PC Gamer editors are prohibited from celebrating Christmas. For the team, the end of the year is marked by an event known as GOTY Sleepover, a time where we somewhat-voluntarily sequester ourselves away from our families and loved ones in the interest of a greater good: selecting the best PC games of the year. We gather in a room with a very heavy door and very little ventilation and stay there until we ve reached a unanimous decision on every award category. It s a lot like the Papal conclave, but with more Cheetos.
So far, this is what we ve got. These are games nominated for awards in general, not just our single Game of the Year. Consider this a short-list of the games our team loved in 2013, one we ll whittle down into proper, named awards in the coming days.
Dota 2 Arma 3 Spelunky Battlefield 4 Gone Home Tomb Raider Rising Storm Saints Row IV Papers, Please BioShock Infinite Total War: Rome II The Stanley Parable XCOM: Enemy Within
Check in each day over the holiday break to see who's victorious. In the meantime, here's our 2012 winners and some lively year-end video conversations about our best PC gaming experiences in 2013.
Everybody knows that if you try to get a cat to do what you want—sit up, fetch a stick, search for explosives—it will do nothing more than stare at you with contempt. That’s why console pitches to PC gamers tend to fall flat: we’re generally not as interested in hearing how a bunch of suits want us to play our games. Nvidia took a much different approach with the Shield, on the other hand, that seems to account for what PC gamers have in common with cats: give us great hardware and the freedom to do whatever we feel like doing, and we’ll show ourselves a great time.
And oh, what hardware! Closed, the Shield looks like a largish Xbox 360 controller, with a handsomely textured plastic chassis and contrasting magnetically-attached silver plate on top (called a “tag”) that can be swapped for glossy or carbon fiber tags (available separately at $20 each). The top flips upward on a firm hinge to expose the 5-inch, 1280x720 glossy LCD touchscreen display and controller surface. The layout of the controller combines the best of the Xbox 360 and PS3 controllers with dual analog thumbsticks, a D-pad, A/B/X/Y buttons, left and right analog triggers and bumpers on the shoulders, as well as five buttons in the center for system controls.
At 1.3 pounds the Shield isn’t lightweight, but the ergonomics are nearly perfect—including a smoothly contoured undercarriage that allows your ring fingers to rest beneath the device—so I was able to play well over an hour before any fatigue set in (and over ten hours on a single battery charge, although that included a half-hour sandwich break and finger yoga). Only the slightly recessed thumbsticks felt a bit awkward at first, but the slight arch in my thumbs necessary to work them actually made depressing them easier.
On the Engineering deck you’ll find the brawniest Android hardware you can fit in a jacket pocket, centered around Nvidia’s own 1.9GHz Tegra 4 processor (with a 5-core CPU and a 72-core GPU) and 2GB RAM. The Shield also includes 802.11n dual band Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 3.0, GPS, an internal gyroscope and accelerometer as well as 16GB of internal flash-based storage and a MicroSD slot where I’m currently storing 32GB of movies, music, emulators, and disc images I ripped from vintage games (more on that in a moment).
But the real stroke of genius is the Shield’s unmolested Android 4.1 (“Jelly Bean”) operating system, by far the most popular mobile operating system in the world. All you have to do is pop open the Shield, hop onto your wireless network, and help yourself to any of the hundreds of thousands of Android games available through the Google Play store. The Shield wisely highlights Android games with controls and visual enhancements customized for the device and its Tegra 4 proc, as not all Android games support game controllers or control remapping, and not all the ones that do aren’t guaranteed to work well with the Shield. And you’ll want to be very wary of games designed specifically for touchscreens: while some are a pleasure, such as the enigmatic puzzle game The Room, there’s simply no way to comfortably play others, such as the Android port of the classic adventure game The Last Express which bizarrely only supports portrait orientation.
The games tailored for the Shield, on the other hand, play beautifully, with super-crisp detail and unflappable smoothness—especially first- and third-person action games such as Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, zombie abatement shooter Dead Trigger, and Max Payne.
The Shield’s most unique feature—no, make that its most downright bitchin' feature—is PC streaming. You can launch any supported game from your PC—via the Shield interface or Steam’s Big Picture mode—and play, oh, let’s say Dishonored, in the bathtub. Which I did. Or Tomb Raider on the couch. I did that, too. I won’t tell you where I played BioShock Infinite, but the main idea is that your PC does the heavy lifting and squirts the results to your Shield with—under ideal conditions—negligible latency. But Nvidia was right to label this a “beta” feature, because getting it to work is something of an adventure in itself. Non-Steam games need to be manually added to your Steam library in order to work, and the hardware requirements are extremely steep: You need at least an Nvidia GeForce GTX 650 (laptop GPUs aren’t supported yet), and your results will depend on the speed and sophistication of your router and the strength of your wireless signal. I used a $180 Asus RT-N66U provided by Nvidia, and even then, in the labyrinth of dead spots that is my home, it took a great deal of experimentation to figure out where to put it—and how far away I could move away from it—so that I could stream without excessive lag or hiccups.
That’s frustrating, but in a sense, it’s also inspiring. Because PC gamers have always been tinkerers, and we’re used to adapting hardware to our needs; at the very least, we’d rather have the option than not. Nvidia cut no corners on the hardware, so I was able to watch my MKV rip of “The Brothers Bloom” Blu-ray without recoding (using VLC). I played my FLAC files of Tomáš Dvořák’s tasty soundtrack to Machinarium through the superb speakers (which are better than most laptop speakers, though light on the bass). And by pairing the Shield with a Bluetooth keyboard for experimenting with command-line instructions, I was able to play the gruesome DOS classic I Have No Mouth But I Must Scream (with the $3.50 DosBox Turbo utility) from a ripped ISO of my dusty CD-ROM. I plugged in the Shield to my PC, and as it charged over the USB connection, I transferred a rip of The Neverhood through Windows Explorer and ran it on the Shield using the free “Windows, Linux, Unix Emulator” on the Google Play store—and played it on my living room TV via the HDMI-out. I used a PlayStation emulator to play Fear Effect on a warm night on my fire escape. I even surveilled my backyard with the AR.Drone 2.0 from Parrot, with a live color video feed from the hovercraft streamed to my Shield.
That’s not to say these feats were easy—not all of them were. But they’re possible, and don’t require “rooting” or workarounds as a result of file system lockouts. You have the same freedom to improvise and experiment that you expect from your PC or laptop—and don’t ever get from console manufacturers. Instead, you get the benefits of an operating system with an open architecture in a handheld that’s several orders of magnitude more sophisticated in hardware and design than any handheld that came before it.
If you have the desire and patience to exploit the Shield’s whopping potential, it’s a must-have—if you tried to take this thing from me I’d tear your arm off and make you eat it. If you don’t, it’s a tougher sell without reliable PC streaming and iffy compatibility with many Android games. Either way, the Shield is a magnificent funmaker that’s worth every penny, and if Nvidia can bullet-proof the streaming and continues to promote compatibility and support among developers, it has an even more glorious future ahead of it.
Lara Croft's last outing didn't fare too badly. The fledgling badass was more likeable than ever in her origin story—but the Tomb Raider series reboot was having some trouble outside of the jungle island's confines, too. Earlier this year, publisher Square Enix's CEO stepped down after the company was reported to have suffered massive losses. Now, despite confirmation that a sequel is in the works, twelve layoffs have been reported at Tomb Raider developer Crystal Dynamics.
In a statement made to Kotaku, a spokesperson said, "We’ve made some decisions at Crystal Dynamics last week around the second project we’re working on, which has resulted in a small number of roles (roughly 12) becoming redundant as we re-scope the project...We're a close-knit team at Crystal and wouldn't be making these changes if we didn't feel it was absolutely necessary."
Reportedly, these employees were working on a different, unannounced game; the spokesperson says that development of the Tomb Raider sequel remains unaffected and on track. But with the recent financial troubles experienced by parent company Square Enix, we're still hoping that Lara can fight her way out of this.
Good news for those of you who are fans of Lara Croft—there's a Tomb Raider sequel and it's "well into development."
Phil Rogers, Square Enix CEO of Europe and the Americas, left a note on the company's blog wanting to set things straight with anyone who had their doubts after the rough patch they hit earlier this year. In the note, he confirms the Tomb Raider sequel and alludes to adding more choices and platforms for gamers in the future.
Along with saying that Square Enix is, "not abandoning core, triple-A console and PC games," he gave a small explanation on how the company has streamlined some of its studio development process.
"We’ve recently re-orientated our studio leadership to focus production expertise at the top, to allow us to ship the best quality games possible, faster and with better cost control," Rogers wrote. "We’ve taken away administrative duties from studio heads, so they get closer to the games, gameplay and gamers with fewer distractions."
He says that the company will share a "fuller title release plan" soon on upcoming games for PC, consoles, and tablets/mobile.
Indie adventure Beatbuddy has brought some new talent on board in Rhianna Pratchett, writer of Mirror’s Edge and Tomb Raider. Pratchett will be polishing the script and storyline for the music-intertwined adventure game. "No matter what you’ve written in the past, it’s the challenges and the people you work with who really matter,” said Pratchett in a press release. “I cut my teeth on smaller indie titles, so it’s great to get to do more work in that space again...”
We last saw Beatbuddy at PAX this year, and the intriguing mix of music and puzzles looked like a game to watch out for, and it’s unlike other games in the adventure genre. It utilizes music a little bit like Audiosurf, but... not really. A trailer posted earlier this year might help explain:
I think it’s a real coup for German developer Threaks to land an award-winning writer for its first game. The plot was one of the things we liked about Tomb Raider (even if the gameplay didn't always match up with the writing), so hopefully this collaboration can produce some great gaming. Beatbuddy is still in development and will be released later this summer.
Susan O’Connor, who helped pen the stories in BioShock, Far Cry 2, and the latest Tomb Raider along with Rhianna Pratchett, isn't happy with the state of game storytelling. She doesn't condemn video game stories themselves, but rather the overall process through which those stories are written. She sees storytelling in games being as dominated by teams that care more about compiling code—and she's tired of it.
In an interview with The Gameological Society, O’Connor pointed out how the creative process for video games is different from other forms of media.
“For me, I always want to focus on the entertainment side of it,” O’ Connor said. “This is supposed to make people feel something. It’s supposed to be fun, or be scary. But when I look at conversations that creatives are having, like in television or film or theater or freaking mimes, everyone else, the conversations they’re having are totally different.
“If you were to say, ‘Books are a great way to go inside a character’s mind for pages and pages, and movies are a great place to see larger-than-life movie stars and phenomenal explosions that are 40-feet tall,’ games are a really kinetic medium. The story is what the player does.”
She has a point. Books and movies rely on well-developed plots because that’s all they have. Movies might add amazing special effects to distract you from a poor script, but games are interactive. Whether you’re taking out an enemy base, scavenging an abandoned cave, or opening inter-dimensional portals, you are busy doing something. Sometimes, there’s not enough time or priority to inject enough plot to tell you why you’re doing said thing.
O’Connor went on to admit that she was tired of writing stories for video games and wanted to move on to other areas of entertainment.
“I don’t want to put up with this s$*& anymore,” she said. “I’m grateful for the success I’ve had, but I’m never going to be able to do work that can come anywhere close to the kind of emotional impact that stories in other media have, at least not in the next five to 10 years. I love stories, and I just happened to fall into games. I’ve learned who I am as a writer, and I think my talents and skills are much better used in other places."
After a disastrous financial year, in which Square Enix not only failed to make their expected profits, but were hit instead with by massive financial loss, the company's senior executive managing director Yosuke Matsuda has been looking at Kickstarter as a possible guide to improving "asset turnover". Which isn't to say they'll attempt to raise $100,000,000 for a Tomb Raider sequel via the crowd-funding site. ($110,000,000 stretch goal: add some proper tombs.) Instead, Matsuda wants Square Enix to interact with its customers at an earlier stage.
"One could go as far as to say that in today's times, making customers wait for years with little to no information is being dishonest to them," Matsuda said, in an earnings call two weeks ago. "We're no longer in an age where customers are left in the dark until a product is completed. We need to shift to a business model where we frequently interact with our customers for our products that are in‐development and/or prior to being sold, have our customers understand games under development, and finally make sure we develop games that meet their expectations."
"There is a crowdfunding website called 'Kickstarter,'" he continued, "which does not only serve as a method of financing for developers, but I believe should also be seen as a way to unite marketing and development together by allowing us to interact with customers while a game is in development."
Matsuda also pointed to Steam's Greenlight and Early Access initiatives as ways in which game makers are communicating with their community:
"Valve's Steam Greenlight and Early Access, are also very interesting, in that they raise the frequency by which we interact with customers, increasing their engagement and reflecting customer needs. We are also looking at what initiatives are possible from this perspective. What should we present to our customers before a game is finished, how can our customers enjoy this, and how do we connect this to profitability, is something we are thinking about implementing, and which can improve our asset turnover in the process."
Traditionally these services have been used by smaller developers, with smaller communities, making direct engagement a more manageable prospect. How Square Enix would scale these ideas out onto a much larger scale remains to be seen. But more openness and interaction from the publisher surely can't be a bad thing.
Rhianna Pratchett, the lead writer for Tomb Raider, has given an extensive interview at Rock Paper Shotgun where she discusses her work in a male-dominated industry and her thoughts on the #1ReasonWhy and #1ReasonToBe movements on Twitter. The result is an in-depth profile of a reluctant equality activist. “Although I’ve not personally experienced some of the more extreme examples of industry sexism which the first hashtag highlighted, #1reasonwhy and #1reasontobe have lit a fire in me—and Pratchetts are inherently a bit fighty by nature,” Pratchett said, referring to her father, prolific novelist Sir Terry Pratchett.
“For many years I steered clear of ‘women in games’ issues,” Pratchett continued, in response to questions about her willingness to become one of the faces, for better or worse, of gender equality activism in game development. "In fact, I’ll admit to being downright uncomfortable with being asked about that side of things. Mainly because I felt that the best thing I could do for women in games was just be one and do my job to the best of my ability.” “I’ve realised that for young girls getting into the industry, it does matter to see women out there talking about these issues—although I’d still always prefer to talk about the work.” Head over to Rock Paper Shotgun to read the full interview.
In this episode we discuss the crime games of yesteryear, the team's adventures in Red Orchestra 2 and Chris' first faltering steps into Defiance. Also featuring round two of our' ongoing attempt to figure out Tomb Raider and what happens when Graham answers Twitter questions before he's had his milk.
You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or download the MP3 directly. You can also listen on YouTube. To ask us questions, follow the PC Gamer Twitter account - we'll put out a call in the morning before we record, which is usually a Monday. You can also follow us individually:
Chris - @CThursten Tom Senior - @PCGLudo Graham - @Gonnas Marsh - @marshdavies
Show notes Graham's Red Orchestra 2 review from a while back. Chris' Tomb Raider review. Last time, we promise. First footage of EA's next shooter, 'The Adventures of Captain Gets His Leg Trapped Man'. Current descriptions of Thief 4's plot describe Garrett as returning to The City, so it sounds like the new game isn't quite a straight reboot.
Square Enix's incoming president, Yosuke Matsuda, has started sharpening the axe of financial viability after the "extraordinary loss" of this last financial year. In a Square Enix Holdings briefing session, translated by Siliconera, Matsuda announces plans to review all elements of the business, with a view to focusing its direction on "what makes us successful".
"After having succeeded the important role as the president, I plan on reviewing all Square Enix duties, business and assets on a zero-based budgeting standpoint," Matsuda says. "Due to the radical change of environment, I’d like to fundamentally review what works and what doesn't work for our company, then cast all of our resources towards extending what makes us successful and thoroughly squeezing out what doesn't.
"As far as a concrete plan on what to expect from us, I will further explain it on another briefing session in the near future, so I kindly ask for your patience. Thank you for your support."
While Matsuda isn't due to step into the role until June, Square Enix have already begun to restructure. In a statement to Polygon, senior director of PR Reilly Brennan announced, "We can confirm that Square Enix's Los Angeles office has eliminated a number of positions as part of the corporate restructuring announced last week. This is an unfortunate situation and we are offering assistance and severance packages to any employees affected by this, we want to thank them for their hard work and sincerely wish them well in the future." This is in addition to the LA office lay-offs made back in December.
How SE's development studios will be affected by Matsuda's review is unclear, but sales figures suggest a change may be due. Tomb Raider, Hitman: Absolution and Sleeping Dogs all failed to meet expectations, despite Tomb Raider experiencing a record launch week for the series.