Shacknews - Steve Watts

Every year around this time, the light-hearted (albeit bloody) world of Team Fortress 2 gets a little bit darker. Past years have brought a horseless headless horseman and Demonman. The fourth annual "Scream Fortress" update brings a necromancer with a grudge and some magic potions in tow.

The update goes live today and lasts through November 8. As usual, it ties into a new comic that plays with the premise. The magician Merasmus will enter haunted King of the Hill maps to terrorize your crew, throwing bombs and booby-trapping the control points. Each time a point changes hands, a random effect will trigger some "horrible fate." Or possibly something good, but you know, more likely the horrible fate thing.

You'll also randomly find spells that you can cast on items in your backpack, giving them magical effects like ghost summoning or flaming footsteps, or more modest ones like repainting your items. One spell promises to make you an evil sorcerer.

The new "Wave 666" replaces your usual Machine co-op opponents with brain-hungry zombies, and you can score two new achievements -- one for beating Merasmus, and one for getting to Skull Island.

Left 4 Dead 2 - Steve Watts

We're fast-approaching the celebration of gluttony and cheap costuming that is Halloween, wherein we scare ghosts and demons back into the spirit world by dressing up like political figures and scantily clad nurses. Left 4 Dead 2 is a little on the spooky side, so Valve is letting you trick your treats with a free weekend of the game.

The free period begins on Thursday, with the whole game available to try out. You can begin pre-loading the game now, if you want to jump on the opportunity. For you old hands at L4D2, it also includes a new achievement to chase. The "Good Guy Nick" achievement rewards you for helping a free weekend player survive a campaign. You'll just have to suppress your frustration when they keep shining their flashlight straight at the Witch.

Shacknews - Steve Watts

When Team Fortress 2 launched its Mann vs Machine update, it finally added a co-op mode to the game. Not content to rest on its laurels, Valve had updated the game with several new tweaks and features.

A post on the TF2 Blog spills the details. For starters, the new update includes two more Tours of Duty to sate those who found the first one too easy or too hard. Operation Oil Spill should prove less of a challenge, and Operation Gear Grinder is for those who laugh in the face of danger.

You can also look forward to new Tour-specific loot, including rusty robot heads for Oil Spill, and 24-carat diamond heads for the Gear Grinder. The update also boasts improved match-making, which lets you select from multiple missions. Finally, after a mission is over, you'll be sent back to the matchmaking screen as a group.

Half-Life - Andrew Yoon

Fans have been eagerly awaiting Gordon Freeman's next adventure. While the Half-Life series has been long-dormant, an incredibly talented team of dedicated fans recently released Black Mesa--a remake of the first game created entirely in an updated version of the Source engine. While not officially sanctioned by Valve, the company has made no effort blocking the remake--odd, considering the typical C&D approach taken by other monolithic publishers.

So why is Valve so supportive of fan remakes? "This feels like pretty common sense," Valve's Chet Faliszek said. "Why wouldn't we? I guess you'd have to convince me of the benefits to the other side."

VG247 pointed out that companies are trying to protect their interests, "blocking anything that could tarnish the reputation of their products."

"Well, let's say that Black Mesa Source turned out horrible. It's not going to hurt the original Half-Life," Faliszek responded, as the interviewer noted that the original game still exists even after the release of a fan-remake.

Thankfully, Black Mesa turned out to be not-horrible, with Faliszek praising the remake's "excellent graphics." It also provided the Valve writer an opportunity to revisit the original game, something he hasn't played since working on Half-Life 2: Episode Two--which released back in 2007.

Left 4 Dead - Alice O'Connor

Attentive horror fans may have spotted the bilious Boomer and other Left 4 Dead monsters snuck into Joss Whedon's delightful scare 'em up movie The Cabin in the Woods, but L4D's involvement was once supposed to be far greater. Director Drew Goddard has revealed that a CitW expansion was planned for Left 4 Dead 2, but sadly got scrapped. Plainly, this post contains spoilers for the film, which you really should see if you haven't.

"We actually were going to do a downloadable L4D2 expansion pack, where you'd fight in the Cabin world, but then MGM went bankrupt so the delay squashed it," Goddard said in an 'Ask Me Anything' on Reddit. "But the people at Valve were still cool enough to let us use some of their monsters to fill the cubes in the background (I had a lot of cubes to fill.)"

He added, "By the way -- the game was gonna be amazing. You were gonna be able to play in both the upstairs 'Cabin in the Woods' world and the downstairs 'facility' world with all the monsters. Believe me, I HATE all video games based on movies, they always suck, but porting Cabin into Left For Dead felt like the right fit. It pains me that it didn't happen."

Here's the scene where the Left 4 Dead monsties appear:

Left 4 Dead 2 - Steve Watts

Steam is putting its Workshop tools to work once again, this time with Left 4 Dead 2. The update is planned for sometime in mid-October, giving creators more tools and users more variety of content to sample, along with one intriguing-sounding method of integrating the content.

A post on the Left 4 Dead Blog promises that you can browse, rate, discuss, and easily install mods, par for the course with Steam Workshop titles. It's even offering an expanded scripting tool that can layer modifications on top of existing maps, similar to mutations. But L4D2 will also be experimenting with some way of folding content into the world "even more seamlessly." That vague hint is all we have to go on now. The Workshop will be available across PC, Mac, and Linux.

Shacknews - Steve Watts

If you've been paying any amount of attention to Team Fortress 2, you've probably noticed that it's home to some of Valve's wackier ideas. The company says it may not have started as a test bed, but it's certainly become one as it's used to experiment with new strategies.

"In the end, TF2 has been ended up being one of the most useful tools we've ever built to reduce risk in our company's future," lead designer Robin Walker said.

"It's been really nice that it's also brought in significant revenue throughout that time, but ultimately, the importance we place on understanding our business and our customers has made it totally worthwhile." Walker told Gamasutra that without TF2, Valve's lack of experience in monetization would be "terrifying."

He says the hidden goal for TF2 was to explore ideas that "were potentially a requirement for the long-term survival of the company." When the game first came out, it appeared that MMOs were going to take over the market, so Valve started building persistent items. When the free-to-play market rose, it used TF2 as a test bed for microtransactions. The gambles seem to be paying off, as the game continues to evolve and remain popular.

Half-Life - Steve Watts

Grab your crowbars and spectacles, everyone. The Source engine fan remake of the original Half-Life is now available. It went live at 8:47 AM Mountain Time, which should sound awfully familiar to fans. The labor of love has taken eight years and has added a few notable tweaks to the classic, with at least one more revision on the way post-launch.

The Source mod has added some new bits of dialogue, and plans to make revisions to the Xen portion of the game sometime in the future. It opted to remove that part completely from the initial release. Other than those changes, it will be a much prettier version of Half-Life. The excitement was enough to garner a spot in the first batch of Steam's Greenlight program, and chances are we have more than a few Half-Life enthusiasts in the Shacknews audience.

You can grab the download from us (direct download), or you can also get it from the official site, of course.

Also available is the full soundtrack for your listening pleasure. Download it from us.

Shacknews - Alice O'Connor

Ever keen to experiment with digital distribution, Steam is trying something unusual on XCOM: Enemy Unknown pre-orders with publisher 2K. Rather than offering fixed bonuses, Steam will unlock increasingly fancy goodies as more people pre-order, including extra character customisation options, Team Fortress 2 hats, and a free copy of Civilization V.

Everyone who pre-orders through Steam will help the "reward" drive, which seems to hope it'll inspire a little of that Kickstarter feeling. Customers are fast approaching the first unlock, a pack of cosmetic XCOM pretties including shiny new armour, paints for armour, and a recruit with the classic X-COM: UFO Defense flattop haircut.

The flattop also features, in the second tier, a pack of TF2 goods. This offers that good old flattop for the Soldier, a creepy sort of alien head for the Pyro, and a very swanky medal. Lastly, if loads and loads of people pre-order, everyone will also get a free copy of Civ V, or a gift copy if they already own it.

Of course, Steam's charging the full $50 for XCOM, so you might instead fancy buying it from somewhere that simply knocks a few dollars off the price instead. XCOM: Enemy Unknown is coming to PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 on October 9.

Half-Life - John Keefer

Welcome back from the long weekend, Shack. Hope you had a relaxing Labor Day. While I was supposed to have the holiday off, I still got a few hours in yesterday on a project I have been working on for more than two months, and you finally got to see the start of it yesterday.

Stay awhile for some stories ...

David Craddock, author and Shacker since 2005, posted in Chatty back in mid-June about a book he was working on about Blizzard Entertainment, called Stay Awhile and Listen. Now, anything we post on Blizzard usually does great traffic on Shack, so it immediately got the rusty gears in my head cranking. When I was at GameSpy, I had worked with author David Kushner to publish a chapter of Masters of Doom that site as the book was about to come out, so I proposed the same idea to David C., this time for the Shack audience. He was agreeable, having a bond with Chatty and the Shack crowd. We went back and forth for several weeks, discussing excerpts and ideas, and we finally came upon a format. Starting with yesterday's feature, we will publish several stories like that from the book on a regular basis. The grand finale will be Shacknews posting a full chapter from Stay Awhile and Listen, along with an in-depth interview with David C., over the course of a week beginning Monday, October 29.

We've pretty much agreed on the chapter (no spoilers here, sorry), but we'll tease you with stories from the development of the Diablo series, the Warcraft series (including that big MMO) and StarCraft, as well as tidbits from the days of Condor (later Blizzard North), and Silicon & Synpase (later Blizzard Entertainment). If the feedback to the first article is any indication, you guys should enjoy what we have planned. Thanks to David C. for being such a willing participant.

* * * * *

Unfortunately for Paragon Studios, one of its superheroes will not be swooping in to save it from villain NCSoft. The developer of City of Heroes will be closed, and operation of the superhero/supervillain MMO will be terminated by the end of the year. With Guild Wars 2 doing so well, maybe NCSoft can see clear to shuffle some of the displaced Paragon staff off to ArenaNet, which has its hands full with its well-received MMO. Well, it's a thought.

* * * * *

Black Mesa is finally coming (we hope). A countdown clock has appeared on the dev site a few days ago, with zero hour on September 14, and we can only hope the team behind the highly anticipated mod can deliver. It's been eight years in the making, and being teased with a leaked video didn't help. This is such big news that even the BBC reported it. The team has promised everything that Half-Life had to offer, but in a prettier updated-Source-engine package that offers some minor changes. Well, all except the Xen section, which will be added later. I'm not going to miss that part in the slightest, but I really can't wait to try it. As hanged_man called it, this has been the Duke Nukem Forever of anticipated mods. Let's hope it fares a lot better.

* * * * *

Random bits & Quick hits: If you aren't excited enough by Dishonored, Bethesda has offered you some more prodding. The free Rat Assassin app has you slicing and dicing plague rats and using your powers to get high scores. Dishonored is already high on my wish list, but I still like the app ... Okay, it's a sequel, but it's not called Final Fantasy XIII-3. It's Lightning Returns and Square Enix will bring an end to the trilogy. Are you excited by this or disappointed that there is nothing to report on FF Versus XIII? ... By all accounts, PAX Prime was a success, and Steve told me he has a ton of content to get to this week. Watch for previews and interviews from his trip.

Flashback: While the closing of Paragon is a shame for all involved, it got me thinking about the studio that I was saddest to see fold up shop. I'd have to go with Looking Glass Studios (loved System Shock and Thief so much), followed closely by Ensemble. What studio do you miss the most?

Have a great short week, Shack.

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