It looks like DRM checks on games such as Assassin's Creed 2 and Splinter Cell: Conviction have been changed for the better. The controversial DRM system was launched earlier this year with Settlers 7, and required players to be permanently connected to the internet in order to play. Now the games will no longer pause instantly if a connection is lost, but will still require an internet connection to validate the install every time the game is booted up.
The change in the copy protection has been noticed by gamers on Reddit, who have posted screenshots showing Assassin's Creed 2 and Splinter Cell: Conviction running with web connections turned off.
Good news for anyone with a flaky wireless connection then, though the games will require an internet connection to boot up the games. It's the first change in the DRM we've seen since Ubisoft decided not to use it for the real time strategy game, RUSE.
A step in the right direction?
Dec 31, 2010
Can you dig it? Yes you can. Twelve months of getting square eyes with Minecraft.
When we each made up our personal list of favourite games this year, Minecraft was on nearly all of them. It’s a first-person fantasy game made of cubes. There are cubes of grassy soil stacked in contours to form mountains, smooth cliff faces that you can dig square tunnels into with your voxellated pickaxe, and cubic trees sprouting cubic leaves. Your head is a cube. The sun is a cube. In all probability, the world of Minecraft is a cube. You should also mentally cube the length of time you expect to spend in it, because it’s so stimulating and relaxing, so hypnotically compulsive, that you’ll never escape its grip.
Minecraft started off in May last year as a Java-based curiosity that generated some blocky terrain and let you explore it. You could wander the bright grassy world, encounter gentle hills and the odd stony cliff face, and that was about it. Then Markus Persson, its sole creator at the time, added the ability to destroy and place blocks of any type. Then he added water and lava, and improved the terrain generator. He let you save your map, and then share it with people. Communities of friends would take turns adding landmarks and buildings to a saved game and writing diaries, trying desperately to play and build together in some meaningful way.
Around July 2009, when I started playing, Markus had just released Multiplayer mode. Players who’d supported development by preordering the finished game for £10 were allowed to wear a custom skin. I got my wallet out. I remember thinking, ‘I’ve just spent £7 for the privilege of editing a tiny pixellated image so I can look like a douchebag in a free computer game.’
My first experience of Minecraft was what’s now called Minecraft Classic – you can pick from a broad pallet of blocks, place as many as you like and destroy them instantly, and you’re invulnerable to damage from water and lava.
I joined a server with four people on it. They were building a castle, and talking about it in chat. I built a tower a little way off to watch them, but soon I got engrossed in the intricacy of creating it. I built a staircase around the stem, a viewing platform on top, and then I crenellated the shit out of it until it became a lighthouse. By then the castle was done, and they’d started work on a labyrinth beneath it and a village in the next valley, by the river. Satisfied with my work, I went for breakfast and returned much later.
Disaster. Griefers had struck the server, exploiting an early bug that allowed them to flood the map with lava, building horrible thin towers, and placing and destroying blocks wherever they could. It was three dimensional white noise in all the colours of the rainbow. I hopped between the walkways over the lava and tried to find the castle. I discovered the remnants of the labyrinth beneath it, now flooded. Nearby, I found my lighthouse.
They’d destroyed everything they could reach, but they hadn’t been methodical enough to climb it and destroy the top first, so there was just a floating lighthouse. I connected it to the remnants of the hill I’d built it on – the only surviving scrap of natural terrain – and made it look like a ruin. Then I cried myself to sleep.
When that bug got fixed, the griefers just did it with water, and when that got fixed, they could still destroy blocks. It was better to play with friends on a secure server, or just to play by yourself, than to build on a public server and risk having your work riddled with holes as you slept.
As modders began to get comfortable with Minecraft’s Java anatomy, powerful server tools started to appear that dealt with griefers. Soon, it was possible to give players tiered building privileges, and Minecraft Classic became a civilised place. It even got its own sport: spleef, a game of digging the ground out from under your opponent so they fall into a prepared Pit of Shame.
Then, around August 2009, Markus released an in-development preview of Survival mode. This was available only to users who had paid, and introduced resource management, monsters and, eventually, crafting. You cut down trees to make a crafting bench, and use that to make tools and other furniture. As if you weren’t dying to make a castle already, it gives you a good excuse to have a central hub for your crafting activities, and to pretend you’re building a house.
Go for goal
Before Survival, you were happy to just make any old thing that looked nice. Now you’re playing a game. Suddenly, that little cabin you made is important. Can zombies fall onto the roof from that cliff up there? Will spiders slide out of that crack in the mountain face? Now you have goals and objectives. You need to get some sand to make glass so that skeleton archers can’t skewer you through the windows. Now you need some coal to make torches to ward off the undead while you’re mining.
But of all the monsters that crept up in Minecraft, the creeper is the most distinct. It’s a tall green quadruped with a permanent frown. Creepers hop around the landscape in small groups, and when they see you, they start to hiss and hop after you. When they get close enough, they puff up, flash white, and explode – destroying a huge chunk of terrain. They’re quite scary, but also a little bit cute.
Only a few of us knew about the game at first, but as Minecraft’s grip tightened on the office, we began to evangelise. “Hey Tom, look, I’ve crafted a pickaxe and I’m using it to hew a path into this cliff.” “Hey Rich, I’m channelling water down into that lake.” “Hey Tim, you can fill a mountain with TNT and blow it up.”
It starts to make you go all funny. My first castle was a 5x5x10 keep with barely a window in it, but every time you decide to fortify something, you’ll make it bigger and grander than the last time. When you flatten a mountain and build a wall around it, then build a keep inside that, then build another wall all around that, then a palisade surrounded by a trench and then a fence, and hundreds of peasant houses and farms for miles around, you realise you’re playing the game of the year.
It revolves around the same irresistible creative urge that made Lego king of the bricks-for-children industry, but it stays fresh because Markus Persson never stops making Minecraft. Survival mode already had crafting, so he kept adding recipes. This one time, he added boats. He added snowy maps, and you could throw snowballs at the monsters. He added mine carts that you can ride around in. He added secret underground dungeons, with loot and monsters. He added an ore that can be made into wires and combined with other elements to make logic gates. He added doors and fences. He added a dangerous fiery dimension that you can use to quickly travel around your main world via evil, purple, fiery gates.
But the Minecraft community has a list of achievements and bizarre creations just as long. Whether you’re importing the schematics of the USS Enterprise into a Minecraft map, using some sort of fan-made editing utility to build a working Arithmetic Logic Unit out of the game’s conductive Redstone wires, or just spending most of your adult life building an evil death castle where two treacherous mountains form a narrow pass, Minecraft will turn you into an obsessive architect.
The dream was always Survival multiplayer, though. Fending off monsters with your friends by night, building a castle by day? Oh yes. Right now, you can play a buggy version that renders players and monsters invulnerable, which entirely thwarts the premise of a survival challenge, but there are still restrictions that make it worthwhile. You can’t just build castles like a lunatic anymore – you’ve got to mine those materials first. In some cases, that involves chopping down trees, or turning a cliff into a quarry. For glass, you need to stick a lot of sand in your furnace; for more exotic materials, you need to go deeper underground. Like the early Survival build, it adds meaning to your mansion.
Minecraft sits among the very best of games, just because you can play so many games inside it. It’s a philosophy taken to its natural conclusion in glorious software. It’s a primal urge – to build a goddamn hill fort – in gaming form. Markus has sold enough copies to create an army of bricklayers. This is why Minecraft is the game of 2010.
Dec 30, 2010
There are few things more satisfying than a massive chain reaction ending in an explosion. A creation by Minecraft player called Daniel looks to have taken the crown of best Rube Goldberg machine away from the one hidden in Fallout 3. This construction is the size of a small town and harnesses the forces of gravity, water, lava and chickens to create an epic chain reaction that culminates in the death of a twenty foot tall Creeper. You'll find the video below.
To set off the huge machine in your game of Minecraft, or extend it, you can download the save file here. Here's a video of the construction in action.
And here's the one from Fallout 3, thrown in for good measure.
Dec 30, 2010
As a special New Year's Eve present, STALKER developers CDC have decided to release the full Software Development Kit for the X-ray 1.6 engine, the force behind the most recent STALKER game, Call of Pripyat. This is the first time fans have had access to fully featured mod tools for the latest STALKER game, and the new tools will give players the power to create whole single player and multiplayer missions. Check out the official STALKER site to get your hands on the new tools.
I love Oblivion, but not because it was perfect. That and the previous Elder Scrolls game Morrowind were great because they tried more than they could do flawlessly - that's what made them so liberating compared to a lot of other RPGs. Now that we know Skyrim is coming, though, it's time to take a harder look at what the Elder Scrolls games could be doing better. This is what we want from The Elder Scrolls V.
1. A better level up system
If I want to be a good swordsman in Oblivion, the last thing I should do is pick Blade as one of my specialty skills. If I avoid it completely, I can still get better with a sword through practise, and it won't raise my character level. I can become the greatest swordsman in the world for any given level.
Improving skills with practise is a cornerstone of the Elder Scrolls series, and it has potential. But TES V needs to find a smarter way to blend it with the intentionality of character customisation.
2. Content that doesn't scale
We need to feel like leveling up makes us more powerful. If the whole world levels up with us, that sense is lost. It also makes the game world too even: nowhere is particularly dangerous in Oblivion because everything is so politely level-appropriate. Morrowind had some level-scaling, but enough fixed danger to feel wild, and enough genuine progression to be compulsive.
3. Vicious combat
At level 1, hitting someone with a warhammer feels great. They just crumple. In the late game, though, you and your enemies have such a vast pool of hitpoints that every fight is a war of attrition, which makes each blow feel meaningless. It needs to be quick, vicious and deadly, whatever level you're at.
4. A bigger voice cast
Unless one of them is Billy West (Fry, Dr Zoidberg, Professor Farnsworth, Zapp Brannigan, Richard Nixon, Abraham Lincoln, Leo Wong and Humorbot 5.0 in Futurama), you can't use the same few guys for a world with hundreds of characters. You don't have to stump up for big names like Patrick Stewart and Sean Bean again - their celebrity didn't make the game better. Spend that money on a dozen more decent, varied performances.
5. Better faces
Look what you did to Patrick Stewart:
6. No face zoom
Regardless of looks, it's not polite to get up in someone's grill to quite this extent. Particularly if it involves extending your neck more than three meters.
7. NPCs who know when to shut up
Hey guys, the player's here! Let's all make canned smalltalk at the same time! Make sure your reply doesn't quite relate to what I said, and it's one he's heard three times in the last two minutes! Good day!
8. A more exciting magic system
The Destruction school of magic I inderstand. Restoration: yes. Even Illusion - invisibility and whatnot, great. Then Alteration? Spells that alter things? Don't all spells alter things? And Mysticism - as opposed to scientific magic? Some of the spells are great, but the schools themselves are well overdue for an overhaul to make them more logical, distinct and exciting.
9. Weird places
Forests are great. I have no issues with hills. I love a good lake. But I hope Skyrim has some regions that are just a little off, a little alien, a little non-Tolkeinian. That's why there are hordes of Morrowind fans who never accepted Oblivion - that and:
10. A proper PC interface
Come on, nerdy stats and inventory lists are what the PC was made for. Let us at 'em. Oblivion's interface is capable of listing between THREE and SIX items at a time before you have to scroll. Same goes for the map - if Bethesda have any idea how important a really good map can be to the sense of being in a fantasy world, the size of the damn thing in Oblivion didn't show it. These aren't huge issues, but look: modders fixed them in a day or two. If you seriously don't have anyone who can do that before release, hire those modders.
I know every cross-platform developer loves to say "All three versions are identical," to wash their hands of the platform wars, but guys: they're not. One of them is played with a mouse and keyboard from two feet away. Notice this.
11. Varied dungeons
We know you can do this now - Fallout 3 is an object lesson in filling an open world with interestingly different locations. Fantasy equivalent of that, please.
12. A main quest without the padding
The Oblivion gates themselves were the least interesting thing in Oblivion, reducing a freeform game to straight combat. So please don't ask us to fight through six of them in a row - very few players realised that they were even optional. The main quest in TES V should be as long or short as the interestingly different content you can make for it.
13. A villain we hate
It's hard to really get worked up about demons bent on destroying the world. I'd rather they didn't, but I have nothing against them personally. In Mass Effect, no-one really hated the Reapers. The guy we couldn't wait to kill was Saren, because our beef was personal. You don't have to have them kill our father/mother/brother/son/girlfriend - in fact that rarely works. They just have to be a bastard, and one who's getting away with it.
14. Modding tools
Bethesda have always been good with this - The Elder Scrolls Construction Set is a modder's dream, and the 24,000 mods it's led to demonstrates that. Almost every other niggle with Oblivion in this list was eventually addressed by the community. Unless you have a secret formula for making TES V all things to all people, please keep giving people the tools to tinker.
15. Free horse armour
Dec 30, 2010
With its breathtaking terrain and heart-stopping battles, this air combat sim is flying high. We waggle our wingtips at Wings Of Prey.
A much-loved PC combat flight sim is ported to consoles and gets utterly trashed in the process. PC favourite IL2 was converted to console-focused Wings of Prey. The script was written the second the game was announced, but rather splendidly, Gaijin (the port-ers) failed to read it. Rather than hammering flat all of IL-2’s subtleties, the Russian team preserved them, producing a game that’s stronger than its prototype in several areas. Even better, they flew their new title back to PC simmers.
The terrain navvies deserve high praise. Wings of Prey’s depictions of Berlin, Sicily and other European backdrops look superb whether you’re skimming them at weather-vane height or catching glimpses through the cloud. You’d have to go a long way to find prettier panoramas.
Cockpits are similarly stunning. Huddled in your armoured seat, the shadows of canopy struts gliding across glinting dials and worn handles, it’s easy to forget the keyboard and coffee cup, the curtains and carpet lurking unhelpfully in your peripheral vision.
Keeping it real
The biggest surprise has to be Gaijin’s touching commitment to truth. Select ‘simulation’ realism and WoP transforms from amiable arcade trekking pony into rigorous ride-meat- your-peril mustang. Vicious spins send you spiralling earthward. Engine management gaffs leave you dawdling dangerously in the gunsights of enemies. With all the player aids deactivated, even telling friend from foe in the swirling fury of a furball is a challenge.
In the midst of battle, when pieces of slain aircraft are fluttering past and you’re fighting to stay conscious as you drag another bandit into your kill-zone, WoP is simply brilliant. The tragedy is that this brilliance is piddled away the moment the sortie ends. An unimaginative campaign approach turns what could have been the pop flight sim of the decade into a cold yet efficient Dogfightatron – a vending machine pumping out vivid but consequence-free sky thrills.
If Gaijin had let us join squadrons and fly randomly generated missions for them until we perished or emerged blinking into a peaceful post-war world, the experience could have been so much richer. The satisfaction of surviving 20 sorties on the trot, nursing a flying colander back to friendly territory, or rising through the ranks… it’s all denied us. Nothing as elaborate as BoB 2 or Enemy Engaged’s dynamic wars was necessary, just a system that rewarded survival and allowed an unscripted personal narrative to unfold.
I still regard Wings of Prey as a triumph. For short bursts of sky violence, it can’t be beaten.
When DICE launched the Battlefield: Bad Company 2 Vietnam expansion they also pulled the trigger on a race to unlock a hidden fifth map. The challenge was for players on each platform to perform 69 million team actions. DICE have thrown up the tally so far, and PC gamers have performed more team actions than the Xbox 360 and PS3 combined.
A team action is any action that a player takes to help out team mates, including throwing down medipacks, ammo crates, marking enemies on the area map, repairing vehicles and reviving fallen allies. So far PC gamers have amassed more than 60 million team actions, compared to 31 million on the Xbox 360 and 23 million on the Playstation 3.
The map is called Operation Hastings, and is a remixed and updated version of an old map that originally appeared in Battlefield Vietnam. The map will not unlock on each platform until that platform has reached the 69 million team action mark. It looks as though PC players will get access to the map way before the consoles do.
You can keep up with the latest stats on the race to unlock the Operation Hastings map on the Battlefield: Bad Company 2: Vietnam site. We recently made Battlefield: Bad Company 2 our choice for PC Gamer UK's best shooter of 2010.
Dec 29, 2010
Crysis may be a few years old, but it's still one of the most graphically powerful games you can play. Normally that power is used to render huge islands, armies of panicky Korean soldiers and invading alien forces, but what if you took all of that power, and used it to create the biggest explosions you possibly could? Five brave gamers have done just that. Below you'll find videos of some of the biggest bangs in gaming. One man drops a fleet of helicopters out of the sky, another belly-flops onto a huge tower of exploding fuel trucks, and another man spawns a pile of 3,000 barrels and causes an explosion so ridiculous that he can't look directly into it for more than two seconds without it crashing his PC. You'll find videos of the five most insane Crysis explosions embedded below.
1. Fuel Truck Apocalypse
2. It's raining 'copters
3. 3000 barrels, one bullet
4. Mass demolition
5. Good old fashioned massive nuke
Super Meat Boy is set to receive a huge free update in the middle of January, adding editing tools that will let players create and share their own levels. A new area called Super Meat World will also be added, acting as a hub to which Team Meat can add further leves in future, and even offer up areas for guest developers to step in and create their own challenges. Read on for details.
The planned updates are being reported on IGN, and contain the following features:
Apart from boss battles, players will be able to create anything they see in the game. You'll be able to set certain restrictions that only allow your levels to be played with certain characters. Don't make things too difficult, though. You'll have to beat your own in order to be able to share it.
Online Level Portal
This will act as a sharing point for all user created Super Meat Boy maps. Each map will be rated according to difficulty, measuring the average number of deaths players experience when trying to complete it. There will also be a five star ratting system that will let players judge each other's creations.
Super Meat World
A special chapter that unlocks once you've collected 30 bandages. This will feature levels hand picked by Team Meat for inclusion. Guest developers have also stepped in to add their own challenges, including Jumper and Run Man developer Matt Thorson and Gaijin Games, who created Bit Trip.
Enter the Unknown
This PC exclusive feature will let you jump into a series of randomly picked user made levels at a difficulty level of your choice. It will only pick from maps that score more than 3 stars, and will arrange the series of levels in difficulty order to give players an increasing challenge.
There's no precise date for the update, but it's due a few weeks into the new year. If you're intrigued by the game, but aren't sure if it's your cup of corned beef, check out our Super Meat Boy review, or the official Super Meat Boy site.
Dec 29, 2010
When I first started playing Minecraft a few months ago, I played with a rule: if I die, I have to delete the entire world. Now I'm trying to get to hell and back. The diary starts here, and over Christmas new entries will go up weekly on Wednesdays.
< Day 17
Day 19 >
World 10, deaths 9
Right, a sea of lava. I can probably do this. There's probably a way to do this. This might be doable.
I could turn around, of course, but the whole point of this experiment is to get as far as possible in one direction in the Nether realm, so that I'll be eight times as far from home when I build a portal back to the real world. If I turn back every time I hit an obstacle - well, it's hell. It's made of obstacles.
The only thing I can think, staring out at the lava sea while dodging the occasional Ghast fireball, is that I've been in a situation like this before. Trying to avoid Creepers back in the real world, I moonwalked through the air building a one-block bridge beneath me as I went.
Ghast fireballs would make that tricky in this situation - you can't stop and carefully peer over the edge to place the next block. The fireballs don't just hurt, they destroy everything in a four metre radius. The bridge itself would be smashed and I'd fall - which, over lava, is frowned upon.
But it's really the only option. If you do it perfectly, aiming at exactly the right spot and slapping a block down with metronomic precision when the end of your bridge comes into view, you can keep moving continuously as you do this. Not fast, but maybe fast enough to be out of the blast radius when the next Ghast shot hits.
So I have to do it exactly right, and it still might not work. I hate things like that.
I do need some breathing room to get started, so I can't build this bridge from the surface. I duck back underground and tunnel out to the cliff face, so I can start my bridge out of sight of the Ghasts, in a hopefully fireball-free zone. Isambard Kingdom Brunel was famous for his strict insistence on a fireball-free working environment, as I recall.
OK, well it's less perfect now.
This is daunting. But there is a clump of land out there - an island of zombie pigmen I can drop down onto when I'm half way, to restock on blocks and hide to let the Ghasts disperse. I gulp, turn around, and walk backwards out over the sea of molten rock.
Donk. Donk. Donk. Donk. Donkdonkdonkdonk- BOOM.
Fuckfuckfuckfuckfuck. After minutes of being able to see nothing but the lava beneath me and the blocks I'm frantically donking down, I've glimpsed the island and it's in the wrong place. I need to be at least ten metres to the right to land on it when I drop off this bridge. With the storm of Ghast fireballs reaching fever pitch, my bridge in tatters, I have to very, very carefully change direction.
BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOMBOOMBOOM Donk. Donk. Donk. Donk. Donkdonkdonkdonk-BOOOOOOOOOM
It hits me. My bridge is obliterated and I'm sent flying into the air, exacly over the lava coast of the island below. But the fireball hit in front of me, sending me backwards. Backwards is the way I want to go. That gives me just enough momentum to reach dry land during my fall, at which point I pummel a hole in the blood-red rock until I'm sitting at the bottom of a dark pit, safe from Ghast eyes.
I dig a chunk out of the rock and light a fire in it to see my surroundings, and immediately burn myself on it.
God damn it.
Next: Crossing the other, bigger lava sea.