In a first for the company, Valve let go an unspecified number of employees across multiple teams including hardware and Android development, according to a report by Gamasutra.
Valve hasn't released official word on the number of departures or how this affects its Steam Box project, but Gamasutra says it's hearing such descriptions as "great cleansing" and "large decisions" from those let go. "We've seen the number '25' tossed around, but are unable to confirm this," the Gamasutra article claims.
Yesterday, hardware hacker Jeri Ellsworth, who was hired by Valve to join its hardware team, tweeted a sudden announcement that she'd been fired and was moving on to "new and exciting projects." Elsewhere, the LinkedIn profile of Ed Owen, a senior mechanical engineer, shows an end employment date of February 2013 at Valve.
Though layoffs happen from time to time in the industry, Valve's reputation as one of the most secretive (and lucrative) studios in the business underscores the peculiarity of this development, especially when the terms "layoffs" and "fired" aren't normally associated with a company known for its free-form work philosophy.
We've reached out to Valve for an explanation and for further confirmation about how many people have been let go. We'll update this story if more information arrives today.
UPDATE: Garry's Mod creator Garry Newman tweets the appearance of a number of differences on Valve's staff page seen through Diff Checker. The comparison tool indicates the removal of nine employee bios from the People section of Valve's company page, listed below:
Moby Francke, Half-Life 2 character designer and Team Fortress 2 art lead Jason Holtman, director of business development for Steam and Steamworks Keith Huggins, character animator and animator for Team Fortress 2 "Meet the" video series Tom Leonard, software engineer for Half-Life 2 and Left 4 Dead Realm Lovejoy, artist for Half-Life 2, Portal, and Left 4 Dead. She was also part of the original DigiPen-turned-Valve team that created Narbacular Drop, the inspiration for Portal Marc Nagel, test lead for Half-Life, Counter-Strike, and patch updates Bay Raitt, animator for Half-Life 2, Team Fortress 2, and Portal Elan Ruskin, engine programmer for Left 4 Dead, Portal 2, and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive Matthew Russell, animator for Team Fortress 2 "Meet the" video series
UPDATE: Valve boss Gabe Newell sent along his response to Engadget: "We don't usually talk about personnel matters for a number of reasons. There seems to be an unusual amount of speculation about some recent changes here, so I thought I'd take the unusual step of addressing them. No, we aren't canceling any projects. No, we aren't changing any priorities or projects we've been discussing. No, this isn't about Steam or Linux or hardware or . We're not going to discuss why anyone in particular is or isn't working here."
The faux movie poster that five minutes and Photoshop made.
Gabe Newell and director J.J. Abrams conversed on stage this morning at the D.I.C.E. (Design, Innovate, Communicate, Entertain) summit in Las Vegas. After a back-and-forth about player agency and storytelling (via Polygon's live blog), Newell revealed that the duo had been "recapitulating a series of conversations going on," and that they're now ready to "do more than talk": Newell suggested "either a Portal movie or a Half-Life movie," and Abrams said he'd like to make a game with Valve.
Abrams is the currently reigning king of big franchise sci-fi filmmaking, taking his throne in the director's chair of both the Star Trek and Star Wars series. He's also known for producing Fringe, Cloverfield, and the maddening tale that was Lost.
In 2010, Newell told us that if Valve were to make a Half-Life movie, it wouldn't hand over control to any Hollywood studio, saying:
"There was a whole bunch of meetings with people from Hollywood. Directors down there wanted to make a Half-Life movie and stuff, so they’d bring in a writer or some talent agency would bring in writers, and they would pitch us on their story. And their stories were just so bad. I mean, brutally, the worst. Not understanding what made the game a good game, or what made the property an interesting thing for people to be a fan of.
"That’s when we started saying 'Wow, the best thing we could ever do is to just not do this as a movie, or we’d have to make it ourselves.'"
There are no details on Newell and Abrams' project—be it game, film, or both—outside of the tease that they're talking. But they're talking, so how about some fun speculation? Who would you cast as Chell? Alyx Vance? Gordon Freeman? We love Bryan Cranston for the latter role, but he may have aged beyond Freeman. Is Hugh Laurie still a favorite?
WibiData, a startup data applications developer, uses a rather interesting recruitment process: it tasks prospective hires with puzzling out a lost PIN code in a recreation of the company's offices in Portal 2. Yes, that includes hearing modulated insults from a GlaDOS soundalike as you gather reset keys and jump through walls.
Speaking to the New York Times (via VentureBeat), WibiData CEO Christophe Bisciglia said the mod's genesis arose from how Portal 2's layered puzzles "makes me feel like I exercise the same part of my brain that programming and problem-solving does."
Bisciglia commissioned modder Doug Hoogland to design and create WibiData's virtual workspace and the puzzles housed beneath it. Hoogland earned Bisciglia's attention after he fashioned a Portal-ized wedding proposal for an earlier customer, which is both romantically adorable and the best chance to see a murderous computer become a third wheel.
We presume WibiData's employee insurance policy now covers injuries sustained from teleportation ovals and scheming sentient AIs. You can check out the mod for yourself on the company's website.
If you hadn't previously heard of Zachariah Scott, then you've got a fun (and entirely unproductive) afternoon ahead of you. The Bioware cinematic designer has been doing some amazing things with Valve's Source Filmmaker in his spare time. But with this Portal 2 short, The Turret Anthem, he's possibly outdone himself.
The video features music by Lars Erik Fjøsne. Of the project, Scott says, "This video was shot on black void, using a rebuild version of glados' chamber that I put together by hand. Fun story about this video, I've been trying to make it for about 6 months, it's a super late Turret Week video. I kept overthinking it, and had much of the principal synchronization done but couldnt' figure out how I wanted to shoot it, well I sat down this weekend and knocked it out in two days, and I'm pretty sure nobody will have any problem with the results." Too right.
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.
Contrary to popular belief, the anticipated Oculus Rift virtual reality headset doesn't run on pixie dust and elf tears. Like all hardware, it needs software drivers. And while its 20-year-old creator, Palmer Luckey, focuses on manufacturing more developer kits to meet the exceedingly high demand, enthusiastic 3D fans are already planning homebrewed custom drivers. One such project is CyberReality's Vireio Perception which extends Rift 3D support to first-person greats such as Portal 2, Skyrim, Mirror's Edge, and Left 4 Dead.
As CyberReality describes it, Vireio (or Virtual Reality Input Output, but we like how the shorthand name sounds like an enemy boss) can "pre-warp the image to match the Oculus Rift optics, handle custom aspect-ratios (needed for the Rift's strange 8:10 screen), and utilize full 3D head-tracking." As we describe it: Whoa.
The drivers work with nine games so far: Left 4 Dead, Half-Life 2, Portal 2, Skyrim, Mirror's Edge, AaAaAA!!!, Unreal Tournament 3, Dear Esther, and DiRT 2. CyberReality plans to add additional games in the future after spending more time with the kit. If all goes well, the possibilities are enormous: Think of revisiting classics such as Thief or Deus Ex with full head-tracking vision. Oh, yes, this is exciting.
You needn’t see out the last few days of 2012 wallowing in a figgy pudding-induced sugar-crash: perk yourself up with this collection of the great features we’ve put up on the site this year. We’ve got informative how-to guides, insightful retrospectives, polemics, play-throughs, ‘making of’ stories and much more. Bookmark it now while you're still compos mentis and you’re sure to find something in here to jolt you back to life or, at the very least, help to annul the post-Crimbo indigestion.
PCG UK’s handsome and hirsute editor Graham Smith teaches you how to pull out equally handsome (but not especially hirsute) renders from Minecraft, while marvelling at the astonishing feats of architecture to be found on the PCG UK server.
10 best Portal 2 co-op maps
Phil Savage grabs a buddy and puts the community’s best Portal 2 maps to the test, or possibly vice versa. Convection funnels, laser death and no small amount of inter-player bickering ensues.
Skyrim: Week of Madness
The name does not lie: Rich Cobbett’s Skyrim diary, in which he installs 100 randomly selected mods is an experiment in genuine derangement. Not entirely safe for work, unless your workplace encourages inarticulately rendered BDSM.
Making of Minecraft
I wrote this! And I got in trouble for quoting Notch’s swearwords. Sorry, everyone who bought the magazine for their kids. Still, once you get past the F-word opener, it settles into a heartwarming tale of indie devs done good, a triumph born from equal parts serendipity and smarts.
Old friends: an ode to Defense of the Ancients
Cara Ellison recalls the original DotA. “Some people think that gaming is a solitary hobby. But for me, DotA was a way to connect with my real life friends through an experience that didn’t include a darkened room serving overpriced alcohol we couldn’t afford.”
The indies guide to game-making
Tom Francis hunts down the world’s premier indie devs, unfurls his needle-thin proboscis, plunges it into their brains and slurps out every last drop of advice from them. Then he squirts it all back out here. Drink deep, budding indies, for the advice is good!
Hearthfire: the beginner’s guide to homesteading and mass murder
All Chris Livingstone wanted was a home to call his own. Things don’t go to plan. “The air fills with the screams of the dying and the streets run crimson with the blood of the dead.” Oops!
12 year war: rise of wargaming
World of Tanks is now one of the biggest games on the planet, and its curators at Wargaming.net are, shall we say, rather comfortable. How did they find themselves with such phenomenal wealth? Tom Senior finds out.
It would be unfair to pick just one of Rich Cobbett’s terrific retrospectives (which we run every Saturday dontchaknow), so here’s his top three picks for this year: Hard Time, Les Miserables and Shadow President.
Flash of greatness
Rich McCormick stares enviously at the bright lights of the pro-gaming scene, and charts the ascendancy of Lee Young Ho, known to the Star Craft scene as Flash. Wipe your chin, McCormick!
Chris Livingston has retired from videogame heroism. Instead, every Sunday, he embarks on a career of more modest proportions: driving buses, cutting wood and occasionally igniting entire airports in a deadly maelstrom of flame.
Day z photo diary
Evan Lahti charts an epic journey through Chernarus in this excellent two-parter: “He was a survivor with one life to live. His backpack: filled with beans. His world: filled with zombies. These are his tales, and the tales of his inconsistently-brave friends. And the tales of the woman played by a man who loved him.” Part two is here.
The best Skyrim mods
Whether you’re looking for new looks, new loot, homesteads or fulsome quests, Tom Hatfield’s compilation of the finest mods should see you good.
The Elder Strolls
Chris Livingston once again proves that the most valiant path is often the most humble: “My name is Nordrick. I’m not a hero, I’m an NPC, and I’m here not to play Skyrim, but to live in it.”
Inside the final hours of Star Wars: Galaxies
When Star Wars: Galaxies shut down its servers, it was as if millions of headline writers trotted out the same Obi Wan quote and were suddenly silenced. Our very own Imperial agent Chris Thursten was there to watch the mighty MMO’s light wink out.
An Illusionist in Skyrim
Tom Francis is a coward. Not in real life, of course, where he is bold and manly and frequently wrestles giant salamanders with his bare hands. But when he wants to get away from it all, he settles into Skyrim: “This is the diary of me attempting to play Skyrim using only Illusion magic: I’m not allowed any weapons, armour, or magical items, and I can’t attack anyone directly.”
The E3 2012 press conference PC gamers deserve
Graham Smith imagines an alternative E3 - the one we deserve. “The first parties were more concerned with propping up their platforms with lifestyle buzzwords than making great games. Even the big publishers, EA and Ubisoft, seemed lost in the tall grass, offering almost nothing other than the expected sequels. I can’t help but think we could do it better.”
Games get a bad rap for being a solitary, violence-obsessed form of entertainment. But they can also be a collaborative, violence-obsessed form of entertainment. Just ask the close-knit PC Gamer team.
Tom F: Co-op based games teach us the value of teamwork better than any kitten based motivational poster, by showing us how many more of our enemies we can crush if we can just learn to work together.
Graham: They’re not just violent either. We can build giant penis statues together in Minecraft. No, wait, that’s bad. We can control egotistical millionaires in FIFA! Oh God, no. Rich?
Rich: Well, Supreme Commander celebrates the pioneering spirit, by asking us to build a host of clanking deathbots... I got nothing. Chris?
Chris: Uh. Diablo III shows that hell is easier with other people? Hm. Senior? Bail me out?
Tom S: I can’t, I’m too busy shooting these damn zombies. Stop intro-ing and let’s go play together.
Portal 2 - 2 players, Online
How does it work? You and a friend play comedy robots in co-op-only test chambers.
Why is it good?
Tom F: The puzzles get magnificently complicated when designed for two. You can jump through each other’s portals, so you’re often setting up a jump that your partner will perform. And because every puzzle requires two players, you’ve got to figure out where to put four different portals, and coordinate your approach. It bent my brain in the same ridiculous ways that Portal 1 did.
Graham: I use my portals to make a corridor slick with gloopy paint. Tom places his at either end of the corridor, creating the world’s first infinite slip ’n’ slide. I run down it and build absurd momentum, and as I reach terminal velocity, Tom moves one of his portals so that when I exit, I’m flung out over a chasm filled with acid. Co-op Portal 2 means entwining not just your portals, but your brains.
Minecraft - 2 to many, online or LAN
How does it work? Join a server and collaborate with friends – or strangers – to build the biggest, best, and most phallic structures you can.
Why is it good?
Rich: Within minutes, I was building a spa. I don’t know why I was building a spa. No one had said “let’s build a spa” in the chat channel, but there it was, forming before us. Graham, now-departed Craig Pearson and I, had hollowed out an underground chamber, constructed a raised dais of glass, and diverted water to create a lovely jacuzzi pool. Our subterranean sauna was lit by lava, and we sat in it, content.
Graham: My first time was on a new, private server with a few folks from the PCG community. In three hours we dotted the landscape with giant Darwinians, and built an underground bunker with launch missiles, library and steam rooms to avoid a player who had built an ugly golden bridge around the world. It felt like I’d spent an afternoon building sandcastles with friends.
Fifa 12 - 2-5 players, local
How does it work? Two or more players join forces to defeat the nefarious forces of Computron, the dark lord of kicking.
Why is it good?
Rich: Football is incredibly frustrating. FIFA recreates that frustration perfectly: genius moves undone by idiot players. But in co-op, I managed to reduce that frustration through one simple method: blame someone else. I think I’m great at FIFA 12 at the best of times; when I’m playing in co-op, I’m flawless. Graham, on the other hand, is terrible.
Graham: And Rich smells bad. For a while, we were playing two-on-two, but then our fourth man lost interest. We started playing two-on-one. Here’s what we found: the player controlling a team on their own has the advantage. To work together in FIFA is to anticipate the other’s moves, making runs and pulling away defenders. If you do it right, you’re unstoppable. If you’re Rich and I, Rich smells bad.
Diablo 3 - Up to four, drop-in, drop-out co-op across the whole campaign
How does it work? Every player you add to a game of Diablo III boosts the health of your enemies, increasing the challenge – but far less than it did on launch, when damage increased as well. Otherwise, it’s just Diablo III with more people.
Why is it good?
Chris: D3’s normal difficulty is very easy, but it gains a lot of life if you’re doing it with friends. Experimenting with new skills adds a slapstick dimension to demonbashing that’s better with other people. It’s basically that bit from Lord of the Rings where Legolas and Gimli are competing to kill the most orcs, strung out over 15 hours.
Tom S: Having a friend or two around gives you more freedom to experiment with new abilities. If you’ve got a Barbarian chum to wave and shout and take punches to the face, you can sacrifice a defensive ability for that demonic ghost bat bombing run skill you’ve been dying to try. Few things amaze and terrify a co-op partner as effectively as an unannounced demonic ghost bat bombing run.
Chris: It used to be that co-op Diablo III didn’t work: it was too diffi cult, and actually reduced the amount of loot you seemed to get. Patches have since redressed the balance, and working together to crack Inferno is a satisfying challenge.
Alien Swarm - Up to 4 players, online
How does it work? It’s a top-down shooter where you control a squad of four marines shooting aliens in a scripted campaign.
Why is it good?
Rich: People love swarms. The swarms of aliens in Alien Swarm (clue’s in the name), are best dealt with by coordination: one of your group becomes point-man, clearing rooms with shotguns and flamethrowers. Another takes up the rear, machinegun blaring to dissuade any would-be alien pouncers. This coordination is the result of a kind of natural, happy trance that players fall into, rather than tiresome enforcement.
Tom F: I’m a Medic, which used to mean I was the sensible, cautious, team player. Until I realised I could take a chainsaw. It’s terrible. It’s a terrible weapon, don’t use it. You can’t just charge into alien hordes, blade revving. OK, just one more go.
Trine - Up to 3 players, online or LAN
How does it work? Each player can transform themselves into a thief, warrior or wizard at any time. In the mode we play, you can have two Thieves at once if you like.
Why is it good?
Tom F: It’s a physics-based platform puzzler, which in co-op means dropping heavy objects on each other for fun. The wizard can create boxes and levitate them, and your co-op partner can stand on them. Most of our solutions involved carting each other around on telekinetic elevators.
Graham: Trine’s best class is the grapple-hooking, arrow-firing thief, because of the arrow-fi ring but specifically because of the grapple-hooking. In the singleplayer game, you’re forced to switch away from the thief to navigate obstacles and fi ght larger enemies. In co-op, two thieves are better than one, and combined you’re able to spend more time as a swinging idiot. The best kind of idiot.
Left 4 Dead 2 - Up to 4 players, online or LAN
How does it work? - There are lots of game modes now, but the one we play most is still the campaign: four players against the AI-controlled zombie hordes.
Why is it good?
Tom S: I ran through Left 4 Dead 1’s campaign on its hardest diffi culty setting with a group of regulars. We played in the 4 6 5 same small room for many hot, panicked hours until our cries of fear overruled the rattling pistol fire coming out of our speakers. The defence events and climactic mission fi nales offered us a chance to take stock and plan, but the best moments happened when those plans disintegrated in the face of an unexpected Tank charge, or a perfectly placed Witch.
The AI director never quite offered the longevity that it promised, and the monsters lost their scare factor after a while, but Left 4 Dead is still a superb, if harrowing, co-op experience. Ever since Valve ported the fi rst game’s superior maps into the sequel, Left 4 Dead 2 has been the better choice of the pair.
Tom F: There’s an achievement for winning a garden gnome on the fairground level, and taking it all the way through the rest of that campaign. For me, that is the game. It takes both hands to carry the gnome, so whoever’s holding it can’t fi re their weapons. You can set it down and grab it later, but among huge crowds of zombies and charging Tanks, it tends to get kicked around with alarming force.
So you take it in turns to sacrifice your firepower and carry the precious cargo, relying completely on your friends to protect you and your porcelain companion when it’s your turn. If a zombie does get to you, all you can really do is bash him with the gnome.
The carnival finale, set in a huge stadium, was just too intense for any of us to survive it gunless. So when the helicopter finally arrived to bail us out, the real challenge was a frantic scavenger hunt for a chipped red hat among the seething infected. Finding him, grabbing him, and making it out alive was the most nail-biting co-op experience I’ve ever had with the game.
Half Life 2 - 2-10 players, online or LAN
How does it work? The Synergy mod enables two or more of you to jump straight into Half-Life 2, Episode One or Episode Two’s singleplayer campaign.
Why is it good?
Tom F: Half-Life 2 is a huge and amazing adventure. And while there are a lot of great co-op games, there aren’t many that are huge and amazing adventures. People don’t make long, varied, story-driven journeys through meticulously detailed and gorgeous places when they’re making a co-op campaign. So a mod that makes Half-Life 2 and its two episodic expansions work cooperatively is an amazing discovery. I don’t know how it works, but it does.
Graham: Tom and I played through the entire of Half-Life 2, and into Episode Two, over many happy lunchtimes. The best part is the Highway 17 segment in Half-Life 2. You’re both given your own buggy to drive across the countryside, and the solitary bungalows that dot the coast are perfect for cooperative assault: one person bursting through the front door while the other circles around the back. The Combine only seem to be expecting one of you, for some reason...
Rainbow Six: Vegas 2 - " players in campaign mode, 2-4 players in terrorist hunt, online or LAN
How does it work? We play Terrorist Hunt: you and the other players have to clear out a big, complex building in which a fixed number of terrorists run around and try to ambush you. It’s brilliant.
Why is it good?
Tom F: Terrorist Hunt is an immediately exciting concept, because it feels more like a simulation of a real armed-response firefight than any campaign level could be. You can’t be sure the level designer isn’t going to have the terrorists suddenly come from behind you, because the level designer doesn’t make that call: the terrorists do.
Graham: It’s doubly cool in co-op, because the challenge is so overwhelming. Even with the foresight of a snake camera under the door, it’s just tough to take out six terrorists in a room before any of them kill you. So you plan: I’ll take the left two... You throw a frag... I’ll come from the other door... You rope down to the window. And then you completely screw it up.
Mass Effect 3 - Up to 4 players online
How does it work? Fight to complete a mixture of objectives on small but open levels against randomised enemy forces. Level up characters and promote them into the singleplayer campaign to improve Shepard’s chances.
Why is it good?
Chris: ME3 multiplayer takes what is good about co-op survival modes – last-stand heroics and impromptu acts of daring – and adds incredibly varied races, classes and weapons that prevent it from ever becoming samey. Right now, I’m enjoying a Quarian infi ltrator that disintegrates enemies at close range with the Reegar Carbine, a gun we’ve come to call THE PLASMA HOSE. I’m just as happy charging around as a Krogan vanguard, or racking up headshots as a Turian sentinel carrying a Black Widow.
Tom S: New classes and bizarre new weapons are added regularly through free updates. You’re always holding out against waves of familiar enemies, but the variety of ways in which you can off these enemies expands every month. The N7 classes BioWare added recently push the boundaries of what the Mass Effect universe can sensibly contain. The Shadow can dart across the map and slash foes with a psychically infused katana, the Destroyer’s weighty carapace gives him the grounding to wield a rapid-fire grenade launcher with decent accuracy and the Slayer is a teleporting martial arts expert. With so many powerful abilities to choose from, playing with friends becomes more about showing off than anything else.
Chris: BioWare’s free updates to the game have been excellent and generous, particularly the new maps. They’ve drawn me back to the game and kept it feeling fresh, which is essential for co-op.
Supreme Commander - 2-7 players, online or LAN
How does it work?
Start a multiplayer game, put all humans on team 1, and some nice tough AIs on team 2. Crush.
Why is it good?
Tom F: It’s not the first co-op game you think of, but playing it cooperatively is how we’ve had the most fun with it. It can be dauntingly complex, so it’s great to have friends in there to help out if you forget to build anti-air or crash your power economy. In theory. In practice what usually happens is we beaver away on our own bases in silence for seven minutes then one of us says “Shit, fuck, they’re dropping in my base and I forgot to build point defence again, have you got anything that can help?” and the other says...
Graham: No, soz :(
Tom F: It’s about hatching your own masterplans, surviving long enough to see them complete, then raining the giant robotic fruits of your labours down on the enemy at the same time. My giant laser spiders are ready! Your flying fortresses are ready? Let’s go! My towering Galactic Colossus is ready! Your swarm of invincible death bricks is ready? Let’s go!
Dawn of War: Last Stand - Up to 3 players online
How does it work? - Unlike the main game, Last Stand gives you only one hero each. You’ve got to fi ght off increasingly tough waves of enemies until you die (likely) or beat wave 20 (unlikely). After the match, you usually unlock new equipment for your character.
Why is it good?
Tom F: I didn’t really get Last Stand until I levelled up a few times. The fun is in discovering new builds, and the role they can play in your group. As the Ork, I thought I was the longrange damage dealer: my autocannon certainly works for that, and when enemies get close I use my teleporting armour to get away. The notion of using the much tougher set, the one that can’t teleport, seemed pretty ridiculous. Until I unlocked the knife. The knife doesn’t do much damage, but it regenerates your health. Add some armour bonus trinkets, a self-healing trait, and an item that stops me being knocked down, and I can turn myself into an unstoppable tank. Suddenly I’m the guy charging into a nest of Tyranids to keep them off my friends, and coming out at full health.
Tom S: In the grim darkness of the future, three dudes battle ridiculous odds in a small stone circle. The setup may seem contrived, but DoW2’s overlooked co-op mode does a much better job of realising the Warhammer 40K fantasy than the campaign. Absurdly powerful heroes dominate the fiction, so I got a kick out of levelling up my venerable Space Marine captain and testing him against the hordes.
Last Stand understands 40K’s scale as well. The final waves throw more foes into the arena than you’ll see in any of the singleplayer missions, so victory may seem impossible. After a few levels you can start combining your heroes’ most powerful abilities to create a maelstrom of death. The glorious slaughterfest that results is worthy of a Space Marine’s final heroic moments.
Killing Floor - Up to 6 players, online or LAN
How does it work? Fight together to fend off waves of mutants, then stock up on guns and ammo at a shop that’s never in the same place twice.
Why is it good?
Chris: Without its guns, Killing Floor would be the bleakest, muddiest depiction of Britain at the end of the world since a bunch of Romans said “let’s go home, it’s cold and everyone here is mental.” With its guns, it’s one of the most satisfying co-op shooters around. My favourite is the bolt-action rifl e, which takes mutant head-popping and turns it into an avant garde musical genre. Bang! Chunk. Click. Bang! Blargh! Splatter.
Rich: I like the dual desert eagles. They go ‘whump’, like a pie dropped down a hole. But a really big pie, one that kills anyone unlucky enough to be standing under it in a spray of arterial blood. And when it kills them, this pie, it makes everything slow motion for a while, so your team can marvel at your incredible pie-dropping-stroke-gun-shooting skills.
Chris: Definitely play it with voice chat, though. Partly so that you can coordinate properly and warn your friends when they’re about to be sawn in half, but mostly so that you can talk over the truly, deeply dreadful voice acting. I started playing it during the Portal 2 promo campaign, when all the shopkeepers were replaced by GlaDOS. It was a huge improvement.
Borderlands 2 - Up to 4 players, online or LAN
How does it work? The whole campaign is playable in drop-in, drop-out co-op.
Why is it good?
Tom F: Two reasons – for one, the different abilities of each class mix well in a team fight. It’s great to see your Siren pluck a boss up into the air, and into range of your Commando’s turret and your Gunzerker’s... gunzerk. Secondly, cooperative play is good for diffi culty spikes, and Borderlands 2 sure has those. Dealing with an inordinately tough boss is less frustrating when there’s a whole a bunch of you coming up with new ideas and tactics, and a wider variety of weapons to try.
Tom S: Almost anything can pop out of Borderlands 2’s unfolding robot boxes. It could be a revolver that shoots lightning grenades, it could be a glowing, five-foot-long sniper rifl e with an enormous bayonet on the end. Whatever you get, it’s always better to have friends there to go “WOAH” or “whaaaat” or “give me that immediately.” Borderlands 2’s batty enemies are more fun to fi ght in a team, a constant stream of new gadgets to crow over makes it feel like the best sort of trick or treat trip, the sort where you get bazookas instead of sweets.
Arma 2 - 2 to many, online or LAN
How does it work? Players can join and play custom missions with each other, or mess around in the weapon playground add-on pack, Private Military Academy.
Why is it good?
Rich: The first time I played an Arma 2 custom mission with Marsh and Owen, it ended with me rolling sideways up a hill and giggling like a maniac. The second time, we were shot before we realised what the ‘open backpack’ key was mapped to. The third time, we found ourselves on a hillside, standing next to a crumpled chopper. It was dark, but the sky was brightening slowly as the sun rose somewhere off in the east. It would’ve been idyllic, were it not for the crowd of ornery locals taking potshots at us.
Together, we made it into a nearby settlement, where our rendezvous chopper was settling down into the dust. We sprinted towards it, tracer fire whistling over our heads, as we howled fears for our safety down our microphones. We were silly men, but Arma 2 quickly made us feel like (mildly inept) soldiers.
Marsh: Most of the time, my Arma 2 experience seems to consist of dying instantly or getting stuck in rocks. But occasionally, you roll the incredibly-complex-emergent-behaviour dice and get a scene as gripping and fluidly dramatic as anything from Full Metal Jacket. I don’t mean the toilet-suicide sequence. Running for that chopper with a busted leg and three shots left in my pistol as the enemy tightened the noose was one of the most extensive workouts my heart has undergone in many years. And it wouldn’t have been half the experience without Owen and Rich bellowing, “COME ON! YOU CAN DO IT!” as I lurched the final few yards.
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.
Everything can be made better with Lego. We've already seen this theory proved time and time again with the Lego: Well Known Franchise series of games. But if you're still not convinced, here's a selection of scenes from Portal 2, remade brilliantly into a series of Lego built vignettes.
The five minute film was created by Alex Kobbs for Machinima's Interactive Film Festival, and is the first of a two-part project. Other films on the festival's site include a remake of the first GTA 5 trailer, also made from Lego. Ah, Lego... Is there anything it can't do?