In 2013 Valve told us that it s making a controller, an operating system, and is sanctioning PC manufacturers to create Steam Machines. The three-pronged campaign to put Steam in your living room, deliberately revealed ahead of the launch of the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, was the biggest PC gaming news of the year. It s a move that establishes Valve as something that resembles a platform holder, something it s been hesitant to do despite being the PC s biggest online retailer.
We re glad that Valve is removing some of the obstacles to playing Civilization V on our couch. It gets us imagining PC gaming as a more social experience for friends, family members, and whatever other human beings you let into your house. That picture will come into focus at CES next week, when we expect a second wave of information from Valve on its initiative.
We ll also hopefully leave Vegas with a better understanding of how versatile the Steam Controller is, which we ve been investigating. But even if Valve s controller exceeds our expectations and plays a very wide set of games comfortably, there s an serious need for a keyboard and mouse platform that can be used effortlessly on a couch. I m challenging accessory makers like Razer and Logitech to make one.
Just 290 of Steam s 2,459 games feature full controller support, and 502 feature partial support a cumulative third of the library. Even if we give generous consideration to Valve s claim that the Steam Controller older games into thinking they re being played with a keyboard and mouse, I m still going to need to edit command lines, to chat with my Steam friends, to Alt + Tab, and no amount of virtual keyboards, haptic feedback, and autocomplete will ameliorate that. In particular, I don t have high hopes for how well hotbar-heavy games like Dota 2, Starbound, Path of Exile, RTSes and MMORPGs will handle on the Steam Controller.
The Phantom Lapboard. "Do you like typing on a keyboard that s locked at a significant angle to the natural plane of your hands? Of course you don t," Maximum PC wrote in 2010.
The peripheral, though, isn t actually the problem it s the absence of a stable surface in the living room that rests above your legs. Our friends at Tested put it this way in an article from last July: If you just put your mouse and keyboard on the coffee table and perch on the edge of your couch, you're gonna hurt your neck and back, craning your neck to see the TV. Conventional mice and keyboards can work in the living room, but not without a desklike platform to rest them on.
Infinium Labs yes, that Infinium Labs now known as Phantom Entertainment, produced one of the only commercial solutions to this problem, the Phantom Lapboard: a $110, wireless, cantered keyboard and mouse combo. It s bad. The bottom line is that this thing is bad, our sister site Maximum PC said in its 2010 review. The keyboard only tilts at a single angle, the mouse only features two buttons and a scroll wheel, and there s no lip on the surface to contain it. The second you take your hand off the mouse to type something, that sucker s clattering to the floor, MaxPC wrote.
The Couchmaster is the weirder and even more expensive alternative, a hulking, 24 -wide, upholstered thigh prison that at least provides a stable, ergonomic surface. But it s a frown-inducing $180, and its cumbersome shape doesn t seem conducive to easy storage or use in any living room that doesn t feature a wide couch.
Apart from Ikeaing something wooden and rigid together, the two options PC gamers have are pricey and strange. If anything, they show us two designs that any future lapboards should avoid, or at least iterate on aggressively. With Valve s initiative, third-party manufacturers should be scrambling to produce a lapboard that accommodates gaming mice and keyboards, if only because it s an item that will help them sell more mice and keyboards. Razer has a small history of experiments like the Artemis prototype and the Razer Hydra, but more practically, they already make left-handed keypads like the Orbweaver and Nostromo, devices that would be the perfect starting points for a compact lapboard. Logitech would be another good candidate; they make plenty of mainstream wireless peripherals, and on the gaming side they have an ambidextrous keypad we like, the G13.
Valve should want such a peripheral to be available as an alternative to its controller. After all, a sturdy, inexpensive, versatile gaming lapboard would absolutely increase the adoption of living room PCs and SteamOS. Valve s goal isn t to sell controllers, it s to get you playing PC games on your couch, and we should all want that proposition to be as effortless as possible.
An innovative controller can t and won t replace the decades-long relationship PC gamers have with WASD because PC gamers don t like compromise we expect high framerate, high resolution, low cost, and total freedom to modify our devices and games. And while we re grateful for a controller that s built with PC gamers and PC games in mind, it s essential that we get a compromise-free way of bringing the core implements of our hobby, the mouse and keyboard, into the living room.
By Chris Kinniburgh.
It was supposed to be a short break. I told myself Civilization V wouldn't suck me in when I began playing on the big screen. The game will be too tedious. The text will be too small. I was wrong.
I've spent the past couple days going through every game I thought would be interesting to play, and Civilization V on a couch, staring at a big screen TV is among most engaging, relaxing gaming experiences I've ever had with a game.
There were a few hurdles to jump before I began. I chose to decrease the resolution to 1360x768, giving me a 16:9 resolution that looks fine on the big screen while giving me slightly larger text than 1920x1080.
There are two comfortable configurations for the trackpads. First, you can set the left trackpad to control moving the map while the right trackpad controls the mouse. Alternatively, you may choose to use both trackpads to control the mouse (as shown in Valve s Steam Controller demonstration of Paper's Please).
My preferred setup has the left trackpad move the camera while the right controls the mouse. Left and right triggers correspond to right and left clicks respectively. The flipped mouse buttons feel intuitive while playing, though causes a bit of cognitive dissonance whenever a game directs me to click with the left mouse button and I use my right hand. I'll report back in a few months if I've completely lost my sense of direction.
Using the dual mouse method feels quick, but the trackpad allows me to move fast enough through the screen that I only need to lift my thumb once to get from the top left corner to the bottom right. While that 10th of a second speed increase is nice, it's outweighed by the speed gained through quick control over the map.
Moving through Civ V's menu screens is effortless. The Advisor Counsel, Overview Screens, Social Policies, and Era Map are all bound to keys, and there are a few left over to handle zooming in and out, and Next Turn. With these bound, I found myself more quickly navigating the Civilization user interface than I had in my previous couple hundred hours with a mouse and keyboard.
It's also surprisingly easy to move the cursor quickly with precision. While I don't expect to be effectively splitting my Marines in StarCraft any time soon, I can certainly play a turn-based game without frustration.
Sitting 17 feet away from a 50-inch television, the relatively small text is easily parsed. With responsive controls, a comfortable seat, and a large television, I found myself able to quickly enter the flow state that Civ V does so dangerously well.
Along with Civilization V, I've spent a bit of time trying out FTL, which was similarly simple and easy to enjoy. While you won't be able to bind every hotkey available in the game, the overall experience of boxing and moving your crew feels natural and quick. The ability to pause the game while playing also enables players to slowly familiarize themselves with the controls.
I also decided to try my hand at StarCraft II. After taking some time to think through any reasonable hotkey layout and determining there was none, I proceeded by playing with the controller's default keybindings when plugged into a PC: the mouse controlled by the right trackpad, map with the left trackpad, and mouse buttons mapped to the triggers. The games were difficult. I eventually mapped the attack-move command to the right bumper, and S and D to the left and right half of the trackpad. With these commands, I was slightly more able to macro while playing. The game was still tedious. I considered investing another hour into coming up with a way of mapping a couple control groups and re-working StarCraft s grid system to use fewer keys, but I thought better of it.
While the steam controller has the ability to control most games, the effort required to enjoy real time strategy games is great. First you have to spend time finding a comfortable mapping of controls. Next, the effort required to relearn a new control scheme, a process made more difficult by the lack of onscreen button prompts and reminders. Only then can you forget about the controller and just enjoy the game. Increasingly I'm finding myself more and more interested in playing games that quickly move over those first two steps. Platformers are easy to map to a controller, and have generally felt great while playing. Slow paced games like Civ V, FTL, or Hearthstone are relatively easy to map and their slow pace allows for the time needed to come to grips with a new control scheme.
Chris' Steam Controller tests continue, what would you like us to take a look at next? Let us know in the comments.
Sid Meier is a game design legend. He co-founded MicroProse in 1982 and created Civilization, one of the longest-running and most loved series in gaming. Now the creative director at Firaxis and overseer for both the Civ and XCOM franchises, Meier can be choosy about what he works on. His choice: Ace Patrol: Pacific Skies, a WWI-era turn-based strategy game that's small in price but big on strategy, and even influenced by tabletop games.
PC Gamer spoke to Meier about his interest in smaller game design, and how it let his team take some risks. He also shared his view of the changing strategy game market, and how he thinks all gamers are strategy gamers at heart.
PC Gamer: What drew you to Ace Patrol?
Sid Meier: It was the opportunity to make a game in a shorter time frame, with a smaller team. I guess the last game that I actually finished was Civ Revolutions. We ve done a bunch of big games, Civ and XCOM, and they were awesome. During that time, I got the urge to do a game with a smaller team that we could do in a quicker period of time. With a lower budget you can take more chances and do things that are a little more risky. Doing something on the iPad was an interesting new challenge a new type of interface, a new device. I d had this idea for a World War I flying game, doing it turn-based. Originally I designed it with cards in mind. When we put it on the iPad, we had virtual cards and things like that. It was a game design idea I d had floating around for a while.
There s a prevalent board game influence. What were some of the games you were looking at as you were thinking about mechanics?
There was a game a while back called Wings of War. Basically each player had a book, and you d be on a certain page. Based on what maneuver you chose, you would both go to a different page. That was a fun mechanic. Not one that we borrowed necessarily, but it was a turn-based way of looking at air combat, which I thought was interesting. Board games are just so clear in their representations and in their mechanics. That was what we were going for, a look that you could look at and say, I get it, these plays are flying in that direction, and they re so far off the ground There s a clarity and an accessibility to a board game style of approach that I think we wanted to build upon with Ace Patrol.
That s always our goal, to give you something that you can start to play fairly quickly and easily, but has that depth and that replayability. That s something we always strive for, going back to the original Civilization. A game that s easy to start playing, but has this depth and replayability. I think everyone, at heart, is a strategy game player. They just don t know it yet. We have to get them started playing, and all of sudden they realize that this is interesting, to get these new maneuvers or try these new skills.
The hex map is an accessibility thing, too. It s pretty clear once you see those hexes That kind of regulates the game and makes things very clear, the orientation of the planes and their relative directions and the distance you can move. The hex map, which we embraced with Civ V, has a lot of accessibility features to it, and we take advantage of that as well.
You mentioned that Ace Patrol was developed with a smaller team and a smaller scope. How big was the original team?
We had seven or eight people working on it for a little less than a year. I guess that came out in May, so it s been about five or six months working on Pacific Skies. Compared to Civ or XCOM, that s a very small team.
But it seems like you re definitely experimenting with different pricing models for what s really the same game. You were allowing a little bit of content in the original iOS game and then charging for the extra campaigns. How do you feel like that strategy has worked out so far?
The model that we really were most comfortable with was the classic PC: a free demo, and then basically a game that you pay for. When we did Ace Patrol, the closest thing to that in the iOS market looked like this idea of free-to-play, and then purchasing different parts of the game. That felt to us like, you get to kind of demo it for free, get to a certain point, and then if you like it you buy it and if you don t like it you don t buy it.
What we discovered was that free-to-play brings a lot of baggage with it, because of players previous experience. It really isn t perceived as a demo followed by a purchase. It s perceived almost like a game within a game. How much can I play without paying? What tricks are they going to use to get me to pay? It becomes almost a distraction from the game itself. So with the Steam release of Ace Patrol, we went to just a premium model here s the price of the game, if you want it buy it.
Serious players have had some negative experiences with free-to-play games. Where we are now is, we re looking at this as a premium game, a game that you buy. If you want to figure out what the system is like, you can play the iOS version of Ace Patrol for free and get a feel for the mechanics. If you like it, you might want to buy Pacific Skies or whatever. We feel that the premium model just buying the game fits more with what our players want. They want to buy the game and play it, and not have to worry about if it s all there, or if we re going to ask them for more money.
What are some of the things that you think have worked in recent editions of Civilization and some things that haven t worked?
It s been interesting that each Civ has been led by a different designer: Soren Johnson with Civ IV and then Jon Shafer with Civ V. They ve each brought a little bit of a different perspective to the game. They re all building on the core mechanics and the core gameplay flow that is fundamental to Civ. Civ V specifically has supported a couple of really good expansions as well. Even though a new Civ only comes out every couple of years, there s still energy and new stuff happening all the time with that franchise. In terms of what didn t work I cannot think of anything.
I think what maybe didn t work on Civ V is that it s a PC-only kind of game. I think that s fine: most of our players are on PC. But the world is moving. In our dreams we d love to have it on more platforms. There s no reason why it couldn t be on iOS and other places. That s really kind of a resource and strategy question. We d like to have it on more platforms. But the PC supports what we re trying to do the best right now, so that s where we start.
Strategy games are going through a renaissance, where a lot of people lay a lot of arguably complex games, such as Crusader Kings II. Do you still see strategy gamers as this small hardcore niche market, or is that growing and becoming a more substantial part of the market?
Well, we d certainly like to believe that it s growing. We re seeing that kind of growth, certainly, in the reception to things like Civ and XCOM. There s certainly a very avid and active strategy game audience out there. They re our bread and butter fans. We get a lot of encouragement and ideas and support from them. I think the growth is modest, but continual.
You have to convince people they like strategy. It seems a little daunting at first, when you hear about Civ. It takes 20 hours to play, and then you want to play again? Not everybody says that s what they re looking for. But once you get them to try it, they see how it works and what kind of fun it is. So I think we re gradually accumulating more and more strategy players. But when you look at the market as a whole, it s not the same kind of hit-driven or fad-driven market that you see with other things. The strategy market is pretty solid and steady. Facebook games kind of grew, and then they didn t grow. Certain styles and genres appear, and they re innovative and new and they catch on, but they might not have the depth that a strategy game has, and so they have a limited amount of appeal. Then they re exhausted.
There s good news and bad news with strategy gaming. It s pretty reliable. The audience is there for the long term. But you don t get these flashes of popularity that some of these other genres might experience.
What s the next big thing for strategy games? Is it something like getting lots of people together playing a strategy game at once? Is it more about accessibility, like getting on other platforms? Is it creating the biggest, most epic grand strategy game in the world?
We actually have a philosophy in terms of Civ that with every new feature we put in, we need to take something else out. We think it s reached the appropriate level of epicness and grandness, and going beyond that is going too far, in terms of complexity or length of play.
Back when I was young, we used to make flight simulators. They kept getting more and more complicated. The cockpit started taking over more and more of the screen, and what you saw outside got less and less. With every generation There were some great games, like the Falcon series. But with every generation, some people said, this is getting to be too much for me, I won t buy it anymore. Eventually it just out-complexified itself.
What we want to do is avoid that with Civ. We think we ve found a good balance of playability, depth and complexity. With Civ, we re actually deliberately keeping the complexity at the current level, because that seems to be what people enjoy. So I don t think the future is a super grand awesomely complex game. That s not something that we think makes sense for our players.
I think your idea of a multiplayer strategy game is really intriguing. If anything has changed over the last couple of years, it s the accessibility and the almost 24/7-ness of connectedness. We take it for granted these days, that our internet access is always there. Translating that into a game concept is probably one of the possible next big steps in gaming. Five years ago we had to go somewhere and sit down and push a button to turn off our normal life and go to a place to game. Today we have the tools to game with us every waking and sleeping moment. You ve got your phone or your tablet or something right there with you. So integrating that into a game idea is maybe something that s around the corner.
I think the other possibility for the future is this migration of casual gamers into more dedicated gamers and eventually into strategy gamers. We re seeing people move in that direction. We ve always seen that over time, but now there s probably a larger audience of casual gamers with iOS and things like that. It may be inevitable that they evolve to become more serious gamers.
Nov 24, 2013
If you filled a sock with Dungeons & Dragons dice and knocked Sid Meier unconscious with it, what do you think he'd dream of? Possibly something like Faerun, a mod that brings Forgotten Realms to life inside Civilization V: Gods & Kings. Lead civilizations of elves, dwarves, and orcs, recruit druids and wizards, battle dragons and ogres, and learn powerful spells. (Also, please don't knock Sid Meier unconscious with a sock full of dice. Or with anything else.)
There's a ton of civilizations to choose from in the Faerun mod, all straight out of the Forgotten Realms universe. Play as Cormyr, Land of the Purple Dragon, led by Princess Alusair Nacacia Obarskyr. Or choose the dwarf Bruenor Battlehammer of Mithral Hall. Sarevok Anchev of Baldur's Gate fame? Hells yeah. And about two dozen more, representing most of the major nations you've encountered in Forgotten Realms D&D or video games.
Naturally, when forced to choose from a list of civilizations, I went with the least civilized civilization I could imagine: the orcs. The Hordes of the North, lead by King Obould Many-Arrows. I founded my city, started clearing forests and creating mines (seems more orc-y than building farms), and began churning out warriors, raiders, and archers while looking around for human civilizations to go to war with.
Look, it's Neverwinter in Civ V! Weird but cool.
One of the cooler changes in the mod is that instead of adopting policies, you now adopt schools of magic. Choose from Conjuration, Illusion, Enchantment, Transmutation, Necromancy, and others, and unlock D&D spells like Clairvoyance, Fireball, Silence, Unseen Servant, Color Spray, Raise Dead, Disintegrate, and even Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Mansion. As an orc civilization, magic doesn't really feel like a natural choice, but I went with offensive spells like Fireball, defensive spells like Stoneskin, and anything that seemed like it would help in combat.
As an orc civilization, I prefer sabers to spells. But I'll take a fireball or two.
I discover some nearby City-States ripe for raiding and pillaging, but before I've fully built up my armies, something happens: a dragon is spotted to the south. A flippin’ dragon!
Could use a hobbit with a ring right about now.
Sure, it’s a little weird, sending a bunch of orcs after a dragon. Fighting dragons is more a job for heroes, or at least humans. I can’t resist checking out the dragon, though, so I send two squads of archers down to find him. The dragon’s name is Thauglorimorglorus, and he's actually there, in the game, flapping his wings and everything. Cool!
It’s not particularly easy killing Thaug. It takes ages to whittle down his health and I have to send an additional two squads to finish the job. Worth it, though, as destroying the dragon nets me more than 3,000 gold from the big pile of treasure he's been hoarding.
Even for an ogre, he's big for an ogre.
Another awesome event: an ogre is spotted near my city! And he’s massive. He fills almost a whole hex by himself. This doesn't particularly fit my memory of D&D ogres, which were definitely big, but not giant-sized. But hey, I’m fine with ogres being giant, because I’m currently producing my own ogres in my own city. And they should be done right about... now.
My ogres are big, but they're not big-big. I feel cheated.
My ogres are ogre-sized, and the barbarian ogres are giant-sized? That seems unfair. My three ogres would have to stand on each other’s shoulders wearing a giant trench coat to pass themselves off as one of the wild ogres. Ah, well, who cares. The important thing is, I've got orcs and giant ogres and regular ogres on my screen and they’re fighting each other, in Civ V. Can't really complain.
Not long after the ogre is dispensed with, another event pops up: a necromancer has appeared to the north of Many-Arrows, and trailing him is a horde of zombie soldiers. My orges get their butts kicked by the necromancer, but my orc archers don’t have much trouble, and defeating the sorcerer gives us a buttload of weave points to spend unlocking new magic spells.
Now I'm starting to feel a bit more orc-y.
Fighting dragons, ogres, and necromancers is cool, but I’m not really gonna feel like I’m running an orc civilization until I start sacking and pillaging some human cities. I dispatch my archery units to the port City-State of Luskan, and soon the port and surrounding countryside are engulfed in black smoke and I'm feeling more like a huge band of marauding orcs. Luskan is mine without much trouble.
Next, I turn my eyes on the city of Surkh, but as soon as I begin the siege, about eight different things all go wrong at once. A giant ogre appears right between my Many-Arrows and Surkh, which is a problem because I’m moving another bunch of archers through that pass to bolster my siege. Another necromancer appears, preventing my group of ogres from joining the siege. I try bringing up some pikesman I have to the south, but they run into some barbarians. And my party of orc raiders who have been auto-exploring suddenly finds itself facing off with a bunch of Chultan knights on horseback.
Most of these fights go quite poorly. The giant ogre easily hacks through my wimpy archers, cutting two entire squads down. The raiders fighting the knights hang on for a bit, but the knights are assisted by Chultan pikemen, who make short work of them. The Necromancer destroys all but one of my ogre-sized ogres, and though another band of archers manage to kill him, they’re cut off by the four squads of zombie soldiers that the necromancer brought with him. And Surkh repels the rest of my attackers, forcing me to limp away with hardly any units left.
Fun, though! This is a really neat mod. The modder, framedarchitecture, clearly knows his Forgotten Realms lore and history. You can check out the rest of his Civ mods in the workshop here, and definitely try Faerun if you're a fan of D&D or Forgotten Realms material.
Installation: The mod is in the Steam workshop, so you can just subscribe. There's also a handy guide for anyone having installation issues here. And, for Mac users, this thread will get you started.
Mmm, scrambled continents. Perfect with a bit of black pepper and toast and - oh. I seem to have hilariously gotten the wrong end of the stick. Scrambled Continents is a new map pack for Civ 5, announced and released right now, which randomises the contents of continents each time you start a new game to ensure "endless replayability on countless plausible worlds". They've even gone and thawed Antarctica, giving us an early look at life in the post Global Warming-era.
Firaxis will follow up Scrambled Continents on November 5th with the similarly mashed-up Scrambled Nations, which is the same deal but for nation states rather than chunks of land. As you may have guessed, both bits of DLC are inspired by the Civ 5 scenario Scrambled Africa, and they'll set you back $4.99/£3.99 a piece. Scrambled eggs, meanwhile, shouldn't cost any more than a couple of quid, even in That London.
Valve's Steam Controller is a funny-looking thing—an owl-like game pad with dual trackpads instead of analog sticks. It pairs with Valve's free SteamOS and whatever living room PC it's installed on as a solution to the clumsiness of using a mouse and keyboard on the couch. In a new video demonstration, Valve does its best to convince us that Steam Controller really offers a level of control comparable to our traditional instruments of gaming.
First we see Portal 2, which demonstrates that—unlike analog sticks—the trackpads can be configured for 1-to-1 control. "Directly move your thumb a fixed amount of distance on the pad, and the view will correspond to the fixed amount of distance," says Hardware Engineer Jeff Bellinghausen. Meanwhile, he says, the left trackpad has been configured as a D-pad to simulate WASD.
Later in the video, Bellinghausen plays Counter-Strike: Global Offensive with great accuracy, though his aiming looks a bit slower than it might have been with a mouse—obviously, we'd need to see a comparison video of him playing with a mouse to know for sure. Civilization V and Papers, Please also demonstrate how accurate the trackpad is for mouse-based games.
It looks like it works—not just like a mouse, but like something more accurate and responsive than analog sticks. Trying to move a mouse pointer around with velocity-based control is miserable, and this doesn't look miserable. Seeing isn't believing—we need to feel this thing in our hands to judge it—but it does build confidence, and Valve will be posting updates like this "frequently."
Oct 5, 2013
Remember when buying a game didn’t feel like a guarantee of seeing the ending? There are still hard games out there, Dark Souls flying the flag most recently, but increasingly, the challenge has dripped out or at least softened, often leading to sadly wasted opportunities. What would Skyrim be like, for instance, if its ice and snow wasn’t simply cosmetic, but actually punished you for going mountain climbing in your underpants?
With a quick mod – Frostfall in this case – you’re forced to dress up warm before facing the elements, and things become much more interesting. That’s just one example, and over the next couple of pages you’ll find plenty more. These aren’t mods that just do something cheap like double your enemy’s hit-points, they’re full rebalances and total conversions. Face their challenge, and they’ll reward you with both a whole new experience and the satisfaction of going above and beyond the call of duty.
Game: Stalker: Call of Pripyat
All those weapons scattered around? Gone. Anomalies? Now more dangerous. Magic mini-map? Forget it. Valuable quest rewards? Good luck. Things you do get: thirsty, and factions who send goons after you if you anger them. On the plus side Pripyat is much more active, with a complete sound overhaul, and new NPCs to meet – who all have to play by the rules too, with no more infinite ammo. If you can survive here, you’ve got a good chance when the actual apocalypse comes.
Fallout: New Vegas
Link: Nexus Mods
Nevada is a good example of making things more difficult without being openly psychotic. Levelling is slower, players and NPCs get less health, and obvious features are now in, such as armour only being a factor in headshots if the target actually has head protection. It’s also possible to toggle some extra-hardcore options, such as food no longer healing and taking care of hunger/thirst/ sleep on the move. There’s a sack of new content, and an Extra Options mod is also available, offering even more control.
Despite what modern ‘old-school’ shooters would have you think, Doom was a relatively sedate experience – fast running speed, yes, but lots of skulking in the dark and going slow. Not any more! Brutal Doom cranks everything up to 11, then yawns and goes right for 25.6. We’re talking extra shrapnel, execution attacks, tougher and faster monsters, metal music, and blood, blood, blood as far as your exploding eyes can see. It’s compatible with just about any level you can throw at it, turning even E1M1 into charnel house devastation. The enemies don’t get it all their own way, as Doomguy now starts with an assault rifle rather than simply a pistol, and a whole arsenal of new guns has been added to the Doom collection – including the BFG’s big brother.
Full Combat Rebalance 2
Game: The Witcher 2
This streamlines the combat and makes the action closer to how Geralt’s adventure might have played out in the books. He’s more responsive, can automatically parry incoming attacks, begins with his Witcher skills unlocked, and no longer has to spend most fights rolling around like a circus acrobat. But he’s in a tougher world, with monsters now figuring out counterattacks much faster, enemies balanced based on equipment rather than levels, and experience only gained from quests, not combat. Be warned this is a 1.5GB file, not the megabyte Hotfix that’s claimed.
Elder Scrolls games get ever more streamlined, and further from the classic RPG experience. Requiem drags Skyrim back, kicking and screaming. The world is no longer levelled for your convenience. Bandits deliver one-hit kills from the start. The undead mock arrows, quietly pointing out their lack of internal organs with a quick bonk to your head. Gods hold back their favour from those who displease them. Most importantly, stamina is now practically a curse. Heavy armour and no training can drain it even if you’re standing still, and running out in battle is Very Bad News. Combine this with Frostfall, and Skyrim finally becomes the cold, unforgiving place it claims to be.
Total War: Shogun 2
Not only is this one of the most comprehensive mods any Total War game has ever seen, its modular nature makes it easy to pick and choose the changes that work best for the experience you want. Together, the campaign AI is reworked, as are the skills and experience systems, diplomacy and technology trees. There are over 100 new units. Campaigns are also longer, providing more time to play with all this, with easier access to the good stuff early on in the name of variety. There’s even a sound module that adds oomph to rifles. Add everything, or only the bits you want. It’s as much of a tactical decision as anything else on the road to conquering Japan.
Game of Thrones
Game: Crusader Kings II
Real history doesn’t have enough bite for you? Recast the whole thing with Starks, Lannisters, Freys and the rest and it will. This doesn’t simply swap a few names around, but works with the engine to recreate specific scenarios in the war for the Iron Throne. Individual characters’ traits are pushed into the foreground, especially when duels break out. Wildlings care little about who your daddy was. It’s best to know a fair amount about the world before jumping in, and the scenarios themselves contain spoilers, but you’re absolutely not restricted to just following the story laid down in the books.
Game: Grand Theft Auto IV
Guess what this one does. A bowling league for Roman? Cars that drive themselves? A character who appears to tell Niko “You have $30,000 in your pocket, you don’t need to goon for assholes” after Act 2? No, of course not. These guns put a little reality back into the cartoon that is GTA. The missions weren’t written with that in mind, obviously, but there’s nothing stopping you from giving it a shot. Worst case: murdering random civilians on the street is much quicker, easier and more satisfying. At least until the cops show up to spoil the fun. Range, accuracy, damage, ammo and fire rate are all covered, though be warned that you shouldn’t expect perfect accuracy from your upgraded hardware. This is GTA after all. Realism is not baked into its combat engine.
The Long War
Game: XCOM: Enemy Unknown
You’re looking at eight soldier classes, many more missions, invaders as focused on upgrades as your own science team, and a much longer path to victory. Research is slow, not least to make early weapon upgrades more useful, while the aliens are constantly getting more powerful. Their ships are better, their terror missions are more regular, and more of them show up for battle. In exchange, you get to field more Interceptors, the council is easier to appease, and the ETs don’t cheat as much.
Game: Far Cry 3
Ziggy makes Rook Island a more natural place, removing mission requirements for skills, cutting some of the easier ways to earn XP, increasing spawn rates to make the island busier, and throwing away the magic mini-map in favour of a compass. The second island is also unlocked from the start. Smaller changes include randomised ammo from dropped weapons, being able to climb hills that you should realistically be able to, and wingsuit abilities made available earlier to get more out of them.
Minecraft has a Survival mode, but it’s not desperately challenging. Terrafirmacraft takes it seriously, with hunger and thirst that must be dealt with at all times, and key elements added such as the need to construct support beams while mining to prevent cave-ins, and a seasonal cycle that determines whether or not trees will produce fruit. Many more features are to be added, but there’s enough here already to make survival about much more than throwing together a Creeper-proof fort.
Game: Torchlight II
Link: Synergies Mod
This adds a new act to the game, over a hundred monsters, new rare bosses, a new class – the Necromancer – more and tougher monsters and the gear to take them on. There are also endgame raids to add challenge once the world is saved yet again, and more on the way – including two new classes (Paladin and Warlock). It’s the top-ranked Torchlight II mod on Steam Workshop, and easily the most popular. Be aware that it’s still in development, and has a few rough edges.
Game: Civilization V
Link: Steam Workshop
While Brave New World has officially given Civ V a big shake up, for many players Nights remains its most popular add-on. It’s a comprehensive upgrade, adding new buildings, wonders, technologies and units, with a heavy focus on policies and making the AI better. The single biggest change is how it calculates happiness, citizens adding cheer simply by existing, but the slow march of war and other miseries detracting from the good times. Annexed a city? Don’t expect too many ticker-tape parades. Yet keeping happiness up is crucial, as it’s also the core of a strong military. This rebalancing completely changes how you play, while the other additions offer plenty of scope for new tactics and even more carefully designed civilisations.
Ultimate Difficulty Mod
Link: TTLG Forums
This makes Dishonored’s enemies more attentive, faster and able to hear a pin drop from the other side of the map. When you get into a fight, it quickly becomes an all-out street war. The biggest change is to Dishonored’s second most abusable ability: the Lean (Blink of course being #1). Corvo can no longer sit behind scenery, lean out into an enemy’s face and be politely ignored. He’s now much more likely to be spotted – especially in ghost runs, where his advantages are now limited to the Outsider’s gifts rather than the Overseers’ continued lack of a local Specsavers.
Game: Deus Ex
New augmentations! Altered AI! Randomised inventories! Also a few time-savers: instead of separate keys and multitools for instance, a special keyring has both, while upgrades are used automatically if necessary. Difficulty also changes the balance considerably, from the standard game to ‘Realistic’ mode where you only get nine inventory slots, to ‘Unrealistic’, which makes JC Denton the cyborg killing machine he’s meant to be, but at the cost of facing opponents who warrant it. In this mode he gets double-jumping powers, and automatically gobbles health items when he gets badly wounded. Good luck though, I still got nowhere.
Ancient Greece is great and all, but how does it stack up against the Candy Kingdom or the Nightosphere? For you Adventure Time fans, the time has come to find out. The Adventure Time collection of mods (by modder “The Man With The Eyebrows”) lets you play Civilization V as Finn the Human, Princess Bubblegum, Marceline, Ice King, Fire Princess, and even that guy who really smells like dog buns, the Earl of Lemongrab. Come on, grab your friends, and go to very hostile lands.
First off, these mods require Gods and Kings or Brave New World, or both. You can check the requirements on the collection page here. Also, don’t expect a major graphic or audio overhaul of the game, because there isn’t one. For instance, there’s no 3D representation of Finn's Tree Fort or Ice King's mountain, you won’t see Princess Bubblegum’s famous Banana Guard sacking enemy cities, and you won’t hear Lemongrab shriek “UNACCEPTABLE” as he’s invaded by the Ghandi’s war elephants. The changes are largely limited to the text panes, and the attributes of unique units, abilities, and buildings. So, it requires a little imagination (ironically, the one thing Finn himself is completely devoid of).
The weather? The usual. There's ice everywhere and it smells like penguins.
I decided to start as Ice King, sending my settlers (who, in my mind, are comprised of a bunch of penguins) to look for a nice frosty mountaintop to found the Ice Kingdom. I find a likely looking spot, surrounded by snow, cold ocean water, and imposing glaciers, and get to work.
I just hope this doesn't lead to another Great Mushroom War.
Once I’ve founded the kingdom, I send my warriors out to clear out a few nearby barbaric hordes and explore a bit, and I send my workers out to build farms. As Ice King, in possession of Ice Magic, you can treat frozen tundra like other civilizations treat grasslands, so I have my workers go out and build snow farms on every inch of available land.
I'm bombarding my enemies with arrows, but I'm pretending it's Ice Magic.
What the hell is a snow farm? I have no idea. But a massive collection of snow farms seems like something Ice King would want on his land, right? I can almost hear him in my head, trying to explain the logic of snow farms. “Ya know... snow fawwms! There’s little fawwmers made outta snow... they plant snow seeds, they grow into... snow vegetables. There’s little snow pigs and snow cows and the fawwmer’s wife, ohh, she’s an icy little numbah, heh heh. Oh, look, ovah there! Someone’s gettin’ hit in the boingaloings!”
I research animal husbandry, what with all the penguin weddings I'll probably be presiding over. I also study writing (something I should probably do in real life at some point) so Ice King can unlock his unique building, the Fan Fiction Workshop, which replaces Civ V’s coliseum. What with all the Fionna and Cake stories Ice King is going to be writing, he’ll need a place to write them, read them, and reenact them for all the penguin couples and captive princesses.
"Ice King is the hottest hottie, and I can't wait to marry him!" said Fionna.
Another perk of being Ice King is that you can treat ice the way other civilizations treat the ocean. So, when I invent boats and head out onto the sea, if I happen to run into glaciers (and there are tons of glaciers in the waters near my kingdom) I can just sail right through them. That’s some good Ice Magic! I also adopt the Goddess of Love, because I'm sure Ice King would be bonkers over her.
Everything is going pretty swimmingly for a good long while. I’ve got snow farms all over the damn place, churning out snow crops, and and I’ve even founded a second city, Snow Fields, and (mentally) put Gunter in charge of it. Then, Attila the Hun, that big bully, suddenly decides he doesn’t like me and invades. What’s his problem? It’s not like I abducted Hun Princess or anything. Though I probably would have if she existed and it was an option.
Fire! How did Attila guess the Ice King's one weakness?
Anyway, the Huns invade and pretty quickly destroy my armies and sack my cities. I do my best to hold them off, but while I've been dorking around sailing boats through glaciers and farming snow, Attila has been apparently churning out an algebraic amount of warriors. The Ice Kingdom is eventually taken and Gunter, over in Snow Fields, can do nothing but make a peace deal. Poor Ice King flaps his beard and floats away, misunderstood as ever.
I also played as Finn for a bit, because how can you not? Finn's Adventurer unit, which replaces the Warrior, gets a combat bonus in enemy territory and earns gold after killing an enemy, because the Tree Fort needs to be constantly stocked with riches that Finn, as far as I can tell, doesn't really care about. Finn also gets a bonus to City-State relationships, which degrade slower, because Finn is such a friendly, helpful guy. Finn's Tree Fort also gives a happiness bonus, and requires no maintenance.
This mod contains no Jake and no Cake. Bummer.
You can also create the Fire Kingdom and play as the volatile Flame Princess, which will let you raze cities in considerably less time (fire does tend to do that). Marceline, meanwhile, can build vampire armies who do extra damage against wounded enemies and partially heal themselves automatically upon making a kill. Princess Bubblegum’s unique ability gives her a healthy 20% boost to science, any pikemen she produces are replaced by the Banana Guard, who are cheaper and fight better close to home, and she can build a candy factory instead of a granary, which adds to the yield of sugar, bananas, and citrus.
FIFTY YEARS DUNGEON!
Speaking of citrus, it wouldn't be Adventure Time without the Earl of Lemongrab. Due to his insane shrieking, Lemongrab does not do well in relationships with City-States; in fact, he cannot form relationships with them at all. He does get some production bonuses, however, possibly because he can just create new citizens in his Lemon Lab. That’s acceptable!
Installation: These mods are all on the Steam Workshop, so you can find them here, and subscribe to any/all you want to play with. Totally math!
Its all-caps studio name is constantly yelling, but XLGAMES has been quiet about one thing until now: Civilization Online, which it's developing under the command of veteran MMO designer Jake Song. Civ Online isn't a grand strategy board game MMO—according to the reveal at Massively, it's more similar to A Tale in the Desert. Players will control a single citizen in a procedurally-generated world and help one of four cultures achieve a Civilization-style victory over the course of a "session."
Civ Online's look reminds me of Disney's 1997 Hercules film—colorful and attractive, but more bubbly than expected to capture the grandeur of human history. That aside, the stories at MMORPG and Massively indicate (without a great number of specifics) an exciting sandbox in which players will collaborate to explore the world, acquire resources, craft new inventions, advance through tech eras, found cities, build Wonders, and wage PvP wars with other civilizations.
Exploration, according to Massively, involves a unique twist: it sounds like weekly map updates will add more land around each civ's main encampment until all four bump into each other. Players won't know the tech status of other civs until they meet.
And when cultures clash, they might enjoy a bit of stabbing each other, so PvP combat is certain. "We are expecting that most people will spend their time killing other people," Song told Massively. Starting cities will be safe, but others are up for grabs. Death will send a player all the way back to his or her city, or to an "advance outpost," so successful sieges will require a team effort.
Looks like AI units in an RTS with a totally dissimilar art style—is this from the right game?
The eras will include Ancient, Classical, Medieval, Renaissance, Industrial, and Modern. After a victory condition is achieved by one civilization—world conquest and space race wins appear confirmed—the world will reset, though players will retain "some aspects" of their characters from session to session.
Now here's the most interesting bit from Massively's story:
"Leaders will also emerge from the citizenry of each civilization, as necessary roles like mayor and military commander must step up to help create order and achieve objectives. There will also be mechanisms in place for players to oust ineffective or bad leaders. A civilization could forego working together to just be every man for himself, but then it wouldn't progress and most likely would be conquered by another more organized civilization. Song called the game 'a big social experiment.'"
I would gladly have some of that. No release date has been announced for Civilization Online, though MMORPG says it's been in development since 2010. Last year, Take-Two announced that it's being developed for the Asian market, and according to Massively, Song says they are "inkling toward a free-to-play model."
We have contacted Take-Two/2K for comment. Check out Massively's story for more.
Robots are brilliant! There's almost no problem they can't fix. Whether it's your lack of a chilled beer, the continued non-eradication of human existence, or the finicky way Civilization V handles multiplayer match-ups. That last problem has been solved by Giant Multiplayer Robot, which is actually a website, not a robot. Although maybe it's a website run by a robot.
Currently in beta, the service aims to make Civ 5 multiplayer easier to organise, by removing the need for all players to be logged in at the same time. Instead, the client uses the game's hotseat mode, automatically swapping the save file between players. The app's creators (who, if you remember, may be robots) have made a video to show the system in use:
The service also offers other improvements to the hotseat mode, by allowing players to leave an in-progress game, customise the turn-timer, and even use mods. That Adventure Time-themed multiplayer campaign that I know you've been dreaming of? Totally possible.
You can check out Giant Multiplayer Robot, which has just been updated with Brave New World support, at the app's website.