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.
God bless those brave pioneers willing to embark on an awesome/thoroughly silly project simply because... well, what else are you going to waste your time doing? They truly make life better for all of us. Here's a rendition of Portal's Still Alive, performed entirely by YouTuber Marflas1's Asura using Guild Wars 2's Wintersday Bell and Pipe Organ. It's strangely appropriate, given that the Asura are all about the science.
The song uses the in-game sounds, with some slight pitch editing in Audacity. According to Marflas1, "Somewhere around 40 bells were used in the creation of this video, mostly due to recording at tonnes of locations before picking the clips I liked best. Recording all the parts probably took about 3-4 hours in total, spread over a period of several days. Sound + Video editing to pull everything together took...a long time. A long, long time."
Contrary to the norm, Hollywood isn't entirely composed of heartless corporate robots. It has people, too, and when not fetching oil martinis for their robot overlords, they like playing games. Take director Guillermo del Toro, for example. Sure, his latest science-fiction epic, Pacific Rim, tips its hat to the Japanese monster films of old with supersized bot-on-brute action, but that's probably not why its debut trailer caught onto gaming circles so quickly. Watch for yourself, but more importantly, listen carefully.
Yep, that's Ellen McLain lending a perfectly replicated GLaDOS voice to the computer systems of Pacific Rim's mega mechs. Someone—perhaps even del Toro himself—on the film crew is an avid Portal fan and decided McLain's modulated tones jives perfectly with punching giant beasts in the face. Considering everyone's favorite evil AI wouldn't ever get caught actually helping humans, that's an impressive feat.
Pacific Rim releases July 12 for the theater platform. McLain has previously trusted us with her delicious Pecan Tassies recipe, which we're still enjoying.
Clear your schedule and make room on your hard drive: there are over 9000 mods up for consideration as ModDB's 2012 Mod of the Year award nominees, and only a little over five days to nominate them. A big green button on each mod's page makes it hard to miss the opportunity to give your favorites a bump.
There isn't much time, so we'll get straight to it after this obligatory acknowledgement that we said "over 9000" on the internet: tee hee, references. Moving on, DayZ and Black Mesa are tough to ignore, and The Sith Lords Restored Content Mod was a valiant community effort. Those might be the most talked about and praised mods this year, and we expect they'll secure nominations, but there are so many more that deserve recognition. Which are you voting for?
If you need a refresher, you might want to browse our recent mod coverage to see if you've missed any driving elephants or My Little Pony conversions.
Modern art is all about finding the meaning in a collection of abstract shapes, so games are pretty much a perfect match. It's fitting then, that from March 2013, New York's Museum of Modern Art will install an exhibition of 14 games as a precursor to an intended collection of 40. Paola Antonelli, the Senior Curator for the museum's Department of Architecture and Design, has written a lengthy blog post to explain the selection process.
"Are video games art? They sure are," writes Paola, settling that argument. "They are also design, and a design approach is what we chose for this new foray into this universe. The games are selected as outstanding examples of interaction design — a field that MoMA has already explored and collected extensively, and one of the most important and oft-discussed expressions of contemporary design creativity."
The game's selected range from extremely complex simulation, to quick, fun bursts of action, but they all share a singular, driving focus of intent. Unsurprisingly, the majority of them originated on the PC. Here's the list of titles relevant to our interests:
SimCity 2000 (1994)
The Sims (2000)
EVE Online (2003)
Dwarf Fortress (2006)
The museum is planning to display each game in a way that can do justice to its particular type. For short games like the Passage, that means a playable version, but more in-depth games like EVE and Dwarf Fortress require a different approach. "To convey their experience, we will work with players and designers to create guided tours of these alternate worlds, so the visitor can begin to appreciate the extent and possibilities of the complex gameplay."
The museum hopes to bolster their collection over the coming years, eventually planning to add Minecraft, Grim Fandango and NetHack, among others. You can see the full list at the MoMA website. Any games that you'd like to see immortalised as works of art?
Nov 29, 2012
If you walk into New York's Museum of Modern Art in the near future, you might discover that its curators have taken a stance on the issue of "Are games art?" And that stance, it seems, is "Yes." Fourteen games including player-driven space MMO EVE Online, perplexing puzzle shooter Portal, and ASCII graphics-based breakdown of civilization simulator Dwarf Fortress will serve as "the seedbed for an initial wish list of about 40 to be acquired in the near future, as well as for a new category of artworks in MoMA’s collection that we hope will grow in the future."
Other PC titles in the initial collection include Myst, SimCity 2000, The Sims, and Jason Rohrer's Passage. The games will be on display and presumably playable in the museum's Philip Johnson Galleries starting in March. You can read more about the collection on the MoMA official site.
Do games belong in art museums? Let us know what you think.
Nov 17, 2012
We recently gave you our selection of the best Portal 2 single player maps and campaigns available on the Steam Workshop. There's some great feats of level design in that list, but if you really want to see mapmakers skills stretched to the limit, you have to turn to co-op.
With two brains and four portals available, the levels must be exponentially more complicated. They need to emphasise teamwork, provide an inventive challenge and be tightly crafted so as to stop players exploiting their way through. With that in mind, I enlisted the help of my Perpetual Testing Partner to dig out the ten best co-operative maps around. As always, if you've a favourite that's not listed, let us know about it.
1. Six Extra Seconds of Trust
The title refers to this Cave Johnson sales pitch for co-operating robots. It's apt: Six Extra Seconds of Trust takes place in a room full of buttons and switches, with each player on either side of a glass wall, trying to figure out how to help the other. The work gone into creating such a labyrinthian series of connections is truly impressive. Download Six Extra Seconds of Trust here.
Notes from the Testing Partner: "I've got it! Just take that cube to... wait... no. That won't work for all sorts of reasons"
2. Buttons, Elevators and Goo
...And funnels, lasers, jumping puzzles, blind leaps of faith and those damn emancipation grids. B,E&G contains a large room full of corridors and side-chambers, each concealing a cube needed to complete a collection of buttons. Each area contains or requires a different puzzle element, and its the variety of challenges and their enjoyable solutions that make this a great map. Download Buttons, Elevators and Goo here.
Notes from the Testing Partner: "NOOoooooo..! *splash* Balls."
A clever little chamber comprised of two rooms, one on top of the other. While neither player can reach the other directly, laser guarded holes in the ground allow you to share the limited resources back and forth, and buttons allow you to deactivate obstacles in your partners way. There's not much portalling to be done, but co-ordination and teamwork are still key. Download Camtasia here.
Notes from the Testing Partner: "I'm stuck in this hole again. :("
4. Fortunate Buttons
A super-contained single room challenge with plenty of black walls blocking your progress. Fortunate Buttons is an order of sequence puzzle in which every step seemingly throws in more complications and leaps of logic as you move towards your solution. It always feels like you're on the edge between completion and completely messing it all up as you attempt to stretch a limited number of cubes further than seems possible. Download Fortunate Buttons here.
Notes from the Testing Partner: "Just go and- NO, NOT THE FAITH PLATE! Idiot."
5. There's No I in Team, 01
Part of a series of co-op maps made by mapmaker LPChip. Part one starts with a tricky excursion funnel challenge that requires you to really think through the positioning of each player before you make a move. But it's the finale, in which you share a sphere back and forth between each other, that really exemplifies the "accidental" comic slapstick at the heart of the the best Portal 2 co-op maps. Download There's No I in Team here.
Notes from the Testing Partner: "I know how to do this! I have to die!"
Hit the next page for more vents, ramps and tactical suicides.
6. Co-op Vents
It's pretty easy to complete, but there's a lot to like about Co-op Vents. You and your partner split off into two separate corridors (or vents, I guess), which intersect at rooms designed to put one player's life in the hands of the other. The difficulty lies less in the puzzles themselves and more in resisting the urge to blow up your friend. Download Co-op Vents here.
Notes from the Testing Partner: "What is it about lasers that turns you into a homicidal maniac?."
Rampage heavily explores the possibilities of hard light bridge based puzzling. The three rooms use a mixture of ramps, bridges and emancipation grids to create interesting and unique challenges that require some seriously involved portal co-ordination. Also smart: It allows respawned players to easily make their way back to where they died. It's a problem in some maps, thanks to a level editor that doesn't allow checkpoint placement. Download Rampage here.
Notes from the Testing Partner: "Wait, STOP! Not yet! *splash* DAMN IT!"
8. Quest for the Edgeless Safety Cubes
In which you must find three spheres to unlock the exit, each hiding behind some difficult puzzles in sub-chambers that themselves can be hard to access. The main puzzle room is full of buttons and laser-activated switches, and just deciphering what controls what is a challenge. Despite that, the level has some well crafted puzzles that require inventive portal work to complete. Download Quest for the Edgeless Safety Cubes here.
Notes from the Testing Partner: "I meant to die there. It was tactical."
Mazed casts you as lab rats, working through corridors looking out onto a large, unreachable cube. Each player must help the other to progress through their respective routes. What at first starts out as simple switch activation soon becomes an involved series of timing challenges and backtracking in order to make a small bit of progress. It's a strangely claustrophobic experience. Download Mazed here.
Notes from the Testing Partner: "I should have picked your route. There's less pissing about with turrets."
10. Super Happy Fun Time
Finally, a one room puzzle that features lots of thinking through the use of an excursion funnel as it pushes and pulls cubes and players through four portals and a variety of improbable obstacles. The division of labour is a bit off balance, with one player required to do little more than push buttons at the right time, but the central problem requires plenty of discussion to overcome. Download Super Happy Fun Time here.
Notes from the Testing Partner: "Sure, the bit with the funnel was fun. But super happy fun?"
Bonus: Geolocity Stage 2
As with the single player maps, some creators prefer to use Hammer, the Source engine's level editor, to create more detailed works. Hammer's co-op selection is less focused on custom campaigns than the solo stuff, but its use still enables handy additions like visual variation and player checkpointing.
It can also be used to reimagine Portal 2 as something else entirely. Something like a racing game. Geolocity Stage 2 abandons puzzles for a track covered in orange speed goo. You have to run, jump and portal your way through the course, avoiding plenty of obstacles and thinking on-the-fly to get through some tricky sections as quickly as possible. While the first Geolocity is also a lot of fun, Stage 2 adds in the ability to screw over your opponent with targets that, when activated by the ping tool, can reverse excursion funnels, create barriers or activate crushers. Download Geolocity Stage 2 here.
It's become a cliché to compare every first-person puzzle game to Portal, but Deadlock sort of insists on it by spotlighting a floating AI cube which speaks in vocoded tones that very nearly replicate GLaDOS's disharmonious voice...except with a French accent. But hey, Portal's not a bad inspiration, and Deadlock's sci-fi platforming is promising. A team of French developers created the prototype as a 7 Day FPS Challenge project, and recently began seeking funding via Ulule to spin it into a fully-realized game.
The goal of Deadlock is to ascend a high-tech beanstalk while avoiding the wrath of its AI security system by A. jumping, and B. using your "Switch Gun" to turn the tower's systems on and off. The Unity Engine is artfully used to render sleek gunmetal and neon architecture, and the gameplay concept has legs. Or, at least, you have legs. To jump with, because jumping and air control are important in Deadlock. The gravity feels a bit strange, like the parabola of my jump plateaus for a moment at its vertex, but it is nice to use double-jumps again. I want more double-jumping.
But as LeVar Burton would say, don't take my word for it: a demo of the game can be downloaded from the official site. The developers are only seeking €3,500 (~$4,448/£2,799) to polish the existing 7 Day FPS game, but hope for €32,000 to fund full solo game, and plan to add multiplayer if they reach €66,000. The campaign has currently raised 63 percent of its minimum goal with about a month to go.
Nov 12, 2012
Hotline Miami is all about learning through repetition, then executing a perfect murder ballet.
Tyler Wilde, Associate EditorThe word "repetitive" commonly has a negative connotation, and it's especially used negatively (all the time, every time, forever and ever) when talking about games. And often it's followed by a bunch of no elaboration at all. That doesn't make sense. I'm sure I've done it before, but criticizing a game for being "too repetitive" and leaving it at that is—strictly speaking—meaningless. A game might lack variety, but every game is repetitive. We repeat some pattern of input—running and shooting, stacking blocks, bouncing balls off blue dots—over and over, and expect uniform feedback. Then the problem changes slightly, and we tweak our input pattern. And then again. And yet "too repetitive" is lobbed at games all the time.
Alright, I know that sounds a bit pedantic, and I do recognize the difference in tone between "repetition" and "repetitive." Lack of variety is a fair criticism, but "too repetitive" is an extremely vague way to say it, and it dodges the truth: when we criticize a game for being "too repetitive," I think we often mean that we just don't like what we're doing. "It's repetitive" is shorthand for "this isn't fun (for some reason)."
If we like what we're doing, repetition is desirable. I like solving puzzles in Portal, and once I solve one I want to solve more. I don't want to solve the exact same puzzle again, but I don't want to stumble into a surprise Sudoku chamber, either. So Portal gives me increasingly clever arrangements of portal-ey logic problems. The puzzles get harder, but they're all just iterations of the same basic spatial problem I solved in the first puzzle. So after all my twisty, knotty figuring arrives at a solution, it always seems just as simple as the first time. That sense of clarity comes from repetition.
Super Meat Boy replays your failures, illustrating your own learning process.
Repetition is also how we learn, and both Super Meat Boy and Hotline Miami succeed by embracing that power. They present problems in small chunks—a level in Super Meat Boy and a floor of thugs in Hotline Miami—and rapidly reset them every time we fail. Each attempt gives us new information to apply to the next, building layers of experience on the way to that one perfect run. And that perfect run feels good: it's an accomplishment, like unknotting an especially tricky puzzle in Portal. Except in Hotline Miami there's more brain-stuff and skull chunks lying around afterward.
The same goes for Counter-Strike, StarCraft, and the rest. At their most basic levels, they're about repeating and mutating input patterns to solve variable, but not totally unpredictable, problems. The variables in Counter-Strike, for example, are the guns, maps, and opponents. That's been enough variety to keep us repetitively shooting at each other for 13 years.
Repetition can be pretty damn fun, so we've got to be specific, and always ask ourselves if it's really the repetition of a theme that bothers us, or the theme itself. I can shoot bad guys all day, so complaining that "the shooting is repetitive" in Medal of Honor: Warfighter would be confusing. Further examination would reveal that the guns, maps, and enemies have specific traits I don't like, which has nothing to do with repetition (except that the more I do them, the less I like them).
Fearing the dreaded "repetitiveness" may even be bad for games: that's probably how we end up with off-key phrases at pivotal moments, like a boss fight which takes away the gun I've been using the whole time and sticks me in a surprise platformer. It's variety, but it screws up the whole composition. A performance of Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No. 2, for example, would not benefit from an unexpected dubstep interlude. No, I wasn't talking to you, Skrillex. Are you drunk? Go home, dude.
Anyway, if at first glance this looks like an ostentatious rant about a personal pet-peeve, then you may have seen correctly. But maybe not: try Googling any game name with the phrase "too repetitive." It's everywhere. I get what's meant by it (sort of, kind of, some of the time), but it says very little. It may not even be a criticism, because games like Hotline Miami wouldn't be fun without repetition. If dying and respawning didn't reset the level, and our prior kills stayed bloodied, it would be ruined. Maybe then we'd say that it's not repetitive enough?
Thanks to the Perpetual Testing Initiative DLC's intuitive and enthralling editor, Portal 2 has a near-endless supply of new puzzles for players to enjoy. Since its release, over 200,000 new community made levels have been uploaded to the Steam Workshop, ready for a one-click download and integration into Cave Johnson's pan-dimensional scam. Whether you love lasers, revere repulsion gel or crave companion cubes (don't we all?) there's sure to be something out there.
Here's our pick of the best ten community-created puzzles available, and a further five fulsome campaigns. Obviously, with so many to choose from, some are bound to have fallen through the cracks. Be sure to share your favourites in the comments, and keep your eyes peeled for our top co-op maps in the very near future.
There's an island in the middle of the map's suspiciously brown water. On it, three buttons deactivate the emancipation grids to the three rooms off to the size. Simple enough - head to each room, collect its cube, and pop them on the switches. Except each solution requires elements from the others, leading to a puzzle that quickly has you running through what can be done where. Satisfyingly convoluted. Download Permutations here.
I'm a sucker for both gels and excursion funnels, so Goobound was already off to a promising start. It's a series of paint-based puzzles, that have you really thinking about the application of that blue bouncy goo. What really sells the map is the button-based end section, that has you figure out the sequence of ramps to raise in order to bounce yourself to the exit. Download Goobound here.
3. Four Block
Four Block is a great realisation of a segmented room theme. Unlike Permutations, here each challenge is linked only by the need to collect a cube to bring back to the small central room that acts as the main hub. It's a clever example of how to create a series of fun puzzles out of all of the game's many elements, and still have it gel together in a cohesive whole. Download Four Block here.
4. Collective Scrutiny
In Collective Scrutiny, mapper Edeslash creates a large, multi-roomed chamber, in which many of the puzzle elements are kept separate from their home by those portal and object destroying emancipation grids. Bypassing them involves directing lasers, rescuing spheres and liberal application of orange gel. It's not particularly difficult, but working through the various processes is a lot of fun. Download Collective Scrutiny here.
Mevious is probably the most prolific and well known of Portal 2 mappers, thanks in no small part to a Valve made collection of his work from the Testing Initiative's beta. His levels trend towards the compact but devious, a style exemplified in Gate. You're placed on the wrong end of an emancipation grid but, despite appearances, the solution is sheer elegance in its simplicity. Download Gate here.
Head to the next page for perplexing faith plate action and frenetic excursion funnel fun.
Magnetic presents a series of challenges that require you to transport a cube to a button on the other side of the room. Twist: those cubes are at the other side of a wire mesh, in self contained areas with no portalable surfaces, that are just close enough to be carried. The unusual set up of the puzzles led to a section that had me stumped for long minutes before I realised the solution was blindingly obvious. Download Magnetic here.
7. Path of the Cube
Something different to the usual puzzle set-up of having the Perpetual Testing stickman doing the level acrobatics. In Path of the Cube, you and your Companion Cube operate two buttons to guide a regular cube through a side-on maze full of moving platforms and excursion funnels. No portalling to be done here, but the inventiveness of the premise makes for a nice change. Download Path of the Cube here.
8. The Laser Cross
All great laser-based maps are about making your limited resources stretch further than should be possible. The Laser Cross is one of the best, forcing you to constantly revise your solution as you attempt to activate the various components of each room with just two refraction cubes. One simple mistake and you'll end up back at the start, refining what seemed like a sound plan. Just watch out for the bloody faith plate. Download The Laser Cross here.
9. Time Saving
Mapmaker Romb has a penchant for devising some of the trickiest puzzles to come out of the community. Time Saving isn't the most head-scratching of his creations, but unlike many of the others, it also doesn't rely on obfuscation or odd quirks of Portal 2's physics. Instead it's an enjoyable sequence of problems to overcome, with a timing element that's sure to please Portal 1 fanatics. Download Time Saving here.
10. Too Simple
A cube on the floor. A button connected to the exit beside it. Simple, right? Well, no, not quite. Too Simple has a devious little trick up its sleeve that blocks you from completing the obvious. Once it's revealed its gotcha, the rest of the level isn't that hard to work out, but it's a nice little timing challenge and a reminder that in Portal, nothing is quite what it seems. Download Too Simple here.
Head to the final page to see our top five Portal 2 custom campaigns.
While the in-game editor is a great tool for realising your puzzle idea, it doesn't have the flexibility create anything outside of the pristine walls of an Aperture testing chamber. For that you need Hammer, Valve's Source map editor.
It's a powerful tool, but also complicated and at times downright awkward. That hasn't stopped people from using it to create more in depth campaigns - collections of levels that contain custom visuals, stories, scripting and even special physics rules. Here's five that show off what a dedicated mapmaker can achieve.
1. 12 Angry Tests
12 Angry Tests is an exceptional seven part campaign that serves as a standalone GLaDOS-free story that mirrors the structure of Portal 2. you start out in an abandoned and worn-down Aperture, solving fiendish laser and refraction cube puzzles. From there you wind up in the depths of old Aperture, playing with gels and momentum, before the hard light/excursion funnel heavy final act, among rows of long abandoned test chambers.
It's full of clever flourishes, like one room late in the game that completely reconfigures itself just as you're about to solve it. There are plenty of twists from the plot, too. Like any good Portal 2 campaign, there's a surprising antagonist hindering your progress. In all, it's an hour or so of new content with pitch-perfect difficulty and a keen eye for what makes a great portal-based puzzle. Download 12 Angry Tests here.
Set after the events of Portal 2, Decay shows an Aperture that has been left to... well, you know. Run down test chambers aren't exactly a new idea for Hammer made maps - even Portal 2 itself is filled with them - but Decay really takes the dilapidation to extremes. Corridors are wonky, puzzles no longer align properly and absolutely everything is falling apart.
The puzzles included are some of the hardest on this list. The second of the three parts is particularly tricky, pulling every design trick to introduce new obstacles that disrupt previously sound plans. In the third part, elements of different test chambers overlap, causing plenty of misdirection. But the visual spectacle of the climactic climb through the rubble is a compelling reason to endure its red herrings. Download Decay here.
3. Designed for Danger
One of the early plans for Portal 2 saw Chell at the whims of a selection of personality cores, each with their array of test chambers. Designed for Danger gives you an idea of how this might have played out. You start in one of the main game's early test levels, but as you move to solve it, you're broken out by Rick, the adventure sphere. Apparently Nolan North doesn't make enough appearances in games, so we have to put him in mods now.
Rick has designed a bunch of deadly adventure chambers for you to solve. Well, sort of. Designed for Danger's theme is mostly sold through visual touches and between chamber sections. For the well designed puzzles, danger merely means "contains a lot of lasers." That is, until the final act, which sends you through the bowels of Aperture. Download Designed for Danger here.
4. Curious Chamber
Curious Chamber is a three part campaign that subverts gravitational direction to create a series of puzzles that are constantly surprising. To give the least spoilery example, the first chamber has an uncrossable gap, a white wall to fly out of, but nowhere to build up enough momentum to do so. Except, that when you investigate a small corridor with a target painted at the end wall, gravity flips 90 degrees and you're suddenly falling into it.
Throughout it shows off just what tricks are possible with Hammer. That reaches a whole new level in the last part, a series of chambers that are inventively presented to create a memorable, and funny, experience that becomes increasingly difficult over time. Download Curious Chamber here.
5. Moonbase Luna-C
A series of test chambers set on the moon! That means more than just seeing acres of greyish-brown rock outside of the windows, because these maps also make use of reduced gravity. It seems like such a small change - you can jump higher and for longer, but so what? Except the effect the change has on your ability to navigate levels is massive.
It's a case of relearning your limits and intuitively realising which leaps you can make. But the levels also feature liberal use of laser grids, both below and above you, to create challenges that would be impossible with our stupid, restrictive Earth gravity. Still, no matter where you are, the turrets remain happy to politely kill you. Download Moonbase Luna-C here.