PC Gamer

Speaking as a writer that covers a scene easily considered one of the most well-funded and supported in the entire esports ecology... I'm kind of jealous of everybody else.

It's not as if the League of Legends scene isn't vibrant and healthy—the increased challenger scene support across the board (with rumors of an expanded tournament even here in Taiwan) guarantees a baseline of fresh talent even as the current generation of pro players retire or burn out. The collegiate scene just had a major Riot-backed and casted face-off a while ago as well. So Riot's plans to extend the health of the scene for years to come seems like it's ticking away like a well-oiled machine. Though it'll be at least five more years (twice its current lifetime) before we truly know if their investment's paid off, we do know that they've successfully dominated the Korean and Chinese esports scene for a length of time unprecedented by any game but Brood War.

That's not too shabby for a company younger than my baby sister. Yet it's also been a dominance and longevity entirely driven by them as well—a case of strongly top-down design. And that inherently has some limitations and restrictions for how the scene develops.

Lessons from the bootstrap

I've gotten deeply into the Super Smash Bros. Wii U scene lately, and it is definitely Quite The Other Thing. Twitch's recent acquisition of D'Ron Maingrette and Arian Fathieh, major community figures, speaks well of the game's current growth. But while the whole Project M kerfuffle hinted at heavy-handed measures from Nintendo or other involved corporate interests, there is no dispute whatsoever that the Smash scene is one of almost purely grassroots love.

There are drawbacks to the grassroots approach, of course. No careful reputations management and background checks means you get the Alex Strifes floating around, making everybody involved with Apex look bad. There are the rookie tournament organizers running events for the first time, like seemingly with MVG Sandstorm, and drowning under the unexpected seas of complexity as they juggle schedules, setup malfunctions, busted CRT TVs, Challonge messing up the ladder, upon other crises. And all amid a much larger crowd of participants than the 10-20 they originally expected. Not to mention drunk casters, drunk players, and drunk hecklers—even in supposedly dry events!

On the other hand, that's also where the charm is. The informality and lack of barriers between tournament "officials," players, and audience is something you can't replicate even with Riot's almost obsessive approach to public interaction (and which Valve refuses to try at all). There is a very tangible sort of communal ownership—nobody visible in the scene's gotten to where they are without making their bones as just another player getting yelled at for tripping over a console by an overstressed TO.

For all of its lows, the heights of grassroots hype is unmatched and heady. Its best TOs are amazing organizers, especially with a shoestring budget. Its best rivalries are entirely organic—the trashtalk all the better for the peppery fire of offscreen interactions that makes the TSM vs CLG beef look like lean lunchmeat. While the League of Legends era mainstream tournament conductors have done a much better job of humanizing its competitors (the complaints about robotic KeSPA players fallen by the wayside), there is no escaping its nature as an engineered media event.

ZeRo calling out Falcon mains and Smash Wii U players in general was definitely deliberate on his part. But it was no company-manufactured hype. It wasn't a storyline sold to heighten and maintain an audience's interests—it was the champion from Chile throwing the gauntlet down at friends, allies, enemies and rivals alike out of personal interest and investment in the growth of the Smash Wii U scene. Presumably just the same as his friends, allies, enemies and rivals.

There isn't a whole lot of that in League, is there? No money matches in quite a while. Salty suites risk fines if they get too salty (not that we shouldn't, frankly, fine all or most of EUW and EUNE anyhow). Heck, small-scale weeklies have fallen by the wayside of the lumbering, unstoppable LCS machine. Alphadraft's Challenger League's the latest and last of those beasts—but how indie do we really consider a site backed by a Donald Sterling-led investment round worth a posh $5 million?

I'm not really calling for a return to Season 2, when we had DOTA2 and CS:GO's current superabundance problem, with the packed and overlapping schedule of tournaments diluted the importance and hype of all but the biggest. But I do wonder why the grassroots level's so poor, especially in the west. It's not as if has to be—China's got so many tournaments, EDG claimed a cool 22 trophies in the course of a year. And, sure, LPL letting their top teams play is kind of cheating compared to the LCS situation—but where's the interest in running locals and regionals?

Why are we, as a scene, satisfied with just watching TSM play, or Faker dunking mid lane newbs? Why aren't you running a summoner showdown from out of your dorm, having people square off on Howling Abyss 1v1s for the fun of it, and baiting it with a nice little pool of prize money made from the entry fees?

Where it starts

Let me make one last indulgent callback to the days of Season 2, when I was still a wide-eyed esports rookie. Most people know Christopher "MonteCristo" Mykles as OnGameNet's star analyst, breaking down the intricacies of Korean play for the western audience. Some might remember that he was owner and founder of ggChronicle, one of the first independent coverage sites dedicated to League of Legends (Solomid.net predates it, but was obviously answerable to team interests).

Long before League of Legends was an international phenomena, selling out the Staples Center and dominating the esports world, MonteCristo was a paralegal running a community site on the side, paying out of his own pocket to send me up to San Francisco for Curse Invitational coverage (I've since deleted and burned the videos—I have horrible camera presence), and personally hitting the beat to get advertisers to back the ggClassic. We were the first western organization to get the Taipei Assassins to face off against western teams, long before their Season 2 World Championship win. One of the vanishingly few to do regular recaps of the GPL, the first of the game's weekly circuits, and the OnGameNet Champions under Moletrap. My fellow writers, podcasters and vloggers from that era now range from supervising editor at Canada's TheScore (hi Matt), to Riot employees, or to professional casters.

None of us were anything particularly special, except that we chose to be involved instead of staying spectators. We loved the scene, and wanted to be a part of it—not apart from it. And that's what's required to keep the scene healthy in the years to come: not just for its players to be fostered and trained to ever-heightened levels, but for people to want to give them a place to show off their increasing skills, and to hand over a mic for casters to learn to get over stage fright.

We can't rely on Riot for everything. We really shouldn't want to. Eventually, you'll have to ask yourself "what can I do?"

And then, simply, you do it.

PC Gamer

One of the most disappointing things about GTA 5 is that it's impossible to tether a semi-trailer to a train and watch the ensuing explosions. Until now. A new mod introduces the Just Cause 2 grappling hook to Los Santos, offering a quick and easy way to scale downtown skyscrapers. It also lets you connect vehicles, which never gets boring.

The work of JulioNIB, the mod can be downloaded here, but be careful: Rockstar has stated that mods are acceptable in singleplayer only, and some recent mods have been found to carry malware, so proceed with all the necessary precautions.

For more mods, check out our list of the best GTA 5 mods

PC Gamer

John Carmack will keynote the Oculus Connect conference in Hollywood this September. It's the second Oculus Connect following last year's debut, and will occur at a pretty crucial time for VR technology: Valve and HTC are expected to release a consumer version of their Vive headset before year end, while Oculus has indicated it will likely follow in the first quarter of 2016.

Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe and head scientist Michael Abrash will also deliver keynotes, though Palmer Luckey won't, if the conference's official website is any indication. Wes interviewed Luckey at last year's event, and also got hands-on with the Crescent Bay prototype.

While Carmack's legendary QuakeCon keynotes are no longer thanks to his split from id Software, he gets about: he spoke on the dawn of mobile VR at GDC back in March.  

PC Gamer

Last year I played a multi-generational game of grand strategy Crusader Kings 2 using the A Game of Thrones mod, which transforms the historical medieval setting of CK2 into the continent of Westeros from George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire novels (and the HBO series). My goal was to play as the most minor of lords and experience the conflict and drama of Westeros from the ground floor. Game of Checkers will run on Sundays for ten weeks.

Island Hopping

Rosie has died, and once again I'm playing the game as a little girl, Rosie's daughter, Daisy. Of course, my most pressing task is to find a future husband.

I propose to Pearse Waters, who just happens to be the son of the (current, most likely temporary) King of the Iron Throne, Michael Waters. It's a matrilineal arrangement, naturally, so any kids we have will be of my dynasty and not his. I also try to take care of my younger brother, Neejerk, in anticipation of him getting cranky or even stabby if I ever have children. I bestow upon him my smallest holding, the island called The Paps. Why not? Despite being the cause of most of the recent drama, it's a tiny island with 72 soldiers on it. As my vassal he'll probably vote for himself as heir, thanks to the elective succession I had to resort to a couple generations ago, but I ll still have my vote against his.

As Lady of the Fingers, it s also up to me to arrange marriages for anyone who needs one, such as my recently widowed father, Moryn Blackbar. Naturally, I look up Daenerys Stormborn, one of the few characters from the books who is still alive. I ve been dying to have her in my court pretty much since I started playing, so I arrange their marriage. I know she s 61 and my dad is much younger, but she s still Daenerys and she's still cool and I want her stalking through my little castle, coldly demanding to know where her dragons are.

Unfortunately, Margery Tyrell dies at age 65, and my dad, who is Margery's son, leaves for the Reach, having inherited some holdings there. He takes Daenerys with him, naturally. Just when she got here! Ah, well. At least she ll be living in a proper city instead of my cruddy little castle.

Daisy, now age 15, marries her child groom, Pearse Waters, age 14, and immediately becomes pregnant. She gives birth to a son, Nobbrick, and I nominate him as my heir. Neejerk gets on board with the program, surprisingly, and votes for Nobbrick as well, marking the first time a family member has ever done anything pleasantly in line with my wishes.

The current war for The Iron Throne spills over into The Vale, but we win a quick victory and march into the Riverlands led by my liege, Gilwood. Then, Gilwood dies. My new liege and Lord Paramount of The Vale is named Penthar Hersey. By this point things have gotten so convoluted that even after spending a few minutes clicking around in Hersey's family tree I still have no real idea why he s the heir to The Vale.

Something else I don't quite understand: Hersey has no liege of his own. I m not sure why or how, but Hersey is not beholden to the Iron Throne. At some point during this latest war, The Vale has claimed independence. Since we're not fighting on behalf of The Iron Throne anymore, we have no real business being out here in the Riverlands. I can t safely disband my soldiers, however, because I m in enemy territory. I have to manually march my army all the way back home or only a fraction of them will make it safely through hostile country.

This isn t really a problem, until it very suddenly is. As my army tromps slowly east, Lord Paramount Mathis of The Reach suddenly comes up with a claim on The Paps, and ships full of his soldiers arrive and begin sacking it. With my army half a continent away, and with barely any soldiers of their own, The Paps falls almost instantly. Neejerk, kicked out of his castle, goes to live in Dalston Keep with his wife.

Just like that, Lord Paramount Mathis has taken The Paps.

A Fleet of Foes

Well, I'm not going to stand for that, not after all the trouble taking The Paps caused in the first place. Of course, being Lord Paramount, Mathis has a number of allies. I have an ally too. You may have heard of him? King Michael Waters of the Iron Throne? It doesn't matter that The Vale is independent because King Michael is my father-in-law. He'll fight for me.

I declare war on The Reach for the Paps. A split-second later, however, The Riverlands declares war on the Iron Throne. Sigh. It appears King Michael will be a little too busy to send any help my way. I hire a sellsword infantry to boost my numbers, but before they arrive I notice Mathis has sent for help. 33 ships from the Reach arrive on Sunset Keep, where I ve been waiting for the mercenaries to march over from my other island, Pebble. There s only about 1,500 soldiers enemy soldiers in Sunset Keep, versus my almost 3,000. Still, they manage to turn the tide and whittle down my numbers before help can arrive. The sellswords join me just before I m defeated, and the Reach army retreats.

As we march to The Paps, Mathis raises his own levies and we clash on the tiny island. Bolstered by mercs, we force Mathis to retreat and begin sacking the stronghold. Then, some very bad news. A full 7,000 Reach soldiers appear from the west and join up with the retreating army of Mathis. They begin sacking Sunset Keep.

Mathis leaves 1,500 men behind to continue the siege, and the rest of his soldiers arrive on The Paps. I don t have enough gold to buy another squad of mercs, and even if I did, they still wouldn t be enough. Mathis tears my army to shreds.

Kicked off the island, we march to Sunset Keep, hoping to at least prevent it from being sacked by the forces there. We fail, again, and are forced to retreat to Snakewood with only 500 soldiers left. My only hope is to offer peace and try to save Sunset Keep. It ll cost me 200 prestige, and as teenager I haven t even gained that much, but no one will answer my calls for help. I have to straight up surrender. I m broke, I m at negative prestige, and I ve lost The Paps.

Just to rub it in, Mathis—who by taking over The Paps has actually become my vassal—does not vote for my son Nobbrick to inherit The Fingers. He votes for himself. I'm forced to generate a new ally the old-fashioned way: I become pregnant again.

My liege abruptly dies, and we have a new Lord Paramount named Paxter. Hilariously, Paxter's very first act as new Lord Paramount of The Vale is to immediately declare war on Mathis of The Paps. Works for me! I m not sure this will personally get me The Paps, back but at least Mathis won t keep it either. I drag my exhausted, humiliated handful of soldiers out of their shops and stables and press them back into service.

Mathis marches off The Paps and starts sacking Sunset Keep again, and my small forces can t repel him. I notice with some alarm that most of Paxter's soldiers are actually headed south to meet the Reach army that s arriving to back up Mathis, but enough of them rush Sunset Keep to chase Mathis forces back to The Paps. A fleet of 93 galleys from The Reach skims by, heading for The Sisters, the island chain to the north. It looks like they re trying to attack from all sides. This is quickly becoming a full blown war.

4,100 soldiers from The Reach land on Bite Coast and begin marching inland. Meanwhile, down at Bloodgate, the entrance to The Vale, the bulk of the Valeman army outnumber the Reach soldiers 3 to 1 and win a decisive victory. The soldiers from The Reach begin sacking Heart's Home, as two thousand more hurry over to bolster them.

In the midst of all this, another war begins. Dornish Spearmen have chosen this moment to invade the Vale. They ve decided to start their invasion in Sunset Keep, naturally, but having just dispensed of most of The Reach soldiers, 17,000 Valemen quickly put a stop to that. Meanwhile, I m still trying to sack The Paps with only a handful of men, and it's taking ages. Thankfully, Paxter himself, and 8,000 of his men, are on the way.

While my army struggles to take back The Paps, I m in Pebble giving birth to my second son, who I name Needrick. I figure someday when he s my brother and not my son, he ll be very needy. As I'm wiping gunk off my newborn baby, my Master of Whispers strolls in and is all, "Hi, hope you enjoyed your four minutes of maternity leave." It seems there s a plot underway to usurp my liege Paxter and replace him with someone named Lyonel, and I ve been invited to join it. The plot has been hatched by Lord Branston of Coldwater Burn, which complicates things.

Coldwater Burn, see, is the piece of land I have to physically walk my armies through anytime I need to leave Pebble, Wycliffe, or Midlor point. If I make them my enemies, I'd basically have to go to war just to step out my front door. Plus, the lords from Runestone, Scorched Vale, and Crab s Shore are all on board. Still, I don't want to revolt against Paxter when he's actively trying to reclaim my lost island. I tell Branston I'm not interested.

The news isn't taken well. Coldwater Burn, led by Lord Lyonel himself, immediately invades Wycliffe with 1,000 men and sends another 550 into Pebble. I m not worried: Lord Paxter has 8,000 of his men currently standing on The Paps. Surely, he ll leap to defend my home!

Paxter doesn't leap. Paxter doesn't do anything. He just stands on The Paps with his 8,000 men. Dude. Hello? I m trying to put down a rebellion against you. Help? Help!

Paxter doesn t help.

War Never Changes

I m desperate, now. I take out a loan from the Iron Bank and hire 1,200 mercs. I have only 4 gold to pay their monthly fees with, so this war needs to be over right quick. The hired swords chase my enemies off Pebble, but the retreating soldiers merge with Lyonel s forces sacking Wycliffe and return to kick the crap out of us. We lose repeated battles, dashing back and forth between Pebble and Wycliffe, chased by Lyonel s larger army. Sunset Keep is under siege as well by another army backing Lyonel. The Fingers are burning.

All the while, 8,000 of Paxter's soldiers are still standing motionless on The Paps, and I finally realize why. The war over The Paps, between Mathis and Paxter, hasn t actually ended. Mathis himself is out in the field, killing time until he s replenished by more soldiers from The Reach. Paxter is unwilling to leave The Paps because if he does, The Reach will retake it when they arrive. They're in a little standoff, and while they both stall I'm losing everything.

Since Paxter is of no use to me, I desperately try to throw in with Lord Lyonel by forming a new faction: Lord Lyonel for the Vale! Maybe he ll see the announcement in the local paper and stop trying to kill me? He doesn t, and he doesn't.

Having sacked Sunset Keep, The Reach army marches to The Paps and engages the inert Valemen standing there. The Valemen are run off, but try to take Sunset Keep back. I quickly change factions again to support Paxter, and hope he didn t notice my brief and desperate betrayal. My sellswords all suddenly quit due to the fact that I've run out of money. All of The Fingers have been invaded, and a number of other counties have swapped ownership. The Vale is a complete mess.

A raven arrives: Nanndrick has died at age 45. I know I m related to her, but I can t even remember specifically who she is at the moment. Another note informs me that Brienne of Tarth has died at age 76 of natural causes. Some good news arrives: Mathis has croaked in battle, leaving his son Loras in charge of the Paps. Loras, of course, immediately votes for himself as heir to The Fingers. Stupid elective succession!

Through the smoke filling my chambers, I read another note. Lord Branston of Coldwater Burn is asking a second time if I want to join him against Paxter. This time I say yes. I don't know how much trouble I'll be in if Paxter wins, but aligning with him hasn't done me many favors.

Years have passed during all this, by the way. Years. I was fifteen when this all began. Now I m 25. Paxter loses the war, is captured and imprisoned, and promptly dies in jail. Lyonel is now Lord Paramount. Lyonel s first act? Can you guess what it is? Correct: he immediately declares war on Loras of The Reach. For The Paps. The war over this stupid tiny worthless island is never going to end.

Since I have no money to fight, and few soldiers left, I might as well get busy ruining lives in other ways. I arrange marriages for my two sons to a couple of unfortunate young women they've never met. Meanwhile, there's a sharp knock on the splinters that used to be my front door: The Iron Bank has sent someone over to get their loan repaid. I raise taxes, and become pregnant again.

Thankfully, a nice chunk of tax money appears, just enough to pay back the Iron Bank. I m broke, again, but at least I m not in debt. The war for the Paps, believe it or not, is still going on.

I give birth to a third son. I name him Nomordrick because, seriously, no more. The war for The Paps finally, blessedly, ends, with Loras of the Reach still in charge of it. We have one millisecond of peace before a new war starts due to another claim on The Vale. Actually, two claims this time, both being pressed at once. Crab s Shore wants Sarya Waynwood to claim The Vale, and Darkmoor wants Lord Gerold to run the show. I don t even know how this war is going to work so I think I ll just sit it out, thank you.

I can t sit it out. The moment the war kicks off, the army from Coldwater Burn marches to straight over to Pebble and starts sacking the castle again.

Mercs and Jerks

I don t even know why I'm being invaded this time. Coldwater Burn doesn t have a claim, as far as I know. Lord Branston even has a positive opinion of me. Maybe he s just as confused as I am by all of this and is just attacking the closest target. Well, time to take out another loan and hire some mercs, since I only have 81 soldiers in Wycliffe, and the few I can raise from Midlor Point and Sunset Keep would have to march through hostile country to get here. I m so troubled by this new war I immediately become pregnant again.

With the help of my sellswords, I chase the Coldwater troops out of Pebble and then Wycliffe. I briefly consider sacking Coldwater Burn itself, but even with the mercs I m not sure I ll have enough soldiers to manage it. Besides, despite being a jerk, Branston has a lot of allies. I watch his soldiers rush over to Bite Coast, then disband my levies, dismiss my mercs, and hope Branston doesn t decide to come back.

Now an army from The Sisters islands is heading my way, though they're only 160 strong. I hire 345 Dornish Spearmen to stand behind my 49 men and look menacing. The Sisters army comically turns and begins marching in the opposite direction. Even when they team up with Branston s men, I still outnumber them.

It s been months of me paying a bunch of mercs to stand in Wycliffe like some really expensive bouncers. Crab s Shore is now fighting The Sisters Army in Coldwater Burn. When they defeat them, they move to Bite Coast, drop off a small detachment to sack it, then storm into Wycliffe, 715 of them. Flush with new tax money, I hurriedly hire more mercs. The fighting begins again.

Daisy turns 30 and gives birth to a daughter, Nondonna. There s been nonstop war for 15 years. And it's not anywhere close to ending.

PC Gamer

Battlefield fans: are you still playing Battlefield 4, or have you shifted your attention to Visceral's Hardline? I ask because DICE aren't making it easy to decide, supporting their oldish B4 with big updates filled with guns and gun-related things. First came Winter—thanks to my man Ned Stark for the heads up—and soon comes the Spring update, which adds new weapons and an old mode and makes balance changes and all that jazz.

Phil recently detailed the upcoming patch, supplying all the salient information save the date of its arrival. Given that DICE hadn't told anyone yet, I suppose we can forgive him, but today we know the day and indeed the time that your copies of Battlefield 4 will be automagically updated.

On Tuesday the 26th of May (AKA three days away), B4's multiplayer will be taken offline for an hour while the game receives its Spring injection, DICE say. That's going to happen at 08.00 UTC / 08:00 GMT / 1.00 AM PDT, so you might well be asleep or getting ready for work anyway. Once the patch goes live, DICE will release the patch notes, so we can see exactly how they've tinkered with the game.

PC Gamer

'Games That Are Out In June 2015' is a list that no longer includes F1 2015, which has just been delayed by around a month into the sunny, AAA wilderness that is July. July 21st, to be exact. How did developublishers Codemasters frame the delay announcement? By slipping the new date in alongside a very brief teaser trailer, and some boring stuff about "exclusive pre-order items".

Here's a whopping 12 seconds of game footage, surrounded by around 10 seconds of logos and some photoshopped faces of famous drivers:

We gave F1 2014 a big fat ehhhhh, or "67%" in terms Metacritic could understand.

PC Gamer

I've never played the Killzone games, owing to the fact that I don't possess the precise living room box required, but now at least I've gotten a taste of the Helghast. Killzone Source doesn't recreate an entire Killzone game in HL2, but provides a particular mission called Strange Company.

It represents several years of work by Moddb member zombiegames, and while I can't personally vouch for its representation of Killzone, it's pretty cool and looks great. With an AI companion, you fight your way through the interiors of a multi-floor building, battling Helghast at every turn, then proceed outside for more gunplay. You can carry a pistol and one of several rifles, use frag grenades, and are also armed with a knife. The Helghast look great, and I don't know if this is true of the original game, but they scream entertainingly when they die. Every time. I couldn't get enough of it.

They're tough as hell, too. Even on normal difficulty they killed me repeatedly. I had to disable AI using the Source console just to get close enough to them to take their pictures. At one point a dropship appeared over a shattered courtyard and they rappelled down on ropes in front of me. They're also pretty good at using grenades.

My AI companion was a little worthless in a fight, but she's still cool to hang out with. While I was remapping my keys (the default keybindings are a little odd) she helped herself to a soda from a vending machine. 

The guns are fun to use, and plenty challenging due to recoil, and the maps are dressed with various bits of detail like Helghast propaganda. There are some other touches, like flying enemy drone that I presume has roots in the original game.

To play, you just need a Steam account and to have the opt-in beta of Source SDK Base 2013 Singleplayer installed. For the beta, right-click the SDK base on Steam, select properties, open the Beta tab and choose '-upcoming' from the list. (You don't need to input a beta access code.)

As for the mod itself, here's its page on Moddb. If you've tried it, and you have experience with the Killzone games, I'd love to hear if you think it's a faithful recreation of the mission.

PC Gamer

In Face Off, PC Gamer writers go head to head over an issue affecting PC gaming. Today, Wes and Chris argue whether we should expect games to live up to early trailers and screenshots.


Wes Fenlon, hardware editorWes thinks early promotional materials often don't look like the finished game, and we should expect that.

Chris Livingston, staff writerChris thinks if developers make big changes, they should do more to let us know before we buy.

Chris Livingston: YES. Games change while they re being made, but if they ve changed appreciably from the early look we were given, the developer needs to let us know. Features, functions, and yes, even visuals, are bound to change during a game s development, and I think we all know that. But if a developer has released early gameplay footage and images, and they re not representative of the finished game, they need to do something to make us aware of that. When it comes to how a game looks—and I m talking about The Witcher 3—it s even reasonable to assume it will look better than it did early on. If it looks worse, devs have a responsibility to say Hey, remember that pretty thing we showed you a while back? We tried real hard to make that, but it s not what you re getting.

Wes Fenlon: NO.The freedom to iterate on and even drastically change a game is a key part of the creative process, and devs shouldn t have to justify each and every change they make. I agree with you on one thing up front, though: misrepresenting games through early promotional materials, like trailers claiming that something is in game footage, really sucks. It s not necessarily a lie—in the case of The Witcher 3, I believe there was a version of that game that looked like it did, but it wasn t capable of rendering a full open world. But developers and publishers shouldn t be showing a game off two years ahead of release and setting unrealistic expectations. Because they know the truth: the development of a game is always going to leave features, graphical effects, plot points, and more on the cutting room floor. Because sometimes things just don t work, or they re not achievable by a deadline, and cutting those things is a natural part of the process. It s why great games can be lean and focused instead of bloated and directionless. Developers need the freedom to make those changes.

Chris: Look, I think it s ridiculous to buy a game based on promotional footage from several years ago, and I even doubt many people do that. At the same time, the first images from an early gameplay trailer are going to stick with people for a long time. I loved that first gameplay trailer for The Division, and I m going to be disappointed nine years from now if the game comes out and doesn t give me that experience I first saw. Early Half-Life 2 footage showed a crazy water tentacle monster impaling a Combine soldier. The tentacle was cut from the game, but it s still in my head. I remember the first gameplay trailer for Bioshock Infinite, and that wound up being very little like the final version of the game. It was an infinite bummer.

Wes: Again, I agree it s probably a bad idea to show off a game when there s years of iteration left to be done. But at the same time, I also treasure the archeology of looking back at things that didn t make it into a game. Sometimes it s wondering how awesome that feature would ve been, or trying to figure out why it was cut. But I think the way many gamers look at cut content is incorrect. They feel like something that was in the game or should have been in the game was removed, taken away, and that that s a bad thing. But we ve not privy to any of the internal discussions around those features or the way they were integrated into the game as a whole.

What if that tentacle monster in Half-Life 2 worked in that one scene, but its AI was a nightmare that just never worked right? What if devs designed a really cool level, but a great change to the plot of the game during development rendered it obsolete? What if the original lighting in Dark Souls 2, which many gamers are still angry about, was actually terrible for gameplay? It s okay to say Aw man, what if about these features, but I think more often than not, they re cut for the better.

Chris: From what I recall, Valve said the water tentacle just wasn t any fun to fight, and I m not saying they should have kept it simply because they showed it. Devs should make the best game possible and that will always entail throwing away stuff that initially seemed like a good idea but didn t work out. I think Aw, man is a natural reaction, and I think a lot of people are having it about The Witcher 3, though perhaps with more expletives than strictly necessary. It boils down to: You showed me a thing, I wanted that thing, but I didn t get that thing. I wouldn t expect Valve to hold a press conference to announce the water tentacle had been deep-sixed, but maybe CDPR could have done something to point out the game didn t look as good as originally advertised before they took pre-orders? It s not a fun thing for a dev to admit, I m sure, but PC gamers love sweet graphics. CDPR should have anticipated there would be a certain amount of disappointment.

Wes: Yeah, you re right about that. I don t think we should expect a game to live up to early footage for a lot of reasons we ve already touched on: the creative freedom necessary to cut things that aren t working, the ability to optimize and adapt to new technology and challenges...but we should expect, or demand, that promotional materials be up front about progress during development. Marketers are always going to do their best to put a positive spin on things, but trying to sweep an issue under the rug never works. Once something like a trailer has been put online, it s there forever, and people will notice if you try to take it down or alter it. Of course CD Projekt wasn t going to come out and say Hey, our game s uglier now. But they could ve written an in-depth technical explanation of how the game engine performed back in 2013 vs. now, what changed, and why. I m sure a few people would still be mad, but I think a lot of people, myself included, would find it fascinating. We rarely get insight into the specifics of how a game is changed during development.

Chris: Yeah! I think even a little bit of information and explanation would go a long way. No one likes feeling hoodwinked, and while some are a little quick to fly off the handle I think most people are pretty understanding and just want to know what they re paying for before they buy it. On the other hand, a lot of complaints came from people who had pre-ordered, and pre-ordering games is… well, we probably both have opinions on pre-orders, but that s a Face Off for another time.

Wes: Seriously. The best justification for a pre-order is to save some bucks, but these days games go on sale so quickly (and so often), there's not much reason to buy until you know what you're getting. I hope the controversy around The Witcher 3's graphics convinces publishers to be more upfront in the future, but I also hope that it doesn't discourage them from being creative with their advertising. A good trailer can mislead you about a game's narrative, and the surprise when you play the real thing can be great. Savvy movie trailers do this all the time. Halo 2's first level ended with an awesome scene with a completely different context than was originally shown. If a game is going to have an exhaustive, two-year advertising campaign, I hope developers start to put out more creative trailers that allow us to still feel surprised when we pick up a game. 

PC Gamer

Phil 'El Presidente' Savage liked Tropico 5 a fair amount when it emerged last year, and it's been (optionally) bolstered a lot since then with quite a bit of DLC. The latest, Espionage, comes out next Thursday, adding a punny new campaign called The Maltese Toucan. It's spy themed! So of course it adds a tuxedo, spy hat, and other secret agenty stuff as well.

Here's publisher Kalypso on the contents of the surreptitious Espionage:

"Espionage' features the all new campaign 'The Maltese Toucan', a thrilling new adventure wherein Tropico s precious treasures need to be protected against foreign agents at all costs. Only you, as El Presidente, can keep Tropico safe from enemy spies and foreign powers that might try to steal your island s best kept secrets for their own gain.

"Protect Tropico s borders and reveal enemy agents by installing Security Checkpoints and throwing them in the island s new Dungeon. Train your own spies in the new Spy Academy and send them off to steal foreign capital or top secret technology from your enemies. Foil attacks on your beautiful island paradise by building the Ministry Of Information and monitor your citizens according to the strict Tropican data privacy laws. For additional air security you can call on the new Police Blimp, and for serious military scenarios you will be equipped with some new toys: the Mechanized Garrison is battle seasoned and ready for any state of emergency!

"Spanning six missions, you can expect manipulation, revolts and acts of sabotage as you use all the resources at your disposal to protect your island from the outside powers trying to move in. Will your drink be 'shaken or stirred' at the end of this thrilling spy tale?"

That last line means literally nothing in that context, but hey ho.

So: May 28th. Six new missions. A nontet of spy/military themed buildings. A bunch of new avatar stuff, sandbox events and a little more.

PC Gamer

Serpent in the Staglands is a new real-time-with-pause RPG that should remind you of things like Darklands and Baldur's Gate. It's out on Thursday, and it looks rather brill, or at least as brill as we can discern from screenshots and videos. A new one of the latter things appeared a few days ago in the form of a 'launch' trailer, showing what we'll get up to as a god stuck in a mortal body in a Transylvanian fantasy landscape obsessed with spices. Here it is:

"Oooh" is the word you're looking for. There's quite a lot of RPG going around at the moment, but Staglands should complement the likes of Pillars of Eternity and The Witcher 3 fairly nicely, offering a more gothic and unusual fantasy world to explore, in a game that appears to be equal parts roleplaying and adventure game (or at least with a higher ratio of the latter element than the norm). You'll be able to buy it from the official site, or from Steam, the Humble Store or GOG.com, though it's not live on the last two stores yet.


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