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Half-Life 2

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PC Gamer
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title="Permanent Link to Source SDK 2013 update gives modders “support for virtual reality via the Oculus Rift”">Portal 2 Rift







A Steam news note announces the arrival of an updated version of Valve's software development kit, which grants "support for Mac OS X and Linux to mod developers" and adds "the ability for virtual reality support in your mod." Yes, expect to see a wealth of Oculus Rift mods heading to a Source game near you. Ricochet with Oculus Rift support! The dream lives.



There have been other alterations, too. The source code is now up on github and a tweak to the license agreement allows users to share modified versions of the kit for free. If you're interested in making mods, the Valve Developer Community wiki is a good place to learn.



VR is the talk of the town at the moment, with the Rift's impressive showings at Eve Fanfest and E3. You can keep up with the latest VR news here.
PC Gamer
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title="Permanent Link to Steam Trading Cards is now live">steam trading cards







Just as promised, Steam Trading Cards is now live. The virtual cards can be earned by playing participating games on Steam, trading with other users, or buying on the Steam Marketplace. Complete a set to create a badge, earn rewards and XP, and level up. The user with the highest Steam level at the end of the year gets to high five Gabe Newell while announcing Half-Life 3. In space.



In other true facts, I'm already hearing from users playing the Steam marketplace to profit off the cards' initial popularity. One user I spoke to has been buying low and selling high to pad his Steam wallet, even creating scarcity by buying up low-value cards in quantity. I'll keep an eye on marketplace prices as more users start trading the collectibles.



I was hoping to find a good deal on a 1952 Mickey Mantle card, but unfortunately, baseball isn't a participating game. You can see which of the games you own are participating here.
PC Gamer
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title="Permanent Link to Behind the scenes of Valve’s Portal 2 ARG">Portal 2 ARG







When Portal 2 was announced, the news dropped through an elaborate scavenger hunt puzzle that sent thousands of players crawling all over the internet. Years later, we finally get to see some of the work that went into making that alternate reality game, as told by celebrated Half-Life modder (now Valve employee) Adam Foster in a blog post at Gamasutra.



Foster, one of the designers of the ARG puzzle from Valve, describes the elaborate trail of puzzles that the Portal-playing community was able to decipher. It began with a seemingly mundane game update for Portal 1: “changed radio transmission frequency to comply with federal and state spectrum management regulations.” That update changed the radios found throughout Portal into Morse Code-dispensers. The code was deciphered into slow-scan television images. Somehow—my knowledge of information theory and cryptography ran dry a paragraph ago—these images were combined into an elaborate code, which was then hacked. Remember: none of us is as smart as all of us.







The result? A phone number to an ancient modem in Foster’s kitchen that slowly drip-fed Portal 2 concept art to announce the game to the world. The ARG team at Valve did a fun thing with no budget, and it caught the attention of the world’s games media. It was also an intricately designed puzzle that, despite a few false positives, played out exactly as Valve designed. As Foster writes, “Estimated time to 'solve' the initial puzzles: seven hours. Actual time to solve: seven hours and sixteen minutes. This wasn't an accident.”



We are all just puppets dancing on Gabe Newell’s strings, aren't we? Check out the full blog post from Foster for a lot of fascinating details about ARGs and the devious geniuses at Valve.
PC Gamer
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title="Permanent Link to Rumor: Leaked Valve project tracker shows Half-Life 3, Left 4 Dead 3, Source 2 in development">Rumor: Half-Life 3?







Are we finally going to be able to play Half-Life 3? While Valve isn't exactly holding press conferences or sending marching bands through the streets yet, a recent slip in its system supposedly exposed the details of every project it's ever worked on—including the long-fabled conclusion to one of gaming's best series, as well as Left 4 Dead 3 and Source Engine 2.



The tip-off comes to PC Gamer via ValveTime, who recently received alleged screenshots of Valve's internal project-tracking software (Jira) during a momentary lapse in which is the system was made public (it has, of course, since been locked up tight again). The images show a 42-employee mailing group for a project entitled "Half-Life 3," as well as a mailing group for "Left 4 Dead 3" with 68 recipients.



Meanwhile, the development of Source 2 appears to be plugging along nicely, with the numerous groups devoted to the project hinting it's in full swing. Other project listings include familiar names such as "Return to Ravenholm," "Steam Box," and "Episode 3," as well as the more mysterious "F-Stop" and "SteamMMO."



One of the screenshots sent to ValveTime.



Before we start waving about banners emblazoned with Gordon Freeman's handsome face, we have to keep in mind that this info dump is in no way an official confirmation of anything. Firstly, these screenshots come from an anonymous source and cannot be verified. Secondly, Jira catalogs everything that has ever been worked on within Valve's walls, regardless of development stage, and some of the listed titles may very well have been canceled years ago.



ValveTime hypothesizes that games further in their development cycle have multiple mailing lists, as Left 4 Dead 3 does—suggesting that it is in active development. This is in contrast to Half-Life 3's single  group, which suggests that its development is either inactive or in the very beginning stages.



We'll be keeping our ears perked for further details. In the meantime, let's pray that a tiny Half-Life 3 embryo is kicking about somewhere in the Valve HQ, preparing to grow into something grand.
PC Gamer
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title="Permanent Link to Steam Trading Cards releases in beta, introduces game badges, XP, and leveling">steam trading cards







If you don't have beta participation turned on in your Steam settings, go do that so you can start collecting trading cards, earning XP, and leveling up. Yup, Steam just got gamified.



The games participating in the Trading Cards beta are Don't Starve, Dota 2, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Team Fortress 2, Portal 2, and Half-Life 2, and "up to half the card set" for each can be earned by playing them. The other half of each set is "earned through your collecting prowess," which presumably means trading with Steam users who got different drops.



Once you collect a complete set, you'll be able to craft a game badge which will appear on your profile and unlock "marketable items like emoticons, profile backgrounds, and coupons." Badges can be leveled up by collecting the required trading cards again, and all badges—including any you already have—now give you XP which contributes to your "Steam Level." Leveling up has its own benefits, awarding you "non-tradable items like profile showcases, extra friends list slots, and more."



Now that playing games on Steam is a game, are you bothered that someone out there is already beating you? If so, the PC Gamer Steam group may be a good place to start looking for trades.
PC Gamer
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title="Permanent Link to Steam Trading Cards releases in beta, introduces game badges, XP, and leveling">steam trading cards







Join the Steam Trading Cards group on Steam to score a beta invite so you can start collecting trading cards, earning XP, and leveling up—yup, Steam just got gamified.



The games participating in the Trading Cards beta are Don't Starve, Dota 2, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Team Fortress 2, Portal 2, and Half-Life 2, and up to half of the new virtual trading cards for each can be earned by playing them. The other half of each set is earned "through your collecting prowess," which presumably means trading with Steam users who got different drops.



Once you collect a complete set, you'll be able to craft a game badge which will appear on your profile and unlock "marketable items like emoticons, profile backgrounds, and coupons." Badges can be leveled up by collecting the required trading cards again, and all badges—including any you already have—now give you XP which contributes to your "Steam Level." Leveling up has its own benefits, awarding you "non-tradable items like profile showcases, extra friends list slots, and more."



Now that playing games on Steam is a game, are you bothered that someone out there is already beating you? If so, the PC Gamer Steam group may be a good place to start looking for trades.
PC Gamer
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title="Permanent Link to Watch 15 minutes of Half-Life 2 on the Oculus Rift">Gordon doesn't have words, never mind dialog options.







We reported last week that Half-Life 2 now has official, Valve-implemented Oculus Rift support, but let's face it: do you have Oculus Rift? The odds are against it (and if you do have one, invite me around?). In an effort to convey some sense of how the classic works in full VR mode, YouTube user Vaecon has offered up a 15 minute walkthrough. As with most Oculus Rift "footage", it's riddled with amazed gasps and lots of childish moaning.



Of course, the very nature of Oculus Rift makes it impossible to exhibit via video alone, so the astonished barks of its users are actually pretty illustrative. For more info on the support, Valve's VR guy Joe Ludwig dropped a bunch of info here, including how to get it to work.
PC Gamer
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title="Permanent Link to Half-Life 2 gets official Oculus Rift support">half-life-2-gravity-gun







If you're looking for an excuse to take another trek through City 17 and points beyond, and you've got an Oculus Rift developer kit handy, you can now opt in to a beta build of Half-Life 2 with support for the VR peripheral. It's as simple as adding "-vr" (without quotes) to the Set Launch Options line in the game properties, and making sure you've opted into the beta for SteamPipe.



"This port is a bit more raw than TF2 was when it shipped, so we would appreciate hearing about any bugs you find," Valve's Oculus port master, Joe Ludwig, wrote on the Oculus Dev forums. "Just like in TF2 this mode is experimental, so we really want to hear what you think."



Ludwig also cautioned about a couple of known issues, such as the overall HUD not always being bright enough to be easily readable, and UI elements appearing mis-positioned when zooming in. Gordon Freeman will be joining the likes of Minecraft Steve and pilots in CCP's dogfighting prototype in Rift space.
PC Gamer
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title="Permanent Link to Half-Life 2 mod Minerva getting Director’s Cut, Steam release">Minerva







Adam Foster, creator of the brilliant Episode One mod Minerva, works for Valve now. Clearly then, the temptation for this Director's Cut news is to lead with the implication that Valve are releasing a new Half-Life game on Steam. I'm not that mean - plus, it's early in the morning, and I'm worried the shock and subsequent disappointment would be too much for you all. Admittedly, then, it's not new, or even particularly official, but the Steam release of Minerva does promise to be the definitive version.



Foster explains that, while the Director's Cut won't contain additional content, it's still a significant overhaul, including "tweaked visuals, bug fixes, better puzzles and all kinds of subtle improvements. Nothing majorly new, just old stuff tidied and polished for this re-release."



If you're yet to play it, Minerva is one of those rare "Valve quality" mods, that in some areas surpasses the game its based on. Its cleverest trick is map design - Foster creates seemingly huge levels in surprisingly tight spaces, thanks to his talent at creating realistically proportioned, interestingly vertical game spaces.



Here's a short preview of what to expect, courtesy of ValveTime:







Minerva should release for free later today. You're now free to wildly speculate about this being the beginning of an Episode 3 ARG.
PC Gamer
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title="Permanent Link to Face Off: Are silent protagonists superior?">face off silent protagonist







Are mute heroes better than verbose heroes? Does a voice-acted player character infringe on your ability to put yourself into the story? In this week's debate, Logan says "Yes," while his character says nothing. He wants to be the character he’s playing, not merely control him, and that’s easier to do when the character is silent. T.J. had a professional voice actor say "No." He thinks giving verbalized emotions and mannerisms to your in-universe avatar makes him or her feel more real.



Read the debate below, continue it in the comments, and jump to the next page for opinions from the community. Logan, you have the floor:



Logan: BioShock’s Jack. Isaac Clarke from Dead Space. The little boy from Limbo. Portal’s Chell. Gordon Freeman. These are some of the most unforgettable characters I’ve ever played, and they all made their indelible impressions on me without speaking a single word. In fact, they made such an impression because they didn’t say a word. By remaining silent throughout, they gave me room to take over the role, to project myself into the game.



T.J.: All of the games you mentioned were unforgettable narratives. But everything memorable about them came from the environments, situations, and supporting casts. Gordon Freeman is a great example. What can you really say about him, as a person? I find Shepard’s inspirational speeches to the crew in the Mass Effect games far more stirring and memorable than almost anything I’ve experienced in a silent protagonist game. I was Shepard, just as much as I was Gordon. But I didn’t have the alienating element of not having a voice making me feel less like a grounded part of the setting.







Logan: Ooh, Shepard. That was cold. I’ll happily agree that some games are better off with fully written and voiced protagonists—and Shepard’s a perfect example. But it’s a different matter, I think, with first-person games in particular, where your thought processes animate the narrative: “OK, if I jump into a portal here, I’ll shoot out of the wall there and land over yonder.” In this way I’m woven into the story, as a product of my own imagination. If the character is talking, I’m listening to his or her thoughts—and they sort of overwrite my own. It can be great fun, but it’s a more passive experience.



T.J.: First-person shooters are probably one of the best venues for silent protagonists, but lets look at BioShock and BioShock Infinite. I definitely felt more engaged by Booker, who responded verbally to the action, the story twists, and the potent emotions expressed by Elizabeth... than I did by Jack, who didn’t so much as cough at the chaos and insanity around him.



Logan: But was the result that BioShock Infinite was a better game, or just that it delivered a traditional main character?



T.J.: Booker? Traditional? Did we play the same game? I mean, it’s a tough call to say which was out-and-out better, as there are a lot of factors to consider. But zooming in on the protagonist’s vocals (or lack thereof) as an added brushstroke on a complex canvas, Infinite displays a more vibrant palette.



Logan: Do you think that Half-Life 2, in retrospect, is an inferior game as a result of its silent protagonist?







T.J.: Half-Life 2 was great. Great enough that we gave it a 98. But imagine what it could have been like if Gordon had been given the opportunity to project himself onto his surroundings, with reactive astrophysics quips and emotional back-and-forth to play off of the memorable cast around him? We relate to characters in fiction that behave like people we know in the real world. So yeah, I’ll take that plunge: I think I would have bonded with Freeman more, and therefore had a superior experience, if he hadn't kept his lips sewn shut the whole way.



Logan: A scripted and voiced Gordon Freeman may or may not have been a memorable character, just like a scripted and voiced Chell from Portal might have been. But in a sense, that’s the problem! Because some of my best memories from games with silent protagonists are the memories of my own thoughts and actions. I remember staring at the foot of a splicer in BioShock and realizing that the flesh of her foot was molded into a heel. I was so grossed out that I made this unmanly noise, partway between a squeal and a scream. I remember getting orders shouted at me in FEAR and thinking, "No, why don’t you take point.” I’m glad these moments weren't preempted by scripted elements.



T.J.: You were staring at the Splicers’ feet? Man, in a real underwater, objectivist dystopia ruined by rampant genetic modification, you’d totally be “that one guy” who just stands there dumbfounded and gets sliced into 14 pieces.



Logan: No, I’d be the guy at Pinkberry with his mouth under the chocolate hazelnut nozzle going “Would you kindly pull the lever?” But my point is, I remember what I did and thought at moments throughout all of my favorite games, and those are experiences that are totally unique to me. And that’s at least part of why I love games so much—because of unique experiences like that.







T.J.: I see what you’re getting at. Likewise, a lot of my love for games is driven by their ability to tell the kinds of stories other media just aren’t equipped for. Silent protagonists take us further beyond the bounds of traditional narratives, accentuating the uniqueness of interactive storytelling. That being said, really good voiced protagonists—your Shepards, your Bookers, your Lee Everetts—never feel like a distraction from the mutated flesh pumps you come across. When the execution is right, they serve to enhance all of those things, and lend them insight and believability.



There’s nothing like being pulled out of the moment in Dragon Age: Origins when the flow of an intense conversation stops so the camera can cut to the speechless, distant expression of your seemingly-oblivious Grey Warden.



Logan: Oh yeah, there’s no question that voiced protagonists have their moments. But they’re not my moments, and those are the ones I enjoy the most in games. Valve seems to understand this intuitively, and that’s why it’s given us two of the most memorable characters in videogame history: because I think the developers deliberately build into their games moments that they all understand will be uniquely owned by the players; “a-ha!” moments when the solution to a puzzle suddenly snaps into focus, or narrative revelations like watching horseplay between Alyx and Dog that instantly tell you a lot about how she grew up. Voiced protagonists can give us wonderful characters; silent ones let me build my own.



That’s the debate! As always, these debates are exercises meant to reveal alternate viewpoints—sometimes including perspectives we wouldn’t normally explore—and cultivate discussion, so continue it in the comments, and jump to the next page for more opinions from the community.











https://twitter.com/hawkinson88/status/325060938120183808



@pcgamer it really depends on the writing. Some voiced characters are amazing, and some are whiny and annoying.— Ryan H (@kancer) April 19, 2013





@pcgamer In many cases, yes. I am forced to substitute the absence of a developed personality with my own words and thoughts. I like that.— Rocko (@Rockoman100) April 19, 2013





@pcgamer The volume of the protag doesn't matter, only the skill of the writer: hero voice is just one tool of many in a master writer's box— Jacob Dieffenbach (@dieffenbachj) April 19, 2013





@pcgamer The most interesting characters are the ones with a history, with regrets. Blank characters don't have that.— Devin White (@D_A_White) April 19, 2013





@pcgamer Most voiced characters seem to disappoint. I think silent ones express the storyline better through visuals which I prefer.— Casey Bavier (@clbavier) April 19, 2013





@pcgamer Definitely voiced. Having an NPC talk to you directly, then act as if your lack of response is totally normal feels eerily wrong.— Kirt Goodfellow (@_Kenomica) April 19, 2013





@pcgamer Silent! #YOLO— Michael Nader (@MNader92) April 19, 2013

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