After the recent leak of Valve’s employee handbook to the public, many in the business world have become curious about the ins and outs of the developer’s practices. Bloomberg Businessweek sat down with co-founder Gabe Newell to ask him, among other things, why he chose to organize Valve Corporation in such an unorthodox manner.
Newell told the publication that Valve categorizes employees by “individual” and “group” contributors, rather than by the traditional hierarchy of supervisors and subordinates.
“A group contributor’s job is to help other people be more productive, and in doing that you sacrifice some of your own productivity,” he explained. “It’s a higher stress job and you get interrupted a lot more... some of the highest compensated people at the company are relatively pure individual contributors.”
Newell also pointed out that a given employee may be managing a group project one day and be contributing as an individual the next. He even went as far as to say that it’s “pretty rare” for any one person to take the helm on more than one consecutive project.
When asked what the reasoning behind this structure was, Newell suggested that it was the industry itself that guided the decision.
“When we started Valve, we thought about what the company needed to be good at. We realized that here, our job was to create things that hadn’t existed before,” he said. “Managers are good at institutionalizing procedures, but in our line of work that’s not always good. Sometimes the skills in one generation of product are irrelevant to the skills in another generation.”
While Valve’s practices may make certain traditional businesspeople’s heads spin, the continuing success of Steam, which still holds a commanding share of the digital game distribution market, certainly validates Gabe’s ideas. Could Valve usher in an age without bosses?
RaiderZ wasn't on the top of my "Must See" list when I went to PAX East a couple weeks ago. I knew a few things about it, but I was really excited to see other games like Neverwinter, Smite, and DDO. But while I was at the Perfect World meeting room talking about Neverwinter, RaiderZ's producer Mark Hill came over and told me a bit about their upcoming monster hunter MMO. It sounded fairly intriguing, so I decided to give it a shot.
Players familiar with the original Monster Hunter game that RaiderZ takes heavy inspiration from will immediately be familiar with the core gameplay hook. From a third-person perspective on your cutesy champion, you go out into the wilderness, hunt down and destroy monsters, and then equip yourself with unique one-time-use items ripped from their corpses. If you're really lucky, you'll score some unique armor and weapons that won't be available anywhere else in game other than the corpse of that crab you just shattered.
Sounds great, but it raised a red flag in my mind. I asked Hill if there will be any mechanic in place to lessen the incentive to spawn-camp those monsters with unique items—there won't. Hill said that they think that the variety of monsters, and their spawn rate, should keep players from getting frustrated. A post-traumatic flashback to my EQ days tells me otherwise. I’m not eager to go back to waiting in line for my turn at a boss, just to have someone come along and grief me by tagging it first. Others may enjoy that super-competitive design mechanic, but I don’t.
After that, Hill told me a bit about the class choices that players make as they level up. That's right: it's not a one-time, set-it-and-forget-it choice. Players will choose one of four archetypal jobs (tank, melee DPS, ranged DPS or healer) when they create their characters, but they'll be able to advance their character in any of the roles. For the first few levels, players will fill our the skill tree they chose at character creation. As they continue to level up, the other jobs' skill trees will open, and they'll be able to put points in those too.
Depending on the choices you make, you may find yourself with a spell-slinging warrior, or a sword-wielding mage. The theory behind this design is that players will be able to create "mage-y archers," and tanks that can heal. Of course, min-maxers and theorycrafters will inevtiably calculate the one “best” way to make your character, but I'm hopeful that the flexibility in character advancement sticks.
The gameplay looks great. The action-based combat is fluid, well-animated, and fun to watch--not wholely unlike TERA's free-targeting combat system. There's definitely no Tab-targeting here. The little archer twists and turns around the beachfront, aiming at the different monsters clutttering the sands and firing away. Forcing players to move their characters around, targeting monsters by aiming at them instead of with the tab button, is a mainstay of the action-MMO genre, and it looks to be in full force here.
The world itself was full of vibrant colors and the players and props have a great sense of weight to them. The characters realistically lurched around with huge maces and gigantic swords. The combination of great art direction (if the style is to your tastes) and interesting monsters has promise—the world felt lived in, and I didn't want to mess with who was livin' in it! The mage was a particulary fun, firing off his spells before he had to dive to one side to avoid the hammer of the troll that descended upon him. The hammer crashed into the ground right as the mage landed on his feet and let loose another barrage of fireballs at its scaly hide.
Perfect World seems to be aiming for the hardcore crowd with RaiderZ's mechanics, and, from my first impressions, I think it has a chance at success. As Hill said, this is a "very loot-heavy, very drop-heavy game," and we all know hardcore players love to amass loot. Just because I’m too "carebear" to appreciate it doesn’t mean that other’s won’t fall for it’s mix of lootz, monsters and style though. If you're itchin' for some MMO monster huntin', you can sign up for the beta right now.
Square Enix's next game, Sleeping Dogs, is a bit of a hypocrite. Its name is derived from that old proverb about "letting sleeping dogs lie," but the Square completely ignored that advice when it resurrected the dozing open-world adventure game after it had been deemed too troublesome by Activision and left for dead. But that may turn out to be a very good thing. The new publisher must've seen something in the former True Crime: Hong Kong that Activision didn't, and it's not content to let Sleeping Dogs lie for long.
I spent a fair amount of time with the game when it was still True Crime: Hong Kong, and after a recent playtest at PAX East can confirm that it has undergone significant tweaks since Square Enix took the reins. But for all that's changed, the main storyline, setting and approach remain the same. Sleeping Dogs, now due for an August release, spotlights the plight of Wei Shen, a detective who returns to Hong Kong years after growing up there to infiltrate the Triads as an undercover operative—a tale that'll test his loyalty to old friends and his badge.
Hong Kong is a thriving metropolis with distinct sectors, the congested, neon-lit streets of one populous area appearing in stark contrast to the tall, modern skyscrapers and ritzy cars of the financial district. Essential storyline missions drive your progress through those streets, but it's still very much a sandbox environment filled with optional police missions, street races and even mini-games like karaoke and cockfighting.
The core experience remains, but Sleeping Dogs has definitely benefited from the extra development time and the input of Square Enix London Studios, the publisher's in-house support crew that previously enhanced Batman: Arkham Asylum and Just Cause 2 as each approached release. According to a London Studios representative, they've worked closely with the developers at United Front Games to enhance the early missions in the game to pull players into the experience, tweaked the controls and open-world balance and helped implement new social challenges that will be further detailed closer to the August launch.
On top of that, the London Studios team has significantly upgraded the melee combat, which draws strong influence from Batman: Arkham Asylum and Arkham City (the latter of which they didn't have a hand in). As in those games, you often face off against groups of attackers in Sleeping Dogs, fluidly trading blows and countering attacks between goons with the ability to grapple foes and drag them around to environmental hotspots for contextual attacks. Little tweaks like adding heavy attacks to melee buttons and a running tackle move and more brutal hand-to-hand assaults aim to amp up the cinematic presentation—best exemplified in the varied takedown and kill maneuvers in the game.
During my demo, I finally got to play a mission that I'd only been allowed to watch in 2010 when the game still bore the True Crime tag. Brutally beaten and maimed by Triads, Wei Shen fights back in an under-construction penthouse apartment, using the environment to dispatch foes in violently creative ways. Launching enemies into the flat screen TV they were just playing a dancing game on, tossing them down an elevator shaft or slamming them face-first into a table saw are just a few of the many options you have for dispatching goons in the large room. It's primarily good for laughs, but the cinematic kills also offer variety that break up the common melee skirmishes.
On-foot navigation was pretty fun, both when attempting to leap across workers' platforms suspended outside the penthouse from the previous scene, and later as I tried to chase a man through a winding Hong Kong market filled with food stands and bystanders. Momentum is essential, and you need to tap the appropriate key upon reaching barriers or gaps to vault over or across; otherwise, you'll lose speed or come to a complete stop, which is particularly damaging when sprinting through crowds to tackle someone.
The demo concluded with a taste of the game's street racing side, which strongly resembled past Need for Speed titles—no surprise, considering that the Vancouver-based United Front Games poached talent from EA Canada to head up the game's racing elements. Racing mechanics in open-world action games rarely prove to be as well-built and complex as they are in standalone driving titles, but Sleeping Dogs' segments seem poised to buck the trend with refined controls and physics. Rather than a filler element, racing felt like it could be one of the key aspects of the experience. And while I didn't get to play any of this, released footage has shown some exciting vehicle chase sequences and bike-based shootouts, so there's more here than just finish line sprints.
From what I've seen and played so far, Sleeping Dogs isn't as concerned with innovation as it is with iteration, pulling from outside the open-world genre to create a slicker and more cinematic sandbox affair. Their main goal is to improve the aspects that other open-world entries make barely passable, specifically hand-to-hand combat, on-foot movement and street racing. That little spark of promise I saw in True Crime: Hong Kong a while back shines a little brighter now in Sleeping Dogs, and I'm anxious to see if Square Enix's unexpected bet pays off later this summer.
Popular torrent site The Pirate Bay is set to be blocked by six major UK internet service providers following a high court ruling, according to The Daily Telegraph. In his ruling, Mr Justice Arnold said that the site's operators "actively encourage" copyright infringement.
The ruling comes following a complaint from the British Phonographic Industry (BPI), who get a bit cross when users download music for free. As a result the site will be blocked by Sky, Everything Everywhere (Orange), TalkTalk, O2 and Virgin Media.
Piracy is a contentious issue for PC gamers and developers. We've talked to CD Projekt, Notch and Devolver Digital about DRM recently. It was only a few months ago that SOPA reared its ugly head too.
BT - the UK's biggest ISP - have asked for a little more time to consider their position, but according to the BPI they have "agreed to request".
UK ISPs, especially TalkTalk, have been surprisingly vocal when it comes to defending their customer's decisions to download copyrighted material. Virgin Media are the only ISP to pipe up so far, and have somehow shoehorned their agreement with Spotify into their statement.
"Virgin Media complies with court orders addressed to the company but strongly believes that changing consumer behaviour to tackle copyright infringement also needs compelling legal alternatives, such as our agreement with Spotify, to give consumers access to great content at the right price," said a Virgin Media spokesperson.
The Pirate Bay features thousands of PC games on top of its roster of music and films, and the head honchos at major publishers are likely to be delighted by the news. But internet campaigners are up in arms about the decision, with the Open Rights Group's Jim Killock saying that: "It will fuel calls for further, wider and even more drastic calls for Internet censorship of many kinds".
A few years ago, we invited PC Gamer's tech guru Adam Oxford into a giant changing room to film a short piece about building a new PC. The resulting video has never been seen, but we've finally managed to cut enough of the improbably scary stuff out to get it past YouTube's content filters.
Yes, it is a bit old, but a lot of the points still remain - physically, the act of building a gaming PC hasn't changed at all in the last few years. Not wanting to blow our own trumpets but, parp, this is a great guide to getting started with a self-build, covering everything from how to install a CPU to your very first boot up.
Assassin's Creed 3's creative director and Aussie ex-pat Alex Hutchinson has spoken to ausgamers.com about the new features we can expect from the upcoming American Revolution sneak-and-slaughter title.
The biggest and most obvious change in Assassin's Creed 3 is its relocation of action from the sprawling city to the sprawling countryside. Obviously you won't encounter the large crowds you do in built-up areas, but Hutchinson reckons that all the little cute forest critters - a few of which we've previously seen - make up for this
"To us, animals are the ‘crowd’ of the wilderness," Hutchinson says. "Players can obviously hunt the animals, but we really want people to immerse themselves in the tracking and trapping elements of interacting with animals. In a sense, we want players to assassinate animals more than just shoot them: this will result in different quality skins and other objects which can be sold but also used to satisfy side-quests in the game."
Aw! Hutchinson goes on to say that if you mercilessly slaughter enough animals you'll be invited to join the merciless animal slaughter animal club. "If the player hunts a lot, then the game will notice and send a character to meet them, who will basically say, ‘You seem like a good shot with that bow, have you thought of joining the hunting club?’"
Animals aren't the only residents of Assassin's Creed 3 to received the developer's love - Hutchinson says that the people will now act more convincingly. "The biggest additions have been to allow crowd member to be attracted to areas or interactions, and then to leave those and begin another action in sequence. No longer will you be able to watch people stay in a conversation for hours. Eventually they’ll go on their way."
There's another big feature that's been added to the crowd behaviour dynamics, but Hutchinson isn't able to talk about it. Maybe there's a mini-game where the whole crowd suddenly becomes completely suicidal, and you have to direct their actions ala Lemmings.
What's better than a brand new GeForce GTX 680 with which to upgrade your PC on a fine and sunny spring morning? Try two GeForce GTX 680s lashed together on one card. That's what NVIDIA has built: they announced a twin chip monstrosity called the GeForce GTX 690 yesterday.
The GTX 690 be on sale by Thursday, apparently, although the lack of online reviews and apparent paucity of sample availability suggests that if you do want to buy one, there may be a bit of a queue.
Or will there?
This crazy conjoined card isn't a new idea, of course. Both AMD and NVIDIA have long used their Crossfire/SLI dual board technology tech to build Frankengraphics for those with much more money than sense. And some people even buy them.
The GTX 690 has two of NVIDIA's GK104 processors on board, each with 1536 unified CUDA cores and 2GB of GDDR5 memory. They're clocked slightly slower than the stock GTX 680, with a base speed of 915MHz compared to 1006MHz for the single card.
Given that GTX 680 scales well with SLI, often getting close to double the framerates of a single card at high resolutions, performance is likely to be rather impressive.
But at an asking price of $1000, you'll need a pretty specific reason to get one. A professional F1 simulator maybe?
As intriguing as it is, it won't be on my shopping list for two reasons. I'm not a huge fan of either Crossfire or SLI, for a start. I hear people tell me that both systems are much better than they used to be, but neither the performance, stability or maths have ever convinced me they're a good investment.
Mainly, though, it's about the price. I like the GeForce GTX 680 a lot, but it's already so powerful that I struggle to recommend it to anyone using less than three monitors. I can't think of many set-ups where having two isn't overkill.
As ever, I'm happy to be proved wrong as soon as someone sends me one of these beasts to test. In the meantime, the /much/ more interesting news is that sources tell me the announcement of the GeForce GTX 670 is imminent – possibly within the next few days.
As far as price versus performance goes, that should be a far more tempting upgrade to buy.
MapleStory and Vindictus publishers Nexon are rumoured to be considering buying enormo-publisher EA, according to Bloomberg. The rumour caused a spike of 6.1 per cent in EA's shares, which have fallen by 23 per cent so far this year.
EA is the kind of company most people's grans have heard of, whereas Nexon sit firmly in the big-in-Asia category. But Nexon makes a lot of money from its free-to-play games - they reported an operating income of £714.51 million last year, which eclipses EA's mere £191.65 million.
The takeover is little more than a whisper at the moment, and both Nexon and EA have stated that they don't comment on rumours. It's still intriguing, though. Maybe Crysis 3 will turn out to be a free-to-play Facebook game with a cute dog thing taking the place of Prophet.
Dungeons and Dragons Online has received many, many updates since it launched six years ago, but Menace of the Underdark is the first that the developers at Turbine have deigned large enough to warrant that "expansion" title. It'll raise the level cap from 20 to 25, add a new class in the form of the shape shifting Druid and add huge new zones set in, around and underneath some the Dungeons and Dragon's most famous lands in the Forgotten Realms
It's three or four times the size of any previous update, which meant there was plenty to see when DDO producer Fernando Paiz showed me around the new zones last week. Over the course of a busy hour I was swallowed whole by a Purple Worm, attacked by a hungry treasure chest, menaced by a Suspicious Tree and trampled by a green dragon. I even caught a glimpse of the colossal Drow goddess, Lolth, the final raid boss of Menace of the Underdark.
Lolth lives in a dimension that exists between all worlds, the Demon Web. From there she's marshalling an army of Dark Elves and hatching an epic plot to conquer the surface world. When Menace of the Underdark is released, a series of free quests will give all DDO players the opportunity to traverse the Demon Web and fight upwards through the Underdark (the Forgotten Realms version of hell) to reach the new hub city of Eveningstar.
The initial quick dash to reach Eveningstar won't be too taxing, but towards the end of the expansion, these dark zones will come to offer the toughest challenges. As each of the three new adventure packs unfold, players will battle a dark elf conspiracy in the evergreen woods that embrace the pastoral village, plunge into the Underdark to battle the Drow and and eventually return to the Demon Web to defeat Lolth and foil her plans.
The Demon Web is very purple. It's made up of a series of shattered rock formations floating through the multiverse. They're connected by pale, effervescent bridges and patrolled by hordes of silver-haired dark elves. These warriors form aggressive melee mobs, but during our sprint through the Demon Web, the sorceresses that stood behind the vanguard that proved to be much deadlier.
The horrible Driders are even worse. These dark elves have intentionally cursed themselves to take the twisted form of their goddess, Lolth. Everything above their torso remains humanoid, but their legs have been replaced by a swollen, grey arachnid. They attack in swarms in the Demon Web.
It's a Wilderness Area, which means it's a large zone full of dynamic quests and roaming boss fights. The challenging mobs will make exploration tricky, but there are some huge monsters to be found tramping around those glowing bridges. At one point we fought off a huge minotaur, a tough red-name villain. Players that manage to find him and take him out will be well rewarded.
The whole zone is dominated by a glowing purple maelstrom in the sky. That's where Lolth spends most of her time. Menace of the Underdark will eventually let players go toe to toe with the spider queen in her home during a climactic 12-man raid, but we managed to catch a sneaky glimpse of her on the way out of the Demon Web. She's DDO's biggest boss monster yet.
Later we travelled back to the surface to investigate the Menace of the Underdark's second wilderness, set in the forests that surround Eveningstar. It's a good locale to show of some of the graphical updates that'll arrive alongside the expansion. Turbine are keen to accentuate the bright, rural feel of the Forgotten Realms, and will introduce new grass and tree tech to create forests that sway in the breeze, and patches of long grass that will bend around your character as you run.
The forest wilderness is beautiful. The dense woodland areas are broken up by patches of half-drowned swampland and fast rivers. The dark elves are never far away, though, and their incursions are making the trees a bit tetchy. The spirits of the forests have implemented a blanket anti-outsider policy, so you'll have to fight off some angry trees and various wilderbeast as you hunt down the dark elves.
The elves are going to make things difficult. They'll wield the power of darkness, literally, to take out anyone interfering with Lolth's aims. When they attack, a black shroud will descend and you'll have to battle the dark elves in a narrow pool of light. The shroud will collapse once the dark elves in the area have been wiped out. This causes the sun to rush through the sky, sending shadows strobing across the landscape. It's a dramatic effect.
The forest also proved to be a good place to take a look at the Druid, the new class that'll be available to all subscribers for free when Menace of the Underdark launches. Druid players will be able to shape shift into three different forms. Wolf forms are good damage dealers, bear forms can tank for friendly groups and elemental forms make the Druid's comprehensive spellbook even more potent. He has can heal if needed, but also specialises in dealing heavy elemental damage with fire, ice and electrical attacks.
The Druid is also a pet class. Pets behave like hirelings and can be customised as they level up. If you need more creatures, you can summon extra allies temporarily, all while occupying an animal form. "I love that a wolf can have a pet wolf," I said to Fernando Paiz as we battled through the forest.
"In fact they also get to charm natural creatures," he said, "so if you found a pack of wolves in the forest you could charm them, you could be a wolf yourself, you could have a pet wolf, summon a temporary wolf and run around as nine or ten wolves."
'That's my kind of class,' I thought. I started to imagine a group of druids, all in wolf form with wolf pets summoning wolves and charming other nearby wolves to form a colossal wolf hunt that could strip the forest clean of the dark elf menace in minutes. Then a dragon attacked. Well, it wouldn't be D&D without a big, scaly lizard.
Menace of the Underdark is looking good. It's got some huge, beautiful zones, an intriguing new class and will add some of DDO's biggest monsters yet. It'll be available to buy from the in-game store, too, which is good news for players with lots and lots of Turbine points. It's set to be released on June 25. Find out more on the DDO site.