Seven characters enter a cave three at a time. Each is an archetype fit for a Hanna-Barbera cartoon—the hillbilly, the adventurer, the twins, the knight, the scientist, and the monk—and each is harboring a memory or fear terrible and violent enough to also have appeared in a '50s-era cartoon. Whether they've done or will do these awful things is intentionally unclear, but for our sake, their journey of self-discovery has a narrator: the cave. Not in a metaphorical sense, like how a 300-year-old building "really tells a story" according to tourists who are inexplicably all architecture experts. It's a sentient, talking cave.
Over two decades in the making
Legendary designer Ron Gilbert has been working on the idea for The Cave for over 25 years—it even predates his Commodore 64 classic, Maniac Mansion. The talking cave was always part of the plan, but the trailers suggest that his idea has radically transformed since he worked on Maniac Mansion and Monkey Island: it looks like a platformer, with timed jumps and everything.
After playing the hillbilly's story, I can confirm that at least one of The Cave's chambers is definitely a Ron Gilbert adventure game. The running and jumping kept me active, and now and then I had to stick a landing, but it was mostly in pursuit of puzzle solutions. Death is possible, but it isn't failure: if a character falls too far or drowns, he or she is whisked back to solid ground.
Gilbert calls The Cave an "evolution of adventure games." By emphasizing constant movement instead of the classic click-and-take-a-terribly-slow-stroll-across-the-screen approach, players are always occupied while they work out puzzles. For me, it's like pacing to think.
Another evolution is the lack of an inventory. I was skeptical, but the limitation prevents overabundance of items from being used as a complexity crutch. Instead of grabbing everything I saw and hoping it would be useful later (if I even remembered I had it by then), I usually identified a problem before finding the item needed to solve it. When I discovered a barbell, for example, I knew just where I should take it, if not what I was going to do with it when I got there.
A hillbilly romantic
The hillbilly's story, like the others, is directed and narrated by the sentient cave. The cave has materialized a carnival, and the hillbilly is motivated to impress a cardboard stand-in for "The Amazing Two-Legged Woman"—the one who got away, we assume—by scoring enough carnival tickets to gift her a teddy bear. Winning carnival games earns tickets, and the barbell seemed most appropriate for the weight guessing game. If the cardboard carny guessed my weight incorrectly, I would win, but he wasn't fooled when I carried the barbell onto the scale. I won't spoil the solution, but it was satisfying: not an absurd logical leap, but not instantly obvious, either.
That weight puzzle was a one-man job, but many required teamwork. Before starting the game, a team of three characters is chosen, and each brings their own story area and special ability. For this demonstration, the hillbilly, adventurer, and monk had been recruited. The teamwork is pretty simple: the monk pulls a lever while the adventurer turns a dial, the adventurer rides a merry-go-round while the monk mans the generator; the hillbilly traverses a flooded passageway with his special ability—holding his breath indefinitely—while the others wait for him to clear a path.
This also means that most puzzles have multiple solutions. I wouldn't be playing the hillbilly's story if he weren't one of my characters, so his super-human lungs are required, but my other characters could have been any combination of the remaining six. For one puzzle, I used the monk's telekinesis ability to retrieve an inaccessible item, but nearby bits of the environment clearly offered different solutions for different parties.
As you'd expect, The Cave can be played cooperatively with three people, but it's awkward. The camera doesn't zoom out to keep each player on-screen: instead, they can all switch to any character at any time, which re-centers the camera. Unless you and your co-op partners make an effort to run around together, most of the game is spent doing things one at a time in different areas.
I also doubt I'll ever get three controllers and two friends hovering over my monitor, and Gilbert admits that The Cave will more likely be experienced as a traditional, single-player adventure game on PC. But even when not sharing control, having a friend next to me to trade ideas with, like I used to do with classic adventures, is one of my favorite gaming experiences. A shared "aha!" is a wonderful moment.
But back on the technical side, I also found movement rather graceless—characters spurted forward too abruptly, and I missed jumps that should have been easy given that The Cave does not intend to be a finicky platformer. These issues were attributed to lag caused by a setting on the TV, which could very well have been the case.
Not caused by TV lag, however, was a bug which caused a character to lock into an animation loop, but it was easy to suicide and reset a few feet away, and only happened once. I also noticed occasional framerate stutters, but Gilbert insisted he'd never seen the game drop below 30 frames-per-second. It was all pretty minor, and this was on an Xbox, so we may have nothing to worry about.
Cooperatively or alone, The Cave won't be a long game. To play every character's story, you'll have to play through it a minimum of three times, but that probably won't take more than six hours in total. It doesn't need to be long, though: the hillbilly's section was just right. It didn't wear out its humor or setting, and it didn't blockade me with an absurdly difficult puzzle. It was a vignette: a one-sitting, concentrated delivery system for Ron Gilbert and co.'s clever puzzles and morbid humor.
Teases for the other six characters' stories suggest they'll also succeed—I especially look forward to playing as the scientist, who may or may not launch a nuke, as well as Gilbert's favorite character, the knight—so I'm nearly confident enough to call this one right now: The Cave will be another Double Fine success. Almost definitely probably. We'll see when it's released in January.
Blizzard Entertainment has registered the domain name ProjectBlackstone.com, effective November 26. It's fairly common to hear about this sort of thing with Blizzard. Going all the way back to World of Warcraft's Burning Crusade expansion, we've been teased with the titles of their unreleased products courtesy of... whoever it is that spies on domain registries. In this case, we got the tip from fan site Titan Focus, which is dedicated to Blizzard's upcoming franchise-launch currently known internally as Titan.
My initial reaction to the name "Blackstone" is that it must something to do with the first Diablo 3 expansion. The Black Soulstone, the ultimate MacGuffin in the Diablo universe, is after all still on the lam as of the end of Diablo 3's main story.
The other possibility is that Project Blackstone is actually another name for the mysterious Titan, or an ARG or entity related to it. I admit that I'm stretching a little here, but "Blackstone" is evocative of a modern or Victorian supernatural horror universe, the most prominent realm of sci-fi/fantasy that Blizzard hasn't tackled yet. Still, as Titan Focus points out, it seems strange that Blizzard would give two codenames to the same project. And Project Blackstone certainly doesn't sound like a final title. Blizzard is known for its "Craft" franchises, with the only exception (Diablo) having come out of the now-defunct Blizzard North. I would be surprised if Titan's final title isn't (Something)Craft. So this could be something completely new that we haven't heard a peep about yet.
Alas, loyal listeners, there will be no PC Gamer US podcast this week due to some unforeseen circumstances tangentially related to laser beams from space. But never fear! We'll be back next week with a new episode from our underground podcasting bunker at an undisclosed location in Siberia. We're still accepting transmissions from our listeners, but you'll have to follow the directions below. We can't risk our position falling into the wrong mutant lobster claws.
Leave a voicemail: 1-877-404-1337 ext. 724 or email the MP3 to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Subscribe to the podcast RSS feed. We have 388 episodes on there, which should give you something like 56 days of listening material. Even if you stay awake until the next podcast, you shouldn't be in danger of running out.
Colin McComb, one of the key developers of the Planescape setting for the Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying game, and co-writer, along with Chris Avellone, of Planescape: Torment, has been musing on his blog about a potential spiritual successor to the 1999 RPG classic. He has reportedly finished his portion of the work on Wasteland 2, the Kickstarted sequel to another old school RPG franchise. While he doesn't specifically state that he has plans for a Torment follow-up, he does present a wealth of ideas on what one would look like.
"The first step in designing a new Torment story is to ask the primary question," McComb explains. "I’m older than I was when I worked on Torment, and my questions now are different than they were. I have children now, and I look at the world through their eyes and through mine, and that’s changed me—in fact, the intervening years have changed me so much that I have new answers for the central story in the original Torment. So now that I know what can change the nature of a man, I ask: What does one life matter? … and does it matter at all?"
McComb doesn't plan on setting a potential Torment continuation in the Planescape setting.
"I’d put it someplace other than Planescape (and I’ll explain why in a followup)," he says. "I’d use a system other than D&D, because I’d want to align the player’s story axes along different lines than Good/Evil or Law/Chaos to something more subjective. The core of Torment is, after all, a personal story, and while we can be judged by others on the basis of our actions, arbitrarily aligning those actions on an external and eternally fixed line removes some of the agency from the player’s game."
In our PlanetSide 2 review, Rich mentioned that the game “feels closer to the pricier end of acceptable in the free-to-play market.” Infantry and vehicle weapons are priced at $2.50, $5, or $7 (£2, £4 or £6) tiers. All of these can also be unlocked with certification points, the in-game currency earned by playing, but what if you had the silly idea to buy everything for a single faction—how much would PlanetSide 2’s entire arsenal cost?
I hopped in with my Vanu Sovereignty character and did the math.
VS Vehicle Weapons: 14,600 Station Cash VS Infantry Weapons: 18,100 Station Cash
Purchased individually, that’s $327, or about £204 (directly converted from USD). Keep in mind that, in this absurd Scrooge McDuck of War scenario, big spenders would be foolish to not take advantage of item PS2’s bundles or membership benefits, which aren’t taken into account here. If you wanted to earn the same infantry and vehicle items with certification points, you’d need 42,850 of them—that doesn’t include any unlocked optics or other weapon attachments.
Filling out your sci-fi wardrobe with all of PlanetSide 2’s currently available cosmetic items would cost quite a bit more. For every piece of vehicle, armor, and weapon camo, decals, and other cosmetic items as a Vanu player, you’d rack up 37,500 SC if you purchased them individually, or $375. That math excepts single-use camo.
More than a week after launch, my opinion on PlanetSide 2's relative item costs is still developing. It's an apples-oranges comparison, but PS2’s weapon pricing mirrors League of Legends’ Champion costs, which also sit at approximately $2, $5, and $7 tiers. I don't think it's reasonable for players to expect to pay nothing and get everything they want, but what I haven't experienced in PS2 that I have in LoL is a feeling of surprise and fascination when I pay to unlock a new weapon. As a Vanu, aesthetically and functionally the light machine guns I've played with don't feel noticeably different. I'll often forget which one I have equipped.
I do like that I'm playing a game that doesn't take Call of Duty's "more is more" approach to rewarding me with buckets of guns and stuff after every other match—indirectly, the relative inaccessibility of items in PS2 does make unlocks more meaningful, and keeps most of my focus on the narratives I'm generating by playing. And thank goodness, PS2 does offer 30-minute trials for any weapon. Once activated, a trial for that weapon can’t be reactivated for 30 days, and you can only activate one weapon trial every eight hours.
But other the other hand, asking 500 and 1000 cert points for many weapons (those priced at $7/700 SC, typically) means it's never going to be a worthwhile investment of my cert points to unlock high-tier weapons. Playing with a 10% experience booster, I've earned 1173 cert with a 1.62 K/D in 30 hours of in-game time. That would afford one or two weapons of the higher tier, and maybe two more minor upgrades, like optics.
Way back in April, we got a hold of this video showing in-game footage of the cancelled shooter Star Wars: Battlefront 3. In a recent interview with gamesTM, Free Radical co-founder Steve Ellis revealed just how close the project was to completion when it got the merciless vibro-axe to its power converters. That is to say, very, very close.
"We had a 99% finished game that just needed bug fixing for release," Ellis told gamesTM. "It should have been our most successful game, but it was cancelled for financial reasons. I'm happy that people did at least get to see what we were working on and share the team's enthusiasm for it."
The rumor mill continues to turn regarding a revival of the Battlefront franchise. Spark Unlimited were suspected to be developing a new version after they reported to be “working on a sequel for a well known sci-fi franchise." This was later revealed to be Lost Planet 3, which caused many Battlefront fans to make sad wookiee noises.
Who would you tap to bring back Battlefront? Or has PlanetSide 2 fulfilled our massive-scale shooter needs for the foreseeable future?
Deep in the clandestine cubicles of Vancouver, a team largely made up of former EA developers has been assembled. Yesterday, it finally went public. The Microsoft-owned Black Tusk Studios is working on a new franchise that it hopes will become "the next Halo."
If that doesn't exactly rev your engine, no one would fault you. Microsoft doesn't have the greatest track record with the PC in recent years. And Halo doesn't have much of a track record on the PC at all. The new studio "will focus on the Xbox 360," according to the Vancouver Sun, but it hasn't explicitly ruled out bringing its mystery project to the PC. I know, I know. I'm not holding my breath either. But we can be optimistic, right?
Studio manager Mike Crump told the Sun that Black Tusk has been operating in "stealth mode" as it put a team together. The studio currently boasts a team of 55 developers with an average of 12 years industry experience, and is looking to possibly double that in the near future. We'll just have to wait and see if this will translate into something fresh and exciting for the PC.
As the biggest partner for AMD graphics cards Sapphire are no strangers to having to chill out hot bits of silicon, but now they are turning their vapour chamber tech to new use with the release of the Vapor-X CPU cooler.
“We are harnessing our expertise in advanced technologies to deliver better performing products for the enthusiast which will then push down into an expanding product line for the mainstream,” said Adrian Thompson, Sapphire’s VP of marketing.
We’ve had the cooler in our labs for a little while now and the cooling on offer is impressive, as is the blinged-up pair of blue LED fans and detailing. It certainly copes with its enthusiast branding, being able to keep an overclocked Core i7-3770K running at 4.5GHz without having to throttle it back.
A lot of coolers we’ve played with recently haven’t been able to keep below the 100˚C threshold for a chip running at 100% load when overclocked, but the Vapor-X managed to keep things at a steady 88˚C. Now that’s still pretty toasty, and did require some noisy fan-based intervention, but it still ran our number-crunching benchmarks reliably.
Sapphire’s Vapor-X cooler is also pretty quick at getting the CPU back down to a low temperature when you stop stressing the poor silicon. In fact taking under a minute and a half to get back down to idle temperatures from an overclocked, fully-loaded state, is actually class-leading performance.
At just under £60, it's not a bad price for such a quality little cooler, and well worth a look if you can’t stretch to a closed-loop water cooler for your overclocked CPU.
Minecraft isn’t just Minecraft any more: it’s as multifarious as the things people build with it, constantly repurposed by custom map makers to become a variety of different games - total conversions of a kind you now rarely see in other modding communities.
Blame The Controller, as he likes to be known, is one of the leading lights in the scene, with as many as 300,000 downloads for his creative efforts. His best-regarded adventure map series, Kingdom of the Sky, is heading towards its third episode, a 12-15 hour epic with hundred of items, quests, minibosses, multi-part bosses. He says he’s going for "Skyrim in Minecraft", and judging by the trailer’s epic panoramas of vast fantasy architecture, he’s not far off. Check the video after the jump, and hear what he has to say about the modding scene and its future.
PCG: What’s your reaction to the announcements made at Minecon? What was the most exciting thing to emerge from the conference for you?
BTC: I'm really glad to hear about some of the new things to be added. I'm very glad that they're going to be fixing some of the Redstone bugs and updating it. However, as a map maker, it scared me quite a bit that Block Update Detector switches are going to be effectively broken.
Kingdom of the Sky 3
Can you explain what BUD switches are?
BUD switches use a glitch with pistons, so that when something near the piston updates it causes the piston to fire off, which you can use to send a redstone pulse, which you can then use to power other things. Block updates are things like placing a block, removing a block, placing torches - when grass grows that's considered a block update. For example, in Alucard, the entire map takes place at night and the player takes the role of a vampire. When the sun comes up, the light triggers grass to grow on dirt blocks which are connected to BUD switches. That update then triggers and fires off to a couple of command blocks that then teleport the player to the end of the map: you have 'died' because the sun burns you up.
So if BUD switches are out the window, is there be a suitable workaround that you could employ to keep your previous maps working?
Unfortunately no. It would mean that Alucard and a large part of my second map, Kingdom of the Sky 2, would be completely broken. Without the addition of a new type of BUD switch they would simply not work and they would never work again, which is really unfortunate. I'm sure someone in the mod community would recreate BUD switches but I don't like to require my players to use mods, I like to make maps that are strictly vanilla. So that way makes it much easier to actually play the map and enjoy it. The simpler it is for them to just load it up and play the better I find.
Now I know that Dinnerbone and Jeb are working on making a block that actually functions as a BUD swtich but those things – particularly in my maps – are crucial for puzzle and other elements that make the map more immersive. So I'm glad that they're moving the game forward and they're going to be adding new features and stuff but it's really important that something like BUD switches continue to be included in the game.
How dependant are your maps on Redstone in general?
Early maps had very little Redstone in them but nowadays it's absolutely mandatory that map-makers who want to do adventure maps specifically have a moderate-to-expert knowledge of Redstone. If you want to have interactive puzzles, if you want to have cool three-by-three and four-by-four door systems you really do have to know how to use redstone. Because it's one thing to put a wooden door there, it's another thing to have an entire wall that shifts and moves out of place.
So rescuing BUD switches aside, are there any other things that you'd liked to have seen announced?
Oh absolutely. There are a bunch of things myself and other mapmakers would like to see included in the game. One of the best things that was added was Adventure Mode, which allows the use of game rules. I actually spoke to Dinnerbone and Jeb and I requested that they add a few things. Now they obviously have a lot on their plate so it may or may not ever get added, but one of the things that we as mapmakers would like to see is the ability to disable crafting. Because in a lot of the adventure maps we don't want the players to make their own tools or make a lever or a button because then that kind of bypasses the whole sequence of events. Other things we would love to see are the ability to play custom sound files via command blocks. Currently a lot of us use either MP3 files that get sent with the download or we use YouTube videos. Fun fact: I was the first person in the world to use YouTube videos as narration for custom adventure maps! But if we were able to use command blocks to just play the sound files that would make things so much easier.
Do you see yourself still being involved in Minecraft in many years time? Do you think it's got that long a tail?
I think that so long as the guys at Mojang keep updating, they'll retain a lot of people for a very long time. At least an additional five years I can see it running strong. And I think they'll continue to get new people as well. Every time there's a major update, all everybody wants to do is go and try and all the stuff and they'll spend the next couple of months playing with these things, and then the next update comes. And the game is simple enough that no matter how many updates they put in new people will never be completely lost. Again because the community is so strong, you'll never have a really hard time getting into the game because there'll always be other people ready to assist you.
Kingdom of the Sky 2
Mojang say that they're looking at a distant future in which they're almost completely hands-off with the game and it’s left to modders and inbuilt aggregation systems. Do you think that will suffice?
I think that as soon as Mojang has a really good mod interface, which they are currently working on, then at that point the mod community could for the most part take over. As long as someone who knows nothing about mods can go into Minecraft and just say I want flavour A, flavour B and flavour C and install and they're good to go, I think that would make it so that modders could actually take over that role.
Should there be a way to make money from custom maps?
It would be awesome if I could get like a small amount like an iPhone app, but really, with the custom maps it's almost impossible to do something like that. As soon as someone downloads it they can post it somewhere else and everyone can download it. It would be a never-ending fight tracking down these other downloads and getting them to stop and it just really wouldn't be worth it. What would be awesome is if Mojang had a way of including custom maps in the actual Minecraft interface. So not only could you download mods through the Minecraft interface but you could get texture packs or custom maps and stuff like that. I think they would probably be reluctant to let you charge for them, but at least it would be a better way of getting your map out there if you could sell it straight through the Minecraft interface.
Seeing as you're here, would be so good as to list your favourite custom maps?
BTC: Sure. Well my favourite, which is the map that actually got me into map making is called the Redmurk Mystery. It's a much older map but it's still very good. It doesn't have any of the new features or anything but I thought it was incredibly well done and definitely worth a look. Another map that I recommend would be Eronev Mansion by Jigarbov. He actually has part one and part two out. And pretty much anything made by RSMalec is also very good. Chronotide is good - by Vladimyr. Actually for everybody that wants to find maps they can go to the Minecraft forums and find a thread that is managed by myself and it's a listing of tons and tons of different custom maps and they're broken up by map types: adventure, puzzle, survivor, parkour - all those sorts of things.
The first add-on for XCOM: Enemy Unknown will be released next Tuesday, November 4 for $7 (UK price to be verified). The Slingshot DLC includes three council missions (you must start a new game to play them), as well as a selection of new hats, helmets, and armor decos. I played all three new missions earlier this week, and my preliminary verdict is: well, they're alright. Are they what we wanted, though?
The missions are interspersed throughout the game, and tell the story of an alien battleship headed for China. I'd never have worried about spoilers in XCOM before, because it's tough to spoil a story that's largely told in the mind of the player. In this case, I guess you should stop reading if you don't want to know how the China invasion plays out. It's not a shocker, really.
The first mission is an escort mission: save Triad defect Zhang (why did he defect? who knows!) and he'll give you a briefcase containing some alien something-or-other. Except for actually looking like some version of China, it isn't different from any other escort mission. After the mission, however, Zhang joins your barracks, giving you access to a high-rank soldier earlier than usual. The catch: he's not customizable and will always be Zhang. For me, that means he's benched.
The second mission has a 10 turn limit: the goal is to activate thingamajigs on a subway train intended to divert the approaching alien battleship. The turn limit makes it the most difficult of the three missions, and I failed because I didn't realize that after activating the thingamagics (transponders? they're probably called transponders) you still need at least one turn remaining to get someone to the train's control cabin. Oops. But aside from that, there are no surprises—as usual, Thin Men drop, somehow, from the sky of the underground train station every time you push up far enough to trigger reinforcements.
The third mission is the best, because it lets us do something we've been wanting to: invade an alien ship in-flight. As your soldiers trek across the battleship, they're tasked with shutting down power cores to disable its ability to ominously hover over populated areas. And when that last power source is dark...you've finished the DLC. At that point, you have Zhang and access to certain technologies earlier than usual.
The missions are fun because XCOM is fun, and they're designed the way other good XCOM missions are designed. That they look like they take place in China is nice, if only in comparison to Everytown, USA and This Is A Forest, USA. That they give you access to a non-customizable character is...well, I don't play XCOM for XCOM's characters. And getting access to existing technologies earlier isn't really exciting after having already played the game.
I haven't yet played the missions in the context of a full game (Firaxis had saved games prepared at the start of each), and that experience will inform the final verdict. They should fit in well, but I wonder if, two or three playthroughs later, Zhang's clockwork reappearance will only make XCOM feel more predictable.
If you weren't planning on another playthrough, Slingshot probably won't bring you back. It doesn't add anything radical or contribute to the unpredictability that makes XCOM so enjoyable for so long. There are no new weapons, no new research or facilities, no new aliens, no new mission types, no base invasions, no grand mission to the moon.
Slingshot interprets "add-on" in about as plain a way as possible: three missions and some aesthetic items. Actually, the new helmets are the best part. The baseball caps and intimidating masks still don't let me design soldiers just how I want, and I still wish character customization were much improved, but it's a start.