Call of Duty® - Valve
The Activision Publisher Weekend continues today with great deals on Activision titles! From now through Monday* pick up titles up to 75% off!

Additionally, play the Call of Duty: Ghosts Multiplayer for Free throughout the weekend!

Today's Daily Deal features the Call of Duty franchise** at 50% off!

*All discounts end Monday, March 17th at 10AM Pacific Time.

**Does not include Call of Duty: Ghosts

Half-Life 2
Steam graphs

Have you played every single game in your Steam library? No? Neither have I and that accomplishment is apparently just a small sand grain in the over 288 million games in Steam collections that have never felt a press of the Play button. That's a surprising figure from a new report by Ars Technica researching the most active and popular games on Steam straight from the recorded statistics of some of the platform's 75-million-strong community.

Ars' method for its number flood involves sampling registered games and their played hours via profiles and their unique Steam IDs. With the help of a server for computational muscle, Ars randomly polled more than 100,000 profiles daily for two months to pull together an idea of which games see the most time on everyone's monitors. In other words, your Backlog of Shame (don't deny it, everyone has one) probably took part in some SCIENCE at some point. Exciting.

Some caveats exist, though. The data Ars looked at for its research only extends back to 2009, when Steam brought in its "hours played" tracking system. Owned and played/unplayed games are thus slightly skewed to not account for older releases from the early noughties, and any length of time spent in offline mode wouldn't get picked up by Steam either. Still, Ars claims its results deliver a good picture of Steam gaming trends for the past five years albeit with some imperfections.

Predictably, Valve's personal products stack high on the list in terms of ownership and most played hours. Dota 2 takes the crown with an estimated 26 million players who ganked faces at some point in the MOBA, but free-to-play FPS Team Fortress 2 follows closely behind with a little over 20 million users. Counter-Strike: Source rounds out the top three with nearly 9 million players, but it's also collecting dust in over 3 million libraries.

As for non-Valve games, Skyrim wins in activity, barely edging out Counter-Strike: Global Offensive with 5.7 million estimated active owners. Civilization V kept 5.4 million players hooked for Just One More Turn, and Garry's Mod boasts 4.6 million budding physics artists.

Want to know what the most unplayed Steam game is? It's Half-Life 2: Lost Coast, the Source tech demo given free to pretty much everyone on Steam who bought or fired up Half-Life 2. It hasn't been touched by an approximate 10.7 million players. I guess that old fisherman is feeling pretty lonely right now.

My favorite stat is the total of played hours divided by game mode, more specifically the separate multiplayer clients of the Steam versions of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 and Black Ops. The single-player campaigns for each respective title sits modestly within the mid-20-hour range, but the multiplayer side balloons well into the hundreds of hours. It's a pretty obvious indicator of where the biggest chunk of popularity resides in FPS gaming, but it's not like you wouldn't get weird looks for claiming you play Call of Duty for the story anyway.

See more of Ars' results in both number and pretty orange graph form in its report.
Call of Duty®: Modern Warfare® 2 - Multiplayer
Call of Duty
The quiet rage of a man who can't remember which pocket his keys are in.

Call of Duty - what a monster. With clockwork precision a new edition pops up every year and sells millions without fail. It's doing perfectly well, but in spite of an audacious shift to a far future setting in Black Ops 2, it's becoming increasingly repetitive. It's become a slapstick dose of noisy annual nonsense with an arcade multiplayer mode attached. It's a game about gun-lovin' superheroes who are 90% bicep and 10% stubble shooting hundreds of enemies, shouting and occasionally getting into knife fights.

Activision have found a golden formula for mainstream success that has changed the genre. Call of Duty perfected iron sights aiming and ushered action movie set pieces into shooter environments, but those set pieces have gradually subsumed the challenge and tension of the series' rolling street battles. The series' ballooning love for noise and bombast masks a dearth of substance, and its ability to deliver those famed set-pieces is increasingly hindered by an engine that's starting to fall behind the pack.

Activision and their army of CoD developers are surely plotting a next-gen leap right now, so let's pip them to the post with a few ideas. Changing CoD is a monolithic endeavour, influential as it is, so perhaps it's better to think of this as a wish list for war games. What do we like? What do we hate? What would we love to see from gaming's glorious future?
Death to the "follow" blob
Follow! Fetch the ammo! Sit. Stay ... stay ... SHOOT THE MEN.

Let's consider the process of playing a game purely as a series of player decisions. In a good shooter you're making dozens, perhaps hundreds of decisions per minute. You're choosing targets, acquiring them, pulling the trigger, seeking cover, adapting to incoming fire, grenades and enemy movement. Decisions vary in quality depending on the challenge of the task and narrative context. If you're embroiled in a story and you're attached to a character, a decision that alters their fate can matter hugely.

When you're given an objective marker and told to follow it, you have made just one decision - to follow or turn off the game and go away. The longer you're following, the longer you're spending not making any decisions at all. You're no longer playing a game.

I went back to Half-Life 2 recently and rediscovered the simple pleasure of navigating an environment designed to coax rather than control. There is only one path, of course, but there's a sense of discovery to uncovering it that's more motivating than any quest arrow. CoD has done this before, it can do it again. An early mission in Call of Duty 2's Soviet campaign leads you into a block, and then gives you enemy emplacements to clear. You can advance on each position in any order, from an angle of your choose, using smoke grenades to mask your advance. There's no instruction beyond the objective markers on your map. The most satisfying form of progress is that which seems to flow from the will of the player, not the tug of a leash.
Deadly bullets and guns that feel dangerous
Call of Duty could use a dose of Red Orchestra's intensity.

Call of Duty is very fond of throwing in a pithy war quote every time you die, so why don't we add this one?
"There seemed to be a loud bang and a blinding flash of light all around me, and I felt a tremendous shock - no pain, only a violent shock, such as you get from an electric terminal; with it a sense of utter weakness, a feeling of being stricken and shriveled up to nothing."
That's George Orwell describing what it feels like to get shot in the neck by a sniper. Note, he did not write this:
"There seemed to be loud bang and then there was JAM ON MY EYEBALLS SO I CRAWLED BEHIND A BOX UNTIL IT WENT AWAY."
I have nothing against regenerating health as a concept. It's perfect for Halo's attritional, tactical exchanges, but if you're trying to capture the tension of a war scenario the threat of instant and terrible death is important. Red Orchestra did this very well (check out this video). Near misses make a terrifying "zzswhinng" noise. The physical force of the projectile is represented by momentary screen blur and when you're shot, you're down. Sometimes you're left bleeding and shouting for a medic. Sometimes you're done for. The threat of sudden death enhances the tension of every near miss.

It's easy to suggest that shooters are limited because a gun is your primary way of interacting with the world. In fact, the ability to fling 100 projectiles a minute at twice the speed of sound is a pretty meaningful way to influence an environment, it just doesn't always feel like it. The motion of bringing up sights and rattling off a few shots already feels snappy and satisfying in CoD, but it'd be good to incorporate some of the terrific sound design that DICE have worked into Battlefield 3. Good physics can really sell the impact of a bullet, whether it's tearing chunks out of masonry or throwing a foe into a convincing ragdoll tumble. Destructible environments also do a lot to create reactive combat zones that truly sell the destructive force of your weapons. Battlefield 3's Close Quarters maps show what an advanced physics system can do.
Working battlefields

When I imagine the moment of Call of Duty's conception, I see Jason West and Vince Zampella sitting on a couch having a moment. Their beers stand untouched on the coffee table as they watch Saving Private Ryan for the first time. Halfway through the scene where Tom Hanks freaks out on Omaha beach they sit up suddenly, their eyes meet and they say in unison: "LET'S MAKE THIS: THE GAME."

They did, and it was good. Call of Duty has always worked hard to make its narrow battlefields feel as though they're part of a wider war. Somewhere along the way, it went wrong. Very wrong. Call of Duty started playing itself. Observe MrBungle as he plays through the Cuba mission in Black Ops without firing a shot, on the second-hardest difficulty setting. It's a sad moment for the series. The signature fury of those shuddering war scenarios were exposed as little more than a dismal facade.

Technology has come a long way. Why not drop the smoke and mirrors altogether? We have engines that can handle huge maps and PCs powerful enough to juggle many AI routines. Imagine participating in a working battlefield as one pawn among dozens and of troops, initiating and joining assaults on key targets in scenes that resemble the dramatic troop charges of former CoD games, but with a sense of purpose that reaches beyond the need to reach another objective marker.
Smart enemies
Enemies that work together? We can dream.

Good AI is hard to market. As soon as someone starts talking about neural nets, or a new algorithm NPCs can use to map their routes through a 3D environment most people switch off completely. It's easier to talk about polygons and texture resolution and lensflare because you can show it in a single screenshot, but AI is vitally important. It affects the decisions you're making from moment to moment. It's responsible for challenging the player in interesting ways. Good AI makes games better.

Call of Duty's AI is ... not good. At points it's nonexistent. You'll shoot a man behind a box. then an identical man will run out of a nearby door and take his place. Then you shoot him, and another one pops out. Sometimes they respawn endlessly until you've passed through the invisible trigger screen that'll initiate , at which point they'll stop so you can take new orders over the radio.

Imagine enemies that actively seek out new positions to get an angle on you. Imagine enemies that can switch weapons and adapt to your position, picking out sensible sniper spots or taking covered routes to close with a sub machinegun. How about enemies that breach and clear a building you're trying to hole up in? What if AI squads worked as fire teams, with individual roles within a well organised group? A pipe dream, perhaps. But consider how much more meaningful victory would be with foes like these.

Now how can we incorporate these points into a single idea. Hmmm, let's see...

Call of Duty: Rebooted
"Stay back, Comrade - the enemy has deployed water bombs!"

Welcome to the dreamspace - a place to throw ideas into each other and perhaps imagine games that are better, faster, stronger than ever before. Here we deal only in the hypothetical, but thought experiments are fun, so let's try and sketch out a Call of Duty that stays true to the series strengths and jolts it out of the rut it's been entrenched in for the last few years. Introducing Call of Duty: Stalingrad.

You are a soldier in an open battlefield. You begin in command HQ - a reinforced ruin bristling with machine gun emplacements and AT weapons. Beyond, a battle line snakes through the city ruins where Soviet and German forces exchange fire. You're told to grab a gun, get to the line and make yourself useful. How? It's up to you. You can grab a sniper rifle, recruit a small squad and set up a sniper nest in best spot you can stealthily acquire. Grab a machine gun and join the line, assaulting buildings and moving between cover as your comrades advance. Or head into the sewers with a special forces team and harass supply teams behind enemy lines.

The enemy will launch assaults of their own. Occasionally, tanks will attack, bombing runs will come in, enemy snipers will turn town squares into death zones. Radio messages and distant flares alert you to hot spots. You can ignore them, or rush over to help. Your efforts will speed up the rate at which friendly troops push forward in each area until you're finally close enough to launch an all-out assault on the enemy bunker.

And then it all ends with a quick-time knife fight. Only joking.

Lukas picks the worst moment to have a sudden existential crisis.

The Red Army missions in Call of Duty and Call of Duty 2 took on Moscow and Stalingrad, of course. They were great. The movement of your comrades as they vaulted over walls and advanced the line created a feeling of growing momentum that would be especially powerful in a dynamic scenario. Broad battlefields offered variety, mixing exposed cover-to-cover sections and trench routes. Depending on your position, you'd juggle between your machine gun and a pleasingly accurate bolt-action rifle. It's also a fine example of one of the central tenants of Infinity Ward's Call of Duty games - you are a fragile cog in the war machine. Occasionally an important job will fall in your lap, but you're just another member of the soldiery, fighting for your life in chaotic scenarios.

To enhance that tension, death will be final. Bullets are deadly - one or two well placed sniper shots can take you down. If you die, it's over for that soldier, but you will return to command HQ in control of a fresh recruit. You'll find the name and cause of death of your former soldier on a list of the fallen in HQ's admin room. You'll hear officers reading his name from a list of the fallen in radio calls to Soviet High Command. His name will appear on a final list of all the soldiers you've played throughout the campaign. You'll still encounter lively characters as you move along Soviet lines, but you won't be treated with greater respect than any other trooper until you've earned it. Make it through a couple of battles and you'll get a reputation among COs and ground troops. You might even get a nickname. You'll earn an achievement if you can take one soldier through the entire war.

The idea would be to offer the variety of Call of Duty's best set-pieces in an environment that you can meaningfully influence. Setting up a sniper nest will feel channel Modern Warfare 4's terrific "All Ghillied Up" mission. You'll perform tank takedowns when repelling German assaults. Fighting on the line will be every bit as furious as CoD's most spectacular army assaults. Looking for a shot of one of CoD's maudlin moments? Snatch up some bandages and become a battlefield medic. Drag the wounded out of open streets, treat them, and get them back to the front line. The more men you save, the more guns the enemy has to face and the faster your line advances.

Hey, shouldn't you be be defending Hoth from the Empire?

The setting doesn't have to be Stalingrad, but it's a well documented example of close combat in an besieged modern urban environment. The scope of those building-to-basement battles make infantry actions essential for taking territory, which gives a player more power to affect the battle. You can transpose the structure anywhere - into a different modern conflict, or a post-apocalyptic scenario, if you wanted.

A multiplayer version of the same scenario? I would pitch that, but Red Orchestra 2 already exists. There's certainly room for a version of the above with a few free slots for co-op buddies though. Working together, you could launch co-ordinated assaults on enemy strongholds or set up a network of sniper positions that stop all enemy movement in wide areas of the map.

But those are just a few ideas, easier said than done, of course. But if you held the power of a god in the palm of your hand, and for some reason decided to use it to reboot Call of Duty, what would you do? Don't say "fire it into a black hole so hard it never existed," there's already enough hate on the internet, and you'll only become another tick on a Commenter Bingo card. Ideas at the ready. Aim. FIRE!
Call of Duty®: Black Ops

Preview by Michael Gapper

Releasing Black Ops 2's DLC in honking great map packs as opposed to Modern Warfare's one-map-per-month schedule is good for his designers, says Treyarch's design director, David Vonderhaar. It's good for finding themes and good for experimenting with the usual rules behind Black Ops' multiplayer maps, and while that's not to say that Revolution is a Battlefield 3-style “nothing but tanks!”, “nothing but close-quarters!” explosion of creativity, it's trying out new things with cover, corners and map interactivity to test whether the old Treyarch design rules are still valid.

The Treyarch rulebook (actually more of a rule-Powerpoint-presentation) governing engagement distances, first engagements, spawning, angles of attack, cover height and map structure tends to make modern Call of Duty maps feel similar but also makes it hard for any designer to build a bad map. They're rules with deep foundations, and they run almost entirely contrary to the name on the box this DLC doesn't come in: Revolution is about micro-updates rather than wholesale changes to COD's oh-so-delicate formula.

Hydro, Mirage, Grind and Downhill are all based on those same Treyarch design rules as described by online director Dan Bunting – three 'lanes' across the map with lots of space for flanking - making most maps into oval or circular paths around a central murderbox filled with claymores and madmen with shotguns. There have been some adjustments however: some cover heights prevent players from returning fire, one map uses curved corners to deny corner-strafing, and two have interactive elements to monkey with the workings of the murderbox. I played all four at Treyarch's studios where I also ate three slices of fruit bread and a chicken sandwich which, while delicious, in no way swayed my verdict on the DLC.


Hydro is a big grey concretey map set atop a dam with a central hub which regularly floods and kills anything standing in the map's lower channels. “I'm really into the Call of Duty competitive scene and Hydro is a super-competitive map,” says Vonderhaar. “It's almost symmetrical and it plays super, super, super-fast. It's also interesting because we've done one of the things we like to do at Treyarch – a big rush of water will eliminate the entire centre path, and it actually matters. You can use it to split the map and split the opponents.” Hydro plays best in Team Deathmatch or Kill Confirmed where the central channel becomes a meat grinder and limited sightlines keep sniper domination at a minimum.


A Spec Ops: The Line-style sand-blasted hotel in Dubai, Mirage's central hub is the hotel's lobby and the left and right channels couldn't be more different. On one side a crashed bus creates a narrow chokepoint while a large pool on the opposite side makes for a large, open and coverless space where sand banks allow quick access to first-floor windows and turn otherwise defensible elevated positions into deathtraps. It's the smallest of the new maps and plays a great game of Search and Destroy – bomb one goes near the largely indefensible pool, but bombing the pool first makes the second bomb at the sheltered bus crash chokepoint almost impossible even with your tastiest Scorestreaks dropping from the sky.


“Grind is based in Venice Beach California – the birthplace of skateboarding,” says Dan Bunting in a studio about twenty minutes from Venice Beach California – the birthplace of skateboarding. “Our lead level designer came up with the idea of making a map in a skatepark and I really didn't get it, but we trusted him and it's my personal favourite of the four maps.” Now, as a skatepark Grind is pump, but as a shooter map it's the best of the four, particularly in Domination and Hardpoint where every control point is made difficult to defend by the curved walls of the quarter pipes which surround the arena. The central hub includes what might be a skate shop with a claymore-friendly staircase, while one channel is a twisting series of quarter pipes opposite another channel built from full and half-pipes.


The first multiplayer map with a snowman, Downhill is set in the French Alps with a central hub made dangerous by cable cars which are both mobile cover and an instantly deadly man-squasher if you try crossing the ski lodge without observing the Green Cross Code. Of all the maps it's Downhill which feels the most familiar – channels littered with boulders for cover, lots of sniper vantage points, and a clear bias towards Capture The Flag where the map's sheer length and the difficulty of negotiating the cable car terminal at speed raises some interesting tactical questions and turns some of the more rocky parts of the map into circular Benny Hill chases while you wait for backup to arrive.


Die Rise is Revolution's new Zombies map filled set atop a skyscraper where narrow corridors and insta-kill drops make it the hardest Zombies map ever. Just finding a decent weapon without falling to your death is a challenge, and since most of the paths through the level are one-way only, it's easy to get split up from the rest of your team. It's far too easy to get mobbed and far too easy to get stranded and it's altogether a thoroughly unpleasant place to be, in the best possible sense.


Turned is billed as a competitive version of Zombies, but that's misrepresenting it entirely. Set on just one tiny map, Turned feels more like an obligation than a good idea; an answer to fans' demands to play as a zombie without ever considering why someone would want to be a zombie or how it might be fun. Left 4 Dead, for instance slots you into the regular co-op campaign as a more powerful creature in an asymmetrical deathmatch of sorts, but Turned is a five-player free-for-all game of high-speed Tag. Zombies can sprint but are unarmed, the sole human player is slow but armed to the teeth, killing a human lets you play as the human, and whoever accumulates the most time with meat on their bones wins. Except in practice, the bonus for being alive when the clock runs out is so massive, in our games it was the last man standing who won every time.

But wait, there's more!

Revolution is home to the first downloadable weapon in COD history, which has already scared the pants off everyone hoping the game stays balanced. Now, all Black Ops 2's weapons are balanced in the same way – designers have ten 'points' to spend on characteristics like range and power – but not all weapons are born equal and the Peacekeeper is an SMG with the range and stopping power of an assault rifle. It's every bit as scary as the pro players feared but while it's probably the easiest weapon for any newcomer to handle, anyone who's graduated to something more specialised will retain an advantage. Probably.

Revolution is available tomorrow on Xbox, which is how I played it, and in four weeks on PC because Heaven forbid Microsoft's DLC exclusivity deal should also include Windows. There's little new to Revolution's adversarial maps but that's the Call of Duty formula now – a not-at-all secret recipe of cover heights and engagement distances and eleven herbs and spices that are made all the more visible when Treyarch subverts them. It's a peek behind the curtain. Black Ops 2's first DLC is carefully designed and flawlessly executed but it's maths, not magic; method, not madness; an interesting convolution labelled a revolution.
Call of Duty®: Black Ops
Black Ops 2

If you splashed out on a Black Ops 2 season pass you'll get access to the zombified Nuketown map this Thursday. Zombie Nuketown has been knocking around Xbox 360 playlists for a short while, and serves as a taster for this year's season of Black Ops 2 DLC packs (which will kick off with the recently spilled Revolution pack.)

Zombie Nuketown is a haunted, skeletal doppelganger of one of Black Ops' most popular maps. It used to be a bright, breezy place where military sorts ran round shooting each other in the back for sport. Now it's grim, apocalyptic and full of crazed flesh-eaters and charcoal coloured mushroom clouds. Take a tour in the trailer below.

Call of Duty®: Black Ops
Black Ops 2

Martin's steed got stuck in quicksand and couldn't extract itself during our review of Call of Duty: Black Ops 2. According to the latest patch notes posted on the CoD forums, spotted by Strategy Informer, the problem has been fixed. The update also boosts CoD's field of view allowance to 90 degrees, good news for anyone experiencing the strange tunnel vision queasiness that those tight FOV settings can cause.

Performance has also been smoothed out for those with four or more CPU cores, server matchmaking has been improved and "connection interrupted" multiplayer errors fixed. Patch notes below.

November 21, 2012 Update for Singleplayer, Multiplayer, and Zombies

Max FOV increased to 90
Fix: Horse falling through the world in Afghanistan when playing on some CPUs with 4 or more cores
Fix: RC-XD and the AGR sinking into the map in MP when playing on some CPUs with 4 or more cores
General performance improvements in SP, MP, and ZM for CPUs with 4 or more cores
Fix: crash when a 7th player tries to join a 6 player league lobby
Improved dedicated server matchmaking
Fix: some cases of "Connection Interrupted" in MP while loading into a match

Call of Duty®

Fan Outrage Brings the Nuketown 2025 Map Back to Call of Duty: Black Ops II Multiplayer After suddenly pulling a popular pre-order multiplayer map from Black Ops II online play yesterday, Activision added it back to a new playlist called Chaos Moshpit. Game design director David Vonderhaar from dev studio Treyarch—who delivered the bad news—made it seem possible that the map could come back in a tweet late yesterday:

That was followed by a notice from Treyarch which indicates that all that fuming from the COD faithful didn't fall upon uncaring ears:

It's not the same as having Nuketown 2025 in a normal playlist, as many have asked for, but at least it's back.

Call of Duty®

Activision Suddenly Pulls Nuketown 2025 Map from Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 Multiplayer Earlier this month, Activision announced that it would let people who pre-ordered the publisher's latest FPS mega-hit play on a re-imagined version of the popular Nuketown multiplayer map. That part of the promotion turned out to be true. But that access to the special battleground appears to have been suddenly revoked. The sudden bad news was confirmed via tweet from Treyarch game design director David Vonderhaar:

The expectation was that players would be able to play on Nuketown 2025 whenever they wanted. As you'd expect, fans are up in arms over the fact that the map has gone AWOL. Kotaku has reached out to Activision for comments and will update this post if they respond.

Call of Duty®: Black Ops

Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 is out. Evan, T.J., Tyler and Omri toss around their initial thoughts on its conspiracy-laden campaign alongside this week's news: the GTA5 trailer, Valve's new Source engine, next week's healthy lineup of releases, and more.

All that and a little more in... PC Gamer Podcast 337: The Blackest of Ops

Have a question, comment, complaint, or observation? Leave a voicemail: 1-877-404-1337 ext. 724 or email the MP3 to

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@ELahti (Evan Lahti)
@tyler_wilde (Tyler Wilde)
@omripetitte (Omri Petitte)
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Call of Duty®: Black Ops
Black Ops 2

It's inevitable, I know. Do bears tango in the woods? Is there a party like an S-Club party? Will Call of Duty make money this year? Yes, to all these things. A thousand times YES. $500 million is the day one worldwide sales figure Activision are bandying around today for Black Ops 2.

“With first day sales of over half a billion dollars worldwide, we believe Call of Duty is the biggest entertainment launch of the year for the fourth year in a row,” intoned Actiblizz robo-boss Bobby Kotick. “Life-to-date sales for the Call of Duty franchise have exceeded worldwide theatrical box office receipts for “Harry Potter” and “Star Wars,” the two most successful movie franchises of all time."

Not bad I'm sure, given that I can't fit $500 million into my head without most of it leaking out as a stream of awed vowels. This means that the Call of Duty series is showing no signs of slowing down. It'll be interesting to see how they fare across the next gen transition. By our reckoning, Black Ops 2 was a middling addition to the series with a few interesting sparks. Get the full verdict in our Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 review.

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