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I can't remember how long it took me to finish Half-Life 2. It's been a while, after all. But I can say, with absolute confidence, that it was a lot longer than the breathtaking 40:49 it took the SourceRuns Team to do it.
As is usual with speedruns, this is not a typical playthrough of Half-Life 2. It's done using a 2006 build of the game that used the original engine, which has significant movement differences, as well as a long list tricks and glitches that have since been patched out. It's also segmented, which basically means that it's a group effort: Different players hammer through different bits of the game, and the best of them are stitched together into what you see in the video.
The net result is fast, furious, and funky, as the runners clip through walls, fly over levels, and blow past the talkie bits. It doesn't look like much fun in the conventional videogame sense, but it's a hell of a sightseeing tour, and a remarkable accomplishment, coming in at just one-third of the world-record mark the SourceRuns team set in 2013.
A spreadsheet that breaks down just about every element of the run you can imagine is up on Google Docs, and the SourceRunners have also posted a separate video explaining how clipping works on YouTube.
Cheating in CS:GO is its own small sub-industry, a hard-to-kill parasite riding on the skin one of the PC s most popular games. Some ne'er-do-wells get off avoiding the notice of the VAC system for as long as possible. Others leverage cheating as a , offering premium programs and services. Some professionals have even used cheats during competition (with , career-ending ). For Valve, combating the risk of hacking is an endless war. Just last week, Valve s elimination of nabbed nearly 170 pro TF2 players. And last year, it dealt over to suspected accounts; with ownership counts likely exceeding , CS:GO likely represents a significant chunk of that figure.
Earlier this year, CS:GO player AndroidL was inspired to take matters into his own hands. In late January, AndroidL created and dispersed a pair of free hack programs on a popular cheat forum. Unbeknownst to their downloaders, the programs were time bombs. They d function normally for a set period of time before permanently skewing the user s view angle to an abnormal tilt and enabling a constant bunnyhop script huge, obvious red flags that would immediately trigger a VAC ban. Although clever, the first few hack releases earned modest attention roughly 1,000 downloads apiece, according to AndroidL s .
CS:GO has a cheating problem, AndroidL explained to me over multiple private messages. I don t think Valve is doing enough to prevent cheating; it doesn t speak publicly about VAC (for obvious reasons) or cheating in general. For such a competitive game with such an active and thriving community, Valve fails to at least acknowledge cheating is an issue in CS:GO which is appalling. Due to their failure to communicate, we aren't sure if Valve are actually attempting to combat cheaters or not. It's impossible to play a game of CS:GO today without suspecting someone on the enemy team of cheating.
AndroidL s hack took a more direct approach. It dispensed with timers and prompted a ban the moment a user would load the hack and enter a match by continuously topping off health, ammo, and armor values. Yet despite the almost instant effect, it achieved greater success, accumulating over 3,500 downloads.
Contributing to the hack s propagation was a simple testing method: I set the launch options of CS:GO to +sv_lan 1 -insecure which disables VAC (but consequently prevents me from joining any VAC enabled servers), AndroidL wrote. This means I can test the hacks without getting banned. I just played an offline game with bots where I was able to confirm the features such as editing my view angles along with health and ammo numbers.
Once the hack s usability was confirmed, AndroidL uploaded it onto the cheat forum through a VPN to stay anonymous. The forum account was only days old with no reputation, which would typically undermine the legitimacy of the hack. But to promote the hack, AndroidL went for a straightforward solution: I had a few of my friends post messages such as great, the hack worked! and so on until the comments overflowed onto a second page. Most hackers don t check the second page of posts; they ll only read the first few comments and then download the hack. As publicly released programs tend to last only a few days before detection by VAC, dummy nods of approval was enough to push the scheme in front of as many eyes as possible while it lasted.
And it worked. The hack s impact was magnified by its sheer efficiency; a cheater couldn t react fast enough between launching CS:GO and meeting VAC s awaiting hammer seconds later. As bans started snowballing, users flooded the host forum with of their sudden downfall. AndroidL feigned innocence by coming up with excuses as to why it wasn't my hack banning people to encourage others to download it.
Members of the CS:GO community could already participate in culling the cheater population through Valve s initiative for a few years now, but AndroidL s accomplishments demonstrate how one can more surgically hamper hackers with only modest extra effort. The victory could very well be temporary at best devoted cheaters can simply create a fresh Steam account and spend the $15/ 11 on another CS:GO copy but from AndroidL s perspective, the self-demise of those who sought an ostensibly easy access to a hack was worth it.
I think Overwatch is a very good idea, AndroidL wrote. It's another filter cheaters have to go through, but the only reason Overwatch exists is because VAC lacks the capabilities to detect all cheaters. Although I believe VAC is a good safeguard against cheaters, I don t believe it is a strong enough safeguard. There is little to no effort involved for a hack developer to bypass VAC it is a decent system to keep away the masses of people using public cheats, but other than that VAC is essentially futile.
I do have a plan with similar tactics and I probably will do this again sometime, AndroidL continued. It would be great if I could cooperate with Valve to get a larger number of cheaters banned. Taking cheating into our own hands seems to be the only solution right now, and I encourage others that have the skills to do this to create similar fake hacks. Furthermore, I want to put off those thinking about cheating. This wasn t the first fake hack, and it definitely won t be the last.
LMAOBOX is a program designed to allow players to cheat at Team Fortress 2, for instance by adding automatic aiming or removing weapon recoil. Somehow until now at least it's managed to pass under the radar of Valve's VAC (Valve Anti-Cheat) technology, but LMAOBOX has finally been detected, despite claims on that it was VAC-proof. And with the detection, comes a wave of VAC bans. It's not clear exactly how many people have been affected, but it includes nearly 170 professional players in the TF2 UGC league. Here's a full list of the competitive players affected, in a Google doc seemingly sent to the players themselves.
PCGamesN has a good write-up of proceedings, but a few more details have come to light since publication. While the developer of LMAOBOX apparently stated that they would now quit the project and make the source code public, a moderator of reckons that post was made by someone else, and that the (fake) code provided was riddled with malware. Others have disputed claims that the bans are backdated to anyone who has used LMAOBOX in the previous two years, suggesting it has only hit players who have used it in the last two weeks instead.
Warhammer. Warhammer never changes, as Wrong Perlman once said. But Dota 2 does, it changes loads, and its latest alteration is its support for Warhammer-themed items in the Steam Workshop. As that support was just announced yesterday, there are currently no Warhammer-themed items in the Dota 2 'shop, but I'm sure 3D modellers and texturisers are busy inventing them as I type this. Here's the Warhammer tag, looking all sad and empty.
An incentive to do so is the Call to Arms contest, which runs from now until the end of August, and will reward up to eight of the best entries with a coveted place in a new Warhammer-themed Dota treasure pack. They'll also get a load of Sega games, including Total War: Warhammer, along with all the other Total Wars. The rules are linked above if you fancy your chances, but the main one is that entries should abide by the "visual themes" of Games Workshop's series. Designers of big spiky shoulderpads and massive guns will be in their element, I reckon.
University provides a fantastic opportunity for students with shared interests to connect through societies. Perhaps most enviable of all, it offers the time and flexibility to truly invest in a wealth of temptations: sports, media and, of course, video games. With its ever increasing popularity, It should come as no surprise then that esports would find it s place too. As both player and spectator audiences grow, communities across the UK have developed to accommodate this new demand, with lecture theatres providing the perfect venues for League of Legends, Dota 2 and CS:GO viewing parties.
As a postgraduate researcher, I may not have the same freedom as I did during my undergrad years, but when I heard that an esports society had been created at Southampton University, I leapt at the chance to engage with players beyond my online team. I ve been playing CS for over ten years now, making it a not-insignificant part of my life. Despite my long relationship with the series, I d never really considered dabbling into the realm of competition beyond a few IRC-organised pick up games in the days of Source. Following a brief internal league however, I found myself on the shortlist to compete in the National University Esports League (NUEL) for Southampton s top team. Captained by Wildsam, and combining the might of Stubacca, Zack, Rennui and Ferno (myself), the 'Deadliners' were formed.
Started back in 2010, NUEL was designed to support students with a passion for competitive gaming. Though initially focused on League of Legends, the game roster has recently been expanded to include Hearthstone and Counter-Strike. With the CS league relatively unknown, It wasn t clear what level of competition we d be facing. At the time of entering I held the rank of Legendary Eagle which, according to current estimations, put me in the top 10% of players. Now while that s certainly something I m proud of, it s still a significant jump from the top 0.6% that comprise the Global Elite. If any universities were fielding players of that calibre, we d certainly have our work cut out for us.
Collected below are my experiences of each week of the league. I ll take you through our successes and setbacks, both in game and out. As a newly-formed outfit, Deadliners experience should provide a reference for what players new to the amateur competitive scene can expect. I can t guarantee your experience will match ours exactly, but hopefully you ll find the inspiration to take the plunge yourself.
The NUEL tournament consists of two stages. Teams play two best-of-one (BO1) games per week. The first two weeks are reserved for qualification. The top 16 teams enter a double elimination bracket in the subsequent weeks. The remaining teams are entered into the S-League and continue the BO1 format to compete for the highest possible position of 4th. Each week, the team dropped from the elimination bracket enters the top position in the S-League.
Anxiety and anticipation. Excitement tempered by trepidation. In the hour running up to our first match my mind was racing. Why hadn t we scheduled the time to practice beforehand? Who would our opponents be? What ranks should we expect? The degree to which a minor alteration to circumstance can change the entire weight of a match caught me by surprise. Though playing the same game as I would do any other evening, the added element of ceremony to a scheduled match brought a sense of unease I was wholly unused to. When it was revealed that we would be facing the previous winners of NUEL s winter season, University of Manchester, it s safe to say my aspirations for the match were stunted at best.
Like most maps in CS:GO s roster, Cache is generally considered to be CT-sided, that is to say the CT side is expected to win more rounds in each half. We were therefore grateful to open in the stronger position. However, while the map may favour CTs, we quickly discovered that our team did not. Unable to maintain control of the centre, adaptation proved difficult and the lack of experience together quickly became evident, costing round after round. I had offered to play as our team s primary sniper, but with our economy in tatters I found myself barely capable of affording an AWP, let alone performing with it. Scraping together only a handful of rounds toward the end of the first half, prospects looked bleak.
Fortunately, the half-time changeover provided a much-needed ease of tensions,finally allowing our team to relax into a pace that suited us. With a strong start, I was finally able to find my personal comfort zone, shifting location round-by-round to catch people off guard. Unexpectedly, we found the momentum shifting in our favour, finally allowing us to dictate the flow of play. When it finally came, victory was near euphoric. Had we really just managed that? If we could compete with the previous winners, how far could we expect to go?
With our next opponents ready to play we had little time to celebrate, instead rolling straight into our second game and imminent demise. Where UoM had been precise, carefully timing peaks and flashes, Bath A were relentless. Piling onto sites in five-man pushes, the change in tempo blindsided us, overwhelming our shaken defence. Reeling from the high of a win, we suddenly found ourselves in the aftermath of a bloody loss. It looked like things wouldn t be so simple after all, but if we could just claim one match in the following week, our chances of qualifying for the elimination bracket were still good.
Sadly I was unable to compete during the second week, leaving my team to find a substitute. Even so, the knowledge that we needed just one victory to qualify for the knockout stage kept me pinned to my phone during the evening of the match. The news that finally filtered through was far from positive. Confusion and disagreements betrayed the result: we had lost both matches and were likely relegated to the S-League.
Despite dropping to the lower league, I wasn t yet ready to give up, and together with my team resolved to give the remaining matches our all. The opportunity to play in a more formal setting and develop as part of a new team had given a whole new drive to my time spent in CS. I had already begun to see clear improvements to both aim and positioning, earning me a regular top spot in my matchmaking team.
The first week in S-League served as a polar introduction to NUEL s broad range of skill. First lined up against OX Gaming from Hull, we found ourselves comfortably surpassing our opponents and eased into an almost-casual 16-5 victory. The relaxed attitude this fostered left us utterly unprepared for the 16-3 bruising we then received from Swansea Green. Competitors in the winter tournament, they showed such confidence and ease together that we were taken aback to see them outside the elimination bracket so early. It s safe to say that we were thoroughly outclassed, but as tough as a heavy loss can be, there s a level of benefit to competing against a higher class of player and no shortage of insight to be gleaned. Expecting to suffer some humiliating defeats, I had made a mental effort to take positive factors away from each match. At the very least, our execution had been swift.
During the matches, we made a concerted effort to provide support toward each other beyond in-game actions. Our captain, Wildsam, was a constant voice of reassurance, never allowing the situation to shake him. Even while winning, it s easy for a player to set themselves off-kilter after losing a number of duels in a row. Usually found topping the frag count, Stubacca lost a series of contests early in the first match and was vocally shaken. However, support from the rest of the team meant it wasn t long before he was back on his feet. When playing as part of a team, it s important to make sure you re aware of your teammate s mental state and give them encouragement when necessary. After all, everyone has bad days.
Week four shall henceforth be known as the week of the food coma. There are some interesting lessons to be learned in competing around a fixed schedule, and one of those is to plan your dinner well. Much like physical sports, it s a bad idea to consume a vast quantity of food, no matter how delicious, before playing CS:GO. While not suffering the same stomach issues as a game of basketball would provide, my body had instead decided that reaction times and logical reasoning were unimportant when compared to digestion. As a result my time spent in the first match against Sheffield Hallam was spent staggering blearily around the halls of Cache. Fortunately, where I proved lacklustre my team was more than ready to pick up the slack, each member earning over 20 kills to secure a second S-League win.
In a fitting twist of fate, the second game lined us up against Portsmouth s 5 Noobs Who Don t Play CS. Southampton and Portsmouth hold a significant University rivalry, sparring off against one another in each year s Varsity sporting competition. The prospect of a grudge match helped shake me out of my stupor, keen to uphold Southampton s winning record against our rival. Contrary to their name, we knew that Portsmouth was fielding at least one player of Global rank, an intimidating prospect for a team of Eagles. Playing on Overpass, far from our comfort zone, the match was a tightly-fought contest. If not for a herculean 30-kill effort by Zack, the match would have gone Portsmouth s way.
Impressive individual performances can do a lot to boost morale in a tough match, providing a source of inspiration while easing some of the load for those struggling. However, repeated success can be a double-edged sword. If one member is seen to be consistently playing better than the others, it can lead weaker players to question their value to the team in general. It was therefore a pleasant surprise to find that our top scorer would shift every week, and often led the pack by only a small margin. That we had such similar skill levels was a surprising positive, allowing independent highs to shine without anyone feeling that they were falling behind.
Unfortunately, this week also supplied its fair share of frustration, highlighting imperfections in the backend system for the league. Each week, match and server information was granted only within an hour of the scheduled time, causing some serious problems when the servers stop responding. After an exasperating 30 minutes of waiting and refreshing the NUEL site, we were all but ready to give up on playing when the information finally came through. Small failings like this are far from terminal, but marr the overall experience of an event, replacing anticipation with annoyance.
They found us. I thought the land of structured competition would be free of trolls, but still they come. HAHAHAHA they cry THE NEXT GeT_RiGhT? Within minutes of joining the server, chat was flooded and before long nothing intelligible was left. Then I remembered that CS:GO has a mute function.
It seems a sad truth that any competitive game will be marred by a sizable, unpleasant portion of the community. For every friend I ve made through online matchmaking, I ve had to wade through at least five vitriol-spewing antagonists. Combining a volatile mix of anonymity, young audiences and adrenaline-fueled competition, it s all too easy for players to approach both allies and foes with a hostile attitude. The most depressing aspect is that derogatory remarks can even prove rewarding. The right comment at the wrong time can do a serious number on a player s mental resolve. Placed in a tense environment requiring a great degree of finesse, it doesn t take much to push most people over the edge, and the further you fall down the slippery slope of frustration, the more difficult it becomes to recover.
That this kind of behaviour can be rewarding is infuriating to say the least, but to see it in a more serious competitive environment caught me off guard. You would hope that any team willing to commit to a weekly schedule would show some degree of maturity. Confrontational behaviour may sometimes provide immediate benefits, but it provides an unwelcome front for new players, and does little to progress the still developing realm of esports. Most competitive games have begun taking steps to punish abusive behaviour, offering temporary bans or time in purgatory but CS:GO still has a long strides to make in this regard. I should count myself lucky then that not a single member of my team took this approach. Even on the receiving end of our worst beatings, we stayed respectful. This resulted in a far more amiable environment.
To be fair to our opposition, UoL:A were far from directly offensive, simply filling the chat with endless, key-bound memes and lines. A brief check of the NUEL site informed that their team had in fact qualified for the elimination stage but fell out in the first round. Their team had even beaten Swansea Green, at whose hands we received a resolute 16-3 drubbing. It was in all probability that they had little interest in competing further, and after ending the first half 10-5 they all but collapsed. Likely hoping to be dropped from the remaining games, UoL:A even submitted an opposing match report following the game, contradicting our victory. The poor behaviour did little to sour our mood however, as four straight victories in S-League had put us within touching distance of a top ten finish.
I d love to say our NUEL experience ended on a high, conquering all odds to close our tournament run with a hard-earned win. I wouldn t be far wrong, but it wasn t quite to be. Following a loss to the capable but disrespectful Surrey Lions, we found ourselves pitted against Warwick CS in one of the closest games of the entire tournament. Our two sides went blow for blow against each other, trading rounds throughout the first half to end at 8-7.
With a strong pistol round, Warwick forged ahead, carving a five-round lead to reach 9-14. In what was probably my personal best performance of the tournament, both AWPing and rifling, we held the line. Clawing back round after round we finally brought the scoreline level. Then, just as it felt we had gained the upper hand, we were broken. A sloppy attempt to push onto Overpass B bombsite left our team in disarray. Warwick took the final round without competition. We had lost 14-16.
A win would likely have placed us around 10th out of a 60 team roster, and I found myself thinking back for days on how we could have changed the result. Due to conflicting schedules, our team had been forced to find a sub for Stubacca in the last hour before the match. While performing admirably, it was clear that our sub was a little out of their depth. If only we had the full team. If only we had pulled back on that last B approach. While I was devastated at the time, the better team deserved the win and I couldn t have asked for a closer match to round out the league.
Across the course of these twelve matches, each member of the team had gently gravitated into the roles that suited them best, and we found that we complemented each other well. Stubacca proved a competent solo player, more than capable of holding the B bombsite alone on maps that required it, while Rennui and Zack formed a stable rifling team to lock down control in a region. If I had to pick a weak point, it would regrettably have to be myself. Lacking in a dedicated AWPer, I had offered to play the role. Though I was more than capable of playing the aggressive T-side, I regularly struggled to hold the middle lane when defending. However, this trial by fire has since seen my sniping proficiency extensively honed, to the point where I can now comfortably say that the AWP is by far my best weapon.
For a team of strangers, thrown together a matter of weeks before the league, I m extremely proud of our performance. Over the course of a few weeks, we developed together on all fronts of our game, from coordination to moral support. It s clear that the NUEL system is designed from the ground up for inclusion. While the elimination bracket is the main draw, the existence of the S-League gives new or inexperienced teams like our own the chance maintain a presence and vie with those of a similar capability. Competing in a league, even just at the bottom rung, gives a drive and energy to the game that can t quite ever be replicated in standard online play.
Since the start of the league I ve been playing more CS:GO than ever before, even pushing myself into a higher skill group. Given the chance and time to practice, I would run it all again to aim for that elimination stage, and happily with the same team. The majority of Deadliners had entered the league unacquainted, but I wouldn t hesitate to invite any of them for a game in the future.
This championship marks only the second NUEL foray into CS, and the back-end side is still showing some clear teething issues. With match information given only briefly before the start time, it s no surprise that server problems could lead to frustration. Re-use of a limited server pool once led to players for the following match joining the server for our still-ongoing game. There s also no clear way of checking the standings of either the elimination bracket of S-League on the NUEL site. Weekly fixtures list matchups and winners, but only within a group of five teams. To this day I still haven t been informed what place we finished.
In truth, NUEL is a far cry from the bigger online leagues like FACEIT, but it doesn t really have to be. A large part of appealing to the student demographic is to encourage new communities and talent countrywide. With the backup of an S-league for drop-outs, NUEL gives newcomers a place to test the waters of competition before they dive into its murky depths. Would I recommend NUEL? If you re a university student and interested in CS, certainly. If nothing else, I can think of no better excuse to find a team and get practicing.
If any the above sounded like your cup of tea, the current NUEL season has just ended, leaving plenty of time to practice for the next. If you re not a student (or not based in the UK) there s no need to worry as plenty of alternatives are out there: the Electronic Sports League (ESL) run an open league at no cost of entry, while FACEIT takes online matchmaking to the next level, scheduling games against other teams and running regular competitions for prizes.
We ve got a relatively quiet weekend coming up as League of Legends takes a break ahead of the forthcoming mid-season invitational. Even so, there s some top-tier European Counter-Strike to watch and a lot of great Dota 2 happening at WePlay s Season 3 LAN finals (rubbish greenscreen staging notwithstanding.) Some of the world s best Hearthstone players will be putting Whispers of the Old Gods to the test in Korea, too.
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive: CEVO Gfinity Pro-League Season 9
There's some top-tier CS:GO happening at Gfinity's arena in London this weekend. Play has been ongoing since Thursday, but continues with semifinals on Saturday and the grand finals on Sunday. Play begins at 12:00 BST/04:00 PDT on Saturday and at 15:30 BST/07:30 PDT on Sunday and you can find the livestream here.
Dota 2: WePlay League S3 LAN Finals
There s two more days of play left in the WePlay League Season 3 LAN finals in Kiev. There s been some really exciting, fun Dota played so far although the tone of the event has been set by a run of Shanghai Major-style production snafus. From a comedically terrible greenscreen set for the analysis panel (see above) to arbitrarily cutting away from games during crucial teamfights, it s been a bit of a shambles. That s part of the fun, though, and reason enough to tune in. Play begins at 08:00 BST/00:00 PDT on Saturday and at 10:00 BST/02:00 PDT on Sunday and you can find the English language livestream here.
Hearthstone: Seoul Cup World Invitational
An array of top Hearthstone talent including Thijs, Ostkaka, Reynad and more will compete for a share of $22,000 in Seoul this weekend. It'll be a relatively quick, single elimination contest with play spread across both days. Hearthstone s latest expansion has done a number on the metagame, so it ll be fascinating to see what decks succeed at one of the first serious competitions since Whispers of the Old Gods launched (you can find some pro predictions here, incidentally.) Watch the English language livestream here, but bear the timezone in mind: play begins at 14:00 KST both days, which is 06:00 BST or 22:00 PDT on the day before.
Half-Life 2 turns 12 this year, and thanks to its powerful, if a bit creaky Source engine it remains as popular with the modding community as ever. Over the years we've seen all manner of excellent mods emerge, adding co-op or competitive multiplayer, shiny graphical updates, new story content, and even full conversions that bear little or no resemblance to the original game.
It's the latter two we're going to focus on today, as we round up the best single-player Half-Life 2 mods. We've chosen mods that stand up as separate adventures, sometimes set in worlds far removed from Combine Earth.
This is the story of a man named Stanley. Or rather, it's the story of the story: a deviously clever, reactive adventure that second-guesses your every move. As Stanley or, perhaps more accurately, as the player controlling Stanley you're free to follow or ignore the various instructions the wonderful narrator bellows over you, resulting in a tangled, branching story that rewards your curiosity, imagination, and defiance. The original Source mod was later expanded into a full game, one our Phil thought extremely highly of in our review.
Adam Foster's Minerva comes close to the quality of Valve's own Half-Life 2 Episodes in fact, Valve was so impressed Foster joined the company. It's a sizeable story, about the length of an official chapter, with considered level design and a high level of polish. You begin the game strapped to the underside of a helicopter, before being dropped on a mysterious island with a sinister secret.
Gordon Freeman ends the Half-Life series as a crowbar-wielding superhero, a figure of legend in the Half-Life universe. Two-part mod The Citizen provides a new angle on the world, casting you as an ordinary oppressed citizen of City 17. Obviously, said ordinary man soon acquires a gun and starts killing people, but you might snap too if you called that dystopia home.
This lengthy, ambitious mod swings from horror to all-out action. Occasional cutscenes tell the story of a subway technician suffering from leukaemia, but Get a Life's unlucky hero Alex also has to contend with the mod's new limb damage system, which causes effects like dizziness and limping, depending on where he's hit by enemies.
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to step into the sneakers of Gordon Freeman and set off to repair a Resistance listening post. This impressive Episode Two mod begins with Gordon rowing to a distant coastline: a coastline that reminds you just how pretty the venerable Source engine can look in the right hands. The right hands in this instance are a couple of established game devs, and their experience shines through pretty much every crevice of this slick, well-paced adventure.
Thanks to its then-revolutionary ragdoll physics, a lot of time in Half-Life 2 was spent throwing chairs at NPCs, or flinging teacups with the gravity gun. In that spirit, Research and Development does away with offensive weapons altogether, leaving just a couple of secondary tools to let you manipulate gravity or order Antlions about. Puzzles are the order of the day here, and it's surprising just how easily Half-Life 2's toolset translates to this new focus.
Where there are modding tools, horror mods are sure to follow. You don't need to have played the original in fact, it's included as a prologue, giving you the chance to explore both a haunted house and a spooky hospital. The horror on offer here is mainly of the jump scare variety, so if you were hoping for the psychological horror of Silent Hill, move on to the next item in the list. Nightmare House 2 is basically FEAR it even features its own creepy ghost girl but more FEAR is hardly a bad thing.
The impressive Alchemilla drops you in the world of Silent Hill, endless fog, Dark World and all. Not only have the developers nailed the grimy aesthetic of Team Silent's classic series, they've matched its colour palette, borrowed its sound effects, and recreated its lonely atmosphere. It's such an uncanny representation that it may take you a while to notice there are no enemies traipsing around, but then those games were hardly known for their satisfying combat.
Download: Alchemilla mod.
Until now everything we've featured has been strictly first-person, but Water bucks that trend. In fact, it bucks a lot of trends, given that it's a third-person puzzley adventure starring a mermaid. Yes, a mermaid. While you're (initially at least) limited to a fantasy city's waterways, this smart mod soon finds ways to get you exploring land too, using a number of innovative systems. The developers of Water went on to make From Earth, another, similarly inventive Source mod.
Well, we couldn't ignore Black Mesa, could we? For the unaware, this recreates the original Half-Life in its sequel's shinier engine, and it's been in development since dinosaurs roamed the Earth. Much more than a simple port, Black Mesa updates Valve's game with fancier assets, new voice acting, a reworked campaign and more. The team have also excised Half-Life's much-maligned Xen section, albeit only temporarily until it's been remade to be, somehow, good. While the older mod is free, you'll find the newer version on Early Access, accompanied by a price tag.
Download: Official site.
The looming Manila Major is on course to be classic Dota with a twist. Valve has announced the 12 invitees who will be joined by four victors from the regional qualifiers. Among them are stalwarts like Alliance and Na Vi, joined by the power-players of South East Asia in Fnatic and MVP.
This year s selection process has been enigmatically described as a more holistic approach . Valve considered a history of greatness in addition to recent success in making its picks. Consideration was also given to the outcomes of third-party LAN tournaments to reduce emphasis on the qualifiers.
In full, the teams who made the cut are:
The Manila Major kicks off June 7, with qualifiers for all regions taking place May 3-6.
Gif by Gunpoint/Heat Signature artist John Roberts
Documenting Chris' complex ongoing relationship with Dota 2. To read more Three Lane Highway, click here.
Dota doesn't evolve by increments. There are adjustments and hotfixes from time to time, sure, but this is a game of dramatic shifts. Even after all these years, Dota patch notes have retained their power to shock—perhaps because this is such a complex game, requiring thousands of hours of slowly-acquired knowledge with little hand-holding. When the underlying rules of this complex competitive sandbox get changed, years of ingrained intuition get thrown out and need to be replaced.
That is what has happened over the course of the last 24 hours with the release of the 6.87 update. It'd be hyperbole to call this 'the biggest patch ever', or anything like that—after all, I felt that way when they moved Roshan, when they introduced magic lifesteal, and so on. New patches are always the biggest patch ever. 6.87 feels like a particularly big one, however. We'll be figuring out its ramifications for a while, and there's loads left to be discovered.
There are an enormous amount of changes in this update. Many heroes have been changed in variously subtle and dramatic ways, and it'd take an extensive essay to go through the impact of every subtle mechanical change (like the alterations to creep aggro), the changes to the map, and the impact of every new item. If you'd like a thorough overview, put aside a couple of hours and check out this reddit thread. You'll find a bunch of long Twitch analysis sessions by professional and high-ranked players, which is a good way to get a sense of the patch as a whole.
In this article, then, I'm going to run through a couple of specific changes to highlight notable buffs, nerfs, and silly sideways shifts. It's too early to say what 6.87 is going to do to the top-level meta, but here's a taste of Dota 2 in the immediate aftermath of this huge update.
There are a lot of top-level changes in this patch, but here's one you need to be aware of. Hitpoints now scale more from strength, and a hero's basic health pool is larger. It's not enough to make a huge difference in the opening minutes of the game, unless you end up in one of those close-fought early teamfights around a bounty rune: expect most characters to be one or two auto-attacks tankier.
Later on, though, it amounts to a chunky buff to strength heroes. Given that the previous metagame was dominated by intelligence and agility, this is the start of a shift back towards Dota's beefy frontliners that will continue elsewhere in the patch. If 6.87 had a theme song, it would be this.
People who declared that 'we LoL now' when Octarine Core and Aether Lens introduced scaling damage and utility for spells might need to hold on to something, because spell damage scales with intelligence now. Not a huge amount, mind, but enough to keep spellcasters competitive for longer into a match. This is a profound philosophical shift for Dota 2, which for years was about the tension between powerful spells and scaling auto-attacks. Now, those lines are fuzzier—expect perceptions about roles to change, particularly when it comes to intelligence heroes.
Even so, the amount of mana gained per point of intelligence has been reduced. This is a big part of the nerf to previous pubstompers Outworld Devourer and Invoker, who have both, in various ways, had their mana pool axed: Invoker has undergone a flat intelligence reduction, while OD has had his costs increased and intelligence steal nerfed. Magic scales better but heroes that rely on it need to be more careful with their usage, at least until they pick up a big item or two.
This is offset a little by the boost in hero base mana from 0 to 50, but I'd argue that this is a bigger buff to strength heroes anyway. On average they gain more proportionally from the change, and the way their spells fit into their playstyle means that this extra mana opens up their options more. Dragon Knight has jumped from 195 to 230 base mana, for example, allowing him to get more use out of his freshly-buffed laning skill Breathe Fire.
With these buffs to strength heroes in mind, let's address the big red elephant in the room:
With a 7.46% positive winrate swing in the first hours of the patch, I'm both happy and sad to report that my most played and probably favourite Dota hero is now flavour of the month. He's been made competitive, particularly in pubs, by two sets of changes in addition to the general strength buffs outlined above.
The first regards him directly. Counter Helix, his passive, now does pure damage and as such isn't mitigated by armour. It has had its damage slightly reduced to compensate, but in effect this makes him scale much better: level 4 Helix will now always do 180 damage, whereas previously it would steadily decrease as enemies stacked up their defenses.
Axe hits harder, scales better, and is one of the few heroes to be unaffected by the armour aura that has been added to towers. These punish dives by characters that rely on physical damage, but Axe isn't one of those characters any more. Axe doesn't care.
The second factor responsible for the rise of Axe is the change to Blade Mail, which now returns damage before Axe's damage mitigation is applied (meaning it stays effective even if Axe is tanked-up) and goes through spell immunity (meaning that it synergises brilliantly with Berserker's Call, which also goes through spell immunity.)
Blade Mail is one of those Dota mechanics, like Undying's Tombstone and the entire character of Omniknight, that requires enemies to play around it. As such, it is the bane of pubs and anywhere where coordination is in short supply. Axe is now the best carrier of an item that is uniquely able to turn a player's own farm against them, and this is what I'd attribute his spike in winrate to.
It's worth mentioning that the Blade Mail buff is also a big help to characters like Centaur Warrunner, who has also had a couple of nice buffs in this patch. It remains to be seen just how big an impact it has, but I wouldn't surprised to see Blade Mail tuned back down fairly shortly.
There are a bunch of nerfs in this patch—Invoker, Outworld Devourer, Death Prophet, Earth Spirit, Enchantress, etc—but Arc Warden feels like the one that has come closest to a proper rethink. Dota 2's newest hero didn't make a great first impression thanks to a cheese strat that is now well and truly dead. Having been stripped of his ability to teleport around the map with a Divine Rapier that he has no danger of losing, he has to actually use his abilities in synergy with one another.
I'm not an Arc Warden player and I don't feel fully qualified to explain how his playstyle will change, but its clear that the patch raises his skill ceiling and potentially increases his utility a great deal. His Spark Wraith ghost-mines are much easier to spam and now purge, which is a big buff, while Magnetic Field needs to be used more thoughtfully—it's not enough to just stick it down on top of whatever you're trying to kill.
He's now more interesting than cheesy, which will probably devastate his popularity but makes him a much more positive presence in the game. Whether or not you believe he's been dumpstered or rescued from the dumpster is down to your definition of trash.
There's no Dota 2 update party like a Dota 2 crazy Aghanim's Scepter changes update party. There a few notable ones in this patch—Mirana and Gyrocopter, Winter Wyvern and Oracle—but none of them do this:
That's from my first post-patch ranked game. Mirana believed that she had survived the Rosh fight. Mirana was wrong. You can try to run from the slam; the slam does not care. The slam will find you. I've had a lot of reactions to solo Dota, but laughing maniacally in the office has never been one of them. Aghanim's Scepter, Aether Lens, Octarine Core Earthshaker is the most fun I have had in this game in years.
To explain: Aghanim's Scepter now enhances Enchant Totem rather than Echo Slam, giving it the ability to be cast anywhere within a 900 AoE. This causes Earthshaker to leap into the air and cast Enchant Totem at the target location, which never stops being funny. It's an initiation and an escape, as well as an 'I must go, my people need me' button to be used during slow moments.
I'm 90% sure this got added first and foremost because it is funny. Earthshaker's itemisation was a little set in stone before, sure, but he wasn't necessarily broken. He didn't need this—but I'm delighted that he got it.
Let's all celebrate the age of Jumpshaker with another round of this amazing gif:
This change is also, incidentally, a nice little buff to Rubick (who otherwise got a bit of love this patch.) Rubick loves stealing Earthshaker's stuff, and Enchant Totem was previously the spell of choice for preventing the Grand Magus from getting Echo Slam. If you're using it to initiate, that's harder. And if Rubick has his own Scepter, then getting Enchant Totem is its own kind of reward.
There's a lot more I could say about this patch, and a lot more I want to experiment with. Storm Spirit's Aghanim's upgrade, for one—a 450-range AoE Electric Vortex! Plus: Skywrath Mage's 12-second ultimate! You'll see a lot more Skywrath/Clockwerk, Skywrath/Axe, and Skywrath/Legion Commander in the days to come. And I'll do my best to cover the best/silliest/worst new combos as they emerge.
To wrap up, however, I'd like to address 6.87's dumbest change:
Illusory Orb speed increased by 1
If you don't play Dota 2, a speed increase of 1 is not very much—at all. This is this update's joke change, a reference to a Reddit thread from last week which generated Dota 2 patch notes by feeding previous updates into a Markov chain text generator to create a machine's idea of what a Dota 2 patch might look like. There were a lot of brilliant and impossible things in that post ('Lone Druid dies', 'Torrent now give less experience with all heroes in the Forest') and one that was funny because it was so inconsequential—increasing Puck's Orb speed by 1. So that's what Valve and Icefrog have done: implemented an idea that comes directly from a joke. They definitely read reddit, is the takeaway here.
I love the idea that in a few months we'll see yet another International won by a hairs-breadth Puck play, and we'll wonder: did a a Markov chain text generator just win somebody millions of dollars?
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Dota 2 is about to undergo significant changes in the form of the 6.87 gameplay update revealed by Valve earlier today. Foremost among them is a change to Ranked All Pick that incorporates the addition of a 15-second “voting phase” which will take place ahead of the picking phase. Each player will vote for a different hero, half of whom will be selected at random and banned.
"Two players cannot vote for the same hero. The game displays heroes as they are voted on, but not who voted. The number of bans is equal to half the total number of votes. If there is an odd number of votes, the number of bans is randomly rounded up or down," the Dota team explained. "The random ban selection will choose at most 3 heroes from one specific team's votes, so it's more evenly split."
The update also adds a new Scan function to the minimap, which scans a selected area for eight seconds and indicates whether or not it contains any heroes. The scan “does not consider units inside the Roshan Pit, but does consider Smoked units,” and the results are a straight-up yes/no: No indication of how many enemies are present is given. On the plus side, enemy teams won't know when you've performed a scan, so your surveillance efforts won't raise any alarm bells.
Other notable points include an increase of starting HP from 180 to 200, HP per strength being boosted from 19 to 20, an increase in Hero base mana from 0 to 50, and mana per intelligence reduced—whoa, quick change of pace there—from 13 to 12. Of course, there are quite a few other changes and balance tweaks on the menu, and a small handful of new items.
The Dota 2 6.87 update will be rolled out to the main client within a couple of days, barring unforeseen disaster, but if you want an advance look at what's coming, you can take it for a spin with the Dota 2 Test client right now. Our resident Dotaphile Christ Thursten is preparing his thoughts on the patch from the penthouse of his mind palace, and will post those on PC Gamer Pro tomorrow.