail.
I don't think Arma 2: Combined Operations (what you need to play DayZ) has left the top ten of Steam's Top Sellers since it caught on in May and June. It seems to be outperforming other games that released in May and June like Sins: Rebellion (#56), Max Payne 3 (#76), Civ 5: Gods & Kings (#20), and Spec Ops: The Line (unlisted).
Below: the data, captured at 6:05 PM PDT. Ctrl + Fing encouraged.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown
Total War Master Collection
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
Carrier Command: Gaea Mission
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
Arma 2: Combined Operations
Empire: Total War
War of the Roses
Borderlands 2 Season Pass
FTL: Faster Than Light
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Football Manager 2013
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim - Dawnguard
Sid Meier's Civilization V - Gods 'n Kings
Dark Souls: Prepare To Die Edition
The Binding of Isaac
Half Minute Hero: Super Mega Neo Climax Ultimate Boy
Left 4 Dead 2
Hell Year! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit
Hearts of Iron III: Their Finest Hour
Rome: Total War - Gold
Company of Heroes 2
Total War Shogun 2 - Fall of the Samurai
Sid Meier's Civilization V
Borderlands: Game of the Year
Total War Mega Pack
The Walking Dead
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 Collection 3: Chaos Pack
Call of Duty: Black Ops - Mac Edition
Binding of Isaac: Wrath of the Lamb
Sid Meier's Civilization V: Game of the Year
Total War: SHOGUN 2
The Sims 3
Hearts of Iron 3 Collection
The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings Enhanced Edition
Train Simulator 2013
The Testament of Sherlock Holmes
Medieval II Gold
Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion
Orcs Must Die! 2 - Family Ties Booster Pack
Call of Duty: Black Ops II
The Amazing Spider-Man
Orcs Must Die! 2
Saints Row: The Third
Dead Island: GOTY
Natural Selection 2
Orcs Must Die! 2 - Complete Pack
Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Rome: Total War - Complete
The Orange Box
Borderlands 2 + Official Brady Guide
Batman: Arkham City GOTY
Arma 2: Operation Arrowhead
Grand Theft Auto IV
Call of Duty: World at War
Max Payne 3
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
I Am Alive
Fallout 3: GOTY
Valve Complete Pack
Fallout: New Vegas Ultimate Edition
Mount & Blade: Warband
New Star Soccer 5
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 Collection 2
Magic: The Gathering - Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 Expansion
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare® 3 Collection 1
Might & Magic Heroes VI - Danse Macabre Adventure Pack
Magic: The Gathering - Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013
Call of Duty: Black Ops
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD
STAR WARS: Knights of the Old Republic II
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
Planets Under Attack
Transformers: Fall of Cybertron
Age of Empires III: Complete Collection
Reiterating: We don't know what formula or data drives Steam's Top Sellers rankings. It's probably safest to consider them a representation of what games are selling well in one moment of time on Steam.
Shooters traditionally espouse linearity in their design, favoring tightly controlled sequences of lulls and action as players progress to the next room/ruined room/room-like battle. Open world shooters such as Far Cry 3 dispense direction for player freedom, but skirting boredom or uber-tough enemies still presents a challenge. At the Eurogamer Expo, Far Cry 3 lead designer Jamie Keen said his team took "huge inspiration" from open world successes such as the Elder Scrolls series for keeping interest levels high.
"We've had to take a little bit of a different approach to most shooters," Keen said. "In order to keep a player engaged over a period of time, there are certain other genres we have to look into to keep that engagement. So we've been looking at things like MMOs and other open world titles. The Elder Scrolls series is a huge inspiration for us along with games like Red Dead and other Rockstar games."
Keen also revealed over 250 "encounter types" exist in Far Cry 3 as players explore. Encounters won't constantly recycle either, as Keen said the game tracks your experiences and attempts to throw some new island madness your way whenever possible.
"We don't want you to feel like, 'Oh, it's this encounter again. I've seen this one'," Keen added. "You know, 'Arrow to the knee,' for example. While it's actually quite cool, we don't necessarily want that. You end up with this real feeling of diversity of things going on. And you will see the same encounter again, but hopefully there's enough of them that you won't remember it, probably."
Sep 27, 2012
This is the diary of me attempting to play Skyrim using only Illusion magic: I'm not allowed any weapons, armour, or magical items, and I can't attack anyone directly. The first entry is here, or you can see all entries to date here.
I'm in: I passed my initiation, got my official armour, sold my official armour, and am now an enlisted soldier of the Imperial Legion. In a dress.
More importantly, I still haven't broken my rule: no direct violence, only illusion spells. Hiring a lackey has solved the one problem I couldn't work around: killing quest-critical targets when there's no-one left to turn against them.
My next assignment is to retrieve an artifact called the Jagged Crown, and my commanding officer Legate Rikke is going to meet me at the fort with a team. Before I head out, I visit Solitude's court wizard to buy some spells: Courage, to buff and revive my allies; Calm, because people need to chill the hell out; and Muffle, not because my footsteps need muffling, but because I want something to repeatedly cast on myself to level up my Illusion skill.
The Nord tomb of *clears throat* Korvanjund is on the other side of the country, but I'm not using fast travel. That's basically teleporting, and teleportation is not Illusion.
The natural first stop is the stables just outside Solitude. But after a lot of awkwardly jostling amongst their horses, I can't seem to find a safe spot to steal one. And I certainly can't afford to buy. So we walk - while I repeatedly Muffle my feet.
Shortly after we emerge from the swamp outside Solitude, we see some steps leading up to a mountain temple, and a gang of people fighting on them. It seems like three bandits are all attacking one woman, so I try Calming them to even the odds. The two I hit immediately holster their weapons and amble about while the woman kills their friend. One by one, she kills them too. Hurray, my arbitrarily chosen side won!
The woman explains that her friend stole a sword from those bandits, and the bandits blamed her. My game-character brain interprets this as a quest: find the sword! Kill the bandits! Break some kind of curse? Rescue a guy maybe? Whatever, it's a dungeon, just go in.
Inside, inevitably, the bandits attack.
"You'll never leave Skyrim aliiiiive!" the first one screams, just before my Calm spell hits him. He stops mid-swing and looks at me, offended. "Hey! There's no need to use magic on me!" He walks off.
Belrand bashes the other bandit's head in, then stops. Out of politeness, I guess, he won't attack a Calm enemy. The three of us stand there awkwardly for a while, as the dead bandit's corpse slides slowly down some steps. Then the spell breaks, the calm bandit becomes enraged, and Belrand brings his mace down on him.
In the first chamber of this crypt, I find a note from the sword-thief explaining that he was trying to return it to the tomb: taking it had angered the Pale Lady. Anne Hathaway? Weird.
I also find an enormous battleaxe and give it to Belrand. He equips it eagrely.
The next group of bandits is a big one. I Calm any that come near me, and admire Belrand's style. He switches back to mace and shield to block an archer's arrows as he charges her and beats her to death, then brings out the axe to take on a swordsman. The guy blocks his swings again and again, but it's not enough: the sheer weight of the weapon just crumples him.
That's when the mages come in. Two of them come at us, lightning crackling from their hands. I try to Calm them down, but nothing happens - I'm unexpectedly out of juice. Shit! Lightning drains mana! I can't really do anything without mana.
I'm seriously low on health, completely out of mana, and trapped in an awkward corner with the lightning bandit bearing down on me. And then something weird happens.
Next Thursday: The Pale Lady
Sep 23, 2012
You there! How would you like to transform into a vampire lord? You get this fine set of flightless leathery wings, you can throw balls of red magic at people to leech some of their life, and you can summon a pet gargoyle! All for the low low price of I bite you in the neck and it gets kinda weird for a while but then I stop again.
The alternative, in Dawnguard, is to join the Dawnguard, who hunt vampires with crossbows and tame trolls. The vampiric option is a bit more exotic, but both sides seem pretty exciting, don’t they? And it’s Skyrim! It’s already amazing! About the only way this could be a let down is if both questlines steered you awkwardly into the same brain-numbingly dry prophecy guff and it crashed constantly!
So, er, the bad news first: that. Despite being presented with a choice between two factions with literally opposite objectives, both routes end up sending you on mostly the same errands, to achieve the same thing, and stop the same enemy. Which wouldn’t be so disappointing if it was a twisty, juicy, interesting plot. When it’s visiting a series of shrines to fill an urn with sacred water – as a floating genocidal vampire lord – it’s tough to enjoy
It’s also unbelievably shoddy. The very first quest marker you get is completely wrong, leading to tedious minutes trying to climb a mountain that has nothing at the top. Half the characters keep repeating their greetings on a maddening loop, then cut their plot-critical lines short after a few words, omitting essential information. When I first got the ability to turn into a vampire lord, actually doing so caused every vampire in the vampire mansion to attack me for being a vampire. The worst kind of racists.
Vampire Lord mode, while an excellent phrase, is generally problematic. Entering it disables essential functions like the map, first-person mode, the ability to interact with quest-critical objects, and even the ability to bring up the magic menu to select the ‘turn back into a human’ option. Instead you have to fumble around to discover your favourites menu has secretly been replaced with a new one, and it’s one of the skills on there.
I’m playing with no mods installed, and Dawnguard regularly crashes to desktop. On one PC that runs Skyrimperfectly, it crashes consistently at the same point in Dawnguard, rendering it uncompletable. Even after a patch, it’s still buggy.
It’s tough, because Dawnguard takes you to some beautiful places. They have all the visual drama of Skyrim’s most spectacular views: a lonely rope bridge over a heart-stopping ice chasm, a secret glade filled with amber light, a winding path leading out of an underground mushroom forest and into the blinding white cloud of a mountaintop. Exploring these has a real sense of adventure, and that’s Dawnguard’s biggest strength.
But because they’re sprinkled across disconnected islands, caves and alternate realms, you never get the sense of a whole new land to explore. The Elder Scrolls community is already churning out gorgeous new places like this, not to mention new abilities.
The things Bethesda can potentially do better are story and quality assurance, both of which they bungle spectacularly here. There’s fun stuff in Dawnguard, but £14 ought to buy you something a hell of a lot more polished.
When originally published this review carried a score of 69, instead of the 59 that appeared in the magazine. This was an error and has since been corrected.
Sep 21, 2012
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - firstname.lastname@example.org (Robert Yang)
Sep 20, 2012
And so it was foretold. Once every generation there shall be a new Elder Scrolls game, and it shall be in an updated engine. And a band of heroes every generation shall take on a great quest: to convert Morrowind into that engine. This time round, the Skywind project shall heed the call, bringing Morrowind's combat, characters and environments to the latest version of Bethesda's Creation Engine.
Modder, Eloth, has been posting some lovely early shots of the project in the Morroblivion forums. It's still a work in progress, but the mod already has already captured the giant mushrooms and weird architecture that makes Morrowind so strange and memorable. Check out the videos and screenshots below for an early look.
Eloth also helped out with the Morroblivion project, which ported Morrowind into the Oblivion engine. Skywind is a team effort, though, and that team are currently on the lookout for volunteers to help speed things up. Visit the Skywind development forum for more details.
There are also plans to port Oblivion into the Skyrim engine as part of the mod, as you'll see in the video of the Imperial City below. This is, of course, excellent news, because then we can start calling it "Skyblivionwind."
Sep 20, 2012
I'm playing Skyrim with a rule: illusion magic only. No direct violence, just pure deception - which makes my current task tricky. Before I can join the Imperial Guard, I have to clear out a fort full of bandits. I've finally lured the toughest of them to his death at the hands of a passing archer on the road to Solitude, but there are lots more left alive.
Back at the fort, I have the same problem. I barge into the keep, use my Fury spell to trick the guy with the battleaxe into killing all his friends, then hit a brick wall. He won't follow me out, and no-one will follow me in, so I'm left with one very angry man I can't kill.
There's one more segment to the keep. Inside, I Fury two bandits, get backed into a corner, then jump over a table to escape them. Downstairs, a woman with a mace and a shield comes at me, so I Fury her too and duck into a cell. As they cluster to get at me, they realise they all have closer targets they're equally angry at, and fight amongst themselves.
The woman destroys them, batting them away like flies. I slip out while she's finishing the last one off with an overhead smash, and get back outside.
Even if there's some secret tunnel that connects these two wings of the fort, my problem is the same: one will be left standing. I need more options. I need to go back to town.
It's not far, but I still manage to get lost and take a strange non-path over the mountains. I pass a small herd of goats, and decide to Fury them for practice. They all charge me. Then gobs of venom starting splashing into me, and I realise there are two giant spiders hiding in the trees. I Fury more goats and stumble awkwardly down a steep slope to get away.
Back in Solitude, I visit the Winking Skeever tavern to see if the bartender can sell me any illusion spells - less unlikely in Skyrim than it might sound. He does not. But in the corner, sitting at a table by himself, is a hoary old warrior type. It finally hits me: can't you hire people?
You can. But hiring Belrand, who announces himself to be a spell-sword, costs twice as much money as I have. I do have a couple of gold tiaras I inexplicably found on the bandits I tricked into killing each other, but even after selling those I'm a little short. As someone who doesn't wear armour or weapons, the only other valuable possessions I have are health potions, which I sort of need.
On the other hand, there are an awful lot of health potions lying around this inn. You can't sell stolen property to reputable vendors in Skyrim, but I wouldn't have to: once I've stolen all of his, I could sell the inkeeper mine.
It's laughably easy: most of them are on shelves in empty rooms, and even out in the open, there are only four people in the whole joint. I nab almost as much in coin purses as I net from selling my potions, and pretty soon I can hire Belrand with change. It's not magic, but the old fashioned switcheroo should be in every illusionist's repetoire. Belrand and I set off into the mountains.
He's a nice enough chap: he looks like John Malkovich pushing his face through a mop. He keeps calling me 'elf' derisively, then asking if there's anything he can do for me. It's going to be a weird relationship.
When we get to the fort, I check he's close behind and walk into the battleaxe bandit's building. He charges at me. Belrand takes one swipe at his neck and he collapses, axe clattering on the stone. Awesome. Next!
Mace lady is a tougher nut: she has a shield, and she's keenly interested in attacking me instead of Belrand. I actually have to Fury her to persuade her that we're equally tempting targets, and she and Belrand trade dozens of expertly blocked blows. I am thoroughly entertained.
Mace lady is better at it, thanks to the shield, but just as she gets into her stride, Belrand throws up a dazzling white dome of light. She doesn't seem to know what to do about it, and while she flounders, Belrand cuts her down with a rapid flurry of slashes. She actually surrenders, but Belrand just slays her on her knees. Well, I guess that's what I paid for.
More to the point, I've done it: all the bandits are dead, I didn't break any of my rules, and my initiation for the Imperial Legion is finally complete.
Before we go, I pick up the mace and shield and give them to Belrand. "Something for me? Can I keep it?" he asks, then laughs. "Just kidding!" Go ahead, man, you nearly died getting hold of them.
Back in Solitude, after much fanfare and oath-swearing, I'm told to collect my new uniform from the blacksmith. He presents me with an immaculate set of Imperial Steel armour. I sell it back to him for 140 gold.
Next Thursday: The Pale Sword
Behold these lovely screenshots and videos from Skywind, the ambitious fan-driven project to mod all of Morrowind in the world of Skyrim.
The project is already pretty stunning, but they have a ways to go. The modders are posting about their plans and goals on the forums of Morroblivion, a site designed to re-create Morrowind in Oblivion.
(And in case you want more Elder Scrolls recreations, it looks like they're making Oblivion in Skyrim too: You can see the Imperial City from Oblivion in one of the videos below.)
Bethesda's Vice President of PR Pete Hines recently spoke with GamesIndustry.biz about the lessons Bethesda has learned about how to earn both fan satisfaction and money, an especially critical component for The Elder Scrolls Online's business model.
"You can look at something like Horse Armor pack as an example," Hines says. "The reaction to Horse Armor wasn't just about price. It was more of a lesson: when you're going to ask somebody to pay X, do they feel like they're getting Y in exchange? If they don't feel like they're getting their money's worth, they're going to bitch."
Bluntness aside, Hines' thoughts seem like a sensible take on the public's reaction to common controversies like day-one DLC.
"It's not about the amount of money," he states. "It's about giving players really good value for what you're making them pay for. That's not an Elder Scrolls specific philosophy; I think that's a philosophy for us across everything, whether it's a game or DLC or an MMO or whatever. We have to make sure we're providing enough quality for what you're paying for, whatever you're paying for, so that the customer feels satisfied enough to declare, 'I got good value for my money.'"
Check out GamesIndustry's report for the full interview.
Sep 17, 2012
Epic Games frontman Cliff Bleszinski conducted a crowdsourced interview with Reddit over the weekend in the popular "Ask Me Anything" subreddit. A number of noteworthy responses cropped up regarding Bleszinski's thoughts on revisiting older IPs, modding's explosive popularity, and (though very definitely not announcing this) an open-world reboot of Unreal, among other answers. Check out a few choice quotes below:
On the potential for a Jazz Jackrabbit reboot:
"Not any time soon. We're (fortunate) slaves to our success here at Epic with great franchises like Gears of War and Infinity Blade. It seems like a risky bet: Could we see a 2D platform game return and really move that many units, or would it just be a cult hit?
"We make games as a labor of love, but we also try to weigh the choice of what we build based upon a solid understanding of the business. How could Jazz exist and flourish in this market? I don't know, honestly. One idea that George Broussard and I discussed years ago was to bring back Jazz as an FPS, Jumping Flash style. But yeah, we'll do that in our 'spare' time."
When are we getting a return to the PC FPS glory that was Unreal?
"It seems as if you're asking about two entirely different games. The first Unreal was more of a single player exploratory experience whereas Unreal Tournament was a multiplayer focused game with a 'ladder' for the single player. Both have their strengths and weaknesses.
"I was quoted recently on a Fortnite panel about the first Unreal and what a reboot might look like. Having really grown into a big Bethesda fan lately (Skyrim rocked my world), I couldn't help but wonder what a reboot of Unreal would be like if it was more 'SciFi-Rim.' Sure, there would be shooting involved, but exploration would almost be more important. Get back to that sense of wonder that the first game had. (Caves and castles and crashed ships are basically your dungeon instances, whereas the 'overworld' is less intense.) Put it on a high-end PC, and prepare yourself for amazing visuals never before seen in real time.
"As far as a new UT, it's hard to say. Shooters and their sequels are a tricky beast. Often you wind up upsetting your core whenever you make a sequel because sometimes you change things the users didn't want changed, or the users are so very in love with their memory of the original game that there's nothing you can do to live up to the first game. This happened with Counter-Strike: Source, Quake 2, Unreal Tournament 2003, and heck, even Halo 2. All that said, I do personally believe that Unreal Tournament 3 suffered a bit from an identity crisis in regards to whether or not it was a PC or console game.
"So if, when? I don't know, honestly. We're understaffed right now for all of the projects we've got going on, so I can't say if or when it may happen. I do love that IP, and I do hope to return to Na Pali some day.
"P.S.: The delta between the current crop of consoles and a high end PC is incredibly obvious now. Looking at Hawken at PAX versus the other console games and this difference is startling. FYI, Fortnite is a PC-first game."
If there's one current trend (DLC, pre-order exclusives, etc.) you could change in the game industry, what would it be and why?
"I'd make sure there's still a place for survival-horror games to exist and floursh. There have been a few that have come back (Amnesia comes to mind), but by and large the genre has almost vanished. Fatal Frame 2 and Silent Hill 2 are two of my favorite games of all time.
"I believe that one of the main factors for this is the blockbuster-hit driven nature of the business that we have in a disc-based market. You're either Call of Duty, Skyrim, or Gears, or it seems like you're a 'campaign rental' or a used game. When we get to a digitally delivered world, I'd wager that there will be room for, say, a 20 dollar short and fun and scary experience to emerge."
What do you think of DayZ, and as a successful game designer, do you consider the success of games like DayZ, Minecraft, and Kerbal Space Program changing the way you think about gamers and how to design for them?
"I haven't had a chance to play DayZ myself, but I've seen the viral videos. That mod is a prime example of my theory stating, 'Bugs notwithstanding, there's a direct correlation between how cool your game is and how many interesting YouTube videos it can yield.' I loved the 'Never trust anyone in DayZ, especially if they have a helicopter' video. Pure gold.
"So, put the survival and social aspects aside for a second and step back and consider that we're in a world where a mod like that can blow up thanks to the connected nature of the world in which we live. A handful of guys can now have a great idea for the next big thing and put it out and it can explode seemingly overnight! We had seen this before with mods like Counter-Strike, but it's only become more and more frequent lately.
"My wife and I were very hooked on Minecraft for months. It's brilliant, and I have a lot of respect for Notch and the crew at Mojang, and I find it thrilling that unique games like the aforementioned can flourish now."
You have unlimited funds and processing power. What film/novel/comic book would you make into a game?