The debate over the relationship between violent games and violent behavior continues inside and outside the United States. In its initial response to the tragedy in Newtown, CT, the US government said it intends to ask the Centers for Disease Control to “study the root causes of gun violence, including any relationship to video games and media images.” Critics cite studies that link aggression and violent games, claiming that interactivity as a component of games makes them unusually potent. One politician labeled games as "electronic child molesters."
It's an enormous and serious topic—one that we believe gamers shouldn't shrug off, but take it upon themselves to engage critics and fellow citizens on. In the interest of that, Logan, Evan, and Tyler hopped into our podcast studio (inappropriately, the room that most makes it look like we're inside an insane asylum) to talk about their personal relationship with violence in games.
Buckle up, because we're about to combine the two most exciting parts of PC gaming news: exponential user growth and graphs! Last Sunday, Steam hit 6.6 million concurrent users. It's an impressive figure, but what's really surprising is how it stacks up against previous totals. Back in January 2012 the service was hitting a high point of 5 million, with them not reaching the 6 million mark until November. That means Steam is currently growing around 300% faster than it was at the start of last year.
So where are those players coming from? To the graph-o-matic!
Essentially we're seeing massive and steady growth for the (technically) unreleased Dota 2. Less than six months ago the game could beat the then top-dog TF2 in concurrent users, but couldn't surpass the daily peak. Now it's a different story. The latest Steam stats have Dota 2 way ahead with a peak concurrent total of 237,414 players. In second place, still enjoying a post-Christmas boost, is Football Manager 2013 with 78,488 players. Team Fortress 2, meanwhile, has been consistently fluctuating between 45,000 and 75,000 players.
It's a big number, but still one far behind League of Legends, which was pulling a reported 3 million concurrent users as of July last year.
Dota 2 still doesn't account for the majority of Steam's overall user growth, despite the flood of free beta keys it incessantly sends out. And, of course, concurrent users don't give the full picture. We still don't know how many of those are active, or even the collected number of players who log into any particular Steam game over a set period of time.
Even so, it's a great sign of the health of PC gaming. It will be interesting to see how those figures change over the next year, as the console manufacturers creak into life to reveal their upcoming new hardware.
Big news for Dota 2's esports community. ESL have announced a brand new tournament with the largest prize pool outside of Valve's own International. Dota 2 will be the second game to be part of the RaidCall EMS One, a new competition based on the ESL Major Series. The $156,000 prize will be split across four seasons through 2013.
According to the announcement, "The best teams from Europe will compete for an overall prize fund of 156,000 US-Dollar. The entire tournament will be broadcast by ESL TV. Almost every week you will enjoy multiple days with the best matches presented live by our new Dota 2 caster; topped off by four live event finals every year."
The tournament's caster, qualification process and structure are all still unknown, but should be announced on the competition's pre-page soon. While it's EU only for now, ESL project manager Lari Syrota confirmed on Reddit that US and Asian teams are being considered for the future. He also clarified that a team needed only three of five European members to be eligible.
CS:GO was the first game to be announced for the EMS One, and will also split $156,000 across four seasons. That competition will be hosted by casters Joe Miller and Paul 'ReDeYe' Chaloner.
This week has seen the release of several pre-rendered cinematic trailers. Exciting though they were, brows were raised, then furrowed, then frowned in the PCG office as we noted how precious little these dramatic scenes reflected the actual action of the game.
It need not be so. Even fully pre-rendered trailers can do a better job of encapsulating the games they promote - and probably do a better job of selling them too. We cast our minds back to our favourite trailers of yore, and picked out the five that we felt best captured the games within, while offering visuals that are every bit as thrilling, powerful and cool.
Save for a snippet of pre-rendered CGI at the beginning, this is pretty much just an expertly-edited grab from the game itself. Not only does this, succinctly explain the action and features of the game, but it creates an epic four-minute trajectory of awesome escalation. Then the camera pans back from what seemed surely to be its climax, to reveal yet another immense level of robotic carnage. Even now, six years after Supreme Commander’s release, the trailer still makes it look like the ultimate future of the RTS.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution
A cinematic trailer done right, Human Revolution’s pre-rendered preamble introduces us to the world with expert scene-setting. It quickly sketches out the themes and setting, establishing Jensen as an embittered cyborg with super powerful robo-arms, a vengeful purpose and uncertain allegiance. And then its action sequences, while slightly more fluid and dramatic than possible in game, do describe powers at the player’s disposal: invisibility, x-ray vision, and retractable elbow chisels. It may have flash camera angles, bespoke mo-cap, and sumptuous subsurface scattering - but it’s an honest evocation of the glories of the game itself.
Team Fortress 2
The jaunty crime-caper music and freeze-frame introductions make it clear: TF2 doesn’t have classes so much as characters. The game’s team-shooter action takes a backseat here to showcasing the vibrant art-style and humour, as well as articulating the distinct roles and capabilities of each of TF2’s nine classes. A multiplayer shooter might normally offer scant cinematic thrills, or struggle to communicate what it’s about without a dry breakdown of its mechanics - TF2 elegantly dances round these problems without being disingenuous about the game’s contents.
There’s no in-game footage here, but BioShock’s trailer nonetheless captures a tremendous amount of the game within its short three-minute running time. Its opening panning shot establishes Rapture - its majesty, its dereliction and the ideals that created it. Then the trailer quickly and unexpectedly segues into a thrilling action scene, witnessed in firstperson. The ferocious combat seen here is more dynamic than that of the game, certainly, but the battle establishes the core relationship of the game: that between the little sisters and the big daddies. And, by putting you in the head of an child-stealing aggressor, also demonstrates the game’s ambiguous moralities.
There’s little in the way of explicit action in this trailer, even though it’s shot within the game engine itself. Action isn’t what the trailer is selling, however - it’s selling the city itself. As Niko struts through its succession of quick cuts, the sheer variety of Liberty City is elegantly illustrated, and Niko’s many guises suggests at the freedom the player will have to self-define within that space. Meanwhile, the exquisitely cool LCD Soundsystem track reaffirms Rockstar as gaming’s foremost tastemakers. It’s a brilliantly simple and boldly idiosyncratic trailer, intriguing and evocative in equal measure.
This week in our new competitive gaming column: could PlanetSide 2 be the first competitive shooter to achieve RTS/MOBA-level worldwide success? MLG and Sony think it just might. Plus: Who will secure their spots in Dota 2's The Defense 3 playoffs? This and much more below. gl hf!
PlanetSide 2 + MLG = Profit? The big news today is that Major League Gaming has partnered with developers Sony Online Entertainment to bring PlanetSide 2 into the eSports spotlight. This is an interesting twist, as nothing on the scale of PlanetSide's continent-spanning warfare, often involving hundreds of soldiers, has been presented in a major, competitive context before now. Shooters in general, actually, tend to struggle in terms of viewership beside the more easily-readable presentation of top-down strategy and MOBA games.
The idea of PlanetSide as an eSport presents a lot of interesting questions. Could we see professional teams with dozens of members, operating under a military command structure? On top of this, MLG has officially announced two games for their Winter 2013 Pro Circuit season: League of Legends and Black Ops 2 (on the 360.) They are being rather mum about the unannounced third game. It seems almost ludicrous that a game with the worldwide popularity of StarCraft could get the boot, but this new partnership with Sony certainly has me wondering if we might be seeing Auraxis in place of Shakuras at the Winter Championship in Dallas this March.
IEM Katowice has concluded, with South Korea's First of Incredible Miracle and Dream of Team MVP claiming the first and second spots, respectively. PartinG and Socke secured the 3rd-4th spots. All four of them will get the chance to face off again among the 24 qualified participants at the Intel Extreme Masters World Championship in Germany, starting on March 5. In the GSL, the unsponsored South Korean BBoongBBoong pulled a major Code S upset in group D, defeating StarTale's Squirtle in the winner's match.
The Iron Squid — Chapter II offline semifinals and finals are set to run this weekend in Paris, France, with a $12,500 top prize. From a bracket practically bursting with fan favorites, only four players remain: MarineKing, Life, NesTea, and DongRaeGu.
Watch it: Ironsquid.tv
I got to sit down for a massive interview with StarCraft II Game Director Dustin Browder last week. Give it a look to find out more about the state of Heart of the Swarm, and what's yet to come.
Day's Funday Monday topic this week: As Terran, you can only build one Factory and one Barracks. Check out some creative Terran air play in the Heart of the Swarm beta.
Axslav has a Rules of Engagement to help you learn how to stay cool and hold the line when you're being attacked from everywhere at once.
League of Legends
Two pro players have been issued lifetime bans for toxic behavior: StunnedandSlayed and Veigodx of Team Solo Mebdi. This effectively disqualified the team from the LCS Qualifiers this weekend.
Riot's LCS European Qualifiers begin tonight (technically tomorrow) at 1 a.m. PST/4 a.m. EST. For us North Americans, that means some serious caffeine will probably be required to tune in live. There are definitely incentives to do so, however, as we'll get to see the likes of Curse EU and Fnatic compete for five spots in the Season 3 Championships.
Watch it: LeagueofLegends.com
Thresh, the Chain Warden is now available for purchase. He's a support champion with some good tankiness and a focus on positional play.
The active player count in Dota 2 has climbed above three million per month. While still only a fraction of League's numbers, that's pretty impressive for a game that's not even technically released. Team Fnatic has also just announced that their North American team has released four of its five players. According to JoinDota, they hope to build around the remaining member, Johnathan "SMURF" Gorriz.
The Defense 3 group stage is getting down to the wire. Fnatic.eu has achieved a perfect 7-0 record. The 6-0 Mousesports would need to win their final game in Group A to catch up. Only one team from each group will advance to the playoffs, meaning we'll be seeing a couple of tiebreaker matches. The deadlock will have to be broken between Empire and Dignitas (both 6-1) in Group B. Group C also currently has a tie, as North American Evil Geniuses managed to match Sweden's No Tidehunter in Group C, at 5-2. The winners of these matches will go on to face Mousesports and Fnatic in a double-elimination bracket for the championship.
Watch it: The-Defense.com
The Troll Warlord has just joined the roster of heroes, an Agility monster whose pedigree goes all the way back to the mohawk-sporting troll axe-throwers of WarCraft II: Tides of Darkness. His effectiveness up close and at range make him a very flexible carry.
That's it for this week, eSports faithful. Let us know in the comments what you think of this week's stories, and what eSports events you're most looking forward to in 2013.
Got eSports? The competitive gaming scene has grown enormously in the last couple years, with PC titles like StarCraft II, League of Legends, and Dota 2 leading the charge. Many of you have probably already joined in the excitement and insanity, but if you haven't, I want to change your mind.
All I ask is that you take a few minutes to watch our latest video, in which I Zerg rush the main reasons I keep hearing for why people haven't gotten into eSports. Too boring? Too complicated? Can't take it seriously? Prepare to defend the worker lines of your brain against some three-pronged drop harass.
WibiData, a startup data applications developer, uses a rather interesting recruitment process: it tasks prospective hires with puzzling out a lost PIN code in a recreation of the company's offices in Portal 2. Yes, that includes hearing modulated insults from a GlaDOS soundalike as you gather reset keys and jump through walls.
Speaking to the New York Times (via VentureBeat), WibiData CEO Christophe Bisciglia said the mod's genesis arose from how Portal 2's layered puzzles "makes me feel like I exercise the same part of my brain that programming and problem-solving does."
Bisciglia commissioned modder Doug Hoogland to design and create WibiData's virtual workspace and the puzzles housed beneath it. Hoogland earned Bisciglia's attention after he fashioned a Portal-ized wedding proposal for an earlier customer, which is both romantically adorable and the best chance to see a murderous computer become a third wheel.
We presume WibiData's employee insurance policy now covers injuries sustained from teleportation ovals and scheming sentient AIs. You can check out the mod for yourself on the company's website.
As if slaying your way across a zombie-infested wasteland as a pack of gun-toting raptors wasn't awesome enough, modder Lurch of the L4DMaps community offers the Stay Puft mod which replaces Left 4 Dead 2's burly Tank with the soft and tasty juggernaut from Ghostbusters.
It's a pretty basic mod—a simple reskin of the Tank is all you'll get for less than a megabyte's download. Some default animations don't exactly translate well in those rolls of sugary goodness, as the model's arms stick out awkwardly and ragdoll effects are anything but smooth. Rock tosses are subsequently hilarious-looking. (You'll see what I mean in the short video I recorded above.) Still, making the conscious decision to shoot at and be chased by a grunting behemoth of marshmallow should count for something.
You can pick up Puft at L4DMaps' website. Be sure to also check out Left 4 Dead 2's freshly launched Steam Workshop listing for more mods.
If you hadn't previously heard of Zachariah Scott, then you've got a fun (and entirely unproductive) afternoon ahead of you. The Bioware cinematic designer has been doing some amazing things with Valve's Source Filmmaker in his spare time. But with this Portal 2 short, The Turret Anthem, he's possibly outdone himself.
The video features music by Lars Erik Fjøsne. Of the project, Scott says, "This video was shot on black void, using a rebuild version of glados' chamber that I put together by hand. Fun story about this video, I've been trying to make it for about 6 months, it's a super late Turret Week video. I kept overthinking it, and had much of the principal synchronization done but couldnt' figure out how I wanted to shoot it, well I sat down this weekend and knocked it out in two days, and I'm pretty sure nobody will have any problem with the results." Too right.
The sky churns with deadly energy. Looming above, the stricken Citadel claws into the heavens, its tip crackling with transdimensional discharges. The stage is set. Lights, camera—wait, hold everything. I almost forgot to switch on the Cinematic Mod which adds a bevy of high-quality textures, shadows, and a film-style lighting filter to the works. There we go. Now I'm Director Freeman.
The Cinematic Mod has been around since 2005, but updates continue rolling out regularly, with the most recent 12.1 patch releasing last month. Installing the meaty 30GB(!) mod results in a slew of immediately visible differences: high-resolution skins for everything (yes, everything, including character models for Alyx Vance, Barney, and others), dynamic shadows, and flared lighting seemingly ripped straight from a Mass Effect nightclub. The potpourri of post-production punch "gives the HL2 trilogy a more stressed, darker, and uncomfortable look," according to the mod's website.
It's essentially Half-Life 2's version of the popular ENBSeries add-ons, and the Cinematic Mod needs some hefty hardware. You'll want at least a quad-core processor and 4GB of RAM for the suite of color adjustments and shader smoothing. The upside? You'll get to find out what really lurks within the GMan's pockmarks. Head over to the mod's website for more info.