PC Gamer
MarineKing early in the finals against DRG. Photo from TeamLiquid.net - Rich
Last weekend, I spent a few hours watching the MLG Winter Arena on the MLG's pay-per-view streams and I have to say, as someone who has always been a bit leery of eSports and does not particularly care for StarCraft 2, it was an incredibly good time. Not just as a StarCraft or gaming experience, but as a sports event. Old news to a lot of competitive gaming fans, but a pleasant surprise for someone just getting into eSports.

Part of that was due to the high quality of the MLG's production and the way it ran the streams. With five streams and about a half-dozen casters, there was almost always something to watch and most of it was pretty good. I ran into the odd bit of lag (some of it very poorly timed), and occasionally the casters lapsed into the same kind of banalities with which fans of any sport are familiar, but those were the exceptions to an otherwise stand-out presentation.

I was particularly grateful for the casting team, especially Artosis and DjWHEAT, who managed to make a fast-paced and complicated game very accessible to a novice like me. I was worried that by going PPV, the production team would simply focus on the hardest of the hardcore. I was relieved that wasn't the case.

I know the move to PPV was a controversial one, and I can easily understand why people might take issue with that. But by Saturday night, I don't imagine there were many viewers who felt they had mis-spent their $20.

The MLG has since announced two more PPV Arena events in the Spring season, and I asked MLG Senior VP of Operations Adam Apicella whether PPV is now the future of the MLG.

"Yes and no. I don’t think a 100 percent PPV approach is the answer," Apicella said. "However, I do think a blend of open broadcasts mixed with some high quality PPV activity is something we will look to explore, an approach that resembles the UFC model. Continuing to grow the audience is still a major focus at MLG and with our freemium Championship Events, we hope to do just that. Fans will have the opportunity to watch both free and paid streams of the Winter Championship at the end of March."

NaNiwa's Mobile Maginot Line

The replays won't be available for a few more days, but I have to tell you about a couple amazing moments from the tournament. They don't require any deep appreciation for StarCraft or its strategies, they were self-evidently feats of skill and ingenuity. Maybe when you hear about them, you'll understand why I'm going to be paying a lot more attention to competitive gaming moving forward, and can't wait for the MLG's Winter Championship in Columbus next month. Beware, match spoilers abound.

The first moment that brought me to my feet came during the Leenock - Naniwa match on Saturday night. Leenock (Lee Dong Nyung) is a Korean Zerg player, and he'd put NaNiwa (Johan Lucchesi, from Sweden) on his back-foot in the first game. NaNiwa used what the casters calling the match said was a total cheese tactic: he had a drone go to NaNiwa's natural expansion and start building a Zerg Hatchery, cutting off NaNiwa'a access to the site. Every time Naniwa nearly succeeded in killing off the hatchery with his Protoss probes, Leenock would simply cancel the construction, recover the resources, and move the drone a few spaces over and start building another hatchery. It completely sabotaged NaNiwa's opening, and he had to concede.

The second game got off to a similarly rocky start for the Swedish Protoss player. He got behind early and found himself holding Leenock's Zerg at bay with nothing but a swarm of Stalkers and Sentries. These were cheap, low-tech units, but Naniwa could not stop building them because he could not spare the resource necessary to improve his technology and build better units. Finally, with the game fast approaching a tipping point, Naniwa took his force from the center of the map and started probing Leenock's bases. He sent a force to one of the expansions, and used the Blink ability to warm them onto the plateau so they could start raiding the drones collecting resources. Leenock immediately attacked the raiders, but just as his Zerg got there, NaNiwa used the Sentries to create a wall of Force Fields between his ranged Stalkers and Leenock's army.

But with NaNiwa's force split, and half of it trapped on the plateau, Leenock went in for the kill against the other half. Zerg swept like a wave toward Leenock's army...and broke against another wall of Force Fields that formed an enormous crescent around the Protoss troops. The Stalker raiding force Blinked down into the valley to join battle. The Stalkers were deadly by virtue of their sheer numbers, and the Zerg simply could not get in close enough to do serious damage, especially since the Stalkers were free to target and slaughter all Leenock's ranged units. Every time Leenock tried to launch an attack, NaNiwa created another perfect line of Force Fields, so that it was almost like they were fighting from within a moving breastwork. Leenock conceded the match after breaking his army on those walls.

And at that moment, it was like the spell Leenock had put on Naniwa was broken. The final match was also very good, but NaNiwa was much more aggressive and dominant, knowing that Leenock did not have any answer for his Force Field micromanagement. It's worth seeing the end, where he used Force Fields to prevent Zerg from escaping an attack.

MarineKing Takes a Crown

The other highlight isn't so much a single moment, but a series of them. The finals between Koreans DongRaeGu (Park Soo Ho) and MarineKingPrime (Lee Jung Hoon), Zerg and Terran respectively, were an emotional roller coaster and a perfect clash of opposing styles.

MarineKing came into the game needing to win a two-out-of-three series, since he was the champion from the winner's bracket and DRG was coming from the loser's bracket. He won his first match, then imploded as DRG took two in a row and forced the series into a best of 7. MarineKing looked beaten, and DRG looked as dominant as he ever had throughout the weekend.

Worse still, MarineKing had a history of coming up short in final rounds, and the casters were starting to wonder if this was a mental block. However, MarineKing came back to win three in a row. He fixed his struggling bunker rush, saving one failing assault by having the SCV's stop work on a bunker and heal each other faster than the Zerg could destroy them. It was fast-thinking and even faster micro-management. Marines came up to rescue them, they finished the bunker that cut DRG off from his natural expansion, and DRG conceded. In another match, MarineKing sent a small assault force to storm one of DRG's bases, and flew a factory in behind them to block DRG from sending reinforcements. By the time DRG found a way past the factory, the expansion was gone and so were his hopes of victory.

When MarineKing won the tournament in Game 6, he sat at his computer, looking confused as DRG began packing up. He was intent on his screen, like he was getting ready for another match, when the news got through to him that it was over. He'd finally won a major tournament, and done it by coming from behind to beat one of the strongest Zerg players in the world.

Fromage Party

I was surprised, and so were the casters, at how often players resorted to cheese tactics, and how often those tactics worked. I asked Rod Breslau, one of the hosts of the Live on Three eSports podcast and a freelance eSports reporter (check out his reports from the Winter Arena, for GameSpot) if the use of cheese tactics at the Winter Arena was unusual.

Not really, in his view. "You really have to have 'cheese' in your repertoire. Because if you don't have it, your opponent knows what you are going to do already. If you're not able to surprise your opponent with something that they're not expecting early on in the set, you're probably not going to win."

Breslau explained that people can still win by playing standard strategies, but they still have to be prepared to defend against a number of cheese tactics. If they don't have their own brand of cheese, they end up ceding some of the initiative over to players who do employ cheese tactics. Oddly enough, it's Korean players who tend to employ cheese, while non-Koreans ("foreigners" in the Korea-centric vernacular of Starcraft) tend to play things straight. If there was more cheese than usual at the Winter Arena, Breslau pointed out, it is probably because more foreigners like NaNiwa and Huk are embracing it.

"Every GSL champion ever and nearly every foreign champion ever, has had some cheese in their gameplan that they perform in some of the matches," Breslau said.

It will be interesting to see whether these sorts of tactics play an expanded roll at the MLG Winter Championship in Columbus, OH from March 23 - 25. They played an occasionally decisive role at the Winter Arena, but these tactics are only really effective when, like the Spanish Inquisition, nobody expects them.

All photos courtesy of TeamLiquid.net-Rich
PC Gamer
tribes is so good dude
High-level jetpack combat is happening tonight, and you should watch. Matches between top American and European Tribes teams are being broadcast on NASL.tv at 8 PM PST, or 11 PM EST in 1080p for free. If that's past your bedtime, don't fret—Hi-Rez tells me the matches will be posted to YouTube later.

Who's playing: "Wednesday will feature ZFZ (zfz) facing Tao of Tribe (istao). Afterward, Grumpy Old Vets (GoV) will face off against Working as Intended (wai). On Thursday, Boats n Hoes (BnH) will fight Area 51 (a51), followed by Stack n Hack (SnH) facing off against Deadstop (.ds)," reads the event press release. Expect more Tribes matches on NASL going forward, too.

Let me cheerlead a little—Tribes: Ascend to succeeding as an eSport would be great for PC gaming. It's a hard thing for FPSes to do; you don't have the semi-omniscience that RTS cameras provide, and the action can erupt and fizzle in mere seconds rather than slow-burning from unit production to positioning to combat. Watch tonight and show your support.
PC Gamer
Diablo 3 - war is hell in hell
The juggernaut developer behind the StarCraft, Warcraft, and Diablo franchises just announced that they're laying off 600 employees this morning. Mike Morhaime, Blizzard's president and co-founder, released a public statement on the World of Warcraft forums to clarify the need to let these employees go and which sections of the company would be affected.

In his message, Morhaime stressed that "the development teams in particular remain largely unaffected by today's announcement," that all employees leaving would be given severance packages and other benefits, and that this will not affect their plans to release "multiple games" this year. A press release sent out this morning went further, saying that "90% of the affected employees will come from departments not related to game development," and further specifying that "The World of Warcraft development team will not be impacted."

It's unclear exactly what departments are affected, however it's likely that auxiliary areas like customer support, Q&A, marketing, etc. are the ones affected.

According to a Gamasutra report on a GDC presentation by Blizzard's J. Allen Brack and Frank Pearce in 2009 told the audience that "As an organization, World of Warcraft utilizes 20,000 computer systems, 1.3 petabytes of storage, and more than 4,600 people." That number has assuredly changed in the past year and a half since that statement was made, and probably includes contractors and temporary employees—but it also only reflects a portion of Blizzard's entire portfolio of games. Even without firm numbers, we can assume that the 600 employees let go today likely represents a small percentage of Blizzard's total employees.
PC Gamer
Skyrim mod - the massive hag of Markath
Today in the PC Gamer office, Tom made a massive hag in Skyrim. The mod's out there in the wild right now. You can download it from the Skyrim Workshop and and see the results of Tom's nearly-five-minutes of labour. The hag is just outside of Markath, though you'll probably be able to spot her from the other side of the world.

Elsewhere on the site today, we told you everything you need to know about XCOM: Enemy Unknown, took an early look at the upcoming free to play RTS End of Nations and stared intently at the new Baldur's Gate website, looking for clues. While we were looking, lots of PC gaming news was happening. We just about managed to capture it in our vast, shimmering news net, find the contents of our latest catch below.

Microsoft Flight is out! You can play it now for free.
Kingdoms of Amalur will be getting some story DLC called Legend of Dead Kel. Poor Kel.
Bigpoints upcoming browser-based A Game of Thrones MMO now has a website where you can sign up for more details.
Kim Swift's Quantum Conundrum will be out this summer, say CVG.
MCV indicate that Game's stocks have plummeted after news broke earlier saying that they wouldn't be stocking Mass Effect 3, or any EA games after that.
Lord of the Rings Online is getting seven new zones in the next update.
Here's Joystiq on how Origin adds EA games bought on Steam to its library.
The Raspberry Pi mini PC will be twice as powerful as the iPhone 4S in some areas, Develop report, despite the fact that it's the size of a credit card and costs onle $22.
RPS spot a new trailer and some screens for The Banner Saga.
The next Guild Wars 2 beta session is due to happen at the end of March.
Aion is going free to play and gets some new trailers to celebrate that fact over on VG247
PAR tell the tale of documentarians 2 Player Productions.

If you could get our Tom Francis to make one mod for Skyrim, what would it be?
PC Gamer
King Arthur 2 Compo
Paradox Interactive's King Arthur II has just been reviewed in our latest issue. According to our reviewer, it's "light on the strategy but an intriguing dark fantasy tale."

The Holy Grail has exploded, almost killing Arthur. Your job is to stop through Britain, making important decisions like whether it's worth kissing a faun in exchange for a magic flute.

Paradox interactive have supplied us with ten copies of the game to give away, along with one incredibly classy choose your own adventure-type book that'll be awarded to the wittiest response of all! To be in with a chance of winning, just answer the following question.

King Arthur had a round table. It was round. What shape would the official PC Gamer table be?

We'll get in touch with the winners are the start of next week. Good luck!
PC Gamer
SimCity 4
It turns out that SimCity 5 may exist! Scanned images of a feature in German magazine, Gamestar, seem to show lots of concept art and a few early details of a sequel.

According to the feature, picked over by NeoGaf, the next SimCity will be set 20 years after previous entries in cities organic cities that won't have to stick to the regimented block system of US cities. There's also mention of global leaderboards to celebrate the most efficient cities and a new graphics engine to power everything. It's also supposedly due out next year.

It's all unconfirmed at the moment, but the timing is good. Maxis are due to announce a new game at GDC next week. Hopefully it'll turn out to be the SimCity that fans have been waiting for.
PC Gamer
SimCity 4
It turns out that SimCity 5 may exist! Scanned images of a feature in German magazine, Gamestar, seem to show lots of concept art and a few early details of a sequel.

According to the feature, picked over by NeoGaf, the next SimCity will be set 20 years after previous entries and feature organic cities that won't have to stick to America's regimented block system. There's also mention of global leaderboards to celebrate the most efficient player metropolis and a new graphics engine to power everything. It's also supposedly due out next year.

It's all unconfirmed at the moment, but the timing is good. Maxis are due to announce a new game at GDC next week. Hopefully it'll turn out to be the SimCity that fans have been waiting for.
PC Gamer
Borderlands 2 - snow way
Gearbox say that they'll be using Valve's stat-tracking set of Steamworks tools to support Borderlands 2. As players, that means we get the traditional raft of associated features, like "Steam Achievements, downloadable content, auto-updating, multiplayer matchmaking" and Steam cloud support. The "multiplayer matchmaking" part of all that hopefully means Borderlands 2 won't use Gamespy this time around. This is potentially very good news for anyone who found it an absolute pain to get into online sessions for the first game. The less services we have to sign into to get into multiplayer, the better things tend to work.

Borderlands 2 will be out in the US on September 18 and the UK on September 21, dates that will prove hard to erase once the latest Borderlands 2 trailer has scorched them into your brain in a blaze of screaming electronica and hyper-violence. It will also have "bazziliondier guns," and not many games can make that claim.
PC Gamer
XCOM Enemy Unknown title
Since XCOM: Enemy Unknown was announced, fans of the original have been juddering with excited questions. We don't know all the answers yet, but we've gathered together the XCOM facts we know and answered the most common queries below, including choice quotes from PC Gamer's interview with lead designer Jake Solomon. For more details, and some exclusive screenshots, check out the latest issue of PC Gamer UK, or subscribe at a discounted rate.

Are the original creators involved at all?

No, but lead designer Jake Solomon has contacted Julian Gollop since going public. "I've actually been in touch with him, on a very high level. Not in terms of - you know, I've asked him to adopt me. But no, I have reached out to him in fact in a very short exchange, so I'm guessing he doesn't hate me, and that's good. He's a personal hero of mine so I've tried as much as possible to honour him."

Is the environment still desctructible?

Yes. Walls can be destroyed, along with scenery items like cars and bus stations. Floors and ceilings cannot, and there's no physics system, so buildings won't collapse. It's essentially the same as the original game.

Do soldiers still die forever? Is it generally as hard as the original?

Yes, there's still permadeath for soldiers, and you can still lose the entire game if you make enough mistakes. There's an easy mode, in which the game will do its best to make sure you don't fail. The hardest difficulty mode is called "Classic", and it will be freaking hard.

Is the strategic layer - your base, the Geoscape, etc. - still real-time?

Yes. When researching and scanning for UFOs, time proceeds in real-time. If you want to speed it up because you're waiting for something to complete, you can skip forward specific chunks of time.

Are Time Units still used to measure time during turns in battles?

No. "We had time units in our game, and we said, 'Can we improve on this?'" explains Solomon. "Yeah, I think we can. Time units are a great mechanic, but the player spends too much time thinking about that system. We want to add so much to XCOM - classes, perks, a ton of new weapons and a cover system and new mission objectives - and you cannot add that much stuff without making sure everything in there is carrying its weight."

Can I still manage my soldier's equipment?

Yes. You still equip your soldier's weapons, and they now remember their loadouts between missions. The biggest change lies with ammo, which you no longer need to be constantly producing and distributing. Instead, telling your soldiers /when/ to reload their weapon is more tactical, as it counts as their action for that turn.

Do I still build my own base?

Yes. You start with a barebones underground base, and excavate deeper to create new rooms. There's a lot of strategy involved. Some rooms unlock new abilities, like new avenues of research and new perks for soldiers. Certain rooms give adjacency bonuses when placed alongside each other, like boosting research speeds. You'll have to juggle these factors while keeping up your power supplies and paying more each time you excavate deeper underground.

What's the new music like?

They're going for a somewhat similar tone, and working samples from the original game's music in to the soundtrack. Don't expect cover versions of the original tunes, however.

Will it have mod tools?

Maybe. Not at launch, but it's something Firaxis are talking about for after release. The Unreal Engine 3 that powers the game should make it easy to release the tools.

Has it been simplified for consoles?

No. "There's no reason to pull any punches with any platform," says Solomon. "Because, when it comes to input, X-Com is not particularly complicated. I don't feel the need to streamline any aspects of gameplay because the player's interaction with the game experience is still simple." The PC version will have its own UI specifically designed for use with a mouse and keyboard.

How involved is Sid Meier with development?

A little. He's Creative Director at Firaxis, and oversees all their projects. "He and I interact on an almost daily basis," says Jake. "I say 'Look, I have this problem. What do you think I should do?' and he's a very gifted designer. He can look at a situation and he can say "have you tried this?" And I'll be like, "oh, that's really good." I claim all the credit for it, but I rely on him so much. I'm now to the point where I can basically hear his voice in my head, which is probably not healthy. He tells me to hurt people. "

Will it have multiplayer?

The official line is that they're not discussing that at this time.
PC Gamer
Remember this viral campaigning which had us groaning/guessing last week? Those of you who thought it was the build up to a 4000DPI mouse were wrong – Roccat's just announced one of those, and its called the Savu. That's Savu, not saviour. Which is something different.

The Savu is a 'Mid Sized Hybrid Gaming Mouse'. I'm not entirely sure what the 'hybrid' bit is, since there's no third ear growing on its back, but apparently all will become clear (again) at CeBit next week.

The specs that have been released look like fun though. The LED light which illuminates may make it look like it something last seen driving down Brighton's main drag on a Friday night, but it's adjustable through 16.8million colours in the software control panel. More to the point, the high resolution sensor doesn't use interpolation to hit that 4000DPI setting, so it should be accurate and fast. Also, there's a quick macro button which Roccat calls Easy-Shift+ which can be used to remap the other keys on the fly.

As someone who prefers his pointers to fill out the palm, I'm not entirely happy with the current vogue for 'medium sized' mice. I've just finished reviewing the SteelSeries Kana, which is described in similar terms, and find it a little too dainty for my non-dexterous middle aged paws. Still, I'm sure some of you 'kids' will appreciate the lightness of touch these offer. I'll stick with a weighty Logitech G9, Microsoft X8 or Corsair M60, thanks. They may not be subtle, but then neither am I.

What is intriguing about the Roccat Savu is that it introduces a new feature in the drivers called an 'Achievement Display'. Apparently this is capable of reproducing the kinds of stats that you get at the end of a StarCraft II match, but in any game and mouse-specific, obviously.

I could be churlish and point out that if a keyboard or mouse needs drivers it also needs a new home on someone else's desk as far as I'm concerned, but that would be churlish wouldn't it? The Achievement Display looks like it could be fun, if a bit gimmicky. We'll find out more next week.

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