PC Gamer

As far as I can tell, the job of financial analyst is half seaside fortune teller, and half looking at the Financial Times and doing the teeth-sucking noise that mechanics make when they realise their clients don't know enough about cars not to be persuaded to buy an unnecessary replacement. I'm not saying they don't provide a valuable and accurate service, just that this service is so far outside my realm of experience as to be utterly bizarre and incomprehensible. Take the following as a perfect example.

According to Arvind Bhatia, a financial analyst with Sterne Agee, sales of Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 are on a trend to be 15% down on Modern Warfare 3's, which itself was down 5% from the first BlOps.

Here's the thing: BlOps 2 pulled in $500 million on its first day of retail, a whole $100 million more than MW3's. Even with a sharper downward sales curve, it's still going to make an absolute boatload of money. A smaller boatload than Modern Warfare 3, for sure - maybe a cruise ship instead of an oil tanker - but it's still a lot.

But the Call of Duty franchise makes up 45% of Activision's total earnings - the rest, presumably, coming from terrible James Bond games and Blizzard's output - which is why the analyst has "a cause for concern". As a result Sterne Agee has downgraded Activision's rating from "buy" to "neutral," reducing their 2013 estimates from $4.74 billion to a meagre $4.3 billion. God only knows what rating the analysts would give THQ.

Thanks, Joystiq
PC Gamer

Disney's recent acquisition of Lucasfilm scored it more than the Star Wars franchise: it also picked up LucasArts and its catalog of games, including Monkey Island and Maniac Mansion, landmarks of Double Fine designer Ron Gilbert's career. While discussing his current project, The Cave (and his thoughts on The Walking Dead), I asked Gilbert how he felt about his work being under Disney's control.

"I would find it hard to believe that Disney would do anything with them, just because I think they just have a lot more important things that will make them a lot more money," said Gilbert. "Star Wars, for example, just to throw out one thing.

"And they’ve even said—even when they announced this thing—they said they’re really focused on mobile games. They’re just not doing PC games, they’re not doing console games, it’s just not their focus. So, I kind of don’t think they’re really going to do anything, and I think this probably wasn’t even on their radar when they bought Lucasfilm either.

"It’s kind of sad in a way. Yeah, I wish I owned Monkey Island and Maniac Mansion, you know? The fact that Lucasfilm owned them, I guess I was kind of OK with that, right? Because I made them there. But now that they’re owned by someone else--that kind of sits weird with me. It’s like, 'Well, if someone else is going to own Monkey Island, it should be me that owns Monkey Island.'"

I pointed out that certain developers have reacquired the rights to their franchises, using Kickstarter to fund sequels, but Gilbert doesn't imagine Disney would be easy to negotiate with.

"My only fear with Disney is that they don’t need the money. It’s not like I could ever offer them enough money to make it worth their while for them. They just seem to be a company that hoards IP, and that kind of worries me. If it had been anyone else but Disney that bought them, I would try to go put together some money and buy them back. But because it’s Disney, maybe not. But we’ll see, you never know."

Regarding his work at Double Fine, Gilbert says, "it’s good to know that it’s not owned by a big giant conglomerate."
PC Gamer
Star Wars The Old Republic

Denizens of Star Wars: The Old Republic's not-so-near-at-all galaxy already learned the result of Force pushing over a Hutt's sanity in the Karagga's Palace Operation, but more attacks from the giant spendy slugs could become a part of everyone's destiny. In an interview with Massively, BioWare writer Hall Hood hinted of a future story update involving an uprising instigated by the typically neutral Hutt Cartel and a mysterious "Shroud" connected with the Dread Masters, the current gang of antagonists.

"For decades since the Sith Empire returned to war against the Republic, the Hutt Cartel has been content to watch from the sidelines and profit from the chaos," Hood said. "That's all about to change, and the fallout from the Hutts' actions will have long-term consequences for the entire galaxy.

"The Dread Masters aren't finished yet, either. They're about to unleash something terrible that only the galaxy's most powerful defenders have any hope of stopping. If I tell you any more, the Shroud will have me eliminated for talking. Who is this 'Shroud,' you ask? Oh, you'll see...."

The Old Republic's latest end-game content, Asation, pits players against an interdimensional Terror from Beyond unleashed by the Dread Masters as a friendly "hello" to both the Empire and Republic. Dogged by plateauing subscriber numbers, EA launched a free-to-play option earlier this month with a microtransactional item shop featuring cosmetic accessories and unlockable content.
PC Gamer

While speaking to Monkey Island and Maniac Mansion creator Ron Gilbert at a preview event for The Cave today, I asked for his thoughts on Telltale's The Walking Dead, and if he might consider an episodic format for future adventure games. Though he hasn't played The Walking Dead yet, Gilbert bravely plans to run through all five episodes on a 10 hour flight to Europe tomorrow, and had a few comments on its success and episodic gaming.

"I really like the episodic format," said Gilbert. "I would love to do episodic stuff—I think it’s really neat. It allows you to react to what players are experiencing, much like a TV show can react.

"I think, with The Walking Dead, it’s kind of proof of the mass marketing of adventure games. Things like Sam & Max are wonderfully fabulous games, but they’re a little nichey in a way. But I think The Walking Dead really proved that there’s a large number of people out there who, if you build a game that’s accessible to them—build an adventure game that’s accessible to them—they will just flock to it."

When I mentioned that the level of patience and carefully budgeted entertainment time in the mass audience may be a factor, Gilbert acknowledged that "people’s time is pulled in so many different ways today with social media, movies at home, and all these other things," that allowing players to "dabble" in concise segments and still have a good experience broadens the audience.

Gilbert's current project, The Cave, is similar to other recent Double Fine productions in that it can be completed in several hours, rather than after several days or weeks of head-scratching. For Gilbert, it's about "the evolution of adventure games"—bringing them to a mass audience without losing their basic appeal.

"I think there will always be people who enjoy the classic adventure games, and I think there’s a whole lot that is really cool and neat and interesting about those," he said. "I think there’s also a whole bunch of people that would enjoy adventure games if there was that kind of more visceral moment-to-moment gameplay. And it’s not to say that it’s action. There’s nothing about playing The Cave that you’re going to fail doing jumps, or you’re never having to time double jumps or anything like that. It’s just that act of being able to run around and jump on stuff—it keeps one part of our brain really engaged the whole time, and it frees up the other part of our brain to puzzle solve a little bit more."

The Cave is set to release in January—look for impressions of the hands-on demonstration soon, as well as more from my interview with Ron Gilbert. In the meantime, we wish him luck making the hard decisions on tomorrow's flight. He says he's been warned that "it’ll be a pretty intense 10 hours," and might have to break for a movie. May we suggest a comedy?
PC Gamer
Energy Hook

If Kevin Costner plied the bloated oceans of the flooded Earth in Waterworld by swinging like some sort of watery Tarzan from a thin rope of energy, I could almost forgive the gills scene. Very almost. For the rest of us non-mutated folk, we'll soon get the chance to rope around waterlogged ruins in Energy Hook, an indie parkour platformer in development by the folks behind the satisfying swing mechanics of Spider-Man 2. Don't confuse it with the already-great Gravity Hook, please.

Designers Jamie Fristrom and Paul Whitehead want to portray a future where energy hooks—grappling devices originally purposed for construction—landed in the hands of thrill-seekers naturally considering a devastated cityscape the perfect backdrop for hurling themselves through the air because, you know, style, man. Obstacle courses and free-roam areas are both in the works, and developer Happion Laboratories offered a happy comparison combination of "Spider-Man 2, Prototype, and Bionic Commando mixed with the racing and trick challenges of SSX or Tony Hawk."

Expect a Kickstarter campaign on December 8, but swing over to Energy Hook's website in the meantime for more talk and early footage.
PC Gamer

We love games like Dota 2, League of Legends, and Smite, but the myriad skills needed to master their complex gameplay can scare new players away. That’s why, twice a month, we pick a key skill and teach you how to master it, using a character that particularly excels at or relies on that skill in-game.

This week, we’re tackling the most basic and rewarding skill, last hitting NPC creeps. And there's no better hero to learn the ropes with than Dota 2’s long-range, kill-master Sniper.

Last hitting is the most fundamental skill in games like Dota 2, often called ARPGs or MOBAs. Like any mechanic worth its bytes, it’s easy to understand—deal the killing blow to NPCs by timing your attacks so that you're the last person to hit it—and yet impossible to execute perfectly 100% of the time.

The ideal we're striving for is getting the last hit on every single NPC creep (those little minions marching down the lanes) that we encounter in every match. Perfectionists beware: you will never achieve this lofty goal. Instead, this week we're focusing on simply getting closer to the ideal than we were before.

Every worthwhile skill needs a good motivation for learning it. In the big three—Dota 2, LoL, and Smite—nearby players get a pump of XP every time a creep dies. But you don’t score any of the delicious gold coins stuffed inside that pixel piñata unless you're the last person to hit it. That means last hitting is the fastest way to boost your character’s power.

In Dota 2 specifically, it’s also the most reliable way to stunt your opponent’s growth, thanks to the unique deny mechanic that allows you to last hit friendly creeps as well. Killing our own troops may go against every international treaty, but it denies our rivals XP and gold, so we do it happily.

It’s not really surprising that a hero named Sniper is really good at taking pot shots at minions. His Take Aim passive ability gives him the longest auto-attack range of any hero in the game, letting him finish off minions from a safe distance, so enemy players can’t harass him very easily.

He also has a 40% chance to score a Headshot on each of his attacks, adding bonus damage that can make up for your mistake of accidentally shooting a bit too early. And, trust me, that will happen a lot as a you try to master last hitting this week.

Usually, ranged heroes are more difficult to last hit with because you have to account for the time it takes for their attack projectile to travel as well. It’s a big enough of a challenge that I normally recommend a melee hero for learning to last hit, but Sniper’s shots are near-instant, thanks to a quick wind-up and super speedy projectiles.

On top of all that, Sniper is a Carry hero, meaning that he scales well with gear and will need a lot of last hits to earn the gold he’ll need to be effective. There’s nothing more depressing than a gold-starved Carry, so you absolutely need to last hit if you want to pull your weight.

Setting expectations
Wouldn't it be great if you could be a pro at last hitting just by reading this article? Well, you can't. Sorry. Even professional players miss at least one last hit in every game they play.

For your first game as the Sniper, let’s keep the focus simple and the goal low. Aim to last hit 50% of the creeps in your lane (start with 30% if you’re new to Dota 2). Sniper is better than most heroes at last-hitting, which is why the percentage is so high—even on your worst days you should be able to get 1 or 2 per creep wave. As Sniper, you'll usually be in middle lane by yourself, so the only player you’re competing with for last hits is the enemy carry.

Remember that you can kill your own creeps in Dota 2 by attacking them (hit A then left-click) to deny the enemy the gold that it drops. That means you have twice as many health bars to monitor as you do in League of Legends and Smite, both of which do not have a shoot-your-friend deny mechanic.

Our ultimate goal for the week is to last hit 80% of the minions in our lane. We’re going to build up to that, but keep that long-term goal in mind when starting to practice.

Also worth keeping in mind: lightning attacks look awesome. Style points matter, people!

Getting started
As Sniper, we’ve got a few advantages in our corner. The biggest is that our attack range is outrageous, so make sure you hang back as far as you can behind your troops. There’s no need to get close and expose yourself to potential ganks when you can safely last hit from a mile away.

Start off by making last hitting enemy creeps your top priority, and deny only when you have free windows of time in between. However, if the enemy hero is melee, they’re going to have to run into the danger zone to score their own last hits. When you find yourself in this situation, definitely take free potshots at them whenever they rush in to make them have to think twice about whether getting that last hit is worth it. In the extreme, your quick shots can even force them back to base to heal, giving you time to farm without opposition.

Even against ranged heroes, you will always out-range them if you need to harrass. But for now, play it safe and hang back against anyone that can engage you easily. Remember, we’re just focused on improving our last hit skills at this point.

At the start of the match (and then whenever you buy a new item), it’s a good idea to take a few practice shots at full-health creeps to get a feel for how long your hero's animation is and how much damage he or she character is doing.

These dead triceratops say my damage output is doing just fine.

On the next page: builds and items, micro tips, and your homework.

Builds and items
I’m not going to walk you through an all-purpose build guide for Sniper here. There are plenty of sites for that if you’re interested. This guide is about learning to last hit well, so I'm going to give you a basic gameplan for building Sniper to practice last hitting in casual environments: co-op matches vs. AI or practice maps by yourself. This build is not meant to be your new secret to success in PvP games.

Put your first ability point into Headshot, and then work on maxing out Take Aim as soon as possible (level 7), while dumping the leftovers into Headshot. This will maximize your auto-attack range and damage, allowing you more wiggle room when last hitting. Don’t even worry about Shrapnel (an AoE DoT and slow) until later—the damage is negligible for our purposes.

Attack speed is a huge help when learning how to last hit on a new hero, because it reduces the punishment for attacking too early and will often let you swing a second time before the follow-up minion attack hits.

You want to balance it out with attack damage as well, though, which gives you a larger health margin to aim for. Start with Slippers of Agility to boost your low base damage and a Boots of Speed to help you duck in and out of harassment range while last hitting.

Build up towards Power Treads (switch it to Agility stat, unless you’re facing heavy pressure and need the Strength), and go for Butterfly as your first big item. It’s a beautiful blend of everything you want: attack speed, attack damage, and survivability. Shadow Blade is another very fun Sniper item that’s incredibly useful in teamfights or in situations where you really need an escape tool, but you can leave it in the bin during solo practice.

Wishing I had bought the Shadow Blade right about now...

Making adjustments
Sadly, you won’t be able to simply sit in place and blast at minions all day. The battlefield is constantly in flux and you need to react to it.

If you find yourself trapped under a friendly tower, don’t try to outshoot it. It will kill most creeps in 3-5 hits. Watch the amount of health it’s taking off the creep it’s targeting and wait until you know the creep won’t survive the next tower hit to shoot it. It’s impossible to give a catch-all solution for how to beat a friendly turret, but the easiest mistake is to simply blast it willy nilly. If you’re really worried about it, just last hit minions that the turret isn’t currently focusing. It’s not too bad to burn down half-health creeps at that point because you can push the lane a bit without getting into enemy territory.

Likewise, it’s tough to deny your allied creeps under an enemy tower, but keep in mind that you don't necessarily need to get the last hit—you just need to make sure the enemy hero doesn't. It also doesn't hurt that you outrange turrets by level 7, so just keep the auto-attack pressure on any enemy melee heroes to let the turret eat the minions and be content with the draw.

If you find yourself under heavy pressure from constant ganks, narrow your focus to only getting last hits and run back towards your turret when there are none to be immediately had. There’s no reason to stand in the open waiting for the next creep wave when the enemy team is roaming.

By the time you realize you're surrounded by enemy heroes, it's too late.

Master tweaks
Once you feel like you've got the general hang of last hitting and can regularly amass 50% of the lane creeps in last hits, it's time to add some finesse to your play.

It’s easy to put yourself out of position while last hitting. Left untouched, the creep waves will hover near the middle of the map. But if you’re making bad last hits and sniping every enemy NPC two times before it dies, the flow of battle is going to shift towards the enemy base. And, contrary to your gut impulse, that's bad because it means you're going to be fighting on their home turf, where every tree hides a ganker hungry for your delicious dwarven flesh. A good rule of thumb is that you want to keep the creep conflict on neutral or friendly ground so you don’t overextend yourself. If you need a guideline to follow, make sure that you take a shot at one of your own creeps for every shot you take at an enemy creep.

There will often come a time when you have to choose between last hitting the enemy’s creep or denying your creep. There can be a lot of factors involved, including where the enemy is, what abilities they have at their disposal, and which direction you want to move the creep wave, but my default preference is that I will always take an enemy creep kill over a deny. The reason is straight greed: killing an enemy minion nets me gold, denying doesn’t.

Outside of practice matches, it's just as important to last hit enemy heroes to score the sacks of gold and XP that comes with their bounty. Thankfully, Sniper excels at that as well courtesy of his death-summoning ultimate ability, Assassinate, which locks onto a target and puts a bullet through their head/shell/membrane/metal casing from long range.

Now here comes the tricky part. All of the hundreds of heroes in all the many MOBA games have different ranges, animations, and particle speeds that will affect the timing of your last hits. You may have mastered Dota 2’s Sniper, but you’ll need to learn each hero individually and practice them until it becomes a sort of muscle memory. You’ll know you’ve truly mastered a hero when you aren’t constantly thinking about last hitting while playing them.

Go forth and poke towers until they crumble!

Your homework
Good luck out there this week, Snipers! As always, you can download Dota 2 on Steam, although you'll need a beta invite if you aren't already in. Hopefully some friendly folks can help out by offering friend invites in the comments below. Once you're in, all of the heroes, including Sniper, are 100% free, so there’s nothing stopping you from joining the PC Gamer community in-game this week.

Five goals to aim for as you learn to last hit with Sniper:
1. Hit level 6 without using any healing items or returning to base to heal.
2. Deny an entire creep wave by yourself while laned against enemy players.
3. Don’t let your opponents deny any creeps in a single wave.
4. Get 200 creep kills in a game.
5. Have the most creep kills on either team for two games in a row.
PC Gamer
68 Dwarf Fortress

If you walk into New York's Museum of Modern Art in the near future, you might discover that its curators have taken a stance on the issue of "Are games art?" And that stance, it seems, is "Yes." Fourteen games including player-driven space MMO EVE Online, perplexing puzzle shooter Portal, and ASCII graphics-based breakdown of civilization simulator Dwarf Fortress will serve as "the seedbed for an initial wish list of about 40 to be acquired in the near future, as well as for a new category of artworks in MoMA’s collection that we hope will grow in the future."

Other PC titles in the initial collection include Myst, SimCity 2000, The Sims, and Jason Rohrer's Passage. The games will be on display and presumably playable in the museum's Philip Johnson Galleries starting in March. You can read more about the collection on the MoMA official site.

Do games belong in art museums? Let us know what you think.
PC Gamer
PlanetSide 2 Bastion Fleet Carrier

PlanetSide 2's vehicles keep its war churning. Sunderers shuttle troops quickly and efficiently to the frontlines. The C-130-esque Galaxy transport serves as the primary mode of aerial insertion for all three factions, but like the Watchmen, who transports the transports? Best sit down for the next part: In a tweet fired off today, SOE President John Smedley posted a conceptual mockup of an absolutely gigantic Terran Republic fleet carrier looking like a cross between a Star Destroyer and a shoebox, hinting of a possible future emergence of mobile vehicle platforms in the super-scaled MMOFPS.

Smedley told us via email that the behemoth remains firmly in the concept stage at this point, so it's unclear if it flies or floats in Auraxis' skies or waters (or both!). But this isn't the first time additional vehicles and naval combat appeared on SOE's drawing board. A blog entry by Smedley detailed several ideas under consideration for expanding PlanetSide 2's content such as seamlessly linking the three continents by sea, adding water-based combat, and even throwing in a fourth, AI-controlled alien faction.
PC Gamer
Beneath this quiet Burg, a thin layer of other cities’ diapers.
Beneath this quiet Burg, a thin layer of other cities’ diapers and beer cans.

Maxis continues to emphasize that you’ll be able to play SimCity, for the most part, however you’d like. That includes being able to serve as the trash lord of your region (the land masses upon which multiple cities exist as neighbors either in single or multiplayer). Though Maxis doesn't consider it a formal specialization path, there's room within the game for receiving other cities' junk to be a profitable enterprise.

I spoke to SimCity Producer Jason Haber during a hands-on demo of the game today.

Have there been any especially strange, highly-specialized cities created at Maxis?

Haber: "I really love making a garbage city. And to me, what that is, it’s a city that’s primarily built with garbage dumps and waste treatment and recycling facilities. I basically build a bunch of those and then share it out with other cities in the region, and not only do I make money from providing that service to other cities but also, with the recycling trucks, they’ll also bring back in plastics and metals and things like that. And I’ll process those at the recycling plant and then I can export them using a trading depot to sell those on the global market. So I can actually make money as sort of this like... garbage-based economy."

The processing of recyclable goods seems to be pretty granular—alloys, metals, and plastics are all discrete resources within SimCity's system, and (alternatively to just selling them on the market) you can keep these materials local for industrial use. Haber does disclaim that there are some downsides to being a landfill landlord: "Obviously my city becomes very dirty and my Sims aren’t very happy, but I don’t care because I’m just trying to do it. And I have the advantage that my other cities don’t have that stinky garbage dump in their city, they can sort of outsource that service to this other city. Who is it—I think it’s Sweden, they import garbage."

Yep, Sweden does. As do parts of the United States. Haber also mentions a wind energy farm as a type of city he's hoping to experiment with. “I think there’s a lot of specializations that we haven’t discovered yet that people will be able to figure out.”

PC Gamer
Deus Ex New Vision mod UNATCO HQ comparison

For all its crazy cyber-conspiracy narrative and superior voice acting, Deus Ex didn't ride its Unreal Engine tech gracefully into the visual standards of the present. Still, its neon-lined cyberpunk locales are close to many a gamer's nano-heart, which makes the release of the final version of David Watts' "New Vision" mod for Deux Ex just another good reason to reinstall it.

"I'd like to sincerely thank everyone in the community for their support over the years; without you, I wouldn't have had the motivation to continue working on this project for five years of my life," DaveW stated. "I hope you all enjoy the mod and I wish you all the best."

Just like popping out your organically inferior eyeballs for a pair of tri-vision photoreceptor sensors (with optional strobing laser accessory), New Vision enhances every single non-character texture in a hefty 1.2GB data package. The ghost in the machine whispers "reinstall," and New Vision makes it tough resisting another bout behind JC Denton's so-cool-I-wear-them-indoors shades. And hey, at least you can admire the soft torchlight bouncing off the domes of snazzier-looking skulls as you get absolutely lost once again in that labyrinthine Paris Catacombs area.

Grab New Vision from its Mod DB page, or check the gallery for more comparison shots.