Left 4 Dead 2

While the speedruns performed live on stream at Games Done Quick events aren't necessarily the fastest runs in their categories (though world records have been broken), they're often some of the most entertaining. The live audience ups the pressure, and the commentary from the streamers as they explain their ridiculous glitches is always fascinating.

Last week, the latest Awesome Games Done Quick marathon raised over two million dollars for The Prevent Cancer Foundation and gave us many more frame-perfect feats to be awed by. Below are some of our favorite runs from AGDQ 2018 (specifically of games that are on PC, naturally), and we'll have more about the event and its future soon.

Note that you may have to skip ahead a ways in these videos if they don't auto-jump to the beginning of the run. You can see all the runs on AGDQ's YouTube channel.

Resident Evil 7 (1:49:27) 

By Carcinogen

Probably the most widely celebrated speedrun of AGDQ, it's no surprise that we'd want to highlight this incredible Resident Evil 7 run first. It's a perfect entry point into what makes AGDQ special: a talented runner, an informative and funny couch of commentators, and a challenging game that's tense to watch. Carcinogen's run is full of moments where things go wrong and he manages to just barely survive, but it's his charisma that really makes it all fun—like when he takes the piss out of a jumpscare by adding in a scare of his own. —Steven Messner

Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap (27:49) 

By tinahacks

Lizardcube's gorgeous remake of Wonder Boy 3 is mostly faithful to the original, and has a retro mode you can activate at any time to see the original graphics. During tinahacks' skilful run she uses that to skip boss intros, and one of the Lizardcube team, who is there on the couch, is just a little bit crushed by it. Having someone who worked on the game there to contribute insights adds a lot to what would already be an impressive speedrun (I played a lot of Wonder Boy 3 on my neighbor's Sega Master System, and I never came close to being as good as tinahacks). Lizardcube are actively involved with the speedrun community, and even decided to leave a few of the more interesting glitches in their remake so runners could exploit them, as you'll see here. —Jody Macgregor

Skyrim (50:26) 

By Wall of Spain

I enjoyed seeing high-skill speedruns like Claris's run of Sonic Mania, but I also like the goofy stuff and Wall of Spain's glitchy tumble from one end of Skyrim to the other was as goofy as they get. He stops to get married (or at least tries to), screws up one of the only fights necessary to finish the main storyline, and makes extreme use of the strange fact that in Skyrim your character's velocity remains constant when you load a different save. You can complain about Bethesda's open-world games being buggy, but without those bugs glorious messes like this wouldn't be possible and speedruns wouldn't be half as fun to watch. —Jody Macgregor

Half-Life: Opposing Force (26:14) 

By alexh0we

It starts slow, but stick with this run to the second chapter where alexh0we starts murdering hapless NPCs to steal their guns, strafe and machinegun boosting, and sticking some brutal jumps. Most interesting from a technical perspective are the framerate tricks—drop it low enough, for instance, and you can walk through lasers because in no frame will they connect with you. Alexh0we's stream of informative commentary keeps this run entertaining even during the slow parts.  —Tyler Wilde

Arabian Nights (47:17) 

By Kotti

The Awful Games block of ADGQ is a gauntlet of nightmarishly terrible games, but none are as baffling or as hilarious as Arabian Nights, an extremely obscure 2001 platformer that tried to cash in on Prince of Persia’s popularity. From start to finish, the run is a confusing mess of inexplicable glitches and terrible game design underscored by Arabian Night’s eye-rolling portrayal of Middle-Eastern culture and Conan the Barbarian-style objectification of women. You have to see it to believe it. Speedrunner Kotti has to endure multiple crashes just to beat the damn thing, but it’s all worth it for the couch commentary and laughably bad cutscenes. —Steven Messner

Left 4 Dead 2 (55:15) 

By mr.deagle, The Master, burhác, and MrFailzzz 

This is a special run in a few ways. Firstly, it's co-op, which you don't see in a lot of speedruns, and secondly, Left 4 Dead 2 isn't going to throw out weapons and zombies in the same way each time, which sets it apart from games that can be perfectly memorized. Yet the zombies are mere pests to these players, who are wholly focused on performing impressively huge skips (which involve a grenade launcher) and bunny hops. Though I could never play as well as this squad does in Left 4 Dead 2, runs like this can reveal how much challenge comes from us buying into a game's premise rather than the game itself. Play Left 4 Dead 2 like a race to master, and the undead are just speedbumps. —Tyler Wilde

Hollow Knight (38:28)

By Mickely3

It's slightly sad to see one of our favorite games of 2017 demolished in under 40 minutes, but Mickely3's run contains some impressive glitching—did you know you can just float around all the time and Hollow Knight is totally fine with that?—as well as just some old fashioned good platforming.  —Tyler Wilde

Dota 2

Following recent changes to Filipino government regulations, Valve has pulled its support of the proposed Galaxy Battles 2018 Dota 2 Major. Set to run between January 15—21 in Ciudad de Victoria's Philippine Arena, Valve has rescinded its Major designation but is now working to run a similar tournament with the invited and qualifying teams.  

"Based on information we’ve recently confirmed regarding new government regulations for esports players entering the Philippines, we have decided to rescind the tournament’s Major designation, including the Pro Circuit qualifying points, for the Galaxy Battles 2018 tournament," reads this post on the Dota 2 blog. "This is based on what we feel are unreasonable infringements on the privacy of the players, as a condition to enter the country. The tournament itself may still proceed, but without any involvement of Valve or the Dota Pro Circuit."

Valve underscores its decision does not reflect how it feels about the Philippines itself, and apologises to anyone who'd planned to attend. 

According to the information listed by the Republic of Philippines' Games and Amusement Board, professionally recognised athletes hoping to perform in the Philippines must ascertain these credentials. A number of Reddit users in turn speculate Valve's decision to pull support reflects the country's ongoing drug problems

Speaking to the event, the Dota 2 blog post adds: "As a result, we’re talking to tournament organizers to try to find a way to run a Major with the invited and qualifying teams, including the Pro Circuit points that would have been available in Galaxy Battles 2018."

Team Fortress 2

Update: So it seems that the report below was incorrect. I initially wrote that Valve was banning Linux users with Linux usernames that included the word 'catbot', but Valve has said those claims were a "tactic employed by cheaters to try and sow discord and distrust among anticheat systems".

It's a bit confusing because a Valve moderator on GitHub, as you'll see below, initially seemed to confirm the story by saying that the banning of users was "deliberate". But another Valve employee has since clarified the matter in a Reddit post.

"VAC will not ban you for simply having catbot in your user name (either your Steam profile or on one or more of your Linux accounts). The bug report—and I suspect many of the posts in this thread—are a tactic employed by cheaters to try and sow discord and distrust among anticheat systems.

"VAC has many different types of detections and we cannot discuss what they do publicly because doing so makes them less effective. However, one thing I can disclose is that all detections require that the detection occur while a user is actively cheating and connected to a VAC-secured server.

"Linux historically hasn't been a problem for cheating--the base rate of cheating is significantly lower on Linux than it is on Windows. Unfortunately, a 'healthy' community of cheaters grew up around catbot on linux and their impact on TF became large enough that they simply could no longer be ignored. Those banned users are very annoyed that VAC has dropped the hammer on them."

Original story:

Catbots, if you're not familiar with the term, are player-created bots that flood TF2 servers, lining up headshots on everything in sight. They're all called things like 'catbot 1574', and they're a nuisance. But in an attempt to stamp them out, some players are claiming that Valve has crossed a line. Anybody with 'catbot' in their Linux username (yes, not their Steam username), will now find themselves with an automatic VAC ban, regardless of whether they've actually booted up TF2 or not.

Now, I don't know how many Linux users have 'catbot' in their username, but there is at least the potential for friendly fire here. On the GitHub thread where the issue was uncovered, one user said that their Steam account was VAC-banned despite claiming to never have cheated. Another said: "I installed Ubuntu on a virtual machine and named the computer catbot-918 and installed Steam, within an hour of not playing anything I received a VAC ban."

A GitHub moderator for Valve confirmed that the policy was in fact a deliberate attempt to combat bots, adding that it was "not open for discussion on Github" (which, on my reading, doesn't mean that the issue is not open for discussion at all, just not on GitHub).

Valve does have a responsibility, and a right, to stop cheaters playing its games. But as a lot of people on this Reddit thread discussing the issue have said, it does seem a bit ham-fisted to ban someone simply because of their choice of Linux username. And besides, it looks like catbot setups have already switched to a different username, which was inevitable. It's probably not the last we'll hear of it.

Dota 2

Battle.net may have Destiny 2, but Steam has millions of simultaneous PUBG players. GOG may have the best collection of DRM-free games, but Valve has, well, PUBG again. And Dota 2, and CS:GO. Competition has increased a lot in the past 10 years, but despite the growth of GOG, itch.io, Origin, Battle.net, the Microsoft Store, and others, Steam is still the gaming store on PC, and Valve runs two of the biggest esports in existence. Its influence on PC gaming can't be understated, so it naturally receives heaps of criticism and suggestions from players and developers alike. That's how it goes when you're on top.

Ruling out obvious fantasy, like a DRM-free release of Half-Life 3, here's what we hope PC gaming's de facto leader does in 2018.

Is a new Steam interface on the way?

A Steam interface overhaul

A big update to Steam's interface was teased last year, and it's about time. While Steam has changed a lot since 2003—mostly as new features were tacked on—it still leaves much to be desired. Better automated sorting of our libraries would be a start. If you have tags, why not let us use them? The controller settings are weird, opening in a Big Picture Mode-style window and changing my Steam overlay to the same as if there's no way someone would use a controller at their desk. The music section of my library is a mess, with repeat entries that don't play. In other words, the tacked-on features feel tacked on. Without entirely throwing out the interface we're used to, an extensive UI and feature refresh would be welcome. (GOG Galaxy's version rollback feature would be welcome, too.) —Tyler Wilde

CS:GO on Source 2

The biggest thing on the wishlist for CS:GO players heading into the new year is the long-awaited move to the Source 2 engine. Rumors have been circulating about when this change-over will finally happen for at least two years now, since shortly after Dota 2 was moved to the new engine in the fall of 2015. Valve confirmed back in April that they’re working on giving CS:GO the same treatment, but so far this update has yet to materialize.In addition to the presumed graphical optimizations of moving to the new engine, the content creation tools for new maps, new skins, etc. are allegedly a vast improvement over the original Source tools. Hopefully, this means we’ll see a glut of new user-created content when the update drops, thanks to the modernized and more user-friendly creation tools.

Similarly, the other big item on the wishlist is the promised upgrade to the new “Panorama UI”, a complete overhaul of all of CS:GO’s menus and interfaces using the panel-based UI that Dota 2 has already adopted. Just like the Source 2 update, this change has been in the works for quite some time now; Valve confirmed they were “preparing” for the UI switch at least as far back as the summer of 2016, but as with everything else Valve does, they’ve been rather tight-lipped about any sort of timeline for the Panorama implementation.

Below these big-ticket items on our 2018 wishlist, there are a litany of smaller changes we’d like to see happen:

  • Classic maps like Mirage and Dust would benefit from the same sort of overhaul Inferno, Nuke, and Dust 2 have received over the last couple of years. 
  • The map pool could use some fresh entries (or some revivals of classic entries) to keep the competitive meta interesting. 
  • An unranked version of CS:GO’s core 5-vs.-5 competitive format has been a popular community ask for years now.
  • Valve’s anti-cheat technology is lagging behind third-party services like ESEA, and could use a serious upgrade.

The astute observer will notice that almost everything mentioned herein could’ve just as easily appeared on a similar list at the end of last year. It often feels like CS:GO is a lower priority for Valve than its other esports juggernaut, Dota 2, so while there are plenty of updates we’d like to see in 2018, it seems unwise to get our hopes up that many of them will happen particularly soon. Nonetheless, we’ll keep our fingers crossed. —Mitch Bowman

A little warning before Dota 2 changes

The TI7 contestants were announced abruptly. The Pro Circuit system was announced abruptly. The games contest was announced, and soon extended, abruptly. Gameplay mini-patches were released abruptly, at one point abruptly breaking custom games. 

A surprise is nice sometimes, but when it comes to Dota 2, one of the biggest games in the world, not everything should come as such. At least a million players likely clock in every day, and a significant chunk of that population—plus some non-players—follow the competitive scene that’s grown from it. Basically, there are a lot of players trying to just play the game and keep up on a fundamental level. 

So, for many out there already irrevocably attached to the experience, frequently needing to stay up-to-date and ready-to-go is exhausting. Maybe it’s just become part of the Dota life: you wake up, see if Valve has done something, and then continue with life. But why does it have to be like that?

Dota 2 players could use a little communication. Just a bit. You can put something off for six hours to get us ready, and you don’t have to give a Riot-length explanation, nor a Developer Diary. It can be a six-hour heads-up on a patch, an announcement of an announcement, or a new way to share what teams are heading to TI. Have someone sit at a computer and press the buttons so people don’t guess teams from the source code. Or all of the above. Valve, you’re allowed to steal these ideas. In fact, please do. 

Of course, we’re also talking about Valve here, and that’s just part of how they do things. I’m sure they’re aware, but the reason why they haven’t changed anything is beyond me and anyone else in the scene who isn’t actually a Valve employee. But it doesn’t hurt to ask. —Victoria Rose

Improved moderation and curating

Steam Direct is great for new developers who don't have publishers, but the consequence is an influx of ripoffs and shovelware. In theory, Steam's algorithmic discovery tools and Curators should surface only the best games, and truthfully, my store page is looking pretty nice during the Winter Sale—a healthy mix of good deals and games I might be interested in. But that's not quite the case in the Popular New Releases section, which is consistently full of free or free-to-play games. Free games aren't necessarily bad, but the 'popularity' metric means free clickers and gags naturally get promoted over anything with even a small price tag, potentially burying great games that dare to cost five bucks. 

2018 should see an even bigger influx of new games—thousands upon thousands—and I'm skeptical that these automated and community-driven tools will be able to keep up. At the minimum, I hope Valve more aggressively cuts asset flips—which it did a bit of in 2017—and outright insulting games, and sets a clearer policy on nudity and sex. It's been totally inconsistent in that latter regard, even receiving criticism from a porn game distributor.

An increase in moderation is doubly needed in the Steam community. It took me five seconds to find a group advertised with a lynching icon and a swastika. Delete. —Tyler Wilde

As always, a game

Valve says it's working on a few, but we aren't holding our breath. And no, nice as it was, Bridge Constructor Portal doesn't count. —Tyler Wilde

Dota 2

In the PC Gamer Q&A, we ask our panel of writers a question about games. This week, the theme is neglecting loved ones. Which game have you snuck off from family to play during the holidays? Let us know your suggestions in the comments. 

Jody Macgregor: Terminal Velocity 

Terminal Velocity was one of the only shareware games I owned the full version of, thanks to a rich uncle who was my main source of videogames. (He also gave me a copy of the original Warcraft, which I still have in a jewel case somewhere.) It was a flight sim that played like a first-person shooter, similar to Descent but with more open levels where you flew through the sky over alien planets. After I unwrapped Terminal Velocity I spent the rest of the holiday ignoring the rellies to play it, and I still remember the way trees popped into sight before the ground they sat on, the way Target Destroyed appeared up in big white letters every time you turned an installation into a blocky explosion, and the sections where you flew inside the planet through hexagonal tunnels and I always hit the sides.I tracked down a digital copy a while back but still haven't played it again. It's enough to know that it's there in case I ever feel the need to get away from everyone. I bet I'll still get crushed by the steel doors that iris shut in the tunnels.

Andy Kelly: Euro Truck Simulator 2

Spending time with family and all that other holiday stuff is fine, sure, for a bit. But sometimes I get the urge. The urge to truck. This festive period I'll be enjoying a bit of Euro Truck Simulator 2, which has recently been expanded to include Italy. So while people are watching films they already own on DVD on the telly, peppered with adverts for January sofa sales, I'll be delivering 16 tonnes of ice-cream from Rome to Milan. But because it's the holidays I'll be doing it accompanied by rich chocolates and luxury ales. Keep on truckin'? I never stop, mate.

Philippa Warr: Dota 2

Let me tell you about a small, obscure game you may not have heard of: Dota 2. A few years ago it was a far bigger part of my life. Writing about it as a freelancer helped me pay my bills and playing it with a regular crew helped me build up a framework of friendships, new and old, after a horribly drawn-out breakup. As a result it ended up as part of my new routine and I leant on it during newly solitary holiday periods. Playing Dota 2 on my terrible laptop over Christmas in 2012 during an in-game event called The Greeviling is one of my fondest memories in gaming. It was daft, it was funny and it was time with people I love.

Tim Clark: Metroid Prime

Will anyone mind if I answer a console game? Probably, but on we go regardless. One Christmas I received Metroid Prime for the GameCube, and managed to make it to the first boss just as Christmas lunch was being served. Without being able to save before the boss, I refused to sit down and eat (bear in mind I would have been 26 at the time) until the fight was done. Somehow, despite the stress induced by my mother's obvious fury, I managed to down the boss with only a sliver of health to spare. But as soon as I entered the corridor leading from the boss room to the save point a small bat flew into my head and killed me. With it went several hours of progress. I sat silent for the most of the meal, cheeks burning with a mix of shame and resentment. The most magical time of the year. 

Samuel Roberts: Assassin's Creed Brotherhood

A few Christmases ago, instead of politely talking to my parents while they were making dinner, I sat in my room and played the challenge rooms of Assassin's Creed Brotherhood over and over again. First, it taught me that this game has some amazing kill animations, and secondly, I learned that Assassin's Creed's combat really isn't the best match for score attack modes. Still, I appreciate that they tried. 

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

Valve News Network reported a couple of weeks ago that the venerable online shooter Counter-Strike: Global Offensive might be getting a battle royale mode at some point in the future. But modder Kinsi wasn't willing to wait for it to happen, so they went ahead and created one of their own. 

Called Go 4 The Kill—or Go4TK, to save time and space—the mod features a map more than four times the size of Overpass, and three to four times larger than the Source engine normally allows. As Kotaku explains, it accomplishes this feat by breaking its map into sections separated by mountain ranges: Crossing the mountains places you into what is effectively another map, but everything is connected so you can move back and forth seamlessly. Despite the size of the playing field, performance should be roughly equivalent to conventional CS:GO maps because there's very little "'unnecessary' detail," aside from what's required to provide cover for players.

While PUBG is commonly cited as the battle royale standard-bearer, Kinsi said the inspiration for Go4TK came from a different game. "With Go4TK my aim was to combine two games that I like: King of the Kill and CS:GO," they wrote. "It was mainly meant to be a challenge for myself to push the boundaries of whats possible with server-side only CS:GO modding. From the ground up I've carefully handcrafted everything, be it the map in itself or the plugin allowing for the actual gameplay to ensure the best possible integration." 

There are some significant gameplay differences between Go4TK and CS:GO. Bullet drop and travel time are modeled, running will not reduce firing accuracy, weapons have randomized inaccuracy but no recoil patterns, ADS (aim down sight) is very important if you want to hit what you're shooting at, and if you get shot yourself, you'll bleed—and if you don't do something about it, you'll keep on bleeding until you die. It is also, despite being much larger than conventional CS:GO experiences, a smaller-scale experience than PUBG: Kotaku says the maximum player count is 20, while the Go4TK site says players per game is "targeted at 49."

Go 4 the Kill was actually released back in August, and work has continued since. There have been setbacks as well, most notably the shutdown of North American servers in November due to lack of interest. Kinsi said on Twitter that they might be brought back online soon, "thanks to a generous Redditor," although how long they'll be kept around will depend on how much use they see.

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

For the first time ever, the UK Gambling Committee's year-end report on Young People and Gambling has looked into "awareness and participation rates" of skin gambling (if you're not sure what that is, here's a primer). The report states that, "based on the description provided within the questionnaire," 45 percent of children aged 11-16 knew about skin gambling, and 11 percent said they had placed bets with in-game items at some point in the past. 

"'Skins' are in-game items, used within some of the most popular video game titles. They provide cosmetic alterations to a player’s weapons, avatar or equipment used in the game," the report states. "Skins betting sites allow videogamers to wager cosmetic items rewarded in-game or purchased for real money on a digital marketplace, accessible from the UK for several years." 

A BBC report on the Gambling Commission paper leads with the statistics on skin gambling and then says that roughly 370,000 11-16 year olds in England, Scotland, and Wales reported spending their own money on gambling at least once in the prior week. But the context is misleading: The number is accurate, at least within the survey's margin of error, but it includes all forms of gambling, including slot machines, scratch cards, and wagers with friends ("five bucks says you can't make that jump"). Furthermore, the figure "represents a continuation of the longer-term decline seen since 2011," when 23 percent of 11-15 year-olds reported taking part in some form of gambling during the preceding week. 

Prevalence of gambling with in-game items increases with age, from three percent of 11 year-olds to 14 percent of 14-16 year-olds, and was higher among children who had spent money on other forms of gambling over the past week, or who had played "online gambling-style games," like casino games, slot machines, or poker. In fact, the rate of playing those games matches the incidence rate of skin gambling, at 11 percent.

It's the ability to convert in-game items into cash that denotes the activity as gambling for the purposes of the report, rather than the actual conversion itself—the fact that the skins could be converted into cash, not whether they actually were. That's also how the concept was introduced to survey respondents: "When playing computer games/app it is sometimes possible to collect in-game items (eg. weapons, power-ups and tokens). For some games, it is possible to bet these in-game items for the chance to win more of them." 

"The Gambling Commission takes the view that the ability to convert in-game items to cash, or to trade them (for other items of value) means they attain a real-world value and become articles of money or money’s worth. Where gambling facilities are offered to British consumers, including with the use of in-game items that can be converted into cash or traded (for items of value), a gambling license is required," the report says. "Tackling operators making gambling facilities available to children is one of the Gambling Commission’s priorities." 

In other words, it's the people running unlicensed gambling sites who are liable to be targeted by the Gambling Commission, and not the games themselves, or the companies who make them. In fact, earlier this year the commission successfully prosecuted YouTuber Craig "Nepenthez" Douglas and his business partner Dylan Rigby, who ran the FUT Galaxy website that enabled gambling on real-world soccer matches using FIFA 17 virtual currency. But that currency could also be exchanged for real money, which fell afoul of the UK's Gambling Act and cost the duo £255,000 ($340,00) in fines.   

"Because of these unlicensed skin betting sites, the safeguards that exist are not being applied and we're seeing examples of really young people, 11 and 12-year-olds, who are getting involved in skin betting, not realizing that it's gambling," Gambling Commission chief executive Sarah Harrison told the BBC. "At one level they are running up bills perhaps on their parents' Paypal account or credit card, but the wider effect is the introduction and normalization of this kind of gambling among children and young people." 

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

The FTC has finalized its settlement with Trevor "TmarTn" Martin and Tom "ProSyndicate" Cassell, the streamers who used their YouTube channels and other platforms to enthusiastically promote the skin gambling site CSGO Lotto without any indication that they happened to own 42.5% of CSGO Lotto. Some of Martin and Cassell's videos showed them achieving extraordinary wins on the site, and worked with other popular YouTuber friends to produce similar videos with titles like "1% CHANCE?! (CSGO Lotto)."

The initial settlement, reached in September, set new standards of disclosure on the two and the site, forbidding them "from misrepresenting that any endorser is an independent user or ordinary consumer of a product or service." 

Per the settlement, Martin and Cassell are forbidden from misrepresenting endorsers as independent consumers, must "clearly and conspicuously" disclose their endorsements and connections with other endorsers, submit a compliance report to the FTC in one year, and maintain a variety of records relating to their accounting, consumer complaints, marketing material, and personnel for the next 10 years.

No actual penalties were imposed, however, which didn't sit well with a few members of the public who took advantage of the commission's invitation to submit comments on the decision. "I am appalled and disgusted with this ruling. These two deserve a hefty fine, if not jail time, for knowingly misleading their largely adolescent fanbase into using a gambling website that they owned," Jack Thorpe wrote. "The items that were being traded on CSGO Lotto had real money value, and these two were pocketing millions from rigging a system that they owned." 

Another, using the name Maloney, noted that Martin and Cassell had "purposelessly deceived their audiences by pretending to have found CSGO Lotto and recommend to use it when in fact they owned it from the beginning." 

"I believe this deliberate action deserves a larger punishment than just warnings to not do it again," they wrote. "A precedent needs to be set in order to stop these malicious acts from further occurring." 

A third respondent, Christopher Jahn, acknowledged that the CSGO Lotto site had a clause in its TOS stating that users must be at least 18 years old, but then moved on to the obvious: "Let's be honest here, what teenager is actually going to abide by that, let alone even read it? Can you imagine a modern day teenager saying, 'Well, I'm not quite 18 yet, guess I'll be a law abiding citizen and go do something else'? No teenager is going to do that." 

These were the only three to comment, and their words were not enough to have an impact on the ruling. 

The full text of the FTC's CSGO Lotto settlement is available here, and you can get a closer look at what caused all the trouble in the first place in our explanation of CSGO skin gambling. A photo of clearly chastened TmarTn participating in a recent Call of Duty: WWII promotion is below.

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

CS:GO skins and all other Steam Market items are subject to a $400 maximum listing price. Items are often sold for greater sums through key trades, a sub-currency of the CS:GO economy. A single CS:GO key costs $2.50 USD and can be sold on the Steam Marketplace. To break through the $400 ceiling, you convert your listing price to a key value. If you want to sell an item for $500, divide your listing price by the key value, 500 by 2.5: 200 keys. Most people use third-party trading websites to list CS:GO’s rarest wares, but once a trade is made, those keys can be sold back into the Steam Marketplace.

There are some skins in our list that definitely break that cap, but due to both the extraordinary rarity of these items and their inconsistent prices in the key market, we’ve pulled our best estimates from varying trading sites. These are subject to change on a whim, but remain impressive no matter how transitory.

[Updated 11/30/2017]

Guns

Souvenir AWP: Dragon Lore, ~ $4200 (10,000 keys)Dragon Lore, Field TestedThe Cobblestone Collection

The original Dragon Lore skin originally fetched a hefty $10,000, but this commemorative skin still commands a quaint $4,200, almost as if to say “Why have my scope flash off the morning sun when I can just use these totally rad gold stickers?”

This particular Dragon Lore commemorates the Grand Final match of the 2015 DreamHack Cluj-Napoca CS:GO Championship between Natus Vincere and Team EnVyUs, and is autographed by MVP Denis Koslin.

AK-47: Fire Serpent, $3200Fire Serpent, StatTrak, Factory NewThe Bravo Collection

I’m no economist, but does it say something that this skin is basically three times as expensive as a real-world AK-47? This holiday, please think of the less fortunate arms dealers, and buy this commemorative memento from the Operation Bravo: Ruins map. Let’s see a Precious Things statue spit fire like this.

M4A4: Howl, ~ $3700 (1500 keys)Howl, StatTrak Factory NewThe Huntsman Collection, May 2014

Turns out crime still pays. OK, technically it's mundane internet art theft,  but this bit of contraband still stands as one of the primo skins for competitive CS:GO enthusiasts, and it’s only getting rarer. 

The Howl's extraordinary price is due to the unusual controversy that followed it after release, which included the gun's removal from distribution—but not from owners' inventories. CS:GO stopped dropping new Howls long ago, so the lucky initial owners of this lion-faced piece of copyright infringement own one of the most coveted status symbols in the game. 

P90: Emerald Dragon, ~ $550Emerald Dragon, StatTrak, Factory NewThe Bravo Collection

Asian artwork is always in good taste. Just ask your local tattoo artist. Hopefully your aim is a little more straightforward than this poor lizard, because he’s all over the place on this skin. Remember, kids, always assign a designated dragon.

Might as well pick it up now, since it’s currently less than half of its original $1,000 price tag.

AWP: Medusa, ~ $1400Medusa, Minimal WearThe Gods and Monsters Collection

While this fetching gorgon skin demanded a hefty $400 upon release back in May of 2015, it’s only risen in value since, topping out currently at about $1,400. You might say its high value is set in stone… I’ll show myself out.

AK-47: The Empress, ~ $750Empress, StatTrak, Factory NewThe Spectrum 2 Collection

Finally, you too can be the belle of the ball, the becky with the good hair, the yas queen. Look, what do you want from me? It’s a pretty lady with blonde locks that would make Reinhardt blush. This skin helped ring in the Chinese release of CS:GO just last September, so if you’re looking for some fresh paint, have at it.

AUG: Akihabara Accept, ~$500Akihabara Accept, Factory NewThe Rising Sun Collection

Anime is trash… and so am I. The Akihabara Accept still commands a decidedly not-trash price (a remarkably consistent $500 average since release, though some have sold for over $1,000), so I guess we’re stuck with visions of pink-haired teens slaughtering us from afar. God bless Japan.

Five-SeveN: Hyper Beast, ~$200Hyper Beast, StatTrak, Factory NewThe Operation Hydra Collection

Doom’s floating sphere of teeth, the Cacodemon, has got nothing on this sinister-looking Swedish meatball. If you pull the trigger, it’s like wiggling its tongue. If you want a little extra spice with your meatball, the Hyper Beast skin can also be purchased at considerably lower rates for the AWP, Nova, and M4A1-S.

 MP9: Bulldozer, ~$250Bulldozer, Factory NewThe Assault Collection

You’ll be a bulldozer in the eyes of your enemies with this skin: Loud, yellow, prone to making odd noises when you back up. The Assault Collection skin pack hasn’t been part of the regular loot drop in CS for a few years, so it’s gone from selling like dirt to plowing cash.

AWP: Boom ~$400Boom, StatTrakThe eSports 2013 Collection

With a classic comic book framing, this skin shows off its entrepreneurial spirit. No need for boisterous cries of “Boom! Headshot!” when you can just cut out the middleman. I look forward to the eventual Disney-owned shared universe.

Souvenir USP-S Road Rash, ~$400Road Rash, Factory NewThe Overpass Collection

Remember when mom would take you to the mall for new clothes, but your enlightened 13-year-old self just had to have those pre-torn jeans? This is like the gun equivalent of that. Why didn’t you stop us, mom?

This skin dropped during the ELEAGUE Atlanta 2017 CS:GO Championship Grand Final Match, and is autographed by MVP Peter Rasmussen AKA “dupreeh” of team Astralis.

M4A1-S: Master Piece, ~$2900Master Piece, Souvenir, Factory NewThe Overpass Collection

If you look closely enough, you can see a faint homage to the Mona Lisa smile between the first squiggly line and the fifth, just behind the lettering that reminds you of a passing train car.

This skin was dropped during the ESL Cologne 2015 CS:GO Championship’s Quarter Finals match, and is signed by MVP Håvard “rain” Nygaard, then of Team SoloMid.

AK-47: Red Laminate, ~$450Red Laminate, StatTrak, Factory NewThe eSports 2013 Collection

They took an AK-47, dashed it with some nice red paint, and poured laminate all over it. It’s the Flamin’ Hot Cheeto of guns. Get this one while it’s hot, because it’s been rising from a modest $300 to a $450 average since October 2016.

AK-47: Fuel Injector,  ~$320 (156 keys)Fuel Injector, StatTrak, Factory NewThe Wildfire Collection

Yellow. The color of sunshine, bees, and the light you try to ignore while driving. Throw caution to the wind with this simple skin (sold at a remarkably consistent $400 average) that will leave your victims wondering how that oversized banana got the drop on them.

AK-47: Wasteland Rebel,  $425Wasteland Rebel, StatTrak, Factory NewThe Vanguard Collection

As far as war chants go, “MAKE THEM CRY!” ain’t too bad. It certainly rests alongside other such classics as “YOU DON’T EVEN GO HERE!” and “HEY, WANNA FIGHT?”

For you Counter-Strike lore hounds, the Wasteland Rebel’s flavor text indicates it’s a favorite of Naomi, a bodyguard to Operation Bloodhound Terrorist leader Valeria Jenner

AWP: Oni Taiji, ~ $145Oni Taiji, StatTrak, Factory NewThe Operation Hydra Collection

“Taiji,” more commonly referred to in the West as “Tai Chi,” is the ancient Chinese philosophy of supreme ultimate state of undifferentiated absolute, infinite potential, and the oneness before duality. You know, yen and yang. Pretty heady stuff for a gun with a demon on the butt. While it’s currently on a downswing price-wise, it might not be a bad idea to pick up one ASAP considering Operation Hydra recently ended.

AWP: Pink DDPAT, ~ $130Pink DDPAT, Souvenir, Minimal WearThe Overpass Collection

At some point, Counter-Strike scientists asked “if Barbie had an AWP, what would it look like?” The Pink DDPAT pairs well with any seasonal outfit, be it for a jaunt at the mall, or in the official Barbie DreamCamper. Sleep well, Ken.

If you’re worried about getting dropped by cross-map headshots, maybe take a chance on the DDPAT at the lowest price it's seen since release three years ago. This souvenir skin commemorates the 2017 PGL Krakow CS:GO Championships, was dropped during the Group Stage match between SK Gaming and Immortals, and is autographed by MVP Fernando Alvarenga.

M4A4: Royal Paladin, ~$320Royal Paladin, StatTrak, Factory NewThe Revolver Case Collection

The Royal Paladin is a proper statesman’s rifle. An elegant leaf engraving, fine ivory, and enough gold to fix at least a few mouthfuls of teeth. Though it’s had some significant dips, the Royal Paladin has maintained an impressive $350 average price over two years. That’s monarchy for you.

AK-47 Neon Revolution, ~$155Neon Revolution, StatTrak, Factory NewThe Gamma 2 Collection

Pink as a clown’s bum, with “ANARCHY” emblazoned in spray paint on the side. It’s a rifle with all the quiet modesty of a Jared Leto acting role. Wait, when did this skin come out? Summer of 2016? Oh, no. *Checks flavor text.*

Well, at least something is producing a better return-on-investment than that trainwreck.

USP-S: Neo Noir, ~$120Neo Noir, StatTrak, Factory NewThe Spectrum Collection

I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Counter-Terrorists on fire off the shoulder of bomb site A. I watched grenades glitter off the skybox into our spawn from across the map. All those moments will be lost in time, like lag in the rain.

The USP-S is one of the few guns on this list with roots as a fan favorite from Counter Strike: Source, so maybe a few of those epic moments can live on with you in the end.

Knives

Karambit: Lore, ~ $1400Lore, StatTrak, Factory New

It’s a knife called “Lore,” but I’m not exactly seeing any further exploration of the Counter Strike world beyond a rad visual design. Still a better love story than Destiny. Ha, commentary.

Comes with a custom knotwork paint job, and it shows. The skin originally sold for $400, a mere penance compared to the $1,200 minimum you’ll likely find these days.

M9 Bayonet: Night ~$620Night, Factory New

Sleek, yet simple. Dark, yet pointy. Seems like as good an excuse as any to yell out “I AM THE NIGHT!” over and over again. If, like its flavor text describes, it’s “the bite at your neck,” this skin might just bleed your wallet dry.

M9 Bayonet: Crimson Web ~$950Crimson Web, Factory New

Some knives are silver, some are black, some are even the color of the rainbow. This little buddy does you the solid of getting all red and nasty before you even start to work. Thanks, champ. Also spreads jam really well.

Gloves & Stickers

Moto Gloves: Spearmint, ~ $700Spearmint, Minimal Wear

Wash the taste of a bad match out with these minty mittens, at least until all your friends are asking for a piece. Warning: Do not ingest gloves, especially ones that taste like pine trees.

Hey, at least after spending upwards of $700 (up from $400 a year ago) on gloves, you have all the right in the world to growl “and I’m all out of bubblegum.”

IBuyPower (Holo) ~$4500Marketplace Link

You thought the IBuyPower sticker was something else back when it debuted at $400 in 2014, huh? Well, Mr. Moneybags, hope you're ready for a second mortgage, because this increasingly rare sticker now tops a majority of all CS:GO skins for a lordly $4,500 average.

Although the “Contraband” Howling Dawn sticker goes for about $200, the first-edition esports stickers are by far the priciest. Among them, Team iBUYPOWER’s holographic sticker reaches a whole other level, due to the fact that the team was banned by Valve and dissolved after the discovery that they fixed matches for their own benefit

Half-Life 2

A rustle. A breath. A bang. Everything about a good videogame sniper rifle is sexy, sleek, and dangerous, from the look of a long steel barrel to the echoing crack of gunfire heard for miles around. We love playing games with great sniper rifles not because of how they look or sound, though, but because of something much deeper and darker: we want to play god. The allure of the sniper rifle is the allure of the divine power to reach out—way, way out into the distance—and snuff out a life.

It’s twisted, but that really is the heart of it. For proof, compare the sniper rifle to its Big Boomstick cousin, the shotgun. Both are typically slow to shoot, but they hit hard when they do. Both are loud. Both make explosions of fire and gore.

But a sniper rifle is unusual because its entire purpose is to make a fight unfair. We want to see the enemy without being seen. We look our enemy in the face without being in danger. Invisibility, invulnerability, and instant kills: the sniper rifle is a cheat code with a trigger. This is what Zeus feels like when he throws thunderbolts.

Today we’re celebrating the sniper rifle by talking about how it changed games, and all those pieces that make it a great videogame weapon. It starts with distance.

How to make a great sniper rifle 

Counter-Strike's AWP locks down entire sections of a multiplayer level. The AWP s power isn t just in killing, but in threatening to kill.

Almost all of the godlike power of a really fun sniper rifle comes from its ability to shoot at long range, so let’s start there. A great sniper rifle has to have a scope that lets us see deep into the microscopic horizon.

The best recent example of this is PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, where your ability to see other players is your most useful skill. There’s something so disconcerting about running across an open field late in the game, looking around, and seeing no one. You know other players have to be close, but the hills seem quiet. This is where PUBG’s rare scopes come in. An 8x or, inshallah, the 15x scope brings you all of god’s many powers: eliminate a contender from the island in one shot before they know you can see them at all.

Counter-Strike’s AWP is a legend itself, and arguably it helped start the "all-powerful bolt-action sniper rifle" trope that we’re celebrating today. Counter-Strike is a game where split-second accuracy and twitch reflexes decide every battle, and using the AWP demands the patience of a tortoise and the reflexes of a hare. If you’re good at it, the AWP locks down entire sections of a multiplayer level. The AWP’s power isn’t just in killing, but in threatening to kill.

Giving players a better view from the inside of a multiplayer melee is one thing, but sniper rifles can do so, so much more than that. Games that focus on realistic simulation turn sniping into an advanced physics problem that only the best shooters can manage to solve under pressure. Throwing a tiny piece of metal at a target a mile or two away—so far that you have to account for the Earth moving as it rotates—only makes a great sniper shot feel more god-like.

Arma 3’s military sandbox is the best rifle simulation you can play today, and it only gets better with community-made mods that model everything from air pressure to wind speed. Making a shot at one or two miles away stops feeling like marksmanship and starts feeling like flying a spaceship to the moon: up a bit, left a bit, now turn this dial and flick this switch at the same time, and don’t forget to breathe. But only after you pull the trigger.

Arma 3 may have the most accurate long-range sniper shots, but the most famous must be from Call of Duty: Modern Warfare’s best level, "All Ghillied Up." Working your way through long-abandoned farmhouses in Chernobyl's radioactive exclusion zone, there aren't even animals around to break the silence. The tension grows as you sneak past soldiers and into town. When it's time to take the shot with your M82 sniper rifle, music stirs as we watch a little red flag dance around in changing wind, holding our breath and waiting for the perfect moment to throw the lightning.

Bring the noise

It’s obvious that a good sniper rifle has to be loud as all hell. I understand that there are some that prefer their sniper rifles to be utterly silent for stealth reasons, but these poor souls are mistaken. A sniper rifle has to sound like the Earth breaking because, again, a good sniper rifle is the fist of god.

When it comes to noise, nobody does it like the boxy brick of a rifle in HALO: Combat Evolved, a hideous piece of technology burdened with the equally hideous name SRS99C-S2AM. We’re not here for looks, though. The Halo rifle has a boom that rocks around any level followed by reverberating echoes. It’s the echoes that really get me. And it’s not just the loud noises: the SRS99C is a symphony of little beeps and whirs.

Even though the reloading sound is pretty good, it’s the only thing wrong with the SRS99C. Since it’s a semi-automatic rifle, it lacks the the iconic, metallic bolt-action clanks that come with the best sniper rifles. Racking the action on a bolt-action rifle sounds so good, that even in our ode to the greatness of shotguns, we had to admit that maybe, just maybe, bolt-action rifles sound even better.

The sound of thunder and clanking machinery is even more jarring, more fantastic, when it’s contrasted with total silence and tension. Once the silence is broken, it’s OK to chime in with a really good soundtrack, as seen in this great clip from Far Cry 2.

History lesson: the first sniper rifle 

A well-made sniper rifle is a smoothly oiled machine, a clap of thunder you can hold in your hands, and the fist of an angry god all rolled into one.

After celebrating all that makes a good sniper rifle "the cheat code of weapons," it might be obvious how difficult it is to build a game around a worthy sniper. Giving the player god-like powers makes it hard to design levels and enemies that challenge them—and of course, you can’t tone down the sniper rifle without ruining the whole damn thing.

But for a long time, difficulty balance wasn’t the thing that stopped videogames from featuring sniper rifles, it was technology. In the early years, one of the things that games couldn’t really do was distance; we had height and width, but no depth.

There were some strong attempts, though. In 1988, one of the first sniper rifles ever depicted in a game came from the French videogame Hostage: Rescue Mission. The game came out on platforms like the Apple II, the Commodore 64, and the Amiga. In the game, a police sniper sneaks around an embassy full of hostages to reach a vantage point, then uses a myopic little scope to scan the windows for bad guys.

But without 3D spaces, there couldn’t be any real distance. Though conventional wisdom claims that the first true sniper rifle in videogames was in Goldeneye 007 for the Nintendo 64, the truth is actually much closer to PC gamers’ hearts. A full year earlier, in August 1996, Quake Team Fortress released as a mod for Quake. Included among the Soldier, Spy, and Engineer was the Sniper. Snipers came equipped with a "Sniper Rifle," a menace that could kill at distance with one shot—as long as the player was fast enough and had great eyesight.

In March 1997, LucasArts released Outlaws, a western-themed shooter that seems to be mostly forgotten today. Those of us who played it, though, saw something new. Attached to the standard lever-action Winchester rifle was a sniper scope that magnified objects in 3D. As far as I can find, this real-time 3D magnification had never been done before at the time. Outlaws did it five months before Goldeneye launched.

LucasArts was sort of a pioneer in gaming back then, but I still think it’s unlikely that Outlaws started a trend. It’s more likely that the time for the first-person sniper rifle had just arrived. In the next year alone, 1998, we saw zoomable, first-person sniper rifles pop up in Half-Life, SiN, Starseige: Tribes, and Delta Force. Multiplayer games in particular started to play on larger maps, and the sniper rifle quickly became a staple for long-range battles. In 2000, the original Counter-Strike launched the AWP, and Deus Ex brought sniper rifles into a free-form immersive sim setting.

By the time Operation Flashpoint (the pre-cursor to Arma) launched in 2001, Battlefield 1942 arrived in 2002, and Call of Duty released in 2003, the sniper rifle was an essential part of any videogame that included guns at all.

Lasers, etc.

Not all sniper rifles throw lead. Despite my grandstanding up in the "Bring the noise" section, a rifle that shoots lasers or—gasp—silently flings arrows can still be a lot of fun. The obvious example here is Half-Life 2’s incredible crossbow, a hideous sci-fi monster that nailes people to walls with superheated pieces of rebar.

The joys of Half-Life 2’s crossbow are numerous: the all-seeing perspective of a decent scope, the one-shot power of that glowing slab of iron pinning a Combine soldier’s body to the architecture.

Even the loud, bass-heavy thunk and twang of the crossbow, though obviously not as good as a huge boom, is really nice to listen to—and possibly even kind of musical? The best crossbow noise doesn’t come from the crossbow at all, but from the slightly muted, high-pitch whine of the "soldier down" Combine alarm heard from a long way off.

For laser-throwing sniper rifles, the powerful Darklance from XCOM 2 is one of our hands-down favorites. A shot of boiling, angry red death rays flying at aliens is, in general, pretty fun, but the Darklance has another edge. Unlike every other sniper rifle in the game, soldiers can fire and move in the same turn. If you do it right, a sniper armed with the Darklance can flit around the edges of a map, firing and moving, smiting and disappearing. Darklance might not give you the joy of a first-person perspective, but its power is no less biblical.

In conclusion

Videogame sniper rifles are rad. Though they can be monstrous in multiplayer games and their effects can be more pornographic than 10,000 dicks on parade, a well-made sniper rifle is a beautiful thing. It’s a smoothly oiled machine, a clap of thunder you can hold in your hands, and the fist of an angry god all rolled into one.

But for all its power, the reason the sniper remains so compelling is how well it's balanced out by its limitations, and all the tension they bring. Missing a shot can mean an eternal few seconds of reloading, standing naked in front of the world. That moment can give way to panic, and without a cool head, you're lost. So goes one of the greatest sniper shots ever captured on video.

There's one more tool in the sniper's belt, which forgoes range, its greatest asset, to make you feel somehow more omnipotent. If there's a more rewarding shot than the no-scope, an impossible doming that spits in the face of the sniper's intended balance, we don't know it. The no-scope defies nature and reason. It's the ultimate trump card. 

Using a sniper well is an instinctive skill or a physics problem or both, and great games use them to make you feel unstoppable. Long live the scope.

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