PC Gamer

Erik Wolpaw, a long-time Valve writer who has worked on game series including Half-Life 2, Left 4 Dead, and Portal, revealed today that he is no longer with the company. Marc Laidlaw, himself a former Valve writer, let the news slip on Twitter, while Wolpaw confirmed it in a status update on his Facebook page

Wolpaw joined Valve in 2004, and has credits on Half-Life: Episode One and Two, Left 4 Dead, Portal, and Portal 2. Prior to that, he was with Double-Fine, where he co-wrote the outstanding platform-adventure Psychonauts, and before that he was one-half of the brilliant (and sadly defunct) gaming site Old Man Murray. He's currently involved in the development of Psychonauts 2, which was successfully crowdfunded in early 2016.

A reason for Wolpaw's departure wasn't given, but it does appear to be legitimate this time around. A report that he had left Valve also surfaced last summer, but in that case it turned out that he'd just called in sick for the day. 

I've emailed Valve for more information, and will update if and when I received a reply. 

Update: The report originally stated that writer Jay Pinkterton had also left the company, but apparently not.

PC Gamer

Videogames have bugs. This is a fact of life. Some are obvious and easy to squash, and others are a little trickier to nail down. And then there are bugs like the one Valve fixed yesterday in Team Fortress 2. According to this Engadget report, it was around for a full decade—since TF2 was released in 2007—before it was noticed last month by TF2 Classic developer Nicknine, and reported by Redditor sigsegv_. 

The bug occurred when a player selected the Scout, Heavy, or Sniper as their first class upon joining a server. After that, switching to Soldier, Pyro, Demo, Engineer, Medic, or Spy on the same server would leave their local and server-side animations slightly out of sync. It worked the other way as well: Beginning as Soldier, Pyro, Demo, Engineer, Medic, or Spy, and then switching to Scout, Heavy, or Sniper would have the same effect.   

It sounds harmless enough, but the practical impact was most definitely not. As you can see in the video, the mismatch between local and server-side hitboxes meant that shots that should have hit sometimes would not. And once it happened, players were stuck: Switching back and forth wouldn't clear the error, nor would dying or going to spectator mode.     

"It's because the player models for scout/heavy/sniper have their pose parameters listed in one order, while the player models for soldier/pyro/demo/engie/medic/spy have their pose parameters listed in a slightly different order (move_x and move_y swapped)," sigsegv_ explained. "And it's also worth pointing out that in MvM [Mann vs Machine], the bots re-use the same 22 player slots over and over: when a robot dies, that player is switched to spectator, and then when it's time for another robot to spawn, the player is switched back onto blue team and changed to the class that the new robot should be. So, in effect, different MvM robots are somewhat equivalent to a group of human players who die, change class, and then respawn; which means that they were also susceptible to the bug." 

It's not a huge bug, as evidenced by the fact that it went unnoticed for ten years, but that's also what makes it so notable now. TF2 is not your average ten-year-old game: It's still one of the top five games on Steam, with tens of thousands of people blasting away at each other 24 hours a day, and is supported by a very active modding community. Yet somehow, this bug, which impacts the game at its most fundamental level—did you shoot the guy or not?—has slipped through the cracks until now. In a way, it's almost a shame that Valve fixed it.   

The full list of changes included in the latest TF2 update is below.

  • Improved Steam Voice support for servers that have enabled it
  • Removed sv_use_steam_voice convar. Steam voice is now selected via "sv_voicecodec steam"
  • Fixed demos not properly recording Steam Voice status, resulting in potential corrupt voice in demos with differing default settings
  • Will now use the native Steam Voice sampling rate, instead of clamping to 11kHz
  • Improved compatibility with Steam client beta
  • Fixed OS X voice communication sounding high-pitched when using the default CELT voice codec
  • Fixed an animation bug that would cause the client and server hitboxes to become out of sync
  • Fixed the Scout not playing the correct animation when using the Shortstop's Alt-Fire to shove someone
  • Fixed some missing VO sounds for the Scout when he picks up a baseball
  • Fixed Spectators seeing the fake death notices for the Spy when he feigns death
  • Fixed the Widowmaker not doing increased damage when the Sentry's target is a building, boss, or tank
  • Fixed not earning Crikey meter progress with The Cleaner's Carbine when damaging a building, boss, or tank
  • Fixed the Scout not getting assists for shoving players while using the Shortstop
  • Fixed not being able to use non-tradable Giftapults
  • Fixed powerups sometimes being removed from the game in Mannpower mode
  • Fixed a case where the scoreboard would not update properly when players volunteer to switch teams in Casual mode
  • Fixed a case where Casual servers would spontaneously terminate with "Server shutting down" upon losing connection with the matchmaking service
  • Updated the logic used to pick the maps players can vote on in the end-of-match map vote on Casual servers to help maintain healthier game mode representation across regions
  • Casual servers were often rotating to unrelated game modes during votes, resulting in partially filled servers in certain regions
  • Updated the player_bodygroups that are hidden when equipping The Dark Falkirk Helm and The Sole Saviors
  • Updated the model/materials for The Snowmann to fix some LOD issues
  • Updated the localization files
  • Added Gift Wrap back to the Mann Co. Store at a reduced price
  • Added TF2Maps 72hr TF2Jam Winter Participant 2017 community medal
  • Added Rally Call Charity Tournament community medals
  • Added ozfortress Season 18 tournament medals
  • Added new survey questions to the end-of-match survey for Casual and Competitive modes and fixed a bug where multiple surveys could be displayed at the same time
PC Gamer

Mike Shapiro may not be a household name, but I'd wager you've heard his voice at some stage in the last 20 years. A voice actor with over two decades experience, he first lent his vocal chords to 1994's Super Punch Out, and has since worked on everything from Dota 2 to Grand Theft Auto 5. 

His most famous work, though, is his contributions to Valve's Half-Life series—having voiced security guard-turned-Resistance champion Barney Calhoun, as well as Gordon Freeman's dapper, dark and elusive adversary The G-Man. 

The following interview took place last year, prior to Gabe Newell's recent Reddit Ask Me Anything, where I asked Shapiro what it's like working with Valve, why he's drawn to the characters he's voiced within the Half-Life series, and what are our chances of seeing Barney and G-Man's return at some stage in the future.

PC Gamer: Prior to working with Valve on the original Half-Life, you’d worked on several video games including more comical titles such as Super Punch-Out—what first drew you to video game voice acting?

Mike Shapiro: Voice acting in games has always been one of my favourite places to perform. You’ve got a ton of creative collaboration with the writers and creators, and often you get to inhabit a range of characters even on a single title. Especially early on, when the medium was just burgeoning, performing for games felt like a very natural extension of live theatre.

Is it fair to say that working on the original Half-Life was the biggest video game you’d worked on up to that point production-wise? How was this project different to the others you’d worked on beforehand?

Prior to Half-Life I had worked on a variety of projects. Seattle was a hotbed in the '90s and a number of them were ambitious for their time (did somebody say McZee?). But from the outset, Half-Life was breaking new ground on a lot of levels. Early on, while we were still devising G-Man and Barney, pre-release versions of the game just blew my mind. It was way out front of other FPS titles in terms of realism and interactivity, and ahead of the curve for cinematic sequences that were super-fun to work on.

Half-Life 2 was obviously bigger again, how did this compare to working on the original Half-Life and what were your expectations going in?

It’s always a time warp—in this case a gratifying one—to step back into the boots (or mysterious, all-powerful wingtips) of characters you inhabited years earlier. Before we even began work on Half-Life 2, the game had broken all kinds of new ground and won wide acclaim.

More significantly, we could feel the audience out there—hungry, engaged, creative. That makes a world of difference to an actor. So when it was time to get the band back together, Valve’s studio was buzzing with that energy. I [attend] a number of Comic Cons and conventions, and I always look forward to meeting the fans. That’s a real moment of fulfilment, when a project we began in 1998 comes to fruition face to face in real time.

Did you have any sense at the time—during or shortly after—that you were working on a video game that would go on to be held up as one of the greatest of all time?

The creatives at Valve, the producers, the entire team—they are consummate pros. From our initial meeting it was clear that they weren’t just putting out a new title, they were planning to change the world. It was always about story and engagement, creating an immersive, visceral, altogether novel experience. Sure, we sensed that Half-Life would break new ground, experiencing even betas of the new game, that was patently clear. 

When we first began recording Barney and Eli, G-Man, Gina, all those characters at Black Mesa? Right from the start, and more recently with [my work on] Dota 2, the whole Half-Life experience has been hugely gratifying.

Speaking to the general process—how closely do the in-game models of the Half-Life 2 characters resemble their voice actors and do you guys have any input?

So you’re asking whether I physically resemble G-Man? I certainly hope not! For starters, I try to get out in the sun a little more. And Barney’s got way cooler gear than I could ever hope to wear.

For sure there is a symbiosis that evolves between you and your character—whether it manifests in terms of appearance, that’s up to the fans to decide when they meet us. To my eye, it’s the dedicated cosplayers who most strikingly resemble our characters. Some of those are amazing!

In our previous chat you mentioned that G-Man and Barney are among your “very favorite characters”—what is it about them that’s so special to you even now, so many years on?

It’s a lot of fun to inhabit G-Man, albeit vicariously—those nether realms, and the secrets which he and he alone carries. Of course you wouldn’t actually wanna be the guy, let alone meet him in a darkened facility. Likewise, something about Barney Calhoun’s spirit is just indomitable. And loyal. Even if he has rather a simpler mind at work. Barney is kind of a perfect counterpoint to G-Man. So playing both of them within a single storyline is uniquely satisfying.

They’re also among my favourites because Half-Life fans are so devoted and knowledgeable—when we meet, there’s an immediate shared history through these characters. Both G-Man and Barney are very particularly drawn, and somehow also archetypal. The players always grok that.

Again, it’s been a while since the last instalment to the Half-Life series, how hopeful/confident are you on a personal level that Valve will return to it in the future?

Between the original titles and the immense fan creativity, Half-Life is incredibly vibrant, and it’s hard to believe we’ve heard the last from the Combine. I’m not at liberty to discuss any detailed plans, but I regularly connect with players who make it clear that there’s hunger for another instalment. Might that come in the form of a film collaboration with Bad Robot, or a new stand-alone release? I certainly feel optimistic about those scenarios, and the Half-Life universe is one I’m always happy to inhabit.

PC Gamer

Although skin gambling in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive has been around for a number of years, last year saw Valve crack down on a series of sites—issuing cease and desist orders to several gambling outlets for using their Steam account for commercial purposes. Valve is now turning its head towards its other major online shooter, Team Fortress 2. 

If you're unfamiliar with how skin gambling works, Evan's detailed overview in relation to CS:GO is worth checking out as it's a similar process in TF2. At this stage, Valve hasn't revealed its next move beyond stating its intentions. 

As featured on the Team Fortress 2 website, Valve released the following statement: 

"In July of last year we outlined our position on gambling web sites, specifically noting that Valve has no business relationship with these sites. At that time we also began blocking many CSGO gambling accounts. You can view the original post here.

"More recently, some gambling web sites started leveraging TF2 items. Today we began the process of blocking TF2 gambling accounts as well. We recommend you don’t trade with these sites."

Following last year's crackdown, a number of shuttered CS:GO gambling sites suggested the way in which they operated was entirely legal, and that they'd relaunch following talks with Valve. A cursory Google search would suggest this has not been the case, which of course sends a pretty clear message to those still operating under the radar.

PC Gamer

As you may have spied last week, the creators of Superhot are running a competition which encourages entrants to get creative with the time-manipulating FPS in mind. Named #MAKEITSUPERHOT, entrants are asked to craft games, mods, or arts and crafts inspired by Superhot Team's flagship game whereby a winner will be crowned on February 26. 

One such entrant is modder WhyNott's PORTALHOT, which cleverly combines Valve's Portal and it's orange and blue vortex mechanics, with the movement-related slow-mo features of Superhot. 

Although cautious to single out any one project, the competition is being judged by ModDB, Superhot Team, and IMGN.PRO (and not the public), therefore I thought it okay to showcase this one on its own. It's really rather cool: 

"So, how does one turn a non-violent FPP (first person perspective) puzzle-adventure game into something reminiscent of an ultrafast semi-tactical FPS with high-stakes gameplay?" asks WhyNott in the mod's first developer diary featured on ModDB. "It's not all that difficult, really! Portal's lack of violence really depends on your point of view. Enemies are definitely not a problem here. Sentry turrets are more than capable at filling that role, and if you're bored with bullets you also have other options. 

"It's a little different on player's side, but not by a large margin. Generally, with a good aim and a bit of time to think strategically, portal gun can be as devastating of a weapon as any other. Couple this with the trademark ability to move quickly over large distances, and you'll find the stakes to be evened out somewhat. In reality, the 'time moves only when you move' mechanic is good enough to carry almost any kind of game. It synergizes really well with the concept of 'portal combat', since you have that extra time to think about how to place each portal to deal with sentry guns efficiently."

A second dev diary dives deeper into what makes the mod tick, while WhyNott has been chatting with commenters about the hows and whys of the Portal-meets-Superhot mashup, all which makes for interesting reading. 

The #MAKEITSUPERHOT contest wraps up at 12am UTC on February 26, 2017. All entrants receive a Steam key for Superhot Team's Superhot. 

PC Gamer

Tom Senior: Recently Game Informer disclosed the insights of a supposed Valve insider who insists that Half-Life 3 doesn’t exist in any meaningful form. RTS and FMV prototypes have apparently been toyed with, but the magical genre-shattering FPS sequel that the internet has been craving for nearly a decade isn’t real. Earlier this week Valve’s Gabe Newell did an Ask Me Anything on Reddit and suggested that Valve is still interested in revisiting the Half-Life universe, though “the number three must not be said.” Don’t hold your breath, basically.

Valve’s failure to release Half-Life 3 is not surprising because Valve has never announced Half-Life 3. The studio wanted to move from huge boxed releases to shorter development cycles and an episodic format, culminating with Half-Life 2: Episode Three. Episode Two ended on a savage cliffhanger, but that alone doesn’t fully explain why we want more Half-Life 10 years later. Half-Life 3 has taken on additional meaning. "HL3 confirmed!??" is a running gag, but a hopeful one. We want to believe.

For me Half-Life 3's absence feels like a symbol of Valve’s retreat from game development. I know this is ridiculous, because Valve is running Dota 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive—two of the biggest games in the world. But I can’t enjoy Dota 2, because a) it demands massive time investment and b) in my experience as a new player in that community has been dreadful. I don't think I'm alone. I loved Left 4 Dead and Portal, and I had a great time with Alien Swarm, which Valve put out for free in 2010. I miss Valve’s humour and innovation, but if I’m honest I’m pining for Half-Life because Valve stopped making games for me. That’s a pretty petulant position, but there we are.

Samuel Roberts: I've always speculated that an unspoken reason behind Half-Life 3's continued non-existence is the burden to reinvent the first-person shooter again, just as Valve had done on two previous occasions. Is it enough for Valve to just make a super refined sequel, even if it doesn't have the impact of either of the previous Half-Life games? Well, yes—Portal 2 is exactly that model of follow-up. It wasn't a reinvention, it was a welcome extension of the first game's existing ideas. If the level and narrative design is strong enough, it doesn't feel like diminishing returns.

We need Half-Life 3 to complete the story of the series, but more than that, it's a better world for having more of Valve's single-player games in it.

Tom S: It is unfortunate that Half-Life 3 (or Half-Life 3: Episode Three) has become this mythical entity. We don't know what it looks like but it's everything we have ever dreamed a first-person game could be. That impossible expectation is good enough reason never to touch that series again. We've been banging on about it for so long that the stakes are crazy high now (and we are not going to stop, apparently).

Also shooters are in a good place right now. Last year brought us Doom, Titanfall 2, Battlefield 1’s Operations mode, Overwatch, and Rainbow Six Siege is ticking along nicely. If the rumours are true we could be looking at Destiny 2 on PC in the future. I’m hoping for another shooter from the Wolfenstein: The New Order team. I miss the jokes and the characters of the Half-Life universe, but the FPS hardly needs to be rescued.

Phil Savage: The thing with Portal 2, Sam, is that it did reinvent—just not the campaign. Through its level editor, It made Steam Workshop creation accessible to everyone, and not just people who are really good at making virtual hats. It worked! Portal 2's Workshop page contains over 557,000 items, and, while most of those will have never been played, it definitely extended the life of an otherwise unsurprising—albeit hilarious and with a better ending song—sequel.

I think that's what Gabe Newell meant when he said, in his recent AMA, that Valve's products are, "usually the result of an intersection of technology that we think has traction, a group of people who want to work on that, and one of the game properties that feels like a natural playground for that set of technology and design challenges." If Portal 2 was the Workshop, and Team Fortress 2 the ability to sell a fuckload of hats, what would Half-Life 3 bring to Valve's ecosystem? Maybe it's Source 2. Half-Life 2 was a great showcase for the original Source engine. Perhaps Half-Life 3 will be how Valve demonstrates the power of its successor.

Joe Donnelly: Sam and Tom's points about reinvention and the rude health of modern shooters are bang on the money, and while the FPS genre isn't in need of the same revolution brought by Half-Life 2 12 years ago, Half-Life 2 itself still one of the best first-person shooters on the market today. I revisited the Orange Box last year on a whim to see how Gordon Freeman's second outing fared against today's standards—a whim which had me rooting around Nova Prospekt a full week later, delighting in the how much of the game's wit, humour and expert design I'd forgotten since my first playthroughs.

We've missed this, and it was only by returning after such a long absence that I realised quite how much I miss this. To this end while seeing Half-Life 3—or HL2: Episode 3—powered by Source 2 or something newer would be lovely; I'd just as easy take a concluding chapter powered by the original 2004 engine. And, judging by some of the responses to Gabe Newell's mid-week AMA, I seem to be far from alone. This covers the want element, but do we need Half-Life 3? I reckon yes: evolution and nostalgia aside, denying players the chance to tie up Freeman's loose ends while treating themselves to another helping of what made number two so enjoyable is not only a disservice to players, but an injustice to videogames in general.

Tom S: Some fans have wondered if Valve could do a comic, or another similarly light-touch release, to tie up the end of the story. This seems like a good idea, and I enjoy Valve’s comics a lot.

I do wonder why Half-Life 2’s story still carries weight all this time later though. Half-Life opened with a B-movie premise—experiments gone wrong, the military sweeping in to cover things up. It gained a lot of detail with Half-Life 2, but it’s still pulp sci-fi to me. I mean, there’s a whole zombie movie pastiche in there.

Chris Thursten: Half-Life has always had revolutionary storytelling, but never a revolutionary story. The groundbreaking implementation of elaborate scripted sequences in the first game is why people remember it so vividly. The game never took control away from you: you were there, in Black Mesa, watching that otherwise-familiar B-movie premise explode to life around you.

Half-Life 2 took that further, and grounded a more sophisticated (but still familiar) story of near-future resistance in a believable dystopia. It has been widely imitated, and for good reason. It was a compellingly presented world populated by well-performed characters. Again, you felt like you were in a real place to an extent that you hadn't necessarily been in previous games.

In addition to advancing the FPS as a whole, then, Half-Life 3 would presumably need to advance our understanding of what a gameworld can be. This is where it gets much more complicated, I suspect. The advance of game engine technology has slowed. We're not blown away by see-saw physics any more. I wouldn't be surprised if Valve had experimented with VR with this in mind. Because what else could they do?

Aside from some staggering advance in graphics tech—that would still need to run on regular PCs—the best they could do is kidnap you, stick you in a helicopter, fly you to antarctica and force you to live the conclusion of Gordon's journey in real life. I mean, they could probably afford to do that. But should they? I've seen Westworld. The answer: probably not. (But please do it anyway, Gabe.)

Tom S: That’s settled, then. We do need Half-Life 3, and it needs to be an experiential future-tech extravaganza with deadly IRL headcrabs and reality-shattering see-saw puzzles. Get on it then, Valve.

PC Gamer

Today, remakes, reboots and remasters are à la mode, however there's something to be said about the process in reverse. Vince Weaver, an assistant professor at the University of Main's Electrical and Computing Engineering department understands this, which is why he's recreated Valve's 2007 puzzle platformer Portal using Applesoft BASIC for the Apple II. 

In crude 8-bit visuals, Weaver reimagines protagonist Chell, sentient robot antagonist GlaDOS, and the game's signature orange and blue portal mechanics with aplomb—and he's even managed to capture the game's underlying tongue-in-cheek humour. The video below runs for close to eight minutes, however is at its best when Weaver gets to the final showdown around the 2.55 mark (if you're yet to play Portal, the following borders spoiler territory). 

Once the battle with GlaDOS runs its course, Jonathan Coulton's end credits song Still Alive plays and sounds pretty fantastic in chiptune style. We may not be getting Half-Life 3 anytime soon, nor HL2: Episode 3, and the same might be the case for Portal 3. If so, this might have to do us—head to Weaver's site to give it a bash via the downloadable emulator there, or this in-browser emulator

Thanks, Gizmodo

PC Gamer

"There’s something with that third episode that isn’t sitting right with Gabe and other people at Valve," an anonymous alleged Valve insider claims. "Ultimately it just starves to death."

The above is but a snippet of a thorough and intriguing interview published by Game Informer's Andrew Reiner, conducted with an unverified source at Valve (Reiner, while cautious of publishing the interview without verification, does however trust his source) who suggests Half-Life 3 has never existed, no matter how much fans of the series may wish otherwise. 

The source even suggests the elusive and much-anticipated third series instalment could have been a live-action choice-driven game or an RTS, had certain Valve employees seen their iterative ideas through to completion. The source chalks this up to the developer's fluid structure and in-house culture—something which has seen several developers working on projects they hoped would go onto become the next Half-Life, however without support from the powers that be, not least Gabe Newell, failed to get off the ground. 

Assuming the source is credible, Reiner's interview is absolutely worth reading in its entirety. Below is how the source responds to direct questions about the prospect of Half-Life 3, and the possibility of concluding Half-Life 2.

"I don’t think there will be any more. But at any given moment, they make decisions as they come. If some people within Valve make something that they collectively feel is exciting, then it will happen. That’s going to be hard for that to happen now," says Reiner's source. "Every time a Half-Life project gets some gravity and then collapses, it becomes harder for the next one to start up. Because the business changes so much, and there are so many other things to do, it just gets harder and harder. It’s one of those things they’ll always have to accept. 

"People are going to harass them for more Half-Life. The idea of delivering a third episode of Half-Life 2, that’s dead. There’s no universe where that will happen. I think there is a universe where a standalone thing could come together to fill in that hole, but that’s tough."

Speaking to this point, Reiner questions why Valve doesn't hand development over to a third party, to which the source suggests doing so risks either upsetting fans by way of neglecting players, or by ultimately releasing a lesser game. Reiner counters by suggesting  Valve will forever continue to be harassed for more Half-Life by adopting this approach. 

"That’s why they won’t talk about it anymore," the source responds. "Every time they talk about it, the hunger comes back. That’s why they ignore it. The pain subsides with time."

Again, Reiner's interview is worth reading as a whole as, again assuming it's legitimate, it offers some valuable insight into how Valve works, and perhaps presents an argument why we might be best putting Half-Life 3—as an idea and/or possibility to bed. 

If you think that's giving up too easy, then you should definitely check out our Half-Life 3 unconfirmed collection which gathers every rumor, hoax, and leak which has surfaced since the conclusion of HL2.

Thanks, PCGamesN.

PC Gamer

Mega City One isn't quite Half-Life 3, but it is a three hour-long single-player campaign which plants you in the shoes of Gordon Freeman and sets you off on an alternate timeline in a bid to save the world. Its version 1.0 is out now. 

Inspired by an unorthodox combination of the movie Dredd, and games Tomb Raider and Resident Evil, Mega City One sees Freeman again siding with the Rebels against the Combine this time in search of a lost Xen crystal. The next phase of your adversaries' invasion of earth is hinged on acquiring the ancient artefact thus you'll visit ancient ruins, old temples, villages, mansions, and ultimately the city in your quest to get there first.     

"All difficulty levels have been completely rebalanced compared to the main game, to make the experience more challenging and fun at the same time," explains mod creator Abdulhamid Cayirli, who goes by the pseudonym Crowbar. "On the hardest difficulty it is essential to explore and conserve ammo. The difficulty levels have also been smoothed out and the levels are all designed for every difficulty level."

Mega City One came to be when Crowbar entered RunThinkShootLive's mapping tournament 'The Hammer Cup' last year, designing various maps for the competition's five challenges. Following the event, Crowbar decided to rework his designs, remake areas, and implement the feedback he received from the tournament's players. He's since added entirely new maps in order to fill the gaps.

"The great thing about this is that all maps have been extensively play tested, so you can expect a very polished experience in terms of gameplay," says Crowbar. 

Mega City One's version 1.0 is out now—head over to ModDB for download links and installation instructions.

PC Gamer

Now that our game of the year awards are out of the way, we can get to the serious stuff: ventilation shafts. They’re a pillar of modern game design, shunting players from one level to the next, telling spy wannabes that a square aluminum tunnel is all espionage requires, and giving the hunted a temporary haven from their mouth-breathing pursuers. The most iconic protagonists in PC gaming depend on inexplicably designed air convection systems to save the world time and time again.I'm going to revisit a few of the most recognizable vents from PC gaming history and evaluate them based on rules I’m making up as I go. One lucky duct will win the coveted PC Gamer Gust of Approval for best vent.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution 

Gif sourceThe original Deus Ex invented the concept of ventilation shafts, and as a result is exempt from competing. Unfortunately, further iterations of ventilation shafts from the new handlers at Square Enix didn’t do much to blend them into the environments or make them feel like genuine air ducts. Instead, they serve as well-lit (somehow), long graves where you hide your dead. How many bodies can you fit in an impossible space? Deus Ex: Human Revolution steps beyond the veil.Even worse, the vents aren’t in compliance with the ASHRAE standards for acceptable air quality. According to section 5.1.1 of the guidelines, “Where interior spaces without direct openings to the outdoors are ventilated through adjoining rooms, the opening between rooms shall be permanently unobstructed.” These dead bodies are breaking the law.

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided

They are deeper, wider, and more Jensen-sized. Seriously, they’re massive. And they’re always hiding behind vending machines and small crates, leading directly to and fro with plenty of slats along the way just in case you need to see where all the guards are hanging. Subtlety doesn’t circulate in the near future, I suppose. Air isn’t getting through those suckers in a sensible way. It’s a fact: these vents blow.

Watch Dogs 2 

Pitiful, but so pitiful, I can’t help but love it. There’s been no effort made to hide that this vent in a multi-billion dollar tech company building was built specifically for drone passage. (Just a heads up, this is how you get raccoons.) Watch Dogs 2 makes little effort to mask its videogame vents as anything but transparent chunks of level design. It’s one of the bigger problems I had with the game, that it promises options for infiltration, but vent layouts are so arbitrary and assured to lead directly between points of interest that they start to feel like a big billboard, stating ‘Sneak here!’

Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes 

Gif sourceOK, so it’s more of a drainage system, but it might also push some air around. Note the more rectangular design gives the impression that they’re a tighter fit than most videogame vents, which makes for a more immersive ventilation shaft experience. Were I in a crime film, I’d consider using such a discreet, small passage as a good place to hide the murder weapon. Were I in a videogame, I’d glitch through the floor and fire my weapon with reckless abandon. In conclusion, I love the compress of MGS5’s passages, but otherwise, they rarely make sense. Often, they’ll just lead from a hole outside a building in a direct line inside. You’re going to get raccoons, damnit.

Half-Life

So very, very dark. Like a damn vent should be! If I’m supposed to suspend my disbelief that these big metallic crawlspaces are mean for air circulation and not hiding headcrabs, I want them to at least distract me with tension. The vents are otherwise featureless, vanilla shafts. Four walls, grey, nothing particularly special about them. At least they acknowledge you’re going to get critters with such impractical vents, even if they’re interdimensional face suckers.

Half-Life 2

Talk about sequelitis! No innovation. Expect more flat, boxy aluminum textures, more headcrabs popping out to say hello, and most grievous, of course, are the impractical air convection layouts. The thought makes me shiver, not because it’s abhorrent, but because damn, it’s cold in here, Gordon!

Batman: Arkham Series

Gif source

Gotham’s vents are comically large. Bruce Wayne isn’t a small man, especially with an extra few inches thanks to bat ears. And crouching isn’t easy in all that armor—it’s going to bunch up, Bruce. I’m sorry but your tummy is getting pinched beneath those plates. God forbid you drop a quarter. To accommodate all that batmass, the vents essentially serve as a venue for badguy shadow puppets and an echochamber for the Joker’s prolonged loudspeaker monologues. They’re a nice place to hide in if you’ve been spotted, but their design won’t win any awards from us. Often they serve as a comically short passage between two rooms, ensuring the only air they’re circulating is Wayne’s big ego.

WINNER — Alien: Isolation

We praised Alien's production design during release, and Creative Assembly's extraordinary attention to environment detail extends to the design of its vents. The aperture entrance to each vent is accompanied by a slick cylindrical animation and shrill soundbite that sounds like a sword being pulled from its sheath. Foreboding, a bit, considering there’s probably a hungry alien in there.Isolation’s detailed lighting and shadows give the impression that Sevastopol is a hulking, intricate tangle of retro-futurist industrial design. As you crawl through every vent and maintenance shaft, you’ll get small glimpses into the guts of the station, a smoky mess of pipes and dim lights and scattered tools. The result is a space station that feels so vast and cobbled together that its tiny passages and maintenance systems feel plausible. Vents that don’t make sense, make sense on Sevastopol.To the team at Creative Assembly, you’ve creatively assembled good passages behind the walls for players to bonk around in that don’t feel like a mad maintenance man’s pet project. Your congratulatory PC Gamer Gust of Approval should make it your way soon.

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