Clear your schedule and make room on your hard drive: there are over 9000 mods up for consideration as ModDB's 2012 Mod of the Year award nominees, and only a little over five days to nominate them. A big green button on each mod's page makes it hard to miss the opportunity to give your favorites a bump.
There isn't much time, so we'll get straight to it after this obligatory acknowledgement that we said "over 9000" on the internet: tee hee, references. Moving on, DayZ and Black Mesa are tough to ignore, and The Sith Lords Restored Content Mod was a valiant community effort. Those might be the most talked about and praised mods this year, and we expect they'll secure nominations, but there are so many more that deserve recognition. Which are you voting for?
If you need a refresher, you might want to browse our recent mod coverage to see if you've missed any driving elephants or My Little Pony conversions.
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - firstname.lastname@example.org (Nathan Grayson)
I probably need to leap back into Garry’s Mod. For about a year, it was one of my go-to games/game-like things. If I was feeling bored, I’d find the most elaborate ways possible to pit a single, pistol-armed human NPC against hundreds of languidly slithering legless zombies and cackle until my mental health was severely in question. Eventually, though, I squeezed all the grim carnage I could from even the juiciest of scenarios, so it stopped being my time-waster of choice. But now, it sounds like Garry’s wonderful toybox – in much the same fashion as an infinitely multiplying army of single-frightened-human-hungry Ant Lions – has expanded quite a lot. And more’s on the way. Kinect support, for instance, is right around the corner, and Garry’s released a video of how exactly it’ll work. Flail your arms wildly at the break until something happens. Or just click on it.
Big Picture Support - Added controller menu navigation - Dual stick controllers are now the default controller layout - Fixed controller disabling the crosshair - Fixed some weapons not being selectable with controller for some players - Fixed file loading crash that affected some players
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - email@example.com (Jim Rossignol)
Haha. Yeah, Garry knows what to do. I’ve posted videos of his Kinect experiments below, and you can see exactly why the infamously aberrant Half-Life 2 mod actually needs Kinect support by watching those. Readers with memories will recall that we talked to Garry about his plans for the mod earlier in the year.
The Kinect support will apparently arrive “this week or next”. (more…)
Hollywood studios have approached Valve in the past to explore the possibility of adapting Half-Life for the silver screen, but before you could spit out "Uwe Boll," Valve declared that any sort of movie involving Freeman and Friends® would be created by its very hands. What-ifs persist, of course, and in an interview with New Rising Media (via VG247), Half-Life writer Marc Laidlaw named Hellboy and Pan's Labyrinth director Guillermo del Toro as a good fit for a hypothetical adaptation.
"Guillermo del Toro has the horror vibe that I think a lot of people miss out on when thinking about a Half-Life movie," Laidlaw said. "Half-Life is essentially horror after all. The science in it barely passes as hand-waving, but when a headcrab jumps at your head, it’s a precisely engineered jolt."
Laidlaw also thinks Total Recall and Starship Troopers director Paul Verhoeven could concoct something "insane" for a Half-Life film, and pointed to The Lord of the Rings' Peter Jackson as a "purveyor of faithful adaptations." "There are probably a lot of good potential directors, but I think most of them are busy pursuing their own visions," he added.
Regardless of who would come aboard for the supposed project, they'd need the thumbs-up from Valve boss Gabe Newell, who holds a rather soured opinion of what Hollywood offered him so far. "Directors down there wanted to make a Half-Life movie and stuff, so they’d bring in a writer or some talent agency would bring in writers, and they would pitch us on their story," he told us. "And their stories were just so bad. I mean, brutally, the worst. Not understanding what made the game a good game, or what made the property an interesting thing for people to be a fan of."
Hotline Miami is all about learning through repetition, then executing a perfect murder ballet.
Tyler Wilde, Associate EditorThe word "repetitive" commonly has a negative connotation, and it's especially used negatively (all the time, every time, forever and ever) when talking about games. And often it's followed by a bunch of no elaboration at all. That doesn't make sense. I'm sure I've done it before, but criticizing a game for being "too repetitive" and leaving it at that is—strictly speaking—meaningless. A game might lack variety, but every game is repetitive. We repeat some pattern of input—running and shooting, stacking blocks, bouncing balls off blue dots—over and over, and expect uniform feedback. Then the problem changes slightly, and we tweak our input pattern. And then again. And yet "too repetitive" is lobbed at games all the time.
Alright, I know that sounds a bit pedantic, and I do recognize the difference in tone between "repetition" and "repetitive." Lack of variety is a fair criticism, but "too repetitive" is an extremely vague way to say it, and it dodges the truth: when we criticize a game for being "too repetitive," I think we often mean that we just don't like what we're doing. "It's repetitive" is shorthand for "this isn't fun (for some reason)."
If we like what we're doing, repetition is desirable. I like solving puzzles in Portal, and once I solve one I want to solve more. I don't want to solve the exact same puzzle again, but I don't want to stumble into a surprise Sudoku chamber, either. So Portal gives me increasingly clever arrangements of portal-ey logic problems. The puzzles get harder, but they're all just iterations of the same basic spatial problem I solved in the first puzzle. So after all my twisty, knotty figuring arrives at a solution, it always seems just as simple as the first time. That sense of clarity comes from repetition.
Super Meat Boy replays your failures, illustrating your own learning process.
Repetition is also how we learn, and both Super Meat Boy and Hotline Miami succeed by embracing that power. They present problems in small chunks—a level in Super Meat Boy and a floor of thugs in Hotline Miami—and rapidly reset them every time we fail. Each attempt gives us new information to apply to the next, building layers of experience on the way to that one perfect run. And that perfect run feels good: it's an accomplishment, like unknotting an especially tricky puzzle in Portal. Except in Hotline Miami there's more brain-stuff and skull chunks lying around afterward.
The same goes for Counter-Strike, StarCraft, and the rest. At their most basic levels, they're about repeating and mutating input patterns to solve variable, but not totally unpredictable, problems. The variables in Counter-Strike, for example, are the guns, maps, and opponents. That's been enough variety to keep us repetitively shooting at each other for 13 years.
Repetition can be pretty damn fun, so we've got to be specific, and always ask ourselves if it's really the repetition of a theme that bothers us, or the theme itself. I can shoot bad guys all day, so complaining that "the shooting is repetitive" in Medal of Honor: Warfighter would be confusing. Further examination would reveal that the guns, maps, and enemies have specific traits I don't like, which has nothing to do with repetition (except that the more I do them, the less I like them).
Fearing the dreaded "repetitiveness" may even be bad for games: that's probably how we end up with off-key phrases at pivotal moments, like a boss fight which takes away the gun I've been using the whole time and sticks me in a surprise platformer. It's variety, but it screws up the whole composition. A performance of Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No. 2, for example, would not benefit from an unexpected dubstep interlude. No, I wasn't talking to you, Skrillex. Are you drunk? Go home, dude.
Anyway, if at first glance this looks like an ostentatious rant about a personal pet-peeve, then you may have seen correctly. But maybe not: try Googling any game name with the phrase "too repetitive." It's everywhere. I get what's meant by it (sort of, kind of, some of the time), but it says very little. It may not even be a criticism, because games like Hotline Miami wouldn't be fun without repetition. If dying and respawning didn't reset the level, and our prior kills stayed bloodied, it would be ruined. Maybe then we'd say that it's not repetitive enough?
Remember when you first finished Half-Life 2: Episode 2? The excitement? The shock? You were ready to set out with Alyx at your side, ready to show those alien bastards who's boss. The trilogy, and with it, the Combine's rule over Earth, would end soon.
Except it didn't. At the time of this writing, almost five years have passed since the supposed release date of the final installment in Gordon Freeman's saga. Half-Life 2: Episode Three was slated to arrive Christmas 2007. It didn't. As the weeks and months went by, confused fans tried to glean whatever information they could from Valve, but, by and large, they were unsuccessful. The company remained silent.
In this Kotaku Timeline, we follow the fans' process of dealing with Valve's silence, cataloging their forays into leaked code, and their communications with the developers. We detail the ways the gaming press interacted with Valve over the years, and list what little has been revealed. In addition, we will keep watch over the game, and take note of any events, good or bad, in the months and years to come.
There were no mentions of the final episode—called Half-Life 3 by some—between 1999, when Valve registered the domain halflife3.com, and 2006. But then, announcements were made, and names were dropped. And so this is where our timeline begins...
April/May—Gaben and episodic gaming
In the May issue of the print version of PC Gamer, Valve Software co-founder Gabe Newell talks about Half-Life 2 and its episodes (including Episode 3!), and why he thinks episodic gaming is the way to go. A full transcript is available through the link below.
While talking to RPS, Episode 2 project lead David Speyrer says the reason for not having an Episode 3 trailer is that they don't want to make promises they can't keep. (Which is ironic, considering Episode 3 was supposed to ship in 2007.)
August 12—Gabe talks to Steamcast, but doesn't have much to say
Steamcast, a (now discontinued) fan podcast for all things Valve, nabs an exclusive interview with Gabe Newell, who briefly talks about why there's been no Episode 3 news. You can read a transcript of the relevant segments below.
Steamcast: Alright, first question: this is one of the most commonly asked questions that we had received and we've tried to format it into something you might be able to answer: you'd kept Episode 3 under incredibly heavy wraps thus far; we'd like to know why have you chosen to adapt such a reclusive approach this time around, as opposed to previous releases. Was it based on the reception you'd received about letting out too much info prior to Episode 2, or just something completely different?
Gabe Newell: I think that what's going on, you know, we're sort of always experimenting, we're always trying out different kinds of things, and that has positive as well as negative consequences for ourselves and for the community—so if you look at our different products, we're trying out these different rhythms. (Ed.: Here Gabe talks about how Valve handles updates for Team Fortress 2 and Left 4 Dead.) Right now, the Half-Life 2 episodes themselves are on a third sort of rhythm, and, you know, we think it makes sense for the product and for what we're trying to do there. The reason that we're not talking about anything is mainly that we don't have anything to say; it's not like we decided we released too much information, it's just that if we had information that we were in a position to deliver to people, we would—and right now we don't have anything to say about it. It really is a consequence of these different rhythms to release schedules we're trying out. (...) So, Ep 3 is sort of victim to our willingness to experiment, and as soon as we have stuff that we're ready to say about Ep 3, we will.
September 19—Hey, guess what; there's some new Episode 3 code out in the wild
A beta tester leaks the Dota 2 beta client. People immediately begin datamining the files, and they naturally find several bits of code related to Episode 3. At this point, one begins to wonder if Valve is doing it on purpose.
Dec 22—Here's a fresh new batch of Episode 3 rumors
~12:55am—A fairly crazy theory of a possible new game in 2012
Valve releases the unaired Video Game Awards Character of the Year acceptance speech of Wheatley, one of Portal 2's main characters. An off-hand remark Wheatley makes prompts some wild speculation about a new game.
A Steamcast co-host posts on the Steam Forums that he's been told by an unnamed informant that Gabe "has given the go ahead to drop hints for the next Half-Life game." Gabe later partly debunks this rumor.
December 23—JPL denies any involvement in Episode 3
JPL: "Wish I had better news for you. I would love to do another episode."
John Patrick Lowrie, veteran Half-Life voice actor and husband of GLaDOS' voice actress Ellen McLain, in a post unrelated to Half-Life, tells commenters that neither he nor his wife have been contacted by Valve regarding Episode 3.
Garry Newman, the man behind the vastly popular Garry's Mod, tweets a picture of a Half-Life 3 shirt supposedly sent to him by Valve. Later, he says it was only a joke. This of course kicks the LambdaGeneration rumor mill into overdrive.
September 20—Someone says Half-Life 3 is now an open-world game
French gamer site Journal de Gamer reports that, according to an anonymous source close to Valve (we certainly haven't heard that before), the series is moving away from its linear roots towards Skyrim-esque open-world gameplay.
During /v/'s birthday visit to Gabe at Valve HQ, he (shockingly) shows willingness to divulge a few facts about a new engine they're working on. Unfortunately, he doesn't really talk about what it's for. Full video of the event to the left.
Nailing down the range of possibilities afforded by modding's creativity yawns past the comprehension of us mere mortals. Yet, for a platform housing exploding horses, rug-cutting Combine, and the nesting-doll appeal of Minecraft's game-in-a-game sandbox, the PC keeps its lot of closed environments precipitated by developers and publishers as a means for balanced gameplay or brand protection. In an interview with True PC Gaming, Black Mesa Project Lead Carlos Montero flatly stated such a hindrance for mod growth "doesn't make sense."
"When you think about it, modders are like the ultimate fans," Montero explained. "They love this game so much, they're doing real, difficult, skilled work that you usually pay people for. Not only that, but they can add so much value to your game for the rest of your audience. Yet you still see companies look at this as competition. They sue and shut down these projects and ignore or drop support for people to mod their games. It doesn't make any sense. In my opinion, it’s the product of businesses (or lawyers) looking at this too analytically and short-term without understanding the long-term value it can create for their games."
Although Black Mesa earned the silent blessing of Valve during its lengthy session in the testing chamber, other ambitious projects met a not-so-friendly response from license holders legally stifling efforts. Montero's thoughts—the rest of which you can read in the interview—reflect a sentiment by modder-turned-developer Tripwire Interactive expressing confusion over why companies would stop mods on their games.
For Valve's employees, working at one of the most secretive development studios around constitutes a once-in-a-respawn experience. The leakage of Valve's employee handbook earlier this year colorfully outlined a flat management structure culturing a counterintuitive emphasis on peer-driven independence. Speaking to Seattle Interactive Conference attendees yesterday (as reported by GeekWire), Valve Product Designer Greg Coomer said the same free-form philosophy governing the company's work ethic also factors into firing someone.
"I wish that we had covered firing in the employee handbook," Coomer said. "It was one of the things that we left out. We tried writing it, but we didn't feel like we were capturing how Valve thinks about (firing) in a well enough way. It was almost a wording problem. We couldn't get it done in the time that we wouldn't to finish the handbook. The short answer of how we handle terminations, really, is the same as we approach all other decisions at the company: It's a peer-driven process.
"If it turns out that we made a bad hiring decision, or that somebody is just not working out, there’s a method we use to get the people who are involved in the same room and to walk through the decision about what should really happen as a result of this person not functioning very well. Some of the details are kind of boring, but the main answer is that it's peer-driven, just like we evaluate each other as peers.”
I wonder what a caricaturized "Termination and You" chapter in the handbook would look like—probably the Pyro immolating an office chair or something. Still, Coomer attributed Valve's higher rate of self-fulfillment to the significant flexibility it bestows upon its workers, saying, “There are attributes that other companies have quoted about themselves that they allow their (employees) to spend some fraction of their time actually deciding on their own what to work on, but at Valve that percentage of your time is 100 percent. Every single person is responsible for deciding what they do every day."