The Dota 2 Workshop update is even more interesting than it first appears. The new tools include an overhauled edition of Valve's Hammer level editor, and the update download adds a 64-bit build of Dota 2. Both contain allusions to the next generation of Valve's Source engine. Set the Half-Life 3 alert to DEFCON beige.
Technically-minded modders and map-making enthusiasts are busily dissecting the tools in detail, but it's immediately clear that Hammer has been greatly improved. The interface has been overhauled, and the editor now renders the level in real-time as you tweak level geometry. It also runs on a new file structure. When you open a file in the editor, you can now choose to open a new "vmap" file, or an old fashioned "Source 1.0 Map File". The community is still puzzling over the advantages offered by the new directory system, but it looks like Valve are laying important groundwork for future releases.
It's interesting to note how user-friendly the new tools are. Dota Redditors are already having fun with functions that let you sketch out levels quickly (via DarkMio) using tilesets. As well as Dota 2's traditional forest set, there's the wintry Frostivus set and this one. Valve have a history of encouraging user-created content, including campaigns and levels. Hammer's complexity surely stunted the potential of Left 4 Dead's ecosystem a problem Valve tried to circumvent with Portal 2's lovely level-creation tools. Nu-Hammer could serve as a friendlier entry point for tinkerers.
In addition to all that, the latest Dota 2 update also adds a 64-bit version of the Dota 2 client, which you'll find tucked away in steamapps/common/dota 2 beta/dota_ugc/game/bin/win64. It contains numerous references to second-gen elements, like "engine2.dll", "materialssystem2.dll" and "vphysics2.dll", and comes with a colourful new console. It's a bit premature to say that Dota 2 has been ported to Source 2 wholesale, we're likely looking at an interim step as Valve roll out tools designed to support their current games and future projects.
This is quite exciting nonetheless. Publicly Valve have been laser-focused on Dota 2, but are of course rumoured to be working on Left 4 Dead 3 and, what was it again, Hearth-Life? Bath-Life? As someone who likes Valve games, but can't quite get into Dotes, I wait in meditative stasis for a new Valve happening, be it an announcement or an ARG. Our time will come.
Counter-Strike creator Minh Le has been talking to goRGNtv about Valve's most anticipated projects. He's seen artwork of Valve's next Half-Life game, and more of Left 4 Dead 3, which has been rumoured since the Valve database leak late last year.
"I don't know if I can talk about that, to be honest," says Minh of the new Half-Life, "but I think it's kind of public knowledge that people know that it is being worked on. And so if I were to say that yeah, I've seen some images, like some concept art of it, that wouldn't be big news, to be honest." Sorry Minh.
"But yeah, I guess I could say that I did see something that looked kinda like in the Half-Life universe. It wouldn't surprise anyone if I said they're doing it, they're working on it, yeah. So to go on a limb I'd say I did see some concept art for Half-Life 3."
Minh doesn't sound entirely sure, there. The artwork could have been for Half-Life 2: Episode 3, which Valve promised a long, long time ago. Everyone assumes that Valve have dropped the episodic structure to start a full sequel, but Valve have never commented on those specifics. Gabe Newell has repeatedly confirmed that Valve are still working on Half-Life, though, sometimes in code.
Valve haven't talked officially about Left 4 Dead 3, however. "The one thing I'm really excited about is Left 4 Dead, the new Left 4 Dead," says Minh Le. "I saw it, it looks great. I was really excited when I saw that. I was like 'wow, this looks great'.
"I really enjoyed Left 4 Dead, it was just one of those games that really just changed the industry. I think at the time there wasn't many good co-op games, so it was like yeah, this is a great co-op game."
Mihn Le left Valve years ago, so it's not clear when he saw the work he's talking about in this interview, recorded last week. He was hired by Valve to work on Counter-Strike, but he left in the late 2000s to work on Tactical Intervention. Valve, meanwhile, are also supposedly working on a new iteration of the Source engine. Will L4D3 take advantage of that new tech? Will we learn more at E3 next month?
Thanks to Total XBox for the heads up, via the many eyes and ears of GAF.
In the UK, most arcade machines are gaudy, flashing money-sinks, designed to trap the arms of extra-strength-beer-swilling drunks as they attempt to pry loose change from the coin return slot. They are places of hellish despair, rich with unique smells and suspicious stains. In other countries, they also contain the promise of fun, friendship, and not stepping in a puddle of sick. Nowhere is this more the case than in Japan, where an array of popular arcades can still attract the interest of developers. Valve, for instance, are now collaborating with arcade specialists Taito on an arcade port of Left 4 Dead.
An informative trailer has surfaced on the port's official site:
Titled Left 4 Dead: Survivors, the concept will likely be similar in scope to Valve/Taito's previous collaboration, Half-Life 2: Survivor.
That's right, there was a Half-Life 2 arcade game, and it looks amazing. Terrible, sure, but also amazing.
In fairness, those are modes designed for arcade. The game's story mode is... sort of Half-Life 2. If you squint a bit.
If we're all very lucky, Left 4 Dead: Survivors will be similarly terribrilliant.
It s only appropriate that a major leak in the games industry would come from an anonymous source with a pseudonym like crazy buttocks on a train (CBOAT), a NeoGAF user who recently posted images of Left 4 Dead 2 s Plantation level (the final chapter of the Swamp fever campaign) allegedly rendered in Valve s Source 2.0 engine.
The most compelling evidence here are the images themselves: six and a half Power Point slides out of 20, with a good look at the Plantation manor from the outside. You ll notice immediately that the game, real or not, looks far better than anything the Source engine as we know it is capable of the lighting, level of detail, and amount of assets in the frame (most noticeable in the vegetation).
Four of the slides previewed on the left show the stark difference between the level as it appears in Source and as it is rendered in Source 2.0.
The final half slide references Redesigned Tools & Workflow, followed by more technical details. Valve Time has also obtained an image of The Plantation separate from the slides.
As far as rumors go, this one sounds pretty believable. If it s not, I am in awe of the effort someone went through to fake the information.
CBOAT, it seems, has quite a reputation. He s known mostly for his predictions about Microsoft s Xbox One, some of which were wrong, some of which were kind of right. He predicted, for example, that the native resolution on some Xbox One games will be lower than it is on PlayStation 4, Dead Rising 3, and other, mostly Microsoft related information. Not all of it exactly accurate, but close enough that he can t be dismissed entirely.
Here s what we do know for sure: Gabe Newell has confirmed that Valve will grace us with a newer version of the Source engine at some point and that it s waiting for a game to roll it out with. He didn't say what game, or when. Valve is not super into the when question, in case you haven t noticed.
However, another recent leak supports the theory that the new Source engine and Left 4 Dead are linked, somehow, at least more than other Valve properties. In August 2013, a photo of an internal Valve changelog list referenced "L4D3" as well as "Source2," indicating that the game will use Valve's new engine.
We have reached out to Valve for comment. This is the internet, after all, and there's every possibility the leak is entirely fake.
Technically, I'm aware that the employees of Valve have regular jobs, doing regular things on irregularly mobile desks. Even so, when picturing Clint Hocking's year and half stint with the company, I can't help but imagine him strapped into a central development node, where tendrilled mind probes extract creative ideas to be fed into the Almighty Feedback Formula. I'm not saying that's definitely what happened, but if it is, it's perhaps understandable why he'd leave. Which he has.
News of Hocking's departure comes via his LinkedIn account and personal blog, where his biography states: "From 2012 until the end of 2013, Clint worked as a designer and level designer at Valve in Seattle."
Hocking is probably best known for his work at Ubisoft, where he was creative director for Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory - a game that, to this day, remains the highpoint of that series. He was also the creative director for Far Cry 2, which is either the best of the worst Far Cry game, depending on your fondness for emergent situations, jamming weapons and malaria.
In typical Valve style, we don't officially know what Hocking was working on. But based on leaked information taken from their internal database, he was suspected to be part of the team developing the yet to be announced Left 4 Dead 3. As yet, there's no information about his next project, but hopefully it'll evoke the same manic clash of systems that defined FC2's best moments.
Not killed enough undead monstrosities this Christmas? Let Valve fix that for you. Left 4 Dead 2 is now free on Steam. In case you've missed it thus far, Left 4 Dead is blooming brilliant. You and up to three human buddies fight through 90 minute missions set in different zombie-infested locales across America. The zombie throngs are managed by an AI director, which measures your health and stress levels and doles out varying degrees of punishment to match your perceived mood. Watch out, also, for the special infected - hideous supermutants with unique ways of punching/eating/melting your face.
The Left 4 Dead 1 maps have all been ported into the sequel, making Left 4 Dead 2 the definitive entry in the series. There are also plenty of fan-made campaigns and mods on the Steam workshop, including a Helm's Deep Lord of the Rings map and a mod that turns your party of survivors into Velociraptors.
According to a Left 4 Dead 2 Steam announcement, the game will be free until 10AM PST 26/12/2013. Go, go, go.
As mentioned in yesterday's highly speculative Half-Life 3 news, people have been scurrying through Valve's project management database JIRA again. Now, NeoGAF user 'angular graphics' has posted the full list of Valve staff assigned to the still unconfirmed Half-Life 3 and Left 4 Dead 3 development teams. If nothing else, it's a rare glimpse into the company's internal working, and what happens to its employees after they're sworn to the Valve code of silence.
The Half-Life 3 team contains lead writer Marc Laidlaw, series composer Kelly Bailey (seemingly having returned to Valve after leaving in 2011), and series designer Steve Bond. It also lists Adam Foster, the creator of Minerva (as well as the Portal 2 announcement ARG). The other instantly recognisable name is Portal writer Erik Wolpaw, who appears on both Half-Life 3 and Left 4 Dead 3's lists.
If anything, the Left 4 Dead 3 team is the more surprising. It contains not only familiar Valve names like Chet Faliszek and composer Mike Morasky, but some of their more notable newer hires. Both Clint Hocking, of Far Cry 2 fame, and Doug Church, of System Shock 2 and Thief fame, are attached to the project. Now more than ever, I'm pretty damn excited about the possibility of shooting up some zombies.
Standard caveats still apply, the most notable of which is that we don't know how accurate this data is. At best, it could represent a single moment in time for each project, as Valve plays its endless game of musical chairs. And, of course, people working on a project is now indication of when that game might be announced.
By announcing SteamOS yesterday, Valve declared that PC gaming is more than desktop gaming, that Windows is not our master, and that—finally—cats can own Steam accounts. The free, Linux-based, cat-friendly operating system is designed for gaming on living room PCs, because PC gaming according to Valve isn't about WASD and DirectX—it's about openness and collaboration.
We're free to choose our hardware, our software, our mods, and soon more than ever, how we play, where we play, and whether or not Microsoft gets a cut. If SteamOS takes off, PC gaming will undergo one of its most dramatic changes ever—possibly one more significant than the introduction of the free-to-play model and crowdfunding. That's thrilling, but also scary as hell, so we've worked through our fears with a list of SteamOS pros and cons, followed by deep breaths in anticipation of tomorrow's announcement.
It's free. If you have a living room PC, or plan to build one, you can ditch Windows for free. That feels really good to say, but the adoption rate hinges on SteamOS launching with native support for everything we want in a media and gaming center. Streaming games from a secondary PC is neat, but we'd rather run them natively on the machine we paid to put in our living room. It also needs native Netflix and Hulu apps, and all the other media services offered by the consoles.
Valve says it's got this covered, announcing that it's "working with many of the media services you know and love," and that "hundreds of great games are already running natively on SteamOS," with native "AAA titles" to be announced in the coming weeks.
It encourages competition in the console market. May the best Steam Box win! Windows isn't designed for TVs, so neither are many PCs. Now Valve is giving away a platform for games, movies, and music, challenging hardware manufacturers to make systems that are powerful, quiet, and inexpensive. It used to be Microsoft vs. Sony vs. Nintendo fighting for the top of the living room ecosystem's food chain—soon it may be Microsoft vs. Sony vs. Nintendo vs. Everyone.
It should run some games better. One of the few advantages consoles have over PCs (whether or not they always make the best of it) is an OS specifically designed for gaming. Meanwhile, we have Windows, which is clearly not designed to be an ideal gaming platform. With SteamOS, however, Valve claims it has "achieved significant performance increases in graphics processing," and is now working on "audio performance and reductions in input latency at the operating system level."
Last year, Valve posted a performance test of Left 4 Dead 2 running on Windows 7 and on Ubuntu, and the Linux build came out ahead, saying that the test "speak to the underlying efficiency of the kernel and OpenGL." This isn't close to being an objective experiment—and we'll look forward to making our own evaluations—but it is encouraging.
It means more Linux games, and more couch-friendly PC games. SteamOS is as much about ditching Windows as it is putting PC gaming in the living room, so it affects even those firmly planted in their desk chairs. If SteamOS achieves the install base it needs for developers big and small embrace Linux, the Microsoft shackles may be broken forever.
Steam Boxes may struggle to compete in price. A PC designed to run SteamOS skips over the Windows fee, but unlike a console, the manufacturer can't rely on game licensing fees to recoup costs—that money goes to Valve. Sony and Microsoft, however, can price their consoles competitively with that revenue in mind, which gives them the advantage. Valve itself could price hardware this way, but that would undercut third-party hardware manufacturers and could turn out to be anti-competitive. Unless, of course, Valve makes the unlikely move to subsidize the cost of these systems.
It could increase development costs. Major game developers aren't going to ditch Windows, the platform with the world's largest install base. If SteamOS becomes a competitive gaming platform, competitive developers will have yet another version to make, soaking up more resources.
The pessimistic angle is that this can only result in either lower quality games or more expensive games. The optimistic angle is that SteamOS will be embraced and prioritized by developers with the same enthusiasm as the consoles.
It could further fragment games and smother certain genres. If SteamOS eclipses the popularity of desktop gaming, developers will have less incentive to develop desktop games. Just as developers rushed into mobile and Facebook development, we could see a flood of controller-based Steam games that push niche and classic-style PC games into the slums.
It's a scary thought, but when we un-jerk our knees and really consider this scenario, it's a very minor concern. Crowdfunding has proven without a doubt that there's still a huge appetite for old fashioned mouse and keyboard PC games. The positive—and more likely—angle is that we'll see just greater diversity in the Steam library.
It gives Valve even more power over PC gaming. Valve isn't PC gaming. We know that, and millions of League of Legends players, World of Tanks enthusiasts, GOG.com users, modders, and more know that. But Steam is the most popular digital distribution service, and soon, it will be a platform. SteamOS may be free, but it's only as open as Valve allows. We don't know yet if we can use SteamOS to play non-Steam games, or if Valve will make exclusivity deals. We've asked, and Valve's answer will be a huge indicator of its intentions.
If you've got a passionate thought about SteamOS, we'd love to include it in our next issue of PC Gamer. We're always listening at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Like the zombies it's filled with, Left 4 Dead 2 just won't stay down. Valve continue to update their co-op FPS with new features - this time shoring up the game's Steam Workshop support with an official release of their Extended Mutations. In effect, they've mutated the mutators to provide advanced scripting tools to the community, allowing them to tweak rules and create new game modes. Like adding tiny, shrunken undead. They'd be cute if not for the biting.
Valve say they'll be highlighting some of the best mutations on the official blog later in the week. For now, they recommend Holdout: "It is a multi-map Mutation that includes the concept of resources and buildable items. It was created to showcase some of the functionality of EMS and as a byproduct, it is pretty damn fun." Valve plan to continue supporting the top community mutations through official servers.
This latest update also marks the full release of other beta features, including Linux support - which has now been rolled out to allow testing on further builds and distros. You can find the full patch notes here.