PC Gamer

A few days ago, members of the Steam community schemed to rig the Steam Summer Adventure competition, a metagame running in parallel with Valve s 12-day Summer Sale. Surprisingly, it wasn t the sort of malicious plan you might expect, but a kind of cease-fire alliance meant to bring equal victory to everyone on Steam. As intended, Team Pink won Sunday. Blue won Monday. Purple will win next, if things go smoothly. On Wednesday, a Red victory is scheduled, then Green.

Is a small collective actually having this big of an influence on a Steam-wide, public competition? Valve has already amended the contest to encourage more competition. I took a look at the evidence and spoke to a few of the people caught up in the dark business of virtual trading card market-manipulation.
How Valve makes money from the metagame
First, a run-down of how the Steam Summer Adventure works if you ve been blissfully unaware over the past week, buying and playing discounted PC games rather than being concerned with your gamified game client. Most of Steam s seasonal sales have included a unique trading card set. Craft a full set of these seasonal cards, and you get something like a unique wallpaper or Steam chat emoticon or in-game reward for a few participating games. The 2014 Steam Summer Sale has its own special set of cards you can badge-ify, but with a twist: participating Steam users are randomly assigned to one of five teams during the sale: Red, Pink, Purple, Blue, or Green. Crafting a badge earns points for your team, and 30 members of the winning team get three free Steam games off their wishlists. Oh, and a few extra cards that they can use to keep crafting.

In review: buying games earns virtual cards which can be crafted into virtual badges which increase the rate at which you earn booster packs which contain cards which you can use to upgrade your badges. It s a circular system designed to keep you inside the Steam client, either nickel and diming you to complete your incomplete set of cards or by selling the cards you ve been given to encourage you to spend that money on a game.

A competition to see who can craft the most badges, of course, makes money directly for Valve and developers by creating more activity on the Steam Market. Valve takes a 5% cut of all transactions, and the developer of the corresponding game takes 10% (a minimum of $0.01 in both cases).

If I sold one of my Steam Summer Adventure cards for its current value, $0.25, Valve would take three pennies and I d get $0.22. The Steam Market tells me that 91,650 copies of that card have been sold in the past 24 hours, meaning Valve s profit of a single Summer Adventure card in a single day could be about $2,800. There are 10 of these cards, and another 10 foil variants, which run about $2 each.

The community s plan
Bottom line: we celebrate Steam s price cuts, but in the middle of the Summer Sale Valve has integrated a system that stimulates the Steam economy and nets them thousands of dollars a day from virtual, non-existent goods. Many cards and booster packs have risen in price throughout the sale; Dota 2 booster packs, for example, went from trading consistently at about $0.25 for the past month to hovering near $0.40 over the past six days.

The more trading volume and competition, the more the house wins. But a segment of the Steam community is wise to this. They know that a 12-day period when a five-dollar bill can get you our favorite PC game of all time isn t the best time to be engaged in what s essentially a spending war. So to discourage, or at least mitigate, frivolous trading card spending, some Redditors and Steam forum members have organized a coalition to take competition out of the equation. They ve called themselves Team White, and they ve proposed that each Steam team should win twice, on designated days, through June 28.

I spoke to one of the initial organizers behind the plan, Reddit user DayZ_slayer. It's not really a fun competition when the only real way to win is to spend a lot of cash, the European 20-year-old told me. If they did some kind of event that involved playing games it would be a lot more fun to compete, but they didn't, so I figured we all may as well work as a group and give everyone a fair chance at winning some games.

This seemed to arise naturally, according to DayZ_slayer: many of the teams who had organized individually were planning to compete harder on specific days, he told me, so suggesting that the colored teams take turns simply formalized that process. I checked the Steam groups/subreddits for the teams and saw which days they were planning on winning, the first five days or so didn't really clash. I made the list showing who should craft on what day and then posted it on all of the team's subreddits under the name Operation EWT. A little later I made the thread on /r/gaming and some other guy posted it to /r/steam.

I also spoke to Phil Lendon, a 16-year-old living in England who s bought into the concept of Team White. I first noticed the schedule on Reddit on /r/SteamTeamRed which then spread to /r/Steam and I thought it was a really good idea because here on Team Red we're all about teamwork and communication. When I asked Lendon how much he s spent toward the contest, he told me that he s traded hundreds of pounds to support Red on Wednesday. Too much that it's unhealthy, he says.

Valve's response
Up until today, the plan had gone smoothly. Each team won on its designated day. But today the plan is showing signs of falling apart. Valve, apparently unhappy with the lack of competition between teams, changed the contest to award second- and third-place prizes to the runners-up each day. Purple may still come away with first place, but at the outset of today it s already a tight race between the colors. The game has changed, a post on the Purple team subreddit reads. We need to let purple win but go for second, a member of team Red comments. "What the heck guys? It's purple's day!" a Pink thread exclaims. Lendon, the Red team member I spoke to, wrote back to me this morning after he noticed Valve's change to the competition. "It's turned into a free-for-all, once I had heard of the news I knew it was going to go to hell. However, I believe, as many other Redditors do too, that the new rules for the competition were to prevent the rigging of the competition, as we saw yesterday when Pink one with over a million points above everyone else, Valve had to take action. However, I personally don't believe the changes to the rules are even worth it, as people's chances are even more reduces to win, as-if it wasn't hard enough already to get a winning three games, it'll be even harder for the 2nd place and 3rd place and not even worth the effort."

It s unclear whether this change will encourage competition enough to disrupt Reddit s plan. On the surface, it seemed wild to me that a small percentage of people could be driving the massive point swings we saw in the initial four days. After all, there s only a few hundred people each in these colored Steam groups, and just 140,000 on the Steam subreddit, most of whom probably aren t aggressively participating.

But the Steam Market tells us that just a small number of tokens that steal 1,000 points from another team the most valuable item for influencing the Adventure competition are trading hands. In the past 24 hours, just 88 have been bought off the Steam Market at between $8 and $5 each, and about the same amount of 500-point tokens were sold in that period. Even if a single team were buying those tokens, it isn t that much of a swing relative to the 1.2 million that the Blue team earned yesterday.

More likely, the organized non-competition pact by Reddit and the color-specific Steam communities created single, dominant leader, which not only discouraged the other big spenders who are engaged in this competition but probably discouraged some amount of casual crafters from chipping in too.

With the adjustment made by Valve, today will be an interesting test of the internet s ability to dictate the outcome. Purple, who s meant to win today, has a modest lead as I m publishing this, but we ll have to see if the Steam Trading Card Illuminati s grand plan survives through the week.
PC Gamer

Every Friday, the PC Gamer team reactivate their opinion circuits to bring you their best and worst moments from the week of digital entertainment. We ll start with the good news
Phil Savage
At the start of the week, Valve updated the TF2 site with a countdown clock. It was enough to reignite my interest in the game, and fill its fans with a joyous sense of silliness and light-hearted conspiracy. There's an incredible circus that emerges around Valve's updates they're events, because they're filled with the possibility that anything could happen. This time, the rumour was bread, and that meant a week of wheat-based humour that culminated in an epic, funny and surprising short film. It also resulted in an actual TF2 update, but we'll get to that on the next page...

Ben Griffin
Mr. Tom Senior introduced me to a handy website this week. It s called Logical Increments and it s amazing. This massively helpful resource is meant for those brave souls about to embark on custom PC construction, compiling all the parts they ll ever need (motherboard, CPU, etc.) and ranking them in terms of price and power.

It was only late 2012 I splashed a few grand on the PC of my dreams. I went for the best of everything: 120hz monitor, Cyborg R.A.T. 7 mouse, dual GTX 680s, 16GB RAM, Astro A40 headset. According to Logical Increments, however, my PC is merely exceptional . That s only one step above outstanding ! Still, despite pouring my life savings into slightly more frames in Battlefield 3 (I wish that were a joke), I don t regret a thing. Now excuse me while I weep into my cold soup.

Samuel Roberts:
The Steam Summer Sale is here! And we re all in big trouble. I ve set aside about 50/$80 for what feels like one of the most significant events in our calendar now, and I m not sure exactly what I m expecting out of it. I m hoping to pick up Saints Row IV, Rust and maybe Wolfenstein at a reasonable price not to mention a dozen more games that are likely to sit on my hard-drive unplayed for the next three years. It s raw capitalism, baby. It s not what people need it s what people want!

Cory Banks:
The Steam Sale is a great way to pick up some old classics you may not have played before, and the one I'd recommend just came back to Valve's service: Fallout. The early games in the series were absent from the service for six months, as Bethesda and Interplay argued over rights issues in court. That's all over, thanks to a $2 billion settlement, and now Fallout, Fallout 2, and Fallout Tactics: Brotherhood of Steel are all back on Steam (and GOG, too). Even better: as I write this, you can buy all three games on Steam for $13.

Andy Kelly:
Thank you, Valve, for adding buy orders to Steam. As someone who regularly sells trading cards, this will make all those tiny amounts of internet coins trickle into my imaginary wallet a lot faster. I made 5.60 this week by selling cards, enough to buy brilliant adventure game The Last Express. Free game! Sort of. Buy orders means Steam players can set up a standing order for a particular card or hat, and they ll buy it as soon as it s listed. This means I don t have to put something on the market and wait patiently for one of these mysterious people who buy Steam cards to stumble upon my listing.

Wes Fenlon:
I've spent a good chunk of this week thinking about Pillars of Eternity. Sam and I both had a chance to see a demo of the game at E3, which I wrote a preview of here. The demo was short and sweet and left me wanting to know much more about the game than it told me. I have no idea how long its quest will be, or how its writing and story will measure up to its forbears. But I could tell that the engine Obsidian has built looks fantastic, a modern take on classic isometric 2D, and I've been imagining what that could mean for the next five years of RPGs. The upcoming Torment: Tides of Numenera is also using Obsidian's technology. Could we see a new gorgeous isometric RPG build on what Obsidian has started year after year?

Andy Kelly:
This is the first ever Steam sale I haven t been excited by. Not that there aren t some brilliant deals Far Cry 3 for less than the price of a pint of premium lager was pretty good but because I just have too many games already. Years of Steam sales and Humble Bundles have left my games library bloated and overfed. By a rough count, I have almost 200 games I ve either never played, or played for five minutes. And good games, too. Ones that deserve my attention. So I m not taking part in the Steam sale this year. Even if there s a really, really good deal, I m ignoring it. Because my library is getting out of control, and my pile of shame is more like a tower of shame. A ziggurat of shame. A temple of shame. But it s also quite nice not to have to feel that sting of guilt after spending spurious pounds on a game I probably won t get around to playing for a year. My wallet is safe this summer.

Cory Banks:
During E3, BioWare producer Cameron Lee told us that Dragon Age: Inquisition would have "40 major endings." It might have been an overstatement to say "major," though. This week, BioWare's Mark Darrah clarified that "major" doesn't mean "unique," and that the game will only have a few completely different endings. It's not a huge deal by any means, but I do think it's important for BioWare to not lead people astray on this point. Mass Effect fans are still (still!) angry about the cookie-cutter endings for their Shepards, and Inquisition is a nice opportunity for BioWare to make some amends. If I'm controlling a character and making choices, I want those choices to matter. It sounds like they still will, but overstate things.

Phil Savage:
I love TF2. I've played it for 300+ hours since Steam started tracking that sort of thing, and an unknowable period before then. It is, in no conceivable way, a 'low'. But when this week's Love & War update was released, I was filled with a sense of is this it? Yes, the new weapons are interesting, and yes, the new taunts have resulted in constant mid-battle conga lines these are both good things. But I remember these updates were deserving of the effort the community put into celebrating them. New modes created new considerations for each class, new maps directed battles in unexpected ways, and new weapons had a clear purpose and class-focused theme. It s starting to seem as if Valve are better at the things around each update the comics and films than at knowing what to put in their game.

Samuel Roberts:
The amount of drama over the Watch Dogs E3 2012 rendering options locked away was kind of baffling a load of people decided Ubisoft didn t include it in the finished product to spite PC players, but unlocking it, according to Ubisoft, creates a load of performance issues that puts the game into a less playable state. Watch Dogs undoubtedly shipped with its fair share of issues on PC uPlay being my biggest bugbear but I m not convinced this instance warranted quite as many tinfoil hat conspiracy theories.

Wes Fenlon:
This is a bit off the beaten path, but I was sad to see a headline this week that Phantasy Star Online 2 has been brought down by a DDOS attack. The entire MMO is currently down, and it could be days before Sega is able to get it online again. That sucks for dedicated players, but it also reminds me that PSO2 has been conspicuously absent in the west for a good two years now. Sega said they were going to bring it over, and then...nothing. It's been more than a year since PSO2 was scheduled for a US release. What happened, Sega? Is an official western release ever happening?
PC Gamer
Team Fortress 2 1

Sorry, Battlefield: Hardline, it's nothing personal. Your cops and robbers CTF battles have the subtlety of a playground pile-on, but I've managed to extract a few moments of fun from the chaos. I like the violent, bass fart of your P-90, as I did in Battlefield 4, and Battlefield 3. And I like the way you use the Frostbite engine to fill the air with floaty bits of burning chaff even though I have no idea where it all comes from. The problem is the competition. There's just so much more laughter and joy to be had in a seven year old free game called Team Fortress 2.

In Team Fortress 2, you can play a man with a bow who throws jars of urine at people, and yet I care more about what happens at the end of a round than I do in a game of CoD, Battlefield 4, or Battlefield: Hardline. Perhaps I've been overexposed to the grey modern military aesthetic. Let's face it, Battlefield: Hardline, even though you have sweet uniforms and cop cars that go "wee-woo", I'm still playing a floating pair of arms holding the same weapons I've held in dozens of games in the last five years, opportunistically grabbing points to serve my personal leveling curve.

Team Fortress 2 lets me play as a giant Russian who punches men to death with mutant bread. That makes me laugh, but it's not why I care about Team Fortress 2. If you stripped away that timeless, characterful art and dissolved those levels back into their virgin white-boxed state, I'd still have fun. It's true, Battlefield: Hardline, the Source engine can't do wide open squares or collapsing cranes. I won't see a pale sun mirrored in the glass of a skyscraper in a TF2 map, but I will swear out loud as our team throws itself at the cart in Gold Rush, desperately trying to take that final 90 degree left turn.

I could write all day about that point in Gold Rush, but first Let's talk about snipers, Battlefield: Hardline. They're bastards. I rarely see them before it's too late. They're often perched on the edge of a skyscraper miles above the fight, untouchable. I hurl myself across open spaces and hope for the best. In Gold Rush, they're on a raised balcony some ten, twelve metres away. Even playing as TF2's slow, easily sniped Heavy class, I have the option to wait for a medic to buff me to invulnerability. If I want revenge I can become a Spy, and when that happens the map becomes a different place. Suddenly I'm looking for stealthy routes through the fight, and taking carefully designed flanking routes to get behind those snipers for an instant kill.

The design of Team Fortress 2's maps, and the careful restrictions on each class, pulls competing mobs into tactical arrangements that are easily understood and fun to fight. At close range spies and Pyros fight a private war for supremacy. At mid range Soldiers toss splash damage into condensed zones of conflict, charging forward when an invulnerable Heavy-Medic team rush past. You don't fight for the "100XP" pop-out that accompanies a kill in many shooters, you fight for territory at a range that makes the fight feel personal. Team Fortress 2 battles look insane, but they're beautifully designed.

Don't be sad, Battlefield: Hardline, I still like the bit when you're on the back of a bike driven by a convict loaded with a moulting sack of cash. You can't do that in TF2, it's true. You may well argue that comparing Battlefield and Team Fortress 2 is silly, but once you've peeled back the facade, you're both class-based team shooters in different robes. And consider the fact that players only have so much free time to spend in a game. You will probably be sixty dollars on launch, and looking at Battlefields 3 and 4 there may well be a bunch of post-launch DLC that'll gradually fragment the community until the next Battlefield arrives. Team Fortress 2 is free, and just received the latest in a long series of free updates. It doesn't have a leveling curve that often incentivises selfish action over teamwork, it has a random drop system that rewards everyone with a free thing every hour or so.

Finally, think about how the experience of being a Battlefield: Hardline fan might compare to the experience of being a Team Fortress 2 fan. Your double XP weekends will be fun, I'm sure. If you choose to follow Battlefield 3's battlepack route, players can look forward to being tempted into spending more money on item packs. Thanks to its key-and-crate system, Team Fortress 2 is also guilty of this, but be careful that you don't turn every interaction with your service into raw advertising for the next expansion, the next battlepack deal, the next EA shooter.

There's a vast gulf in public perception that puts EA at the 'faceless corporate entity' end of the spectrum, and Valve on the 'can do no wrong' end. Valve teams are masters at talking to their communities, they have a knack for generating memes, and they're extremely funny. It might seem insane to spend so much time making comics and 15-minute movies, but every interaction with that material makes being part of Valve's world worthwhile. You get to join a big, fun club, complete with in-jokes and entertaining asides. That's what makes me care, not just about TF2, but about their entire ecosystem. Boot up Steam and get it downloaded, everyone. I'll see you on the final turn of Gold Rush.
PC Gamer
Image credit: ToastPlusScience, Reddit.
Image credit: The Toastening, by ToastPlusScience.

After kneading the community into a yeasty mush of excitement, Valve have finally pulled their update out of the oven. Love and War is available now, bringing a selection of new taunts and weapons. In addition, they've slightly tweaked their long-standing secret recipe. By which I mean they've seriously altered the balance of the Demoman's Sticky Launcher.

The primary themes of Love and War are, in no particular order, guns, bread and dancing. The new taunts can work across the team divide, and as such, the game is currently filling with impromptu conga breaks.

The new weapons have somehow caused everyone in our office to reinstall the game, despite it already being packed with weapons. Chiefly, I suspect, it's because we want to try out the Soldier's new parachute. Although, I'm just as interested in the Scout's new back-critting shotgun. (I hold the unpopular opinion that Scout is the best stealth class. Other people would say Spy, but he can literally turn invisible. That's cheating.)

But here's a thing: a couple of balance changes will cause dramatic shifts to long-standing loadouts. For one thing, there's the Sticky Launcher with this update, its bombs now have a damage ramp-up. It's a big nerf to air-sticky attacks, as it'll take two seconds from shooting for a bomb to do full damage. It's an attempt to shift the weapon to its original trap-setting purpose. It's just weird that it's taken this long to happen.

Also changed: the Pyro's Axtinguisher. That will now only do mini-crits on burning targets if attacked from the front. It makes me a sad Pyro.

See the full patch notes below.

Love & War Update

Added 5 new weapons, 15 new taunts, and 43 cosmetic items for the Love & War update
Partner Taunts can now be performed with the opposing team
Added a new Taunt Loadout with 8 slots so multiple taunts can be equipped at the same time
Taunts are no longer equipped in the Action Slot
Pressing the Taunt key in game now brings up the new Taunt Selection menu
Pressing the taunt key while the Taunt Selection menu is open performs a weapon taunt, or joins a partner taunt

Mann Co. Store

Added 15 new taunts and a taunt bundle
Added 5 new weapons and a weapon bundle
Added 44 new cosmetics and a cosmetic bundle
Added "Taunt" category into the store
Added Mann Co. Stockpile Crate Key
The "Hats" and "Misc" categories have been merged into "Cosmetics"


Added the Mann Co. Stockpile Crate to the droplist
Each Mann Co. Stockpile Crate can be repeatedly shuffled to contain a set of 4 possible items
Added the Mann Co. Audition Reel. Contains taunts and a rare chance at an unusual taunt
Updated Mann Co. Crates to display which Unusual Series they can potentially output
Added Bread Box Special Crafting Recipe. This recipe will no longer be available after July 9th, 2014. Items from the Bread box have a chance to be strange.
Added crafting recipes for newly added weapons
Added Killstreak Kits to MvM for newly added weapons
Added OzFortress Season 11 tournament medals

Weapon changes and updates

With The Hitman's Heatmaker, pressing reload now activates focus when it is full
The Axtinguisher now does mini-crit damage from the front and full crit damage from behind to burning targets
The Bushwacka can no longer randomly crit
All mini-guns now have damage and accuracy ramp up after they start firing. Full accuracy and damage is reached 1 second after firing.
All Demoman stickybombs now have damage ramp up. Full damage is reached 2 seconds after firing.
Updated Loch-n-Load reload animation
Sentry bullets are now affected by damage falloff outside of sentry scan range
Sentry bullet damage has been changed so it calculates damage based on the sentry's position, not the Engineer's

Misc Changes

Updated the Halloween holiday to automatically be enabled when the server runs an _event map
Added a check to prevent achievement announcement spam
Converted several weapon models to use the c_models system
Updated the localization files
Bug Fixes
Fixed an exploit where charging Demoman could turn more than allowed
Fixed a bug where Halloween spellbooks were overriding PDAs and Disguise Kits
Fixed The Director's Vision taunt not playing both variations for the Pyro
Fixed the Pyro's spell audio not sounding like the rest of the Pyro's audio
Fixed a bug that would sometimes cause items to unequip themselves
Fixed a dedicated server crash related to using 'mp_forcecamera 0' with one player on the server
Fixed a regression with the trigger_gravity entity not correctly applying its settings
Fixed another exploit where Engineer buildings could build up a large amount of health
Fixed a server performance issue related to the item_teamflag entity
Fixed the itemtest command
- Fixed cosmetics shared between multiple classes not rendering correctly
- Updated the cosmetic item list to sort by name

Map Fixes

Updated cp_granary
- Removed collision from lights and small props protruding from walls
- Fixed collision on fences
- Fixed the tire props near Blu's forward spawn so players may no longer jump up to the spawn door platform
- Fixed players shooting through gaps around forward spawn doors
- Fixed door protruding through roof on Red's forward spawn
- Fixed a collision bug that gave players access to the roof above Red's spawn door
- Prevented players from building inside spawn room doors
- Adjusted area portals to improve rendering and performance
Updated koth_harvest_final
- Added metal panel prop to Blu building, which now mirrors the jump up on the Red side
- Small performance increase through prop fade adjustments
- Players can no longer build inside spawn doors
Updated pl_upward
- Fixed physics debris triggering the payload cart s finale explosion

Image credit: The Toastening, by ToastPlusScience.
PC Gamer
Team Fortress 2

This week s mysterious Team Fortress 2 Love & War campaign has so far spawned a fifteen minute movie and a handful of new emotes, but Valve has gone further today with the announcement of a huge drop of new weapons and items. Among the lucre is a new level 1 Scattergun called The Back Scatter, a level 1 Shield dubbed The Tide Turner and a new parachute called The B.A.S.E. Jumper which slows your descent when falling.
Most important though, is the arrival of a handful of new bread-themed buffs and attacks, obviously inspired by yesterday s hilarious and, let s face it, very moving Expiration Date short film. The only condition is that these are limited edition items: you ll need to craft the all important Bread Box before it expires on July 9.
Once you ve done this you can use the Bread Box to craft a host of advantages including The Self-Aware Beauty Mark which punishes coated enemies with mini-crits. The Snack Attack is a sapper, while The Bread Bite rewards the player with 30 per cent faster move speed when worn. Watch out though: you ll incur 25 per cent more damage. Finally, the Mutated Milk rewards 60 per cent of the damage done to an enemy covered with milk . Full details are listed on the Team Fortress 2 site.
Here are all the new, non-bread weapon and item details for your pleasure. There's a bunch of new achievements as well. We're expecting two more announcements this week so be sure to check back.
The Back Scatter (Level 1 Scattergun)
Minicrits targets when fired at their back and at close range
-34% clip size
No random critical hits
20% less accurate
The Tide Turner (Level 1 Shield)
25% fire damage resistance on wearer
25% explosive damage resistance on wearer
Full turning control while charging
Kills while charging refill 100% of your charge meter
The B.A.S.E. Jumper (Level 1 Parachute)
Press 'JUMP' key in the air to deploy.
Deployed Parachutes slow your descent.
The Classic (Level 1 Sniper Rifle)
Charge and fire shots independent of zoom
No headshots when not fully charged
-10% damage on body shot
The Air Strike (Level 1 Rocket Launcher)
Increased attack speed while blast jumping
Clip size increased on kill
-25% damage penalty
-25% clip size
-15% explosion radius
PC Gamer

The first day of Team Fortress 2's countdown-teased update was light on game content reveals but heavy on entertainment. A 15-minute short film titled "Expiration Date," embedded above, follows the Scout's courtship of Miss Pauling (a character who's appeared throughout TF2's many comics) alongside the TF2 crew's discovery of the dangerous effects of teleportation on bread.

The first day of the Love & War update did reveal five new emotes, but it looks like Valve is saving any hard details on what all this mutant bread is about until later this week, with more reveals likely coming on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. If we had to guess, the monster shown at the end of the video could be a new variation on TF2's existing, co-op "Mann vs. Machine" mode, a new boss encounter in a new environment.

For additional theories, visit the TF2 forum on Steam.
PC Gamer

The Team Fortress 2 blog has updated with a brief and mysterious message. It leads to a countdown page, called "suspense.html", ticking down to... something. Whatever that something is, it'll happen in just over 13 hours, at 1am BST.

Those are the facts, all that remain now are questions. Questions like, what do Valve have planned? Why are Reddit's TF2 community suddenly obsessed by bread? And how are Valve managing to reignite my interest in TF2 for the first time in almost a year?

Whatever is planned when the countdown hits zero, I doubt it'll be the update just yet. The filename of the countdown's test card GIF is "day0_testcard", which suggests multiple days of teasers something that was standard back in TF2's update-heavy heyday.

Valve have previously hinted at the contents of future updates. Back in April, they posted some concept art of a Moonbase, alongside the sentence, "we're also working on a Moonbase". It's a pretty strong hint that they might be working on a Moonbase.

Then there's the End of the Line community update, which will accompany the full release of James McVinnie's upcoming Source Filmmaker animation.

All of which are possible avenues for this update to take, but none of which explains why Reddit is so bothered about bread. Bread was added into TF2 last week. There are currently nine different types in the game, all of which have a small chance of popping out of a Teleporter seconds after it's used.

Currently, then, there are no obvious answers, other than that TF2 continues to be a weird game. One additional point, though: if the update is due later this week, it'll coincide with the predicted date of the Steam Summer Sale.
PC Gamer
Team Miami

It's bad form to be vulgar in your opening paragraph, and so I'll save my natural reaction to this video for the untamed wasteland below. In the meantime, it's just the facts, sir: a new Source Filmmaker video recreates the spectacular top-down action of Hotline Miami 2's most recent trailer, only in three-dimensions and with Team Fortress 2. It is fu- no, no, save it for the next sentence Phil.

Holy shit this thing! I have an almost uncontrollable reaction to well-made SFM flicks, and, at times, have sat watching the End of the Line trailer on repeat. This has the benefit of drawing from some already exciting looking source material, but the choreography and animation has been pulled off perfectly. All credit to its maker, "Nonamesleft".

For comparison, here's the original Hotline Miami 2 trailer:

PC Gamer
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.
PC Gamer
Photo by Dan Tabar, from "Faces of Virtual Reality." Click for gallery.
Photo by Dan Tab r, from "Faces of Virtual Reality." Click for gallery.

Three days after Oculus announced that it was being purchased by Facebook for $2 billion, the VR company has hired programmer Michael Abrash, who has worked at Valve since 2011. Abrash has been working on Valve's virtual reality technology for the last couple years, and regularly posts deep technical discussions of VR on his blog. Abrash is joining Oculus as Chief Scientist, and in his introductory post on Oculus' website, he cites the Facebook acquisition--and Facebook's deep pockets--as "the final piece of the puzzle" necessary for VR to achieve greatness.

"A lot of what it will take to make VR great is well understood at this point, so it's engineering, not research; hard engineering, to be sure, but clearly within reach," Abrash writes in his introductory post. "However, it's expensive engineering. ... That's why I've written before that VR wouldn't become truly great until some company stepped up and invested the considerable capital to build the right hardware and that it wouldn't be clear that it made sense to spend that capital until VR was truly great. I was afraid that that Catch-22 would cause VR to fail to achieve liftoff.

"That worry is now gone. Facebook's acquisition of Oculus means that VR is going to happen in all its glory. The resources and long-term commitment that Facebook brings gives Oculus the runway it needs to solve the hard problems of VR and some of them are hard indeed. I now fully expect to spend the rest of my career pushing VR as far ahead as I can."

Abrash previously worked with John Carmack at id on Quake. He's also worked on Windows for Microsoft and on software graphics rendering.

Just last year, Abrash gave a talk at the Game Developer's Conference about the challenges of VR and showed off Valve's experiments with adding VR support to Team Fortress 2. At the time, Abrash claimed it would take years, or decades, to help VR overcome the limitations of technology. But when Valve showed off its VR technology at Steam Dev Days in January, attendees claimed it was even better than Oculus' Crystal Cove prototype. With Abrash and Carmack now both working at Oculus, Valve's hardware likely won't maintain that edge for long.

Check out our predictions for the future of Oculus Rift in the wake of its acquisition by Facebook.

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