PC Gamer

Shawn FMPONE Snelling is a modder and mapmaker for CS:GO. His work on CS:GO includes de_cache, de_crown, and the recent de_season remake. Shawn s currently working on de_santorini.

First things first: this is a message to everyone. To the community, to the Reddit mods who recently deleted my post on r/gaming, to Gabe, to the entire PC community.

I m a modder, and I deserve compensation. Or, to be exact, I deserve an option to ask for compensation if I feel it s reasonable.

Let s talk about what that looks like for a second. Is it 25% of a sale on a Steam item? Should Valve and Bethesda get 30% and 45% respectively of any item I sell? Actually, I m not sure. If I m selling one trillion units, I m not minding that cut really. If I m selling six units and I m eating ramen noodles under a bridge somewhere in Detroit, I m minding that cut a lot.

Steam is a huge platform, and when Valve promotes your stuff as a modder, you re in the territory of making huge money. Huge money, for doing what you love. You can t really get that elsewhere, and that s a credit to Valve and how great Steam generally is and has been. So that 25% cut, I m not sure I mind it as much as you might think. But let s go ahead and agree Valve needed to put more thought into their plan, or at least into explaining their plan. There are real considerations here that just don t feel like they were addressed at all (did you know that some Skyrim mods can completely break your game?).

The recent remake of de_season in CS:GO, by Shawn Snelling.

Here s my real question: just how effective is this system going to be at compensating modders?

Well, if everyone is pissed off at Valve and refusing to purchase stuff, not very; in that situation, modders won t get paid. And as much as I love Nexus Mods, one cannot compare their audience with Steam s audience. Apples and oranges, Steam is unbelievably huge, much bigger than Nexus.

Let s agree that modders deserve to get paid. Those people who put their time and effort into something that provides you with countless hours of entertainment. Let s start the discussion right there—those people deserve to get paid.

I get approached by professional, AAA studios all the time to work on their game. Here s a little secret: I don t wanna. Most AAA studios aren t what they re cracked up to be, between the long hours, medicore games, bossy art directors, yadda yadda yadda. When I have as much freedom as I currently enjoy, why the hell would I want that? The Steam Workshop has gotten to a point where it s netting me a real salary and I feel rewarded and compensated for my work. Explain to me again why I secretly want to go develop the gaming equivalent of a TPS report?

However, even if the industry was a wonderful utopia, I actually kind of like working from home and not having a boss. Is that wrong? Am I bad person? Nah. I ve got a pretty sweet gig. And that s thanks to Valve and Gabe.

That s right, I said it. COME AT ME, INTERNET, LET S RUMB—no I already regret saying that please do not come at nor rumble me.

To me Gabe is still the same good guy he always was. But we need to realize a few things about Valve.

First and definitely foremost, they suck at communication. They suck at communicating super, super bad. And that recently hurt modders. Because Valve communicated their plan so ineffectively, it turned people off completely, which meant hey, modders might not get paid! As a modder, that makes me sad. Actually, it makes me worry about eating. Which is more scary than it is sad.

Because Valve communicated their plan so ineffectively, it turned people off completely.

Secondly, and let s be honest, Valve s plan kinda sucked. If you re going to announce a bold new initiative, you should probably avoid mentioning that part where you re not going to pay people a majority of what their sale earns. That s called Bad Marketing. And that big uproar Valve faced is proof that Bad Marketing leads to Bad Stuff.

After having a lot of discussions with people, I think the community has some very legitimate concerns. If people are opening their wallet, they want to get something good as a result. The idea that anyone, regardless of curation or objective criteria, can simply charge $100 for an Extra Apple, ain t alright. There needs to be some level of curation. As much as Valve hates the idea of bottlenecks, the community hates the idea of rip-offs way more. Neither should mods break your game—that is unacceptable.

There is also no way in hell gamers want to pay for actually FIXING bugs in a game. The workshop should have a clear promise to customers—bugfixes and bugfixing mods will be FREE for customers, even if this means that bugfixing contributors settle for donations. We don t want to incentivize people fixing bugs in AAA games, anyway. That s the developer s job.

I believe these are important steps forward. But I don t want people to lose sight of the fact that really talented hobbyists are beginning to become talented pros, who get to pursue their own path and explore their own interesting ideas. We should celebrate and embrace that, and thank Valve for a situation where good modders could actually start to get compensated for their hard work.

Valve, please put together a plan that sucks less; or at least, seems to suck less. But, most importantly, please continue to pay modders. Like you ve done. Like no one else really does. As a modder, I appreciate it more than I could possibly tell you in this short article.

Over the past three years, you guys have literally changed my life for the better, and no internet mob is going to deter me from saying it.

Read more of Shawn's thoughts on the issue of paid modding and Valve's announcement on this Reddit discussion.

PC Gamer

The world of professional Dota is about to get a lot busier. Valve have just announced the Dota Major Championships, an annual series of 'marquee' tournaments that will include their established The International event. The other three shindigs, they say, "will be Valve-sponsored events hosted by third-party organizers at different locations around the world".

As you can see in the above picture, there will be an event in each season, starting in Fall/Autumn and culminating in a bigger event, presumably The International, in Summer. The first is scheduled for this Fall/Autumn, and Valve say they'll reveal more details as that draws nearer.

Next week, Dota 2 will receive a "major balance update", along with this year's version of The International Compendium.

PC Gamer
Three Lane Highway

Every week, Chris documents his complex ongoing relationship with Dota 2, Smite, and wizards in general.

I just played a sixty-minute solo ranked game of Dota 2. We were winning for a long time. Then, as happens often, we stopped winning—they had Sniper, Veno, and Techies, and fighting uphill was a pain in the ass. Around the fifty-minute mark, we killed Roshan with the intention of giving the Aegis to our Slark. Then, our Axe took it. Then, Axe destroyed the sentry wards that Necrophos had dropped so that I could carry them. Then, Axe blinked blind into their base, died to mines, came back to life, and died again without buyback. They pushed. We couldn't defend. The game ended.

Axe threw, I think, because he was bored and kind of a dick. The latter is a tough fix; the former indicates a problem worth exploring.

Bored players are a bigger problem in this patch than they have been before. This is the era of game-prolonging comeback mechanics, Sniper, and pub teams that can't fight uphill. It won't last forever. There will come a time—hopefully soon—when regular Dota gets faster and snappier. I imagine Valve and IceFrog are looking towards the fifth International with a view to ensuring that matches don't run long and cause the whole thing to overrun (while also, y'know, putting the idea of an eight minute victory to rest.)

Regardless, regular Dota will always be a long, demanding game. I've internalised that side of it, as have most players. When you play, you are committing to a game that is likely to last between thirty and ninety minutes and that you're not allowed to quit. Back when I taught the rest of the PCG team to play, this was one of those things that I had to learn to see from their perspective: the notion of a game that you're not allowed to stop playing is totally alien to most people.

I also play a decent amount of Smite and lately I've been playing Infinite Crisis for review. Both of these games—as with the majority of MOBAs that followed the League model—provide surrender options and a variety of game modes, including those that result in shorter matches (single lane variants, and so on.)

For the majority of new players, the length of a Dota match in is an obstacle in the way of enjoyment. Developers of new MOBAs treat it as a problem to be solved.

For the majority of Dota players, however, it isn't a problem. It's part of what makes Dota what it is. That the game is demanding and that it asks a lot from you is a bridge you cross over on the way to getting more out of it than you'll get out of other games—and a lot of players are happy to make that journey. Its complex mechanics require room to breathe, and that 'room' is provided by having long matches. As a player, you're asked to respect that. If you don't respect that, you move on to something else.

The issue with this approach is that it divides players up along binary lines. The reality isn't really like that. Everybody who plays the game—even those who play it a lot—has a different amount of time and patience. Some are more willing to commit energy in the lategame than others. Some will play until it starts to get boring or hard, then throw or abandon in order to move onto the next one. This might be the wrong attitude, but it's sustainable for the players who engage in it. That they are sacrificing the enjoyment of nine other people in order to get their way is only a problem if they agree that it's a problem, and from their perspective it probably isn't (see also: 'dicks'.)

The issue with a purist approach to Dota, then, is that it doesn't account for people who play but don't care about spoiling the experience of others if it suits them. In an ideal world, people who didn't like playing Dota 'properly' would get bored with the game and stop playing: in reality, they show up as that guy who costs you a handful of MMR points every now and then. Even if most players never do this, even if some players only do it once and then quit the game forever, enough people play that it will reliably crop up as a problem for those that stick around.

With that in mind, then, I've started to see the value of 'shortform' modes. They don't really exist in Dota at present—1v1 Solo Mid takes less time, sure, but it changes so many of the game's basic systems and victory conditions that its relationship to regular Dota is limited to a few very specific areas. All Random Deathmatch is more lightweight, but can still take a substantial amount of time.

When official custom game modes finally make their debut, I hope that they'll play a role in offering alternatives that help to draw the throw-happy player away from regular matchmaking. Valve could do this themselves, of course—a 2v2 or 3v3 mode on a single lane would be interesting—but it's far more likely that they'll leave it to the community to build. And, honestly, I think it'd be a success for Dota as a whole if somebody does.

While there are many things about the regular MOBA model that I hope stay far away from Dota 2, the provision of more accessible ways to play is a proven good. It's a rare example of a community-dividing design decision that actually divides the community in the right way: not between serious and casual, but between 'willing to play for twenty minutes' and 'willing to play to the end'. I'd rather players declare the limits of their attention span when they choose a game mode, not when they throw at the end of a long match.

To read more Three Lane Highway, click here.

PC Gamer

Speedruns are artistry. Not only do they demonstrate complete mastery over a game, but they also poke away at the edges of what a game intends you to do. Watching a perfect speedrun is similar, I imagine, to watching good gymnastics, but they're more than just skill-based. They're borne of a curiosity about the edges of games: the things we're not meant to see and the things we aren't supposed to do.

There's a whole science behind speedruns. Players spend weeks and sometimes years chiselling a perfect path through a game. They exploit minor traversal bugs to gain speed, they tap away at the outer limits of a game world in search of hidden routes, and then they move to execute all these tricks in one graceful swoop. There's a strong collaborative spirit among speedrun communities, because in the end, it's all about what's possible, not who wins.

There are lots of different speedruns, and the rules vary depending on the type of speedrun a player hopes to achieve. Most of the runs I've featured below are Any% runs, which simply require the player to complete the game under any difficulty setting as quickly as possible. These contrast with 100% runs, which as the name suggests requires full completion of the game (any secret worlds or any optional collectibles, for example). 

What follows aren't "the best speedruns of all time" but instead a selection of especially impressive runs. I've tried to collect those most suited to spectating, so there are a lot of shooters and platformers. Meanwhile, I've generally avoided speedruns too heavily reliant on glitches that bypass huge sections of a game (like this Pillars of Eternity run, for example). I'm not arguing these aren't legitimate: just that they're not as fun to watch.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Bethesda made a big deal of Skyrim's 100 hour potential back in 2011, but I'm sure they're not surprised that speedrunner gr3yscale has beaten the game in less than 40 minutes. After all, Skyrim QA guy Sam Bernstein managed to complete the whole game, glitch and cheat free, in two hours and 16 minutes. If you know what you're doing, the biggest games can be reduced to a series of carefully timed leaps.

Gr3yscale's world record time of 39:24 uses a number of built-in exploits, but arguably more interesting than the run itself is this accompanying tutorial video on how he achieved it. The lengthy video is a step-by-step instructional, detailing everything from the graphics settings you should use (as low as possible) through to how to steal the Blank Lexicon from Septimus Signus in less than five seconds. If you've got any interest in the painstaking process of routefinding for a speedrun, it's a must watch.

Dark Souls

For the best example of speedrunner Kahmul78 s thoroughness, look no further than the 1:56 mark below. The way he switches his inventory load out in the middle of a plunge attack demonstrates that every second is precious for an adept speedrunner. He won t need those newly equipped arrows for a while, but when you re looking to shave off precious seconds in a notoriously difficult game, you don t waste time.

After clearing the tutorial area, Kahmul78 takes a very unconventional route through Lordran. Using the Skeleton Key starting item he passes through New Londo Ruins and Valley of the Drakes into Darkroot Basin, then onto Undead Parish. This not only skips the second boss encounter, but it also means facing off against the first mandatory boss battle by the eight minute mark. 

For the average first time player it s likely to take up to five hours to make that much progress (or about ten, if you re like me). The fact that this whole run wraps up in under 48 minutes naturally  attracted a lot of attention when it was first posted. There are quicker Dark Souls speedruns out there which exploit a major glitch, but this is the real deal.

Dishonored

With so many tools at his disposal it's little wonder that Corvo Attano can get the job done quickly. He's not really meant to do it this quickly though, with speedrunner TheWalrusMovement completing the stealth adventure in 34:35. Attano's Blink ability a lightning quick dash mainly used for covert operations is utilised a lot in this run, to the extent that it's difficult to keep track of TheWalrusMovement's routing. 

Nonetheless, Dishonored is a surprisingly enjoyable game to spectate, and TheWalrusMovement is forthcoming with his secrets. This world record run can probably be improved the runner's commentary points out a couple of areas of improvement but this is the best out there in the meantime.

Doom 2

Picture this: you ve just returned from Hell only to find that Earth is in worse shape. You were really looking forward to having a beer though, so you want to save the world as quickly as possible. But how quickly is as quickly as possible? How s 23 minutes and three seconds sound? Not bad at all! Start pouring.

The work of speedrunner Zero-Master, this Ultra-Violent mode playthrough managed to topple a record set in 2010 by Looper. That s a long time in speedrun years and it only managed to come out on top by 22 seconds. A backseat speedrunner will no doubt see areas of improvement in the below video, which Zero-Master concedes to in his YouTube description, but for the time being this is the quickest run there is.

While Doom 2 is probably the most popular speedrunning instalment in the series, it s worth checking out speedruns of the two Final Doom WAD packs too. These outings upped the difficulty dramatically, and if you want to see a run with a few clever rocket jumps, look no further.

Duke Nukem 3D

Duke 3D s Build engine is home to a lot of glitches very handy to speedrunners. As Duke speedrunner LLCoolDave explains in this video, a major one is crouchjumping . If you crouch while freefalling and then hit the jump key before touching the ground, Duke can clip through certain walls and structures. The engine in Duke 3D is less than stable, allowing for switches to be triggered from unintended vantage points and whole regions of levels to be skipped.

As in most glitchy speedruns, triggering the engine s limitations at just the right moment is an impressive skill in itself. Speedrunner Mr_Wiggelz manages to complete the game in 9:19 below, though it s worth noting that only the first three episodes of the Duke Nukem 3D Megaton Edition feature (the fourth episode didn t appear in the original game).

Mr_Wiggelz admits that he messed up a couple of times during this run, so it probably won t be long before we see it bettered.

Click here to watch on Twitch

Fallout 3

Some genres, especially platformers and shooters, are particularly suited to the speedrun. Others, like the open world RPG, definitely are not. That doesn t stop people from trying to beat the likes of Pillars of Eternity, Skyrim and Fallout 3 in the time it takes to prepare an English breakfast, but there s inevitably glitches involved. Games like these are designed to eat up your time and life.

Rydou s 18:53 speedrun of Fallout 3 (that s 18 minutes, not hours) utilises a few glitches, but no cheats or third-party programs. As he explains on his YouTube page, this run makes liberal use of a quicksave bug. Basically, if you rapidly quicksave and then quickload you ll briefly have the ability to clip through walls. In this way, the player-character goes from birth to saving Washington in less than 20 minutes.

After a bit of publicity off the back of this speedrun, Rydou moved to emphasise the difference between cheating and exploiting glitches. For those who wonder about the legitimacy of the run, using and exploiting glitches have always been a part of the speedrun community. This is a way to push the game even further, and [is] not considered cheating.

Half-Life 2

An hour and 32 minutes might not sound impressive for a Half-Life 2 speedrun: the game's an all time classic and ten years old to boot. You can blame the game's regular unskippable dialogue sequences for that record, but hey, at least it gives record holder Gocn k some time to take a break. He needs it.

There are some interesting strategies in this video. GocAk makes liberal use of two traversal glitches common in Valve's Source Engine, namely Accelerated Back Hopping and Accelerated Side Hopping. For a stunning example of the former skip to the 29 minute mark, where a sequence of careful jumps actually propels the player into the air. 

Sourceruns.org has a more detailed description: "When you exceed the game's speed limit, the game tries to slow you down whenever you jump, back to the desired speed. By default the game thinks that you're moving forwards, so when you exceed the speed limit, it'll accelerate you backwards. If you are facing backwards, this will only increase your speed. So, the faster you're going - the more you will get accelerated."

Hotline Miami

No big tricks or glitches here, just an exceptionally talented player. Speedrunner Dingodrole completes Hotline Miami in 20 minutes and seven seconds, but his ultimate goal is to get below the 20 minute mark. If you watch the whole run you'll notice there's very little room for improvement, and Dingodrole seems to have the routing down pat. He's been steadily chipping away at the time for a while now, so it's probably inevitable that this will be beaten some day.

I Wanna Be The Guy

It pays to know a game intimately before embarking on a speedrun, but that rule has a different meaning when it comes to I Wanna Be The Guy. A parodic love letter to 8-bit platformers, I Wanna Be The Guy subverts every reliable trope in the platformer rule book. Shiny red apples aren t collectibles: they ll kill you. Don t worry about reaching those spikes: they ll come to you. Nothing is predictable, and everything is learnt from the experience of dying. You can t learn this game, you have to memorise it.

So it s always fun to monitor the speedrunning community s progress with I Wanna Be The Guy (as well as its many follow-ups). You need a great memory and superhuman dexterity to complete the game once, let alone in 28 minutes and 40 seconds without glitches, as Tesivonius has done.

Click here to watch on Twitch

Portal

A few caveats: this is a segmented Portal speedrun, which means the game wasn't completed from beginning to end in a single playthrough. Instead, the best level times were stitched together for the final video. Additionally, there were four different speedrunners involved: Nick "Z1mb0bw4y" Roth, Josh "Inexistence" Peaker, Nick "Gocnak" Kerns, and Sebastian "Xebaz" Dressler. Some would argue a segmented speedrun is illegitimate, but wherever you stand on that matter, it's still interesting to see what's possible.

This run uses neither cheats or hacks, but it does exploit a number of glitches. "This run first started after the discovery of a new glitch, which snowballed into a whirlwind of discoveries of new tricks, skips, and glitches," the team writes. As you'll see below, the glitches make for a disorientating watch, but its fascinating nonetheless.

Quake

The Quake speedrun scene used to be massive, boasting its own highly organised community in the form of Quake Done Quick. The below video sees all four episodes of the game completed in 11 minutes and 29 seconds (on Nightmare difficulty!) and demonstrates world class bunny hopping and rocket jumping skills. The occasional glitch is implemented and whole chunks of certain maps are skipped with the help of rocket jumps, but no cheats were used.

Spelunky

Twitch streamer Bananasaurus Rex is, or was, the world authority on Spelunky. It was he who figured out how to kill the game s invincible ghost. It was he who achieved a solo Eggplant run (this involves carrying an Eggplant to the end of the game, obviously). It was he who collected $3.1 million worth of gold in a single playthrough. Arguably the highest bar he set was the legendary 5:02 Hell speedrun. Simply reaching Hell is difficult enough on its own, but completing the whole game using this route is punishment. Doing it in five minutes is God tier.

Unfortunately for Bananasaurus Rex, someone managed to beat his Hell run, and not by a measly couple of seconds. Youtuber Latedog beat secret boss Yama in 4:36, creating a new record which let s face it will probably only be beaten by accident. Like Bananasaurus Rex he utilises the warp device, which is somewhat reliant on luck but pretty much crucial if you want to shear minutes off a playthrough.

Super Meat Boy

When humankind is wiped off the face of the earth by some malevolent alien society, the planet s new inhabitants will learn a couple of things as they sift through the rubble. First, we really liked bottled water. Secondly, Coca-Cola was an especially totalitarian leader. Thirdly, we were really bloody good at Super Meat Boy.

Speedrunner Vorpal has been chipping away at the world record for a while, but this is the best he/she has managed so far: the base game completed in 17 minutes and 54 seconds. That stat doesn t include the dark levels or any of the retro themed ones, but anyone who has spent half-an-hour with Team Meat s punishing platformer will peek through fingers as Vorpal passes the final boss run by the skin of his teeth.

VVVVV

Speedruns can be beautiful. Twitch streamer sheilalpoint completes VVVVV in 12:12 in the below video, and watching it (with the sound down) can be like watching a weird 1970s art film about a little man s efforts to euthanise himself in outer space.

The beauty of this run is that there aren t really any major tricks, just a thorough knowledge of the game s layout. Sheilalpoint pulls some interesting maneuvers with the game s checkpoints particularly in one sequence where hitting them as they collide with spikes actually increases the momentum of the player character but otherwise, this is plain old fashioned mastery.

For more awesome speedruns, speedrun.com and speeddemosarchive.com are invaluable resources. Think we've missed something important? Leave it in the comment section below.

PC Gamer

This article was originally published in PC Gamer issue 277. For more quality articles about all things PC gaming, you can subscribe now in the UK and the US.

Dota is hard. It demands moment to moment skill, collective coordination, and a vast amount of learning. Despite being the most popular game on Steam by an order of magnitude, it s an acquired taste—and one that, despite years of listening to Chris drone on about it, the rest of the PC Gamer team has yet to acquire. Over the course of a week, we set out to see if that might be changed. 

In the first case, our goal was to determine just how difficult Dota 2 really is to pick up. Is it possible for newcomers to have fun straight away, or will those first hours always be punishing? What can more experienced players do to lower the barrier to entry, and how do you best go about matching characters and roles to players with a diverse gaming background? How do you introduce Dota as an action game, a strategy game, a sport and a social experience all at once?

More to the point: why make the effort? For some of the team, gaining a new hobby was not incentive enough to pour hours into the game. We needed a goal—something to fight for. We found one. Concurrent with our own efforts, our longtime friends, rivals and (in several cases) former colleagues at Rock, Paper, Shotgun began training their own Dota novices. The stage was set for a showdown that would pitch veteran against veteran, newbie against newbie. We really, really wanted to win.

That meant training. With Chris as our guide, we set about getting our hands on the bottom rung of Dota 2 s daunting ladder. Over the following pages you ll discover what sunk in, what didn t, and how we fared when exposed to public matchmaking. Spoilers: Dota is hard.

SESSION 1

Baby steps

CHRIS I ve thought a lot about how to introduce people to Dota. My approach is to simplify as much as possible. I start the first session by ushering the guys into a meeting room where I ve prepared a 15- minute presentation. Instead of focusing on the minutiae, I introduce general concepts. Dota 2 is a numbers game, I explain. Much like an RTS, it s about building and maintaining a resource advantage. How you go about achieving that is as complex as you d like to make it, but as long as you remember that simple concept, you can t go too far wrong.

GET RHYTHM

Sam s role isn t to score kills, but to create opportunities and deny them to our opponents. He s learning to set the tempo of the match in a way that suits us, which takes skill.

I don t know how much of my introduction sinks in with the guys. It is, after all, a powerpoint presentation. When it s over, I assign roles and heroes that I believe suit our fledgling team.

SAMUEL Dota 2 is intimidating to learn, but Chris has been so specific in assigning us roles that we re really only learning the one small part of it we each need to function within his battle plan. I m the muscle, so Chris assigns me Earthshaker, a large hairy creature that turns up in the heat of battle to lay down Fissure, a powerful barricade that will help us control encounters.

POSITIONS

Players are given position numbers to determine their place in the resource priority pyramid, with 1 on the top and 5 on the bottom. This doesn t correspond to importance or skill, it s about distributing gold and experience to the people who need it.

PHIL I m playing the support, although we re not calling it support . We re calling it position five, because of graphs. My take on the presentation is that our job as a team is to filter resources in a way that keeps our joint performance stable, even as our individual power shifts. As an intelligence hero, I ll start stronger relative to my teammates. The upshot of this is that I have to buy a donkey. 

CHRIS After the presentation, I load us into a private lobby and give the team a tour of the map. They line up behind me like ducklings, and already look confused. 

ITEM SHOCK

There s an intimidating amount to learn, and the only way to cram it all in is to play more. Eventually, terms like BKB and Heart become second nature, as do their uses and tactical significance.

TOM The strategic overview is useful for clearly laying out our priorities, but I can t help but start to get bogged down in the minutiae when we roam the map. The home shop is different from the side shops, which are different from the secret shops hidden in the jungle. They all have different items that you can combine into better items to give you stat boosts and special powers. These have weird names like the Black King Bar and Heart of Tarrasque . I comfort myself with the fact I m playing Sven. Sven s a blue barbarian guy who hits things with a big sword. I can do that. 

ANDY Prior to Chris s presentation, I don t know a thing about Dota. After it, I know a bit more, but I m still very much a member of the Clueless Club. Then we go for a walk around the map and my brain starts to rebel. Why are there so many items for sale? Which ones do I buy? I ve reached a point in my life where I m pretty resistant to learning new things, and Dota is a big thing to learn. I figure that when it s time to play against another team, Chris will just tell me what to do anyway. That I can deal with. I like that I ve been assigned ranged characters, because then I can just hang at the back.

SESSION 2

Rise of the robots

CHRIS I ve assigned everybody two heroes. For our initial bot games, I take the middle lane and send Andy and Sam to one lane and Phil and Tom to the other. This gives me a chance to keep an eye on them from a position of relative isolation. Some take to the game faster than others.

SELL, SELL!

Items can be sold back to the store with no penalty immediately after you buy them—just right click and select sell . Try it, Tom.

TOM Phil and I get into a good rhythm. I get used to Sven s attack timing and getting the last hit on creeps—this gets me gold to buy those complicated items. When you first look at a Dota battle, you might assume you ought to help your little guys get to the enemy ancient. In reality, they re RTS minerals to be slurped up, one hit at a time. Just when I think I m starting to get the hang of things, Chris asks why I ve bought two separate pairs of boots. I have no idea how that happened. I blame Phil s donkey.

PHIL You would think, given that my first job is to buy a donkey, that I would be good at buying a donkey. While the transaction itself goes smoothly, I forget to take him out of my inventory. My other job is to place wards. I do this by asking Chris where I should place wards shortly after every time he reminds me to buy and place wards. My job, I assume, is just to help other people be awesome. It s part way through the first bot game that I realise that s not quite right. Chris pings a location and telling me to wait. He draws in the enemy team and I activate Crystal Maiden s ultimate: Freezing Field. 

Everything dies in a flurry of snow and dancing. I cackle.

FACE OFF

If you re being passive, there s always something else you could be doing. Ask your team how they re faring, buy a teleport scroll and see if the enemy is in position for a kill attempt. Otherwise, get some wards.

SAMUEL I m struggling with Earthshaker. I m not sure what my purpose is in the early game—I die a lot and I m pretty poor at aiming Fissure across groups of enemies. I enjoy teaming up with Andy but he s far more effective. In the next bot game, I switch to Lich, an ice-based long-range mage that seems a bit more well-rounded. This proves a far better fit and I die a lot less. A character fit for a coward! 

ANDY As Sniper, the game slowly starts making sense to me. I figure out that if I increase my range, I can attack towers without getting hit. If I keep killing monsters, I can earn money to spend on the thing that gives me lightning bolts. But when we fight tougher bots, everything falls apart.

I die constantly and start to zone out. I lose faith in my ability to get Dota. This isn t for me. I m not into competitive games that you have to play for a thousand hours to get good at. I play games for stories and experiences, not learning.

SESSION 3

Oh, the humanity

CHRIS It s time. We need to actually play real people if we re going to stand a chance against RPS. I load us into a match against equally-new strangers, using a fresh account to mask my own rating. I know, I know, that s naughty. I justify it to myself by assuming that the other guys will be doing the same thing. I take Storm Spirit, the first Dota hero I fell in love with, to the midlane. 

ANDY Humans! Actual humans. This is the first time I ve played Dota with people I don t work with, and the pressure is rising. But once the match begins, they seem as clueless as me. I dutifully farm away, waiting for Chris to give me instructions. Occasionally I get into a fight with another player, and I don t die every time. That s encouraging. I farm and farm, and I buy the lightning bolt thing, and upgrade my character. 

PHIL My assigned heroes were Crystal Maiden and Witch Doctor. After trying out both against bots, I decide to stick with CM from here on out. Witch Doctor s stuns are pretty handy, but I like the more reliable damage over time of Crystal Maiden s Frostbite spell. Also, I just enjoy being a magical snow princess. She starts every game by flirting with Sven, which I think is having an awkward effect on Tom s and my working relationship.

TOM Playing against humans is one thing; the big problem is dealing with new and unpredictable heroes. Phil and I face off against Alchemist, who likes to throw bottles of gunk to stun and hurt enemies. Bounty Hunter can turn invisible, which he uses frequently to gang up on us and then run away. We re spending a lot of time laning against three opponents, and it s miserable. There s no time to mouse over enemy abilities to read their details—the only way you learn how an ability works is to be killed by it. 

PHIL Bounty Hunter is awful. Until now, I ve done a good job of faking competence and stoic reliability, but I am not a good Dota player. I struggle to disengage against the enemies I can see, and now I ve got to deal with this shit? Bounty Hunter s damage is mostly to our confidence. He s out there somewhere, and even with Sentry Wards laid down, I m jumping at every shadow. 

CHRIS I face Mirana in mid, and it s clear that this is actually a new player and not an asshole on a fake account. I win the lane pretty handily and realise that I am an asshole. I am, however, an asshole with options. I move top and score first blood, then roam the map scoring kills fairly effectively. A highlight is when Bounty Hunter moves in to kill Andy. I catch a glimpse of him on the minimap and know what he s about to do, so I tell Andy to stay still and bait out the kill attempt. I punish it with a flashy Storm Spirit play and feel like Andy s cool magical lightning uncle. 

Then, Sam gets called into a meeting and has to leave the game for 20 minutes. Rather than risk him getting pegged with an abandon, I get him to hand control of Earthshaker to me and I play both heroes for a little while. I m used to the notion that you can t quit a Dota game once it s started, but it occurs to me that this wouldn t necessarily be clear to anyone else.

As we approach the midgame, the enemy stacks up items that make it harder for me to control fights: Orchid Malevolence, Black King Bar. That Alchemist has a Shadow Blade; my ducklings are struggling to deal with the invisibility it grants him. They re struggling generally, actually. I feel like I m spinning plates—if I make a play on the top lane, Andy will die on the bottom lane. If I go bot, Tom and Phil will get in trouble top. These games were never supposed to be about me.

TOO POLITE

Someone always has to go first. If your team lacks a dedicated initiator , communicate clearly and make sure you listen to what others are planning. Once a commitment is made, there s no going back.

TOM We re having a shaky time learning how to fight as a team. A lot of us have stun moves that can start a big fight, but we re hampered by a strange awkwardness, as though we re all trying to fit through the same door. There s a lot of after you, no, after you, and we never quite manage to synchronise our charges. Four out of five of us have no idea whether we re winning or losing a fight, so we disengage in drabs and get picked off individually. Only now do I truly realise how hard this is going to be. 

ANDY A player using the Phantom Assassin hero keeps killing me, over and over again, and I start to lose interest. I still haven t fully embraced Dota, and I m reminded why I hate playing competitive games online. Even these low-level newbies we ve been matchmaked with are better than me. I know I could get better if I practised, but I don t want to. I don t want to Dota. 

MID NO GANK

Contrary to the belief of many pub players, the role of mid isn t just to bail out the other lanes. Using it to farm is viable too.

CHRIS This is salvageable, I think, but I m daunted by the number of small things I ve got no time to explain. I count off the enemy s full list of stuns and successfully teleport out of a fight gone wrong, but I realise that being able to do that represents the better part of thousands of hours of accumulated experience. It s no good saying teleport when they ve used all their stuns to people who have no idea how many stuns they have. 

PHIL We re relying on Chris too much. It s clear he wants us to start taking the initiative, but when he tells us he s coming to gank, we interpret it as him coming to singlehandedly make everything better. Even when he does lay out a step-bystep play, it turns out people are unpredictable. At one point, I hide in the treeline of the safe lane, waiting for Chris to draw the majority of the opposing team into Freezing Field s range. They move in and I pop it, waiting for the glorious snow-death. Instead, they move back. I miss everyone. It s deeply unsatisfying. 

CHRIS The game runs long—over 60 minutes—but we re pushed back steadily by Alchemist and Phantom Assassin, who both scale well into the late game. Eventually, our respawn timers run too long; there s nothing else to be done. If we re going to beat RPS, I resolve, we need to focus on fighting as a team

THE MATCH

PC Gamer vs RPS

CHRIS I think we ve got what it takes, although Andy is less sure. RPS have an advantage, because two of their players—Alice and Pip—have about as much Dota experience as I do. To make matters worse, one of their newbies takes a nap and doesn t turn up. They get a ringer, Quinns, who was a member of my original Dota group. He hasn t played in years, but a hundred hours of experience two years ago trumps five hours last week. I m sure it ll be fine if we stick to the plan.

I don t stick to the plan. I was going to play Storm Spirit again, but I don t want to beat up newbies with a hero they can t handle. I pick Invoker instead, a flashy mage who combines elements to conjure spells. He s an advanced character and I m merely all right with him—I feel this is a fair compromise. RPS don t compromise. They take Viper and Puck on their experienced players, characters that are very difficult for new players to deal with. Shit! 

ANDY The team seems fairly confident about the big finale. I m not. I m just planning to keep my head down, kill monsters, and hopefully not make too many mistakes. But then the match starts and I catch my first glimpse of a rival hero and suddenly all I care about is beating them. I manage to stay alive for the longest I ve ever stayed alive in Dota, even with a Drow Ranger pummelling my hero with magic arrows. This is promising. 

TOM This is it. I m a little terrified because I m laning against Pip s Viper. She keeps needling me from a distance, pushing me away from the creep wave. That means fewer last hits and less gold. There s some slightly frantic banter about the whereabouts of the RPS midlaner, who is apparently some sort of rainbow-coloured death fairy. I try to focus on killing creeps. 

PHIL Adam from RPS is playing Witch Doctor. I know how to play WD, and that, I realise, means I can respond to what he s doing. At one point, I see his health start to tick up, and realise he s activated Voodoo Restoration. I know for a fact that it s bottomed out his mana, because I once made the same mistake. Annoyingly, I can t do anything—Pip s Viper is too effective for us to get a kill—but I m pleased at myself for knowing a thing. 

CHRIS I m nervous. I don t get anywhere near the farm I need. An invisibility rune spawns, and I figure I can use it to make a game-opening play on the top lane. I do so, but Andy and Sam aren t anywhere near close enough to help and the enemy successfully withdraws. The long walk back to the fountain gives Alice plenty of time alone. 

SAMUEL Andy and I are gradually getting to grips with the tactical retreat. Early on I take out Alec s Drow Ranger, which is a great boost to my self-esteem. We re working well together. Then Alice arrives to ruin it all. 

ANDY Everything seems to be going well, but then I get killed by a giant floating frog fairy, and again, and again, and now I m mad. Every time I see the magic frog I run away, and I spend the next part of the match just hiding in a corner, killing creeps. 

PHIL I keep making logistical errors. I m so focused on where to place wards that I forget to buy them. Twice I mis-click, activating my ultimate when I meant to place a ward. It s frustrating, because despite having only played a few games, I already think I should be better than this. I m not the only one getting annoyed. Chris sounds frustrated. I don t know if it s with us or himself, or some combination of the two, but it has a profound effect on morale. Until now, we ve fed off Chris s relentless optimism and belief. We re not long into the match, and it s clear he s behind. His frustration hits me pretty hard. I go very quiet. 

CHRIS Alice has built a Dagon, a magical laser wand that allows you to explode underleveled heroes in a single hit. My ducklings are underleveled. It feels like a dick move. Really, though, I m cross at myself. I should have played what I knew, but I tried to both be noble and a show-off in a single stroke. I pull the team off their lanes, into a clump for safety. Regaining a bit of composure, I land a global snipe on Alec s fleeing Drow Ranger with Invoker s Sunstrike. We re still in this, barely. 

TOM It s a huge relief to get out of the lanes. I start amassing a bit of gold by chopping away at the wildlife in the jungles. I m gradually building the famed BKB , which I can activate to gain immunity from magic spells for a few precious seconds. I wait, and bide my time killing a colourful jungle ostrich. 

ANDY The latter half of a Dota match, I ve learned, is a lot more fun. Once you ve got better items and abilities, the combat feels a lot more satisfying. I m as engaged as I ve ever been in a Dota game. I want to beat these guys. 

CHRIS I m running the numbers. Alice is scary, but she s also pushing her luck. She over-extends more than once, and we re able to feint, counter-attack, and kill her. But the big picture looks grim. Quinns has Shadow Shaman, whose ultimate—Serpent Wards—allows him to place a nest of menacing snake-turrets. They re deadly against buildings and deadlier against players, and he s good at trapping people in them. At the beginning of this journey, I assumed I could ignore most of the little details and lead a team to victory by focusing on the major themes. I m wrong. You really need to know how to escape a Serpent Ward trap, how to clear them from a tower, and so on. There s no time to explain. They close on our base. 

TOM The mid-game felt like a fragmented mess of half-formed fights. Only now, on the doorstep of our ancient, do we finally rally. We re all in one place, and our mission is clear: kill anything that comes up the steps. That gives us the focus we need to start getting kills. We even manage to wipe their team at one point. We ve lost too many towers, though, and our barracks, which means we re being swarmed by enemy mega-creeps. My items have brought me back into the game, but I have to spend all my time beating back the hordes. It s a valiant last stand, but we can t get out of our base. The end is nigh. 

ANDY The RPS army is relentless. They won t stop coming. I m dying a lot, and they re all a higher level than me. Game over. I stand in a corner, lower my rifle, and wait patiently for the match to end. I just don t have Dota in my blood. 

PHIL I m distraught—partly at RPS s win, but mostly at myself. I didn t play well. I don t think I can play well yet. As I wallow in post-game ennui, I realise that I d really like to learn how. 

CHRIS I m heartbroken. I know this feeling. I look around the office. Phil feels it. Tom feels it. Sam feels it. Andy s already moved on. Something occurs to me: I can tell which of us will keep playing—they re the ones who are utterly, utterly crestfallen. Dota this weekend? Phil asks. I agree. Our next conversation concerns revenge.

PC Gamer

Three Lane Highway

Every week, Chris documents his complex ongoing relationship with Dota 2, Smite, and wizards in general.

The very first thing I wrote about Dota 2 was this article, originally posted to a blog and then republished on the Tumblr that preceded this column (before being republished, again, about a year ago. It's been around the houses.) In it, I describe the thing that drew me into Dota 2 in the first place: what I saw then as a 'performance-style structure' that recreated in an online game the kinds of experiences that I valued when I did a lot of live comedy. Dota was special to me from the start because I felt like each match—each 'performance'—taught me something about myself and the people I was playing with.

My perspective on the game has changed since then. What you're reading now, as it happens, is the 52nd weekly column I've written about Dota—a year of writing, representing almost three years of thinking too hard about wizards. Temporal neatness is as good a reason as any to explain the way that thinking has shifted.

If I started out thinking of Dota 2 as a complicated videogame and moved on to thinking of it as a form of performance, I now think of it almost exclusively as a sport. Much of what I used to understand as creative or social challenges—getting five people to work in harmony with one another, experimenting with the opportunities afforded by the hero pool—I now think of in terms of organised competition and self-improvement. Dota 2 isn't a toybox any more: it's a test. It's a wall to be climbed, an encounter with a system that demands respect and doesn't owe you anything.

There's something valuable about this transition, I think. The vast majority of games, even multiplayer games, promise the same sorts of experience: here is a challenge designed to be overcome. Here is how you level up; here is your reward for doing so. Here is entertainment, functionally: here is entertainment that, one way or another, is designed to make you feel good. Even when I started to perceive Dota in terms of performance I was still thinking about it as an entertainment product, albeit one where the players were collectively responsible for creating that entertainment for themselves.

While playing the game is entertaining, that's no longer the reason I do it. I play Dota to get better at Dota: to learn something, alone or with my friends, and to apply that understanding over and over again in a dozen different configurations. Play is practice, and practice is both gratifying and utterly, mood-crushingly frustrating. It's a fundamentally different approach to games than what is considered to be 'mainstream' or 'normal'. It's not even 'hardcore', because that as often as not translates to 'person who plays every game that comes out'. This is different: 'person that plays a game even when it isn't fun because they're getting something else out of it'.

I was thinking about this in a different sense, a couple of weeks ago, shortly after the release of Bloodborne on the PS4 (a crying shame that it's not coming to PC.) The backlash to the widespread acclaim for the game concerned its inaccessibility, challenging the ease with which critics praised Bloodborne for being punishing, repetitive, and occasionally unfair. Some of these arguments centred on the notion of the 'average' gamer, alienated from their hobby by a hardcore contingent who encouraged the creation of games that were too hard for others to enjoy. 'It's all well and good that you enjoy this', these arguments ran. 'But what about the guy on the street?'

I was the guy on the street when I started playing Dota 2—somebody whose critical interest in games was based on late-noughties singleplayer experiences with lofty cinematic or literary ambitions (BioShock, Mass Effect, GTA IV) and whose highest competitive achievements amounted to bronze-level StarCraft II and being terrible at Street Fighter. I was completely and abidingly average, and then I encountered Dota, and Dota taught me that committing myself to a single, very difficult game could teach me things—and deliver a sense of satisfaction—that I could only get by treating the game as a sport, a challenge to be personally overcome. There is a direct line from that change in mindset to my subsequent enthusiasm for Bloodborne. Dota opened up pathways in my brain.

The sting in the tail is that I am still completely and abidingly average, and not just in the sense that I'm a bit shit at Dota. Hundreds of thousands of people value challenge in just the same way that I now do. Many of them are playing League or Dota right now. The journey won't be the same one, in each case, but the pattern remains: the 'average' player of games values challenge, values being asked to get better at something, values having to work for something. This is true regardless of age, gender, or level of experience: these are the most popular videogames in the world for a reason.

There's a lot about my time with Dota that has made me question my place in the gaming community. It's a toxic environment, often, and there have been points where it really does feel just like being a rat fighting other rats for a go on the 'treat' button. Despite this the mass appeal of serious competition—of games as sports, collectively-owned hobbies that you engage in because they test you—gives me faith in gaming as a whole.

Wanting to get better at something is a very basic and very human drive, one that is diminished whenever somebody argues that the 'average' player just wants to be entertained. The great thing about taking a game seriously is that it proves that attitude wrong: not just in terms of what it says about the games industry, but in terms of what it says about people. People, it turns out, are very good at learning and working hard and, from time to time, at cooperating. Dota is no longer important to me because it represents a performance of personal traits: it's important to me because it represents a performance of these universal ones.

To read more Three Lane Highway, click here.

PC Gamer

The ESL is negotiating a deal with Twitch, Vulcun, and top Counter-Strike: Global Offensive teams to establish a new CS:GO league independent of Valve. What's particularly interesting (and potentially alarming) about the plan is that according to the Daily Dot, the new league would be exclusive, meaning that teams playing under its auspices would not be allowed to play anywhere else. The ESL, however, says it's not seeking to prevent teams attending tournaments put on by other organizations.

The plan is being backed by Vulcun, which earlier this week announced that it had raised $12 million in new financing through investors including Sequoia Capital, Universal Music Group, Mark Pincus of Zynga, and other "angel investors." Sources say the total value of the package offered by ESL and Vulcun runs around $18 million, a "hefty chunk of which" will be paid to teams in exchange for the exclusivity agreement. The deal will also reportedly see exclusive online broadcasting rights granted to Twitch.

The exclusivity angle was challenged by Managing Director of Pro Gaming Ulrich Schuzle, however, who tweeted a link to an ESL post on Reddit shortly after reports of the negotiations came out. "There is only one thing to say about this: ESL is not interested in locking out any tournament organizers from running CS:GO events, nor teams from attending them," it states.

Either way, as the Daily Dot points out, it seems clear that the ESL would like to distance itself from Valve. The CS:GO tournament at ESL One Cologne announced earlier this year is billed as the largest in the world, with a $250,000 prize pool, but unlike previous tournaments that were "community funded" in conjunction with Valve, this year's event is being covered entirely by the ESL. The change struck me as odd at the time—why say "no" if somebody else wants to foot the bill?—but now it's making a little more sense.

An awful lot of questions remain unanswered, including how the new league would handle Valve-imposed bans on players involved in the recent match-fixing scandal. It's not yet a done deal, and the report says other CS:GO organizations are trying to reach Valve, which is apparently in the midst of its annual employee holiday in Hawaii, in hopes that it will intervene. If they can't, or if Valve decides to stay hands-off, it will mean some very big changes to the pro CS:GO scene.

PC Gamer

Three Lane Highway

Every week, Chris documents his complex ongoing relationship with Dota 2, Smite, and wizards in general.

Last night marked the end of a long run of pretty bad Dota. I'd felt my enthusiasm ebb before, but never this substantially, and this is was the first time in the history of my almost-three-year-old hobby that I've considered taking an extended break. The main problems were thus: I wasn't winning very much, I didn't like how long games seemed to always run, and I felt like I was being more of a dick than usual.

The latter is the biggest problem. I don't valorise extreme 'saltiness'—I think it's a weakness, as I've written a bunch of times before—but I can't deny that I get frustrated with myself and with others. A little salt, I think, is fine. It's actually a pretty good analogy, as these things go—salt provides both flavour and, when things are icy, necessary friction. Aggression does the same thing. But too much of the former will kill you, and too much of the latter will kill your enthusiasm for the game—and your friends' enthusiasm for you, potentially.

Facing rising frustration in Dota, it was easy for me to commit more time to games I find less stressful—Destiny, Pillars of Eternity, Bloodborne, Smite. Eventually, that time commitment looked like it might threaten Dota's place in my favourites list. I then realised what I always tend to realise, in these moments: that when you're falling out of love with the game, you need to actively make a change. You need to figure out a way to make Dota fun again. You can't just wait for the salt to go away: you need to think about it.

Here's what I thought about.

Don't just play because you think you have to

Most of my Dota games start with someone asking me if I want to play Dota, which leads to playing when (a) I'd rather be doing something else and (b) I'm basically unready to do anything competitive. I play regardless because of the feeling that time not spent playing Dota is time that I'm secretly wasting. Does everybody feel that way about Dota? I assume so.

Rather than resisting the urge to say yes—and consequently playing fewer games—I find it helps to be the person pulling the stack together. If I'm choosing to play, it generally means that I feel ready to do so. What 'ready' means will change from person to person. For me, it's a case of having eaten and maybe gotten some sleep and generally feeling focused and like I might actually win this time. Emphasis on 'might'.

Actively choosing to play also means that I'm more accepting of the notion that the game might not go well. I know what I'm getting myself into, and one of my priorities is to feel good about the game afterwards: while that hopefully means winning the game, it definitely means not being a prick to people. If you go in with the right attitude, I find it's easier to come out with that attitude intact.

Resist the spiral of sadness (and saltiness)

Learning to pick up and try again after a loss is important when you play a lot of best-of-threes, but that's not the case for the majority of people who play Dota. Learning to recognise when you're on a losing streak and quit is important too: continuing to tilt is only going to make you feel worse. The perfect time to find something else to do is when playing more Dota is going to make you like Dota less.

This goes the other way. Last night, when I felt like I'd finally broken out of this kind of downward spiral, I only played a single game. I went 28/6/12 with an offlane Windranger: 'that'll do', I thought afterwards. 'That'll do for tonight'. I spent the rest of the evening clearing out a dungeon in Pillars of Eternity and killing a boss in Bloodborne. Because I ended on a high, my positive Dota experience retained its integrity for a little longer.

This isn't viable all of the time. You need to play more to get good, so bailing after your first match of the night isn't going to work in the long run. But it can be great for your salt levels: I finished that match feeling pretty good about the game, about myself, and about the people I was playing with, and that feeling hasn't abated yet.

Determine whether you need to change things up, or double down

One of my worst habits is that I rarely play the same hero twice even if I'm doing well. I know players who are the opposite: who will keep banging their head against the same wall even if it's never going to yield. Both approaches have problems, particularly when the game is becoming more intensely frustrating. I find myself playing characters and roles that I'm unfamiliar with, getting angry at myself for underperforming and second-guessing my teammates who find themselves dropping into the role I'd usually occupy. Similarly, getting counter-picked for the Nth time in a row because you only want to play Storm Spirit is going to make you angry.

In my case, I've found it helpful to pick a handful of characters and stick to them: a mixture of flavours of the month and old favourites that I reliably enjoy. By suspending the drive to 'learn' a new hero by leaping from one to another with every game, I'm playing a lot better. Playing a lot better, on the whole, is less stressful and leads to a more positive outlook.

The solution may go the other way for others: there are times when clicking the 'random' button opens up doorways and makes the game fresh again. Take a look at your situation, your skill level, and what it is that is making you angry about the game—then either mix things up or commit as appropriate.

Don't over-analyse

If there's a theme emerging here, it's this: that you can functionally take a 'break' from Dota by giving yourself a break from the most competitive parts of Dota. The people I know who have the biggest salt problems—myself included—are those who take their performance (too) seriously, and who are inclined to fix every problem they encounter by picking it apart, watching the replays, coming up with plans and data and formulae.

There's a time when that's appropriate, but I'm starting to learn that not every pub game warrants a post-game debriefing. We often think of 'salt' in terms of the frustration that manifests in-game—flaming, excuses, and so on. It's equally evident in the way you assess your own play, and that of others. It's here that the really insidious stuff creeps in, the micro-aggression that makes the game less fun for everybody. I'd be happy if I never again begin a sentence with "we just need to..." or "I was just trying to..." during yet another post-match breakdown. There are times where this works, where it makes you better. There are also plenty of times where it drags everybody's enjoyment of the game through the dirt.

It's a question of balance. Dota is distinct among competitive games for the way that it can be both extremely silly and extremely serious at even the highest levels of play: 'saltiness' and frustration arrive, I think, when you end up trending too much towards the latter half of that equation. My solution is to remind myself that it's okay to simply play for fun. That I seem to win more often when I play that way is a weird, but welcome, bonus.

To read more Three Lane Highway, click here.

PC Gamer

Team Fortress 2 would probably work as a musical, but, unless Valve has something spectacular planned for the game's ninth year, we'll have to make do with this mod. Created by 'Vincentor', it replaces every piece of dialogue in the game with exactly the same piece of dialogue, only auto-tuned.

The mod covers all vocals—including every class, NPC and the announcer. To install, just download the mod and extract it into "tf/custom" folder inside your Team Fortress 2 root directory. You'll have to supply the house backing track yourself.

PC Gamer

Transmissions: Element 120 is a "short single-player" Half-life 2 mod that equips players with a new kind of gravity gun that enables them to leap over buildings and fall from great distances without suffering damage. Taking place after the events of Half-Life 2: Episode 2, it challenges players to figure out where they are and why they've been sent there. On the technical side, it boasts custom levels, code, models, sounds, and a number of upgrades to the Source Engine, including enhanced dynamic lighting, improved support for complex structures, and better AI. And it was all created by one guy.

"Hello, I've been working on this half-life 2 mod for 2 years, Transmissions: Element 120. It was a lot of hard work, coding, mapping, designing, modeling on nights and weekends but I'm finally done and its now available for free," the creator, who goes by the name of Shokunin000, announced on Reddit. "I hope you all like it, I put a lot of myself into this so be nice and enjoy. :) and of course valve deserves a ton of credit for letting me use their content to begin with."

I haven't played it yet, so I can't say if it's any good, but somebody at Gearbox certainly thinks so, because shortly after Shokunin000 posted his message, he was offered a job interview. "Hey, do you want a job in the industry? I work at Gearbox Software, we are currently looking for talent," a Redditor by the name of Jesterhole wrote in reply to the announcement. "This is 10x times better than most submissions I've seen. Great work. You should apply. I'd be excited to interview you. Good luck!"

In response, Shokunin000 described Gearbox as a "great company" but said he needed to discuss the offer with his family before he committed to it. We'll let you know which way he decides to go when we find out—in the meantime, why not give the mod a try? Download it free from transmission-element120.com, and if you dig it, throw it some love on Steam Greenlight.

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