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The thing about Super Monday Night Combat is that it's charming and personable, all while maintaining a playful tone. At first, there might not seem to be much to the class-based third person shooter beyond the mechanics—the way that Uber Entertainment develops the world is subtle. I like that about the game, too. It means that when Super Monday Night Combat delivers commentary that parodies serious subjects from real life, like politics or advertising, those who don't care aren't bashed over the head with messages or ideas they're indifferent to. For the rest of us, the MOBA shooter offers an absurd but smart and self-aware world to dig into. Sometimes, it'll make you chuckle, too.
This all happens under the watchful eye of a camera and announcers, of course: murder and mayhem needs a cheering crowd, TV ratings and play-by-play commentary.
With the type of circus the American media is famous for, it shouldn't be surprising that the characters in Super Monday Night Combat feel like the cast of a futuristic reality TV show. Y'know, if we had cloning and genetic engineering and if our animals had human-like sentience.
What kind of a society would create a sport like Monday Night Combat? Ours, probably! That's what makes Super Monday Night Combat's world so provocative. What it presents the player isn't particularly far-fetched, in some ways the world of SMNC is one that we already inhabit.
We come to learn of SMNC's world primarily through its announcers, who occasionally make quips about the insane conditions beyond the stadium stands. Not that the ‘real world' will get in the way of the blood sport, mind...just like, say, any of the wars we're engaged in in real life won't interrupt the next American Idol broadcast. The first Monday Night Combat was slightly better for this: Mickey Cantor, the announcer, had endless lines musing over the societal climate and the police state that created it. Some of my favorite lines from the first game:
"Hi, everybody. This is Mickey Cantor reminding all the fans in the upper deck to check their ticket stub against the results of our population control lottery after the game tonight. Hey, good luck, everybody. We hope we see you tomorrow."
"To the lucky fan seated in Section 313, Row 7, Seat 8...CON-GA-RATS! You've been chosen to donate a kidney to the member of the elite overclass. Please stop by the press box to make your donation, pick up your voucher for a free stick of butter and some pre-war tomato seeds.
"Hehe. Hey everybody, it's Monday Night Combat's loveable mascot, Bullseye! Kill him. Kill him NOW!"
"Achilles! If the mind is your enemy's greatest weapon, that's all the more reason to shoot them in the head."
Super Monday Night Combat continues to build on this war-state where food, population and food scarcity are a problem. Despite the dire war situation, this is a society that loves violence so much, they're encouraged to bring personal snipers to shoot the mascot during gametime. Presidents are dictators-for-life. Violating copyright law results in entire generations of your family killed. It's all ridiculous and I adore that. The new announcers—Mickey Cantor is replaced in SMNC—similarly chat about their crazy world, though to a lesser extent, as the developers have prioritized banter that guides players toward game objectives.
Still, it's not just disembodied voices occasionally telling the player about SMNC's society. The world-building and commentary happen through the mechanics of the game, as well. Players take the role of specialized clones that have been manufactured to be athletes. Beyond being food for thought when it comes to the future of genetic engineering and sports, it also sets up player's ability to equip "endorsements" in the game. Endorsements are attribute-influencing ‘items' that double as advertisements. "The eye. The hunger. The attraction. The shot placement. Iturba by Martell Pierre" is a personal favorite, an endorsement that's meant to advertise a ‘classier' item to the player. There are also ‘products,' which function similarly to endorsements, but without any side-effects. Both of these can alter things like player accuracy, to bestowing the ability to drop bombs once dead.
SMNCembraces the possibilities of a future that's ludicrously overrun by advertisements. The announcers like to act as shills who will try to ‘sell' players on various products. Their ‘priming' works—if only because most of the products they talk about are kind of required purchases if a player wants to remain competitive in the battlefield. There's also special attacks, like "product grenades," that obscure the enemy's vision by overloading their screen with advertisements. These grenades are effective against bots, too.
When you take a look at any sport's playing field—or even the attire worn by players—this isn't really that crazy, is it? I mean, consider that the average person sees around 5,000 advertisements every day. All done to cover every possible base, as a company can't know where a possible consumer will be at any given time, so why not make sure there's no way one can avoid the advertisements?
There's subtle commentary in-game, too. All players start out on an equal playing field, and the only way to gain an advantage is to farm bots for money to purchase skill-upgrades. A player will live and die by the money available in her pocket. Without enough upgrades, the enemy team may become almost unkillable. Obviously, that's no good.
There's something poignant about having two teammates race each other for a small trove of gyrating coins left behind by enemy bots. Someone will bitch someone else out for hogging all the coins, but hey, you gotta do what you gotta do. The coins will be mine by any means necessary—even if it means walking in the middle of an active turret that may tear me up. I can't tell you how many times I've died because I felt I really needed that single spare coin, regardless of how dangerous the situation is. I never really need the dang coins. Compulsion gets the better of all of us, though.
SMNC knows how significant that coin is. The marketing copy for the game reads "Why fight for 'honor' or 'duty' when you can fight for the real American dream: cash, fame and endorsements?" It's not just just that you need in-game money to upgrade and win matches. Money is important, period. Games reflect this. There's a reason coins are so ubiquitous in games. Players aren't the only ones who live and die by what can be found in their pockets. This reality is what makes the idea of playing a possibly lethal game just for a shot at some cash so incisive and thought-provoking. And it's the American dream to boot!
If there's one thing I bemoan in Super Monday Night Combat that doesn't work as well with the type world that the first game created, it's the loss of the twitch-based gameplay. There's something about the quick speed at which the first game operated that lends itself better to the idea of a society that functions too fast, and too indulgently for its own good.
Super Monday Night Combat is a world that feels like it takes place a mere 10 minutes from now. That's scary, but it makes the game evocative, too.
The update live now for Super Monday Night Combat introduces Steam Trading (among other upgrades and fixes), which means you can pickup crossover costume items in both this title and Team Fortress 2 for the super low price of nothing.
Four items kick off the "Friendship is Sharing" campaign for Uber Entertainment, two for each game. You unlock the hats and uniforms by reaching certain levels in Super Monday Night Combat. Here is the lowdown.
• The Gunslinger Hat, worn by Sniper in TF2, is unlocked when you get Agent Level 5 in SMNC.
• The Engineer Uniform, worn by Combatgirl in SMNC is yours when you get Agent Level 10.
• The Soldier Uniform and Rocket Launcher is Megabeth's in SMNC once you get Agent Level 15.
• Finally, Pyro will get the Assassin Helmet if you can reach Agent Level 20.
More details, plus full update notes, at the link.
Rule Changes: 5 - 5/10/12 [SMNC Forums]
The original MNC was on Xbox Live Arcade and PC. This one's only on PC and a little bit sillier. That's why you'll see someone play as a barrel-throwing gorilla and why we get a big exclusive announcement in the video here: the game's getting a deep-fried butter power-up.
Watch the video to see how the free-to-play game is shaping up. One important note: I describe the game as having DOTA or MOBA-like rules. For those who don't know the jargon, that means that players rely on waves of computer-controlled drones to funnel down lanes toward enemy bases. The job of the player is to protect those drones and fend off other players, as the drones assault the enemy base.
Check out the game's official site for more info.
Here's just a little bit more of Super Monday Night Combat, the recently announced, free-to-play sort-of-sequel to Uber Entertainment's Xbox 360 and PC game that (this time) draws a lot more influence from DotA-style gameplay.
There's more actual gameplay in this clip than Super Monday Night Combat's debut teaser. There's also some concept artwork strewn throughout and more facetime with SMNC's new characters, Combatgirl, Gunsinger and the Veteran. Maybe you'll come to understand a bit better how the new, PC-only Super Monday Night Combat aims to model itself after a Warcraft III mod and the MOBAs that it inspired.
For more, read Kotaku's preview of Super Monday Night Combat.
As people play it in the beta, they'll notice some tweaks to the MNC format that the Uber guys say make the game play differently. As mentioned, the lethality of attacks has been diminished. All characters will have slow-down abilities that can decelerate the enemy advance while giving a time to converge for a group assault. Turrets that players build in the arena will now start with level-three shields, helping them last longer. And the grand prize that each competing team has their eyes on—the Moneyball—will be more valuable than ever because dropping its shields will be the action that spawns the mighty Jackbots into the Moneyball-attacker's parade of bots. In the previous game, those Jackbots simply showed up every five minutes. The new approach, Comes said, "helps push the end game. It helps amp up the action."
There will be new bots in the bot lanes of Super MNC, including a mighty Fujibot who leads the lane, shielding the weaker ones behind him (he is described as "a giant metal meat shield"). There is also a Shady bot who is small, like the Slim, but takes more hits before being destroyed. (Get it?)
Comes believes that all of these changes which toughen the lane of bots and keep the players on the battlefield longer, encourage more strategic play. "There are more tactics," he said, "less pray-and-spray."
The game won't have much of a single-player component. There won't be any in the beta when it starts, though the team is working on tutorials and training modes. There also won't be a Mac version, though Berry said that it is "on the radar." As for consoles, neither the Xbox 360 nor the PlayStation 3 support free-to-play games (yet). When asked of console plans, Berry demurred, saying, "None that we can discuss."
Super MNC is designed to rope in more fans than the first game did. It'll be free, so how could it not? And hopefully MNC fans will convert to the new game. "We will incentivize them to come over," Berry said. "You'll get exclusive content that nobody else can get."
Super Monday Night Combat encapsulates current PC gaming quite well. Shooters are always the rage, but right now, so too are DotA games and free-to-play. (Proof: the PC thought-leader Valve Software is doing these things, in their own ways, too.) This combo of PC gaming ideas and trends is the right one one, Uber says. Just don't call their manifestation of it Monday Night Combat 2. "It's different enough from the first game," Ekanayake said, trying to explain. "Super made it better."
Well, I blew it. Monday Night Combat and Uber Entertainment dropped a story with perfect Easter ties in everyone's lap on Friday, and I missed the point. Chickey Cantor, the crazy clucker you can rodeo-ride for big buxx in the game's new title update, is not in fact named for Monday Night Combat P.A. Mickey Cantor. He's named for a chicken named for Monday Night Combat P.A. Mickey Cantor.
Chickey's a real chicken, the one pictured above, and he lives on a farm in New Hampshire. Back in the winter, Griffin Thomas, a high school senior who lives on the farm with Chickey, lamented the fact that two friends of his had been in a car accident and, while unharmed, all their cash would be going to repairs, not a purchase of Monday Night Combat as the group had planned.
Griffin wondered to his mom, Wendy (who blogs about her farm here) whether publisher Uber Entertainment could be convinced to give a couple codes for free to his hard luck pals. Mom thought that was a kind enough request, but, with Uber being a business, asked Griffin to think why they'd be inclined to give out the codes (other than just good P.R.) Eventually he hatched the idea of naming a chick after MNC's announcer, and offering Uber some free publicity on the farm blog.
That's some barter, but Uber was happy to take the trade. The Thomases and their favorite developers then met at PAX East in Boston, exchanging gifts there. And then things progressed to naming the giant chicken in this update after the Thomases' yardbird.
In new audio for the Monday Night Combat update, Mickey refers to a chicken farm in New Hampshire, and Chickey Cantor's creator is "Griffin Robotics," an homage to their new friend.
So, this weekend we've learned that not all developers are heartless technocrats who just want to separate you from your money. Some are touched by the opportunity to participate in important life moments like proposing marriage. Others have a soft spot for organic free-range poultry. While I hope studios aren't bombarded by well-meaning copycat requests in the coming weeks, Uber and Gearbox have shown that simple gestures like these reap enormous goodwill from their communities.
If your fetish happens to be rodeo-riding a giant chicken named for a former U.S. Secretary of Commerce, you're going to want to get Monday Night Combat's latest update, which went live last night.
That's "Chickey Cantor," the newest star of Monday Night Combat, found in its newest map, Uncle Tully's Funland. Yes, yes, I know "Mickey Cantor" is the name of the supersmarmy announcer in Monday Night Combat. I'm still amused that, of all names, Uber Entertainment picked that (though I would be even more amused if they picked Charlene Barshefsky).
Should you manage to wrangle Chickey (wait for him to slam the ground, then grapple him) and ride him for eight seconds, you get a big cash money prize. Of course, while riding that chicken you are a sitting, er, duck for opposing pros. You may also shoot Chickey and make him fly away, earning a huge single-life buff for your side.
Other updates include new bot spawners with specific buttons to spawn the whole bot menagerie, Jackbots, to Bouncers.
See the link for all the update details.
Uncle Tully's Funland Update [Uber Entertainment]
There's quite the sale going on over on Xbox Live Arcade at the moment. Five of the very best games around - Limbo, Shadow Complex, Castle Crashers, Trials HD and Monday Night Combat - are going for half price. Normally, they're 1200 MSP. For today, April 15, they're only 600 MSP.
It started with a lunchtime brainstorm by the guys who make Monday Night Combat: Maybe Valve would like to do a Team Fortress crossover? That began a process that required all of a 15-minute drive and a handshake.
No money changing hands, no strings attached.
"For us, it was like, ‘Really? That's it?'" said Chandana Ekanayake, the art director for Uber Entertainment, a Seattle-area developer located just up the road from Valve. "It was a handshake agreement, completely free."
Team Fortress 2's signature hats, plus Penny Arcade's - ahem - Fruit Fucker will appear in Monday Night Combat for those who order the game before Tuesday. It's the latest in a string of recent high-profile crossovers touching the indie community, with Valve as a player in nearly all of them.
Telltale Games produced "Poker Night at the Inventory," uniting Penny Arcade, Homestar Runner and Team Fortress 2 with its Sam & Max franchise. Super Meat Boy's been extremely visible of late, bringing in a whopping 18 characters from other games across its PC and Xbox Live versions. The headcrab from Half-Life makes an appearance in the version available over Steam.
Robin Walker, the creator of Team Fortress, said Steam availability isn't so much a business requirement for the crossover as it is a design component serving them. "It's hard for us to do a tight connection between two games if they aren't operating within a system where they could ‘talk' to each other," Walker said, "which is what Steam is doing in the crossovers so far."
Certainly, adding something to a game that sells over a service Valve maintains benefits both parties, without the need for additional lawyers or fees paid. But the manner in which this is done creates a sense of indie development solidarity, and gamers have demonstrated their willingness to join that cause.
Valve makes a lot of money with several major brands, is a big player in games development and, through Steam, distribution. It's still an indie company in both philosophy and design. "Their teams are tiny," Ekanayake said. "On the Steam side of things, we dealt with just three people. It is very much indie in that sense. They respect the team, which is really cool."
Once Valve agrees to the use, their symbols and characters are in the hands of another developer. But the discussions about Team Fortress 2 involved that team's members, Ekanayake said, basically Walker and a few others. No brass hats or high-level meetings, just folks who could relate to one another as games creators.
"Our core assumption is that developers of another game understand their game and its community better than we do," Walker said. "The challenge in crossovers is to find a way to benefit the audiences of both games, and legal paperwork just isn't an interesting part of that. It's also hard enough already without placing some arbitrary constraints over what a partner is or isn't allowed to work with.
"Instead, we prefer to start with a wide space of possibilities, and narrow down to good choices through an ongoing conversation, trusting each of us to protect the other from making a decision that's bad for their game or audience," Walker said.
There's a reciprocity; those who have both Monday Night Combat and Team Fortress 2 will see items from MNC's Pro Gear System. So as Uber was figuring out how Valve's property best fit in with its game, Valve was doing the same with Uber's content.
Ekanayake said early plans called for Scout in Team Fortress 2 to get the oversized grinning head of Bullseye, the Monday Night Combat mascot, as a hat. It turns out the item was just too big and unwieldy to be fun in the game, so it was discarded in favor of the rest of the rest of the mascot costume plus a couple of other items.
The crossovers aren't entirely an altruistic thing; the limited availability is meant to drive sales of Monday Night Combat on Steam, which benefits both Valve and Uber Entertainment. Perhaps that's why these content-swapping deals can be done with a minimum of hassle.
Walker said Valve's door is always open. "Different products have different goals and requirements, so what works in TF2 might be a terrible idea with Half-Life 2. But if another developer wanted to do something interesting with our [intellectual property] in their games, we'd be happy to see if it made sense."
In the end, Walker said, a big reason crossovers come to pass is because both sides just think it'd be cool.
"It should be simply about finding more ways to make our customers happy, but I'd be lying if that was the only reason," Walker said. "We're gamers and fanboys too. Sometimes we like to do something fun with the people behind games that we like, especially if they're made by people who worked on games that made us want to work in the industry in the first place."
Monday Night Combat is now available on Steam. To ensure that you buy the damn thing, Valve and Uber Entertainment are injecting Monday Night Combat with Team Fortress 2 stuff and Team Fortress 2 with Monday Night Combat stuff.
Here's the deal. If you buy a Monday Night Combat on Steam before 10 a.m. PST, February 1st, 2011, you'll get all manner of Team Fortress 2 hat, mask, bandoleer, eye patch and dispenser for your MNC players. You'll also get a handful of Monday Night Combat-themed hats, socks and personal items for TF2. Everybody wins.
I think you also get Penny Arcade's Fruit Fucker, aka Juicebot, in Monday Night Combat, but I'm not quite sure why. But, hey, free thing! More details about the MNC launch at the developer's official site.
Monday Night Combat on Steam [Steampowered]