PC Gamer
BioShock Infinite Comstock


Two of the many -isms supercharging BioShock Infinite's narrative is the religious extremism and racism of Zachary Comstock, the zealous ultra-nationalist founder of Columbia and a figure of worship for many of its citizens. In an interview with GameSpot, Creative Director Ken Levine stresses the difficulty in creating Comstock as a designer from a non-religious background, and he recalls how a certain end-game scene with the character nearly caused an Irrational artist to quit in protest.

"There was a scene in the game at the end where one of our artists got to a point in the game, played it, turned off BioShock, opened up his computer, opened Microsoft Word, and wrote a resignation letter," Levine says. "It had offended him so much."

Last month, Levine spoke of a certain Infinite character getting "highly altered" after input from religious team members. It seems the character in question is Comstock, and Levine used the artist's concerns as a springboard for deepening the character's traits regarding faith beyond his limited interaction with religion.

"I realized that something I could connect to was a notion of forgiveness and what an important part that is of the New Testament and why Christ was such a revolutionary figure," Levine explains. "And thinking about how I would incorporate the power of that notion to Comstock into his world was, to me, the key. Because who hasn't done things that they don't want to be forgiven for?

"And it occurred to me that I had to figure out why people follow him," he continues. "That was the key to his character. Why do people follow him? What does he provide to them? And I struggled with that for a long time because obviously an ecstatic religious experience is something that a religious leader provides but I don't have a connection to as a writer. And it's always hard when you're trying to write something that you have never felt. And that would feel dishonest to me."

Head over to GameSpot for the full interview.
PC Gamer
BioShock Infinite TF2


Worried that the download copies of BioShock Infinite will sell out, when it lands on the 26th of March? You might want to sit and think about that for a moment, or alternatively you could pre-order the game from Steam - you know, before you know whether it's any good or not. Your wallet may or may not thank you in the long run, but at least you'll get a bunch of free stuff, including the spin-off Industrial Revolution puzzle game, some in-game tat, and a copy of the original BioShock. If an unspecified number of other people put their money down as well, you'll also get a copy of XCOM and several TF2 items, but I don't see how anyone would be interested in those.

Those TF2 items you won't be interested in include Vox Diabolus (a "Vox Populi anarchist mask"), The Pounding Father ("Heavy cannot tell lie. Heavy is first President of United States. Of crushing little baby men"), and The Steel Songbird ("Why not treat yourself to the haunting rhythmic symphony of bolts being constantly pooped by this mute, easily terrified incontinent bird?") However, they will only be unlocked if other people pre-order too - the counter is currently at 19%. The reward tier after that doles out a copy of the excellent XCOM.

BioShock Infinite is out in just a few weeks, and Tom was rather impressed with it in his recent hands-on with the game.
PC Gamer
BioShock Infinite


It's time to make sure your tickets are in order and your tweed vests are properly packed in your steamer trunks, because the (sky)train to BioShock: Infinite's floating metropolis is on schedule to depart on March 26. That is, Irrational's Ken Levine wrote in a blog post that the game has gone gold.

"When we first announced BioShock Infinite, we made a promise to deliver a game that was very much a BioShock experience, and at the same time something completely different," Levine says. "And our commitment to making good on that promise, no matter what, has been our driving force for the last three years or so."

Levine breaks down the damage in delivering a worthy successor to BioShock after five years in development: "The total cost of the game was five years, 941 billion Klingon darseks (plus tip), 47 camels, a cranberry flan, and the blood, sweat, and tears of the Irrational team." Useless fact of the day: a darsek roughly equals one half of a bar of gold-pressed latinum.

Over at Polygon, Design Director Bill Gardner talks about the bumps and design redirections encountered in Infinite's long skyrail leading to release, revealing he initially conceived the game's setting taking place during the Renaissance period and that the team ultimately culled enough content to "make five or six games."

"I will say that I was actually pushing for something more Renaissance, but within six months, Assassin's Creed II was announced and I was like, 'OK, well they beat us to the punch,'" Gardner says.

With one of the most contextually sensitive remarks I've ever seen, Gardner comments on Infinite's canned content: "I mean, it pains you when you're talking about about cutting one of your babies, but ultimately, you've got to to look at the final piece."

Though Gardner didn't elaborate on how fleshed-out the cut content actually was, I find it somewhat difficult not to address the slight hyperbole in the reported quantity of Infinite's axed portions. It's more likely Gardner is referring to possible ideas for levels and mechanics that were eventually discarded or half-finished areas eliminated for the sake of time or to ensure what the player experiences jives with Irrational's intended theme. And from what we saw during our recent and lengthy visit to Columbia, its surviving districts pull off that obligation most handily.
PC Gamer
cityinthesky__ONLINE_wideuse


There’s something I can’t tell you about BioShock Infinite. Not because it’s a spoiler – I’ll avoid those too – but because I can’t quite communicate it. It’s something I felt after playing Half-Life 2, and again after playing BioShock 1. It’s the sense you get after experiencing something so vivid and rich that you know you’ll never be able to fully describe what it felt like. But I’ll try.

"‘City in the clouds’ doesn’t really express the sheer size of it: there seem to be several of those in every direction."
That’s not how I expected to feel after playing Infinite for the first time. They’d kept it out of journalistic hands until suspiciously close to release, and the trailers and walkthroughs didn’t give a good sense of what kind of game it was. Somewhere in my head, I just copied BioShock 1 from the bottom of the sea and pasted it into the clouds.

Some of that is accurate. In BioShock 1, you played an outsider discovering a failed utopian city at the bottom of the sea; in BioShock Infinite, you play an outsider discovering a failing utopian city floating in the sky. Both games let you explore an extraordinary place, piecing together its story from evidence left lying around. And both games alternate that with combat: you wield both conventional guns and a suite of basically-magical powers that let you do interesting things to your enemies.

Once you arrive, though, it’s hard to call them similar. ‘City in the clouds’ doesn’t really express the sheer size of it: there seem to be several of those in every direction. Columbia’s huge districts are disjointed, drifting in loose formation as the impossible flotilla tours the world. The first one I explore feels disjointed in itself: half the buildings seem to be bobbing and lurching independently, like some weird dream. Curving skyrails take massive carriages of cargo, like sidewinding trains. Airships propel themselves slowly between districts on twin fans. And the smoke from every chimney streaks in the same direction: we’re moving.



But the most startling difference from BioShock 1 isn’t the views: it’s the people. Rapture was a failed utopia, Columbia is still very much in the process of failing.

"Exploring a dead place by yourself, with you being this cypher, we’ve kind of done that."
Plenty of times in my five hours, I’d enter a new district of the city where no-one has any particular reason to hate, fear or shoot me yet. Columbia is full of civilians milling around, gossiping, griping, and going about their business. It’s exactly what Irrational Games had avoided doing not only in BioShock, but in its spiritual predecessor System Shock 2, simply because it’s so hard to make it work. I asked creative director Ken Levine: what changed?

“If we went back to that now, I think people would say we were just repeating ourselves. Listen, it would have been a lot easier. We would have been having this conversation two years ago... but exploring a dead place by yourself, with you being this cypher, we’ve kind of done that.”

Was it as hard as they feared back then? “So, I don’t want to bore you with my problems, but the writing task was monstrous. It was huge. I remember the first level I wrote, the first draft for this prologue, I sat back and looked at this script, and I realised this script alone was longer than my entire script for BioShock.”



As I’m playing it, though, it’s not a game of long conversations. A lot of that work seems to have gone into a depth of story, rather than length. Even more so than in BioShock, the density of information encoded into the world around you is overwhelming. Every poster is propaganda for a faction you’ll meet, or a product you’ll buy, or a cryptic hint to one of the game’s dozens of connected mysteries. Pre-television viewing booths show flickery greyscale government infotainment, with title-card dialogue and jaunty music.

"Almost every line of dialogue has some payload of information about this foreign place."
Plot characters still leave audio diaries of their thoughts lying around, but now they’re joined by living people having normal conversations. And almost every line of their daily lives has some payload of information about this foreign place.

“It’s damned inconvenient when buildings don’t dock on time,” a well-dressed man complains to his companion as I walk by. “Yesterday I had to take a gondola, rubbing shoulders with all sorts.” If you’re ‘someone’ in Columbia, your destination comes to you.

Later on, I actually see it happen. As I’m walking towards a bridge, Chas White’s Home and Garden Supply shop floats slowly towards me and docks noisily with a pair of metal teeth jutting out of the street, clanking into place and steadying as it locks. A nearby troupe of a cappella singers harmonise over the noise.



It’s all terribly... nice. It has the atmosphere of a cheerful village fete, but in a village that couldn’t exist. At one point, we seem to be in a cloud: a thick haze turns everyone in the street to silhouettes, picked out by spectacular rays of golden sunlight. Confetti floats through the air, and hummingbirds pause to probe flowers. Two children splash each other in a leaking fire hydrant.

"Blood geysers all over my face. I’m drenched. Everyone’s screaming."
Half an hour later, for reasons I won’t go into, I’m ramming a metal gear into a man’s eye socket until blood geysers all over my face. I’m drenched. Everyone’s screaming. Four more men are coming for me, and this blunt steel prong is all I have to kill them with.

I skipped ahead there for two reasons: one, I don’t want to spoil why violence does finally break out in BioShock Infinite. It’s a moment that will become notorious in gaming, and a hard one to forget.

Two, I wanted it to sound jarring, because it is. Extremely, intentionally and upsettingly so. When I ask Ken about it, he describes the intended effect as “biting into an apple and finding the worm at the core”.

It works as that. But it’s also jarring in another way. A moment ago I’d been enthralled by this place, fascinated by how different and fresh it was, hanging on every word of these people’s everyday lives. When I realised my next task was to ram a piece of metal into eight different people until they were all dead, part of me thought, sadly, “Oh yeah. Videogames.”



It’s not a new thought, it only stands out here because Infinite is so superb at conjuring this place and luring you into its story. When I mention it to Ken, he’s sympathetic. “It’s an intensely bizarre concept that you play a character – whether it’s Uncharted, or this game, or even like an Indiana Jones movie – who’s essentially a psychopathic mass murderer. You’re fucking insane. I’m very aware of this issue... it’s something we actually attempt to confront at some point.”

"It’s strange to see white-on-black discrimination so unflinchingly depicted."
The other thing Infinite confronts, with surprising directness, is racism. I’m so used to games having some orc- or elf-based analogue for it that it’s strange to see regular white-on-black discrimination so unflinchingly depicted.

“I didn’t want a game that just had some racism in the background,” says Ken. “I wanted you to be engaged and confront those issues – in the same way we confronted you with what capitalism does when it goes to its maximum extreme.”

“In this game we think it’d be honest to deal with these topics, and these aren’t topics we take lightly, and they’re not necessarily going where you think they’re going. This is not... I don’t want to spoil anything.” Well, mission accomplished.




It’s a very story-driven game – you’re always heading to an excitingly new part of the city with a specific purpose. As far as I played, it never lapses into a formula, which gives it a sense of adventure and discovery that BioShock didn’t always have. And the places it takes you to are what really made me fall in love with it.

"You’re always heading to an excitingly new part of the city. It never lapses into a formula."
I’m in a temple. Soulful gospel music echoes through the dark halls as I wade through knee-deep holy water. Spectacular statues sparkle in shafts of sunlight. A preacher’s speech to his damp-robed congregation crosses the line from passionate to unhinged.

I’m on a beach. There’s actual sand, and an ocean of sorts. I can still see Columbia in the sky... and after a moment I realise I’m still in Columbia. The ocean runs off the edge of this district in a vast, Niagara-style waterfall.

I’m in an exhibit, of sorts. A huge statue of Columbia’s first lady catches beams of brilliant pink light, as plaques tell the story of her life. In the next room, a spectacular diorama has larger-than-life statues of dozens of soldiers tumbling off a cliff, a frozen snapshot of a massacre, shrill opera music blaring out of bad speakers to underscore the unmoving drama.

I’m in a mansion, old and gloomy. Stairs lead up. A banquet hall is to the left, and I see what looks like a butler in there. He’s facing the wall. I walk around to get his attention, but he just stares blankly. I look at the table. It’s piled with rotting food, and there are crows everywhere.



Even taking it slowly, these new places come at a rate and a density of detail that feels like sensory overload. Each one has that depth of story I described earlier: dozens of clues and hints and references and traces of people’s lives and stories. And each one has an extraordinary visual design that makes you stop and gawp.

Most of them, of course, are also battlegrounds. At first, I didn’t think much of Infinite’s combat. Not just its videogameyness in a world that’s otherwise so real; I also felt like I didn’t have a lot of options, and you’re fighting a crazy number of soldiers and turrets. There doesn’t seem to be a good way to avoid getting hit.

"Taking cover gets you cornered. Hooking onto a skyrail and going full throttle makes you too fast to track."
It gets better when skyrails are introduced. Steel tracks worm their way through the plentiful empty space in Columbia, and your sky hook lets you launch yourself onto them and ride them like a rollercoaster. That, ultimately, is how you avoid getting hit. Taking cover usually just gets you cornered by someone you can’t take on at close range, but hooking onto a skyrail and going full throttle makes you too fast to track.

From there, you can aim a jump to any of the various platforms and vantage points, pounce on an enemy with lethal force, or just stay on the rail until it loops around, to get an overview of the war zone.

Your set of abilities expands gradually, and the spaces you’re fighting in get bigger and have more interesting stuff going on in them. So to get a sense of how it scales up, I asked to play a late-game fight.



The first thing I do is hop on a skyrail and take a tour: a bunch of heavily armoured soldiers are shooting at me from a central balcony, some more from a moving airship, and a half-robot giant – a Handyman – is stomping around below.

As I watch, he jumps onto the rail I’m on and sends an electric charge through it, shocking me. I stay on until I’m in a position to pounce on one of the armoured guys on the central balcony. My flying skyhook attack knocks him clear off it, but his partner fights back hard. My shotgun doesn’t do much against him, so I try a new ability: Charge. I fly forwards and slam into him with alarming force, and he goes down.

"Elizabeth's most useful ability is to open a ‘tear’ – a rift in space that brings forth some useful object."
I’m low on health, so I run over to some medkits – or rather, where some medkits could be.

Your companion, Elizabeth, joins you in combat, riding skyrails with you, tossing you ammo, and reviving you when you’re down. But her most useful ability is to open a ‘tear’ – a potential rift in space that brings forth some useful object or feature. You can see all the potential tears in an area in grey fuzzyvision, and ‘use’ one to ask Elizabeth to make it real. She can only sustain one at a time, and by this point in the game, a big combat space like this has at least eight.

So I ask Elizabeth to open the tear in front of me, grab a medkit from the box that appears, and heal myself. I decide to try another new ability: Undertow. As I hold down the right mouse button, a tendril of water creeps out of my hand, curls around the arena, grabs onto the Handyman and sucks him in front of me. Oh, thanks Undertow!



I switch to Shock Jockey and electrocute him while he’s wet, then ask Elizabeth to open a nearby tear that brings in a pool of water. I try to lure the Handyman into it in order to shock him again, but he has an annoying habit of jumping directly to me. He’s pounding me to oblivion with his articulated fists.

I skyrail over to a high balcony to get away. A tear here handily contains a barrel of rocket launchers, so we open it and I grab one. Another tear has an automated turret, so I tell Elizabeth to open that one before we move on.

"Late-game combat is still hectic, but you’ve got a lot of options."
The Handyman chases, and is pelted by both the turret and my rockets as I ride away. He grabs the rail in both hands, but I’m wise to it this time: I drop down just before the current shoots through the metal. I hit him with two more rockets as he leaps around the arena, then use Undertow – intentionally this time. A snake of liquid seeks him out and pulls him to me, and holds him in place for a second. I use the time to back up a little, switch to Charge, and hold down the right mouse button. The moment he’s free, I slam into him full force, and he crumples.

Late-game combat is still hectic, but you’ve got a lot of options and they’re more satisfying than just shooting dudes with the bog-standard weapons. The constant skyrailing and leaping around make it fast, dramatic and acrobatic to play.



I’m glad the combat gets more interesting, but combat wasn’t the most common complaint about BioShock – it was the ending. I ask Ken if he agrees that BioShock got less interesting after the Andrew Ryan encounter. “Yeah,” he says succinctly.

"The ending of the game is the most ambitious thing we’ve ever done, as a company."
I ask if they’ve learnt anything from it, hoping for a post mortem. Instead, he jumps straight to BioShock Infinite.

“I would say that the ending of the game is the most ambitious thing we’ve ever done, as a company. It is either going to be something incredibly wonderful, or people are going to burn down our office... So I can’t tell you whether people will like it or not. I can tell you it is absolutely different to anything you’ve seen in a videogame.”

It’s the sort of ridiculous thing Peter Molyneux would say. But after playing BioShock Infinite, after coming away with an experience I can’t fully express, and after thinking back to the scene in Andrew Ryan’s office in BioShock 1... I half believe it.

PC Gamer
civilization_V_gods_and_kings


Jon Shafer, designer of Civilization V, has successfully funded his upcoming At the Gates on Kickstarter with 22 days to spare. Today, in an update on the Kickstarter page, he took a long and merciless look into the mirror of self-criticism, admitting what he perceives as mistakes in the design of Civ 5 that he hopes to make up for in this new project. Everything from AI programming to unit stacking is dissected.

One particular element of Civ 5 he singled out was the AI design, and the way that many of the computer-controlled leaders would behave somewhat randomly. He pins this on a very complex diplomacy system with lots of moving parts, that often didn't present any kind of outward logic to the player. "The only thing which matters in a game is the experience inside the player's head," he wrote. "It doesn't matter what your intentions are or what's going on under the hood if the end result just isn't fun.

"With I'm staying completely focused on the end goal: results. This means a much simpler AI system, which in turn will result in a much stronger opponent. When you as the developer know exactly what an AI player is doing and why, it becomes much easier to recognize bad behavior and fix it."



He was also very critical of his decision to institute the One Unit Per Tile rule, explaining that it caused issues with everything from AI to production times.

"In Civ 5, every unit needed its own tile, and that meant the map filled up pretty quickly. To address this, I slowed the rate of production, which in turn led to more waiting around for buckets to fill up. For pacing reasons, in the early game I might have wanted players to be training new units every 4 turns. But this was impossible, because the map would have then become covered in Warriors by the end of the classical era. And once the map fills up too much, even warfare stops being fun.

"...The key is the map. Is there enough of room to stash units freely and slide them around each other? If so, then yes, you can do it. For this to be possible, I'd think you would have to increase the maximum map size by at least four times. You'd probably also want to alter the map generation logic to make bottlenecks larger and less common."

If you're in the mood for a long read, you can check out the full essay, which goes through just about every design element in Civ 5 and puts it under the microscope, offering solutions to his perceived problems that will be used in At the Gates. In case you missed it, you should also peruse our interview with Jon about the game.
PC Gamer
would you kindly


Coming to you LIVE from the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, it's time to celebrate Valentine's Day with Rapture's number one radio dating programme: Would You Kindly! Free from the tyrannical oppression of government broadcasting standards and hosted by the founder of Rapture, Andrew Ryan, Would You Kindly challenges one contestant to choose from three viable paramours (sitting unseen behind a screen) by asking them a series of romance-based questions. So, inject your plasmid of choice, spider-walk to your favorite spot on the ceiling, telekenetically turn up the volume on your radio, and enjoy the show!

 



Good evening, my friends. This is Andrew Ryan. I hope you are enjoying your Valentine's Day celebration. Tonight I wish to remind each of you that RAPTURE, the utopian paradise I founded at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, is still home to your FAVORITE DATING PROGRAMME! WELCOME to another broadcast of... WOULD! YOU! KINDLY!


*RAUCOUS APPLAUSE*




I came up with this programme on my own, without the man in Washington, without the man in the Vatican, without the man in Moscow, to distract you from the fact that my perfect city is filling with water and populated by shrieking lunatics and giggling vampire children.


*hesitant, scattered applause*




Here is how the show works. A young woman shall sit here and ask questions of three viable paramours. She will not be able to gaze upon their visages, nor they hers. At the end of the programme, she will select her favorite and they shall enjoy a romantic excursion to Rapture's most expensive, least water-damaged restaurant, where they will sip tonics and dine upon whatever they can find in the trash bins. That's right, a woman CHOOSES, a viable paramour ACCOMPANIES HER TO DINNER! Let us meet our candidate. Please introduce yourself.






Hello! My name is Faith Connors. I live in a futuristic dystopia where I work as a courier, delivering messages for the revolution by running over the rooftops and using acrobatic maneuvers known as parkour.




And what a striking woman you are! Slim and athletic, you appear to be the product of superior genetic material! I, for one, would not kick you out of my luxurious penthouse bed for being a filthy socialist parasite!


Thank you. I guess.


I would, however, attack you with SWARMS OF STINGING BEES. Now! Let us meet our first paramour! Would you kindly sign in!


Alfred. Come in, Alfred. I've infiltrated Ryan's dating show. They're asking me for some sort of introduction. Access the bat computer to find an appropriately witty response, and contact me when you have it.


He appears to be speaking into some sort of portable longwave radio device. Paramour Two? Would you kindly introduce yourself!


My name is Corvo Attano, but I'm also known as The Masked Felon! I'm a shadowy supernatural assassin in Dunwall, which is also a dystopia. See, we already have something in common!


MASKED FELON! You WON'T get away this time.




What? What are you talking about?






I WILL find you, Masked Felon!






I'm right here. You're sitting next to me.






SILENCE! Paramour Three! Would you kindly sign in!







Paramour Three is not in his chair, but instead appears to be staring at us from across the room and through a window. Very well! Candidate, begin your questioning!




Okay. Paramour One, give me your best pick-up line!






Oracle. I need to you access the mainframe of a popular dating website and compile a list of the most successful pick-up lines. Contact me when you have them.






It's sort of rude to talk into your communicator when I'm talking to you.






Yeah, man. Really.






It's ALL OVER for you, Masked Felon! Did you REALLY think your plan would WORK?






Fellow, what is your deal?






There is NO ESCAPE, Masked Felon! I WILL FIND YOU!






Again, I'm sitting right here. Our knees are almost touching.






Okay, Paramour Two: Describe your perfect date.






Well, it starts with us moving quickly and silently over rooftops and ledges to avoid being seen by patrolling guards.






I'm listening.






Then, we slip down to street level and into my favorite cafe, where I subdue everyone to give us some privacy. Non-lethally, of course!






Nonlethal takedowns? You're speaking my language.






Then, I summon a swarm of rats to eat all the unconscious bodies, and my magic mechanical heart tells me all about you in a voice only I can hear!






Ooh, you lost me at the end there. Nice try! Paramour Three, describe our romantic first encounter.




You are ssstanding in a test chammmber, Miss Con-nors. It is fill-ing with radioactiiive waste. I am watch-ing you frommm... a catwalk.


That's... really weird. But continue.


Our eyes mmmmeet, and time seems... to stand still. This is be-cause I am actually stop-ping time.


I can stop time, too! If the time-stopping thing works for you, I'm all over it.


Your TIME TRICKS won't save you, MASKED FELON!


Guys, shut up. Paramour Three, go on, please. Time is stopped, we're gazing at each other, and...


I approach you. I take your hannnd in mine. And then I ssstore you in di-mennnsional stasis for fff-fifteen years.


There's the horrifying final detail I was waiting for. Out of curiosity, what happens fifteen years later?


Then, it's rise and shine, Miss Con-nors.  Wake up and... smell the omelette.


Well. I guess it's nice that you like to cook breakfast.





He seems to have disappeared. He did not even leave behind the sweat of his brow, which, HERE IN RAPTURE, he would be ENTITLED TO!


I'm starting to think this was a terrible idea.


And you are free to THINK that in RAPTURE, where you cannot be slapped around by GOVERNMENT MUSCLE! FREE from the BOLSHEVIK POISON fed to the masses by ROOSEVELT to--


Calm down. Okay, Paramour One? What do you look for in a woman?


Oracle. I need--


Forget it. Paramour Two, same question.


Physically? Oh, someone about your height, your weight, and with a healthy cone of vision, like yours. And three coins in her pocket.


So... wait, you can see me? You can see through walls?


And then some! I bet Paramour One can't top that!


Female subject is conscious and sitting. Solid skeletal structure. No weapons. Pulse is normal.


So you can both see through walls. You're both just staring at me. Isn't that against the rules?


Rules? Here in RAPTURE, game show hosts do not fear the CENSOR, and are not bound by MORALITY!


Sounds like we've actually got a lot in common, Paramour One.


The GAME IS UP, Masked Felon!


Ugh. Maybe you two peeping toms should just go to dinner with each other. Um... hello?


They appear to have choked each other unconscious.


Swell. Just tell me the quickest roof out of here and I'll be on my way.


And that brings us to the end of WOULD YOU KINDLY! Please enjoy this promotional clip from our next episode!


Did I ever tell you... what the definition... of romantic is? Romantic is when I give you a dozen roses and a box of candy... over and over again... and expect nothing in return. That. Is. Romantic. A florist told me that. I thought he was bullshitting me, so I shot him.


I think I am going to pass.
PC Gamer
Civilization V Gods and Kings Gustavus


If you've been holding off on buying Civilization V in the hopes of snagging all of the released content in one package, your day has finally arrived. Civilization V: Gold Edition includes the Gods & Kings expansion, along with all of the map, civilization, and scenario packs for $50. That's $10 cheaper than buying just the base game and the expansion separately on Steam. Of course, this won't be the complete collection for long if the rumors about the upcoming One World expansion are true. But it's still enough content to keep you busy for a while. (180 hours, in my case.)

Compared to vanilla Civ V, you'll be getting Korea, Spain, the Incas, Denmark, Babylon, Polynesia, the Celts, the Netherlands, the Mayans, Carthage, Byzantium, the Huns, Austria, Ethiopia, and Sweden. Not to mention some pretty cool scenarios, including my personal favorite, Fall of Rome. If you'd like to see Gods & Kings in action, check out my Civilization V Chronicles, our review of the expansion, and the Steam demo.
PC Gamer
Atli


Civilization V designer Jon Shafer has come down from the mountains, into our frozen world, to reveal At the Gates. To develop it, Shafer's new studio, Conifer Games, is asking for $40,000 in funding on Kickstarter. Check out the video above for an overview of the game, then dive into some finer details in our interview with Shafer below.

PC Gamer: I noticed you have unit stacking implemented right now. This was famously absent from Civ V, and personally, I was one of the people that really loved the more tactical warfare that model allowed. What was the reasoning behind bringing unit stacking back for At the Gates?

"Think of it as a well-developed game of chess..."
Jon Shafer: The focus with warfare in At the Gates is supply. Every tile has a supply rating which is based on the type of terrain and whether or not it’s within supply range of one of your settlements or supply camps. Timing when your invasions take place is critical, and success usually comes down to holding out or cutting off the enemy’s supply, rather than building a front line (a'la Civ 5) or who has the biggest stack of units (a'la other 4X games). Think of it as a well-developed game of chess where each side is waiting for the other to provide an opening, and once one is exploited resolution comes fairly quickly.

One of the big reasons why I went this direction is to really play up the new seasons system. The weather had a huge impact on the way wars were fought, and I wanted to make sure combat took advantage of not just the mechanics in the game, but also had a nice tie-in to history.

Your tribe captured a stronghold at one point in the video. What benefits do these give you, and how do they differ from settlements and cities?

To be perfectly honest, I’m not really sure yet! They may turn into normal settlements at that point, they might just serve as trophies for your victory, or they could have some unique effect. Something I still have to figure out!



"I really wanted the economy to be much more strategic."
Is it possible to build new settlements (both mobile and immobile?)

It is. The Pioneer unit is able to build new settlements.

Can settlements "settle down" and become cities?

There will be ways for them to become fixed—for example, if you build walls. There will also be Romanization Perks that give you a bonus, but come with the drawback of your settlements becoming fixed to where they are. Roman cities are also obviously cannot move.

Do you need to stay in proximity to an improvement to benefit from it? Or can you gain resources from as many as you can defend?

The latter. The role of settlements is more limited than in other 4X games, in that they produce a small amount of wealth, serve as supply nodes and are able to build new units. But you’re not going to be managing what tiles they’re working or anything like that. I really wanted the economy to be much more strategic. There’s a nice tension where you have to decide between moving on to new lands and protecting what you still have.

Does winter have an effect on the outcome of combat, beyond limiting supply?

The primary effect is definitely supply, but the changing of the terrain also affects defensive bonuses, movement costs, etc.

What are the benefits of holding a city (as opposed to strongholds and settlements)?

Roman cities produce quite a bit more wealth via taxes, and they’re also eventually able to build special types of units that you can’t from your plain ol’ settlements.

Is it possible to build your own roads eventually? What benefits do roads offer?

Nope, no roads for you. The roads on the map are fixed from the start. They provide a movement bonus, as in other 4X games, but that’s pretty much it.



What years are covered by the game?

The game starts in 375 AD, and will definitely wrap up within a hundred years. The specific dates and number of turns is still up in the air, as that will be determined by gameplay.

Something else I should note is that the turns in ATG are much more “dense” than in other 4X games. You have the seasons to consider, depleting resources to manage, diplomatic requests to watch for, etc. Production for most items is immediate, so you won’t be hammering the end turn ten times in order to finish things. You really want to be paying attention at all times!

Can you tell us anything about the other playable leaders besides Attila?

The final list hasn't been nailed down yet, but the goal is to make them very distinctive from one another. Everyone has an idea of Attila in their head, but this is obviously a period of history that few people are really familiar with. That’s great in a sense because it gives us some room to play around with ways of differentiating them, but it also necessitates that in a way, as Fritigern is a whole lot less well-known than, say, Julius Caesar.

Do specific tribes have special abilities, such as North Germanic bands being more equipped for harsh winters?

Absolutely. This ties heavily into the idea of each faction being very unique. As you noted, some tribes will be able to deal with the harsher seasons better. For the Huns I’m considering something very different, where they can’t actually own any fixed improvements or cities, and can only acquire resources by moving around and pillaging. Still have to playtest it to make sure it actually works, but it sure sounds like fun!



"I didn't feel that a heavy emphasis on 'city' development would really make sense in this era."
How many climate zones are there?

At the moment there are seven ... I’ll probably make the system more granular later when I have more time.

Does population play a role in the game?

It’s required when training new units, and they provide wealth each turn but that’s about it. As noted above, I really wanted the focus economically to be on your empire rather than specific locations. I didn't feel that a heavy emphasis on “city” development would really make sense in this era.

How many religions are in the game? Do they have any effects beyond diplomacy modifiers?

Just three: Nicene Christianity, Arian Christianity, and Paganism. Their effects are limited to diplomacy, so there’s no missionaries, conversion system, etc. Religion certainly played a large role in this era, but it was mostly as a diplomatic and political tool. I didn't want to burden the game with a complex system when I felt I could get exactly what I wanted from it by keeping it as a fairly simple but still powerful diplomatic knob.

Can you make requests of other tribes, or manipulate them to fighting each other/your enemies?

The specific requests system showed in the video is limited to the AI players, but there are definitely ways to ask them for favors, alliances, etc. though, and their willingness is very much tied to your relations. Finding ways to get that number up is a big part of the diplomatic game.



How close is the art in the game right now to the final version?

The plan is for the game to be released in the first half of 2014 and most of the art development time is still in front of us, so I would expect it to change a fair bit. I couldn't say how exactly, as that will ultimately come out of the iterative process. One major difference is that the units and landscape will be animated, whereas right now they're obviously all static images.

How large is the map, in comparison to the total area shown at the end of the demo?

The video showed the entire map used in that game, but you’ll be able to play on ones that are much larger if you’d like. Don’t know what the exact dimensions will be yet, but it will be at least four times as big as what you saw there.

Is it possible to subjugate other tribes?

That’s still up in the air. I certainly like the idea of it, but I have yet to come up with a design that I’m happy with. The trick is for it to be more useful than just conquering the tribe and running it yourself!

What does the Glory resource do?

Glory is basically your score. In order to win you have to have at least 500 Glory and capture either Rome or Constantinople. Not sure if that will remain that way in the final version of the game, but that’s how it works right now at least!

Thanks to Jon for taking time out of coding and pillaging to speak with us. There's a bit more info available on the At the Gates official site.
PC Gamer
Borderlands 2 Tina


The Borderlands 2 character Tiny Tina came under fire last night, as a Twitter discussion between the game's lead writer, Anthony Burch, and some of the game's players raised the question of whether her characterisation was racist. In the game, Tina - an explosives expert, and child - speaks using African American lingo, in a way that one Twitter user compared to "verbal blackface".

It began when Mike Sacco, creative developer of Cryptozoic Entertainment - a creator of trading card and iOS games - sent Burch the tweet, "Hey. I really like BL2's writing, but Tiny Tina's trope of "white girl talkin' like them urban folk!!" has got to go."

Others agreed, tweeting responses like, "Its exaggerated stereotypical low class "black" lingo that with Tina amounts to verbal blackface." Another user pointed out that, "She equates stereotyped ebonics with wacky." To that, Burch conceded, "Hrm -- that's an interesting point. I meant to make her a mishmash of stuff (ebonics/fairytale/naivete) but I see what you mean".

But many sprang to Tina, and Burch's, defence. Gearbox head Randy Pitcford claimed, "Tina is not racist because you are not racist. You're a pillar of tolerance and inclusion."

Burch finished by saying, "The last thing I want to be is exclusionary or prejudiced, so if Tina truly is problematic I'll change her," but added, "I'm just not convinced that a character using lingo like badonkadonk/crunk is inherently racist. If I'm wrong I would like to know why."

He also confirmed that any potential change to Tina's character would only apply to future content. When asked if he'd re-do her sections, Burch replied, "That's not actually feasible within the technical constraints of the game, but I'd alter her dialog in any future BL stuff."

Thanks, Kotaku.
PC Gamer
Bioshock Infinite


Here's a rather splendid new trailer for Bioshock Infinite; one that packs together grand vistas of the soaring city of Columbia, insight into its fire-and-brimstone ruler Zachary Comstock, and plenty of explosive combat against men and monstrosities. It's also likely to be the only trailer you'll see today that features a minigun-toting mechanical George Washington.

He only makes a brief appearance, but Comstock seems set to be a great character. His zealous, patriotic fervour seems like a nice counterpoint to the grand idealism of Bioshock's Andrew Ryan.

Also: a game trailer made entirely from footage of said game! What a novel idea. We approve.
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