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The Orange Box
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After a break, we're back. Chris, Tom Senior and Marsh discuss Antichamber, DmC, The Witcher, Destiny, the inner workings of Valve and a game called Half-Life 2 that is pretty good aparrently.
Also featuring an ass palace, places where one may or may not take a horse, the playground circular saw craze of the 1990s, a wonderous squirrel experience, and possibly the most inept attempt to begin a podcast since the last time we tried to begin a podcast.
We also talk about Rome II, Aliens: Colonial Marines, and the games of David Johnston.
You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, or download the MP3 directly. Follow PC Gamer UK on Twitter to be informed when we're putting the call out for questions. Alternatively, follow us as individuals:
Tom Senior - @pcgludo
Marsh - @marshdavies
Chris - @cthursten
Our review of Antichamber.
Smudged Cat games.
Half-Life 2 is a good computer game! Who knew. No link here: just registering my surprise. Again.
Our review of the petition-tastic DmC: Devil May Cry.
Some pictures of Destiny, Bungie's game about a magic space ball or something.
A blurry screenshot of whatever Respawn Entertainment are doing.
Via Eurogamer: the PS4 will not block used games.
MAXIMUM SQUIRRELS "Nine out of ten." - Martin 'Marsh' Davies
Our Aliens: Colonial Marines review, Kotaku's report on its troubled development, and a xenomorph with a tiny little invisible piano.
Someone call a doctor. Chris has a case of not-really-thinking-this-through.
After using a Xen relay to slingshot itself across an interdimensional portal known as "the Internet," Black Mesa and its updates to Half-Life 1 continue to influence satellite mods that restore extended chunks of Gordon Freeman's tale. Next in line for Black-Mesa-fying: the Hazard Course, Gordon's optional and educational pit-stop for teaching movement and shooting basics.
Along with the standard face(granite?)-lift to the Hazard Course's bunker-like training areas and twisting pipes, the mod hopes to add a few new characters and areas for that extra bit of distraction as you eternally run late for that silly test chamber appointment. A notable planned addition is the tram station and the brief meeting with a few scientist overseers from the PlayStation 2 version of the game (here's a video), which is a rare opportunity to see one of the lab's normally stuffy pencil-pushers shirk procedure over a liability contract.
The mod just moved into its alpha stage after its team announced the first connection of all playable areas just yesterday. You can track the mod's progress over at Mod DB, and here's a few more screenshots showing off the completed work so far.
Forget for a moment about debating what happens to horror's impact whenever another player enters the scene. When you open a murkily lit doorway framing a pitch-black hallway seething with malevolent abominations of shadow, you'll want someone close by to cling to...or a giant, stuffed teddy bear. The Black Snow mod for Half-Life 2 is sadly bear-less, but its new co-op mod-in-a-mod revisits the atmospheric creepiness with up to four players and up to four pairs of pants ready for wetting.
Piggybacking (with permission) on the original single-player Black Snow, the co-op mod adds a few necessary communication binds such as a character, radio, and inventory key. You're also equipped with a flashlight, since foraging for items in the dark sort of gets easier when you have a bit more light. That's just me, though.
The objective in Black Snow's co-op stays the same: gather items, solve puzzles, and fight bravely run away from Very Scary Things. As part of a response team sent into the eerily silent Amaluuk Research Station housed within the icy grip of Greenland, you need to figure out what happened, where everyone went, and oh my God what is that thing runrunRUN.
If you're ready, head over to Black Snow co-op's website and give it a download. Be sure to grab your nearest teddy-friend for support.
Worried that the download copies of BioShock Infinite will sell out, when it lands on the 26th of March? You might want to sit and think about that for a moment, or alternatively you could pre-order the game from Steam - you know, before you know whether it's any good or not. Your wallet may or may not thank you in the long run, but at least you'll get a bunch of free stuff, including the spin-off Industrial Revolution puzzle game, some in-game tat, and a copy of the original BioShock. If an unspecified number of other people put their money down as well, you'll also get a copy of XCOM and several TF2 items, but I don't see how anyone would be interested in those.
Those TF2 items you won't be interested in include Vox Diabolus (a "Vox Populi anarchist mask"), The Pounding Father ("Heavy cannot tell lie. Heavy is first President of United States. Of crushing little baby men"), and The Steel Songbird ("Why not treat yourself to the haunting rhythmic symphony of bolts being constantly pooped by this mute, easily terrified incontinent bird?") However, they will only be unlocked if other people pre-order too - the counter is currently at 19%. The reward tier after that doles out a copy of the excellent XCOM.
BioShock Infinite is out in just a few weeks, and Tom was rather impressed with it in his recent hands-on with the game.
Feb 20, 2013
Whenever you download and install a game on Steam, the files rest neatly on your hard drive like a well-pressed stack of laundry for quick access and organization of custom mod files. Some older Source games creak along on an older format from an earlier age in Steam's saga, but in a new FAQ, Valve says it's converting the guts of these games to use the SteamPipe content delivery system for faster load times and an updated file layout.
Counter-Strike: Source, Day of Defeat: Source, Half-Life 2: Deathmatch, and Team Fortress 2 will soon traverse over to the steamapps/common section of your Steam folder instead of the older steamapps/ destination. The conversion is automatic: Valve says you'll need enough disk space "for about two full copies of the game" as it changes over.
Modders and mod users have a little bit of extra homework to do to ensure everything works. Custom files will need to be copied manually over to the new directory, and mod authors should start packaging their works as VPK files instead of in a ZIP.
ZIP files still work in a pinch, as Valve describes it:
"For example, if the ZIP contains custom player models that look like (heaven forbid) ponies, and one of the files is materials/models/player/scout/scout_head.vtf, then you might make a dirctory such as tf/addons/i_love_ponies. You should unzip the mod such that the custom scout head texture ends up at tf/addons/i_love_ponies/materials/models/player/scout/scout_head.vtf."
Check out the rest of Valve's FAQ for more detailed info on the changes SteamPipe brings. You can also download and join the ongoing Team Fortress 2 beta to see the updates for yourself.
It's been tested, it's been debated, and it's now available to all: Valve announces the official launch of the Steam Linux client after nearly four months in beta. Expectedly, a sale is going on for all Linux-supported games in Steam's catalog, including Crusader Kings II and Counter-Strike: Source.
The sale lasts until February 21 and takes 50 to 75 percent off the 54 games Linux users can slot into their brand new platform. Team Fortress 2 joins the revelry by automatically awarding a free and tradeable in-game Tux accessory for all Linux mercs jumping into the free-to-play shooter before May 1. Prepare for an avalanche of crates, Ubuntuans.
Grab the Steam Linux client and browse the full list of discounted titles on the sale page. Welcome to Steam, Linux gamers.
Feb 13, 2013
Guns are a constant character in modern games, but we don't typically take the time to deconstruct their personalities. How a gun animates, its behavior, and what we hear in our headphones has a lot to do with how much we enjoy a shooter. In service of highlighting some of the best examples of good design, Evan, Logan, and T.J. sat in front of a camera to talk about which game guns they like the most.
The six or seven guns we mention are a sliver of PC gaming's armory, of course. What rifles, blasters, launchers, or cannons would you contribute to the discussion?
In a first for the company, Valve let go an unspecified number of employees across multiple teams including hardware and Android development, according to a report by Gamasutra.
Valve hasn't released official word on the number of departures or how this affects its Steam Box project, but Gamasutra says it's hearing such descriptions as "great cleansing" and "large decisions" from those let go. "We've seen the number '25' tossed around, but are unable to confirm this," the Gamasutra article claims.
Yesterday, hardware hacker Jeri Ellsworth, who was hired by Valve to join its hardware team, tweeted a sudden announcement that she'd been fired and was moving on to "new and exciting projects." Elsewhere, the LinkedIn profile of Ed Owen, a senior mechanical engineer, shows an end employment date of February 2013 at Valve.
Though layoffs happen from time to time in the industry, Valve's reputation as one of the most secretive (and lucrative) studios in the business underscores the peculiarity of this development, especially when the terms "layoffs" and "fired" aren't normally associated with a company known for its free-form work philosophy.
We've reached out to Valve for an explanation and for further confirmation about how many people have been let go. We'll update this story if more information arrives today.
UPDATE: Garry's Mod creator Garry Newman tweets the appearance of a number of differences on Valve's staff page seen through Diff Checker. The comparison tool indicates the removal of nine employee bios from the People section of Valve's company page, listed below:
Moby Francke, Half-Life 2 character designer and Team Fortress 2 art lead
Jason Holtman, director of business development for Steam and Steamworks
Keith Huggins, character animator and animator for Team Fortress 2 "Meet the" video series
Tom Leonard, software engineer for Half-Life 2 and Left 4 Dead
Realm Lovejoy, artist for Half-Life 2, Portal, and Left 4 Dead. She was also part of the original DigiPen-turned-Valve team that created Narbacular Drop, the inspiration for Portal
Marc Nagel, test lead for Half-Life, Counter-Strike, and patch updates
Bay Raitt, animator for Half-Life 2, Team Fortress 2, and Portal
Elan Ruskin, engine programmer for Left 4 Dead, Portal 2, and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
Matthew Russell, animator for Team Fortress 2 "Meet the" video series
UPDATE: Valve boss Gabe Newell sent along his response to Engadget: "We don't usually talk about personnel matters for a number of reasons. There seems to be an unusual amount of speculation about some recent changes here, so I thought I'd take the unusual step of addressing them. No, we aren't canceling any projects. No, we aren't changing any priorities or projects we've been discussing. No, this isn't about Steam or Linux or hardware or . We're not going to discuss why anyone in particular is or isn't working here."
Feb 12, 2013
Player-directed love stories are typically accomplished with "romance options." The options are characters, and in the mechanic's simplest form, if you do and say the right things to an eligible character, he, she, or Asari will fall in love, bed, or both. But can love—and more importantly, good storytelling—blossom from dialog options and cutscene trysts?
In this week's Face Off debate, Tyler says love is a bad game, arguing that writer-driven affection is preferable to mechanizing intimacy. Across the debate hall, T.J. cherishes the player-driven relationships that motivated him to save universes. Read more opinions on the next page, and argue your side in the comments. It's what the internet is for!
Tyler: "Alright team, we designed an interesting, complex character, but something’s missing. What’s that you say, every libidinous teenager? Wouldn't it be neat if players could manipulate the character's variables with the goal of fulfilling their carnal fantasies? Yes! Instead of a character, we’ll make a doll that comes to bed and says 'I love you' when you squeeze it."
T.J: OK, I’m going to refrain from derailing this whole thing with an anti-neo-Victorian rant on how our society is irrationally afraid of sex, and make my case this way: relationships are a core part of being human, and just about any story about humans. Adding player romance to a game makes it feel more real and complete as an experience. Thinking about it from a gamist “manipulating variables” perspective is missing the point. And it’s kinda gross.
Tyler: What’s gross is connecting with Liara in Mass Effect, and then getting her in bed by skipping down an obvious, color-coded path. I’m not against portrayals of sex and relationships, especially not with blue monogender aliens, but achieving intimacy shouldn't be about choosing the right dialog options.
I liked bonding with Liara, but when we reached that inevitable moment of passion, our interaction went from engaging character development to an erotic fanfic on Tumblr.
T.J: And you would know what erotic Tumblr fanfic sounds like.
Tyler: I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Fanfics on Angelfire pairing off Mulder and Evangelion. I watched scenes of glitter and Spock near—alright, I'll go ahead and lose this reference like tears in rain.
T.J: Please do.
Tyler: I'm an explorer, what can I say? Anyway, what I was saying is that alluding to romance would have been more effective than making it a binary goal, a hedonistic achievement. The latter cheapens the character and ultimately lets us down.
T.J: Well-done romance in games goes far beyond simple hedonism. To use another example from the same franchise: romancing Tali created one of the most emotionally striking moments in Mass Effect 3, and it had nothing to do with sex. I wanted to help her rebuild her home. I wanted to settle down there with her, and give her the life her people had dreamed of for so long.
Would I have wanted that even if she hadn’t been my character’s romantic partner? Maybe. But the impact would have been far, far less... impactful.
Tyler: I can’t believe you brought that up, you insensitive boor! Don’t you know what happened to me and her? It didn’t have to be like that, Tali...
T.J: I don’t care how things went in the Tyler is Shepard timeline, which is clearly the darkest timeline. And I think you just proved my point.
Tyler: Jerk. Well, you’re right that giving players more motivation than “save the universe because, like, you’re on the front of the box and stuff” is part of what makes Mass Effect great, and building a romantic relationship is an effective way to design that motivation. But is presenting a stable of romantic candidates the best way to go about that? I don’t think so. It makes my “relationship” the result of deliberate calculation, which ruins it for me.
In Half-Life 2, however, I don’t even talk, but the subtle tenderness between Gordon and Alyx is a one way ticket to motivation city.
Gordon doesn't have words, never mind dialog options.
T.J: You have a point with Alyx, but I think in a game like Mass Effect, where so much about the protagonist, as a person, is determined by the player, you should be able to choose who they are romantically interested in. And you need a few, varied options to make that a possibility. There is a place for doing it the Half-Life way, but I feel more personal attachment in games that do it the BioWare way.
Tyler: I’ll respond to that, but first we have to stop dancing around the real problem and just say it: I don't want to reinforce negative gamer stereotypes, but trying to ignore every opportunity to make an immature joke about “reaching the story’s climax” or “doing it BioWare style” is just killing me.
T.J: Based on Dragon Age, I don’t know that I ever want to “do it BioWare style.” But that just further illustrates my point that the sex scene is not the reward.
Tyler: Anything raunchy, salacious, or simply involving the letter “x” will motivate some, but I’ll give you that developers aren’t required to justify their intentions or gauge player maturity.
My real problem is that interactive storytelling is still clumsy. It’s getting better, and some decisions work, like whether or not to do space violence here, or save a space colony there, but building a relationship with tacky dialog wheel winks and nudges feels crude. I’d rather romantic intentions stay ambiguous or writer-dictated until there’s a game sophisticated enough to make it feel natural. Right now they just feel like dating sims.
T.J: It’s all a matter of perspective. Sure, the tech isn't there yet to simulate the depth and nuance of a real-life romance in a player-directed system, but you could say that about a lot of things: the way the space rifles work, the way the space villagers react to your presence. Games inherently require abstraction. And personally, I’m willing to deal with the level of abstraction we see in game romances right now for what it adds to my personalized narrative. Which, at times, is quite a lot.
Tyler: Nuh uh, games should be just like real life ...would be a terribly dumb rebuttal. Alright, so your point about abstraction is a good one, but I still think author-driven romance is superior. Put one of those little black boxes in front of your TV and play Ico. That was an expression of affection, if not quite the same kind as we've been talking about.
The point is, wooing characters who are programmed to be wooed just makes me feel weird. Unless, of course, I’m using “wooing” to mean "shooting up a floor full of suit-wearing dudes like that scene from 1992 John Woo film Hard Boiled". I’m totally cool with that kind of Wooing.
T.J: The only thing that could make that better is getting the girl at the end.
Follow Tyler and T.J. on Twitter to see day-to-day debates as they happen, and jump to the next page for opinions from the community...
@pcgamer They can hinder when it's forced or poorly written, but the best relationships can really enhance the experience.
— Eric Watson (@RogueWatson) February 13, 2013
@pcgamer They can be too heavy handed, clumsy and unnatural. Though romance is often just that, stories about it shouldn't be.
— Modred189 V (@Modred189) February 12, 2013
@pcgamer They feel forced and are ultimately unnecessary. I'd much prefer a well scripted single romance path that I could chose to follow.
— Garviel Loken (@SeventyTwo_) February 12, 2013
@pcgamer Mass Effect romance is no better or worse than what it wants to be: Captain Kirk and a Green Alien Chick/Ensign going at it.
— Jacob Dieffenbach (@dieffenbachj) February 12, 2013
@pcgamer if done right, they add a nice nuance.ME did it decently, but can be expanded upon without hindering the main story.
— Chris K. (@ChuckLezPC) February 12, 2013
@pcgamer If it feels like part of the story then fine. If it's an afterthought for content/controversy/publicity then it feels gimmicky
— Roman (@romanwlltt) February 12, 2013
@pcgamer brilliant. They make me care for characters. I like Garrus' bromance too
— Alex Filipowski (@AlexFiliUK) February 12, 2013
@pcgamer yes definitely. That's part of the reason why I love the Dragon Age series so much. Romance with certain char. Really brings you in
— Nick Ellsworth (@NE4Guinness) February 12, 2013
@pcgamer If I wanted to play a Japanese dating simulation... well, I don't, so there you go.
— HerpsMcDerps (@LoneCommandline) February 12, 2013
@pcgamer It forces emotional character interaction as you will invariably show favouritism. More emotion = more immersion
— AEON|Dante (@nzaeon) February 12, 2013
@pcgamer Three ME games (well, still a bit left of the third), and I have yet to even find any of the romance options. Art imitating life.
— Frode Hauge (@frodehauge) February 12, 2013
@pcgamer Depends on whether its tactfully done. A Nick Spark's story would murder an otherwise immersive game like ME.
— Andrew (@Drewoid13) February 12, 2013
@pcgamer They can allow for greater immersion and more dynamic stories.They shouldn't be the main focus but they should be in RPG's for sure
— Denholm (@DenholmFraser) February 12, 2013
@pcgamer The problem is that the romance is essentially between two puppets. I'm not sure you can replicate proper romance in games.
— Michael (@AchillesSC2) February 12, 2013
Modder/programmer/futurist Nathan Andrews has been working on a virtual reality set-up for Half-Life 2 and Black Mesa: Source. Fresh videos on Reddit offer exclusive glimpses of a not-too-distant future in which we our gaming time spinning round and round shooting invisible enemies with a plastic gun and occasionally walking into walls. I for one welcome this future, and you might too once you've seen Nathan's excellent work in motion in the videos below.
Update: Vimeo seem to have scuppered the first video, so we've replaced it with the YouTube version. Due to EMI copyright shenanigans you might not be able to see it in your region, but you can check out Nathan's other videos on his channel.