PC Gamer

TRIGGERNOMETRY

We write about FPSes each week in Triggernometry, a mixture of tips, design criticism, and a celebration of virtual marksmanship.

There isn t enough poetry being written about guns. Not literal limericks or sonnets (that would be creepy), but words that dig into and capture what makes one game s AK-47 more fun than another s.

Weapon feel continues to be the nebulous catch-all for the nuances that make guns fun. Most of the reviews of shooters I read offer the same praise: guns feel great or feel really powerful. If the writer s being generous, they ll use a word like punchy to describe an SMG. I ve been guilty of this too during my six-year term at PC Gamer.

Months of work goes into designing, animating, and balancing the things that put the S in FPS, so maybe we should take a moment to talk about what makes a good gun good.

I think the visual design of weapons matters far less than we think it does. There s a tendency, probably because they re planted right in front of our perspective at all times, to think of guns as a collection of aesthetics: firing and reload animations, SFX, screen shake, particle effects, and the death animations they produce. Those things make a gun, right? So if those things are good, surely we have an interesting and fun video game weapon, right?

No. Consider the AWP: it s olive green, it s bland, and its simple animations are more run-of-the-mill than Rambo. The only aesthetically remarkable thing about the most revered, iconic, and infamous sniper rifle in a video game is that it s a bit loud. And yet thousand-comment debates erupt when Valve tweaks the way the AWP s scope works. Why?

A gun s look and sound are part of its personality, sure. But if you ask me, great video game weapons have meaningful, interconnected relationships with other game elements. Those elements differ from game to game, of course. In CS case, the appeal of the AWP is born from the fact that CS is an FPS with body-part-specific damage modeling and no respawns. In that context, it s the only gun that grants an instant kill if you tag someone above the waist.

That feeling of possibility is fun within the strict rules of CS movement: if you can hit it, you can kill it… but you also can t be moving too much when you fire. With that power comes responsibility, too. Killed players surrender their equipped weapon in CS, and stolen AWPs not only save your team $4750 but act as a kind of trophy. This is doubly the case in CS:GO, where a player s custom AWP skin reminds all spectators which irresponsible player allowed their AWP to fall into enemy hands. Buying an AWP, then, to some extent, announces to the rest of the server: I think I m a good enough shot to protect this valuable asset from the other team.

All of this makes the AWP a weapon with abundant meaning. Even its shortcomings (slow rate of fire, difficult to use in close quarters) are a source of fun: the noscope is a revered skillshot.

In Tribes case, its weapons shake hands with its player movement really well, arguably the quality that defines it as an FPS. Again, like the AWP, the Spinfusor isn't visually extraordinary: it fires discs at a medium speed, and its animations and SFX are pretty modest. But the Spinfusor is the perfect fit, the perfect baseline weapon in a game where your targets are typically skiing along the ground at high speed. Its splash damage leaves room for error and its relatively slow travel time creates an exciting feeling of uncertainty as you admire your shot. Like throwing up a three-pointer in basketball, you get to experience that arc of Will it go in? It might not go in. It went in! as the disc travels toward its target.

The Fusion Mortar creates the same sort of feeling while operating as a parabolic siege weapon. The design of the weapons actually encourages you to spend as much time as possible in the air: the threat they pose encourages you to master movement to have the best chance of staying alive. In each of these examples, the weapons strengthen the meaning and significance of core systems like movement, damage modeling, or weapon purchasing.

PC Gamer

Valve gave classic Counter-Strike map de_train a makeover in this week's update (and thank goodness—it needed it). The overhaul to the map's layout and look has mostly been well-received—the new Train has a high-contrast look and a less complicated A bombsite. 

But one new map element that Valve snuck in has already been removed: vile, map-unbalancing birds.

Not long after Train updated, players discovered that they could jump atop the pigeons that were placed along the long route to A from Terrorist spawn (aka "ivy") and pigeon-piggyback into the heavens, blissfully escaping the horrors of combat. Or, as the video below shows, players could use the pigeons as a flapping platform to glitch into the rooftops overlooking bombsite A, giving them a huge advantage over the CTs.

Valve has hotfixed the foul fowl play, but the current version of Train pays homage to this "bird boost," as it came to be known, with a new sign along the way to where it was once possible.

I've used Word Lens on my phone to translate this cryptic glyph:

Immortal words that should inspire us all.

PC Gamer

Three Lane Highway is Chris' weekly column about Dota 2.

I've written a lot about the importance of attitude in Dota 2. 'How you act' is as interesting and important a subject to me as 'how you play'—or, at the very least, it's the subject that I feel I'm more qualified to talk about. I've got two and a half years of Dota experience, but significantly more experience of being a human who has to interact with other humans in order to achieve things and be happy. Dota is no different to a vast number of other difficult things you might try to do with other people in that regard, and there are patterns of thought and behaviour that, once you learn them, are a general help. You will be a better player, I've always argued, if you spend some time learning how to avoid being a dick.

I've come at this idea from a couple of different angles over the last six months. Recently, though, I've had another run of unhappy encounters with the game. You might have picked up half a paragraph ago that there's a 'but' coming—something that complicates my typically unquestioning approach to The Importance Of Being Nice. There is a 'but' coming, I'm afraid. Specifically, a 'butt'. I am the butt. I have been a butt, lately. That was a pun. I am really sorry.

I've realised, the hard way, that keeping your shit together during a stressful game isn't something that you learn once and take for granted. Even writing essays about this stuff isn't enough, it turns out, to prevent a backslide into being a backside to your friends. I experience this feeling of having broken my own rules with sufficient regularity that it has become a recognisable psychological scenario in my life: lying in bed about 1am, wishing that I could have closed out that last game of Dota without being a dick in this way or that, feeling generally and pervasively unhappy about the type of person I can become under pressure.

If you've got to this point in the article and thought "chill out, man, it's just a game" then, well, yes, that's the goal. But games make you have all kinds of thoughts and feelings—that's why you play them. You probably play Dota 2 because of the feelings it makes you have, and those feelings make you do things. Controlling what the game makes you do is important. There's no 'just a game' here because games are powerful, and no 'chill out, man' because chilling out is, paradoxically, hard and requires work. Besides: I've been going deep on Dota 2 for long enough now that I might as well keep going. I'm pretty far up the Mekong at this point. The horror, the horror, and so on.

I've realised that setting yourself rules doesn't work if you struggle to provide yourself with an environment where following the rules comes naturally. An analogy for this problem would be the difference between a practice game and a streamed competitive match: the strats you plan, the high-concept drafts you consider can crumble quickly when the parameters of the game change. The same is true for a rule like "never start a sentence with 'why'"—it makes tremendous sense on paper, but Christ! Why did she/he/we try to contest a Roshan attempt that she/he/we knew they were ready to defend? This stuff is rhetorical comfort food. It's bad for you, but it makes you feel better and it's hard to resist unless you are specifically ready to resist it.

One of my new rules, appropriately enough, comes from preparing for competitive matches: treat every game like somebody else is watching. I realised that my outlook is generally more positive when I'm streaming or playing with strangers. If I treat Dota 2 like a performance then I find it less stressful and my behaviour is better. There are obvious concerns raised here about how authentic I'm being—but honestly, I'm authentically an asshole. I'd rather be a pretend person who is fun to play with.

The second point is related, but almost the thematic opposite: watch how other people play for your benefit, not theirs. I'm terrible at this, because I'm bossy and habitually micromanage unless I make myself stop. The key thing I've realised is that in the vast majority of cases the small inefficiencies I might perceive in someone else's play are either entirely in my head or totally insignificant to the match as a whole. The urge to educate is more accurately an urge to replicate my own behaviour in somebody else. And I suck! I'm far more likely to learn something about what I'm doing wrong by watching somebody than find something to correct in them—and its even less likely that what I attempt to correct will be so significant that it's worth sundering the mood of the game to do so.

There's one exception to this, and it's when someone has actively and clearly asked you to comment on what they're doing. It's nice to be micromanaged by a better player—useful, fun, energising. You should try it. But doing so unbidden, deliberately or not, is pointless. You might as well walk up to somebody in the street, look at their outfit, and advise them to wear all of your clothes because they're your clothes, and they fit you, so they must be the right clothes.

The key here, I think, is recognising the benefits of actively cohabiting rather than passively coexisting. That sounds pseudish and awful but there's truth there. Being actively engaged is key, because you can't ever trust your passive urges to lead you in the right direction. I might really want to chew somebody out for a mistake, and it might make me feel better, but I know from repeated experience that it'll make me feel bad later. I'd be dumb to fall into that trap again.

Finally: quit while you're ahead. There's another thing you should never do even if you really want to, and that's play another game of Dota 2 when you just lost one and you're already tired but you really want to win. This is the error, for me. It is the fun-killer, the little death that brings total obliteration. You've got to Bene Gesserit up in the face of that 'just one more' urge. It won't be fine next time. You won't learn, because you're already tilting. Nobody ever turned a tilt around by tilting harder in the same direction. Tilts do not work that way. They are not cyclical.

The ultimate way to create a scenario where you don't lose your temper with your friends is to go the fuck to sleep. You can't stare at the ceiling at 1am regretting your decisions if you're happily unconscious by then. This is the nuclear option, I guess, but honestly? The community as a whole would be much more positive place if Valve tried an event where players earned Arcanas by taking a lovely nap every time they lost a game.

To read more Three Lane Highway, click here.

PC Gamer

Beloved classic Counter-Strike map Train has been rebuilt from the ground up for Global Offensive. In addition to a graphical upgrade, the new Train map ushers in some "intuitive layout changes" and is available in the Operation Vanguard map group across a variety of game modes.

But what of these "intuitive layout changes"? The details can be perused over on this rather thorough blogpost, but whole sections of the map have been removed (such as the middle tunnel in the yard) while the bomb site has been shifted to another corner of the map.

Check out the video below for all the gory details. The map arrives as part of a new patch which is detailed here.

PC Gamer

Holy. Shit.

I've watched a lot of Source Filmmaker stuff over the years. I've seen the trailer for End of the Line about a hundred times. But now the full thing is out, and it's good. It's really good.

The community film was directed by James McVinnie, and releases alongside an End of the Line themed TF2 community update—containing hats, a new weapon and some new unusual effects.

I'd give a summary of the film, but why ruin the surprise? It's got a train in it, if that helps. It's also got a very distinct tone. The zanier edges of the TF2 roster have been sanded away, leaving a relatively dramatic piece that nevertheless contains more than its fair share of comedy.

Set aside 15 minutes and enjoy one of the best SFM films we'll likely see for a while.

PC Gamer

Half-Life 3 it ain't, but if it's a new Half-Life game you crave then maybe Lambda Wars will do the trick. An RTS spin on the Half-Life universe, Lambda Wars has been kicking around the modding community for a while as HL2: Wars, but now it's absolutely standalone and most winningly, free. The beta has been available since the weekend. 

The game uses the Alien Swarm engine, but as a newly standalone offering you won't need a copy of that nor any Source Engine game to run this. As either the Combine or Resistance you can play online with up to eight human or AI players.

Check out the trailer below:

PC Gamer

The last CS:GO major of the year, DreamHack Winter 2014, turned out to be an exciting tournament despite a significant amount of it being played on Overpass, one of the weakest maps in CS:GO's competitive pool. With a critical round from DreamHack Winter as an example, I took a moment to talk about why Overpass needs to be cut from competitive play next season.

PC Gamer

In today's bit of good news/bad news, Valve's Dota team says a "major improvement" to the Dota 2 engine is in the works and will be released sometime during the first half of 2015, enabling the ability to quickly create entirely new game modes. Unfortunately, that means Frostivus won't be happening this year.

Frostivus is a seasonal Dota 2 in-game event that first took place in 2012, offering new maps, game modes, unique items, and even bits of holiday-themed lore. It was actually canceled last year, as you may recall, to make room for the resurrection of the Wraith King, and the year before, for "the Greeviling." And now it's been canceled for 2014 as well, but this time for more pragmatic (and, unfortunately, less entertaining) considerations: The amount of work required to build the updated game modes for Frostivus was prohibitive, especially since it would all need to be completely rebuilt once the engine update is released.

"With [the annual Halloween event] Diretide this year, we decided that it didn t make sense to build another one of those resource-intensive game modes," the developers wrote in an update. "Now that Frostivus is on the horizon, we find ourselves facing a similar choice and, after some thought, we believe that once again the right choice is to not develop a Frostivus game mode."

"We will continue to avoid building new game modes until the engine improvements come along," it added, but that doesn't mean there will be a complete absence of fun stuff between now and then: The developers are already working on the New Bloom Festival, scheduled for February.

PC Gamer

MLG and joinDOTA have announced plans to team up next year to create what may be the largest Dota 2 league in the world. The planned league will span three separate seasons, each leading to a LAN playoff and then a World Championship final slated to take place near the end of 2015. All joinDOTA Division 1 teams from last year's season will be invited to compete for a spot in the finals, and other top teams from around the world are being invited to join as well.

The new system will also be open to other players: The two leagues are working to incorporate MLG Pro Points into the joinDOTA League, which will allow players "from across the board" to compete for a qualifying position in the finals. A total prize pool of more than $565,000—a minimum of $475,000 in prizes and $90,000 in travel support—is up for grabs.

We have always wanted to create something big with MLG and it doesn t get much bigger than this, joinDOTA Project Manager Jacob Toft-Andersen said in a statement. By linking the joinDOTA League together with MLG we can create consistent LAN finals with a big grand event the scene can be proud of.

Details about qualifying tournaments for the new MLG-joinDOTA League system and the incorporation of MLG Pro Points will be revealed soon.

PC Gamer

Three Lane Highway is Chris' weekly column about Dota 2.

Last week I wrote about how Dota earns its popularity by offering two contrasting paths to improvement: knowledge, which you accrue steadily over time, and sporadic opportunities to demonstrate your creativity or superlative skill. You climb the ladder all the while hoping that one day (maybe today!) it'll be you that lands that perfect Reverse Polarity, you that scores a Rampage. At the time I was trying to figure out what makes the game compulsive, but I've returned to this line of thinking as I've started closing in on what, exactly, I need to do to stop sucking at it.

The short version is that none of the things I desperately need to fix have anything to do with knowledge. The relatively straightforward, steady stuff that I've been accumulating in my brain for the last couple of years is only so important. Item builds, hero builds, combos, drafts, macro-scale strategies: these things are diminishing in importance as I realise just how much I've got to learn about execution, personal discipline, and strategic awareness.

I think a lot of Dota players find themselves in this position, even if they don't know it. Finding someone to blame in a pub-game-gone-wrong is almost always a case of locating the person who went for the weird item build, picked the wrong hero, or otherwise stepped outside of the community-ordained norm (which is subtly, but not entirely, distinct from the metagame.) This is because these things are relatively obvious, and often they are indicative of a lack of experience. This attitude is a problem insofar as it indicates the belief that playing like everybody else is how you go about winning games of Dota. Beyond a certain point, this simply isn't the case.

I can't take total credit for this line of thinking: I've been playing with Blitz a bunch, lately, and absorbing a 6k MMR player's attitude to the game reveals a lot about life at 3k. Almost everything I need to work on has to do with the personal, creative, and strategic side of the game. I figure some of these thoughts may be useful generally, so this week I'm going to lay out a few rules for winning more matches in the future.

Take fewer risks in drafts. This is mostly something I'm trying to factor into drafting in Captain's Mode, but it applies any time you're picking a hero. I have a really bad habit of drafting combos that work on paper but, practically, require a degree of coordination, individual skill or luck that isn't going to happen. Maybe I'll get my perfect five-man Reverse Polarity once in a game, but one teamfight victory isn't going to turn the game around. Drafting easy is more about humility than metagame nous: it's about accepting that I'm not always able to force a best-case-scenario for my team, and that often the best thing I can do is go for heroes that I'm comfortable with, that have reliable stuns, that aren't as flashy, perhaps, but who give me options.

Play simple, stick to the plan, and communicate. There's this little voice in my head and all it ever says is 'what if now is the time to one-versus-five the entire enemy team!' That sounds so stupid when I write it out that I wish it wasn't painfully true. Even in a competitive context, I labour with the notion that there's somewhere in the current game situation where I can make a big play. Instead, what I should do is identify a measurable goal that my team can achieve and start moving directly towards it, making it clear to my allies that this is what I'm doing. No screwing around. No more 'I was just trying to...' moments. The most dangerous thing about gambling is the feeling that next time the odds have to come up in your favour: Dota's like that, but the thing I'm gambling with every time I take a chance on a virtoso play is my teammates' time. I'd rather win, honestly, and that means keeping it simple.

It's amazing what you can do if you wait ten seconds to make sure everybody understands the plan and is in position to do it. It's also amazing just how many matches are lost by one or two people lagging behind, or a single person deciding thinking 'oh, it'll be fine' right before rushing into Roshan before their team has had time to de-ward the pit.

Move past farm. Here's a potentially contentious one: I think, beyond a certain point, that gold is a bit of a crutch. It's important, yes. Item timings on certain heroes in certain roles can be huge. I played a lot of Spectre for while, and Terrorblade. I'm used to seeing every creep kill missed as a dramatic failure, measuring my performance solely on Radiance timings and the amount of the jungle I can hoover up all at once. It's not just hardcore carries that experience this: to climb into the intermediate bracket, one of the things you learn is to never leave gold on the table. Most pub teams aren't great at closing out games, and a lot of games are won by whichever squad has a bigger bucket of money to beat the other guy up with. It's a numbers game, in that sense.

But it's also a game about destroying an ancient. To do that, there are going to be lots of times when taking a tower is more important than wiping out the jungle—or when securing Roshan is better than a pick-off kill. I'm working on my ability to prioritise. Unless you're truly gifted, playing for later can only help so much if you're losing now. That farm can wait. What is our plan? Where should I be? How can I help?

Don't overthink it. This is a tough one, particularly as somebody who has overthought Dota 2 for—hang on—thirty six articles, including this one. Thinking is part of the game, as is (if you're me) second-guessing yourself and your team. If I leave my lane to gank, am I failing in some other way? We've been hanging around for a few seconds —are we wasting time? In these scenarios, the existence of the question is a sign that something is already wrong: you should already know the answers. You should know what your (hopefully straightforward) game plan needs you to do, and you shouldn't have any doubts about doing it.

This has actually been incredibly liberating. Knowing that I'm doing the right thing when I leave my lane to gank—because my team has discussed it beforehand—removes the anxiety that comes with the move, and it's that anxiety that slows players down. And, unlike the guy who sets off into the jungle in the hope of making the star play, I understand the limitations of what I'm expected to achieve. Kill mid and retreat, force a rotation, burn through some of the enemy's regen—whatever it is. Trust in your ability to get that done and call it a good job.

This is, in part, represented by a willingness to move the focus of my thinking from knowledge ('draft this and we'll win') and on to execution—more games have been lost by bad positioning than by bad picks. On the other hand, it means exercising a degree of control over all of that imaginative investment: setting reasonable expectations, playing selflessly, staying calm. The game is compulsive because of the tension between these competing threads—but ultimately, I've come to believe, becoming a better player means learning to move beyond them.

To read more Three Lane Highway, click here.

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