Shacknews - Steve Watts

Star Wars: The Old Republic started losing subscribers fairly quickly after launch. At a Game Developers Conference talk, BioWare creative director James Ohlen explained that the studio was inexperienced in MMOs, and therefore underestimated the speed with which customers would plow through the content.

PC Gamer reports that of all the risks the studio identified before launch, Ohlen said the "most worrisome" was players quickly finishing the content. "We had expected our playerbase to play through the game and get to the endgame, on average, in about three to four months, maybe five months. It was 170-180 hours of content," he said. "But our metrics were showing us that, on average, for the millions of people playing our game, they were going through the game at a rate of 40 hours a week." He also pointed out that 40 hours a week was the average, and some people were doing up to 120 hours per week.

The speed that people reached the end-game accented the lack of content in that area. "We had all those people at the endgame and suddenly certain things like having only one Operation, and having no group finder [tool] become much bigger challenges than what we thought they were going to be." Ohlen ended by pointing out that the studio has seen a steady rise in players since going free-to-play, and claimed that company morale has gone back up thanks to that move.

Shacknews - Alice O'Connor

Obsidian and inXile are awfully chummy, with a shared history going back to Interplay and Black Isle Studios, close enough that they want to lend members like a cup of sugar. Both Californian studios are making crowdfunded Unity-based old-school RPGs too, and so are putting their heads together. inXile today announced that they'll be collaborating on tools and tech with each other.

"We are happy to announce that we at inXile and the great guys over at Obsidian have reached an agreement to share tools and technology when it makes sense," inXile said in a Kickstarter update. So tech inXile whips up for Torment: Tides of Numenera or Wasteland 2 may end being used with Obsidian's Project Eternity, and vice versa.

"This will allow both companies to be more cost-effective on these projects, allowing your pledges to go further in terms of creating art, content, gameplay, and game polish. Vive le classic RPG revolution!"

Isn't it lovely seeing BFFs together, doing what they love, with no publishers to seat them at separate tables. Just as using crowdfunding meant the studios could make games in genres publishers had turned their backs on, so too can they make them however they jolly well please.

inXile also teased that, when it comes to graphics, Torment may end up using pre-rendered backgrounds with 3D characters and effects on top--similar to the classic Planescape: Torment (okay, it didn't use 3D models, but you know what I mean). Project Eternity certainly shows pre-rendered backgrounds can still look flipping gorgeous.

With seven days left to go, Tides of Numenera's Kickstarter campaign has almost $3.2 million in pledges--far beyond its original $900,000 goal. Should it hit $3.25 million, fantasy author Pat Rothfuss will join the dev team. Chris Avellone, Planescape: Torment's lead designer and Obsidian's aforementioned cup of sugar, will come aboard at $3.5m, which seems likely.

Shacknews - Alice O'Connor

How quickly new games drop in price! This weekend you can buy Hitman: Absolution for $10, Dark Souls for $15, Borderlands 2 for $20, XCOM: Enemy Unknown for $25, Assassin's Creed III for $25, Far Cry 3 for $34, Tomb Raider for $38, Guild Wars 2 for $40, and SimCity for $40. Other fine deals at digital distributors include Syndicate for $4, every Grand Theft Auto game for $13, and some solid bundles.

Here's our selection of this weekend's PC deals:

GameFly

Use the coupon code GFDAPR20 to get these prices. I think. I can't verify them all, being in merrye olde Englande:

Amazon

ArenaNet

Bundle in a Box

Pay what you want, above $1.99, for the Amidos Puzzle Collection, Dédale De Luxe, Dinner Date, Phantasmaburbia, and Vampires!. Beat the average price to also get Cognition, Episode 1: The Hangman, I Get This Call Every Day, J.U.L.I.A., and Reversion - The Meeting.

GamersGate

Get Games

GOG

GOG's big Atari sale includes:

Green Man Gaming

Get 20% off most stuff using the voucher code GMG20-FDSCL-AQQXD. You'll need that to get these prices:

GMG also has these pre-orders for 25% off with the code GMG25-S0FSG-R7Z9B:

Humble

Pay what you want, with a minimum of $1, for Darksiders and Red Faction: Armageddon. Beat the average to also get Darksiders II and Red Faction: Guerrilla. All come as Steam keys.

Impulse

Indie Gala

Pay what you want for Gettysburg: Armored Warfare, Nosferatu - The Wrath Of Malachi, and Street Racing Syndicate. Beat the average price to also get A Game Of Dwarves, Defenders of Ardania, Europa Universalis III Complete, EU III: Divine Wind, EU III: Heir to the Throne, Guilty Gear Isuka, Gun Metal, and Warlock - Master of the Arcane. Some activate on Steam.

Indie Games Stand

Pay what you want for Waking Mars. Offers a Steam key, if you fancy.

Indie Royale

Pay what you want for Avadon: The Black Fortress, Derrick the Deathfin, Tidalis, War of the Human Tanks, Waveform, and Zafehouse: Diaries. Some activate on Steam.

Steam

Ubisoft

Ubi's big spring sale includes:

Shacknews - Steve Watts

The greatest strength of Marvel Heroes is one of its biggest challenges. The Marvel brand, for all its iconic larger-than-life characters, comes with the weight of expectations and lore behind it. The game is prioritizing pure mechanics over canon, and having spent some time with it at PAX East, it seems to be pulling it off beautifully.

I chose to play as Cyclops, having been a favorite of mine in the classic TV cartoon, before his more obnoxious recent character developments. His attacks, naturally, focused on ranged power, striking enemies with blasts of energy or creating a wider arc of when they got too close for comfort. That did make me wonder, though, how a game in which mortals like Hawkeye share a stage with demigods like Scarlet Witch can possibly feel satisfying for everyone.

The answer, according to Gazillion's community director Stephen Reid, is that it's a game first and foremost. "If you're a huge Daredevil fan, who is basically a normal human, you should be able to play at the latter end of the game with someone like Thor, who is an Asgardian god," he told Shacknews. "Obviously in the Marvel comic they solve that very easily with story, but we had to balance it. Our objective was to make sure you feel powerful. We make sure their powers feel right, but in theory, your Daredevil can even be more powerful than your Thor if you have the right gear."

Meanwhile, the constantly shifting landscape has created an additional challenge for Gazillion, since Reid noted that there have been "very radical changes" in the universe. "We try to go with the classic representations, so they feel right."

The sample level I played was on an island rife with living dinosaurs--at least, living until the Marvel crew showed up. None of the basic enemies seemed particularly threatening, and even a roaring T-rex was child's play after I had taken down my first. The Marvel heroes feel appropriately powerful, but I did have to band together with some other players for a more difficult boss encounter.

The story was introduced by a short motion comic that starred five of the most iconic heroes, like Wolverine and Spider-Man. Those heroes will serve as the central story cast for cutscenes, with the various other playable characters just off-camera.

And those characters are plentiful, not only in the size of the roster, but the sheer scope of the world. The game may share visual trademarks in common with games like Diablo and Torchlight, but I immediately noticed it was commonplace to run across several other adventurers on their own quest paths. It was easy to band together against an enemy or otherwise follow along to grind for experience.

"Some of those games [like Diablo] have online modes, but none of them are fully online all the time like we are," Reid said. "So most of the game is played in large persistent public spaces. We have instances where you go in with your friends for story-based stuff, but those instances are relatively short. The difference for us is that you're in a public combat zone with potentially dozens of people at once, so it's a very different gameplay experience than the usual solo action RPG."

I wondered if, given some recent high-profile issues with always-online experiences, Gazillion was ready for a potential glut of players and the associated connectivity problems that can come with it. Reid pointed that the founders packs give them a rolling launch. The Ultimate, Premium, and Starter pack members will join seven, four, and two days in advance, respectively, and Gazillion will know exactly how many people to prepare for in each case. "Launch is the x-factor because you never know how many people will pick it up on day one," he said. "Hopefully it will be a lot. We're prepared for that kind of thing."

The current roster was built to fulfill several aspects of the experience, from game balance to demographics. Reid said the studio was conscious of choosing a decent representation of women, and even intentionally put in characters like Rocket Raccoon to show some of Marvel's deep bench. "Though, I'm telling you, Rocket Raccoon is the break-out star of 2014," he said.

Being an MMO with such a large array of characters, Gazillion also has plenty of room for expansion. "That's the beautiful thing about being an MMO," Reid said. "We can put in more characters post launch and we fully intend to. There are a lot of characters we haven't put in yet and that we want to. We hope to really work with the community on that. We already have a pretty strong idea of what they want as soon as possible after launch. We're going to fulfill as many wishes as we can."

As for Reid, he has his own wishes for a new member of the cast. "Personally speaking, being English, I want Captain Britain." And who wouldn't want their own nation represented? That kind of personal connection to comic lore is a driving factor in Marvel Heroes. If it can safely clear the hurdles, that asset may just set it apart.

Shacknews - Steve Watts

Civilization 5 is preparing to reinvent itself, again. The Brave New World expansion, which launches July 9, is going to make serious shifts to the late-game content, revising both the cultural and diplomatic victories. We talked with lead designer Ed Beech and senior producer Dennis Shirk about the expansion's focus and goals.

In a way, Brave New World is the other half of Civ 5's last expansion, Gods and Kings. The two are are complementary in the pieces of the game they address--so much so that Brave New World will include many of Gods and Kings' underlying systems for players who didn't buy the first expansion. The second is really meant to work with the first, combining to create a marked shift in the experience.

The two said that this is targeted towards late-game, both to make up for the developer not having the chance to address those systems in the first expansion, and to add more depth to a part of the game that speeds toward the finish.

"If a player is going to run out of things to do, it will be in the second half of the game," Shirk said. "Once the world is all discovered and you're going through that threshold into the Industrial Age, you start running out of things to do as everyone is running up to finishing the game. [In Brave New World], there's a lot focused on that second half of the game to make that race really compelling."

Most of that comes in the revised victory types. Cultural victories now rely on raising great artists, musicians, and writers to create famous works that will spread throughout the world. Beech described how you could build a large museum like the Louvre, giving you plenty of space to fill with great paintings and cultural artifacts dug up from past battles. Tourists can come see your culture, and countries could steal great works to take some of your culture for their own. All of this is built around giving the player more agency in the cultural victory.

"We found that when you're playing for the military victory, it's a very active, aggressive playstyle. You really interacted with all the nations," Beech noted. "But when you played for a cultural victory before it was very passive. You built a few amazing cities, but you just weren't interacting with the other empires in the world. We felt that was a real missed opportunity. We've emphasized in Brave New World that you're going to build a culture that's really the envy of the rest of the world. You not only have to build it, you have to spread it to the rest of the world."

This is all against the backdrop of the new diplomatic victory system as well. Starting around the time the Renaissance starts to give way to the Industrial era, the nations make a World Congress. This doesn't result in an immediate victory, but it does introduce the concept of proposals--specialized rule changes. You'll have a vote to cast in these matters, such as voting against anti-whaling resolutions if that's your primary source of income.

Shirk said these resolutions can be "cooperative or vindictive" depending on your play style, and they can be used to shape the kind of victory you want to attain. In this way, the diplomacy system doesn't just impact its own victory, but it can manage to touch every kind of victory.

Now that the game has dealt with both its early and late-game content, though, I wondered what was left to tackle. When is Civilization 5 complete? "I don't think we're out of ideas," Beech said, tight-lipped.

Shirk, pointing out the expansiveness inherent in a game that is about the entire human experience, remarked: "Obviously with a game like Civ you could go on making content for any number of years."

Shacknews - Ozzie Mejia

This week, it's a Very Special Weekend Confirmed Reunion! The show reunites hosts, past and present, as Garnett Lee and Jeff Cannata welcome in Joystiq's Xav de Matos and former co-host Brian Leahy. They kick off the show with some talk about Dota 2, StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm, and the professional gaming circuit. That's followed with a long talk about BioShock Infinite, covering everything without spoiling a thing. The show wraps up with some more speculation regarding the next generation of consoles, before everyone brings it home with fresh Finishing Moves.

Weekend Confirmed Ep. 158: 3/29/2013

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    Show Breakdown:

    Round 1 - 00:00:40 - 00:29:16

    Whatcha' Been Playin Part 1 - 00:30:06 - 00:59:37

    Whatcha Been Playin Part 2 01:01:05 - 01:29:14

    Listener Feedback/Front Page News - 01:29:47 - 02:06:04

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Original music in the show by Del Rio. Get his latest Album, Club Tipsy on iTunes. Check out more, including the Super Mega Worm mix and other mash-ups on his ReverbNation page or Facebook page, and follow him on twitter @delriomusic.

Shacknews - Andrew Yoon

As with all engines, CryEngine gets updated all the time. We met up with Crytek at GDC to see what shiny new bells and whistles they've added to their engine.

The first new feature is unique to Crytek. Pixel Accurate Displacement Mapping (PADM) is the studio's alternative to tessellation. It allows artists to add a displacement texture dynamically on objects "with no visible polygon edges on the silhouette of the displacement." In a real-time demo, we saw a tree trunk's displacement dynamically altered--a neat trick for artists, to be sure.

Through CryEngine, artists can now place area lights to give a more "physically plausible look" to the environment. Crytek says that its new area lights have volume, and that it will impact shadows and the appearance of light reflection. I personally couldn't see the benefit, but perhaps you can:

Crysis 3 introduced 3D HDR lens flares into the engine, as it offered the ability to easily create the "stylized look" that the team was going for. The lens flare editor makes it incredibly easy to create an otherworldly look. As we saw the flare adjusted in real time, we joked that this would be perfect for a Star Trek game--an entirely original joke that totally hasn't been played out on the internet already.

CryEngine 3 also offers the most flexible support of anti-aliasing modes ever, with varying degrees of SMAA, FCAA, TXAA, and MSAA. Developers can see in real-time how their game renders with each form of AA, although the effects are quite subtle.

Other neat features showcased to us include a new way of rendering global fog and cloud shadows. In previous versions of the engine, you could look into the sun to see its rays scattered--but the effect would be gone the moment you looked away. In the updated CryEngine 3, the effect is now persistent throughout the world.

Additionally, the engine now supports dynamic caustics in the water, rendering real-time interactions with liquids. Water rendering is further enhanced with sub-surface scattering and wave crest foam approximation. Add an updated vegetation rendering system that simulates individual blades of grass--and CryEngine 3 seems perfect for a big-budget fishing game.

Crytek pointed out that all of these new features are being deployed in both the professional and free versions of the CryEngine 3 SDK. You can check it out for yourself here.

Shacknews - Alice O'Connor

Planning regulations and certification can be a nightmare to navigate so when permission comes through, go hell-for-leather. Halo 4's new building space Forge Island was supposed to launch on April 11 but as it's now passed cert, 343 Industries tossed it out today for all to enjoy for free.

Forge Islands is a large new playground with three large islands of varying sizes above a pretty sea. They're all flat, so aspiring architects won't need to plan around obstacles.

Snag the 155MB download from the Xbox Live Marketplace now.

The 343 gang showed off the Forge Island at their PAX East panel, from 45:30 onwards:

Shacknews - John Keefer

Epic Games showed off all the bells and whistles of its Unreal Engine 4 at GDC this week, giving developers an up close look at the ease of use of the tools and just how realistic the technology can make game look.

To emphasize the point, Epic's Mark Rein closed the presentation with a fairly long "Infiltrator" trailer showing a spy making his way into a factory of sorts. The spy has a cool gadget that reflected images to hide his location. The trailer showed off quite a bit of the tools that had been showed previously. At the end, the dropped some of the pretty art to show the trailer in a wire mesh that was so complicated that even the highest end graphics card had trouble processing it in real time.

Take a look at what they showed below.

Shacknews - John Keefer

It's the year 2013. That means the world of Mike Pondsmith's Cyberpunk 2020 is only seven years away. With the way the future is shaping, it's clear that the world of Cyberpunk must be changed for CD Projekt RED's upcoming game.

CDPR managing director Adam Badowski told Shacknews that adjusting the game is one of the biggest challenges right now. "We need to refresh the world, since Cyberpunk was from the 1990s," he said. "This is where we have to do a lot to create a new level of story, and we will be working with [Cyberpunk 2020 creator] Michael Pondsmith to do that."

Badowski said that creating Cyberpunk 2077 will present a bit of a reversal from what they faced when they first started working on The Witcher series. "In The Witcher, we had a story and had to build gameplay from scratch," he said. "In Cyberpunk 2077, we have the gameplay, but we are going to rebuild the story. Cyberpunk had great classes and we will keep all that, along with the mechanics."

Ultimately, the characters will come to define the gameplay experience. "Cyberpunk is about interesting characters, laboratories and AIs. We will focus on those characters in a bad world. Society is not fighting against problems, they are too accepting of them. It's about what people would do if they had technology at their fingertips, but the story will be more about the people than the technology."

...