Dec 15, 2014
We write about FPSes each week in Triggernometry, a mixture of tips, design criticism, and a celebration of virtual marksmanship.
There isn t enough poetry being written about guns. Not literal limericks or sonnets (that would be creepy), but words that dig into and capture what makes one game s AK-47 more fun than another s.
Weapon feel continues to be the nebulous catch-all for the nuances that make guns fun. Most of the reviews of shooters I read offer the same praise: guns feel great or feel really powerful. If the writer s being generous, they ll use a word like punchy to describe an SMG. I ve been guilty of this too during my six-year term at PC Gamer.
Months of work goes into designing, animating, and balancing the things that put the S in FPS, so maybe we should take a moment to talk about what makes a good gun good.
I think the visual design of weapons matters far less than we think it does. There s a tendency, probably because they re planted right in front of our perspective at all times, to think of guns as a collection of aesthetics: firing and reload animations, SFX, screen shake, particle effects, and the death animations they produce. Those things make a gun, right? So if those things are good, surely we have an interesting and fun video game weapon, right?
No. Consider the AWP: it s olive green, it s bland, and its simple animations are more run-of-the-mill than Rambo. The only aesthetically remarkable thing about the most revered, iconic, and infamous sniper rifle in a video game is that it s a bit loud. And yet thousand-comment debates erupt when Valve tweaks the way the AWP s scope works. Why?
A gun s look and sound are part of its personality, sure. But if you ask me, great video game weapons have meaningful, interconnected relationships with other game elements. Those elements differ from game to game, of course. In CS case, the appeal of the AWP is born from the fact that CS is an FPS with body-part-specific damage modeling and no respawns. In that context, it s the only gun that grants an instant kill if you tag someone above the waist.
That feeling of possibility is fun within the strict rules of CS movement: if you can hit it, you can kill it… but you also can t be moving too much when you fire. With that power comes responsibility, too. Killed players surrender their equipped weapon in CS, and stolen AWPs not only save your team $4750 but act as a kind of trophy. This is doubly the case in CS:GO, where a player s custom AWP skin reminds all spectators which irresponsible player allowed their AWP to fall into enemy hands. Buying an AWP, then, to some extent, announces to the rest of the server: I think I m a good enough shot to protect this valuable asset from the other team.
All of this makes the AWP a weapon with abundant meaning. Even its shortcomings (slow rate of fire, difficult to use in close quarters) are a source of fun: the noscope is a revered skillshot.
In Tribes case, its weapons shake hands with its player movement really well, arguably the quality that defines it as an FPS. Again, like the AWP, the Spinfusor isn't visually extraordinary: it fires discs at a medium speed, and its animations and SFX are pretty modest. But the Spinfusor is the perfect fit, the perfect baseline weapon in a game where your targets are typically skiing along the ground at high speed. Its splash damage leaves room for error and its relatively slow travel time creates an exciting feeling of uncertainty as you admire your shot. Like throwing up a three-pointer in basketball, you get to experience that arc of Will it go in? It might not go in. It went in! as the disc travels toward its target.
The Fusion Mortar creates the same sort of feeling while operating as a parabolic siege weapon. The design of the weapons actually encourages you to spend as much time as possible in the air: the threat they pose encourages you to master movement to have the best chance of staying alive. In each of these examples, the weapons strengthen the meaning and significance of core systems like movement, damage modeling, or weapon purchasing.
When Valve resubmitted Left 4 Dead 2 for classification in Australia earlier this month, many wondered whether the company had plans to re-release the game. Well, anything is possible, but in the meantime if you own the censored version of Left 4 Dead 2 a free patch is now available on Steam which will grant you access to all the gratuitous violence you've been deprived of.
It's good news for Australians, as until now we've had to jump through hoops in order to play the unedited version. Originally denied classification in 2010 due to its extreme violence, the game was resubmitted for classification following the introduction of an R18+ rating back in early 2013. The patch can be accessed via the Left 4 Dead 2 Steam page over here in the 'downloadable content' section.
To make matters better, if you've never played the game before then it's currently available with a 75 per cent discount, which is nice. There's never been a better time to hack zombies to death with wrenches.
If you live in Australia and play video games you probably visit the Australian Classification Board website occasionally. You do this because a) you want to make sure a new game isn't banned, and b) to see if the notoriously leaky website has revealed, say, Half-Life 3. As for the former, many will remember the rage back in 2010 when the Office of Film and Literature Classification denied Left 4 Dead 2 classification in Australia, which forced Valve to release a censored version in that region. The censored version sucked, to put it kindly.
That was back when there was no R18+ classification in Australia. Since the new category rolled out at the beginning of 2013 things have started to improve, though both Saints Row 4 and South Park: The Stick of Truth were altered in Australia last year to protect our sensitive little souls, incapable as we are of distinguishing between video games and real life.
The upside is that Valve, for some reason, has resubmitted the full uncensored version of Left 4 Dead 2 to the board, and it has passed with an R18+ rating. Most PC gamers will have acquired the full version through other channels anyway, but for what it's worth: you can now play the full, uncensored version of Left 4 Dead 2 in Australia without fear of retribution. Which is nice.
Whether this means Valve intends to reissue the game (either itself or through its then-publisher Electronic Arts), we don't know. But it's a nice gesture nonetheless. You can now indulge in gratuitous zombie dismemberment without fear of reprisal.
Aug 7, 2014
The Dota 2 Workshop update is even more interesting than it first appears. The new tools include an overhauled edition of Valve's Hammer level editor, and the update download adds a 64-bit build of Dota 2. Both contain allusions to the next generation of Valve's Source engine. Set the Half-Life 3 alert to DEFCON beige.
Technically-minded modders and map-making enthusiasts are busily dissecting the tools in detail, but it's immediately clear that Hammer has been greatly improved. The interface has been overhauled, and the editor now renders the level in real-time as you tweak level geometry. It also runs on a new file structure. When you open a file in the editor, you can now choose to open a new "vmap" file, or an old fashioned "Source 1.0 Map File". The community is still puzzling over the advantages offered by the new directory system, but it looks like Valve are laying important groundwork for future releases.
It's interesting to note how user-friendly the new tools are. Dota Redditors are already having fun with functions that let you sketch out levels quickly (via DarkMio) using tilesets. As well as Dota 2's traditional forest set, there's the wintry Frostivus set and this one. Valve have a history of encouraging user-created content, including campaigns and levels. Hammer's complexity surely stunted the potential of Left 4 Dead's ecosystem a problem Valve tried to circumvent with Portal 2's lovely level-creation tools. Nu-Hammer could serve as a friendlier entry point for tinkerers.
In addition to all that, the latest Dota 2 update also adds a 64-bit version of the Dota 2 client, which you'll find tucked away in steamapps/common/dota 2 beta/dota_ugc/game/bin/win64. It contains numerous references to second-gen elements, like "engine2.dll", "materialssystem2.dll" and "vphysics2.dll", and comes with a colourful new console. It's a bit premature to say that Dota 2 has been ported to Source 2 wholesale, we're likely looking at an interim step as Valve roll out tools designed to support their current games and future projects.
This is quite exciting nonetheless. Publicly Valve have been laser-focused on Dota 2, but are of course rumoured to be working on Left 4 Dead 3 and, what was it again, Hearth-Life? Bath-Life? As someone who likes Valve games, but can't quite get into Dotes, I wait in meditative stasis for a new Valve happening, be it an announcement or an ARG. Our time will come.
May 23, 2014
Counter-Strike creator Minh Le has been talking to goRGNtv about Valve's most anticipated projects. He's seen artwork of Valve's next Half-Life game, and more of Left 4 Dead 3, which has been rumoured since the Valve database leak late last year.
"I don't know if I can talk about that, to be honest," says Minh of the new Half-Life, "but I think it's kind of public knowledge that people know that it is being worked on. And so if I were to say that yeah, I've seen some images, like some concept art of it, that wouldn't be big news, to be honest." Sorry Minh.
"But yeah, I guess I could say that I did see something that looked kinda like in the Half-Life universe. It wouldn't surprise anyone if I said they're doing it, they're working on it, yeah. So to go on a limb I'd say I did see some concept art for Half-Life 3."
Minh doesn't sound entirely sure, there. The artwork could have been for Half-Life 2: Episode 3, which Valve promised a long, long time ago. Everyone assumes that Valve have dropped the episodic structure to start a full sequel, but Valve have never commented on those specifics. Gabe Newell has repeatedly confirmed that Valve are still working on Half-Life, though, sometimes in code.
Valve haven't talked officially about Left 4 Dead 3, however. "The one thing I'm really excited about is Left 4 Dead, the new Left 4 Dead," says Minh Le. "I saw it, it looks great. I was really excited when I saw that. I was like 'wow, this looks great'.
"I really enjoyed Left 4 Dead, it was just one of those games that really just changed the industry. I think at the time there wasn't many good co-op games, so it was like yeah, this is a great co-op game."
Mihn Le left Valve years ago, so it's not clear when he saw the work he's talking about in this interview, recorded last week. He was hired by Valve to work on Counter-Strike, but he left in the late 2000s to work on Tactical Intervention. Valve, meanwhile, are also supposedly working on a new iteration of the Source engine. Will L4D3 take advantage of that new tech? Will we learn more at E3 next month?
Thanks to Total XBox for the heads up, via the many eyes and ears of GAF.
Apr 30, 2014
In the UK, most arcade machines are gaudy, flashing money-sinks, designed to trap the arms of extra-strength-beer-swilling drunks as they attempt to pry loose change from the coin return slot. They are places of hellish despair, rich with unique smells and suspicious stains. In other countries, they also contain the promise of fun, friendship, and not stepping in a puddle of sick. Nowhere is this more the case than in Japan, where an array of popular arcades can still attract the interest of developers. Valve, for instance, are now collaborating with arcade specialists Taito on an arcade port of Left 4 Dead.
An informative trailer has surfaced on the port's official site:
Titled Left 4 Dead: Survivors, the concept will likely be similar in scope to Valve/Taito's previous collaboration, Half-Life 2: Survivor.
That's right, there was a Half-Life 2 arcade game, and it looks amazing. Terrible, sure, but also amazing.
In fairness, those are modes designed for arcade. The game's story mode is... sort of Half-Life 2. If you squint a bit.
If we're all very lucky, Left 4 Dead: Survivors will be similarly terribrilliant.
Jan 28, 2014
It s only appropriate that a major leak in the games industry would come from an anonymous source with a pseudonym like crazy buttocks on a train (CBOAT), a NeoGAF user who recently posted images of Left 4 Dead 2 s Plantation level (the final chapter of the Swamp fever campaign) allegedly rendered in Valve s Source 2.0 engine.
The most compelling evidence here are the images themselves: six and a half Power Point slides out of 20, with a good look at the Plantation manor from the outside. You ll notice immediately that the game, real or not, looks far better than anything the Source engine as we know it is capable of the lighting, level of detail, and amount of assets in the frame (most noticeable in the vegetation).
Four of the slides previewed on the left show the stark difference between the level as it appears in Source and as it is rendered in Source 2.0.
The final half slide references Redesigned Tools & Workflow, followed by more technical details.
Valve Time has also obtained an image of The Plantation separate from the slides.
As far as rumors go, this one sounds pretty believable. If it s not, I am in awe of the effort someone went through to fake the information.
CBOAT, it seems, has quite a reputation. He s known mostly for his predictions about Microsoft s Xbox One, some of which were wrong, some of which were kind of right. He predicted, for example, that the native resolution on some Xbox One games will be lower than it is on PlayStation 4, Dead Rising 3, and other, mostly Microsoft related information. Not all of it exactly accurate, but close enough that he can t be dismissed entirely.
Here s what we do know for sure: Gabe Newell has confirmed that Valve will grace us with a newer version of the Source engine at some point and that it s waiting for a game to roll it out with. He didn't say what game, or when. Valve is not super into the when question, in case you haven t noticed.
However, another recent leak supports the theory that the new Source engine and Left 4 Dead are linked, somehow, at least more than other Valve properties. In August 2013, a photo of an internal Valve changelog list referenced "L4D3" as well as "Source2," indicating that the game will use Valve's new engine.
We have reached out to Valve for comment. This is the internet, after all, and there's every possibility the leak is entirely fake.
Technically, I'm aware that the employees of Valve have regular jobs, doing regular things on irregularly mobile desks. Even so, when picturing Clint Hocking's year and half stint with the company, I can't help but imagine him strapped into a central development node, where tendrilled mind probes extract creative ideas to be fed into the Almighty Feedback Formula. I'm not saying that's definitely what happened, but if it is, it's perhaps understandable why he'd leave. Which he has.
News of Hocking's departure comes via his LinkedIn account and personal blog, where his biography states: "From 2012 until the end of 2013, Clint worked as a designer and level designer at Valve in Seattle."
Hocking is probably best known for his work at Ubisoft, where he was creative director for Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory - a game that, to this day, remains the highpoint of that series. He was also the creative director for Far Cry 2, which is either the best of the worst Far Cry game, depending on your fondness for emergent situations, jamming weapons and malaria.
In typical Valve style, we don't officially know what Hocking was working on. But based on leaked information taken from their internal database, he was suspected to be part of the team developing the yet to be announced Left 4 Dead 3. As yet, there's no information about his next project, but hopefully it'll evoke the same manic clash of systems that defined FC2's best moments.
Dec 25, 2013
Not killed enough undead monstrosities this Christmas? Let Valve fix that for you. Left 4 Dead 2 is now free on Steam. In case you've missed it thus far, Left 4 Dead is blooming brilliant. You and up to three human buddies fight through 90 minute missions set in different zombie-infested locales across America. The zombie throngs are managed by an AI director, which measures your health and stress levels and doles out varying degrees of punishment to match your perceived mood. Watch out, also, for the special infected - hideous supermutants with unique ways of punching/eating/melting your face.
The Left 4 Dead 1 maps have all been ported into the sequel, making Left 4 Dead 2 the definitive entry in the series. There are also plenty of fan-made campaigns and mods on the Steam workshop, including a Helm's Deep Lord of the Rings map and a mod that turns your party of survivors into Velociraptors.
According to a Left 4 Dead 2 Steam announcement, the game will be free until 10AM PST 26/12/2013. Go, go, go.
As mentioned in yesterday's highly speculative Half-Life 3 news, people have been scurrying through Valve's project management database JIRA again. Now, NeoGAF user 'angular graphics' has posted the full list of Valve staff assigned to the still unconfirmed Half-Life 3 and Left 4 Dead 3 development teams. If nothing else, it's a rare glimpse into the company's internal working, and what happens to its employees after they're sworn to the Valve code of silence.
The Half-Life 3 team contains lead writer Marc Laidlaw, series composer Kelly Bailey (seemingly having returned to Valve after leaving in 2011), and series designer Steve Bond. It also lists Adam Foster, the creator of Minerva (as well as the Portal 2 announcement ARG). The other instantly recognisable name is Portal writer Erik Wolpaw, who appears on both Half-Life 3 and Left 4 Dead 3's lists.
If anything, the Left 4 Dead 3 team is the more surprising. It contains not only familiar Valve names like Chet Faliszek and composer Mike Morasky, but some of their more notable newer hires. Both Clint Hocking, of Far Cry 2 fame, and Doug Church, of System Shock 2 and Thief fame, are attached to the project. Now more than ever, I'm pretty damn excited about the possibility of shooting up some zombies.
Standard caveats still apply, the most notable of which is that we don't know how accurate this data is. At best, it could represent a single moment in time for each project, as Valve plays its endless game of musical chairs. And, of course, people working on a project is now indication of when that game might be announced.