PC Gamer

Every week, Richard Cobbett rolls the dice to bring you an obscure slice of gaming history, from lost gems to weapons grade atrocities. This week, he'd tell you about this classic interactive movie, but... one second. Oh. Turns out it's not actually classified and never has been. Never mind.

In a way, Spycraft marked the end of the Cold War. Many publishers have brought in celebrities to lend their voices to games. Somehow, in the height of the interactive movie boom, Activision managed to get both former CIA director William Colby and his KGB opposite number, Oleg Kalugin in front of a camera. How? Possibly they were impressed by the veracity and care that went into creating this, the most realistic spy adventure ever. More likely, money. Lots and lots of money. But who cares? Welcome to the only game where you get to be a CIA agent, and work alongside an actual head of the CIA.


Despite its name, I wouldn't say Spycraft was The Great Game. A Good Game, definitely, though I appreciate that wouldn't have looked as good on the box. It's easily one of the most ambitious interactive movies of the mid-90s, not simply for its high-profile cast members, but for its use of proper sets instead of just endless chromakey effects, an attempt to tell a proper spy story, and a lot of story/FMV - at least by interactive movie standards. It came on three discs, and used both them, and the format, extremely well - not least by finding ways to hide the limitations and even make them work for it.

You play a CIA field officer called Thorn. Just Thorn. In a classic gaming "Aaargh!" moment, you never see Thorn's face or even ungloved hands, and are never referred to as male or female, with characters bending over backwards to avoid using any gender-specific language. Unless you screw up, in which case you get unceremoniously sent to a men's prison. Still, it's the thought that counts, eh? At this point in gaming, even acknowledging that the player wasn't definitely going to be a guy was pretty progressive stuff, to say nothing of making a whole spy game with no sexy secret agents of any stripe to seduce, or crazy James Bond style gadgets to play with. At one point, a silly sonic attack and a prototype gun are thrown into the mix. But that's about all. Unlike most spy games, Spycraft plays things straight; if admittedly still as far away from Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy as the likes of Casino Royale and the 60s Casino Royale that nobody ever talks about any more. For many good reasons.

Here's a pretty simple example of how Spycraft worked. As the game starts, a newspaper informs you that the President is about to sign a treaty in Moscow, and you're summoned to CIA HQ via what will turn out to be a magic PDA to join a team. There, you join up with a handful of vaguely "Hey, isn't that..." level TV actors, including Leeta from Deep Space Nine (best known for providing scenes like this and ultimately marrying a small orange troll), for lots of talk about how serious the mission is and how critical things are, but not, notably, what the mission is. Instead, you're told that you're the best of the best of the best, and in pretty much the same breath ordered to go to a training camp to prove that you're capable of the core espionage techniques of 'basic reading' and 'clicking on stuff'.

Maybe there wouldn't be so many moles if the boss had more respect, huh?

Even here, there are some nice touches. A voicemail you can optionally listen to hints at trouble down on The Farm, where you've been sent. A TV report casually drops in a mention of a Russian presidential candidate having been assassinated, and some of the political turmoil going on in the world. And of course, there's what your training ultimately ends up involving - the Image Analysis tool.

Spycraft's charm is that while none of its tools are exactly complex programming in action, and in many cases are about as realistic as the special effects in Birdemic, they're great at conveying the feel of being an actual spy using actual spy tools. In most cases, they appear exactly once, so their limitations never have too much time to become obvious, and aren't too futuristic. Even when they are, it's only by mid-90s standards - Thorn's PDA for instance and its ability to hook into this magic thing called 'the internet' to pull extra data from specially created websites that are long since dead.

Image Analysis for instance is, as a pure 'game', dirt simple. You have to get the license plate of a car, which consists of clicking on a said car and then a button marked 'OCE' to enhance it and make it readable. You then click 'Report', choose the right option from a list of three, and are told "Holy cow! You smoked that one!" as if you'd actually done something impressive.


The wrapping sells all this as something more; a quick line explaining that the photo is of a drugs cartel at work, and that you're tracking down a rogue. Stage 2 of training then continues by using the same basic technique to count the number of tanks in a photo by using infrared data and... uh... basic numeracy. This is then followed by a mix of light-gun style shooter as you work your way through a paintball style exercise to prove you have what it takes, which ends abruptly when your trainer is shot through the face by a sniper mid-way through telling you you suck. It may be a simple game mechanically, but Spycraft knows how to keep things moving, and keep you on your toes.

Much of the plot is fairly generic, and not worth going through in detail. The minigames though are highly enjoyable, especially if you can get sucked into the atmosphere. Here for instance is how you track down a sniper at a political rally using the magic of science and convenient applications...

This tool, which again you use exactly once, is called KAT - Kennedy Assassination Tools, in an amusingly morbid detail - and starts by building a model of Red Square for you to play with and not ask where the photos came from. You pan and spin around it, connecting the bullet's impact points together with a line and tracking it back to find the shooter in a window. Having found him, you hop into another tool where you create a photofit of the guy's image to track down his identity and...

...hang on a damn minute, is that Niles Crane?

And from there, jump into a weapons database to figure out exactly how he managed to make the shot without the bullet being recovered, which points you to a new experimental gun called the PEG. With that done, you then move to the next part of the investigation and so on and so forth until the world is saved from terrorists/communists/our reptilian overlords. It's very linear, and you pretty much never get to touch anything if it's not directly related to your next job (with the exception of a Mahjongg game on Thorn's computer). Still, interactive movie. With some of these, you were lucky to get to click stuff.

What follows is easily the most memorable part of the game - the hunt for Niles Crane and his associates, and how they got their hands on an experimental weapon. It begins by logging into the PEG laboratories security system and browsing for suspicious activity. Four people have access, and anything odd is flagged. You can play their phonecalls, see irregular elevator use, check attempts to access the PEG, and even see surveillance photos of any times they entered the building out of hours.

With these tools, you slowly probe through the details and discover that while top secret labs might well be sealed and rocket proof and have all manner of other protection, they're useless compared to the most dangerous weapon of all - a bad false beard from the local costume shop!

This new guy turns out to be "Grendel", a retired FBI agent turned corporate spy. He didn't however do the job alone, as more listening in on phonecalls soon reveals. Their patsy, a scientist called Cohen, was honey-trapped by his partner, a former North Korean agent called Ying Chungwang. A picture emerges. She suckered him away from his wife/desk so that Grendel could do the deed, Grendel stole the PEG and handed it to Niles, who made the hit on the behalf of whoever the hell is pulling the strings.

As simple as the puzzle is, it's really fun to pick all this stuff apart and figure out what happened. However, it's nothing compared to what's coming up - which would seem to be a good point to show this, which pops up mid-way through the installation program, long before Modern Warfare 2 did it...

Before worrying about that though, Thorn gets a mysterious message telling... uh... himur... to report to a seemingly innocuous house in Halifax. Apologising for the cheap theatrics, you're introduced to Bill Colby personally. How to put this politely? He's not much of an actor. "I've heard a lot about you, Thorn." he states, reading the script. "Impressive, so far," he continues, because that is what the script says.

(I'd love to know what he thought of the actual game. Unfortunately, he passed away in 1996, not long after this game came out, so we're never likely to find out. Kalugin on the other hand is still around, and even advising a spy museum. Wonder if a copy of this game is anywhere in there...)

This is the inevitable bit of any spy story where everyone acknowledges that there's a mole in the Agency, though with the twist that Colby does actually show up at a few points later on, and he plays an active role as the person you're expected to report any suspicions to. Kalugin by contrast only puts in a cameo, but getting a cameo from a former Major General of the KGB in a silly spy game is still quite a coup. And he probably orchestrated more than a few of them in his time...

Colby's presence becomes all the more surprising when Ying is captured in Moscow, thanks to a little code cracking and other cleverness on your very-nudged-to-the-right-place behalf. Hurrah! However, as you'd expect, she's not interested in talking. To break her, you have two choices - one legal, one... very, very much not, especially in an era before Jack Bauer made it cool to break the rules.

The legal way is to convince her that you've already got Grendel in custody, and use her feelings for him to make her spill the beans. This involves using Fake Photoshop to manufacture a convincing bit of evidence - starting with a picture of some random schlub in custody and dragging in the appropriate props. It's a fun - if finnicky - puzzle where you have to pick not only the right props, but factor in angle, size and light sources. Various inventory objects will tell you, for instance, what brand of cigarette Grendel smokes, while your own team will tell you if you should leave fakery to the pros.

Can't do it? There's always Option B...

This is the Bullpen, and while it might be referred to as 'enhanced interrogation' these days, Spycraft is from a time when strapping someone into a chair and sending painful electric shocks through them was correctly referred to as 'torture' and agreed by all to be 'a very bad thing'. Spycraft still lets you do it though, in what's a fairly tame sequence by Hollywood standards, but pretty rough for mini-games.

The way it works is that you ask Ying questions, each kicked off by a jolt of electricity. The higher the intensity, the more pain you cause, but the greater risk that she'll die in the chair - and if she dies in the chair, you're off to jail. Early on, responses are a mix of defiant laughter and heavy breathing; as you ramp it up, it becomes screams and cries of "It burns!" "Let me go! For god's sake, let me go!"

At least, that's the theory. In practice, if you ramp up the pain to full at the start, you just win. It's if you go all namby-pamby-liberal that she collapses and you get a one-way trip to the big house.

It's a fairly strange message, really. "Torture! It's okay when it works!" And that's as far as Spycraft takes it. Nobody even mentions this bit again as long as you get the information you need, including the Moscow Station Chief who makes at least a slight moral objection to it when you demand the Bullpen be pulled into service without even trying the alternative or even having a friendly chat. Even your boss at the CIA, who specifically orders you not to do the torture because he's totally the villain of the game he's a dedicated, by-the-book Company man, doesn't so much as offer a peep of disdain afterwards.

Anyway...yeah. It's unpleasant stuff, even if it is unfortunately easy enough to convey the idea that torture is a viable way of getting information, as opposed to widely condemned for being pretty useless in real world situations even before you consider questions of morality. Still, it does add a whole new dimension to pixel-hunting. Do you have what it takes to stick it out, or do you reach straight for the electric chair? Spycraft may tell you something about yourself you didn't want to know... or simply remind you that this is a game and it therefore doesn't matter even a little.

The rest of Spycraft follows a similar pattern to these sequences, with funky themed minigame after minigame as you discover the conspiracy behind it, and are incredibly surprised when the mole turns out to be exactly who you assumed it was to begin with. There's some shooting and some more data work, and in the end it turns out the whole thing was the dream of a turtle. Or a conspiracy. One of the two.

Here's a handy Let's Play covering the entire game. See if you can guess in advance whether he takes the 'photograph' or 'torture' route to saving the day, and who the mole is. Sadly, it's not Colby. Though wouldn't that have been an awesome twist if he'd been prepared to let them do it?

PC Gamer
Gather 'round, discount hounds: I've tales of summer sales for ye. Steam has augmented Deus Ex prices by 75%, Amazon has kicked 75% off Super Street Fighter IV: AE, GamersGate's Total War sale has come back for the wounded soldiers who missed last week's Steam sale, and GOG has initiated 17 days of head-to-head dealmatches. See all of this week's sales inside! (I promise to use fewer awful analogies.)

As you know, Deus Ex games are all 75% off this weekend. There are a few smaller discounts as well, but that's the big one for this weekend. Oh, except 80% off Bejeweled 3, if you want a game with an exceptional number of 'e's in the title.

75% off Deus Ex: Human Revolution - $7.49
75% off Deus Ex: Invisible War - $2.49
75% off Deus Ex: Game of the Year Edition - $2.49
75% off Deus Ex: Human Revolution – The Missing Link - $3.74
75% off Deus Ex: Human Revolution - Explosive Mission Pack - $0.74
75% off Deus Ex: Human Revolution - Tactical Enhancement Pack - $0.49
80% off Bejeweled 3 - $3.99
More Steam deals

Much remains the same at Amazon, though it's now selling Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition at 75% off, and both Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2 for $5 each.

75% off Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition - $9.99
75% off Mass Effect - $4.99
75% off Mass Effect 2 - $4.99
27% off Sid Meier's Civilization V - $21.98
50% off PAYDAY The Heist - $9.99
26% off Saints Row: The Third - $36.91
71% off Trine - $5.83
27% off Borderlands - $22.04
27% off Metro 2033 - $14.65
25% off Medal of Honor - $15.05
50% off Mount & Blade: Warband - $9.95
26% off Dungeon Siege 3 - $14.73
50% off Tropico 4 - $19.99
25% off Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3 - $14.90
More Amazon PC game downloads

Origin is holding a "pre-order one, get one half off" sale. Origin's deals page lists the pre-orders available and their resulting discounts. Some of them are silly, like 50% off SimCity 4, which is constantly discounted everywhere else. Pre-ordering Dead Space 3 can get you 50% off Mass Effect 3 or Battlefield 3, which isn't bad...but you have to pre-order Dead Space 3. I prefer to avoid potential early adopter remorse.

GamersGate is selling Total War stuff at 75% off or more, including the complete collection for $24.90.

80% off Total War Complete Collection - $24.90
75% off Total War: SHOGUN 2 - $7.49
75% off Rome: Total War Complete - $3.74
75% off Napoleon: Total War Imperial Edition - $4.99
75% off Amnesia: The Dark Descent - $4.95
More deals from GamersGate

GameStop only has a few new sales, most notably Aliens vs. Predator, Saints Row: The Third, and L.A. Noire. GamersGate beats its Shogun 2 sale, and the rest are carried over from last week.

66% off Total War: SHOGUN 2 - $10.19 (GamersGate beats it)
50% off Aliens vs. Predator - $7.49
66% off Saints Row: The Third - $16.99
75% off L.A. Noire: The Complete Edition - $7.49
75% off Far Cry - $2.49
75% off Far Cry Bundle - $4.99
50% off PAYDAY The Heist - $9.99
75% off Assassin's Creed - $4.99
50% off Assassin's Creed 2 - $9.99
50% off Assassin's Creed Brotherhood - $14.99
60% off Assassin's Creed Complete Pack - $51.98
78% off 2K Ultimate Bundle - $69.99
More GameStop deals
I can't list GOG's sales at the moment, because it's time for... BATTLE OF THE GAMES! Every day two games will be discounted -- one at 40% off and one at 60% off -- with the bigger discount going to the game with the most votes recorded the previous day. Go get your interactive marketing on, just be sure to vote for the games I want. (Please deactivate your neural firewall for a moment so I can upload my preferences.)

GameFly is rather barren this week -- the only deal I spotted was the 50% off Payday: The Heist sale that's being offered everywhere.

50% off PAYDAY: The Heist - $9.99

Let us know in the comments if you find any deals we missed!
PC Gamer
Eve Online Inferno

From the reaches of deep space comes another story of EVE online pilots gaming the system in CCP's open-ended MMO for fun and profit. This particular batch of shenanigans, according to Massively, revolved around the faction warfare mechanics in EVE's recent Inferno expansion, and resulted in the group acquiring enough in-game currency to pay for about 800 years of subscription time.

How did they do it, you ask? Well, Inferno introduced a system that rewards you with faction points (which work like badges in other MMOs) for every ship of a rival faction you destroy. The payoff is directly related to the value of the ship and its cargo. Since cargo values are determined on the open market, the band of rapscallions were able to buy up huge amounts of certain cheap commodities, and drive the price up.

Once they had done so, they filled junk freighters on opposed-faction characters with the now in-demand materials and lit them up like a high school stage play. The faction points they earned, being tied to the now-inflated price of the commodities destroyed, was disproportional to what they had spent on the commodities in the first place. This allowed them to buy items of significantly higher relative value with those faction points, and sell them on the open market for a huge profit.

As of yet, CCP have not said whether or not they condone this kind of behavior, but they have a history of siding with these kinds of creative troublemakers as long as they're not exploiting an obvious bug or glitch in the game.

UPDATE 1:56 PM PST: CCP has elected to close this loophole and seize the assets gained through it. They issued the following post on the EVE official forums:

"Dearest Market-Interested Space Tycoons,

At downtime today we made an adjustment to the average price of some items in order to curb a situation whereby the average price of an item could be manipulated in order to create a disparity between the value of an item in Isk and its value in Loyalty Point payouts. There will be additional changes in how this system works in the future. We will be monitoring for attempted manipulation of the LP market and will reverse any proceeds deemed to have been obtained through manipulative means. We are watching you. Don’t be That Guy."

What do you think? Are these EVErs heroes of freeform gameplay, or vile brigands who ought to be strung up on an asteroid outside of Jita as a warning to their ilk?
PC Gamer
Microsoft Flight Hawaiian Adventure

The dream of flight is as old as man, but it isn't as old as the dream of getting things for free. We're going to attempt to combine the two: we've got a pair of Thrustmaster T.Flight Hotas X flight sticks to give away and ten codes for Microsoft Flight DLC to go with them.

Microsoft Flight's Hawaiian Adventure Pack is worth 2100 Microsoft Points (about £13.70/€19.20/$20.00) and adds the remaining Hawaiian islands as well as new challenges, more than twenty new missions and the Vans RV-6A aircraft. Combine this with the existing territory of Big Island and Microsoft Flight covers hundreds of miles of tropical real-estate.

We liked Microsoft Flight enough to give it a score of 82% back in April. Read our review here, and get started in the game on the official site.

The Thrustmaster T.Flight Hotas X flight stick features a detachable throttle control, weighted base, and is fully programmable. It's also got internal memory to save your custom key mappings.

To win, we want you to come up with a PC gaming themed airline. Tell us what it'd be called, what the in-flight entertainment would be, and what you'd serve for dinner. Post your entry in the comments below. The two we like the most will receive a Thrustmaster T.Flight Hotas X flight stick and a code for the Hawaiian Adventure Pack DLC. Eight runners-up will also receive the DLC. Deadline for entries is 13.00pm on Monday the 25th of June. Happy flying!

Unfortunately, we are unable to fly and as such this competition is only available to people in the UK and Northern Ireland.
PC Gamer
Deus Ex Human Revolution

"Cheap as chips" is a throwaway UK saying for something that has plunged straight through the realm of "inexpensive," surpassed the grotty lands of "surprisingly good value" and come to rest in the sugary sands of "tat." Few things in this world are cheaper than the pots of oily polystyrene packs of potato shifted from small shops on street corners up and down this country, but thanks to Steam, one of our favourite games ever, Deus Ex, is cheaper than a small pile of fried potato. How has this happened? It's best not to ask. Instead, just head to Steam and grab yourself a copy if you don't own one already.

Eidos Montreal's excellent 2011 follow-up, Human Revolution, is also a steal at £5 / $7.49. If you already own that, Human Revolution's DLC pack, The Missing Link is also available for £2.24 / $3.74. Alternatively, you can buy all things Deus Ex (including Invisible War) for a bundle price of £9.99 / $14.99. The deal's set to last all weekend.
PC Gamer
radeon hd7970ge

Should you happen to be in the market for a $500/£420 graphics card, AMD has launched a new contender for your cash today. I say new, but it's more a makeover: the Radeon HD7970 Gigahertz Edition is physically identical to the current AMD flagship, the HD7970, with a couple of minor tweaks to earn it that big sounding suffix.

The first is, as the name suggests, an increase to the core clockspeed from 925MHz to 1000MHz. To go with that the 3GB of memory has been accelerated to a full six gigahertz equivalent speed, putting it on a par with NVIDIA's top end GTX 680. More interesting, however, is the fact that AMD has also caught up with NVIDIA by introducing a feature for accelerating the HD7970 depending on the processing load and chip temperature, something which the latest GeForce cards were well praised for.

Is it enough to win back the title of fastest graphics card in the world? Does anyone care about such things any more?

The truth is that I don't really know, because we haven't had one of the Radeon HD7970 GE cards in to review yet. Price wise it's officially the same cost as the GeForce GTX680 it's to compete with, although it does look like it may be slightly better value when it goes on sale. There are already overclocked HD7970s available for £399 in the UK, while the cheapest GTX 680s are about £450.

The really interesting part of the HD7970 GE release is that automated overclocking set-up, which works in a similar manner to NVIDIA's GPU Boost and the turbo modes we're familiar with from both AMD and Intel CPUs. AMD is calling it PowerTune with Boost, as it uses a tweaked version of the existing PowerTune tool (you'll find it in the Catalyst drivers) to increase clockspeeds by up to 50Hz on demand. The frustrating thing is that nothing in the technical detail supplied by AMD suggests that the boost is reliant on any changes to the hardware – it looks like there's no reason it couldn't be backwards compatible with older cards, but probably won't be for marketing reasons.

A quick scan of early reviews across the web (Anandtech, TechRadar, Tom's Hardware et al) shows very consistent results. The new HD7970 GE looks to be very competitive against the GeForce GTX680: if not definitively faster, it wins some benchmarks and loses others. It does use considerably more power, however, and has a louder fan to keep it cool at those extreme speeds.

Personally, I'm not sure I'm that concerned by these downsides since I won't be queuing up to buy one any way. Neither the GTX 680 nor the HD7970 GE are fast enough to make them worth more than NVIDIA's excellent GTX670, which at around $399/£320 is considerably cheaper than either and just as capable in practical terms, and never more than a few frames per second slower in the benchmarks that count.

I'll let you know if my opinion changes after testing one in our labs.
PC Gamer
Diablo 3

Blizzard have sent a statement to Kotaku following up on yesterday's news that those buying the Diablo 3 digital edition find themselves limited to a starter edition of the game for up to 72 hours. The level cap is described as an "unintended consequence" of security measures added to tackle credit card fraud and "reduce gold spam and other harmful activities that can have a negative impact on the game experience."

An incoming patch is set to lift the levelling limits for new players, but it will leave all other starter edition restrictions in place. That means you won't be able to post in public chat, drop items for other players, visit the auction house or join public games (you can still jump into games with those on your friends list). The Blizzard statement notes that "these are temporary (often lifted within a day and at most 72 hours) associated with digital purchases for the protection of players."

This brings Diablo 3 closer to World of Warcraft's anti gold-spam measures. Blizzard indicate that the move is designed to "ensure the integrity of the game and auction house service." The auction house is an essential asset for players taking on high level challenges at the moment, but the global chat stream that Diablo 3 automatically logs into every time the game starts is entirely useless. So far, it's simply given spammers the opportunity to annoy complete strangers on a large scale.

Perhaps these digital edition restrictions can help clean up chat, but it's still hard to imagine Diablo 3's segmented, instanced sessions encouraging the bustling sense of a wider community that global chat features are designed to encourage. Diablo 3 seems determined to occupy a space somewhere between the private, small scale questing of Diablo 2 and the interconnected, community-driven atmosphere of an MMO. The features needed to generate that massively online vibe have clashed horribly with the expectations of players, but the most damaging aspects of Diablo 3's rocky launch have centred around the simple failure to deliver a game that paying customers can consistently play.

The connection problems at launch have since improved greatly, but Blizzard's troubles continue in Korea, where they've started offering refunds to customers after a spot of bother with the Korean authorities a few weeks ago.
PC Gamer
day z grimly

Dean Hall is all enthusiasm. He lacks any of the jaded demeanor you sometimes associate with experienced developers. He doesn’t caveat his development promises. Every other sentence he speaks is a solution to another issue in Day Z or the Arma engine itself: to the respawn system, to server architecture, to shadow distances, to VON, to pesky survivor groups that aren't dying.

The creator of Day Z has ordered the carbonara. We've walked to an Italian restaurant down the street from E3—Hall's first—and our table is circled by variously-famished Arma royalty: both of Bohemia Interactive’s Creative Directors, Jay Crowe (lasagna) and Ivan Buchta (pizza) are here. So is community star Dslyecxi (a calzone), who wrote the book on pro Arma. Hall's wearing white DC sneakers, beat-up jeans, and a black t-shirt that asks “Anyone in Cherno?” in homemade, screen-printed letters.

For the next two hours, we talk about Day Z and Arma. This is the most exciting time in the history of both games. As thousands of new players surge into a spin-off of the sim, Bohemia is preparing Arma 3. There’s too much to talk about.

PCG: There's this cross-pollination between your games that's really interesting to me. Features from VBS—the military training tool made in your engine—trickle down into Arma. Day Z is driving new patches to Arma 2 and making you think critically about Arma 3’s design. From the outside it almost seems like there's this conflux of military and "civilian," or commercial concepts overlapping.

Dslyecxi: Well, it's interesting to see what the military considers a desirable feature and what they'll actually fund. You get a lot of stuff that way that you would never really think to make for a civilian market, but if you already have it there and you can port it over...

Dean Hall: Day Z was my suggestion to the New Zealand army for training soldiers. I thought it could save them millions of dollars.

Are you serious?

Hall: Deadly serious, this was last year. And they were like, some of them were like... “Holy crap.”

So was this a pitch you made to them as a video game training simulation, or...?

Hall: Well, I was suggesting... I built it in Arma 2 because that was what I was most familiar with. And I enjoyed it and it had better visuals. When I did my training, I actually re-created the whole of Waiouru, the military training area, in Arma 2. When you're doing your officer training, you have to lead a platoon. So I would do all my missions out in there first. And then I created my own persistent database so I could... like, track my progress through the exercise and run it out of the days, and actually get my platoon to go on, and have them run out of ammunition and stuff like that. And then, yeah, a couple of them I showed it to and they were like, “Holy crap.” But the problem is that it's really hard to get momentum in the military. But yeah, that's where it came from. I couldn't get that much interest with it, and that's when I thought I wanted to do something a bit more mainstream.

"Day Z was my suggestion to the New Zealand Army for training soldiers."

Hall: I honestly think, though, it's the way forward for training. Because the military in New Zealand was trying to train with... They train you to do stuff, they were constantly using military simulation to train you in little bits and pieces. I was like, but you need to do the authentic thinking processes, you know? They were like, ah, you don't need medical systems, we've got medics to do medical systems. I was like, but when you're doing your officer training, you need to realize that when your dude is shot, you can't just leave him! All the guys in our military simulation scenarios, they were just ditching their guys. You can't do that, you need to have some kind of system of, “Oh, my guy's shot, I need to do something...”

Are you talking about having intrinsic motivation as a player?

Hall: Yeah, sort of. I thought about authenticity. You have to go through those authentic thought processes. You know? That was the idea behind Day Z having the layers. Like, it's raining, I need to watch out. I need food, but I can't carry too much, I need to carry some ammunition. You have all of these different things to consider, and suddenly it's all going on up in here instead of you just watching and reacting.

Waiter: Carbonara?

Hall: Thanks, man.

Waiter: Two lasagnas?

Hall: One for me.

Waiter: That's very hot, so be careful... Your pizza's coming.

So, Chernarus is satellite-modeled after a portion of the Czech Republic. What’s it like to play a zombie survival game set in what’s essentially your backyard?

Buchta:: Even I, as the author of the map, can tell you... in Day Z, I've visited some places I've never seen before.

Dslyecxi: We've become very intimate with the map. We've been playing Chernarus since Arma 2 came out, and we'll get to an area where even though we've played dozens of missions in this before, we identify it with Day Z, because Day Z has you very intimately moving through buildings, it makes more of an impact on you in the long term.

Do you think it's because Day Z puts this focus on really seeing and analyzing, reading the terrain? Whereas in Arma 2, you usually have some kind of waypoint... You always have a map to fall back on.

Crowe: And the waypoints in the 3D world as well, it's something that we've been considering making some choices about in Arma 3...

Buchta:: I was actually... I was saying that we should get rid of that.

Crowe: I know that Marek wants to. I think we can keep it for the lowest difficulty setting.

Buchta: It just doesn't make sense from a military standpoint. It's the same... It's a spot to which infantry is getting quite quickly, so they engage you at close range and you lose all advantages you had, the car and its weapon systems... If there wouldn't be a waypoint, at least five guys today would survive, because they would ride carefully, they would stop on the horizon, scan the terrain, and they would probably do a lot better.

Crowe: There's evidence there in the single-player campaign with Eagle Wing, the fact that... You give players some simple objective like "Move here with this amount of ammunition and maybe pick up some more along the way," people are willing to do it and they have a great experience with it. I think it's a perfect example of what's possible. And Day Z takes aspects of that and adds then some more elegant rules that work really well with persistent multiplayer.

Has Day Z sort of restored your faith in what players are willing to put up with? It's an incredibly brutal game, and it's unfinished, and people are just flocking to it.

Hall: And it's difficult to install. It's buggy as hell. The servers don't work properly. I mean, what else can you screw up? The graphics are a little bit dated in some ways. Yeah, I think so. The mainstream impact of it is obviously a big surprise.

Buchta:: Even for us as developers, and for me personally, it was like... Alright, that makes sense, I want to do that. That was my immediate reaction. Because Arma 2, Arrowhead, Arma 3, I'd be doing all the same stuff again...

Actually, even with stepping up the process of playing the campaign, what you've seen today, it's a productive idea... This new approach to campaign, it's something fresh. It'll be a pleasure. I'm really confident that the campaign can be interesting. But there will be some people, certainly, bitching about this... "It won't be the traditional... Nothing beats old-time Flashpoint..." It's bull*#&. Flashpoint is a terrible game. I've played it recently. I'm a bit sentimental about it...

Crowe: We need to quote that. Ivan Buchta: "Flashpoint is a terrible game!"

Buchta: But yeah, let's face it, it's a terrible game. Terribly inaccessible, hard, frustrating...

Hall: And people love it! I still get people saying, you know, when they found out I was working on Arma 3 multiplayer, friends of mine, one of my friends, he was like, are you going to make the campaign like Flashpoint? He's like, seriously, I still play the campaign in Flashpoint...

Dslyecxi: They so over-romanticize it.

"Flashpoint is a terrible game. I've played it recently. I'm a bit sentimental about it..."
Hall: It's like when, I was working at Sidhe Interactive, and we were like, “let's remake Desert Strike.” Remember the helicopter game on Amiga? We were like, let's do it, and we all got excited about it.

Buchta:: I was playing that before Take On...

Hall: We got the Amiga out, we put it on, and we were like... This is boring.

Crowe: Strike has aged well. That s*#*'s got an epic story...

Hall: It was awesome in its time, but things have changed. People had different expectations. And it's not all just graphics stuff. They want different stuff out of it. I think it just seems crazy to me that as a medium, video games haven't really explored a lot of the areas that movies and literature just constantly explore. You look at the zombie genre, in literature and movies they explore... You know, zombies aren't the terror. There's complex political stuff that happens when the world collapses. Games? Shoot zombies.

That was kind of my complaint about Left 4 Dead. I put a ton of time into it...

Hall: Yeah, I enjoyed it too, but...

But it’s a zombie-themed shooter, right? There's no...

Hall: It's an arcade thing.

Survival wasn’t necessarily a mechanic, I’d say.

Hall: Nope. And you don't need a story to make someone feel something. That's where games will win over movies. Hands down. Because you can't have the viewer of a movie experience it.

"Zombies aren't the terror. There's complex political stuff that happens when the world collapses."

Dslyecxi: It's a fun shooter. It's extremely well-designed. But it's not survival at all. And survival is a really compelling thing that everyone thinks about sometime in their life. Making the Day Z experience out of it...

The mechanics in Left 4 Dead are all driven by reaction, right? Identify threat, solve threat. And for its own reasons, Valve goes out of its way to send all these signals that you’re in danger. Every special infected has a specific set of sound files. The color of zombies is desaturated to stand out from players. But that's what I admire about Day Z, the way that needs naturally drive my goals. I need this, I need that, and it drives me out of my comfort zone. I need blood. I need to go to this terrifying city to retrieve it, and on top of that, I need to make friends with another survivor to do the transfusion.

Hall: Just before I came to work at BIS, I did an army exchange to Singapore, and I did their officer training. And as part of that I had to go to Brunei and do this survival training. So I'm the only white guy, trying to do this 30-day survival course with the Singaporeans, they're not the best communicators, and it was just awful. I ran out of food, I ended up getting badly injured and had to have surgery and stuff. It was terrible. But as part of that whole experience, that was just what you were saying... You have to balance all this basic little stuff, and the effect that had, the way that I felt, the emotions I felt, that was when I was like... Why don't video games try to create those emotions? Because even though some of them are terrible, the way they come together is really amazing, if that makes sense. You get all these stories out of them, you really want to tell people about them, because you went through this crazy thing. Why don't we do that in games? It seems a bit crazy to me.

I think it's because manufactured stories in games seem safe. It's like you can make your mark as a designer with it. You can say, “Oh, they're playing my story, they're figuring it out, I did this really clever thing in it.” But it's so much harder to say, I added this level of subtlety into the mechanics, it's so clever. And it's so clever that nobody notices it. You know? You're kind of a bit naked there.

Day Z wouldn’t have escaped focus-testing, I'd imagine.

Hall: Yeah. Actually, we were talking before... This sums up the Arma community. So I've been working on Day Z and I've got maybe five or so guys to help me check it out. And me and Dslyecxi, we hadn’t really talked before, and I think we just... We added each other on Skype and got to talking. He said, "I'd like to see that persistent world stuff sometime." And I was like, well, actually, I've been working on this zombie thing, and I really need someone to capacity test. And he said, okay, well, I've got 40 guys, and they just walked up, that was when the CHKilroy videos were made, and there was no briefing, no nothing, it was just...

"Why don't video games try to create those emotions?"

Dslyecxi: Everyone standing there in that one gas station.

Hall: And it was just so Arma. Casual but not casual. Really friendly.

I get that in our co-op sessions, yeah. Everybody's facilitating the other person's fun, they're respecting it. It isn't about you necessarily.

Hall: Yeah.

Dslyecxi: It took me a lot of playing Day Z to psych myself up to kill another player. Because I'm so used to playing with that mentality of, I don't ever want to spoil anyone in ShackTac's fun. We go a long way to prevent that from happening. To get into this environment where there's all these random people trying to kill you, and where you may get the jump on them and you may have a chance to unfairly kill them, making that mental leap is really tough.

Hall: Because we didn't find out about a lot of the exploits... We tested it all and we were like, sweet! We did a couple of rounds with ShackTac and then a few public people, no issue.

Crowe: And then the EVE players came in.

Hall: And then EVE players came in. And suddenly, wham, there are all these massive exploits. I just shut down Europe, all the Europe servers, you remember? While we fixed that. It was only New Zealand that we could keep running.

Crowe: Yeah, you were saying, there was no such concept as bandits while you were in New Zealand. Then these Europeans came in and started killing each other.

Hall: They did. It got so bad. Because there was a bug where everyone was spawning on the beach. No problem in New Zealand.

Buchta:: People started helping each other, right?

Hall: Yeah, they started helping each other.

Buchta:: While the Russians...

Hall: There was a guy who would wait there and he would help the new players when they spawned in. And then on the Europe server, it just became a bloodbath. It was so bad we had to shut the server down until I fixed the mechanic.

Buchta:: I'm usually playing in the morning, the European morning, because the servers are full and I have family to take care of in the evenings. It's always like I'm somewhere in the hills, and I'm always so glad I'm away, because the Russians are all chatting about how they killed people in Chernarus.

Crowe: If there was a real zombie apocalypse, I hope to God I'm in New Zealand. Anywhere near Russia, just end it now.

Hall: I love the passion the Russian players have, though. That's why I love participating... I've done a few interviews with the live streams...

"If there was a real zombie apocalypse, I hope to God I'm in New Zealand."

They've got that S.T.A.L.K.E.R. background...

Hall: They get it, they so get it. I love watching their live streams. They're crazy. They're all bandits. All bandits. They're just ruthless, they don't care if they get killed. And they're not PvP... They're not player killers. Or they are, but they care about their gear, they care about staying alive. They're just cutthroat. It's great.

Buchta:: They form small groups and...

Dslyecxi: Set a honey trap.

Hall: I just think they're really good. I just think it's great. The amazing things that people start doing, you just have no idea what they'll do. There's a dude who's being set up... He set himself up as like a surgeon, a doctor, and he'll go on to servers to help people out.

No way.

Hall: Yeah! And he has a whole team of supporters, and he has a bunch of people who will spawn in as an escort.

And protect him? Wow.

Hall: And what he did was, he actually, in character... He went in and figured out all the scripts that I've written, what all the medical values are that you need to get sick and how transmission happens. And he wrote up a massive guide, in-game, in-world, explaining it. Not just listing the stats, but actually explaining, okay, if you get sick then people close to you have a high chance of getting sick as well. It was just amazing. He put a lot of effort into that.

Do you know if he's US-based?

Hall: I don't know. He hops around a lot of the servers. But it's just awesome, just totally spontaneously getting into that.

Crowe: It's nice that you didn't have to make a medic class. It just emerged.

I like the way Day Z rejects those concepts. I was talking about this in our podcast last week. I encountered a guy, I was at Balota airfield, and I was like, “It’s night. There aren’t too many people on the server, I'll be fine, I'll be fine...”

Hall: Immortal last words.

Pretty much. Inevitably a zombie trickles down from the top of the control tower I’m in. I have to fire my revolver. And a bandit comes in, kills my friend, I kill him, and I was explaining in the podcast... In any other game, I would have leveled up or something. But I feel like I learned something. I learned not to do something. I put my hand on that stove and I got burned. The game didn’t have to flash a bunch of numbers in front of me to communicate some extrinsic benefit of that interaction.

Hall: Unlock achieved!

Yeah, exactly. It was nice to just consider that on my own terms.

Hall: Yeah. And that was what we were talking about with Marek. That was what he really took away from Day Z. He wanted it to be like... If you're good at reading the stars, in real life, then you're good in-game. If you're good at shooting, at moving the mouse around, then you're good in-game. And he wanted to stay really true to that.

Crowe: Have you played any of the ACR missions yet?

Hall: No, no I haven't.

Crowe: Because I noticed something you were saying about being in the forest and flashing the flashlight, there's a couple of... A few designers worked on it, it's a bit of a mish-mash of different concepts, but I would suggest trying to play a couple of runs, there's man's best friend, with the dog. You're at night, you have a flashlight on the weapon, and the dog goes ahead and hunts for some war criminal or whatever it is. The atmosphere of that, following the dog and then... I think you should definitely check it out. It's scripted, it's really, really scripted, the mechanics of it that is, but...

Hall: Yeah, because I've been having some trouble with the dogs. I haven't got them implemented yet for Day Z...

Crowe: No, when I saw the screenshots and the ideas, I was like, does he know how difficult dogs are...?

"If you're good at reading the stars, in real life, then you're good in-game. If you're good at shooting, at moving the mouse around, then you're good in-game."

Hall: If I make them a person and not a dog, it works.

Crowe: Yeah, exactly.

So, in the game logic, your zombies are animals and dogs are people.

Hall: Yeah, how's that work?

Dslyecxi: Hey, what about zombie dogs?

Hall: Actually, I want to make the players animals as well. I want to make the players using Create Agent, because at the moment, they're a unit. They have a group and they do a bunch of other crazy stuff. But if I actually tried it, using Create Agent works fine, the only problem is, you can't use the inventory system. The inventory system doesn't work with the current way Agent works. When you push G, nothing shows up. I want to rewrite the whole inventory system anyway.

What don't you like about the inventory system right now?

Hall: Everything. I'm pretty picky. Inventory is the key to Day Z, it is the leveling, it's everything. It's a resource in itself, because you only have so much space, and I think... You get a better backpack like we were saying in our first interview, suddenly you become more of a target. It's this whole thing in itself.

Dslyecxi: Have you seen Brigade E5? You know Jagged Alliance? It's like a 3D sequel to Jagged Alliance.

Hall: I liked Jagged Alliance.

Dslyecxi: The E5 inventory is probably the best inventory I've seen in any game like that. I've got an article on my site that has some pictures of it. They just have it to where... What you're wearing determines what your inventory is.

Hall: That's what I really want, clothing, I'm really big on it. It's going to be a little bit of work, but... When I played Skyrim, there was this amazing moment for me, I remember starting up at like three o'clock in the morning, I told my boss, my commanding officer in the army, that when Skyrim came out, that was it, I wasn't coming to work for seven days. I didn’t care if they arrested me or something. But then I was like, the visuals are amazing, I'm standing in a river, I'm running up in the snow, and then I was like... It means nothing.

Why does it mean nothing?

Dslyecxi: It's freezing cold out and it doesn't matter.

Hall: And I just instantly felt completely disconnected from my character. We've made a lame attempt with Day Z so far, to start trying with it. It's a good rough start, but I just think there's so much potential there.

"I told my boss, my commanding officer in the army, that when Skyrim came out, that was it, I wasn't coming to work for seven days. I didn’t care if they arrested me or something."

Dslyecxi: Back in, if you remember, No One Lives Forever, the sequel to that, there's a scene in that where you fall underwater in the winter. And the mechanics from that point forward, you have to go from position to position and warm yourself so you don't die. That was the most authentic winter scene at that point, easily, because it meant something. Whereas in Skyrim, you could jump into a frigid stream in the middle of winter with a blizzard going on, hop right back out, no big deal.

Buchta:: If you've been on a trip to the mountains, it can be quite a dangerous affair. Developers simply don't want people to leave the computer shaking, which you do after you play a game of Day Z.

Hall: And actually there's an amazing forum post on the Day Z forums, I need to hunt it down. This guy is like, “Why, after I've played it, am I shaking?” And someone who's obviously some kind of psychologist or something comes into the thread and says “It's a psychosomatic response.” He's like, “It means that your body believes that what has happened is real.” I felt a bit bad, actually. The guy was describing what happened, he couldn't go out for like an hour or something, is someone going to sue me?

Buchta:: Even we get that. After hours of hunting some zombies with Dean, we had just finished something, and he was like, “No, no, I'm so exhausted. I just need to rest. I need to take a walk, go see something nice,” because it was so harsh.

Dslyecxi: Have you played Invasion 44?

Hall: Yeah.

Dslyecxi: Are you familiar with Vostok, or any of the winter maps in Arma 2?

Hall: I wouldn't know any of them by name, no... Oh, Vostok, yeah, I love snow maps, so...

Dslyecxi: It's a good one, we've played dozens and dozens of missions on Vostok. We did an Invasion 44 session on a new version we hadn't played before, it was winter, the Vostok winter, and there was only one difference. It was that everyone, every character, breathed. You could see it.

Hall: Yeah.

Dslyecxi: That is the only time I've ever felt cold. Just that one little subtle effect, it's totally remarkable what little things like that can do.

Hall: Yeah, yeah. Those little subtleties and they all add together and piece it together. Getting the environmental ones right is going to be really tough. Because when I first released the patch , there was a bit of a bug that didn't come out where basically people got cold very fast. And then I watched it. I should print out the map of how it spread. It started on Chicago One because Chicago One was one of the first that we released. And Chicago One was raining and it was night. That meant that about 60 people, because it was the two Chicago servers, suddenly come down infected. Now, what do they do? They instantly disconnected from Chicago to move to a daytime or non-raining server. They carried the infection with them! The infection just spread like wildfire, and before we knew it we had 1,000 people infected.

So at that point it's almost become an epidemiological experiment.

Hall: Yeah, but it was terrifying for me, because at the time, there was no way to really heal those people. Antibiotics were a 0.11-percent spawn chance in a hospital only. I was like, what are we going to do? And in the end we just did nothing, because it was going to be too complex to reset the way the infection was recorded in the database. And so these people were walking around coughing and it was creating this whole dynamic. That was the intention, that you would be grouped with people, your friends, your buddies, and what if one of your buddies gets sick?

Yeah. Do you let him go? Do you come back...?

Hall: Do you let him go, do you ostracize him, do you kill him?

"The infection just spread like wildfire, and before we knew it we had 1,000 people infected."

Buchta:: That's a less than healthy way to support cooperative gameplay...

Hall: Well, that's why I introduced it, because there were a few groups that were getting way too cocky. I was like, haha, this is going to nail you. I went a bit overboard, people got too cold too quick.

Buchta:: It was deadlier than bandits.

Hall: Yeah. But it was so terrifying. It was three o'clock in the morning and I just had this sinking feeling when I realized what I did. I mean, I watched the Chicago... We saw it, literally, Chicago suddenly had ten people left in it. And then we realized, we tracked the player names using Sick Boy's system that he's given me access to, and I was like, oh no, they're infecting people. They’ve gone to other servers.

What does it feel like to kill players with a disease you created?

Hall: It's not good. Actually, I killed everyone except me once, reasonably early in development, in the database. I wrote a query wrong, did everyone else, and luckily was able to quickly reverse it, was good.

You're talking about infection almost as a way of breaking up really strong groups, who kind of get in their comfort zone. What's an example of some other behaviors in the game right now that you're hoping to sort of repress or get rid of or discourage?

Hall: Well, the big one is that... I think removing the global and side chat will have a positive and negative benefit. It will really ramp up the entry-level requirements, but it will probably, I'm hoping, sort of drive some really interesting player dynamic interactions. Because suddenly people will actually have to talk to each other, and they'll have to kinda get close to each other. We saw a little bit of that when ShackTac first used it, and I'm hoping we'll see a return to that. So I think that this will be a really interesting thing. You know, the new stuff that has come out with the beta patch the guys put in, we can disable global and side chat. Se there's only going to be direct chat.

Crowe: But then your t-shirt won't make any sense...

Hall: There'll still be guys running around, guaranteed, there'll be guys running around saying, "Anyone in Cherno?" It's never going to stop. And what a lot of people don't realize, at the moment, if you use VON, it actually attracts zombies.


Hall: And if you eat, it actually makes the zombies walk to your position, because I saw an interesting post on the forums... This guy's saying, “I'm sniping people in Cherno, is there an AFK zombie? Because when I'm sniping people in Cherno, after a while, it seems like the zombie will walk right up near me or see it at the last minute and get away, he'll walk right to where I'm sitting.” He didn't realize that there's this... I secretly put it in, and didn't put it in the build notes, that zombies will investigate a lot of sounds. Like drinking, eating, hunting and that, they'll walk to the location.

Buchta:: That's why I made the smelling animation...

"If you use VON, it actually attracts zombies."

Interesting. About global chat—I understand why it needs to be cut in Day Z, but there’s this charming aspect to it. It feels like truckers on the road, or an apocalyptic '90s chat room.

Hall: We'll bring back something in. I already had a rough sort of cell phone mechanic that was actually... You were able to send e-mail from inside Day Z, because what I wanted to have was, if you were having a problem, you could contact someone inside Day Z, the game. But there's some issues, I'm just concerned about hacking and misuse of it. We'll come up with something. I just think there's going to be some really interesting dynamics come out of it.

Yeah, I heard word of you guys working on a power grid or electricity mechanic...

Hall: Yeah, because all of these models are actually already in-game, and a lot of the mechanics, but they need a lot of refining. The generator thing's easy, you just fill it up and it runs a thing and then you can connect lights to it, it's pretty straightforward.

Read part two of the interview here. Dean, Ivan, Jay, and Dslyecxi discuss Arma 3 system requirements, Arma 3's map, radio systems in Day Z, VIP missions in Arma 3, and the prospect of bringing Day Z into Arma 3.
PC Gamer
Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 collection pack 2

If you're partial to Modern Warfare 3's tight arena tussles then you might be interested in investigating the new game mode, Face off. It allows for quick, violent 1 v 1, 2 v 2 and 3 v 3 contests on "smaller, super-concentrated multiplayer maps." Two of these new maps have been released for free and are playable right now.

This free taste of Face Off could help to move copies of the newly released Collection 2 DLC, which comes with two more Face Off maps, a standard multiplayer arena set in a hotel poised on top of an ancient fortress (why not?), and two co-op spec ops missions.

The first co-op mission, Kill Switch, casts one player as a well situated sniper and the other as a terrified ground soldier who must infiltrate a carrier to set of an EMP bomb. Iron Clad puts one player inside a tank, and the other outside the tank, where they'll be best placed to deliver some powerful moral support from the safety of the Abram's shadow

The pack costs £11.49 / $14.99, which seems even steeper than previous packs given that there are fewer multiplayer maps than usual, and two of them are smaller than ordinary CoD maps. BUT, free maps for everyone! If you were to distil the essence of Face Off mode into a quick series of carefully choreographed moving images designed to shift product, it might look a little bit like this:

Jun 22, 2012
PC Gamer
Gratuitous Tank Battles review

Warframe! It's a name that calls to mind angry portraits battling together in a brutal yet artistic conflict. Sadly that isn't what the game is about. Warframe is actually a third person, free to play co-op shooter being made by the developers of the Darkness 2. On the plus side that means there's still time for me to trademark Art Shooter 2020: Da Vinci's Revenge.

Warframe (not to be confused with Crytek developed free to play shooter Warface) is being made by Digital Extremes, who developed The Darkness 2 and Bioshock 2's multiplayer mode, not to mention helping Epic create Unreal and Unreal Tournament back in 1998. You play as members of an alien species called the Tenno that has been enslaved by another, meaner and nastier alien alien species called the Grineer. Like many oppressed people throughout the centuries, the Tenno plan to win their freedom by donning cybernetic ninja-style exo-skeletons and completing four player randomly generated co-op missions. As depicted in this announcement trailer.