Dota 2

The multiplayer online battle arena is not the easiest genre in the world to dip a tentative toe into. There's a lot of information, and learning the ropes in the midst of a hyper-competitive online milieu that's not known for being forgiving to newcomers can be off-putting, to say the least. To help ease new Dota 2 players into the action, Valve recently made a couple of changes to the game that it says are intended to help them "face as few barriers as possible" when they start playing. 

First, the hero selection system has been changed so that players will only have access to a "curated group" of 20 heroes, out of a currently total of 113, for their first 25 games. "This introductory group consists of heroes that we’ve learned are very successful in helping new players learn and enjoy the game," the Dota team explained. 

Even more importantly (in my opinion, anyway) new players will now be matched only against others with "consistently high behavior scores," to ensure that they have "a good social experience while they are first trying to learn the game." 

That's a good idea—I'd go so far as to say it's an excellent one—but it's also a tacit admission that the Dota 2 social situation isn't consistently good, and is in fact so bad that people need to be protected from it. It's hard to be overly critical of the way Valve has handled Dota's evolution so far (it's quite the success, after all) but if you have to lock out a significant portion of your existing player base just so they won't chase away newbies, then maybe that's an issue that needs a more head-on approach. 

The International Dota 2 Championships, or just "The International" as it's better known, begins on August 7, with a total prize pool of more than $23 million. Pick up some practical tips on how to enjoy the spectator side of the game as a newcomer right here.

Grand Theft Auto V

The GTA5 mod 'Grand Theft Space' was revealed to the world, quietly and very prosaically, back near the start of the year. "I've heard little rumblings in the past of people wanting to make space mods. I've seen map-editor satellites, and space ship looking vehicles, the whole 9 yards. But nobody seems to have ever made it so you can actually go in space," developer Sollaholla wrote at the time. "So I said, 'Screw it, I'm gonna make a space mod.'" 

Announcing a mod is easy, actually making one is not. But earlier this month, Sollaholla and his co-creators—Shaezbreizh, AHK1221, Unknown Modder, Pantyshot, JRod, SkylineGTRFreak, KAFAROS, TheMadBreaker—released a trailer showing off what they've come up with so far. It is spectacular. 

What I love most about this trailer is the way it so smoothly and naturally progresses, from Columbia on the launch pad to the moon and beyond. Way beyond. It almost looks at first like a cinematic take on Kerbal Space Program, or maybe that Space Odyssey thing that Neil deGrasse Tyson is working on, but eventually things start to head off in a more GTA-appropriate direction, except with Death Ray Zorchers instead of a .45 auto. 

In a way I feel like it almost doesn't matter if the Grand Theft Space mod never makes it to release: The video is so good that it's worth watching even as a "fake trailer." But obviously I would prefer to actually play it. All that GTA action, but in the endless, black void of space? That's basically the Mass Effect sequel I wanted all along.

There's no word on a release date, the trailer says that it's only "coming soon," but you can follow along with the action at gta5-mods.com

Alien: Isolation

Sega showed off a VR mode for the first-person horror game Alien: Isolation, running on an early version of the Oculus Rift way back in the summer of 2014. It never evolved beyond the prototype stage, but the files that enabled the VR mode were still present in the game when it shipped. They were hidden, however, and more to the point inoperable, thanks to the many changes made to the Oculus SDK between the Development Kit 2 (which the demo ran on) and the release of the consumer version a couple of years later. But thanks to the magic of the MotherVR mod being developed by Zack "Nibre" Fannon, it's working (with some limitations) once again. 

Fannon told Road To VR that the old Oculus development kit doesn't rely on external files to operate, but "gets statically compiled directly into the game," and is thus very difficult to modify. "This limitation is the main reason why support has been restricted to the DK2 and older legacy runtimes for so long,” he said. “How I’ve been able to circumvent that is by patching every SDK call in the game when it launches, to redirect it to my own ‘fake’ SDK code. I then take these requests from the game, and reinterpret them to the current Oculus SDK, translating and fixing things along the way.”   

Technical issues aside, Fannon said that some of the limitations of the VR mode, including "mandatory smooth turning, head-locked aiming, broken re-centering that doesn’t correctly align the game horizon with the real world horizon (that was terrible before I fixed it), body positioning in VR (objects way too close), [and] forced head animation," simply reflect how the field of VR development has changed over the past few years. 

"To be fair to the developers though, in 2014 we really didn’t know as much regarding VR methodologies as we do now. So with that in mind, their VR support was actually pretty good for the time," he said.   

He also warned on the MotherVR Github page that Alien: Isolation VR is designed for seated play only. "By playing this Mod any other way than seated, you do so at your own risk. You may be able to stomach this standing, but I absolutely cannot recommend it at this time. Roomscale does not work whatsoever right now." 

It's still very early in the process—the currently available version is alpha 0.1.1—but Fannon said he wanted to make the mod available "so people can play with it while I continue to work on it." It only supports the Oculus Rift at the moment, but he hopes to have "basic Vive support" operational soon, and support for VR controllers like the Oculus Touch added at some point in the future. 

A video of the Alien: Isolation VR prototype in operation can be seen below.

PLAYERUNKNOWN'S BATTLEGROUNDS

Twitch Plays Battlegrounds is simultaneously one of the most brilliant, and most absurd, ideas I've encountered in a long time. As the name suggests, it enables a PUBG character to be controlled by an audience of Twitch viewers. But unlike other such efforts we've seen, such as Dark Souls or Punch Club, this one works entirely in real-time: Players enter commands in the chat to move, shoot, adjust the camera, and so forth, and the bot (with allowances for lag) responds immediately. 

"The vision behind this channel is one of curiosity, collaboration, and patience," the channel's welcome message explains. "The command list is a living document, being updated frequently to improve quality of life for you all. If you have suggestions, don't hesitate to get in contact with me. I am working on ways to reduce the latency between chat and stream, and make the user experience as smooth as possible. All with the ultimate goal in mind of sharing a chicken dinner with all of you." 

The catch, naturally, is that with hundreds of people involved in the process, each with their own idea of what should be done, chaos is inevitable—and by all rights, paralysis should result. Yet somehow, this gong show on wheels not only managed to rack up two kills, it actually finished a match in third place in just its second day of operation.

At least one of the two kills appears to be a gift from a player who knew what was going on—the enemy character runs up to the bot and then stands still while taking a beatdown—and it seems pretty clear that the bot's success, such as it is, is based wholly on discretion being the better part of valor. But the crowdsourced flailing can be awfully entertaining to watch, even if it's sometimes hard to tell what exactly is going on. 

Alas, a chicken dinner was just out of reach—and death, when it came, was hilariously inglorious. Still, third place is a hell of a lot better than many "real" players manage. Perhaps there's a lesson in there somewhere?

ARK: Survival Evolved

Ark: Survival Evolved developer Studio Wildcard has some bad news, but also some good. Let's get the bad out of the way first: The process of prepping the game for retail release took longer than expected, and so the planned launch date of August 8, which the studio announced back in June, has been pushed to August 29.   

"We're deeply apologetic for those who were negatively affected by the delay; it sucks, it wasn't what we had wanted, nor planned but where we currently stand," the studio explained in a weekend update. "We wanted to address this sooner but did not want to make any statements until we were completely sure of what was going to happen." 

The delay also impacts the release of a planned update for the Ragnarok expansion map, which Studio Wildcard said is actually the upside to the whole thing. "This extended time will allow further development of the map and you guys can expect a gigantic update, even bigger than we initially thought," it explained. "On the date of release, the overground of the world will increase by approximately one quarter, which is near-enough a 'TheIsland-sized' expansion; the update will feature new biomes, a coastal Wyvern canyon, an epic boss encounter, new engrams, and something secret the Ragnarok team are cooking up!" 

Beyond that, the studio's focus will be on improving the performance of the game on PC and addressing specific issues like multiplayer bosses ("They're ridiculous, we know why and we're going to fix it"), the "Baby-to-Juvie Stasis issue" that prevents infant creatures from maturing properly, and stopping "jerks" from going under the map and raiding people. A major version update that will "significantly assist with DDoS mitigation, resolve the exploit which has allowed players to dupe, and ... allow players to rent PC-dedicated Console Servers" is also slated for the middle of August. 

PLAYERUNKNOWN'S BATTLEGROUNDS

This article was originally published in PC Gamer issue 307. For more quality articles about all things PC gaming, you can subscribe now in the UK and the US.

A hundred people are dropped on an island full of guns, and the last one alive wins. That’s the beautifully simple premise of Battlegrounds, the survival game taking the internet by storm. A storm that I’m hopelessly caught up in.

At first I was treating it like a deathmatch, tooling up with any guns I could scavenge and seeking other players out in an attempt to shoot my way to the top of the food chain. But I was dying quickly, and embarrassingly, without even scraping the top 50.

So I decided to take a different approach. I started playing the game like an elaborate game of hide-and-seek. Hiding instead of attacking. Sneaking through the foliage, holing up in buildings, letting other players pass rather than engaging them in a firefight.

I’ll still kill people, but only if I’m backed into a corner and have no choice, or if someone is easy pickings. It’s hard to resist when a player hasn’t seen you and you have a clear shot—especially if they’re toting a fancy weapon or wearing a nice-looking hat.

But the game does have ways of keeping cautious players on their toes. Over the course of a match the play area gets incrementally smaller, represented by a shrinking circle. Stay outside the circle for too long and a wall of blue energy will sap your health until you expire. Also, large areas of the playfield are pummeled by terrifying airstrikes at random.

So you have to keep moving, even if you’re just trying to stay hidden. And when the circle shrinks and forces you out of your hideyhole, there’s a very real chance of running into another player. Especially in the later stages of a match, when there are only a handful of players left, when the circle contracts to the size of a Quake deathmatch map.

Playing Battlegrounds like this makes it feel like a stealth game, but with real, thinking humans instead of AI-controlled guards, and it’s incredibly tense as a result. It’s the only game other than Dark Souls to make my heart properly pound with excitement. And it’s the most fun I’ve had in an online game since I was deep into the similarly nerve-racking DayZ.

The only thing I miss from DayZ is how everyone on the map isn’t necessarily out to kill you. I love bumping into someone in Chernarus and that uneasy moment of figuring out whether they’re going to attack you or not. But in Battlegrounds everyone wants to kill everyone else, so running into another player almost certainly results in violence.

I’m getting better at being a coward. I’ve made it as far as sixth using stealth, and I’m hoping to win one match without any aggression. But when I play in a group, the safety of numbers makes me a lot more trigger-happy, and attacking other squads is the best way to play the game with friends. It’s a totally different experience.

Battlegrounds has sold over 6 million copies and is so cosy at the top of the Steam charts, it’s just bought a house there. But unlike many Early Access darlings, I feel like this one entirely deserves its ridiculous success and the $60 million it has reportedly generated.

Although being a popular Steam game, it does have a tendency to attract some of the worst people in the world. Do yourself a favour and disable voice chat before you play, because the prematch lobby is a sea of idiot racists and edgy teens.

PC Gamer

Parody in games is a notoriously tricky art. Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is probably the most famous and recent example. It made jokes about how boring tutorials were in games, but still made you sit through boring a tutorial in telling it. This at least had the benefit of the game underneath being great—if you don't have that, there's even less point in making the joke to begin with. 

So here we have Behold The Kickmen, a football game from Ben Here, Dan That’s Dan Marshall, a man who fully confesses to knowing nothing about, and indeed vehemently disliking, the sport of football. The joke is there for all to see. Unfortunately, that premise is represented entirely by the game’s mantra, ‘Do A Goal’, a phrase that’s like nails down a chalkboard for any of the millions who do enjoy football. 

Behold The Kickmen is a kind of hybrid of Speedball 2 and Sensible Soccer, run through the filter of a mild superiority complex. Football as a sport and as an industry is ripe for parody and indeed ridicule, but Behold The Kickmen aims its sights less at the things worth poking fun at—braindead post-match interviews, preposterous coverage, endless tabloid snooping—and instead lays into the sport itself, and its fans. 

Most goals come from the ineptitude of the goldkeepers (yes), rather than anything resembling efficient play

If the jokes were particularly insightful or funny, then there would be a foundation to work from here. You’re asked to name a team, and then battle your way up the ‘Big Boring Football Spreadsheet’, by taking on rival teams one after another, and ‘doing more goals’ than them to ‘win the sport’. It’s the same level of humour as people who post up a picture of Big Ben on their Instagram and say ‘London, I am in you.’

In between each match, a story plays out involving your chosen star striker and his protracted falling out with a player from Brazil United, who win the World Cup every year. There are actually glimpses of the flair of Ben There, Dan That in the writing here. When Behold The Kickmen is less interested in targeting the world it's parodying, and just concentrates on a bit of character and word play, it’s much more appealing.

Sadly, things just fall apart on the pitch. Behold The Kickmen is a kind of sluggish chaos, where the actually-quite-charming little footballers run around after the ball like school kids, but are slowed down into treacle-sludging zombies the second they gain possession. Passing is indicated with a line drawn between two players, but is almost impossible to guarantee the direction you actually kick the ball—indeed, it often goes backwards. You can shoot by charging up a pass and use aftertouch with the right stick (a controller is recommended), but most goals come from the extreme ineptitude of the ‘goldkeepers’ (yes), rather than anything resembling efficient play.

The occasional times Behold The Kickmen impresses is when it does successfully ape football, when you do manage to string a few passes together and ‘do a goal’, something that's been enjoyable in pretty much every football game since the Spectrum. There’s even a tackling system that shows genuine promise: charge up your slide as you aim for the ball, release the tackle, then hit the button again to immediately gain possession. Unfortunately, it just slows an already sluggish game into a crawl. 

Behold The Kickmen isn’t nasty, it's just smug. It’s funny enough to have a new offside rule which awards a red card to any player stuck in the ‘wrong’ part of the pitch when a timer runs out, but this comes in place of an actual offside rule. It means there’s almost no way of stopping the opposition strikers from hanging out in front of your goal and scoring at will because the AI isn’t smart enough to get in the way. Maybe that rule isn’t so daft after all. 

Perhaps the humour will appeal to those who genuinely dislike football. The game barely costs anything, so even if you did fancy jumping in for the gags, it’s not a huge investment. Even if the jokes do appeal to your sensibilities, though, I can’t possibly recommend a game that’s bogged down by such a mind-numbing version of the sport. A straight red card. 

Dota 2

Photos via Valve's official Dota 2 Flickr account.Every year, The International showcases players from across the globe who have spent countless hours, days and years mastering one of the deepest games ever made. The annual event is reliably one of the most exciting esports events of the year. The issue is that many don’t know where to begin watching it. More intimidating than the game itself is the fear of 'watching the game wrong'—but in reality, the only way to watch Dota 2 wrong is to not watch at all. If you find yourself worried about diving into The International, here are some quick tips that will help you out.

Just do it  

Like a child watches soccer, hockey or American football for the first time, we all experience Dota 2 for the first time in one form or another—and, likely, get overwhelmed by the exposure. It happens. After all, many will say that their introduction into the game was The International 3, and the influx in player count shows this. Plus, with millions of dollars on the line, every year draws more and more curious onlookers, whether from another video game or just someone that heard about the prize money. In other words, you’re in good company. 

Don’t be scared to dive in and watch. Dota 2 is like rugby or American football: much of what’s going on can’t be explained until you see it practically applied. Concepts such as creep pulling, laning, rotations and 'objective-focused strategies' are execution-based and look much better than they sound. 

This year, the Newcomer Stream will also make its return to The International. If you’re a first-time viewer trying to learn some of the basics of the game, this will be a likely first destination for you. It’s unknown if a separate explanation commentary will return, but at the very least, there will be tooltips to enhance your understanding of the game’s strategy and items.

Understand the event’s flow (and take breaks!) 

What’s nice about Dota 2 is that it keeps a fairly consistent pace throughout the tournament. Some teams will even become predictable, trying to drag out games or end them more quickly. It’s worth keeping an eye out so you can understand when are good times to get up and do errands, such as food breaks or bathroom trips, without worrying too much.  

For instance, in the larger scheme of things, while some first games of best-of-three matches can be interesting, you’ll come back and see the same two teams play again next game. There’s often about ten minutes between games, and fifteen to thirty between matches. 

On a smaller scale, the time between the walk-on and the end of the hero draft is often just given over to match speculation, and so this is a good 8-to-12-minute mini-break. The early stages of the game, after first blood, are often just intermediate kills, though it’s good to return before about twenty minutes on the in-game clock before teamfights pick up.

Don’t stick to one team  

Only following one team will often lead to disappointment (for most fans, anyway). After all, life comes at us fast, and teams get dropped from the eleven-day event as quickly as you discover them. Sixteen teams in, one out. 

Do not be scared to bandwagon if a team you chose loses: seriously, it’s you and the rest of the Dota 2 community getting behind that new team.

You don’t have to know everything 

A major myth in trying to watch Dota 2, from my experience with new spectators, is that fans assume they need to know every painstaking detail about the game to watch. Even experienced players can be intimidated by the level of play that they’re seeing. 

Knowing a lot about Dota 2 will help, but it’s absolutely not necessary. In fact, even if you know more than the average player, that won’t help predict or explain every decision made in a professional game. It won’t explain dives or odd item choices: that’s an analyst’s job, and even then, analysts can also hit a ceiling of knowledge. In other words, even players with thousands of hours in-game can only know so much, so you’re not alone. 

If you do think you need help understanding what heroes, items and strategies, there’s no shame in Googling items, asking online communities or consulting with friends. Most of these have more-than-thorough explanations of much of what’s going on. And, the worst case is, the people you ask don’t know either, and you all get to speculate and learn about the game together.

The Long Dark

Despite European console delays, the first two chapters of The Long Dark's long-awaited and much-anticipated story mode land on PC tomorrow. 

Named 'Do Not Go Gentle' and 'Luminance Fugue' respectively, these segments of story centre on the relationship between bush pilot Will Mackenzie and Dr. Astrid Greenwood, how they've come to be separated, and how the world has wound up in its seemingly perma-frozen and very much abandoned state. 

More information on all of that is detailed here, however TLD's story mode also now has a launch trailer. Observe:

Developer Hinterland Studio reckons it'll take players around six to ten hours to best both episodes, and that subsequent chapters three through five are expected at some point "into 2018."

The Long Dark's story mode kicks off tomorrow, August 1—which is also when the survival sim leaves Early Access.

12 is Better Than 6

This month's PC Gamer Club game is here! 12 is Better Than 6 is a top-down, Hotline Miami-esque action game with stealth elements, that averages out at very positive reviews on Steam. It's set in the Wild West in 1873, and features real locations, a strong story element and stylish art, as well as authentic weapons and plenty of scope to upgrade. 

If you enjoy this game, HypeTrain Digital's next game is Police Stories, due Q4 2017. In this top down action game, you play a police officer who has to make quick and difficult calls in the line of duty. It was successfully Kickstarted in May. Find out more by signing up to their newsletter here, and you can check out the free alpha here too. Enjoy. 

Back to the wicky-wicky-Wild Wild West: signing up to the PC Gamer Club will net you a code for 12 is Better Than 6. These expire on 31/10/2017, and you can redeem yours by following the instructions located this-a-way

Of course 12 is Better Than 6 is also coming to those already signed up—and if you're still on the fence, let us point you towards our handy Club FAQ

If you fancy that, registration details can be found over here

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