The Game Critics Awards are a big deal. They're the Metacriticization of E3: after the show, more than 30 publications vote on 20 categories of awards, their ballots swimming together like a school of trophy-shaped fish. (PC Gamer is a few of those fish, too.)
This year’s awards were announced on Tuesday. And among those 20 categories this year, zero PC-exclusive games won. That happened in 2011, too. I’m confused and livid about that. We’re in the middle of a PC gaming renaissance—as a body of critics, shouldn’t our awards reflect that?
The awards have a mixed, embarrassing history when it comes to the PC. Let’s revisit the last decade of Best PC Game winners:
Were we really that overwhelmed by Doom III and SWG? But yeah: Spore. How did we get it wrong—so Price Is Right Fail Horningly-wrong—thrice? Spore is exactly the sort of game that woos multiplatform gaming critics that aren’t looking closely—it’s an amusing toy, an easily-explained curiosity from The Faraway Eccentric Continent of PC Gaming. On a ballot, Spore was an incredibly safe bet for someone who didn't see everything the PC had to offer at the show—like Dawn of War II in '08, or F.E.A.R. in '05. That this fooled us three times is evidence that collectively, gaming media hasn’t examined seriously what happens on the PC at E3.
A PC-exclusive game hasn’t won Best Original Game since 2006 or Best of Show since 2005. Both winners were Spore. But hey, let’s not dwell on that bleak and multi-appendaged past. 2012 was a decent year for PC exclusives at E3. There were plenty to pick from, and absolutely none were officially recognized: Neverwinter, SimCity, The Elder Scrolls Online, Hawken, Otherland, End of Nations, Shootmania Storm, MechWarrior Online, Natural Selection 2, World of Warplanes, Arma 3, Company of Heroes 2. The stand-out omission from the awards list, though, is PlanetSide 2. It should’ve won Best Online Multiplayer. It should’ve won Best PC, and it could’ve won Commendation for Innovation.
PlanetSide 2 isn't some exotic animal. It’s sci-fi Battlefield, but better, bigger, more beautiful, and it never sleeps. It also wasn’t sequestered in some obscure corner of the show—it was the first thing you saw when you walked through the doors of West Hall. You couldn’t miss it. Anyone could prance up and play it without an appointment. IGN, Polygon, GameSpy, and Game Informer did give it significant nods. I wrote in our personal E3 picks post: “Occupying someone else’s base means something beyond an icon changing colors on your HUD—just by contending for an outpost, you’re earning a tiny trickle of resources. Own it, and that earned-over-time allowance extends to your whole empire (while being denied to the enemy). The magic of that mechanic is apparent even in an hour-long play session with a character I’ll never use again in a crowded, loud convention center. Whether you like it or not, you’re a part of something.”
Sure, The Last of Us—the game that won everything—looks nice. It’s genetically-engineered for critical attention: Uncharted and zombies and movielike and full of those meaningful moral choices we can't get enough of. It'll probably enjoy plenty of high review scores and plenty of eye-level shelf space at GameStop. My peers were wooed enough by it to award it Best of Show, Best Original Game, Best Console Game, Best Action/Adventure Game, and give it a Special Commendation For Sound.
Maybe everyone played PlanetSide 2 and just wasn’t moved by its unprecedented scale and ambition, staggering balance of tactical complexity and accessibility, or original engine technology that makes Unreal 3 look like calculator firmware. I think that’s the sort of next-generational newness we should be drawing attention to. I don’t own a tablet, so I hope that’s an indication for how underwhelmed I am by tie-in apps, but did you see PlanetSide's jaw-dropping tablet/browser/mobile-driven infrastructure that lets you see dynamic strategic maps and join voice chat without being in-game? Egad.
Call it what you want
What's most upsetting are the names of the awards themselves. They're undeniably skewed to reward the companies that put on press conferences and that spend thousands of dollars making the show an expensive spectacle: Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo. The PC doesn’t have a press conference, of course (although we've daydreamed plenty about what it'd be like). And like a very-talented cousin that Sony doesn't want overshadowing itself at its own talent show, PlanetSide 2 creators Sony Online Entertainment don’t get a second of stage time at Sony’s conference. Coincidentally, critics don’t have many categories that invite celebration of the PC.
Since 2010, game writers have picked a Best Motion Simulation Game, a relatively recent trend, but inexplicably we can’t nominate a Best MMO. 13 dungeon-raiding, gold-farming years after EverQuest, and MMO isn’t a comparable genre to racing, strategy, or “social/casual,” which each have their own award? In "Best Hardware/Peripheral" components compete with controllers and consoles in the same incongruous, Frankenstein-category.
The oddest and least platform-agnostic award is "Best Downloadable Game.” Commenting on this makes me feel like a student who takes the awkward duty of telling his teacher that his chalkboard math is wrong. “...Excuse me? Every game on PC is downloadable.” The award was added in 2009, so it was absolutely a response to the healthy niche that $5-20 games have carved for themselves on XBLA and PSN. But if the goal is to highlight smaller-budget games, why not, y’know, make a Best Indie Game award? The Game Critics Awards have never had such an accolade in their history.
Sure, indie games don’t have the largest footprint at E3 (a separate issue that I’d be delighted to yell about), but they do have IndieCade, a small hub of games hosted off the show floor. Especially with Kickstarter’s emergence, it’s a complete failure to reflect the industry we work, buy, and game in that there’s no official opportunity for critics to praise indie games.
I know we’re usually encouraged to shrug off mainstream game awards, like the ones that appear on television. But this isn’t one of them, actually. This is the closest gaming media comes to having a collective voice about something. It’s the one instance where we’re communicating as a single organization. It’s an opportunity to get it right. And on the PC, we totally aren’t. If we’re not prepared to have a set of awards that at least fundamentally reflect the kinds of experiences millions of people are involved in—MMOs and indie games among them—what are we doing?
Have I told you how brilliant Orcs Must Die! is recently? I probably have, I say it a lot. Did you know the developers, Robot Entertainment also made an IOS turn based battle game called Hero Academy? Well if you didn't, now you do, and you should also know that Eurogamer are reporting that it's coming to Steam.
The Steam version of the game will allow for cross platform play with the iOS version, letting you show those trendy Apple folk just who knows more about turn based combat. Oh, and if you own the game on both formats, they'll sync up too. Also, getting the PC version gives you a new squad of heroes based on adorable big headed versions of Team Fortress 2 characters. There's nothing about this announcement that isn't brilliant.
Hero Academy has been out on IOS for several months now, and has gotten a lot of praise so far. Even PC Gamer's own Chris Thursten has spent many a lunchtime furiously tapping away as his iPhone because of it. The game is simple, two teams face each other across a battle grid trying to destroy each others crystals. Each turn lets you re-arrange your troops, bring in new ones or use abilities, then you send it off. When the other player has figured out his move, the game proceeds. Like Frozen Synapse, you're free to have as many games as you want on the go at once, so you're never just sitting around waiting for your opponent to log in.
Hero Academy will arrive on PC on the 8th of August.
Dota 2's expansion gathers pace with the arrival of this week's second update. This one introduces the heropedia, which presents a breakdown of every character's stats, lore background and skills, with short videos of every ability. You can browse it now on the Dota 2 site, or access it via the "Learn" tab in the Dota 2 client.
The grand roster of heroes has also been expanded with two new characters, Luna the Moonrider, who's much more dangerous than she sounds, and Wisp, a glowing ball of light with some unusual abilities. Find out more about them, and absorb the latest patch notes below.
Luna The Moonrider - Moontastic Agility Carry
As titles go, "Luna the Moonrider" isn't likely to instil much fear, until you actually see her and notice that she's riding a giant panther. Then you'll notice that the giant panther is wearing a hat, but while you're busy noticing that, you'll be taking a hit to the face from a rebounding magical chakram. Then as you're trying to pull your senses together she'll be activating her ultimate ability, which turns day to night and starts zapping you with bolts of searing moon energy. "What the hell, moon!?" you'll probably cry.
The ability videos in the updated heropedia were done by Dota cinema, who have also done a couple of overview videos for the new heroes. Here's one for Luna.
Wisp - Utility Glowing Hero Ball Thing
No Warcraft 3 sprite was left unused in the formation of Defence of the Ancients. Even glowing balls of light can become characters, as Guardian Wisp demonstrates. According to his bio, "Wisp occupies all planes at once, the merest fraction of its being crossing into physical existence at any one moment," which sounds grandiose, but it's best thought of as a sentient glowing ball who just wants to help. It does this by tethering itself to heroes, increasing their movement speed and stunning anyone who touches the strand. For its ultimate trick, it can teleport to any point on the map for 12 seconds, taking any tethered hero along for the ride.
See these abilities in action in the Dota Cinema overview of Wisp.
And here are the latest patch notes:
Added Luna Added Guardian Wisp Dota 2 now uses the CELT codec for increased voice communication quality. Added a testing tool to the Workshop tab that allows contributors to see their models on a hero before submitting. Added Heropedia to the Learn tab.
Bloodseeker: Fixed a bug where he could get healed by friendly heroes dying in the area around him that he didn't deny. Pudge: Fixed a bug that was sometimes causing Pudge's Dismember to do an extra tick of damage Pudge: Fixed a bug that allowed Pudge to deal damage without hurting himself by quickly toggling Rot. Rubick: Fixed a rare case where Rubick could get permanently stuck with Telekinesis Land. Rubick: Fixed a bug where Rubick would gain permanent Spectral Dagger buffs until he died. Rubick: Fixed a bug with Poison Release that would cause you to steal the wrong ability from Shadow Demon. Tiny: Fixed Aghanim's Scepter siege damage vs backdoor armor Fixed being able to use a different player's items in your combine, if that item was in your stash at the time
More Rubick spell animations Various Rubick visual effect improvements and fixes Haste animation added for Bloodseeker Adjusted Ogre Magi's sidearm attack animation Logos removed from waterfall and mid river areas to safeguard gameplay Tweaked dire banner position left of fountain shop Roshan timer appear only after 10 seconds have passed from death Reduced Gyro's model scale a little Removed ambient effects on Razor and Morphling when hexed
Fixed some cases where icons could get stuck on the screen Fixed new heroes not showing up in the hero picker if you had custom view set (They'll now appear in the top left of the grid view, for you to then place as you like) Tournament Panel: Fixed game list not refreshing unless you opened a different tournament and then back. Tournament Panel: Increased the size of the live games and recent games. Tournament Panel: Fixed details button not working properly for the last few games. Fixed Spectator label cutting off number of spectators. Fixed Live games not displaying correctly after opening a Tournament. Fixed a recent bug with the shop not closing when a unit is selected Fixed some bugs with losing commentator perspecting when pausing and unpausing Added backpack preview to couriers Back button in the loadout takes you back to the backpack if you arrived via a backpack right click Fixed some slots on the backpack not being right-clickable if they were not on page 1 Fixed the first equip from the backpack sometimes not working properly Added inspect button near the hero panel for heroes that have custom items Updated the replay skill filter to have more usefull categories. Fixed dragging an item onto itself not turning its icon back on. Cheat commands are now echoed to chat Added a testing tool to the Workshop tab that allows contributors to see their models on a hero before submitting. Fixed Mute button on the scoreboard not working.
Dota 2 now uses the CELT codec for increased voice communication quality.
When Half Life: Episode 3 concept art surfaced on the facebook page of fansite ValveTime yesterday we were sceptical, but it's increasingly appearing that they really could be from the long awaited sequel.
Most of the artwork depicts a snowy wilderness with characters clad in winter clothing. This tallies with location the Borealis, the Aperture science ship that was revealed to be stranded in the Arctic in Episode Two. More intriguingly several of the stranger pieces of artwork contain the word 'Xen' in the file names, the Alien world visited in the original Half Life's final act.
OXM have been on top of the story and note that moderators on the Steam forums are claiming the pictures are genuine. Meanwhile fansite Lambda Generation traced the images back to a (since deleted) Picasa gallery belonging to Valve artist Andrea Wicklund.
Now here's the bad news. Although they were only recently discovered these images were all uploaded to Picasa in March 2008, only a few months after the release of Episode Two. This means that even if they are genuine, they aren't necessarily indicative of the direction Valve are taking now, four years later.
You can see the full gallery of images over at Valve Time.
Team Fortress 2's latest update has landed and it's magical. A whole new batch of items have been added that allow the wearer to see the world as the Pyro does. And if you don't know what that means, be sure to watch Meet the Pyro (embedded above) before reading on.
Watched it? Good, then I'll carry on.
The update gives every class a pair of Pyro goggles, which allow them to see into the magical world of Pyroland. A whimsical, beautiful place where no-one dies and everyone is friends. In Pyroland, everything is brighter and more colourful. There's no blood or pain, instead hurt enemies spray balloon and confetti, and laugh in excitement. Medikits look like cakes, and dominations are friendships. Also, all the signs read "MMM MMMPH".
The goggles aren't the only way to visit Pyroland, using any of the new items (many of which we saw in Meet the Pyro) will do it. Weapons include there's the Rainblower, a flamethrower that fires rainbows, a giant lollipop shaped axe called the Lollichop. While miscellaneous items like the Burning Bongos, The Infernal Orchestra and the Balloonicorn will do it. These items look like default weapons to anyone who can't see into Pyroland, but those who can will perceive them in their full glory. Oh, and did we mention you can buy a real Balloonicorn? Well you can, and it comes with the item code too.
There's a hilarious summary of the new items on the Team Fortress update page, but more details can be found on the Team Fortress wiki. Meanwhile, we've included some screenshots of our own journey into Pyroland below.
Valve appended a tiny, incendiary surprise bomb to the end of the Meet The Pyro video: they've announced a free tool called Source Filmmaker. It's going into closed beta (apply here) and currently only supports Team Fortress 2. But beyond that, it seems like a suite that will equip machinima creators to truly tinker with what they produce; Valve says it'll let you "repurpose the video game world into a virtual movie studio." Among the tool's capabilities, you can make adjustments mid-playback, hand-animation of models, GPU-powered facial animation, and, amazingly—using Team Fortress 2 multiplayer to capture editable shots.
Valve created a video walkthrough of Filmmaker that also provides a behind-the-scenes glance at the creation of some of their TF2 shorts. Come watch within.
As I type this, Dota 2 is the most popular game on Steam and is being played by 52,219 people. This is a game that's sort-of kind-of not-really in closed beta, one that has numerous holes waiting to be filled by proposed features, and which is still being updated all the time.
But given that it's easy to get in to the Dota 2 beta (you can even buy your way in), and given that you can pay for items in the Dota 2 store now, should PC Gamer review the game? We'd like to hear what you think.
This is a mounting problem in PC land. We experienced the same thing with both Tribes: Ascend and Minecraft: games that people could buy, but which were clearly unfinished. Dota 2 is now in a similar state. Valve have promised that the finished game will have a tutorial to teach new players how to play, and a system that rewards veterans for training the less experienced. Those systems don't exist yet. There are also still dozens of balancing tweaks and UI changes being made almost every week.
But if you can pay for the game and its in-game items, shouldn't we be providing advice on whether its worth your money? Especially when it's not exactly small amounts: this Courier Pack costs £45.
And if you think we should review it now, do you think we should re-review - with a whole new score - when the game gets significant updates?
Or should we just wait until it's closer to completion? Let us know in the comments. For context, here are the patch notes from the June 20th update:
GAMEPLAY - Added Rubick! - Bane: Fixed Fiend's Grip not ending if Kraken Shell dispels it. - Chaos Knight: Reality Rift now puts the Chaos Knight behind his target. - Clockerk: Fixed Hookshot stunning dead units. - Gyrocopter: Fixed Homing Missle not giving any bounty. - Invoker: Fixed Alacrity interaction with Magic Immunity - Kunkka: Fixed Ghost Ship allied debuff dealing all the damage immediately when then rum wears off, rather than over the following 8 seconds. - Mirana: Reduced size of Arrow 20%. - Outworld Destroyer: Aadded visual indicator for Astral Imprisonment Length. - Riki: Fixed sometimes not attacking his Blink Strike target immediately. - Spirit Breaker: Fixed a bug allowing charging Razor without moving. - Fixed Batrider and Outworld Destroyer having 1 too little armor. - Fixed Chaos Knight having 2 extra armor. - Fixed Lone Druid having 1.3 too little armor.
UI - Added support for tournament spectating passes. - Select All Other Units feature no longer selects any unit that is lacking attack capability (like Beastmaster's Hawk). - Added a buff to indicate the duration of Death Prophet's Exorcism. - Updated Aghanim's Scepter tooltips for Beastmaster, Necrolyte, Queen of Pain, Warlock, and Windrunner. - Updated the Aghanim's Scepter store preview. - Fixed bug where large replays were unable to download. - Replay downloading is now paralleled to improve download speeds. - Fixed item purchase message crediting the wrong player if the purchased item stacked with someone else's item.
VISUALS - Added a custom particle effect for Skadi.
COSMETICS - Added announcers and new couriers to the Dota Store. - Added new items for Witch Doctor. - Fixed a bug that caused new users not to earn random drops. Affected users will receive the drops they should have gotten when they finish their next match. - Increased the number of backpack slots displayed on a single page of the backpack to 64. - Increased the base number of backpack slots from 50 to 64. - Increased the number of backpack slots that store users have from 500 to 640. - Fixed a bug that caused the last slot in the backpack to not respond to drag n’ drop. - Fixed bugs with dragging and dropping items between pages of the backpack.
BOTS - Co-op bot matches will now randomly assign the human players to Radiant or Dire. - In co-op bot matches, if a human disconnects before picking a hero, the bots will now correctly balance the teams. - Fixed bots not selecting heroes into non-AP games. - Fixed bots not deploying their couriers on Passive difficulty.
Yanis Varoufakis, Valve's new economist-in-residence, has posted his first investigation into Team Fortress 2's economy. The hat trade is more fascinating than I anticipated. Varoufakis' educational post explains (in terms non-economists can understand) two notable observations: the existence of an unusually complex barter economy in TF2, and the room for arbitrage -- buying low and selling high -- within it.
Varoufakis explains that barter economies are "cumbersome" because trades require a "double coincidence of wants" -- that is, two parties who each want what the other offers. Because of this, he says, economic complexity breeds currency, and that's why we've never witnessed "truly sophisticated barter economies." In TF2, however, the story is different.
"I was expecting to find that some item or asset would emerge as currency in the context of games such as Team Fortress 2," he writes. "However, a close study of our Team Fortress 2 economy revealed a more complex picture; one in which barter still prevails even though the volume of trading is skyrocketing and the sophistication of the participants’ economic behavior is progressing in leaps and bounds."
In his exploration of TF2's "peculiarly sophisticated barter economy," Varoufakis goes on to explain the concept of economic equilibrium, and charts periods of high arbitrage potential. He outlines economics fundamentals clearly and concisely, and I highly recommend reading the whole post. Especially if you strive to have more hats and guns and stuff than everyone else.
Graham, Tom, Rich and Chris discuss FTL, The Witcher 2, Indie Game: The Movie, the Steam charts and answer your questions from Twitter. Also featuring exclusive information on the breakfast preferences of the PC Gamer team. Graham likes sausages.
We also talk about the overcrowded MMO market, Hitman: Absolution, the future of competitive Dota, and whether or not you should build your next gaming rig yourself.
Download the MP3, subscribe, or find our older podcasts here.