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Halloween is on its way, and while ghosts and ghouls may have been the undead horrors of decades past, here in 2012 it's all about the zombies and their ilk.
What better way to get in the mood for spooky doom than with this weirdly lovely, thoroughly instructive image from Left 4 Dead 2? See zombie, apply flamethrower. Now that's useful advice for the ages.
Click the image to expand to its full hi-res gory glory.
Open Up [Dead End Thrills]
Here's the problem: Borderlands 2 has a ridiculous number of lootable things. Like, they're just everywhere. And even if I loot them, next time I boot the game up, there they are again. Full. Waiting to be opened. So I do it again, and again, and again. It never ends.
Picture this: a frenzy with badasses flanking me left and right, friends down and needing reviving, and what is my dumb butt doing? Getting shot in the face while elbow deep in shit: bullymong scat is also lootable.
It didn't used to be like that. But then I took a look at Borderlands' challenges, which award you badass tokens that you can redeem for stat upgrades. One of those challenges is called "Open Pandora's Boxes," and it involves opening any and all lootable objects.
It's so simple, and I can get perks for doing it—so of course I indulge. Under normal circumstances, Borderland's challenges, like those in many games, are okay: they encourage you to step outside your comfort zone and try new things, or they reward you for something you already do. I can get behind the well-crafted challenges.
"Hurly Burly," for instance, requires me to shoot bullymong projectiles out of midair—it's not something I would seek to do on my own, and it's a difficult thing to do, so I appreciate it's inclusion. Games like Left 4 Dead 2 in particular have countless number of amazing achievements and challenges: CL0WND has you honk the noses of 10 clowns, which you do by meleeing, (silly but amusing!) and Chaos Generator requires you to have all of the generators running at once in "The Sacrifice" (extra challenge, because each generator gives you a wave of zombies!)
But why give me incentive to do something that's not fun or meaningful? It's one thing to open a chest with guns in it—who doesn't get a little wide-eyed and single-minded when they see a chest? Chests are great. I want to open chests. There might be awesome guns in there.
The only reason I open the toilets scattered around the game is because I need ammo: a necessity, but not something I enjoy doing necessarily. But the second you introduce an achievement or a challenge, everything changes—regardless of how enjoyable it actually is to do. I'll do it anyway—and I think game designers sometimes abuse this compulsion.
For example, there are countless games with achievements like "kill x number of enemies with y gun." The issue is that the reason I don't use the gun in the first place is because it was awful or because there's a better gun. But instead of giving me a gun that's fun to use, I get a challenge to use the gun instead. So I'll use it, but I'm not going to be happy about it.
Stop that, game designers. It's a shortcut. You get me to do what you want, but it's not because you designed something worthwhile. You know you've got something on your hands when the player gravitates to do something, to experiment, without being explicitly told to do so. Not that I'm saying that's easy to design or anything—if it was, I'm guessing that more games would achieve it!
It's not all mechanical stumbles—sometimes, the problems rewards pose are more ideological. Bulletstorm has a special system called "skillshots", which give you extra points depending on how creatively you kill your enemies. The points flash up on the screen, and the whole idea is to try to one-up yourself with more elaborate kills as you go along. It turns out that the love of points above all else can be betraying. Brendan Keogh puts the experience of playing Bulletstorm best when he says:
It's all good fun. It's all satisfying and violent and everything you want from a shooter. But then my partner walks into the room while I am playing and sees what I am doing. Or I write it out in an essay like I just did, and it feels kind of… wrong. Whereas most shooters attempt to justify the endless violence with some kind of framing narrative or an unredeemably evil enemy, Bulletstorm is more honest. It is a murder simulator, and it doesn't try to be anything else.
Similarly, I get uncomfortable thinking not so much about what the game has me do, but the way in which it has me do it: points. Points change things, give me incentive, yes—but more alarmingly, in this case, points help dehumanize what's happening on the screen all the more. In Brendan's case, being rewarded for killing creatively turns out to be revealing inasmuch as it is betraying: it forces him to wonder if he enjoys the murder and the mayhem after all.
Bulletstorm doesn't tell me that I should feel bad for what I do in violent videogames. On the contrary, it tells me without a flicker of irony or doubt that this is and should be enjoyable. Actually, that isn't quite accurate. Bulletstorm doesn't tell me anything; it forces me to admit that I enjoy this. It's a strange, non-judging passive-aggression. Oh, you like murdering people in gory ways just for more meaningless points? That's nice. Here is a guy you could decapitate for twenty-five points. You don't have to, but I think we both know you want to.
The game acknowledges that we like what it has us do, doesn't it? Maybe points have nothing to do with it. Or maybe points just end the charade and make it all blatant. Where does the sadism begin, organically with the player, or via the encouragement that the reward brings? Are we just kidding ourselves by trying to draw a distinction?
Reward with caution, game designers: challenges, achievements and the like change everything, but not always for the better.
From one of my favorite YouTubers—and in the spirit of zombie week—comes this short and sweet clip of a very...unique encounter with Left 4 Dead 2's tank.
I never thought I'd feel bad for a zombie until now. There he was, minding his own business on a flushable porta potty when Coach decides to shoot him immediately after violating his privacy. Now, if he was reading a quantum physics book on the other hand...
Two in the Tank [YouTube]
When tech guru and Linux fan Michael Larabel visited Valve yesterday, he promised more info and pics than simply saying Steam was coming to Linux. Looks like he's come through.
Larabel has posted images of Left 4 Dead 2 running natively on Linux, and says a release of Steam itself - likely in the form of a beta at first - should be later this year.
In addition to Left 4 Dead 2, selected because of its "stable code base", he says Valve will be bringing other titles to the platform as well.
We're still waiting to hear back from Valve for an official comment on the matter.
Peter König is a concept art legend. Over the past quarter of a century his creature designs, sculptures and animation work have been featured in blockbuster hits like Jurassic Park, Starship Troopers and Cloverfield.
Which is all well and good, but he's also spent the last four years working as a concept artist, modeller and texture artist at Valve, where he's lent his talents to the Left 4 Dead series, Portal 2 and DOTA 2.
While there sadly aren't any images from Portal, and only one from DOTA 2, König's Left 4 Dead stuff is a treasure trove of the walking dead, rotting flesh and rejected designs for special infected that involved shooting rats out of a zombie's stomach.
You can see a nice collection of König's body of work, both in games and cinema, at his personal site.
Iain Andrews' site Steam Postcards has long been my wallpaper supplier of choice. Why? Because he plays games and takes screenshots that aren't the kind of thing you'd find in a magazine or popular internet video game website.
He instead takes, well, postcards. Scenic shots of the background, or the walls, or the sky, or whatever, finding stuff that just looks good, instead of stuff that makes the game look good.
His current subject of choice is id's RAGE, but scroll down the Tumblr page and you'll see games like Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Mirror's Edge, Mafia II, Team Fortress 2, Red Orchestra and even Kane & Lynch.
The images maybe aren't nice enough to print out and frame, but like I said, they're perfect for wallpapers!
Steam Postcards [enwandrews]
The importation of original Left 4 Dead maps into Left 4 Dead 2 rolls on, with the latest update to "Dead Air" delivering a new version of the Terminal map. Valve says the update brings matters "pretty close to being complete" but "at this stage what we really need is more testing." It's found a way to get you to do that.
Play a complete game of Versus in "Dead Air" and you will get an achievement, Valve says. When 60,000 people earn that achievement, the beta version of "Blood Harvest," the next map to be released, will be unlocked the following weekday.
"60,000 is going to be hard," L4D2's team writes on the official blog. "You can't rage quit and you need to work together."
Valve asks that gamers who get the achievement help others reach it as well, and post feedback and bugs to the Steam Forums and on the game's Facebook page. Progress toward 60,000 will be announced via Twitter.
Connecting Flights [Left 4 Dead Blog]
Toy company NECA revealed at Comic-Con today that its range of merchandise based on the intellectual properties of Valve will start shipping in 2012. Oh, and they also let us know what they'll be!
While there are sadly no pictures yet of the figures or merch, here's what you'll need to be saving your money for next year:
Gordon Freeman action figure
Atlas & P-Body action figures, replica Portal gun, "resin and plush" weighted companion cube
TEAM FORTRESS 2
Pyro, Heavy & Demo action figures
LEFT 4 DEAD 2
Boomer & Smoker action figures
So, mostly good news then! Bit of a shame about the L4D ones, though. I'd have liked to see the humans, Bill especially, up first.
Earlier this week, Valve issued a challenge to the Left 4 Dead 2 community: if 20,000 players beat the in-development "Cold Stream" campaign by Sunday, they'd get the re-release of "Dead Air" early. That goal was met in about four hours.
That means Left 4 Dead 2 owners will get the tweaked Left 4 Dead campaign early. No later than July 22, Valve says—barring an outbreak of Valve Time, naturally. The developer says its testing and finalizing the "Dead Air" re-release, as it's not yet ready for prime time.
Also interesting is that the Left 4 Dead team says it's "working on and testing a new version of the 'Dark Carnival' finale and some gameplay changes for finales in general." Dark Carnival clearly has its own final quirks, but I'm interested to see what Valve has planned for other finale changes.