Hey there, blimpy boy: SimCity hasn't gotten any more consumer friendly with its latest bit of paid DLC, but it has taken to the skies by adding airships, balloons and even blimps. Which, erm, is almost as good. Pretend you're in charge of the bad universe from Fringe by shelling out $8.99 over on Origin (alternatively, you could just hire John Noble to stand glowering around in your house).
Things what you'll get as part of the download: 'Airship Hangers' for manhandling tourists, 'Commuter Airship Mooring' for taking care of commuters, a couple of hot air balloon parks and 'Event Blimps' that appear during, well, events. If for some reason you need a four-minute video explanation of the above, here is a four-minute video explanation of the above:
Hate them or hate them, Ewoks will forever remain part of the Star Wars mythology, in all parallel universes except for the Revenge of the Jedi one from BioShock Infinite. Probably. As part of update 2.3, the cuddly murderous rebels - or one in particular - are now being added to Star Wars: The Old Republic as the MMO's newest companion character. Say hello to Treek, a heavy armor user with both heal and tank stances, not to mention and an adorable wittle furry face.
The update, now on the public test servers, adds Treek to the game's Cartel Bazaar. To get her to join you, you'll have to purchase a pricey mercenary contract for a million credits (price subject to change when the update eventually hits the live servers). You'll also need to be legacy level 40, and be able to put up with that annoying Ewok noise. You know the one. Dulfy.net has the full deets on Treek, including a couple of spoilery cutscenes.
Now all we need is Jar Jar Binks and - on second thought, BioWare, please don't ever do that. (Thanks to Massively.)
Jun 30, 2013
Reinstall invites you to join us in revisiting classics of PC gaming days gone by. This week, we explore the eerily deserted, ethereal landscape of Myst.
With six million copies sold, making it the best-selling game of all time until The Sims came along, there’s absolutely no arguing Myst’s place in PC gaming history. It set a new benchmark for multimedia and 3D rendering. It inspired many people who would never have touched a game to give it a try, sucking them into our world. It gave printer manufacturers something to bundle with their products.
Myst, in a word, is a legend.
I hate it. I hate it so much.
"Is it finally time to make peace with this old enemy?"
How much do I hate it, you ask? Go to your bathroom. Brush your teeth. Done that? Now swig a large mouthful of orange juice. If I had my way, that sensation would be called “a Myst.” Put me on a desert island with a computer and the entire series, and I would snap one of the discs in half and use it to slit my own wrists. Probably Riven. And that is but the start of my hate for this series, and all of the 3D-rendered abominations it spawned.
But maybe I’m being too unfair. Maybe. It’s been a long time since I last played Myst—you know, as opposed to taking out my copy of the game and just screaming at it for five minutes straight. Reinstalling it now that its damage to my beloved actual graphic adventure genre has long since been done, is it finally time to make peace with this old enemy, technical pioneer that it was, and move on in a new spirit of understanding, compassion and mutual respect? Hahahahaha, no.
For the record, this is how Myst works. You wander through a deserted, static world, poking and prodding at levers and buttons until somehow stumbling on the designer’s favored brand of moon-logic and manage to open the door in front of you. Fans will tell you that these locations are rippling with symbolism and artistry, crafted and written in magic world-books by the master wordsmith Atrus. I disagree. All I can think about is how annoying it must be to be a visitor in his house, suddenly realizing you need to solve a puzzle involving the orbits of the sun and the moon as they relate to duck flatulence simply to get into his bathroom. At least you'd never be short of paper to wipe with, I guess.
"Creators Cyan realized they’d named a core part of their lore after a slang term for a toilet."
The central puzzle in Myst is collecting red and blue pages from around Atrus’ empty, desolate worlds, which you use to communicate with the two worst actors ever—his sons, Sirius and Achenar. Both are trapped in books in Atrus’ library and need you to repair their books so they can escape.
Unfortunately, both of the sons are complete jerks, and whichever you save promptly locks you in his book and leaves you, with the correct answer being to invite both of them to eat your shorts and rescue their dad instead. Atrus promptly burns their books and... then leaves you trapped in his admittedly prettier world. Nice guy. Totally worth helping.
To grudgingly give Myst some credit, its island worlds are imaginative and beautifully rendered. Myst Island is the famous one, to the point of even cameoing in an episode of The Simpsons once, but there are many more with intriguing names like Stoneship, Selentic, Channelwood, and Dunny, which was later changed to D’ni when creators Cyan realized they’d named a core part of their lore after a slang term for a toilet. I make no comment on this, except a slightly obnoxious snickering sound.
Later games also expanded on the concept in some interesting ways. The sequel, Riven, was still a desolate place, but much better conveyed the feel that it had once known life. A later remake, real Myst, turned the pre-rendered world into a full 3D one, while an online version, Uru, was a bold if failed attempt to create a massively multiplayer game around puzzles and exploration instead of combat and leveling. It’s still around though, and if you want, you can play it for free at mystonline.com.
"Myst reinforced the toxic idea that adventures were about puzzles and boredom."
So why the hate? Why isn’t it simply a game I don’t like? Simple. Myst reinforced the toxic idea that adventures were about puzzles and boredom rather than adventure and fun, and the industry jumped right on board with an endless slurry of games that made it look like a trip to the theme park. Only a precious handful of games—Zork: Grand Inquisitor and Legacy of Time springing instantly to mind—dared to break the mold and be brilliant, and what was their reward? Grand Inquisitor was a flop that killed the Zork series stone dead, while Legacy’s planned sequel never happened because of its creators making... a bloody Myst sequel. Aaargh!
At that point I decided the whole series had become some kind of vindictive beast, targeting me personally. Irrational? Perhaps. Maybe even definitely. But that didn’t matter. Myst and I were now enemies for life, and reinstalling it to give it one more shot only confirmed that, as I knew all along, I was absolutely right to hate it.
You can buy Myst now for $2.99 on GOG. If you dare.
Rich's rules: 1. Play as ruler of the North, Ned Stark. 2. Don't die. 3. No honour, only backstabbing. 4. I'd really like not to die, please.
Crusader Kings II is a game about scheming, plotting and advanced nefariousness in a medieval setting. It has a cast of hundreds of characters with observable traits, from tactical geniuses to lackwit blunderers, via lustful philanderers and chaste holy men.
George R R Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire books are about scheming, plotting and advanced nefariousness in a medieval setting. You can probably work out the rest. The two sync up so well, it only was a matter of time before Martin’s low-fantasy setting was ported into Paradox’s strategy game. Pleasingly, that time wasn’t very long: the Game of Thrones mod was released in beta by a group of industrious CKII fans just eight months after the main game. It’s now stable, comprehensive and easy to install. It’s what I’ll be using in this diary, and I heartily recommend you pop over to www.ck2agot.wordpress.com if you’re interested.
A quick note: this series will contain spoilers for the Game of Thrones’ TV series and books. I’ll keep major revelations from the first book onwards under my helm, but if you’ve somehow managed to avoid the novels (first released in 1996, you layabout), and also the HBO series, then pick them up and gobble them down like a juicy capon leg before reading on.
Valar Morghulis. All men must die. I’m OK with that, but do all men have to die right now? There’s a whole world to be seen, the continent of Westeros rendered in beautiful patchwork colours on Crusader Kings II’s map screen. There’s Dorne, jutting out into the sea in the south: sandy and warm, and split by culture – Dornishmen of sand, stone and salt. There’s the greenery of the Reach and the Riverlands, filling the heart of the country. Highgarden’s vineyards and Riverrun’s, um, rivers, which one day I’d like to visit, be welcomed as a guest and a friend. To the west, Casterly Rock and Lannisport; to the east, the imposing crags of the Vale. I roll my mousewheel down and zoom in on the highest peak: the Eyrie, home of house Arryn. It’s dusted white, like one of George’s laboriously described cakes.
And then there’s my (pretend) home: Winterfell. Westeros’s north is big, more expansive but more empty than the continent’s other regions. I’m expected to govern it alone, to manage a host of squabbling vassals and underlings, all while dealing with the seemingly inevitable: my own death.
I’m playing Crusader Kings II as Ned Stark, head of the Stark household, and boss of the north. The aGoT mod gives players a choice of starting period, and thus, their cast of characters. I chose to climb into Ned’s armoured boots just after famous fatty – and Ned’s best pal – Robert Baratheon has claimed the throne. It’s supposed to be a time of peace after the loopy rule of mad King Aerys II, but George R R Martin doesn’t make things easy for his characters
Ah, Winterfell, home sweet home to the Stark family. But for how long?
There’s that morghulis thing, for one. Robert, after successfully rebelling against an incumbent king, loses a fight with a boar and unceremoniously dies in bed with his guts falling out. Ned doesn’t even make it through one book before he has his head lopped off by his pal’s son and kingly replacement: Joffrey Baratheon.
"Ned is naïve and unflinchingly honourable – to his own detriment."
In the books, Ned is naïve and unflinchingly honourable – to his own detriment. It’s what gets him killed, and it’s a trait I don’t intend to take on myself. Crusader Kings II simulates all the intrigue of thousands of power-plays moving and interlocking across a vast political landscape. It lets you start plots against people, build spy networks, even kill your own wife. I’m not going to be like Ned. I’m going to scheme and sneak, backstab and betray. I’m going to take in the big picture, and play the pawns against each other.
One small problem: bar some minor dabbling, I’ve not played much of Crusader Kings. Its game mechanics are to me as courtly deceit and diplomacy were to Ned.
I must start small. Objective #1: not to die.
I spend the first year of Robert’s reign jumpy. I’m not sure quite how much of aGoT’s fiction is hardcoded into the mod, and I’m expecting Robert to die at any moment. If CKII had a letter-writing feature, I’d be sending him constant telegrams saying “FOR GOD’S SAKE STAY AWAY FROM PIGS” like a porcophobic weirdo.
I want to keep Robert on-side. He is, as king, the biggest presence in all Westeros. He’s also got some seriously impressive claims. Claims are your ticket to more land in CKII: get a claim, and you can invade a territory without some higher power smiting you for your insolence. As Ned, I’ve got lordship of Winterfell – and therefore, the north – but nothing else. Robert has dibs on the southeastern Storm’s End, as well as another four territories.
Fortunately, Robert likes me. Each CKII character – from king down to courtier – has two numbers on their character sheet. The first details how much they like you, the second how much you like them, dictated by a set of variables. Robert wishes Ned was a bit more hedonistic, knocking ten points off the score, but their shared bravery, battle history, and affinity for stabbing the shit out of things makes them fast friends. I could call Rob a fat bastard and he’d still share his capon with me.
I’m easing up as we hit the six month mark, when my spymaster brings me news of a plot. Shit! A plot! After so long spent mentally willing Ned to spend more of his time dressed in full plate armour and hiding in bushes, the p-word is enough to send me over the edge. I click on the plotter’s tiny face and bring up the diplomacy menu. I have a set of options: I can revoke his land and claim it for my own. I can arrange a marriage to bring him to heel. Or I can imprison him.
I consider taking his land and scolding him for his impudence, but I convince myself he’ll take offence and stab me in the night. To the dungeon with you, plotter.
Immediately, another of my vassals asks for his release. Are you in on it too, you capon-botherer? To prison with you, too!
"I congratulate myself on a guy well killed."
A mild panic grips me: what if they talk of their plan in my cells? I don’t know yet how deep CKII’s simulation runs. I’d better remove one of the problems. Diplomacy menu. Choose option ‘execute’. I bring the interred out into Winterfell’s yard, and as befitting the ruler of the north, chop his head off myself with my sweet Valyrian steel sword. A show of force, to deter future plotters. I congratulate myself on a guy well killed, take off my sword-handling mittens, and remind Ned to stay away from sharp objects.
Who was that guy I killed, anyway? I never checked. I bring up my message menu. ‘Howland Reed’. Hmm, why do I know that name? I Alt-Tab and check the Song of Ice and Fire wiki, search for Howland Reed.
“He is one of Eddard Stark’s closest friends and fought alongside him in many conflicts during Robert’s Rebellion.”
Sending a friend to prison was definitely a bad idea.
Ah. I suppose it’s tough to see who someone is when you’re wearing full plate armour so as not to be stabbed, but I’m feeling a little embarrassed when I get news of yet another plot. I’ve learned my lesson this time, though, and I check to see who it is before clapping them in irons.
It turns out to be some minor vassal from the far northeastern isle of Skagos. I read a little further: his plot involves paying someone a bit so they like him more. Jesus, is that what Howland Reed was doing? Howland, buddy, you didn’t need to pay me, I already liked you. And you could at least have mentioned that you weren’t planning to kill me before I cut your head off.
"Breeding a generation of hyper-angry children: this is not the way to stay alive, old Neddy."
I let the Skagosi man go about his plotting and sadly mouse over Howland Reed’s old land, now ruled by his eight-year-old daughter. She’s called Meera – hang on, I know that name – and she is pissed off. She’s eight, and her disposition toward me is already -100. I dig deeper into CKII’s menus, and see that she has ‘sworn vengeance’ against me. She’s just learning her times tables, and she’s already dead set on killing me as soon as she can.
Killing your best friends and breeding a generation of hyper-angry children: this is not the way to stay alive, old Neddy.
Ned’s particular way of drowning his sorrows at killing his mate does ensure the continuation of his legacy, though. A short while after, my wife Catelyn pops out a baby. I’m a slave to canon, so I name her Sansa. She joins her brother Robb and half-brother Jon in Winterfell’s baby-cage or whatever they have, and I don’t have to worry about her until she’s old enough to need a teacher – or I need to sell her off to some other lord to preserve an alliance.
A baby! Better arrange its marriage.
The introduction of a new child to the family has seemingly upset the existing kids. Jon – my bastard son, already disliked by Catelyn – is begging for more toys in recompense. I have a set of options to quiet his mewling, and I choose to make him play outside. As is perhaps understandable when your back garden is where your dad regularly executes his best friends with a big sword, this choice makes Jon immediately cynical.
To really stick it to Jon and the other kids, I retaliate by having another child. This one’s a boy, and I name it Bran because I am a Game of Thrones nerd. He will, I decree, have cushions strapped to his body until he reaches the age of 18, have his legs massaged by a team of court physiotherapists, and won’t ever be allowed to climb anything on pain of wedgies.
Bran’s birth signals the end of my first year in charge of the north, and I’m finally starting to relax. Robert, too, seems pleased to have seen out the year without being gored to death, and decides to celebrate by holding a massive feast. I attend, and eat so many capons that I’m sick.
"I retaliate by having another child."
Trotting back to Winterfell, I figure it’s time for a new goal. Ned is one of the mod’s better characters, lacking the massive personality flaws Crusader Kings II will often give its denizens. Robert, for example, is a drunkard, while Tyrion Lannister is ugly, reducing some of their stats. Ned is brave and honourable. My ‘accidental’ execution early in the year gave him a tiny bit of ‘tyranny’, but an innate kindness trait balances that out. Ned’s strength, however, lies in war: he’s a superb commander, and great in a scrap. Surviving the year has given me the taste for something more than merely existing. I want a fight.
But who? And how? The north has trouble with boats, the version of the mod I’m playing goes haywire whenever a northerner tries an amphibious landing. That takes an offshore invasion off the table. Going further north is pointless: the Night’s Watch has a gigantic ice wall blocking off the tribal Wildlings up there.
Hmmm, where to strike?
The only way is south, and the only thing blocking my descent is the Twins: two castles across a river held by one of the Song of Ice and Fire books’ most important families – the Freys.
This can’t be a quick strike. The Twins are famously fortified, and notoriously difficult to capture. They’re also the only way to travel between north and south. The Freys are pivotal to Martin’s stories because they control these castles. Anyone who wants to pass has to get pally-pally with them.
I could choose to get pally-pally with them, to marry Sansa off to one of their countless number, but for many reasons, I can’t bear to do it.
Walder Frey is the current lord of the Twins, 78 years of age. I bring up his character pane. Wouldn’t it be terrible if something happened to this poor old man? It’s time to do something Ned never did in the books or on TV. As I select CKII’s ‘intrigue’ menu, I decide to play the game of thrones.
Return next Sunday for PART TWO of the Game of Thrones diary.
Jun 30, 2013
Welcome back to the town of Helgen! Last seen at the beginning of Skyrim being curb-stomped into splinters by the Nordic God of Destruction, Helgen has since remained a shattered ruin filled with bandit jerks... until now. Helgen Reborn invites you to play a key role in transforming Helgen into a functioning town once more. You'll crisscross Skyrim on a sprawling adventure that includes recruiting a team of oddball soldiers, busting up a human-trafficking ring, fighting to the death in a gladiator pit, and moving into a new home with perhaps the coolest basement you've ever seen.
The mod begins in Whiterun where I meet a grubby fellow named Patsy, who actually looks quite a bit like Patsy from Monty Python and the Holy Grail (the first of several movie references in the mod). Patsy sends me to find Marcus, a former Imperial soldier, who sends me to find Val, his former comrade in arms, who is holed up in the remains of Helgen pretending to be part of a bandit crew. As Dragonborn, savior of Skyrim, prophesied and sung of in songs, I find it a little rude for these guys to assume I have nothing better to do with my time than play postman, carrying messages between them all day. (Actually, I do have nothing better to do with my time, but these guys don't know that.)
Oh, you are NOT getting your security deposit back.
Eventually, the two former old chums reunite at Helgen and start making plans for the future. Val is looking for revenge against the people who killed his family, and Marcus wants to rebuild Helgen, a town he visited often in his youth and thus has fond feelsies for. I get straight to work for the both of them.
First up, Val needs me to spring one of his men, who is being held in a Thalmor prison. I come up with a great plan: kill all the Thalmor with an axe. But wait! Val has an even better plan: dress me up as an Imperial and send me in with a forged prison transfer order. YES! This is just like 90% of World War II movies, where someone G.I. has to dress up in a Nazi uniform to bluff his way into a compound behind enemy lines. Those plans always go well, right?
Me am Imperial. Not famous Dragonborn Orc. Me... not lie about thing like that.
My Imperial uniform gets me in the door, but Val's plan hits a slight snag because my Orc, who mainly communicates with others via two-handed axe blows, has not really bothered putting skill points into Speechcraft at any point ever in his entire life. After just a few words with the Thalmor officers, they shrewdly decide this hulking brute in front of them is not actually part of an Imperial envoy transferring a prisoner to the embassy. The ruse fails, and I have to go with my original plan of AXE AXE AXE.
Guten tag. Zigaretten? Oh, screw it. YAGGGGGGH
Having messily rescued Val's scout, I turn to Marcus and the issue of restoring Helgen. The first thing he needs are guards to protect the town from bandits and other threats while it's being rebuilt, and he gives me the choice of asking the Stormcloaks for help, or assembling a patchwork force of various loners and oddballs from all over Skyrim. Well, that's a hell of an easy choice. Finding a ragtag crew of misfits and shaping them into an effective team? That's an 80's movie just waiting for some montage music.
I scour the map, visiting taverns all over Skyrim to put together Helgen's new town watch. I recruit a shrimpy Nord who wants to prove himself, a somber Khajiit who is mourning the death of his dog, a dope named Kindrick whose only combat experience was once seeing (and steering clear of) a single mudcrab, an Argonian who... actually, I can't remember what his deal was. There's also a brother and sister who are not that interesting because they seem like they'd be excellent choices, and I'm more about the weirdos.
We've got till the end of summer to turn this motley crew of goofballs into a winning softball team.
One by one, I take them out on minor quests to test their nerve and their steel, or at least to let them watch while I rush through caves ahead of them and kill everything as fast as I can. Eventually, they all prove their worth, or at least they don't die. Back in town, they all get matching uniforms and shields bearing the new, independent crest of Helgen. I gotta say, seeing my collection of misfits lined up in spiffy matching armor is a pretty cool moment.
Now those stuck-up rich kids from the Thalmor camp don't stand a chance!
Marcus, grateful for my help, gives me a tower in Helgen. From the outside, it doesn't look like much, but the inside is nicely furnished. There's a massive lower level with all the crafting and enchanting accoutrements, not to mention a sprawling area with mannequins for armor and display cases for weaponry. But that ain't NOTHIN'. The coolest feature of this new home, by far, is the spacious cavern under the tower. Patsy, it seems, has a talent for taxidermy. In related news, I kill a lot of monsters and take pieces of their corpses. Do you see what I'm getting at? Forget hanging up a couple axes on a rack or putting armor on a dummy: the cavern is where you can display your REAL trophies.
This is my basement. Correction: this is one CORNER of my basement. Seriously, get this mod.
Aside from being able to stock your basement with stuffed, posed monsters like dragons, giants, and mammoths, there are other displays that appear based on your progress in Skyrim itself. For instance, I have a werewolf statue down there, because I became a werewolf during one of Skyrim's quests, and there are all sorts of other trophies and treasures in the cavern based on what I've accomplished. I think this is the coolest home I've seen in a Skyrim mod yet.
With my awesome new home (that I never want to leave), Helgen's spiffy new armed guards, and the town now noisy with the hustle and bustle of workers and new citizens, it would seem like your job here is done. But this is Skyrim, an odd and violent land, so issues with a late lumber delivery naturally wind up with me fighting to the death under the name "Skull Crusher" in a gladiator pit called Fight Cave while onlookers chant "Two warriors enter! One warrior leaves!" It's Skyrim, man. You never know where your day is going to take you.
Welcome to Fight Cave. You are not how many septims you have in the bank. You are not your enchanted ebony armor.
Fight Cave is reminiscent of the Imperial City Arena in Oblivion. You work your way up in a series of bouts against tougher and tougher opponents, while gamblers watch and (sort of) cheer. Once you've become champion, which somehow solves the delay in the lumber delivery, you're back to helping Val with his deal, which turns out to be busting up a human-trafficking ring. Of course!
Using my dragon to punish slavers. Wonder where I got that idea from?
Despite the mod's guide urging you to SAVE SAVE SAVE YOUR GAME, I only had one crash, and one issue with a quest that required me to reload my most recent autosave. So, it's actually pretty darn stable, all things considered. Also, it's pretty great. There's a bunch of lore related to the mod in the form of books and conversations. There is an impressive amount of original voice work, and nearly all of it is very well done, with the exception for the guy who sounds like someone doing an Arnold Schwarzenegger impression (on the plus side, it's a very good impression).
If we don't rebuild, then the dragons have won.
Plus, when you're done, you'll get to witness Helgen being rebuilt into a real town with an inn, shops, and all sorts of original characters walking around. My guess is that this mod took me about five or six hours to play, and apart from one embarrassingly regrettable scene with a moaning prostitute (though at least it contains a reference to Blazing Saddles), is really well thought out and impressively put together.
Installation: You can easily download and install the mod using the Nexus Mod Manager (I didn't see it on Steam Workshop, unfortunately), though check the mod's FAQ for conflicts with other mods (there seem to be a lot). I didn't see instructions for a manual install, but there's just single .bsa file and a single .esp file in the download, so I'm guessing you just drop them in your Skyrim Data folder, and tick the Data Files checkbox when you launch the game.
In-development indie sandbox Edge of Space is now on the edge of Steam, having recently moved into the sketchy, slightly rough suburb known as Steam Early Access. It's sort of like a sci-fi Terraria - not to be confused with that other sci-fi Terraria - featuring mechs, jetpacks, rocketsharks, octocats, and other creatures that probably shouldn't be. You can buy your way into the beta for £7.99/$11.99, shaving a few dollarpounds off the eventual $14.99 launch price.
The current version of Edge of Space boasts an open-world single-player sandbox, pets, crafting and a bunch of other stuff, while multiplayer, modding, terraforming, vehicles, um "gas dynamics" and more are promised by the time the game launches for realsies. Edge of Space was recently greenlit, and now it has fulfilled its destiny. Hooray! Here's a trailer from a little while ago:
It’s the early 16th century, and I’ve just invented the Netherlands. It’s taken me six hours to do it, but it’s there. It’s got all the requisite Netherland-y bits: canals, beer, and impressive societal stability, and I am very proud.
The EU series of grand strategy games has long left me baffled under the sheer weight of its interlocking systems. Put at the head of one of medieval Europe’s countries, players must manage cities, armies, taxes, rulers, lines of succession – and everything else the era’s inbred band of kings, queens and emperors convinced of their divine right to rule had to fiddle with.
Earlier Europa Universalis titles handled this vast task-list by swaddling the game in complicated menus that gave little feedback regarding the player’s actions. Europa Universalis IV keeps its predecessors’ predilection for technical detail and complex strategy, but knocks a lot of the sharp edges off. I find myself learning naturally how to rule well across a vast two-day, 20-person multiplayer session
I started the game as Burgundy in 1444. Uniting the historical provinces of the Netherlands was one of the missions that EUIV flagged up as I started the game, but it required I controlled another four territories that were under independent rule. My conquest of them was slow and unsteady. A year after taking charge, I declared war on Gelre, to the north, citing reconquest as my casus belli. A casus belli is a reasoning for war, something canny rulers will want to earn – via alliances, historical border changes, or subterfuge – before starting conflicts. Wars fought without a viable casus belli negatively affect prestige and can render your country unstable, leading to armed revolts.
Immediately after declaring war on Gelre, a group of northern states rose up in union. My Burgundian army was big enough to smash through Gelre’s paltry forces and lay siege to its only territory, but I was being invaded from Liège, Aachen, Köln and Friesland. Anywhere that had a lovely Christmas market was sending its forces against me, besieging my northern territories and picking me apart in five places at once – as my over-extended forces lost men to attrition.
I could’ve sent my men against them, mopping groups of four or five thousand up with my 20,000 troops, but Gelre’s capital was falling and I wanted to sue for peace. England and France – who’d spent the last year chatting and had downgraded the Hundred Years War to the Six Month Scuffle and reached a happy alliance – saw my bruised and bloody Burgundy. They swept in and besieged any cities missed by the chocolate box axis of Gelre and pals.
War is a major part of EUIV, but it’s not a wargame. England and France weren’t going to crush me in one swoop – and even if they could, taking on my territories would’ve meant dealing with countless peasant revolts. Instead, they offered me dual peace deals: France took two of my southern lands, and England took Flanders. My attempt to expand my borders instead saw them contract.
That wasn’t the end of it. EUIV has an events system, whereby history kicks up a crisis and forces the player to deal with it. I’d been dealt ‘Peasant War’, and spent the next decade crushing uprisings as they sprung up in my shrunken domain like a bloodier version of whack-a-mole. Five years in, my army was so beleagured it no longer had the manpower to deal with them: my only hope was to acquiesce to their demands for lowered taxes and try to regain a little stability.
Stability – like prestige, gold, and manpower – is measured along the top of EUIV’s UI. The pieces interlock: gold enables you to buy regiments, which are then reinforced monthly out of your manpower allowance. Stability can range from +3 to -3: a +3 realm is content; a -3 one is always in danger of uprisings. Stability in turn can be boosted with a another set of numbers: power, which comes in administrative, diplomatic and military forms. Drop around 100 admin power on your realm and you’ll solidify the government, cheering your people up, but you’ll also slow down societal progress: these power points can be spent on new ideas and technology instead.
Taken alone, these elements are disparate and confusing, but EUIV’s strength is in pulling them all in and tying them together, making players play to their strengths and hide their weaknesses. Feedback is not yet explicit – the build I played was missing a planned ‘score’ figure – but it’s easy to see how a ruler is doing, and how best to adapt your approach and move forward.
After my Burgundian dark times, I spent years consolidating after being dealt a ruler who was useless on the battlefield, but incredibly gifted in the vagaries of economic management. I rebuilt and continued my assault on Gelre, this time not with sword but with pen, using diplomats to sow seeds of friendship, eventually taking the province on as a vassal, before annexing it fully under my rule half a century later. My Netherlands was complete.
I still can't pronounce its name without adding an extra 'iv' in the middle - 'Survivarium' just sounds so much better to my ears - but I'm still champing at the bit to play this sorta-spiritual-successor to the Stalker series. Survarium is currently undergoing a selective alpha test, but as this tweet from the development team reveals, the rusty iron door to the survivalist MMOFPS is about to be opened a little wider. Head here to register for a chance to join the post-apocalyptic battle for survival, but remember to pack your Geiger counter.
Since the alpha was first opened up, Stalker-style anomalies have been added to the game, among other things. (These three alpha diaries go into that in more detail.) Only the team-based PvP mode is offered at the moment, but when the full game is finished it will contain co-operative and "freeplay" modes too. Exciting stuff.
Thanks to RPS.
Of all the things Valve have done, the 'have-the-community-make-their-own-cosmetics' movement that started with Team Fortress 2, might be the smartest. By creating an ecosystem in which item-makers can profit, Valve have effectively allowed their community to hire itself to expand their game. Though still in beta, Dota 2 enjoys a constant influx of stuff. Every update bristles with new couriers, announcer packs, weaponry and other decorative paraphernalia. With that inevitable release date drawing inexorably closer each day, the momentum of production only seems to be increasing. But, who are the people behind the work?
"It’s one of the best, most straightforward ways for 3D artists to profit from what they’ve made."
To date, item creators have collectively made millions from getting their wares into Valve games. We speak to top item makers who have made significant profits on the Dota 2 workshop, from beginners who have just started modelling with no training, to seasoned professional artists who work for big-budget studios and create Dota 2 items on the side. They say that selling Dota 2 items "it’s one of the best, most straightforward ways for 3D artists to profit from what they’ve made." How did they get started? How do new items come together? How does Valve decide which Steam Workshop items make it into the game? Let's find out.
Getting started as an item-maker isn't a complicated as you might think. Mrpresident's first encounter with a 3D program was a mere 10 months ago when he made his first virtual box. "I was a huge fan of Dota and I'd always wanted to learn how to 3D model," he says "so, I spent a lot of time watching Anuxi and other stream their workflow process on twitch, and tried to practice their techniques and methods."
A firm believer in the educational properties of the twitch streams, mrpresident is one of the many who have taught themselves the art of 3D modeling. Similarly, Vladimir > the implyer, as he is known on Steam, never received a formal education in the field.
"I started modeling early - way before Max 6." Vladimir explains. "I got some books, learned the basics, modeled some teapots and islands made of primitives. At some point, I also began researching some original Half-Life assets, making Morrowind models and it was a lot of fun." Team Fortress 2's hat sales inspired him to start modelling for Valve games. "I always wanted a hat," he says, "but I was kinda late to that party. After the DOTA 2 workshop launched, I decided I should try my hat-making skills there."
Vladimir is arguably one the prolific figures in the Dota 2 workshop community. Clocking in a substantial 259 submissions ("I deleted some stuff, otherwise the count would be closer to 300."), Vladimir has made a name for himself competing with trained, professional 3D artists.
Australia-based Stephanie Everett, otherwise known as Anuxiamoon is one such individual. Her resume encompasses six years of experience in the game industry and big names like Trion Worlds. Of all the contributors, only she alone received the distinct honour of being assigned a 'chest' of her own. Originally too busy to join the ranks of the Dota 2 workshop contributors, Anuxiamoon first began participating in the creation of Dota 2-related items when Polycount announced a competition. She ended up submitting five sets to the event, the last of which made its way into the top ten.
"I had a block of free time open between freelance projects so I took advantage of that and entered the competition. At first, I had no idea what I was doing, but when you do something new, you always have no idea what you're doing, anyway."
"He earns enough to make full-time development of Dota 2 items a viable profession"
Chemical Alia and DrySocket, firm friends and co-conspirators, are veterans of the gaming industry as well. DrySocket claims over nine years of experience in making games. Chemical Alia currently works for a big-budget studio. For DrySocket, the Workshop is a place of experimentation, an avenue to explore quick ideas in his free time. Chemical Alia, on the other hand, began manufacturing items after being requested to produce work for the Dota 2 workshop.
"I originally got into making custom content for Valve games through Team Fortress 2. The TF2 Polycount contest led to a set for a Spy getting into the game, and that was pretty cool." Chemical Alia recalls. "I ended up getting involved in Dota 2 item creation pretty early, with some Valve folks requesting me to make a set of items, which were released alongside the Dota 2 workshop."
Though it might appear otherwise, Dota 2 item creation is serious business. 25% of total sales might not sound like much, at first, but the numbers do add up. Benjamin Retter, also known as BrontoThunder on Steam, says he earns enough from his creations to make full-time development of Dota 2 items a viable profession – a dream come true, for him. With such high stakes in play, it's unsurprising to learn that tensions do exist. Months where only a sparing number of items are accepted can, according to mrpresident, inspire high emotions.
“Mostly, people get frustrated about their own stuff not being accepted. It's gotten better recently but there have been times where two months pass by without a single accepted item and then, when they do accept items, it may be three or so sets out of the 10+ that deserve to be accepted that were submitted in the past two months. If someone has been submitting high-quality work for months and nothing get nothing get accepted,they get understandably frustrated and discouraged at the system, especially since Valve has been very quiet about how the selection process works.” Mrpresident sighs.
When asked about what he knows in regards to Valve's acceptance policies, Mrpresident offered a blunt, “Zero information.”
"There is a very strong distinction between an amazing piece of art and an amazing Dota 2 item."
“The official art guide is a good place to start but they will still pick items that break the art guide to a certain degree if they and the community like the item/set enough, but sticking to the guide will give you a higher chance of getting accepted. Some people have tried to figure out patterns but it appears to be almost random. My best guess has been that they look at the first few pages of highest community upvoted items and then select the items they like from there.”
Retter argues that a lack of style understanding can be a barrier to new artists. “There is a very strong distinction between an amazing piece of art and an amazing Dota 2 item. The most successful contributors to Dota 2 aren't those who are the absolute best artists, they are the ones who understand what works well within the restrictions Dota 2 has; How does it look from the in-game perspective? Does it fit the lore of the character? Are the colors balanced with the rest of the character? Does it animate well? Is it too distracting? Generally, if an item is popular and fits all of the criteria Valve has provided it won't be long until it's in the game but there are always exceptions to that rule.”
Given the community that its serving, it's unsurprising to learn that competitiveness is omnipresent.We are talking about Dota 2, after all. Chemical Alia notes: “The general culture among contributors is sort of a weird mix. One side of it is pretty constructive/supportive of other artists, but it can get angry and borderline hostile at times.”
One of Vladimir's works.
But while rivalries still exist, things appear better than before. Vladimir describes the past of the community as one steeped in grudges, split loyalties and 'a lot of passive aggressive shenanigans.' “Thankfully now most of the contributors are pretty friendly and everyone tries to learn from every other contributor. “
Whatever the eccentricities of the Workshop acceptance rate, for many, creating and submitting their work is a good way to learn, expose new work to community feedback and, of course, make money.
"Normally, when you make assets for a game, there’s no personal investment in how it does."
“I believe it's one of the best, most straightforward ways for 3D artists to profit from what they've made. Normally, when you make assets for a game, there's no personal investment in how it does. The Dota workshop creates a way for artists to learn, to showcase their abilities, AND to make money. “ DrySocket enthuses, a sentiment echoed by Retter who professes that the community is the number one reason he is making items for Dota 2.
As for what actually goes into the creation of a Dota 2 item, the design process seems to differ from person to person. For modellers like Retter, spontaneity is the primary ingredient. “Sometimes I'll know I want to make items for a specific hero and so I'll open up Photoshop and just start painting over the hero without any specific design in mind, creating interesting shapes and silhouettes until something clicks, and then move into 3D once I feel I've developed it enough.
"Other times I've either been playing or watching a Dota 2 game and I'll be hit with a burst of inspiration for a certain item or design which I feel would look really cool on a hero, these ones are usually my more successful designs, or at least, the ones I'm most proud of. I've just recently got into the habit of writing these ideas down when they come to me so I have a backlog of ideas to work through instead of stopping and starting every time I finish an item or set.”
“Usually I just get a random spark of an idea which sweeps me up and I ride it as long as I can.” Anuxiamoon quips. “For Dota 2, I sometimes do a semi meditative think process, where in the chaos of my brain I find shapes and lines and ideas that I think would work well. Whether they do or not is something I then figure out during my brainstorm sketch process. If you could see my sketchbooks, they are filled with scribbles and ideas for lots of Dota 2 Heroes.”
"The process can take anywhere from three days to a week."
With others, it's a more streamlined procedure. Chemical Alia and DrySocket frequently collaborate together on projects. “The first thing we normally do is brainstorm. Here are a few of the things we'll consider: what characters are newly available to the store, what characters already have awesome recently sets, which characters contrast with the sets we've already made so they can keep things fun, what characters are popular with the player base and so on. From there, we brainstorm set ideas, become acquainted with the character through the models, lore and voice acting. Then, we start drawing a whole bunch of ideas until we settle on a final design.”
The process, according to the pair, can take anywhere from three days to a week. “After that point we split up the work, where each of us takes about half the set and does the high poly, low poly, texturing, everything. We'll bring it all back together again once that's done, take a consistency pass over the textures to make sure it all feels right, and start on our marketing shots. You'd be surprised how much work there is actually besides making the models that you see in Dota! Testing takes forever, and making the actual promotion shots always takes longer than expected.”
Some of Chemical Alia's courier concepts.
Dry quips, half mournfully. “My girlfriend does NOT like it when I say 'I'm almost done' because she never believes it anymore.”
"I see the Workshop community as more a group of gamers, rather than artists."
On top of harsh critique from their peers and personal obligations, Dota 2 item-makers must contend with the general public, a group composed of the frequently vilified players of Dota 2. While some rail against the acid so commonly associated with that demographic, others take it in stride.
“They're a pretty opinionated bunch, but I think that's to be expected because they care about the game and what content goes into it. I see the Workshop community as more a group of gamers, rather than artists. So, while the feedback we get from them might not be the most technically insightful or artistically constructive, it still gives us an idea of how your average Dota 2 player responds to your work and that is a super important metric.” DrySocket remarks.
“There's definitely this strange relationship between contributors and their fans.” Mrpresident says. “You wouldn't believe how many times I and others have been told to "read the art guide" as if people that have sunk hundreds of hours into item creation somehow haven't taken 15 minutes to read the art guide, and then intentionally try to push it and see if Valve likes it.”
Gordon Calleja (and fellow Mighty Box co-conspirators') online game Will Love Tear Us Apart sets itself up against the song: each chapter is based on a verse of the morose Ian Curtis lyrics. It’s impossible to extricate the two from each other: the comparison has already been made. I succumbed, and rebelled. Inspiration doesn’t have to be a comparison, and yet, this game felt like a very personal slant had been taken on one of post-punk’s most adored songs.
The song itself tears you apart. At hearing that first strum you can’t contain your excitement; the dancefloor realises that this is it. It is happening again. It gets more excited, drums defibrillate hearts, you feel like your heart might not even survive the beginning of Joy Division’s sleeping masterpiece. But as it settles in, there’s a horrible darkness that comes over you, a dark realisation that you can never return to the euphoria of those opening bars. You drift into the rhythm and Joy Division witches you into that limbo between crying and not: that’s the rending part. Curtis holds you there, just above the surface, and it slowly eats away at your insides. It’s one of music’s greatest relationship metaphors, a dark love letter, a reaction to the simple messages that pop had years before bound itself to.
Is there a way that games can convey these competing, complex, ambitious contradictions? In particular, does Gordon Calleja’s game do that?
There’s no beginning euphoria in the game. You are thrust into a bleak black and white world with jagged edges and thin lines, where two humanoids draw cards against each other: you pull a card to react to the other person’s argument. You can pull “I need to stay calm” card, a “I’m getting angry” card, or a “Let me try to understand” card. One person will devour the other.
The second part is set within a labyrinthine set of intestines, which two characters must negotiate at the same time: the instructions inform you that you are trying to avoid the pain of breaking up by both heading towards the light in the centre.
The third part of the game is where you decide how the misery concludes: in a horrible break up, continual circles, or in drifting away. You choose your symbol, go towards it, and walk the path of the symbol on the floor to indicate your resignation. Choose the swirl, and you are doomed to repeat the process through again.
The game is beautifully made, and so oppressive in spirit and mechanics that you feel doomed, like a tyrannical spirit of your past relationships is looming over your shoulder. The black and white animations and images are grim; and the outlook and words so bleak that it evokes a feeling of stomach-grinding ache. The card game is somewhat cruel in its tendency to overstay its welcome - just like relationship arguments, and the realisation in part two that you will always screw one character over is in itself heartbreaking. Part three is a cathartic state: this is where you decide how long you will stay in this nightmarish cocoon.
This is the perfect way to convey the feelings of an oppressive relationship: the constraints of the design, the feelings of frustration the limited options and controls press you to have, the music (all original, and not Joy Division) conveys that caught-in-spider-web grate. The feelings the game conveys most effectively is that of hopelessness, frustration and repetition. In that way Love Will Tear Us Apart may not approach the rhythm and beat of Joy Division’s song, but it shows that games are certainly as powerful, if not equally adept at punching an idea through us, as music.
Excuse me, I’m off to kick a can down the street.
You can play the game for free on the Will Love Tear Us Apart site.