PC Gamer
nostalgia GOTY


Remember the past? When everyone swanned around wearing ruffs and eating Werther's Originals? And there was children's telly. Proper children's telly, and videogames. Like arcades, but smaller, in your living room going "bleep" and "bloop." Brilliant, right? Like Gauntlet! I know if you think about it for a minute it seems like a punishing game built around exploitative mechanics designed to suck pocket money out of arcade kids' pockets, but "warrior needs food badly" remember? Brilliant. Elite! Dizzy! Populous! BRILLIANT.

Give me fifty dollars, and I can bring it all back for you.

Throw in an extra ten and I'll give you a T-shirt with a logo on or something. Just some tat, like there was tat back then. Because nobody's learned anything about game design in the last twenty years. With your help we can turn this Delorean around. Who needs progress? We're making something old school.

Yes, to all outside appearances Kickstarter might look like a fertile place for new innovative ideas to gain recognition and much needed financial support, but it turns out nostalgia is much easier to monetise. And I know a million dollars might seem like a lot, especially considering the fact we don't have a tech demo, or any art, or a proper name, or proposed mechanics. But just imagine a game in your head. An old one that has demons and goblins or spaceships or something. Yes! That's it. What you're seeing. That's what we're making, plus a second game maybe.

All I need are your bank details. And any cash you have on you. And your shoes. And that's a nice watch. Keep it coming...

Runners up: "Judy Garland Told Me to in a Dream", "I Trust Anybody with a Firm Handshake"
PC Gamer
PCG249.rev_wrc.pic2


With Codemasters increasingly using the Dirt series as a platform to explore their gymkhana obsession, the field has been left open for a proper rally game to come in and nab its populist crown. WRC3 may be wearing the official FIA licence, but it’s not that game.

While there isn’t a pirouetting Peugeot to be seen, it’s still too hopelessly enamoured with Dirt to break out in its own direction. Consider the evidence: a limited rewind that lets you course-correct crashes and mistakes? Check. Frequent special events containing foam barriers that must be smashed? Oh yes. There’s even hilariously out- of-place dubstep backing the menus.

At least WRC3 is primarily about rallying. The WRC mode is no-frills racing that lets you queue-up stages from the competition as either single races or a full season championship. And while the Road to Glory career mode does make occasional forays into minigame distractions, you won’t get near them without acquiring a firm grasp on how to handbrake through gravel first. But in positioning itself so near to such a refined and polished series, WRC3’s issues come into sharp focus.



The career progression is one such misstep. In Road to Glory, you’re awarded stars based on your performance in each race, unlocking new vehicles, courses and upgrades. The majority of the total is decided by your position, but each stage reserves three potential stars for ‘Ability’. This confused rating highlights WRC3’s hesitance to commit to either serious simming or casual fun. Points are awarded for clean runs and other displays of skill, but also for smashing barriers and driving on two wheels.

There are other problems. Your co-driver, who has the clipped, monotonous voice of a WWII era radio announcer (despite whatever nationality or gender you pick for him), and fires out instructions in a way that’s nearly impossible to follow. Or there’s the upgrade system, which is devoid of any choice or tactical thinking. Kit 4 is numerically better than Kit 3, so you’d be foolish not to install it. All minor issues, but they start to add up.



What isn’t minor is the lack of feedback from the car handling. There’s no sense that you’re wrestling these machines across improbable terrain. It’s worse on some surfaces than others – driving on tarmac in particular feels like taking a holiday from physics. You do get use to these shortcomings, but the lack of weight sensation or variation in an engine’s sound creates a flatly sterile experience.

It’s such a waste because, thanks to the official licence, the game is filled with wonderfully difficult courses. Each is full of hairpins, chicanes and really technical, challenging sectors. They’d be an absolute thrill to race on if they weren’t trapped in such an otherwise unexceptional game.

Expect to pay: $30 / £20
Release: Out now
Developer: Milestone
Publisher: In-house
Multiplayer: Up to 16 players
Link: www.wrcthegame.com

PC Gamer
Cart Life


Having retired from world-saving heroics, Christopher Livingston is living the simple life in video games by playing a series of down-to-earth simulations. This week he’s managing a new coffee stand business while trying to maintain a healthy relationship with his simulated daughter.

In Cart Life, a "retail simulation" game, I've been busy all week trying to get my new coffee stand up and running. It's been a real chore: the woman who is going to build my coffee stand told me on Monday that I needed to get a business permit first. I wasted Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning just waiting in the permit office for the chance to buy the permit. Tuesday afternoon I revisited the coffee stand builder, who then told me I needed to buy an espresso maker before she could build the stand, since the espresso maker needed to be part of the stand construction.

Now it's Wednesday morning, and I'm shopping for the espresso maker, as well as beverage supplies: coffee, tea, milk, chocolate, flavoring, sugar, and cups. In the midst of my shopping trip, my cell phone bleeps a reminder: I have to attend a custody hearing. I drop what I'm doing and rush over to the courthouse in a cab to meet with a judge and my ex-husband. We're going to discuss the custody of my young daughter, Laura, who is currently living with me in my sister's house, since I lost my job and my home when I divorced my husband.

Maybe it's now clear why I put "retail simulation" in quotes earlier. Cart Life does present you with a retail simulation, but it has plenty, plenty more.

Quick note: there are some story spoilers to follow. I do want to at least remain vague about the outcome of certain situations, but I also want to discuss the situations themselves. Proceed with caution, and if in doubt, just download and play the game first.

So! In addition to trying to get my coffee stand business running to prove to the judge that I'm capable of financially supporting my daughter, I also need to emotionally support my daughter: I walk her to school in the morning and back home in the afternoon, which gives us time to talk. Unfortunately, spending time with Laura in the morning and afternoon means I can't spend as much time as I'd like to get my business running: the very reason I had to leave the permit office early on Monday was to get to Laura's school in time to walk her home. In other words, the main obstacle in my mission to provide for Laura is Laura herself, which is sort of an odd and uncomfortable thing to consider.



And now, I have to cut my shopping trip short to go meet with the judge and my ex-husband. Once again, my retail business takes a hit while I attend to my personal life. I arrive a little late and apologize to the judge, who seems understanding. I explain my business is not yet off the ground, and again, the judge is understanding. The judge suggests we meet again on Monday, giving me a little more time to get my business running. Again, very understanding! Suspiciously understanding. The kind of understanding that feels almost condescending. I immediately don't like this judge.

The judge then wonders if maybe Laura should spend the rest of the week with my ex-husband. My ex thinks that's a splendid idea as well. Wouldn't that be helpful? Wouldn't that give me more time to work on my business? Wasn't that sort of what I myself was just thinking, that having to attend to Laura in the mornings and afternoons was seriously biting into my time, and making it much harder to get my business up and running?

And yet, I can't feel anything but anger and resentment at the judge and my ex. Did they work out this little arrangement in advance while I was running late? Did these two men put their stupid balding heads together and decide what was best for me and my daughter before I arrived? It's hard not to notice that the game has even positioned me between the two of them, making me feel surrounded, blocked in, ambushed and trapped.



I'm angry at myself for spending the morning thinking that it would really help if Laura was off my hands for a few days, and yet I'm angry at these two for suggesting that it would really help if Laura was off my hands for a few days. I resent the suggestion that I need help, I resent the fact that I actually do need help, and I'm even a little resentful toward Laura, who is the reason I need help. It's a very complex and confusing series of emotions, especially considering that I'm playing a game that, remember, simply describes itself as a "retail simulation."

In fact, let's leave the personal chaos for a moment (I don't want to spoil the outcome of this meeting) and actually talk about the retail portion of the game. It might seem that with all the suspicion, confusion, anger, guilt, and other complicated feelings Cart Life can bring out of you, the retail experience itself might be a little lacking. Nope! It's actually quite complex and engaging. It's Friday morning when I finally get my coffee stand opened, and customers immediately begin to arrive.



Some beverages, like plain coffee or milk, require you to type a phrase quickly and accurately. The more complicated beverages, like lattes and cappuccinos, require a bit more work, tapping the arrow keys in various combinations to grind beans, work the coffee maker, add the proper ingredients, pour the beverage, attach the lid, and serve the customer. And, once you've served your customer, you have to give them the proper change, which can be tricky if you've mistakenly priced a beverage at $2.36 and they give you a ten-dollar bill.



The customers are all different, and you can do a little work to get to know them by engaging in smalltalk. Sometimes you'll get tips, sometimes you won't. Some customers are chatty, some are way, way too chatty, and some just want to buy a drink and get on with their lives. As the day wears on, you might have to find time to adjust your prices, or buy more supplies, or get yourself a meal. It's frantic, it's challenging, it's repetitive, and there's always a timer ticking down, making it a race against the clock.

The clock isn't just ticking in the retail mini-games, either. The whole game is a race against the clock. I've got to make enough money by my next custody hearing to show the judge I'm responsible. I've got to find time to visit a pawn shop to sell a few things to cover the cost of the supplies I've bought. I should take time to visit the offices of a lawyer I just met, in case I need legal help. I've got to weigh the time a cab ride would save me against the dollars it would cost me. Of course, I've got to find time to spend with Laura. And sometimes, I just need to find the time to get some sleep.



Conclusion: Cart Life, in a nutshell, is a game that doesn't fit neatly into a nutshell.There's a lot going on, a lot, and I feel like even if this column were five times as long, I still couldn't even scratch the surface. The art and animation are great, the soundtrack is enjoyable, the mini-games are fun and frantic, the game is bursting with little details and interesting characters and locations, and most of all, the writing is amazingly well done.

I think everyone should download it and give it a try. In the freeware version, there's a second playable character who runs a newspaper stand (and has his own set of personal challenges), and there's a third character who runs a bagel cart if you want to kick in a measly five bucks.
PC Gamer
pandora


San Francisco, 2043. A long-dead killer signs off on the murder of a college girl with an iconic black arrow. Chinese-style puzzle boxes crafted from mysterious metal begin arriving on the doorsteps of seemingly unconnected people. Deep in the jungles of Peru, a secret has already damaged the world to the point that most countries have swapped day for night to help people avoid dangerous solar radiation—and now it might potentially destroy the earth forever. And in his lonely, run-down office, the only PI who can possibly save the day... is stuck eating dog-food in order to pay his rent.

The Tex Murphy games mix three of my favorite things into one delicious cocktail—traditional noir fiction in the Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett style, near-future science fiction, and adventure games with both ambition and balls. Imagine the excitement of creeping around a building in search of clues, or being able to walk round and see an incriminating memo behind the back of a desk. That’s the Tex Murphy experience (get it for $4.99), and I find it heartbreaking that the number of other games that tried to offer it can be counted on one hand. Well, one hand and maybe one more finger. Maybe.

Smart-aleck kill
 


There are actually five Tex games: two deeply terrible traditional adventures, and three FMV/3D hybrids that are fondly remembered by more or less everyone who played them. The Pandora Directive especially is an artifact of an interesting time, when developers and players alike had realized that the words “interactive movie” were a warning rather than a description, but before the industry was big enough to throw around big budgets or buy in actual star power. The Pandora Directive, for instance, proudly trumpeted its inclusion of B-movie names like John Agar and Tanya Roberts over the man who played Tex, series writer/designer/producer/attempted director and Access’ money guy, Chris Jones. Many other roles were also handled by employees, who offered performances that ranged from decent to charming to the world’s most expensive school play.

The schlocky FMV is all part of the fun though, and the craziness is oddly appropriate considering you’re playing a guy who desperately wants to be a 1940s-era PI despite owning a flying car and being in love with a mutant newspaper girl who occasionally rents a holographic Cary Grant. The Pandora Directive knows exactly how silly it is, and happily embraces it with awful puns, weird characters like a vegetarian street preacher, and one very surreal ending where Tex trades in his PI dreams to become a sad clown in a traveling circus.



When it wants to tell a serious story though, it can. As silly as everything around him often gets, Tex is a wonderfully grounded character—a decent guy who at least sometimes doesn’t deserve the crap he practically begs the world to dump on his head. The Pandora Directive has three paths through it (though they only change a few scenes, and you have to bend over backwards to get to all of them), and the “evil” path is called The Boulevard of Broken Dreams for a reason. It’s deeply uncomfortable to have Tex actually turn cynical, mean, and grabby instead of simply putting on the act, but only because he’s usually such a nice guy you always want to see come out on top.

Trouble is my business
 


The use of first-person 3D and tense background music also does wonders for making dangerous locations actually feel sinister, regardless of how empty they feel. By far the most nerve-wracking moment is when you find yourself wandering around the long-deserted, corpse-strewn corridors of Roswell, New Mexico—a location that wasn’t quite so played out in popular culture back when the game was originally released—with a deadly alien gas slowly worming its way through the rooms and air vents. Like many of Tex’s puzzles, avoiding becoming the gas’ last meal is a ridiculously over-complicated task, but still a tense one even when you have a Plan.

When you don’t have a plan, the series really shows its age. In the GOG re-release, you’re at least spared the constant disc-swapping as you move from location to location, but have pity for anyone who had to play it when the game was split over six different CDs. Pixel hunting in the third dimension is great when you see something and feel like a proper detective. It’s less fun when you’ve missed a couple of pixels that could be in, on, or behind anything, and have to force yourself to resist the siren call of in-game help or sneaky internet walkthroughs. Tex Murphy may be hard boiled, but no one could call his adventures over-easy.

Once you finally find that stubborn thingy and move on though, you won’t remember the frustration. You’ll be far too busy grinning as Tex mouths off to exactly the wrong guy, or manages to pull defeat from the jaws of victory once again. A fictional PI’s life may suck, but it’s the one he chose. Tagging along for the most dangerous week of Tex’s life, you can totally see why he wouldn’t have it any other way. Give or take a few beatings, perhaps.
PC Gamer
DayZ GOTY


If XCOM reminded us of the value of loss in 2012, DayZ was a valuable lesson in hardship. The Arma 2 mod was one of the least-forgiving and most intimidating games of the year. It was a shooter that you entered without a gun. Arma’s control scheme made actions such as inventory management a hassle; its 225km2 landscape asked you to run mini-marathons to get around, often without a map. Permadeath and persistency lent consequence to every action. And in its alpha state, DayZ was buggy and vulnerable to hackers.

1.3 million people played it.

DayZ is heartening; it reinforces what players are willing to put up with in exchange for novel, self-authored experiences. It’s a rare shooter that gives banal tasks such as searching for water or riding a bicycle as much meaning as firing a gun.

Among bandit pursuits, lucky loot runs, mourning the death of friends, and castle raids, one of my unforgettable moments is when my friends and I accidentally orchestrated our own sniping mission. We’d arrived outside Chernarus’ Northwest Airfield: treacherously naked terrain with the potential for military loot.

With empty backpacks, two teammates moved in. If they fired a shot, they’d ring a dinner bell for the undead. But 500 meters away, atop a hill, my sniper rifle was out of earshot. This was an escort mission: their lives were my responsibility, and Arma 2’s ballistics meant I had to lead targets on two axes, manually dial-in my scope, and read my map to estimate ranges. It was a pure and exhilarating shooting experience, but more importantly, an expression of our teamwork. Moments like this in DayZ arise simply as a result of the mechanics, vulnerability, and players’ natural storytelling ability. By being so hands-off with us, DayZ gives us ownership over every moment.

Read More: DayZ Photo Diary.

Runners Up: Black Mesa Source, Sith Lords Remastered.
PC Gamer
Blops 2 GOTY


In most years, the idea that space wizards had manipulated the outcome of the American war of independence would probably count as the most fanciful reappraisal of historical fact. But not in a year in which a Black Ops game gets released!

Did you know that the CIA’s support of Nicaraguan death squads (estimated death toll: 30,000) was an “accident”? It’s really quite the Oops! moment, what with it continuing for the better part of a decade, and, latterly, against the direct instruction of Congress.

“We don’t target civilians,” says one character in the CIA’s defence. Credit to the voice cast for adding a nuanced undertone of belligerent denial to the claim, but opposing views (such as, say, that voiced by the International Court of Justice in 1986) make scant appearance here.

You might think the devs would be more familiar with the affair, given that the game’s marketing push involved wheeling out National Security Council bagman Oliver North, a fellow who was convicted on three counts of felony thanks to his involvement in the Iran-Contra scandal.

It’s difficult to see why Black Ops 2 would be coy about the casual slaughter of innocents; after all, characters are more than willing to openly torture and summarily execute people they take a disliking to. But even if the game’s not trying to make a case for the righteousness of its protagonists, it still makes a mess of history.
PC Gamer
Mass Effect 3 pose


Mass Effect 3's ending

On March 6 this year, a videogame trilogy ended, enraging thousands. The final ten minutes of Mass Effect 3 veered suddenly into unexpected territory and delivered a closing segment that left many baffled and disappointed.

Some of those people felt extremely angry and decided that Bioware needed to be held to account for underdelivering on the final 1% of their stomping 100 hour space adventure. Cue the Take Back Mass Effect Facebook campaign (tagline: DEMAND A BETTER ENDING), which has received over 61,000 likes.

They had valid complaints. Mass Effect 3's ending was really weird, but demanding a new ending from Bioware and then writing one for them perhaps went a little too far. "Fans of the Mass Effect trilogy have put far too much time, effort, and money into the game to be abandoned with such a fate," the group insisted.

"Bioware desperately needs to resolve this issue. New DLC (something long) to add a new, more satisfactory ending to the game, or even a full expansion based as an epilogue to the trilogy.

"Some possible ideas include Shepard retiring or settling down with his/her love interest, returning to work as a Council SPECTRE, or traveling the galaxy as an inter-species diplomat."

In addition to that, a poll on the Bioware forums requesting a "brighter" ending gained 68000 positive votes. Some folks even made a happy ending mod to bring the ending more in line with their expectations.

In April, Bioware responded by announcing a free extended cut patch that would add extra cut scenes and clarity to the ending without changing what actually happened. It was released in June, but by then it was all a bit too late.

Still, some good came out of it. A Child's Play protest drive raised £50,000, though as the BBC reported, Child's Play closed down the drive "after it emerged many people thought they were giving money to produce a new ending for Mass Effect 3."

Bioware mentioned that they are working on Mass Effect 4 in October. It will be built in Frostbite 2, it won't feature Shepard, and Bioware haven't quite decided whether it should be a prequel or a sequel.





Diablo 3 - ERROR 37

Diablo 3 proved more popular than Blizzard had really anticipated when it released on May 15. Huge numbers had pre-ordered, many more received a bonus copy as part of the World of Warcraft annual pass deal, and still more bought it on the day. Blizzard later said that 6.3 million people were playing in the first week after launch.

Diablo 3's controversial always-online requirement meant everyone logging in to play would have to successfully connect with Blizzard's servers first. Unfortunately, with a noise like a whoopee cushion in a wind tunnel the server farms melted into a steaming puddle of silicon and couldn't be coaxed into full operation.

Rejected connections were met with the now infamous "Error 37" message. Furious fans vented their frustration on a 19 page forum thread entitled "Epic Fail Blizzard." #error37 became a worldwide trending topic on Twitter

After a few very late nights and some emergency updates, Error 37 messages started to fade, but more controversy lay ahead. After several delays the real money auction house arrived in June. Patches hiked repair costs for high level players and put in the support pillars for a disappointing endgame.

That wasn't all. Players started discovering exploits after major patches, including one that let wizards become immortal and, as Kotaku noted, another that activated god mode for Barbarians.

Then there was the incident involving Diablo co-creator, David Brevik, who spoke out about Diablo 3 in August saying "some of the decision they have made are not the decisions I would make and there have been changes in philosophy and that hasn’t gone over very well. I think in that way I am a little sad." Diablo 3 devs vented their frustration on a less-private-than-expected Facebook thread in which game director Jay Wilson responded with the message "fuck that loser." Wilson later apologised in a lengthy post on the Diablo 3 site

"What I said was expressed out of anger, and in defense of my team and the game. People can say what they want about me, but I don't take lightly when they disparage the commitment and passion of the Diablo III team," he said.

Phew. Buried under all that hoo-ha it's important to note that Diablo 3 is a good game. Very good, actually, if you forgive the post-level 60 grind. Find out why in our Diablo 3 review. Blizzard are currently planning more updates and there should be some proper expansions on the horizon.





The Tomb Raider rape scene that wasn't

By the time E3 rolled around, there was already some concern surrounding Crystal Dynamic's new direction for Lara Croft. The only footage and screenshots released so far had shown her battered, bruised, bleeding in a state of permanent pain, fear or misery.

Then, two and a half minutes into the E3 trailer, amid the falling, impaling, shivering and screaming, an assailant groped Lara. The implied rape threat was clear to many, and a flood of opinion pieces were penned in response. Here's the trailer so you can see for yourself.



The situation wasn't helped by comments executive producer Ron Rosenberg made to Kotaku. "When you see her have to face these challenges, you start to root for her in a way that you might not root for a male character," he said. "When people play Lara, they don't really project themselves into the character. They're more like 'I want to protect her.' There's this sort of dynamic of 'I'm going to this adventure with her and trying to protect her.'"

Our Tom Francis got to play through the scene to its conclusion, deliberately failing (to his considerable discomfort) the quicktime events that enable her to fight back. In the end, her attacker merely strangles her to death instead. Oh, good.

Global brand director Karl Stewart told us there's “No sexual element. He doesn’t care who you are. He has got you cornered and you are female, so there is an element of ‘oh he’s creepy, and this is slightly intimidating’, but straight out it’s: bite his ear, kick him in the nuts and shoot him in the head.”

Regarding Rosenberg's comments, he said this: “Unfortunately someone mis-spoke, rather than was mis-quoted, and said a word that isn’t in our vocabulary and shouldn’t have been said… We’re not trying to create something that causes a stir, what we’re trying to create is something that’s still in a mature world but still feels real.”

On watching the trailer, it's hard to believe that those who cut the trailer together weren't trying to cause a bit of fuss. It's still too early to tell where the developers are taking Lara, and it certainly isn't the first time a marketing campaign has misrepresented a game. It's due out on March 5 next year.





Hitman: Absolution

Where to start? Square Enix' promotional efforts have provided some of the most painful "what were they thinking?" moments of the year. The graphic murder of a squad of hypersexualised, rubberised BDSM nun assassins in the May trailer was an impressively misjudged opening gambit that worked on precisely no level.

Game director Tor Blystad later apologised for the trailer, explaining that "there are a lot of movie influences in Hitman Absolution, like Tarantino and Rodriguez." But where Tarantino re-purposes influences from asian cinema and martial arts films to create quirky and spectacular pop-cultural mash-ups, the Hitman nunsassin trailer seems to take its cues from rubbish porn and Rambo. The resultant video was exactly the sort of peurile hyperviolent nonsense that gives videogames a bad rep.

“We’re sorry that we offended people” Blystad said at E3. “That was truly not the intention of the trailer.”

“We’ve been reading as much as we could of the articles and responses” he added. “We were surprised that it turned into such a huge topic. Something similar happened with our Sniper Challenge pre-order bonus. We just wanted to make something cool, it wasn’t the intention to stir up anything.”

IO Interactive subsequently changed the level that featured the nun assassins - a crack squad sent by the Agency to slay Agent 47 - to create more context for their appearance .

It was bad, but a mistake is a mistake, right? Those involved have apologised and will probably be more thoughtful about their marketing schemes in future. As long as they don't do anything else stupid then we can all get past - OH WAIT. Just a few weeks ago a Facebook stunt encouraged players to put "Facebook hits" out on their friends. Those taking part could select insults to throw at each other. You could put out a hit on someone for having small tits, bad hair, an annoying laugh or a small penis.

The campaign was pulled in the wake of a torrent of disapproval. Depressingly, the game proved disappointing, too, ditching many of the traits that made former Hitman games special in favour of a more directed, linear experience. Find out more in our Hitman: Absolution review.




The War Z

At the time of writing, The War Z has been plucked from Steam. Valve's Doug Lombardi told RPS that Valve have removed the game so that Valve can "work with the developer and have confidence in a new build." They're also offering refunds to purchasers who file a support ticket. The problem? This build of The War Z doesn't seem to match up to the promises its developers have been making.

Steam user Shock4ndAwe captured this image showing the original product description on Steam. It promised maps between "100 and 400 square kilometers." It claims you can create "private servers" and "gain experience and spend it to learn dozen of available skills." These features aren't in there yet. What's more, PCGamesN investigated the size of War Z's map and found it to be around 10 sq km large - far smaller than promised.

In an extraordinary interview on GameSpy, executive producer of The War Z, Sergey Titov attempted to defend the Steam listing, saying "I think there's difference between false claims and perception of the text."

When challenged on the "up to 100 players" claim (only 50 players could play simultaneously at the time), he said "let's be frank: when you read "up to 100 players" -- what does it mean to you personally? I mean, for me it doesn't mean that I will play with 99 other players. Really :) And yes game supports 100 players -- heck, it supports actually over 400 players per server as of today. Do we have servers launched with this number of slots? No we don't, because this is not what our players WANT."

The War Z creators, Hammerpoint, have since released a statement that blames players for expecting the features clearly labelled on Steam. “We also want to extend our apologies to all players who misread information about game features," they said. The Steam listing has since been altered.

Before The War Z was pulled, Kotaku reported that a patch had upped the respawn time to four hours and added microtransactions that would let players pay to circumvent it. Players took to Reddit to express their anger.

It feels like this story still has a long way to run. In other news, Bohemia Interactive continue to work on a standalone version of Arma 2 mega-mod, Day Z.
PC Gamer
hob_1


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, the adventure that brought Tolkien's epic fantasy to life like never before - using text! Wait, hang on...

In the middle of the earth, in the land of the Shire, lives a brave little hobbit who we all admire. With his long wooden pipe, and fuzzy woolly toes, he lives in a hobbit-hole and everybody knows him. Bilbo. Bilbo Baggins. He's only three feet tall. Yes, Bilbo, Bilbo Baggins. The bravest little hobbit of them all.

Well, would you try ordering Thorin Oakenshield to carry your hairy arse around?

An adventuring smorgasbord, and I'm not talking about a dragon in need of a new hobby.

The Hobbit is one of those 80s classics, much beloved by everyone who ever played it, and to its credit, not a bad attempt at turning the adventure into... well, an adventure, especially by 1982 standards. At a time when GO NORTH was still seen as impressive, and GO WEST could still be typed without an immediate response of "You go west. Life is peaceful there", it dared to try... amongst other things... characters with their own lives, a real-time take on adventuring that pretty much no other commercial game tried (though there were a few, like Infocom's Border Zone), and a mix of text and graphics to both help convey the world, and punish anyone who'd bought a colour monitor for their hubris.

To hear some people talk of it, it's the greatest text adventure ever. Of course, it's not. By modern eyes, it's about as primitive as an orc's OKCupid profile. ("Name: Azog the Defiler. Hobbies: Murdering dwarf-scum, helping make what should be one movie into three snoozers. First thing people notice about me: My prosthetic murder-hand stabbing into their face as I laugh. I also enjoy jazz.")

Depending on how you play, it can also be one of the shortest adventures ever, as seen in this transcript of what happened the day Gandalf came to town while Bilbo was in no mood for anyone's shit.

Gandalf gives the curious map to you. Thorin, rising to his feet, says to you "Well Mr Baggins, all is ready for our adventure and I must say things are looking very hopeful. Shall we be off then?"

> KILL GANDALF

You attack Gandalf. With one well placed blow you cleave his skull. Gandalf is dead.

Thorin says "Well, are we just going to stand around here all day?"

> KILL THORIN

You attack Thorin. With one well placed blow you cleave his skull. Thorin is dead.

♪ Bilbo! Bilbo Baggins! The bravest little hobbit of them all! ♪

Ah, the Shire. Right on the edge of Hell, just next to Colourblindness Creek.

Of course, you're not guaranteed to take out both of these heavy-hitters. You have a random chance, which somehow ends up being more than the more canonically likely "You swing at Thorin, just as a bolt of lightning coincidentally strikes him from on high" or "You try to punch Gandalf in the cock. He laughs so hard he has a heart attack and collapses with a look of outraged shock."

It's also a fairly short adventure if you don't have them to hand. You can still run out through the Shire, like in the movie, only with fists covered with wizard intestines and wearing Thorin's head as a particularly hairy hat, as well as make it through much of Middle Earth without breaking a sweat. Mostly because in The Hobbit, Middle Earth consists of just a few screens. Trying it though didn't work so well, involving first stepping over Elrond's corpse over in Rivendell, and then getting trapped in a goblin dungeon. This is where you need to type one of the most famous lines in text adventure history - SAY TO THORIN "CARRY ME" - so that you can get a boost to open a window. With him lying in a puddle back in Bag End, the only possible result is... well... a Bad End. Restore, Restart, Quit?

Say to Thorin "Bite Me"

While the story is heavily truncated, not least by taking a red pen to Thorin, Balin, Dwalin, Fili, Kili, Dori, Nori, Ori, Oin, Gloin, Bifur, Bofur and Bombur to trim them, just a little, down to "Thorin", The Hobbit actually does a surprisingly good job of covering the game's narrative. The world is condensed down to hilarious levels, especially if you've seen the sweeping vistas of the movie, to the point that Bilbo's house is essentially next door to Rivendell, the Lonely Mountain, and probably close enough to Mount Doom to use it as a garbage incinerator. The actual plot points though are surprisingly close in a different way, including duelling with Gollum and persuading Bard to kill Smaug the dragon, meeting up with Elrond and finally making it back alive with a chest of gold and some vaguely nifty magic ring.

The main catch is that all the random elements really get in the way - they're cool, on a technical level, but a real bloody nuisance in practice. Characters routinely disappear when you need them, or take endless cajoling to do what you need, and a world where Bilbo can beat up Thorin is a world that has no problem beating up Bilbo at a moment's notice. It can be very frustrating, if you're not using a walkthrough, in which case it's shorter than a tossed dwarf's temper.

Ah. North Yorkshire then.

Provided you've got the dreaded Java installed on your PC though, there's no reason not to give it a try - unless of course you're racing to deliver a heart to a dying superhero, in which case do that first. Alternatively, there's the PC version which can - cough - be quite easily found. If you remember the game from when it was new, you might also be interested in a project called Wilderland, which uses fancy futuristic technology to track what's going on behind the scenes, using the Spectrum version of the game (not included, but probably not an insurmountable problem to solve, ahem...)

Speaking of that Spectrum version, here it is in its entirety. Marvel at its amazing graphics. The PC version is much sleeker and higher resolution, but you just can't beat the... okay, you can beat the original, just as someone beat it with the ugly stick. Still, when people think of this game, this is typically the version they're thinking of. It's going to take Peter Jackson about 9 hours to tell this story. YouTube, 10 minutes. Including loading time. How far we've come over the last three decades, eh?



PC Gamer
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In an open letter to the The War Z and PC gaming community, creator and executive producer Sergey Titov apologized to disgruntled players for his "arrogance" that resulted in a failure to communicate with players and properly address issues within the game. "I need to admit that we failed to effectively communicate some of our plans and actions to both our existing players and to our new prospective players," Titov writes.

"I became arrogant and blinded by the early success and quick growth of The War Z, our increasing number of players, numbers we were getting from surveys, etc., and I chose not to notice the concerns and questions raised by these members of the game community as well as others. This failure is entirely on my shoulders and if anything I owe thanks to that vocal minority and admit that I should have paid attention sooner."

Controversy has been building recently due to misleading descriptions on the game's Steam page and poor community management, resulting in The War Z being pulled from Steam altogether. A contrite Titov even told us in an interview that he agreed with Steam's decision.

In the full letter, which can be read on The War Z's forum here, Titov outlines changes in how Hammerpoint Interactive will communicate with its fans and respond to criticism going forward. He also makes a final plea for players to give the game a second chance.

"I know that to some people my words won’t matter much, " writes Titov. "I understand that. I hope that will change as we move forward and deliver the features that our players have been waiting for. I can promise you that from now on things will be much more transparent, and we’ll provide better communication and engage our community to discuss upcoming features way before they appear in the game."
PC Gamer
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The experiment has ended, lovers of RPGs and musical theater. The curtains have gone down on Soon Serenade, planned as the first Broadway showtune-style role-playing game, canceled by its developer Ransom Binary due to a lack of interest. No, we're not making this up. Any of it.

Under the company name Ransom Binary, Robby Mulvany was the sole developer and songwriter of the indie project Soon Serenade. Says Mulvany, "It was probably just a little too weird for gamers. No one had done an actual musical before. I thought that first trailer would arouse curiosity, but it really didn't. I still think there's a great RPG in there, but it's just not economical to spend five years developing a game, which when you are a one-man company, that's really the only way you can do it."

The rest of Mulvany's release reads like a passive-aggressive (and considering the theme of the game, appropriately dramatic) farewell to the games business, though it also accurately touches on the realities of indie game development.

"Maybe I'll get a chance to finish one day, but until then at least I can release the soundtrack for the four-to-five people who were following the progress on this title. This is probably my last game, so it's a lousy way to go out -- considering I haven't released a title in four years now, but the industry is a lot different now than it was when I started. Sometimes you just get left behind, so it's time for me to move on to developing other types of software. Consider this: The First Star Online series has seven titles over the course of 12 years, but virtually no one reading this has probably heard of them. That's how I know it's time to move on. I think most gamers assume anyone who releases a title makes money. It's not true in the slightest. Almost all indie games completely bomb and a lot of the time developers don't even get a shot to make a second game. I was fortunate to hang on this long, but this is a very brutal business and though I exit it, I still hope to be able to talk to people looking to jump in and warn them of what they can truly expect."

All joking aside, I personally would have liked to play Soon Serenade in its final form. We wish Mr. Mulvany luck in his future endeavors. To download the soundtrack to Soon Serenade for free, go here.
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