Apr 21, 2012
The Internet is often a place for things that don't belong on it. Things like a 56-page internal manual written for the people that work at the most private gaming company in the world.
Yep, you can read that now. What appears to be Valve's 2012 Employee Handbook has crept onto the web, and it's just as insightful to read as that incredible blog by Michael Abrash from last week.
It's a rare, detailed self-description of the company that includes mantras like "We are all stewards of our long-term relationship with our customers," policies like "Nobody has ever been fired at Valve for making a mistake. It wouldn't make sense for us to operate that way," and expressions of Valve's independence that include "Fortunately, we don’t have to make growth decisions based on any external pressures—only our own business goals."
Click inside to see the handbook.
The document is also filled with custom illustrations. And at least one Half-Life 3 logo. Sections of special interest include the entries:
"What is Valve not good at?" (p. 52)
"How does Valve decide what to work on?" (p. 13)
"But what if we ALL screw up?" (p. 23)
The handbook (PDF) was originally found here. A bottom-page watermark claims "handbook courtesy Valve." Well, duh. I've uploaded a copy to our server that you can read here.
A new Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and CS: Source tournament is offering players a shot at a slice of a £10,000 prize pool - with no entry fee.
It's called GameShadow Battles, it'll be run online, and it's being put together GameShadow, Fasthosts, and epic.LAN. The tournament will launch on the 14th of May, and give 128 5-man teams a shot at a £5,000 grand prize. Runners-up can take home between £750 and £2750, and there are other prizes on offer for teams that reach the top of weekly scoreboards.
It's good to see a tournament of this size taking shape in the UK. We've got a good history of LAN parties, but the big prizes have typically been given away in the USA or continental Europe.
You can register your interest on the GameShadow Battles website. Are you going to give it a shot, readers? We're thinking about it - we're not the greatest CS:S or CoD players, but as demonstrated in February's showmatch, our Tribes: Ascend is strong*.
The Counter-Strike: Global Offensive beta keeps getting bigger. The latest patch has added a new Arms Race mode playable on Shoots and Baggage. In Arms Race, every player starts with the same weapon, and gains a new one with every kill. The first player to get a kill with the final weapon, the knife, wins the round. Dead players respawn immediately and the round time is extended to give players time to murder their way through CS:GO's arsenal.
The patch adds a few new weapons, too, including the Scar 20, an auto-sniper for Counter-Terrorists, the G3SG1, an automatic sniper rifle for Terrorists, and the Zeus x27, a one shot insta-kill taser available to both teams in casual mode.
If you're looking for something less wild, the classic Aztec has been added to the map rotations. Here are the patch notes in full from the Counter-Strike: Global Offensive site.
Added Arms Race maps – Shoots and Baggage
Added Aztec to Classic maps
Arsenal Arms Race game mode is a single extended round with instant respawn. All players start with the same weapon and get a new one each time they kill an enemy. The progression of unlocked weapons ends with the knife. The first player to get a kill with every weapon wins the match.
Added ‘Find A Game’ to the Play options menu screen. Find A Game allows you to join an online game of a specific type. This update offers Arsenal Arms Race and Classic Competitive game modes. The map cycle groups include:
Arms Race Maps
Added new weapons:
Scar 20 – CT only auto-sniper.
G3SG1 – Terrorist only auto-sniper.
Zeus x27 – Casual Mode only weapon available to both teams.
Adjustments have been made to increase the base accuracy of all weapons.
Jump and land penalties have been decreased, and the rate of stamina gain has been increased.
Bot difficulty has been tuned.
HE grenade damage has been adjusted per pro feedback.
Added two new player skins:
Death notice order reversed.
Updated Italy mini map image.
Fixed a bug in the keyboard + mouse options screen where changes were resetting.
Fixed the consecutive loss bonus persisting through halftime. Solves the problem of teams receiving extra cash early in the second round of the match.
Fixed end match scoreboard saying it was a tie in Arsenal Mode.
Fixed a bug where penetrating shots were doing full damage after the penetration.
Fixed a bug where the desired distance required to defuse the bomb wasn’t being used.
Fix for the HUD alert panel coming up incorrectly.
Fixed for bots not being able to defuse bomb.
Fix for bug in Demolition mode where players would start the first round of the second half stuck in level geometry.
Fix for radio message font appearing quite large at higher resolutions.
Mar 16, 2012
As we head into the last weekend before the MLG Winter Championship in Columbus next weekend (and hot on the heels of the IEM tournament) a small group of players are gathered at Full Sail University in Orlando for the Red Bull LAN. It's one part mini-camp, with high-level StarCraft players working on ways to improve their game and get ready for upcoming competitions, and one part exhibition tournament. Quantic's Kim "SaSe" Hammar and Johan "NaNiwa" Lucchesi will be there, along with Evil Geniuses' Lee "Puma" Ho Joon and Park "JYP" Jin Young and a number of other strong competitors. Sean "Day" Plott and Marcus "DjWHEAT" Graham will be there as well. You can read more about the Red Bull Lan over at Team Liquid, where Day gets into a little more detail.
I've never seen one of these, and I'm really interested in the "training camp" aspect of the Red Bull LAN. As I've watched more competitive gaming, what I find most impressive is the mental endurance and resilience on display at the highest levels of play. Playing brilliantly in a match is one thing, but having to sustain that over the course of a weekend and dozens of matches is another. I'm hoping the coverage coming out of the Red Bull LAN gets into that a bit.
Oh, and if you have some time to kill, why not watch the SC2 final from IEM last week, between MC and Puma, posted at the top.
NaNiwa Leaves the Penalty Box
Speaking of NaNiwa, the GSL gave him a Code S seed for the start of Season 2. Code S is the highest level of GSL competition, and it represents a second chance for the Protoss player.
NaNiwa was effectively dropped from Code S after throwing a match against one of his rivals, NesTea, at the 2011 Blizzard Cup. With both players eliminated from championship contention, NaNiwa ended the match by rushing his probes into NesTea's base, basically refusing to play. The GSL saw his conduct as disrespectful and contrary to the spirit of the sport, and dropped him from consideration for a Code 2 spot for Season 1. Now NaNiwa appears once again to be back in the GSL's good graces for Season 2.
Tough Love for CS:GO
Earlier this week, Tomi “lurppis” Kovanen, the former captain of the Evil Geniuses Counter-Strike team, had some harsh words about the current state of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. Evan interviewed him to find out more about what bothers him about CS:GO.
It's a good write-up, and the whole incident neatly captures the challenge Valve faces as it attempt to reinvent a competitive shooter with a long history.
Kovanen made one remark that explains the stakes for CS:GO and the pro community. “I believe in eSports. And if there are a lot of people who enjoy the game like I have enjoyed CS 1.6 over the years, good for them. I’m sure there were people who disliked 1.6, yet it has played a big part in how the last seven years of my life, so I’d hope other people get to experience something similar in their lives. I hope it will be successful, but with the way the game currently is and how I believe it will end up without listening to us, I don’t think it can be successful. I wouldn’t be surprised if it got picked up for one or two years at most, and then FPS games got dropped out as a whole because of lack of CS:GO popularity. The ironic thing is all the pros would wanna help to try to make it a decent game because they all know there would be more money, more tournaments, and so on if it was a good game and everyone switched.”
Speaking of Counter-Strike, this would be a good time to watch the Final between ESC and Na`Vi from the IEM tournament last week.
As always, this is by no means comprehensive, and be sure to call out highlights from the week in the comments below. Any other events happening in the next week that you're excited about?
Mar 16, 2012
Spore showed the way. The thinking behind its sharing and viral propogation of user created content was near spot on.
Now we look to Valve, and the Steam Workshop, and realise that mods and user-created content is again at the heart of PC gaming.
Back up. Mods have always been important to PC gaming, but the scale of those mods has changed. The theory is that gamers’ expectations have risen along with technology: as our PCs become able to handle prettier and prettier landscapes, the amount of work required from an individual modder to create something comparable to a commercial product increases. So total conversions are near impossible to create. It’s much harder to make a Counterstrike, Dota or Quake Fortress today.
But modding isn’t just about the banner projects. It’s about the smaller items. Tweaks to balance. Cool new dungeons. A reskin. A new level.
In the eyes of deep communities games that arrive ‘finished’, are anything but. Given the right tools, players love to build upon what game developers have already created. The problem is proliferation and discovery.
I remember when I first started playing Quake Fortress. The download over a 56k modem from a fileserver at Barry’s World. The horrendous download. The weird arcane installation. Things aren't much better today: to mod WoW’s interface we have to drag and drop files into strange folders, or trust Curse’s client to do the job. For Oblivion mods, we’re fiddling with data files and the Nexus client.
I believe PC gaming should be for everyone. I think modding contains some of the best of PC gaming; it’s a strand of what we play that is so very, very special. But it’s obtuse, hard to understand, and kind of a bitch to use.
Spore, and the Steam Workshop show what can be achieved. Modders now have the ability to have their creations downloaded directly into the game after just a single click. That’s just the start. Creations are rated, tagged and filtered via the community; ensuring that the best rises to the top. Comments threads help creators respond to their subscribers. Community creators get to help players by picking collections and themes. Games get better. Everyone wins.
In the next year or so, I have high hopes that modding will become more important to us than it ever was. I sincerely hope that Valve introduce the Workshop, not just to Portal, but to Left 4 Dead, HL2DM, and Counter-Strike (in all its forms). I hope, too, that the Total War team, the GTA team, the ArmA team, and many others are watching what happens to Skyrim and Portal, and how modding extends the lifespan of the game, and creates unbelievable loyalty in the audience. I shiver in excitement at the possibilities of how Maxis could apply the Spore model of sharing creatures to SimCity: with a vast database of new buildings that can be seamlessly imported into the Glassbox engine.
But there’s an issue that as a community, PC gamers need to consider. With the Steam Workshop and Team Fortress 2, Valve have the billing mechanics that now allow modders to charge for their work. In TF2’s case, Valve told us that the best TF2 modelers are making hundreds of thousands of dollars from their work. Personally, I think that’s a great thing for us. I love the idea of modders supporting themselves making games better. But at some point, you may well be asked to pay to download a mod.
How will you feel when that happens?
Valve, who continues to expand the beta for CS:GO before a release this summer, has been vocal about its cooperation with the eSports community. But Tomi “lurppis” Kovanen believes that message hasn’t been backed up by game design that’s conducive to a competitive game. In a thread on the official forums, Kovanen calls CS:GO “terrible” and “not by any means fun.” He adds: “That's what every top player thinks as far as I can tell.”
These aren’t the complaints of a forum wildman, they’re from someone who formerly led Evil Geniuses’ CS team, and who's earned $340,000 in (team) prize money playing CS since 2005. Why does Kovanen feel this way? I spoke with him to get more perspective on what he describes as a “handicapped” game.
In our interview, Kovanen, a CS 1.6 player, pointed to map changes, bad visibility, player movement, and recoil as aspects of design that he believes undermine CS:GO’s chances at being a good competitive game.
“I played CS:GO for three hours a night, four nights in a row for the CES Plantronics thing. And on day four I still couldn’t tell who was a CT or a T. So I just shot everyone at first to find out if they’re a teammate or an enemy,” Kovanen says of CS:GO’s “desaturated” lighting. “It feels almost black and white. It's really hard to see player models from textures or random objects in the map.”
See some of the differences between 1.6, CS:S, and CS:GO in the video above.
Changes to map geometry and layout are another sour point for Kovanen. “De_train is the worst with two towers, the bomb train in the middle of outside, oversized trains, ladders on the sides of trains, most of trains removed in the inner site, et cetera. De_nuke has a lot of its best parts removed without backstairs to lower and back bombsite and short hall in lower. It all feels like they just really want to handicap the game by making it easier.” From Valve’s perspective, these map changes are probably in place to shake up tactics that’ve held up for more than a decade and accommodate new items and new game balance. Kovanen later added: “The game even has casual and competitive modes, I don’t understand why they cant make them vastly different if necessary, sort of like a built-in ProMod.”
Kovanen is also unhappy about weapon recoil. “Right now it feels like the recoil is just too strong,” he says. “It’s really hard to control (if even possible) and it feels like you could never spray at a spot, turn 90 degrees and still be accurate at another guy. You're basically stuck one-bulleting people or going for mindless sprays which might result in two people emptying their clips at one another with both people surviving. The bullet tracers are also really annoying and I don’t understand why they’re even in the game, It seems like another effect to make it more console-like; it’s just something more that will get in the way of seeing things clearly.”
Other figures in CS’ competitive community have been outspoken about CS:GO’s current weapon feedback. Former pro and now-caster Jimmy Whisenhunt believes that screen movement is the issue, not recoil.
I asked Kovanen what aspect of CS:GO he’d like to see changed most. “Player movement. Not only does that play a giant role in the game being fun, it adds a lot of skill to it as well. One of the things that makes CS:GO so frustrating to play is that the movement feels sluggish and slow and you don’t feel in perfect control of your character."
But Kovanen, who played on Team Europe in Valve’s first big CS:GO showmatch late last year, says all this criticism stems from wanting the game to succeed. “I believe in eSports. And if there are a lot of people who enjoy the game like I have enjoyed CS 1.6 over the years, good for them. I’m sure there were people who disliked 1.6, yet it has played a big part in how the last seven years of my life, so I’d hope other people get to experience something similar in their lives. I hope it will be successful, but with the way the game currently is and how I believe it will end up without listening to us, I don’t think it can be successful. I wouldn't be surprised if it got picked up for one or two years at most, and then FPS games got dropped out as a whole because of lack of CS:GO popularity. The ironic thing is all the pros would wanna help to try to make it a decent game because they all know there would be more money, more tournaments, and so on if it was a good game and everyone switched.”
Valve continues to make changes to CS:GO leading up to the game's summer release. Will you watch CS:GO competitive play? How well do you think the game will do as an eSport?
Mar 13, 2012
Valve have updated Counter-Strike Global Offensive with a new map and mode. They also added 10,000 new players to the beta.
Arsenal Mode removes the traditional Counter-Strike purchasing options and replaces them with a mechanic that might help ease new players in. Anyone who gets a kill will have their weapon downgraded for the next round, effectively nerfing them a bit. After five rounds, the teams switch sides. A bespoke map has been introduced for the new mode too: de_Lake funnels the action into a multi-story house next to a picturesque lake.
The offensive team are still tasked with arming a bomb, and the defence defusing it. Alternatively, you can kill everyone on the other team as by shooting them in the head. That happens a lot.
Arsenal Mode is influenced by classic Counter-Strike mod "Gun Game" where players are rewarded with more deadly weapons as they get kills, effectively making the skilled more powerful. That's also due to be patched in, only it'll be called Arsenal: Arms Race. I fear it.
How are you getting on with Arsenal Mode? Does it result in more competitive Counter-Strike: GO matches or do you get as many kills/killings as usual? Let us know in the comments. Counter-Strike: Global Offensive is currently in closed beta, follow Valve's instructions to be in with the chance of an invite.
Mar 9, 2012
The American eSports fan faces a dilemma tonight. Do you brew coffee and stay up until the Intel Extreme Masters finals start at 3 AM Eastern (9 AM Central European Time), or do you go to bed early and wake up in time to watch the games? Or do you do none of the above and catch the replay? The day starts with Counter-Strike, ESC v. Na`Vi, then moves on to StarCraft 2 and PuMa (Terran) v. MC (Protoss) at 6:15 AM Eastern. Finally, it's the League of Legends final between M5 and Dignitas, and even that, if the last few days have been any indication, will have a far, far larger audience than either StarCraft or Counter-Strike. If you need to be caught-up on what you've missed at the IEM, you can check out the video archives here.
As dilemmas go, choosing how to enjoy the IEM finals is not a bad one to have. Especially when you compare it to what the Evil Geniuses team is dealing with right now. One of their new contractors, StarCraft caster Jake "Orb" Sklarew, was caught using a racial slur in StarCraft 2 matches. EG CEO Alex Garfield quickly dimissed Orb and released a lengthy statement explaining where he stands with regard to racist behavior in the gaming community. Shortly thereafter, Orb made his own apology to the StarCraft community. Look for us to follow-up on this story soon.
But back to games. Last weekend, shooter fans could tune into the ESEA LAN tournament, where the Counter-Strike: Source championship went to the Dynamic team, and the CS 1.6 title went to Back2Back Gaming, the first non-Evil Geniuses team to win the finals in five seasons, now that EG has stopped competing in Counter-Strike.
But perhaps some of the best competition at the ESEA was the final between Classic Mixup and defending champ Quantic Legacy. Despite Quantic holding a match advantage from an extended series (as they had defeated Mixup in their first meeting, and that win counted in the final), Mixup took the championship by winning two consecutive best of three matches. You can see the start above, and the entire match should be available on eXtv's YouTube account.
Replays from the MLG Winter Arena are now available online. As I've said before, they are well worth watching.
Korean Zerg powerhouse DongRaeGu has been on a tear this last week. He kicked it off last Saturday by winning the GSL final and then helped help out his MVP team into the Global StarCraft 2 Team League.
The IGN Pro League is at SXSW this weekend. The main attractions are tomorrow, with a LoL all-star match at 4 Eastern and a one-on-one StarCraft 2 match between Stephano and White-Ra at 9 Eastern.
As always, this is not meant to be a comprehensive eSports news and events roundup. That way lies madness. Please feel free to suggest other events and videos in the comments.
Mar 7, 2012
The best StarCraft 2, League of Legends and Counter-Strike 1.6 players are duking it out in Hanover this week for massive cash prizes at the Intel Extreme Masters World Championship. We're on day two, but we're still in the group stages, so there's still plenty of competition left.
The whole event is being livestreamed, and you can watch them for free on the ESL World site. Counter-Strike and League of Legends teams are competing for a $50,000 first prize, while StarCraft 2 individuals are fighting for a top prize of $35,000. Not a bad week in the office for those who claim the top spot on Saturday.
CS:GO should be with us come summer, according to Valve, giving us a bit of time to train our mouse hand muscles and hone our twitch headshot skills before inevitably suffering repetitive death at the hands of seasoned CS 1.6 pros on release. Those pros can't touch console bros, though. Valve's Chet Faliszeck yesterday told Joystiq cross-platform play is gone from CS:GO. Awww.
There's a good reason, though. "The beta has proved we want to update not just the beta, but the game itself post-launch frequently on the PC," Faliszeck told Joystiq, "To do that we need to separate the platforms so one doesn't hamstring the other. So for that, we have removed the idea of cross-platform play -- essentially make all platforms stronger by not mixing them."
Seems fair. It'll mean more updates for us PC players, most likely. Counter-Strike: Global Offensive is currently in beta. You can complete a Steam survey for a chance to claim a spot ahead of release. Meanwhile, let me introduce you to some new CS:GO screenshots. I'm sure you'll get on like a house on fire.