Saipan. Unlike Red Orchestra 2, most of Rising Storm's maps don't feature multi-floor structures.
You usually don’t get a second opportunity to make a first impression. When Red Orchestra 2 released in 2011, it was an authentic, ambitious, 64-player WWII shooter burdened by bugs and a few unpolished features. Tripwire’s self-imposed rush to beat Battlefield 3 out the gate roughed the edges of an otherwise brilliant FPS.
The Georgia-based indie studio patched the issues over time, eventually releasing a free “Game of the Year” edition that included new Action and Classic modes that catered to casual and hardcore players. But throughout 2012, Tripwire was also collaborating with a team of talented modders on Rising Storm, the standalone expansion that represents Red Orchestra 2’s second coming. "The overlap of precision, authenticity, and thick danger is still the most rewarding aspect of Red Orchestra." Rising Storm isn’t simply RO2 recast into the Pacific. “We have something started and created by a mod team, but polished to perfection by a group of professional developers,” says John Gibson, Tripwire’s president. What’s immediately impressive about the expansion is the way it embraces the asymmetries inherent to the American and Japanese infantry at the end of the war. It’s a seemingly uncrackable balancing problem, for example, that the Japanese mainly used bolt-action rifles while Americans carried the semi-automatic M1 Carbine and Garand, the Thompson, and the fully automatic BAR.
A counterweight Tripwire has applied against this is making Japanese soldiers harder to suppress, a trait chalked up to their willingness to die for the emperor. More tangibly, the islanders get bayonets and a Banzai charge attack—a sprinting move that mitigates damage and suppresses nearby Americans. Both of these effects improve in radius and intensity when used in unison with teammates.
A deadly duo: a Japanese mortarman takes range and location information from a teammate on Iwo Jima.
Some members of the Japanese team can also carry the knee mortar, a portable artillery. “There’s nothing the Americans can do other than run when they hear that whistling sound,” says Gibson. “So it helps balance out the Americans’ overwhelming ability to put bullets down range.” My first encounter with it is on Iwo Jima, where a crack member of Tripwire’s QA team fires it horizontally off the hill like a cannon, dialing me in from a hundred meters. The shell punts into my gut, an impossibly accurate shot from an indirect weapon. I wheel back on my chair, laughing and raising my hands helplessly.
Red Orchestra 2 continues to be a demanding game. Away from grey Stalingrad, neck-deep in island vegetation, it’s still a shooter that insists you use your eyes, ears, and intuition to stay alive. Acing an American with the bolt-action Type 38 or Type 99 is instant self esteem. The famous pling of a spent M1 Garand clip signals that a GI’s run out of ammo—but incredibly, the Americans can fake the sound by pressing a key, a tactic that was actually employed in WWII.
This overlap of precision, authenticity, and thick danger is still the most rewarding aspect of Red Orchestra. But as I keep playing, there are more moments of relaxed mayhem than I experienced in Heroes of Stalingrad—like taking a mortar directly to the liver. I fill my team’s flamethower soldier slot on a tough round on Guadalcanal. Under the blue-purple skybox, I curl around a bamboo hut and lock eyes with a Japanese rifleman inches away. My mouse hand flinches, his skin goes molten, and I giggle as a lengthy death animation plays out.
When a spider appears in your bunker, do the right thing. "Any burp of fire is a bright invitation to the Japanese to shoot you from across the battlefield." Later in the round, I arrive too late to a capture point that’s just been flipped by the Japanese. I linger lost outside the thatched, single-floor command structure. Some instinct rings inside me, and I flick a rope of heat through the window out of a need to uncork this hot potato of a weapon I’m running around with. Seconds later, four kill notifications with my name on them stack up.
Letting a messy, powerful weapon like a flamethrower into a gritty game of inches like RO2 might seem like inviting a dragon to a war reenactment, so it’s remarkable that Tripwire has balanced the thing while making it so absurdly fun. You’re heavy as hell, only have seven seconds of burn time before you have to refuel, and any burp of fire is a bright invitation to the Japanese to shoot you from across the battlefield.
The good design of these incongruous features is in part thanks to Elliot Cannon, an ex-Epic, ex-Crytek, veteran FPS designer that joined Tripwire in May 2012. Gibson pursued Cannon after learning that he was the author of his favorite Unreal Tournament map, Deck 16. “We needed some input from someone outside the inner circle that could come in and say ‘This is what needs to be different,’” he says. “Elliot came up with a lot of the ideas that are making the asymmetrical gameplay work.”
I’m glad for an invitation to revisit Red Orchestra 2, but Tripwire’s move to take Rising Storm’s theme and setting to its mechanical extreme is what has me excited. On paper, Tripwire's commitment to representing some of the real-life differences between the Axis and Allies seems like it would undermine game balance, but each round I played (all of which were filled with experienced testers) was heavily contested. This approach to designing Rising Storm has produced at least one completely insane tactic among the development team. Over weeks of map testing, katanas became a kind of souvenir weapon for American players, who would pick them up from dead Japanese. Noticing this, one Japanese soldier had the bright idea to drop their katana in plain sight, then use the alternate fire for their hand grenades—exclusive to the Axis side—to bury their grenades like mines and set a trap disguised as a trophy.
A Banzai charge. Static spotlights on Guadalcanal make a few of the map's lanes especially treacherous.
Tripwire President John Gibson holds an M1 Garand inside the team's studio, one of the guns carried by the Americans in Rising Storm.
Earlier this month I visited Killing Floor and Red Orchestra 2 creator Tripwire Interactive to play Rising Storm, the upcoming standalone expansion to RO2 (look for a preview on Monday). After the demo, Tripwire President John Gibson and I got talking about the state of first-person shooters, and Gibson laid out a detailed criticism about the way Call of Duty "takes individual skill out of the equation." Gibson also expressed frustration over how difficult it had been trying to design a mode for Red Orchestra 2 that appealed to Call of Duty players.
PCG: How do you feel about the state of FPSes?
John Gibson, President: I think that single-player shooters are getting better. I think they’re finally coming out from under the shadow of the Hollywood movie, overblown “I’m on a rail” linear shooter. I’m talking about Call of Duty-style shooters. In the late ‘90s, you had the original Deus Ex, which was an RPG-shooter. And those kind of games almost took an eight year hiatus. And I’m so excited to see them coming back with interesting gameplay. Like the Fallout games, even though their shooting mechanics could really use some improvement, just mixing a really cool story, but not a linear story, one that you create yourself. The melding of RPG elements and shooter elements has been great. I’ve seen this reflected in a lot of the reviews, it’s like, “Okay guys, we’re tired of this on-rails experience.”
On the flip side, I’m really discouraged by the current state of multiplayer shooters. I think that, and I hate to mention names, because it sounds like ‘I’m just jealous of their success,’ but I’m really, I feel like Call of Duty has almost ruined a generation of FPS players. I know that’s a bold statement, but I won’t just throw stones without backing it up. When I was developing Action Mode , I got a group of people that I know that are pretty hardcore Call of Duty players. And my goal was to create something that was accessible enough for them to enjoy the game—not turn it into Call of Duty, but try to make something that I thought was casual enough but with the Red Orchestra gameplay style that they would enjoy. And we iterated on it a lot. And just listening to all the niggling, pedantic things that they would complain about, that made them not want to play the game, I just thought, “I give up. Call of Duty has ruined this whole generation of gamers.”
Red Orchestra 2. Gibson says he's "discouraged" by the state of multiplayer shooters on PC.
What did they complain about?
Gibson: It’s the gameplay mechanics that they become used to. The way that players instantly accelerate when they move, they don’t build up speed. “The weapons really don’t have a lot of power” . They’re all very weak. The way they handle... They’re like: “I hate Red Orchestra, I can’t play it.” Well, why? “Because the guy doesn’t move like he does in Call of Duty. Call of Duty has great movement.” Why is it great? “Because it just is, I just like the way it works.” So you don’t like the momentum system in Red Orchestra? “Yeah, it sucks, it’s clunky, it’s terrible.” Well, why? “It’s just because I’m used to this.”
I make it sound like there was a combative conversation, probably because I get a little emotional when I think about it. But it was really a calm discussion of, “What don’t you like?” and “It doesn’t feel like Call of Duty.” Almost every element boiled down to “it doesn’t feel like Call of Duty.” And really, watching some of these guys play... one of the things that Call of Duty does, and it’s smart business, to a degree, is they compress the skill gap. And the way you compress the skill gap as a designer is you add a whole bunch of randomness. A whole bunch of weaponry that doesn’t require any skill to get kills. Random spawns, massive cone fire on your weapons. Lots of devices that can get kills with zero skill at all, and you know, it’s kind of smart to compress your skill gap to a degree. You don’t want the elite players to destroy the new players so bad that new players can never get into the game and enjoy it. I’m looking at you, Dota. Sorry.
"If there’s no fear, there’s no tension, the victory is shallow. We want there to be some fear."
But the skill gap is so compressed, that it’s like a slot machine. You might as well just sit down at a slot machine and have a thing that pops up an says “I got a kill!” They’ve taken individual skill out of the equation so much. So you see these guys—I see it all the time, they come in to play Red Orchestra, and they’re like “This game’s just too hardcore. I’m awesome at Call of Duty, so there’s something wrong with your game. Because I’m not successful at playing this game, so it must suck. I’m not the problem, it’s your game.” And sometimes as designers, it is our game. Sometimes we screw up, sometimes we design something that’s not accesible enough, they can’t figure it out, we didn’t give them enough information to figure out where to go... but more often than not, it’s because Call of Duty compressed their skill gap so much that these guys never needed to get good at a shooter. They never needed to get good at their twitch skills with a mouse.
Players like Elliot and I, back in the Quake and Unreal days, you know, we had to get good at aiming. These guys don’t have to anymore. The skill gap is so compressed that like, “The game makes me feel that I’m awesome.” These guys, when I actually watch them play, they’re actually very poor FPS players. And I don’t think it’s because they’re incapable of getting good, I think it’s because they never had to get good. They get enough kills in Call of Duty to feel like they’re awesome, but they never really had to develop their FPS skills beyond that.
And it’s a shame because when you do that, when you create a shooter like that, you’re very limited on the amount of depth that you can give the game. It’s all gotta be very surface level, like I’m sitting there eating cotton candy and I never get any meat and potatoes. And it’s frustrating for me as a designer to see players come in and they’re literally like “In Call of Duty it takes 0.15 seconds to go into ironsights. In RO2 it takes 0.17 seconds to go into ironsights. I hate this.”
Gibson fires an MP40 during an audio recording session for Red Orchestra 2 in the Nevada desert. Gibson is frustrated by the way that Call of Duty has "taken individual skill out of the equation" for many modern FPS players.
Do you think it’s a matter of patience? Have these players lost their sense of patience?
Gibson:I think that’s part of it. The game is kind of spoonfeeding them, and making them feel great when they’re not. And like I said, that’s smart business, and I don’t blame Infinity Ward for wanting to do that. They’re selling millions of games and they have lots of people enjoying it, but I think there’s a depth of enjoyment there that a lot of these players are missing out on. And when you try to get them to branch out, their knee-jerk reaction is “The training wheels have come off, I’m gonna fall!” And I hate to see that.
It’s this weird dichotomy between, you know, single-player is getting much more depth, and players are just eating it up. They’re loving that. They’re buying these FPS-RPG single-player games like crazy. But multiplayer, “Ooh, don’t take my training wheels off.” I hate that. So we’re trying... we’re giving a little bit of training wheels, but we’re going to take them off occasionally in the shooters that we’re making, and hopefully we’ll get some of those people to branch out. I think for me though, I wouldn’t say I’ve completely given up on all of those players, but I’m not gonna try to make a game that tries to be Call of Duty at the expense of having fun gameplay that actually has depth.
Elliot Cannon, Rising Storm Lead Designer: Or creating a game that feels like you might be in a war, and you might die?
"One of the things that Call of Duty does, and it’s smart business, to a degree, is they compress the skill gap."
Gibson: Yeah. That’s one of the things that we do in our games, and it’s fear. When you play... I know there are modes in Left 4 Dead that are more hardcore, but when you play Left 4 Dead, and I’m really friends with Valve, so I hope they don’t get mad at me, but you do get spikes of adrenaline. But eventually that wears off because you figure out, well, as long as we stick together we’re never gonna die. In Killing Floor, when the Fleshpound shows up, you could be screwed. Half your team is probably gonna die. Your heart rate goes up, you’re freaking out, like “I can actually lose this shooter.” And if there’s no fear, there’s no tension, the victory is shallow. We want there to be some fear.
What do you consider your tools for expressing fear?
Gibson: Vulnerability is a big part of it, lethality. The ability to lose. There has to be... it’s kind of like, you know, if you’re gambling. If you go to the penny slots, you’re like, “Okay, yeah, whatever, I lost a penny.” But you go to the Roulette table, you throw down a thousand bucks, and you spin the wheel—you’re nervous at that point.
So, having the players have to take risks. Risk versus reward. They risk more, but the reward is greater. There’s more depth, there’s a bit more of a learning curve, but when you get that kill at long range with that bolt-action rifle, while the artillery’s flying around your head, and mortar shells are falling and guys are Banzai-charging you in the face, and your guy’s shaking, but you still kill him anyway. That’s an experience. You had some risk there, but you got a bigger reward. The kill wasn’t just handed to you. It wasn’t like “I called in the helicopter and it flew into the level and mowed down half the enemy team while I wasn’t even doing anything.”
Check back on Monday for an exclusive hands-on with Rising Storm.
Tripwire have announced the winners of their community mapping contest. Over $35,000 worth of prize money was handed out in recognition of the expertly crafted World War 2 battlefields that mapmakers have created, fuelling fans of the military shooter for months and years to come. The grand prize went to Danh Truong for his Winterwald map, a harrowing icy assault on/defence of Soviet anti-air.
The winners for "Best Original Level", including Truong's Grand Prize map, are:
1. Winterwald by Danh Truong, winning $10,000 and RO2 laptop 2. Bridges of Druzhina by Kieran Tobin, winning $2,500 3. Coldsteel by Johan van Pelt - wins $1,000
The contest also looked at "Best Remakes", awarding quality re-imaginings of classic maps:
1. Gumrak Station by Maik Doktor, winning $5,000 2. Stalingrad Kessel by Florian Montaut, winning $2,500 3 (Tied). Arad 2 by John Cree, winning $1,000 3 (Tied). Rakowice by Johan van Pelt, winning $1,000
All the maps, along with runners up, are now playable from the Steam Workshop.
Have you got any plans this weekend? Maybe you're thinking about going somewhere nice or meeting up with a few friends. Fool! Weekends aren't about that any more. These days, they're for trialling games that have been made temporarily free to play, then pondering whether they're worth the rather hefty discount they've also been given.
From now until Sunday evening you can download and play the hardcore World War 2 multiplayer FPS Red Orchestra 2. Should you find doing that a pleasurable experience, there's a 75% discount in effect until Monday, bringing the game down to £3.74.
This is all to celebrate the release of the Fall 2012 Free Content Pack, which brings a new map - Barashka, from the first Red Orchestra - and a redesigned Countdown mode.
There's also a 75% discount on the Tripwire bundle, which includes both Red Orchestras, first-person puzzler The Ball, Dwarfs?! and the rather good zombie co-op FPS Killing Floor.
Anyone planning to give this a shot? RO2 was pretty wonky on release, but I've since heard that it's been fixed up nicely and is well worth a try.
Red Orchestra 2, our 2011 multiplayer shooter of the year, is now on Steam Workshop. As I write, only one map and a selection of SDK tutorials have been posted, but phase two of Tripwire's $15,000 RO2 mapping contest should incite a blitzkrieg of community-made content for the WWII shooter.
Also, for the next few days, the Tripwire Interactive Bundle is 75% off on Steam. That's $15/£12.49 for Red Orchestra, Red Orchestra 2, Killing Floor and its DLC, The Ball, and Dwarfs!? (I wasn't angry and confused about that list, the game is called "Dwarfs!?" Or is it?!)
Speaking to PCGamesN, Tripwire Vice President Alan Wilson said the exclusion of modding tools from accessible genres -- most notably shooters -- is a choice they "really can’t wrap our heads around."
"Why would you stop people from modding your game?" he asked. "Why would you prevent people from being creative with your material? Just look what done for everyone concerned, for example. Arma 2 has been on the top-ten sales charts on Steam for about the last four months solid because of what one of their employees did for fun in his spare time."
Originally a team of spirited modders, Tripwire elevated to a full-fledged development studio after Red Orchestra took the grand prize in Epic's first Make Something Unreal contest. The standalone followup, Red Orchestra 2, gets its first expansion later this year.
"Frankly, we can see zero downsides to allowing people tools and letting them mod a game," Wilson added. "I never understand why companies effectively block people from doing that stuff."
Meanwhile, DICE recently reiterated that the closed environment it has established in Battlefield 3 should remain that way, warning players not to use a mod which affects the game's color saturation.
Excellent co-op kill-o-geddon Killing Floor now has Steam Workshop support, letting fans share maps, mods and weapons. The most popular mods include a version of Killing Floor that uses Doom 2 assets, a map set in hell, a version of classic Counter-Strike mod, Gun Game and a scythe. That's a pretty good cross-section of the sort of bonus extras we can expect from Killing Floor's active modding community.
Red Orchestra 2 will be getting Steam Workshop support soon as well. To celebrate, a Tripwire Steam bundle has been on sale all weekend at 66% off. There's still seven hours left on the deal, which includes Killing Floor (and all DLC character packs), Red Orchestra 2, Red Orchestra: Ostfront 41-45, The Ball and Dwarfs!?
This week's best deals ► FTL, Max Payne 3, and more FTL: Faster Than Light released at 10% off on both Steam and GOG, GameStop opened its trunk in the parking lot to reveal deals on Max Payne 3, Killing Floor, and Amnesia, and Guild Wars 2 is 25% off at Get Games for European customers. That's just the beginning of our weekly savings spelunking expedition, so come along with me for more unnecessary analogies. And weekend deals.
25% off Guild Wars 2 at Get Games - $41.24 (Europe only) 50% off Max Payne 3 at GameStop - $29.99 50% off Killing Floor - $9.99 at GameStop 15% off Battlefield 3 at Amazon - $33.81 10% off FTL: Faster Than Light at GOG - $8.99 (Also on Steam) 30% off Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath HD on Steam - $6.99 25% off PC downloads at Green Man Gaming with the voucher code GMG25-1BW0K-K1A3G
Steam ► Sam & Max, Oddworld, and more Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath HD released today at a 30% discount, and Steam has also put together an Oddboxx bundle with all of the Oddworld games for 10.49. Also, Train Simulator 2013.
30% off Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath HD - $6.99 75% off Deus Ex: Human Revolution - $7.49 70% off Sam and Max Complete Pack - $14.99 10% off FTL: Faster Than Light - $8.99 33% off Vessel - $9.99 10% off Train Simulator 2013 - $26.99! More Steam deals
Green Man Gaming ► 25% off everything
Use the voucher code GMG25-1BW0K-K1A3G to receive 25% off a digital download by Monday September 17th at 4 a.m. PDT. Plus, tons of Saints Row: The Third DLC is on sale! Fun fact: if you mush all the DLC together, you get Saints Row: The Fourth, the illegitimate, possibly inbred son of Saints Row: The Third. He eats K-Y Jelly.
Get Games ► Guild Wars 2 You can still get Sleeping Dogs for 25% off and Borderlands for 50% off. New this week, Guild Wars 2 25% off codes are back in stock. There's also the usual selection of pre-order and other discounts.
25% off Guild Wars 2 - $41.24 (Europe only) 25% off Guild Wars 2: Digital Deluxe Edition - $56.24 25% off Sleeping Dogs - $37.49 50% off Borderlands - $9.99 More deals from Get Games
GameStop ► Max Payne 3, Killing Floor, Amnesia GameStop continues to cross off every price it can, but digging through its pages of sales this week revealed some pretty darn good stuff. Here are some of my favorites:
75% off Age of Empires III: Complete Collection - $9.99 50% off Max Payne 3 - $29.99 50% off Killing Floor - $9.99 75% off Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad - $4.99 75% off Mirror's Edge - $4.99 50% off Amnesia: The Dark Descent - $9.99 67% off Hard Reset - $9.99 More GameStop deals
GOG ► Diamonds of D&D Aside from 10% off FTL: Faster Than Light, GOG has its usual themed sale. This weekend, it's all D&D deals...wait, what's this?! *Spit take.* Something new for GOG: the discounts scale with the number of games you buy. At one game, you'll get 30% off, buy two and get 33% off each, and so on up to all nine games for 65% off each. *Cleans up spit.*
Links to the individual games are below, but if you want the scaling deal, you have to go to the hub.
30% - 65% off Baldur's Gate: The Original Saga - $6.99 - $3.49 30% - 65% off Baldur's Gate 2 Complete - $6.99 - $3.49 30% - 65% off Neverwinter Nights: Diamond Edition - $6.99 - $3.49 30% - 65% off Icewind Dale 2 Complete - $6.99 - $3.49 30% - 65% off Icewind Dale Complete - $6.99 - $3.49 30% - 65% off The Temple of Elemental Evil - $4.19 - $3.49 30% - 65% off Dungeons & Dragons: Dragonshard - $6.99 - $3.49 30% - 65% off Forgotten Realms: Demon Stone - $6.99 - $3.49 30% - 65% off Planescape: Torment - $6.99 - $3.49
Amazon ► The Over-The-Top TopWare Bundle Regular Amazon is way less fun than Labor Day Amazon -- it's pretty much back to the same 'ol, with games like Modern Warfare 2 and Civilization V on sale again. There is a new bundle sale, at least: the Over-The-Top TopWare Bundle includes 13 games. You probably don't want all 13.
85% off The Over-The-Top TopWare Bundle - $14.99 50% off Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 - $9.99 15% off Battlefield 3 - $33.81 50% off Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X 2 - $9.99 21% off Sid Meier's Civilization V - $23.82 51% off Deus Ex: Human Revolution - $14.68 60% off Mount & Blade - $6.03 More Amazon PC game downloads
GamersGate ► A horde of romance
It's the same deal as last week: a giant, colorful patchwork of box art and red discount stickers. Only a few deals stick out at me. 50% off BioShock? Sure. 20% off To The Moon (Friday only)? Not bad. Miss Chic Romantic for only $7.48? Sounds goo- hey, wait a minute.
GameFly ► L.A. Noire L.A. Noire is the highlight of GameFly's sparse list this weekend.
75% off L.A. Noire: The Complete Edition - $7.49 75% off L.A. Noire - $4.99 More GameFly deals
Let us know in the comments if you find any more great deals, and if you feel like sharing: what are you playing this weekend? It's all FTL: Faster Than Light for me. Well, not all, but lots of it.
Tripwire's WWII shooter Red Orchestra 2 gets its first expansion, Rising Storm, later this year. Yesterday, the dev posted a new gameplay video which shows off the expansion's Pacific Theater hallmarks, including booby traps, flanking spawn bunkers, flamethrowers, and banzai charges, all set within iconic battles including Tarawa, Kwajalein, Saipan, and Iwo Jima.
Rising Storm is a Tripwire-backed mod which turned into a full collaborative effort between the studio and the modding team. The standalone expansion -- which Tripwire says includes RO2's original multiplayer content as a bonus -- focuses on the war's Pacific front and the fierce jungle scraps waged between American and Japanese forces.
This week Josh, Evan, Tyler and T.J. talk about what it means for Diablo 3 to be the PC's fastest-selling game as we do some critiquing of its bosses and item drops balancing. We also touch on the TOR layoffs, leaked information that sheds light on Bungie's development of a massively multiplayer-style sci-fantasy, over-hyphenated action-shooter for the PC, and RO2's new patch. At 55:00, Evan shares a tale from Day Z.
PC Gamer US Podcast 317: Bosses From Hell
Have a question, comment, complaint or observation? Leave a voicemail: 1-877-404-1337 ext 724 or email the mp3 to firstname.lastname@example.org.