PC Gamer
Dishonored: The Text Adventure

Ever wonder what the PC games of 2012 would be like if they were text adventures? Of course not, no one in their right mind would ever wonder that. In related news: I wondered that! So, rip out your GeForce GTX 680, plug in your dusty 10" CRT monitor, and stuff your programmable eight-button mouse in a stocking, because this week we're going to imagine five of this year's games the way all PC games used to be: as text adventures.

This year, Dishonored invited us to sneak, stab, and slide-kick our way through the grimy, rat-infested Victorian-punk streets of Dunwall. The architecture and atmosphere were unforgettable, so let's forget about them while we take a look at Dishonored: The Text Adventure!

PC Gamer
features of the year

You needn’t see out the last few days of 2012 wallowing in a figgy pudding-induced sugar-crash: perk yourself up with this collection of the great features we’ve put up on the site this year. We’ve got informative how-to guides, insightful retrospectives, polemics, play-throughs, ‘making of’ stories and much more. Bookmark it now while you're still compos mentis and you’re sure to find something in here to jolt you back to life or, at the very least, help to annul the post-Crimbo indigestion.

Minecraft Renders

PCG UK’s handsome and hirsute editor Graham Smith teaches you how to pull out equally handsome (but not especially hirsute) renders from Minecraft, while marvelling at the astonishing feats of architecture to be found on the PCG UK server.

10 best Portal 2 co-op maps

Phil Savage grabs a buddy and puts the community’s best Portal 2 maps to the test, or possibly vice versa. Convection funnels, laser death and no small amount of inter-player bickering ensues.

Skyrim: Week of Madness

The name does not lie: Rich Cobbett’s Skyrim diary, in which he installs 100 randomly selected mods is an experiment in genuine derangement. Not entirely safe for work, unless your workplace encourages inarticulately rendered BDSM.

Making of Minecraft

I wrote this! And I got in trouble for quoting Notch’s swearwords. Sorry, everyone who bought the magazine for their kids. Still, once you get past the F-word opener, it settles into a heartwarming tale of indie devs done good, a triumph born from equal parts serendipity and smarts.

Old friends: an ode to Defense of the Ancients

Cara Ellison recalls the original DotA. “Some people think that gaming is a solitary hobby. But for me, DotA was a way to connect with my real life friends through an experience that didn’t include a darkened room serving overpriced alcohol we couldn’t afford.”

The indies guide to game-making

Tom Francis hunts down the world’s premier indie devs, unfurls his needle-thin proboscis, plunges it into their brains and slurps out every last drop of advice from them. Then he squirts it all back out here. Drink deep, budding indies, for the advice is good!

Hearthfire: the beginner’s guide to homesteading and mass murder

All Chris Livingstone wanted was a home to call his own. Things don’t go to plan. “The air fills with the screams of the dying and the streets run crimson with the blood of the dead.” Oops!

12 year war: rise of wargaming

World of Tanks is now one of the biggest games on the planet, and its curators at Wargaming.net are, shall we say, rather comfortable. How did they find themselves with such phenomenal wealth? Tom Senior finds out.

Crapshoot 2012

It would be unfair to pick just one of Rich Cobbett’s terrific retrospectives (which we run every Saturday dontchaknow), so here’s his top three picks for this year: Hard Time, Les Miserables and Shadow President.

Flash of greatness

Rich McCormick stares enviously at the bright lights of the pro-gaming scene, and charts the ascendancy of Lee Young Ho, known to the Star Craft scene as Flash. Wipe your chin, McCormick!

Sim-plicity 2012

Chris Livingston has retired from videogame heroism. Instead, every Sunday, he embarks on a career of more modest proportions: driving buses, cutting wood and occasionally igniting entire airports in a deadly maelstrom of flame.

Day z photo diary

Evan Lahti charts an epic journey through Chernarus in this excellent two-parter: “He was a survivor with one life to live. His backpack: filled with beans. His world: filled with zombies. These are his tales, and the tales of his inconsistently-brave friends. And the tales of the woman played by a man who loved him.” Part two is here.

The best Skyrim mods

Whether you’re looking for new looks, new loot, homesteads or fulsome quests, Tom Hatfield’s compilation of the finest mods should see you good.

The Elder Strolls

Chris Livingston once again proves that the most valiant path is often the most humble: “My name is Nordrick. I’m not a hero, I’m an NPC, and I’m here not to play Skyrim, but to live in it.”

Inside the final hours of Star Wars: Galaxies

When Star Wars: Galaxies shut down its servers, it was as if millions of headline writers trotted out the same Obi Wan quote and were suddenly silenced. Our very own Imperial agent Chris Thursten was there to watch the mighty MMO’s light wink out.

An Illusionist in Skyrim

Tom Francis is a coward. Not in real life, of course, where he is bold and manly and frequently wrestles giant salamanders with his bare hands. But when he wants to get away from it all, he settles into Skyrim: “This is the diary of me attempting to play Skyrim using only Illusion magic: I’m not allowed any weapons, armour, or magical items, and I can’t attack anyone directly.”

The E3 2012 press conference PC gamers deserve

Graham Smith imagines an alternative E3 - the one we deserve. “The first parties were more concerned with propping up their platforms with lifestyle buzzwords than making great games. Even the big publishers, EA and Ubisoft, seemed lost in the tall grass, offering almost nothing other than the expected sequels. I can’t help but think we could do it better.”
PC Gamer

Running a website called Dead End Thrills (about pictures of grafix), I spend a lot of time playing with visual mods. When PCG asked me to list my favourites from 2012, I agreed thinking I could do it in the style of the prize round from Bullseye. "You'll be up all night 'cause it don't look like shite." "Act well-heeled with this depth-of-field." But that wouldn't work overseas, they said, and stopped being funny after two examples.

Here's a straightforward top ten, then, in no particular order.
Battlefield 3 screenshot by Jim Snook (jim2point0)

No sooner had Nvidia's Timothy Lottes introduced FXAA (a 'fast approximate' antialiasing solution effective, unusually, upon deferred rendering and shader aliasing) than 'some dude' (their username - bet it's a lady) weaponised it into a DLL injector for most DirectX games. Copy it into the same folder as the game's binary and it hooks the calls to DirectX, softening the edges most AA methods can't reach.

Then things got interesting. Tonemapping, digital vibrance, luma sharpening and other neat effects got thrown into the mix, giving us the power to customise the look of most modern games. It's also one of the most reliable, no-nonsense screen capture tools: just hit your assigned hotkey and a lossless image plops into the game's folder.

Christian Jensen's SweetFX is the next evolution. Using SMAA for antialiasing, its features include S-Curve contrast adjustment and a filmic Cineon DPX treatment. Popular presets for these injectors include the Mass Effect 3 'Illumination' mod and James Snook's work with Borderlands 2 and Dishonored. When it comes to cheap, powerful tweaks to colour, image quality and luminosity, PC gamers have never had it so good.

Smarteck's Mass Effect 3 textures
Additional screen.

Back in February, the official Mass Effect Twitter account confirmed that “when the full game releases, hi-res textures will be built into the game!” And so we learned that when BioWare uses an exclamation mark, it's because it can't quite believe what it's saying - because it isn't true. Altogether now: 'Crikey, these textures are taking a while to update. Oh, they have updated and the costumes still look like Ceefax.'

Some months later Smarteck, a member of BioWare's long-suffering community forum, has led an effort to retexture not just Mass Effect 3 but all of its DLC as well. Inspired by the sterling efforts of 'Jean-Luc' with his ME2 textures, he's made the game's costumes and environments palatable, if not strictly 'hi-res'. Some detail texturing here and artistic licence there can't always cover the initial upscaling that's gone on.

The other quirk is that you need ancient memory patcher Texmod to actually inject the stuff into the game. It adds something in the region of ten minutes to the initial load time and can cause issues of varying severity if you try and inject too much. All of that said, it has the not-insignificant effect of making the game compatible with your eyes.

Durante's 'DSFix' for Dark Souls
Screenshot by Midhras

I'm going to paraphrase a bit here. From Software: "We can't do it." NeoGAF poster Durante: "I bet I can do it in half an hour." 23 minutes later: "Look at that! Sometimes I surprise even myself." An awkward silence now follows into eternity, save for all the whooping and cheering of users who'd just about written off the PC port of the magnificent Dark Souls.

Unlocking the game's internal frame buffer with his 'DSFix', Durante revealed assets that were clearly fit for more than pitiful sub-720p rendering. Then, among other things, he added ambient occlusion, uncapped the framerate and improved the game's texture filtering. And there was much rejoicing - and nagging for further features.

It's hard to recall a PC version that's been rescued from the brink of utter rejection quite like Dark Souls, and certainly not rescued by players themselves. The wrong lighting model going into Resident Evil 4, the performance tailspin of DX11 Arkham City: such things are usually patched with some urgency by the developers. Souls fans had barely lit the torches, much less found the pitchforks and a way to still type, by the time the game was fixed.

ENB Series for Skyrim and Fallout 3
Outspoken graphics programmer Boris Vorontsov might just be one of the most important people in PC gaming right now. No joke. His ENB wrappers and injectors have brought to many games the kind of generational leap in quality people expect from modern graphics cards, but seldom receive beyond those tech demos where fairies in Nvidia-branded loincloths ride turtles into battle with Decopunk death balloons. Those exist, right?

But where do you begin? Vorontsov has banned the hosting of his core dlls anywhere but on his own website; then you have the community-made presets. That's where effects like indirect lighting, subsurface scattering and complex ambient occlusion are wrangled into something complementing (or wildly departing, depending upon taste) the game's original look.

The last year has seen several masters of this bizarre artform emerge. In one niche you've got Midhras and his deep and luscious 'Midhrastic' presets for Skyrim and Fallout 3. In another, Trillville (aka Anthemios) and his muted but cinematic 'TV ENB', again for both games. And there's the fantastical (but surprisingly GPU-light) Seasons Of Skyrim by Bronze316. There's loads, basically, so get looking.

Sikkmod/Wulfen's Textures for Doom 3
Additional screens: 1, 2 and 3.

Not strictly from this year but here by virtue of significant recent updates. If Rage left you questioning the genius/foresight/influence/marbles of one John Carmack, let the properly modded Doom 3 splash all over your grumpy face like a hyper-demonic poo pump (or whatever those things are).

To put it really crudely, user Sikkpin brings the effects while Wulfen (and to a lesser extent another modder called Monoxead) brings the textures. There's a lot more to it, though. Sikkmod adds a beautifully implemented list of options to the game's menu, letting you toggle but also heavily customise things like ambient occlusion, colour grading, bloom and HDR. The icing on the cake, though, is the experimental parallax occlusion mapping (POM).

Given supporting ultra-quality textures like Wulfen's, POM adds a relatively primitive relief effect to the game's grungy surfaces. It's also an effect, though, that makes you want to reach out and touch all the stuff you really don't want to have on your fingers. The caveat - and it's a big one - is that it's far more demanding and less reliable than tessellation in a DX11 game. When the effect breaks, it breaks bad. Still worth it? Absolutely.

REX: Real Environment Xtreme
Alternative screens: 1 and 2

Of course you're aware that the flight sim community takes things rather seriously. Where modding is concerned, they build planes like they're actually building planes. The manual for one of these suckers is bigger than the manual for my car; in fact, the 2005 Honda Jazz feels less realistic all round. Meanwhile, when these modders are building the weather, they do it better than God. His clouds have been rubbish for years.

You'll get the lot if you invest the considerable time and money required by Flight Simulator X and its biggest mod, Real Environment Xtreme. The latest version is called REX Essential and is soon to be improved by REX Essential Overdrive. Assuming your mind can handle something so essentially overriding, what that gives you is almost 10gb of clouds, runways, dawns, dusks, reefs, waves... an awful lot of photorealistic stuff.

The way the mod works is to build a weather profile for the particular flight you add to your planner. It takes a while to import the necessary textures and runs a background app to keep track of them, but it's well worth the rigmarole. Add it to things like TileProxy and a high-fidelity terrain mesh and you have a game that makes Microsoft Flight look like... well, Microsoft Flight.

Skywind/Morrowind Overhaul
Screenshot from Morrowind Overhaul site.

The heart says Skywind but the head says Morrowind Overhaul, the one you can actually play. The magpie in me likes Skywind’s shiny stuff, but the historian bristles at the idea of just transplanting Morrowind into the framework and tech of a really quite different game. Not that it stopped the Dragonborn DLC, but that's not quite the same thing.

The screenshots of Skywind are marvellous, of course, in that specific way that most ENB-assisted shots are. Beautiful art and beautiful technology on occasionally decent terms. Can the authors pull it off without inflicting a violent mood swing on the game? We're a long way from finding out: they just made the difficult decision to take several steps back in order to bypass some serious obstacles, and now there's just a skeletal worldspace to explore.

Morrowind Overhaul has had a lot longer to gather its greatest hits collection of mods for the original game. Crucially, it suffers none of the legal issues surrounding asset-porting that affect Skywind and its Oblivion-based predecessor, Morroblivion, so isn't such a kludge of community-only content. And hey, even if you don't like it, the divine beauty of its installer will still come to you in dreams.

GLSL shaders for Minecraft
When no one can even agree on Notch's motives for the game's look - I want to call it 'Voxel Art' but its polygons won't let me - you can imagine the confusion over how Minecraft should be modded. Maybe that's the beauty of it. At the very least you get the comedy of people striving to make it 'photorealistic', as if waiting for the mod that shrinks each block to 1 cubic pixel so they can make a perfect replica of Crysis.

Better, I think, to flatter the blocks without pretending they're something they're not. I'd love to see realtime radiosity in Minecraft but suspect my computer wouldn't. (You should have heard the noise while rendering these 4K screenshots.) What we do have, though, is the ongoing work on daxnitro's abandoned GLSL Shader mod. Some of it's awful, like the lens flare and depth of field effects, but you can turn those off in the shader files and still enjoy sumptuous light and shadowing.

What I was looking for was a realtime version of the renders described here. It warms me to know I'm still looking at a game. I have to warn you, though, that finding the right shaders for the right version of the mod, for the right version of Minecraft, was an utter chore. Each small update of Minecraft requires a new version of the mod, and each new version of the mod tends to break something, whether it's the lovely new water shader or Nvidia compatibility. It might not even work at all.

You need to learn this stuff for yourself, really, as there's a lot of trial and error. Start by reading the thread for Sonic Ether’s Unbelievable Shaders (SEUS). Then look at Sonic Ether’s updates page on Facebook and figure out why he chose such an abhorrent solution as Facebook for an updates page (hint: you can’t). If, like me at 2AM, you’ve followed all of these instructions and have more questions than answers, you could always try chocapic13’s preset here which I turned to in desperation, and which actually worked.

Crysis 2 MaLDoHD Mod

Screenshot from MaLDoHD site

Real soldiers don't look at the enemy, they look at the floor. They stand by their fallen comrades, lower their guns and think, "That is a dirty puddle, all right, but is it a wow puddle?" Then they get shot. Bleeding out, they look up at the sky and think, "No, those clouds aren't doing it for me at all. This is simply unacceptable."

Thanks to the jargon-tastic MaLDoHD mod, the shoegazing soldier doesn't have to die disillusioned any more. Fears that Crysis 2 would become any less MAXIMUM with age can be safely laid to rest.

He's suffered for his mod, this Maldo. His computer "burst" in October, reveals his blog, and some believed he was dead. So you'll just have to settle for the "1894 textures and 1297 materials" in the existing beta version of MaLDoHD; those, and all the effects such as SSDO, object tessellation and penumbra shadowing. Sucks, huh.

The RAR file is 1.5gb and expands to over 2gb. The configuration process remains, as even MAXIMUM GAMER Craig Pearson had to admit, "a bit of a faff". His install guide still applies, though, so check it out.

Deus Ex New Vision
Screenshot from Deus Ex New Vision ModDB page.

Any visual mod for Deus Ex has its work cut out. My lasting memory of the original graphics is how freshly waxed the floors looked, not how the characters resembled ice sculptures on a balmy day. Accept the rather mathematical art as a style choice, though, or a trade-off for the game’s complexities, and you’ve ticked the first box for installing New Vision.

As well as enabling DX10, New Vision gives most of the game’s textures a fourfold increase in size and quality, bringing them into line with a modern game. It does it by exploiting the seldom-used S3TC standard of the original Unreal Engine.

Installing it is simple, especially if you have the Steam version which includes the required patches. The single installer asks if you want to install a modified launcher (you do if you want FOV options and enhanced resolution options) on top of the new textures, then you just run the game as usual.

Sucked helplessly into Ion Storm's universe for what’s probably the tenth time, you might just realise that old geometry and HD textures aren’t always a bad combination. New Vision is the work of top-tier artists with an obvious respect for the source material, and these are genuine 1024x1024 textures rather than horrid upsamples. Rather than drag the game kicking and screaming into 2012, though, they invite you back to 2000 with augmented eyes.
PC Gamer
Skyrim Diary 15 - 0

This is the diary of me attempting to play Skyrim using only Illusion magic: I'm not allowed any weapons, armour, or magical items, and I can't attack anyone directly. The first entry is here, or you can see all entries to date here.

The whole concept for my character is that I never directly attack any living thing, so it's rather awkward that I now find myself getting all the credit for slaying a dragon. I didn't. I didn't even help. I was going to lead some angry giants over to beat it up for me, but the guards killed the dragon before I got there, so I just ended up setting some angry giants on the real heroes and then stealing all the glory.

So as the Jarl of Whiterun is singing my praises, naming me his Thane, giving me a personal servant, and entrusting me with his own battleaxe, I'm wishing he'd shut up. I need him to read the letter my general ordered me to deliver.

At last, he does. "Take my axe to Ulfric Stormcloak in Windhelm," he replies. "He'll know my meaning."

Jarl, I think I speak for my superiors in the Imperial Legion when I suggest you start researching communication. Posting someone an axe is a really inefficient way to talk.

I mutter most of the long, uneventful ride to Windhelm, halfway across Skyrim. When I arrive, I slip off Sarah the Implausible Horse and barge into Ulfric's great hall, expressing my feelings about their culture by trampling all over the banquet table on my way to his throne.

"You are quite brave to carry such a message," Ulfric says. Do you mean bored? I'm quite bored to carry such a message. Tired, maybe? It's pretty heavy. Capacious? It's not really clear where I was stowing it.

"Return his axe, and tell him to expect visitors. There will be a great deal of excitement in Whiterun soon."

Oh you are kidding me. This whole conversation is not only going to consist entirely of me taking axes back and forth, it's going to be the same axe? Your conversation is literally just:

"Same thing."

Didn't you kill a guy with a shout once? Talk with shouts! Kill with axes! You people need to take a long hard look at either your traditions or your dictionary.

No, it's fine, I'm going.

A predictable response

Another long trek. Another ride to the city gates. Another walk to another throne room. Another rebellious stomp across another dining table, goblets and grilled salmon flying everywhere.

The Jarl: "I knew this would be his response." Oh, cool. Kind of a massive stupid insane waste of my goddamn time then, wasn't it?

A messenger runs in to inform us that the Stormcloaks are at the gate. Huh. Must have somehow missed their whole army being right behind me all the way from Windhelm.

"This is it," shouts the Jarl, "to the battlements!"

We all rush out, but a guard stops me.

"Wait, I know you!" Oh god, not this again. "You're a wanted woman!"

My bounty is 2 gold - I still don't know what for, but I don't have time to go to be arrested right now. I explain to him that the Jarl has just made me Thane, and ask if whatever those two words mean translates to me being somehow above the law?

It does! Excellent.

As we head on, another guard chimes in: "Looking to do some hunting? Avoid Brittleshin Pass." OK. We're... we're off to the war now.

The battle for Whiterun

It's early evening, and smoke - possibly fog of war - is thick in the streets. Fiery projectiles come raining in over the battlements and slam into the ground. And, as with every other time I leave Whiterun, I take the wrong route to the gate and end up in a cow pen.

When we finally get out of the front gates, I hop on Sarah the Implausible Horse and gallop out towards the oncoming troops. Arrows whiz by, Imperials and Whiterun guards charge out behind us, and for a moment it looks like I know what the hell I'm doing.

When I actually reach the enemy, of course, I can't really do anything, so I bank round and canter back behind the guys who are going to actually fight.

I park Sarah somewhere safe-ish and dismount to start flinging spells. At first I try to Fury the enemies, to make them attack each other. I encounter a few problems with this, not least of which is that Fury doesn't really do that. Furied enemies just attack the nearest thing, which is typically me by the time I hit them with it.

The other problem is that Whiterun guards look similar to the enemy Stormcloaks in the evening gloom, so often the person I've just tricked into attacking me is one of our own troops. I'm used to not being the most useful person in a given fight, but this is about as actively unhelpful as I've been since the incident with the giants.

All around me, everyone's doing their job: Legate Rikke is shouting at the troops, the troops are twirling and impaling enemies in gruesome kill moves, and the enemies are dying excellently. I, on the other hand, am nearly dead and low on health potions, so I decide to stick to Couraging our troops. At least if I hit the wrong people with that spell, it's basically useless anyway.

The General

The tide starts to turn against us: an objective popup informs me we've lost the drawbridge and should protect the battlements, then immediately adds that we've also lost the battlements. And oddly, my companion Belrand is nowhere to be seen. He must have lagged behind on our way out of the city, and now the gates are locked until the attack is over.

I'm beating a strategic retreat when I bump into a half-naked woman wearing most of a bear. I instinctively cast Calm on her, then realise she's the Stormcloak commander. Deeply chillaxed, she puts her bow away and wanders through the carnage. Two Imperial Legion soldiers run up to her and slaughter her in cold blood. Hurray, I helped!

I start Calming more of the enemies - I've had enough Illusion practise now that the mana cost is trivial, and at this stage in the battle I'm able to pacify almost the entire Stormcloak force before I run dry. It's a bizarre scene, an invasion force suddenly ambling around the battlefield, acting like they never wanted our stupid city anyway.

Our last few soldiers are less relaxed. They keep hacking at the idle Stormcloaks, and killing all but three by the time the spells wear off. I check my inventory to drink another health potion, and when I flick back to the game, a massive skeletal monster plunges down out of the sky in front of me.

Close to the bone

After a moment of total bafflement, I realise it's a dragon. The reason I didn't recognise it is that it's crashed skull-first into the ground, its massive pelvic bone wiggling weirdly in the air. It's not a skeletal dragon, it's a dragon skeleton. In fact, it's almost certainly the skeleton of the dragon the guards killed for me out at the guard tower. What the hell it's doing here, and why it plummeted out of the sky, I will never know.

Backing slowly away, I see there are only two Stormcloaks left now, so I Fury one of them into killing the other. When the spell wears off, he looks round at me, the Imperial soldiers behind me, and the massive dragon skeleton on the ground between us, and he runs off into the night. Whiterun is ours.

I head back to the city gates, stopping briefly to check my journal and make sure that's where I'm meant to be going. When I put it away, a titanic mess of bone crashes down on my head. Jesus goddamn Christ! Get it off me!

The gibbering dragon skeleton wobbles awkwardly between me and the city gate, then slumps down to the ground. It's the same one, it just jumps on top of me every time I bring up my inventory. Is this glitch meant to remind me how bad I should feel for setting angry giants on the guards who killed this dragon for me? The symbolism is a bit heavy handed, even for a videogame. I feel bad! You don't need to literally hit me over the head with it!

Mercifully, the dragon corpse symbolism attacks stop once I get back into Whiterun. Belrand's there waiting for me, being the useless one for once, and so is the Jarl. He prattles on again about how amazing I am, gives me yet another axe, and says as a sign of his appreciation, I'd be welcome to buy a house in Whiterun. Er, buy a house? My reward for saving the city is the ability to acquire a house in exchange for the cost of a house? I didn't realise I was ever actually banned from engaging in basic commerce.

Slightly offended, I find Sarah the Implausible Horse and ride on through the night, Belrand jogging behind. We should reach Solitude by dawn.

Dead drop

We reach Labyrinthine by dawn. Labyrinthine is a snow-covered ruin I usually try to avoid on my way to Solitude because of all th- oh God Frost Trolls! I steer Sarah the Implausible Horse around one and onto a bridge, which immediately turns out to be a precipice.

I look down. It's quite far. I look back. The troll's quite close. There's no way around him, and there isn't room for me to get off to cast Illusion spells. Belrand is nowhere to be seen. We ride off the edge.

Sarah the Implausible Horse and I both collapse when we hit the ground. I get back up. I stand there for a while, looking at my limp horse, hoping she'll move. She doesn't.

Belrand finally catches up, runs over to the body, stops, and looks up at me wordlessly.

Eventually the Frost Troll scampers down some stone steps towards us, and bizarrely, he stops too. The Troll looks at Belrand. Belrand looks at me. I look at Sarah. It feels weirdly like a moment of silence for this stupid, senseless loss.

Once I feel we've paid our respects, I walk off. Belrand follows. The Troll follows. Suddenly, they seem to remember they're enemies, and start to fight. I Calm the Troll and carry sadly on to Solitude by foot.

The Pale

Back in town, I stop by the local trader to sell some dragon bones, which are probably not haunted or anything, and spend the money on new spells: Fear, Rally, and Frenzy (see For my next tricks).I'll be honest: that's about your lot for Illusion, until you get Invisibility at level 75. I've levelled up a lot in my travels, but I'm still a long way off that. I'm not even sure I'd have enough mana to cast it, since I'm not allowed to wear enchanted gear.

At HQ, General Tullius announces that I'd be "wasted as a regular soldier." If you mean useless, I agree! He sends me out to help Legate Rikke in the Pale, which I deduce is some kind of region.

Before I leave Solitude, I wonder if I should buy a new horse. No, it's too soon. For me to afford it.

I find Rikke up in the mountains, at a remote Imperial camp in the middle of a blizzard. Soldiers huddle around a campfire, and the wounded groan in the medical tent. Also in the medical tent, oddly, is a table with two strong health potions on it. Are we just leaving these guys to die three feet from some health potions? Are they aware that health potions magically fix everything?

Oh well. I'll take them if you're not using them. And this money I found in the drawer. The 'pick up' icon wasn't red, so morally it's fine.

The way we're going to take The Pale, Legate Rikke informs me, is by creating fake orders to trick the enemy into doing what we want. My orders are to steal some orders so we can fake some orders. Honestly, I could save them the trouble: these people seem to communicate entirely in axes. Let's just take them an axe and say it's from Ulfric Stormcloak, they'll all kill each other.

I am instructed to leave this freezing, windswept camp and go directly to a pub, where I should hang out until a Stormcloak messenger comes by. Yessir.


I'm trudging through the mountain blizzard, still sadly horseless, when I see people fighting up ahead. I run over to see whether some or all of them need to be Calmed down. It turns out to be Imperial Legion soldiers fighting a group of dark elves in dark clothes, and the dark elves win before I can intervene. They turn to me. I hit them with Frenzy, but nothing happens. A note at the top of the screen explains that "Vampire resisted Frenzy".

Vampires! My Illusions won't work on them because they're undead, and they can even do the one Illusion I can't: invisibility. Right now, though, they're giving me a thorough demonstration of their Lightning and Life Drain spells, and I have to drink my entire stock of health potions to stay alive. The two I stole from the dying soldiers actually save my life.

Finally I manage to scramble up onto an icy ridge the vampires can't climb, and I'm safe. Then something occurs to me. I edge back down towards them, and let the nearest one stab and Drain me as much as I can risk, until the message pops up:

You have contracted Sanguinare Vampiris.


The next entry is in the current issue of PC Gamer in the UK (which you can buy online here) and will go online on January the 17th.

We used to put the diary online in shorter, weekly posts, but a lot of readers felt they were too short. Which is the best complaint, but in some cases I agreed. They were written as 2,000 word entries for the magazine and then split afterwards, so not every 500 word chunk had the right structure to work in isolation. We've switched to putting the full magazine version up all at once, which means changing to a monthly schedule to stay in sync. Let us know in the comments whether you prefer it this way - we plan to do more diaries after this one finishes.

Dunwall City Trials: A Welcome Addition To DishonoredI've been having a lot of fun with Dunwall City Trials, the first downloadable add-on to October's fantastic stealth game Dishonored. I've beaten the core game almost two times now, and while it's such a brilliant bit of design, I'd found myself hungry for new, different challenges.

It's always felt like the game would benefit from an extra mode in addition to the single-player story, one that let us really put the game's many enjoyable systems to the test. Dunwall City Trials, which costs $5 to download, adds just that.

It's a collection of 10 challenge maps that put players through a gauntlet of stealth, combat, and puzzle challenges, each one designed to stand on its own as a leaderboard-focused trial. Master those, and you'll unlock five more 'expert' maps that make the existing challenges even harder.

The DLC, while perhaps a bit slight, feels like just what Dishonored needed. While the ten challenges are great, I can already tell that I'm going to want more of them.

The stealth challenge "Mystery Foe" puts you into a "Lady Boyle's Last Party"-type scenario, where you'll have to sneak about a party undetected and gather clues about who your target is before taking him or her out. The fewer clues you need to take down your target, the higher you score. The best bit is that the target is randomly selected each time, making the level feel a bit like something out of Hitman: Absolution's smart Contracts Mode.

"Burglar" has you robbing a house (that floats, awesomely, in the same dream-zone in which you meet The Stranger), and remaining undetected. There are wave-based attack challenges, too, as well as one of my favorites, "Kill Cascade," which has you chaining those oh-so-satisfying aerial kills together as quickly as possible.

I've only played an hour or so of Dunwall City Trials, but it already feels like a solid add-on for anyone who liked the core game. It's hard not to wish for a couple more stealth challenges, as those are the best of the bunch, but each challenge offers a welcomely stiff challenge and some good optional objectives, and certainly feels worth five bucks. As with the challenge rooms in Batman: Arkham City, the trials are a fun way to stress-test Dishonored's systems without worrying about your chaos level or which powers you've chosen.

I hope that, as Bethesda releases more DLC for the game, we get to see another slew of challenge rooms in addition to whatever else they may be planning. Dishonored deserves even more of this kind of thing.


The Best Stealth Moments Of 20122012 was a banner year for stealth games. From January up through December, we got to play a healthy variety of games involving dozens of different types of sneaking, skulking, lurking, and sklurking. (It's a thing.)

You could say that these games… crept up on us.

We really… didn't see them coming.

Jason and I have already talked at length about why we love stealth games. While many video games set a series of systems in motion and toss you into the middle, stealth games operate a bit differently. They're about staying outside of those systems, creeping about the periphery while poking here, prodding there, and deciding how to engage. You really play with stealth games, and that's what lends them their unique rhythm and makes them so satisfying.

It's also why we come away from stealth games with such great stories. Every stealth game I played this year, I came away with a handful of stories, moments that captured the best (and sometimes, worst) sorts of stealth-game unpredictability.

Rather than just run down all the stealth games that came out this year, I thought it might be fun to share some stories, then open the floor for y'all to share your own tales. Here goes:

Mark of the Ninja

The Best Stealth Moments Of 2012

Klei Entertainment's Mark of the Ninja was interesting because it was both a tight, polished stealth game, and something of a treatise on stealth games themselves. Helped along by its two-dimensional design, the game gave clear visual feedback for every aspect of sneaking—footstep audio burst visually outward from the protagonist, while lights illuminated exactly where they were pointing. There was never a question whether you were hidden or visible, and the enemy artificial intelligence clearly signaled its status and intent. My moment from MotN comes from early in the game, when I was tasked with sneaking through a building and freeing several of my captured compatriots. I decided I was going to do the entire bit nonlethal, and that was where I discovered the most rewarding way to play Mark of the Ninja: Without killing anyone at all. As I freed the final captive without being spotted, I felt the kind of satisfaction I rarely feel by playing nonviolent in sneaking games.


No, seriously: There were so many stealth games in 2012 that even Journey had a stealth segment. This marks what I think of as the "low point" of the protagonist, the darkest, tensest hour. As the robed wanderer fights its way across a snowy field, it is hunted by those terrifying flying fish-golem monsters. I've rarely felt such unexpected dread, and even replaying the game, I fear this section.

Ghost Recon: Future Soldier

I don't think I felt more uneasy about stealth than I did in Ghost Recon: Future Soldier. As I mentioned in my review, the game is at its best when you're pulling off carefully orchestrated stealth-kills with your entire team, slipping through an area undetected. But no game has made me feel as uncomfortable. Particularly during the early Africa levels, as my stealth-cloak enabled cybersoldier squad wiped out wave after wave of ill-equipped third-world junta soldiers, it became clearer and clearer that this battle was horribly uneven. So, it's not so much an emergent stealth moment that I remember, more a feeling of how totally overpowered my team and I were.


The Best Stealth Moments Of 2012

It is very difficult to pick a single stealth moment from Dishonored, a game in which I've forgotten more classic moments than I experience in most games. But one comes to mind: In the mission in the Golden Cat brothel, you're tasked with taking down a couple of n'er do-wells located at various points throughout the building. One of them is holed up behind closed doors near to a body of water, and there are a number of ways I could sneak in to get him. But the way I chose was a doozy: I possessed a fish, swam through a small passage and into the room, then slowed down time and burst from the water in slow-mo before stabbing the dude in the neck. It was one of those moments that you see in movies, and yet I got to do it myself. In real time. Pretty much my Ultimate Dishonored Moment.

Hitman: Absolution

Here's a game I liked more than some, but I'm still playing it to this day, and still enjoying it quite a bit. If there's one thing I retrospectively could have talked about more in my review, it's how Absolution does feel different from Blood Money in many of its levels—it's much more of a traditional stealth game than its most recent predecessor. That said, there were still so many times when I felt that old Hitman groove—particularly during the mission "Shaving Lenny." Outside of Lenny's BBQ, I snuck over to a storage shed and took out the guard inside, before slowly but surely taking down guard after guard, and returning to the shed to stash them all. Over the course of the next twenty or so minutes, that shed became my macabre base of operations, the place NPCs went to decompose.

Assassin's Creed III

This game is the one to get a mention due to bad stealth. Perhaps chief among the many ways Assassin's Creed III disappointed me was the fact that the game's stealth was, for lack of a better word, busted. Two memories stick with me, and both involve bushes. The first involved failing the George Washington eavesdropping mission for the umpteenth time, entirely because for some unknown reason, Connor stood up for a moment while prowling in the bushes. The second involved taking out Pitcairn during the Battle of Bunker Hill. The infuriating thing about bushes in the game is that the moment you've been spotted, you simply can't crouch down again. The game ejects you from cover, and you have to find another way. This works okay in some sequences, but is a disaster in others, particularly if detection means failing the mission. The sneaking bits were tense, but for the wrong reasons. I wasn't worried I'd get spotted, I was worried Connor would do something dumb of his own accord and fail the mission for me.

Far Cry 3

The Best Stealth Moments Of 2012

More than perhaps every other game on this list, Far Cry 3 is a game that inspires stealth stories. I have a bunch: The time I lurked outside an outpost, luring dudes away one by one using pebbles, in an attempt to get my second no-alert outpost clearing, only to fuck it up at the last minute and get spotted by a roving patrol, have them trigger the alarm, and get killed. Or another time, when I shot the lock off of a tiger cage and had it immediately charge straight for me (and shortly afterward, managed to get a bear to clear out an entire outpost for me). Or the time, as I shared at the start of my review, when I hang-glided in behind enemies and snuck in to take them down, only to have everything go wonderfully wrong. Far Cry 3 was, as much if not more than Dishonored, a stealth game that was at its best when things went awry.

Those were my most memorable moments of sneaking in 2012. What were yours?

Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Paul Walker)

There’s no question that Dishonored’s Heart deserves celebration. Fortunately RPS contributor Paul Walker has done that in fine style, digging in to what makes the object so significant to the game, and speaking to co-creative directors Harvey Smith and Raphael Colantonio about how it came to exist, and their feelings about its part in the game.>

Dishonored’s Heart is an object which lives up to its name in many ways. It breathes life into the game’s characters, imbues the city of Dunwall with soul, and helps the player to feel the melancholy tone which permeates all facets of its world. Characterised by the intersection of the mystical and the technological, it distills the very essence of the pseudo-Victorian steampunk landscape in which Dishonored’s tale unfolds. It is presented to the player as a navigation tool — a guide to lead players to the occult items littered throughout the fictional city of Dunwall. But, as co-creative directors Harvey Smith and Raphael Colantonio told me, “It also plays a part related to informing their decisions about when to apply violence or not, making it a really interesting, more subtle part of the power fantasy.” Here we start to get to grips with what it is the makes the Heart so compelling.



Dishonored Designer Harvey Smith Agrees: Far Cry 2 Is AwesomeHe's not just responsible for one of the coolest games of the year, Dishonored designer Harvey Smith is also a man with impeccable taste.

That impeccable taste is on full display in this guest essay he wrote for Penny Arcade Report about why he thinks Far Cry 2 is brilliant.

Smith shares some smart musings on the nature of embedded ("We have written this story for you") and emergent ("Woah, this story randomly happened to me!") narrative in video games, and how Dishonored was his and his co-creative director Raphael Colantonio's attempt at blending the two playstyles. (I'd say they did a pretty good job.)

Smith wraps it up thusly:

If games focused on embedded narrative are more polished, why do many of us prefer games that focus on the dynamics of emergent narrative? Is it some intuitive sense that ferrets out what is most meaningful in games? Is this a situation akin to independent film, where an audience steeped in the critical aspects of the medium wants a bare experience, uncluttered by bombast, filler or special effects, delivered in an understated or experimental way? On initial contact, Far Cry 2 was somewhat unwelcoming in that it did not invite players in; the subject matter was brutal and the game's advancement curve and difficulty tuning required patience.

The reward for those who stayed with the game was potent. Some of the most interesting game design commentary of the year orbited the game, including the Permadeath experiments conducted by Ben Abraham and others, which I take as an indication of how thought-provoking and challenging (to video game conventions) Far Cry 2 was. The game stands as the shooter title that has given me the most compelling, player-driven moments to date.

See? It's not just me and everyone else with good taste in video games who thinks Far Cry 2 is great. HARVEY SMITH AGREES, YOU GUYS. I think we can finally close the book on this once and for all.

In all seriousness, give the whole article a read, it's good.

Dishonored's Harvey Smith explains the genius of Far Cry 2 [Penny Arcade Report]

PC Gamer
South Park: The Stick of Truth

Obsidian's uncannily accurate recreation of South Park's art, animations, and fart jokes in its upcoming Stick of Truth RPG first came into being without a budget. Kotaku's lengthy profile of the storied studio revealed that CEO Feargus Urquhart and his team constructed early prototypes for show creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker without financial support.

Urquhart initially stressed to the pair that any sort of South Park game should mirror the show's construction-paper style, saying to them, "Let’s pretend we can do all the RPG stuff. We can handle that. If it doesn’t look like the show, all of this is pointless."

So, Obsidian crafted working examples unpaid as a proof of its enthusiasm for making the crossover work. Stone and Parker immediately loved the results. "We took it in to Matt and Trey," Urquhart said. "And Trey just grabs the controller and he's like, ‘This feels awesome!' And Matt runs up to the screen and he goes ‘That's the construction paper!' And they were like, ‘Let's do this.' And that was that."

The rest of the profile goes over Obsidian's shelved and successful projects and its rise from the ashes of Black Isle Studios. And if you feel a surreal sort of excitement over the fact the developer responsible for Fallout: New Vegas is working on a game involving sentient feces and a High Jew Elf class, we're right there with you.
Product Release - Valve
RAGE: The Scorchers™, all new content for RAGE is Now Available on Steam!

Battle an all-new maniacal bandit clan, wreak havoc with new brutally efficient weapons and explore undiscovered areas in RAGE’s new official add-on pack, RAGE: The Scorchers™. Fight alongside new allies to thwart the Scorcher clan’s deadly plot to destroy the Wasteland.