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.
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.
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.
The faux movie poster that five minutes and Photoshop made.
Gabe Newell and director J.J. Abrams conversed on stage this morning at the D.I.C.E. (Design, Innovate, Communicate, Entertain) summit in Las Vegas. After a back-and-forth about player agency and storytelling (via Polygon's live blog), Newell revealed that the duo had been "recapitulating a series of conversations going on," and that they're now ready to "do more than talk": Newell suggested "either a Portal movie or a Half-Life movie," and Abrams said he'd like to make a game with Valve.
Abrams is the currently reigning king of big franchise sci-fi filmmaking, taking his throne in the director's chair of both the Star Trek and Star Wars series. He's also known for producing Fringe, Cloverfield, and the maddening tale that was Lost.
In 2010, Newell told us that if Valve were to make a Half-Life movie, it wouldn't hand over control to any Hollywood studio, saying:
"There was a whole bunch of meetings with people from Hollywood. Directors down there wanted to make a Half-Life movie and stuff, so they’d bring in a writer or some talent agency would bring in writers, and they would pitch us on their story. And their stories were just so bad. I mean, brutally, the worst. Not understanding what made the game a good game, or what made the property an interesting thing for people to be a fan of.
"That’s when we started saying 'Wow, the best thing we could ever do is to just not do this as a movie, or we’d have to make it ourselves.'"
There are no details on Newell and Abrams' project—be it game, film, or both—outside of the tease that they're talking. But they're talking, so how about some fun speculation? Who would you cast as Chell? Alyx Vance? Gordon Freeman? We love Bryan Cranston for the latter role, but he may have aged beyond Freeman. Is Hugh Laurie still a favorite?
What happens when you combine (no pun intended) the easily modified Source engine with a penchant for homebrew tech? This VR tracking mod for Half-Life 2, designed to let players step into the orange HEV suit of Gordon Freeman.
"I've added full head tracking and weapon tracking to Half-Life 2 in preparation for the Oculus Rift dev kit launch," writes the creator Nathan Andrews. "Once the official rift APIs are available I'll integrate them, giving people ~70 hours of content (this also works for episode 1 & 2, the Lost Coast and tons of user generated maps, etc) that they can use to test out their Rift."
In lieu of the dev kits, the mod is being tested on a somewhat less refined version of the tech. "This video shows a handful of scenes of me using the head and weapon tracking using two hillcrest trackers (the same ones that John Carmack used for the Doom 3 BFG demos of the early oculus rift prototype). This video was made using my modified HMZ-T1 but others have played it on DIY rifts with the Vireio stereo/warp drivers."
Those expecting delivery of a Rift - or those who've somehow gaffa-taped together a similar set-up - can download the mod from here.
This does open the possibility of a Portal Oculus Rift mod, although that will almost definitely make people sick.
The sky churns with deadly energy. Looming above, the stricken Citadel claws into the heavens, its tip crackling with transdimensional discharges. The stage is set. Lights, camera—wait, hold everything. I almost forgot to switch on the Cinematic Mod which adds a bevy of high-quality textures, shadows, and a film-style lighting filter to the works. There we go. Now I'm Director Freeman.
The Cinematic Mod has been around since 2005, but updates continue rolling out regularly, with the most recent 12.1 patch releasing last month. Installing the meaty 30GB(!) mod results in a slew of immediately visible differences: high-resolution skins for everything (yes, everything, including character models for Alyx Vance, Barney, and others), dynamic shadows, and flared lighting seemingly ripped straight from a Mass Effect nightclub. The potpourri of post-production punch "gives the HL2 trilogy a more stressed, darker, and uncomfortable look," according to the mod's website.
It's essentially Half-Life 2's version of the popular ENBSeries add-ons, and the Cinematic Mod needs some hefty hardware. You'll want at least a quad-core processor and 4GB of RAM for the suite of color adjustments and shader smoothing. The upside? You'll get to find out what really lurks within the GMan's pockmarks. Head over to the mod's website for more info.
Query your cortical data node and you'll recall NeoTokyo was chosen along with 20 other titles for Steam Greenlight's second round of approvals back in October. The mod itself has been around for much longer, originally appearing in simple deathmatch form for Unreal Tournament 2004. Four years later it transitioned to the Source engine, where it languished without updates--until today, when developer Studio Radi-8 released a fresh version out of nowhere (which is apparently becoming a thing now), adding eight new maps and higher-quality weapon models.
The modes: deathmatch and Capture the Ghost (the latter, in a tip of the hat to NeoTokyo's inspiration from dystopian sci-fi anime classics such as Ghost in the Shell and Akira, replaces the flag with an android torso). The classes: Recon, Assault, and Support. Each brings special vision modes such as motion-tracking and infrared, and with the exception of the Support role, everyone can cloak for a short duration. Before each round, you select your primary weapon from an armory that grows as you gain rank from kills and victories. Think cyberpunk Counter-Strike.
It's quite the fun setup. The maps stick to the cyberpunk theme of dense city blocks, military installations, and industrial decay, with plenty of near-future gadgetry and set pieces of glowing computer interfaces and multi-legged tanks with scary-sounding Japanese names. Server selection is rather sparse at the moment, but it should hopefully jump up as word of the update spreads. You and your fellow operatives can get in the action by downloading NeoTokyo from its official website.
Someday, Valve will eventually run out of wonderful features to pack into its mega-gaming-hub Steam. Let's hope it's a long way off, because we'll all be busy poring over the user-written manuals, walkthroughs, and tips for our various games in the newly launched Steam Guides section of Steam's Community area.
Anyone can create and submit a guide for the game of their choice by clicking the new Guide tab on a game's Community Hub page. You can pretty up your words with images and embedded YouTube videos as well, and the guides also appear upon Steam's overlay whenever you're running a program. Neat. I can finally whip up my "How to avoid tigers" guide I've been planning for Far Cry 3 quickly and easily.
Head over to the Steam Guides page to take a look at the over 1,000 guides already created.