Face Off pits two gladiators against each other as they tackle gaming's most perplexing conundrums. This New Year's Eve edition is a chronological throw-down: which decade gave PC gaming the most? Podcast Producer Erik Belsaas says it was the '90s—the origin of modern PC gaming. Executive Editor Evan Lahti insists it was the '00s, with its speedy internet, better PCs, and shinier graphics engines.
Evan: The 1990s had the CD-ROM and the McRib sandwich. The ‘00s had Windows XP and two terrible Star Wars movies. I think the latter birthed better games: the Battlefield series, Crysis, Company of Heroes, BioShock, Dragon Age: Origins, Guild Wars, The Sims, Rome: Total War, Star Wars: KOTOR, and the best Civilization games happened then. What've you got, Erik?
Erik: Lucasarts, id, Ion Storm, Interplay, Blizzard: the iconic names that created franchises that we still discuss today. “RTS,” “FPS,” and “MMO” had no meaning before the pioneers of the '90s came along with some-thing other than sequels and rehashes: Baldur's Gate, Wolfenstein 3D, Duke Nukem 3D, MechWarrior, Unreal Tournament and every LucasArts adventure game from Sam & Max to Grim Fandango.
Evan: This is going to devolve into who can name-drop more game titles, isn't it?
Erik: Pretty much.
Evan: Cool. In that case, let’s put the best we've got on the page. What are the top three games from your decade? Mine: WoW, Counter-Strike, and Half-Life 2.
Erik: Just three? How about X-COM, Fallout, and The Secret of Monkey Island. Timeless classics that we still play today.
Evan: Is that the best that the decade that gave us the Spice Girls has got, grandpa? The innovations of the '00s will last far longer. Half-Life 2 wasn't just the basis for the way modern action games tell stories, it’s the technological foundation for the most ambitious mods we have today and the preferred canvas for machinima creators. World of Warcraft’s meteoric rise brought PC gaming into popular culture, ruined innumerable marriages, and earned its own South Park episode. Top that.
Erik:Your great games are all parts of established franchises that began in the '90s. For that matter, the original Counter-Strike mod came out in 1999, before Valve turned it into a retail product! Take away the names that began in the '90s, the '00s would've created very little of their own.
Evan: Megabyte for megabyte, I’d rather replay Half-Life 2 than its predecessor. Likewise for Diablo II, Warcraft III, Fallout 3 and other major franchises that began in the '90s but matured in the '00s. I really think that the tech of the '00s (better operating systems, fast internet, faster PCs) produced better gaming experiences. EVE Online couldn't exist in the '90s. Team Fortress 2's dozens of free content updates couldn't have streamed down our wimpy modems—the same goes for 25-man WoW raids or a heavily modded playthrough of Oblivion or Morrowind.
Erik: You've got a short memory. EverQuest allowed 72-man raids. And before Oblivion and Morrowind came Daggerfall, which was amazing and heavily modded. Doom, the father of modding, came out in '93.
Evan: I’ll play your game, Belsaas. Here's my ace: Deus Ex, our most favorite game ever, happened in 2000.
Erik: Deus Ex is a good game...but how about StarCraft? Has any other game absolutely defined its genre or rallied an entire nation behind it like a sport?
Evan: I was worried you’d play the Korea card. What can I counter that with? The 100-million-selling main-stream success of The Sims? The booming popularity of independent gaming? ...Peggle?
Erik: Peggle? Well I’ve got...you know...uh...Carmen Sandiego. Fine. Peggle wins.
You needn’t see out the last few days of 2012 wallowing in a figgy pudding-induced sugar-crash: perk yourself up with this collection of the great features we’ve put up on the site this year. We’ve got informative how-to guides, insightful retrospectives, polemics, play-throughs, ‘making of’ stories and much more. Bookmark it now while you're still compos mentis and you’re sure to find something in here to jolt you back to life or, at the very least, help to annul the post-Crimbo indigestion.
PCG UK’s handsome and hirsute editor Graham Smith teaches you how to pull out equally handsome (but not especially hirsute) renders from Minecraft, while marvelling at the astonishing feats of architecture to be found on the PCG UK server.
10 best Portal 2 co-op maps
Phil Savage grabs a buddy and puts the community’s best Portal 2 maps to the test, or possibly vice versa. Convection funnels, laser death and no small amount of inter-player bickering ensues.
Skyrim: Week of Madness
The name does not lie: Rich Cobbett’s Skyrim diary, in which he installs 100 randomly selected mods is an experiment in genuine derangement. Not entirely safe for work, unless your workplace encourages inarticulately rendered BDSM.
Making of Minecraft
I wrote this! And I got in trouble for quoting Notch’s swearwords. Sorry, everyone who bought the magazine for their kids. Still, once you get past the F-word opener, it settles into a heartwarming tale of indie devs done good, a triumph born from equal parts serendipity and smarts.
Old friends: an ode to Defense of the Ancients
Cara Ellison recalls the original DotA. “Some people think that gaming is a solitary hobby. But for me, DotA was a way to connect with my real life friends through an experience that didn’t include a darkened room serving overpriced alcohol we couldn’t afford.”
The indies guide to game-making
Tom Francis hunts down the world’s premier indie devs, unfurls his needle-thin proboscis, plunges it into their brains and slurps out every last drop of advice from them. Then he squirts it all back out here. Drink deep, budding indies, for the advice is good!
Hearthfire: the beginner’s guide to homesteading and mass murder
All Chris Livingstone wanted was a home to call his own. Things don’t go to plan. “The air fills with the screams of the dying and the streets run crimson with the blood of the dead.” Oops!
12 year war: rise of wargaming
World of Tanks is now one of the biggest games on the planet, and its curators at Wargaming.net are, shall we say, rather comfortable. How did they find themselves with such phenomenal wealth? Tom Senior finds out.
It would be unfair to pick just one of Rich Cobbett’s terrific retrospectives (which we run every Saturday dontchaknow), so here’s his top three picks for this year: Hard Time, Les Miserables and Shadow President.
Flash of greatness
Rich McCormick stares enviously at the bright lights of the pro-gaming scene, and charts the ascendancy of Lee Young Ho, known to the Star Craft scene as Flash. Wipe your chin, McCormick!
Chris Livingston has retired from videogame heroism. Instead, every Sunday, he embarks on a career of more modest proportions: driving buses, cutting wood and occasionally igniting entire airports in a deadly maelstrom of flame.
Day z photo diary
Evan Lahti charts an epic journey through Chernarus in this excellent two-parter: “He was a survivor with one life to live. His backpack: filled with beans. His world: filled with zombies. These are his tales, and the tales of his inconsistently-brave friends. And the tales of the woman played by a man who loved him.” Part two is here.
The best Skyrim mods
Whether you’re looking for new looks, new loot, homesteads or fulsome quests, Tom Hatfield’s compilation of the finest mods should see you good.
The Elder Strolls
Chris Livingston once again proves that the most valiant path is often the most humble: “My name is Nordrick. I’m not a hero, I’m an NPC, and I’m here not to play Skyrim, but to live in it.”
Inside the final hours of Star Wars: Galaxies
When Star Wars: Galaxies shut down its servers, it was as if millions of headline writers trotted out the same Obi Wan quote and were suddenly silenced. Our very own Imperial agent Chris Thursten was there to watch the mighty MMO’s light wink out.
An Illusionist in Skyrim
Tom Francis is a coward. Not in real life, of course, where he is bold and manly and frequently wrestles giant salamanders with his bare hands. But when he wants to get away from it all, he settles into Skyrim: “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 E3 2012 press conference PC gamers deserve
Graham Smith imagines an alternative E3 - the one we deserve. “The first parties were more concerned with propping up their platforms with lifestyle buzzwords than making great games. Even the big publishers, EA and Ubisoft, seemed lost in the tall grass, offering almost nothing other than the expected sequels. I can’t help but think we could do it better.”
Dota 2 correspondent Cassandra Khaw dives into the game's holiday event to evaluate and explain it.
Greevils. Greevils everywhere. You knew the wide-bottomed children of Dota 2's Diretide event were going to be trouble. But still, you persisted in pouring essences into their eggs. Now look what happened: they've gone and destroyed Christmas.
Welcome to the Greeviling. (Well, "Frostivus," if you insist on being pedantic.) Much like the previous Dota 2 holiday event, this festive salute is one entrenched in chaos, comedy and consumerism. For reasons unknown, the entirety of Dota 2 is now infested with Greevils. Shops have been plundered, gifts have been ripped open and precious items have been scattered all across the woods. Needless to say, it's your responsibility to restore order and make off with stolen goods along the way.
How does The Greeviling work? Unlike Diretide, there is considerably less order involved in The Greeviling. Where the former required players to engage the game mode in three different stages, the Greeviling is a simple race to the finish: first team to obliterate 11 Greevil camps wins. To achieve this, teams will have wage battle against the nesting sites that routinely spawn throughout the match.
As elementary as that may sound, there are a few details to keep in mind. First and foremost, there are no shopkeepers to wheedle fine weaponry from. They've all fled, the cowards. The Greeviling provides just two ways to get items: by excavating the Christmas socks you begin each round with (these traditionally contain a Greevil whistle, a consumable and, in an instance of what might be called "Footwareception," a pair of boots) or by demolishing Greevil camps and picking up gifts from the ruins. What makes this somewhat challenging is the fact there is no guarantee that the items earned will, in any way, be of great use to your hero. To make things even more complicated, there is no guarantee that you will actually get an item—it's entirely possible that the game will randomly distribute your prize to the enemies instead. Ever wondered what it'd be like to play Sand King with nothing but a Ring of Aquila and an Ethereal Blade while facing off against a Life Stealer with a full armament? Now's your chance.
However, this isn't the primary feature. As the name of the event may have implicated, the Greeviling is all about these multi-colored, marauding pests. Before every match, you'll be asked to pick one of your domesticated Greevils to bring into the fray. If you don't own of one of these kleptomaniacs, a naked member of the species will be temporarily assigned to you. Each of these Greevils come with abilities and statistics of their own, both of which are dependent on the kind of essences that have been infused in their eggs. Unsurprisingly, the naked Greevils are usually bottom-of-the-barrel material—unless you get extraordinarily lucky—while those that have been enriched with a more exotic collection of essences tend to be potent opponents.
Like strange, organic Transformers, you'll be able to switch between your chosen Hero and pet Greevil at will—all it takes is a toot on the whistle. Is it worth morphing into one of those wretched beasts? Most of the time, the answer is yes. By and large, your Greevil is going to be significantly more dangerous than your Hero.
With snow everywhere, the river completely frozen over—nothing quite matches the hilarity of a Squiddles-wielding Tidehunter careening helplessly across the ice—and not a single creep in sight, The Greeviling can be a disorienting experience. Easily completed within the span of about 10 to 15 minutes, your mileage may vary. Some will like the unabashed silliness, others will not. Unlike its predecessor, The Greeviling won't allocate you additional cosmetic goods if you perform better than your foes. Everyone simply gets a box of shinies; it's merely a question of whether there is the opportunity for slighter better loot or not.
The Greeviling is not the finely-tuned juggernaut that base Dota 2 is. But I do see it as an opportunity to amass hoards of decorative accouterments for future usage or trade. After all, isn't this the season for wanton capitalism and bargains?
A sudden Greevil population explosion has cancelled Christmas in Dota 2, but teams Red and Blu face bigger problems in Team Fortress. The robot menace introduced in the MvM update continues to threaten the values that TF2's nine classes hold dear, like the right to not spend Christmas battling sinister robot versions of themselves.
A new, massive MvM map called Big Rock has been added to the playlist. The clanking hordes now feature robotic Engineers who can set up teleporters to help their robo-buddies leapfrog large chunks of the map. "Naughty" and "Nice" boxes will drop throughout the event, offering rare weapons and winter items respectively to those who have the festive frivolity to purchase keys for them.
The new weapons include "The Rescue Ranger," a high tech shotgun for the Engineer, a "Loose Cannon" grenade launcher for the Demoman and a new medi-gun called the "Vaccinator." It wouldn't be a Team Fortress event without a new comic. This one's called THE SHADOW BOXERS.
There's a large penguin on Steam's about page, so either TF2 has got itself a surprising 10th class, or Valve have released Steam's experiments in Linux delivery to the public.
It's the latter (although I really wouldn't put it past the TF2 team). Now anyone can join the Steam Linux beta, simply by clicking the install button from one of the relevant operating systems.
So far there are only 36 games available to try for the service, but between Team Fortress, Red Orchestra, Unity of Command and the selection of indie games, there should be plenty to keep you busy for now.
Valve have also set up a GitHub repository for bug reporting on any issues that will (inevitably) arise at this beta stage.
"You can call it the Zero-Point Energy Field Manipulator if you really want to," Half-Life 2's Alyx Vance said as we were introduced to the Gravity Gun, one of the most memorable physics-twisting tools of PC gaming. Soon you'll be able to lug around your very own triumph of science: collectible manufacturing company NECA announced a 1:1 Gravity Gun replica available for purchase in spring 2013.
Though it misses this holiday shopping season by a few gluons, the model—still in an early prototype stage—looks like it'll tout just as much fine detail as NECA's Portal Gun. A pre-order form should be available soon, NECA said. We presume it won't take headcrab legs as currency.
Far Cry 3's included level editor provides all the tools and textures necessary for crafting unique multiplayer maps, but one tinkerer has instead taken to recreating some very familiar locales with uncanny accuracy. As reported by MP1st, user ShadowZack has shared a series of maps fashioned after popular arenas from Battlefield, Call of Duty, and Counter-Strike.
You can nab ShadowZack's works through Far Cry 3's in-game multiplayer map search simply by typing his name. You'll find Battlefield 3's Noshahr Canals and Wake Island, Counter-Strike's Dust and Aztec, and Call of Duty's Nuketown all carefully recreated right down to the placement of crates and convenient slabs of concrete cover. ShadowZack also released some flyby and progress videos for the maps as they were constructed, which you can watch below.
Far Cry 3 itself has two gigantic jungle island environments. We got lost. We shot animals. We drank weird potions. We wrote a review, so have a look.
Remember Uplink? (No, not that Uplink.) Valve called its original demo for Half-Life "Uplink" in 1999. It took place during Gordon Freeman's journey through the spooky Lambda Core, but Valve eventually cut the content, later repackaging it as a separate demo. Black Mesa: Uplink reproduces Uplink's levels through Black Mesa's art assets and textures.
Tasked with reactivating an antenna to send a distress signal, players must guide Gordon and his magical, mighty crowbar (minds out of the gutter, kids) through the Lambda complex's radioactive bowels. You'll meet Black Mesa denizens we all know and love: scientists, Barney, Vortigaunts, dead scientists, and headcrabs. Because it was a demo, however, Uplink doesn't last long, but it presents a new branch in Black Mesa's storied saga.
Grab Uplink from Mod DB. Note: You'll need the also-free Black Mesa for it to work.
Lambent Stew's free, web-based Steam Time Analysis tool laid bare my backlog of shame by breaking down time spent (or not spent) on each of my library's games like some sort of cold, ruthless PowerPoint presentation. The breadth of information provided is quite impressive. Over email, Stew told us the new build includes a few new features that further visualize users' habits.
You're now be able to compare your profile with those on your friends list for games owned, how many were played, and total hours played. (Our own Executive Editor Evan Lahti only played around 16 percent of his over 1300-game stable, the lazy bum.)
Similar to another homebrewed utility, a new worth calculator also provides combined figures for minimum, maximum, and current game prices in your library. Locating your own profile should be easier with improved search: just type in your Steam profile ID, and the tool should easily zero in on your data.
Check out the tool for yourself on Lambent Stew's website. How do you rank against your friends? What's your most-played game?
Valve have revealed the final five winners of the Dota 2 Polycount Contest, including the recipient of the Best Overall award. The modelling competition tasked entrants with creating a unique item set for one of the heroes, and the Dota 2 team have been listing their favourites over the past week.
The winning set, Rider of the Storm, gives a new mount and items to the Disruptor. Valve said of their pick, "the mount, Rampant the Scaled Hunter, is a wicked alternative to the default with both runed beak and feathers drawing attention and creating a sleek sense of direction. Disruptor himself looks battleready and grim. The beard design and eye-patch make the portrait stand apart and both also read well at game-distance. Technical execution is at the professional level."
Disruptor - Rider of the Storm
There were also sets announced for Doom Bringer, Dazzle, Shadow Shaman and Sniper. All eleven announced winners will be rolled into the game for Frostivus, Dota 2's typically strange Christmas event. The update promises "riotous behaviour," presents nestled under towers and possibly ice-skating.
The victorious creators will each receive a share of the sales from their in-game items, as well as their own special versions and a custom trophy-ward.