Team Fortress 2

Deep down, I think we've all wanted to burn down a house.

Not out of vengeance, or a half-baked insurance scam, or to send a message to a crosstown mob boss. To me, pyromania is simply the most relatable form of gleeful mass destruction. Who isn't a little bit entranced by a towering inferno? Of course, in real life you can't work out your emotional baggage through incendiary therapy without getting the cops called on you, but videogames fill the void.

If we're being honest, games have only recently really helped us get in touch with our latent pyromaniac instincts. It was difficult to program inspiring flames on a Commodore 64, and the less said about Doom's pepperoni pizza take on lava the better. But that started to change in 2008, with the release of Far Cry 2 and its unprecedented wildfire mechanics.

"To me [Ubisoft] really nailed how fire should feel and I loved how it would burn the grass and environment, such a wonderful touch," says Bill Munk, creative director of Killing Floor 2, which itself is a game with an incredibly satisfying flamethrower. He's right. Open world sandboxes weren't exactly a rarity in the late-aughties, but Far Cry 2 was one of the first times our machines packed the processing power to handle the physics estimations necessary to set those open-worlds on fire. We haven't looked back since.

"I really think flame weapons are so fun because of the extreme destruction they cause to NPCs and to the environment," continues Munk, when I ask him why he thinks players enjoy a healthy bit of incineration every now and then. "It's such a fun power trip, not to mention fire-based weapons are generally more forgiving on how accurate you need to be with your aim." 

Today, we're seeing games that play with fire on a more granular, mechanical level, rather than the engine-porn stagecraft it's been used for in the past. The best example I can think of is probably Larian Studios' Divinity series, which has persistently injected an immersive suite of environmental effects into the relative solemnity of a turn-based RPG.

I've always found this screenshot, where a rustic wooden platform is scorched to the depths of hell, to be an effective shorthand for why people who don't necessarily play a ton of strategy games still fall in love with the absurdity of Original Sin's magic systems.

"We tried to tweak duration, area and availability of fire skills so that the player is frequently put into position where their battle plan is spinning out of control and they need to improvise and take risks," says Nick Pechenin, systems designer of Divinity Original Sin 2, when I ask him how fire has been a useful tool in Larian's game design. "It was also important to us that although the ways in which surfaces are created and interact with each other have almost no randomness, smallest deviations in how the player targets their skills and positions their characters lead to wildly divergent outcomes, essentially generating fresh combat experiences every time."

It was fun to hear someone speak so intelligently about the mechanical theories behind cauterizing your enemies. For me, fire effects in videogames aren't about all clever design. Fire taps into my baseline, brain-bypassing id—the caveman wants and needs of my idiot gamer brain. But I suppose that's how it should be. A good blaze should be emotionally and aesthetically resonant, and when done right, it serves a distinct gameplay functionality buried deep below our perception. To borrow a J-school aphorism; it is showing, not telling, to the highest degree. With that, here are some PC games that excel in the art of pyromania. 

Return to Castle Wolfenstein

The urtext of video game flamethrowers; a lot of people's first quintessential next-gen experience back in 2001 was torching bunkers in that gorgeous, liquid-orange id Tech 3 goodness. I remember this thing being a little bit overpowered, mostly because of its ridiculous range, but frankly any good flamethrower should be. The only good Nazis are the ones conflagerating to death at your feet. 

For bonus Nazis-on-fire action, check out this trailer for the 2009 Wolfenstein's Flammenwerfer.

Far Cry (series)

We talked about Far Cry 2 above, which will always and forever be the crown prince of video game fire effects. But we also must give a nod to the other games in the series, specifically Far Cry 3, which had its finger on the pulse of the nation when it included a level where your shit-for-brains protagonist burns down a marijuana growing operation while a Skrillex/Damian Marley collaboration blasts off in the background. (It was 2012, what did you expect?) Truly a magnificent moment in the history of gaming that will only continue to get more hilarious as time goes on. 

Terraria

Terraria does such a great job with its physics for a 2D platformer, and one of my favorite ways that manifests is when you're digging through the sediment and throwing down an endless bread crumb of torches to guide your way back to the surface. It can be a pain to farm gel and wood to make sure you never run out light, but there's something kinda dramatic about zooming out and seeing the vast network of dimly-lit mineshafts you've inadvertently created. Especially for someone like me, who's always been bad at the aesthetic parts of crafting games. 

Alien Isolation

Alien Isolation is a game about being completely screwed, but one of the very, very few times you feel like you have a chance in that awful, no-good, godforsaken spaceship is when you've got the flamethrower on your side. One big angry ball of flame is all it takes to put the xenomorph on its bony heels, and that respite can be downright euphoric. The flamethrower as the odds-evener, as it should be. 

Diablo (series)

Blizzard prefers a heavy touch when it comes to their aesthetic design, so it's no surprise that their darkest franchise lays it on pretty darn thick whenever we make a journey to the underworld. Diablo's hell is absolutely unreasonable; a giddy orgy of blood, lava, blackened gothic chapels, and belching geysers of flame. Personally, I'm partial to Azmodan Lord of Sin, best known for lobbing infernal orbs of molten rock at your hapless barbarian (a mechanic that was later beautifully integrated into Heroes of the Storm). Good on you, Blizzard. We can only hope that Diablo 4 brings an even heavier dose of hellishness. 

Shovel Knight

This is PC Gamer, which means we can't mention Super Mario 64, or Banjo Kazooie, or Sonic The Hedgehog on this list. That's a shame, because the mascot platformer is forever betrothed to lava levels—nothing quite ups the ante like the chance to singe the overalls right off of Mario's nubile body. Thankfully Yacht Club, who has dedicated its existence to bringing picture perfect 8-bit-esque adventures to Steam, picked up the slack. Of course Shovel Knight has a lava level, and of course it learns from the masters by bringing a candyflipped Bowser's Castle that's challenging, dramatic, and thoroughly retro. If we could bottle and administer the feeling you get when you use that indestructible shovel to traverse the lakes of Hell, everyone on earth would realize that videogames are a force for good. 

World of Warcraft

It's been a long, long time since I played a Fire Mage in World of Warcraft, but one of the most satisfying feelings that MMO ever produced was the Presence of Mind/Pyroblast combo back in vanilla. I'll break it down for you: Pyroblast was this ridiculous, deep talent-tree spell that let you hurl a massive fireball at an enemy after a six second casting time. That made it kinda useless, because the downtime was so heavy. That is, unless, you also specced into Arcane to pick up Presence of Mind, which, when activated, would make your next spell cast instantly. You see where I'm going now, right?

Presence of Mind/Pyro quickly became my favorite thing to do to people in Warsong Gulch. I'd reckon to guess that it led to more Alt-F4s than anything else in Warcraft's early years. Well, that's not true. Remember when Rogues could stunlock you for, like, half a minute? Man, maybe World of Warcraft Classic is a bad idea.

Team Fortress 2

It's pretty hard to balance a flamethrower in a multiplayer game. Usually they're either totally weak and watered-down, or an ultra-scarce pickup that you see once every 20 games. So hats off to Valve for not only building out the Pyro as a crucial part of the Team Fortress fabric, but also making him fun to play! Torching a crowded control point feels great, but every good Pyro knows the value of the secondary shotgun when you get locked down in a dual with a Scout or a Soldier or something. The variation between the loadout makes you feel useful and multi-dimensional, rather than the kid hogging the cool weapons and sandbagging the team.

BioShock (series)

I love the way Jack's hand looks when he's got the Incinerate plasmid equipped. All of the biological upgrades in Rapture are horrifying in their own visceral ways—I never ever need to see that Insect Swarm cutscene ever again—but something about walking around BioShock's dead corridors with a left hand that's smoldering from the inside out is awesome, and troubling, and could probably serve as a tentpole for some half-baked fan theory. In this Randian dystopia, the Left is on fire! I also think BioShock does perhaps the best job of letting us live our deepest, truest arson fantasies. Just snap your fingers and set anything on fire. Easy as that. Great for clearing out crazy people in a fallen kingdom, and also probably great for party tricks. 

Dark Souls

You have to think that From Software knew their take on pyromancy was awesome, considering how it's, by far, the easiest school of magic to use in a game that's famous for its abstruseness. No degenerate attunement system, no gatekeeping stat requirements, just throw on your fire glove and start roasting skeletons. Everyone who's spent some time in Lordran knows exactly where they were the first time you were invaded by some refined griefer who rained ungodly hellfire on your poor, PvE-tuned knight. We all rushed back, retrieved our souls, and vowed to get our revenge in New Game Plus. And probably started learning pyromancy.

Dota 2

An awful-looking game called Climber recently vanished from Steam after several Dota 2 players reported they'd been scammed by Climber users pawning lookalike items.

The scam revolved around a Dota 2 item called the Dragonclaw Hook. The genuine Dragonclaw Hook is an immortal-rarity item for the hero Pudge. It was briefly available in early 2013 and can no longer be obtained outside of the Steam Community Market, where it can fetch upwards of $800

However, the Dragonclaw Hook these players were offered was a carefully crafted fake. According to a screenshot posted on Reddit by angelof1991, Climber's counterfeit hook used the same image and description as the genuine article: 

According to a screenshot from mage203, Climber even used Dota 2's logo in the Steam Community Market: 

Climber's Steam Database entry corroborates these screenshots. The game's recent activity shows it was scrubbed from the storefront less than 24 hours after the Dota 2 logo was added to its page, and the fake Dragonclaw Hook is buried in its item definitions. 

A cached version of Climber's Steam page shows it launched in Early Access on May 18, 2018 for $1. Its Steam description calls it "a game in which you need to go as far as possible," and it looks like a Max Dirt Bike-style game made in Microsoft Paint. 

Climber's developer and publisher, respectively KIRILL_KILLER34 and The Team A, have one other game on Steam. It's called Space Vomit, and it looks just as atrocious as Climber. According to its Steam reviews, it's a shoddy $1 game that instantly gets you thousands of Steam achievements. Interestingly, Space Vomit also uses the same Early Access blurb as Climber, with a scant few words changed. Here's a side-by-side comparison: 

Climber and all of its items have vanished from Steam, but at the time of writing, Space Vomit is still available, though it isn't on the Community Market. It's unclear whether the scammers merely skipped town after getting caught or if Valve intervened. Earlier today, Valve removed a game from Steam after its developer, Okalo Union, was accused of creating fake Team Fortress 2 items. However, like KIRILL_KILLER34 and The Team A, Okalo Union's Steam account is still live at the time of writing. 

Notably, this whole mess comes weeks after Valve announced that it will no longer police what's on Steam unless it's illegal or "straight-up trolling." And with no moderation apparently in place to weed out games like Climbers, it is likely that more scams like this will crop up in the foreseeable future, so check your trades carefully.

Portal 2

Update: ABNTGeneric's Portal: After Hours mod has now launched its first episode to the Portal 2 Steam Workshop

As noted in our original story below, After Hours aims to recapture the story-lite "simplicity" of the original Portal, while providing players with tougher puzzles than those featured in its sequel. 

Episode 1 comes with 14 levels, which creator ABNTGeneric provides a short commentary for on each mission's page. The mod's Twitter account has also spent the past few weeks teasing screens and gifs of what to expect, which are worth checking out in full.  

Episode 2 of After Hours is due at some point "this winter". Creator ABNTGeneric then plans to launch the mod in full early next year. Our original story follows—including a trailer of the mod in motion.  

Original story: 

After writing about the 20-map, 30-puzzle-boasting Destroyed Aperture earlier this month, I've had a hankering for Portal 2 mods. After a wee fumble around ModDB, the latest to catch my eye is Portal: After Hours—a " one man passion project" that plans to launch its first episode on August 15, 2018. 

Designed to recapture the story-lite "simplicity" of the original Portal, After Hours aims to give players "much harder puzzles that cater to long-term Portal fans first," so says creator ABNTGeneric. 

They add: "New and improved testing elements will be present throughout the game, including, but not limited to, modified versions of existing community made fizzlers. There will be multiple original characters, voice acting, and a cohesive story line that fits snugly into the existing Portal universe."

ABNTGeneric explains the project will be split into two parts—the first, as noted above, is due next month; the second is due at some point "this winter"—before the full mod is released for free on Steam in early 2019.  

Here's a trailer: 

And some screens:

After Hours' Twitter page houses some cool work-in-progress stuff too, such as single puzzles and in-development designs. Here are some of those:

Again, Portal: After Hours' first episode is due on August 15. More information lives on its ModDB page.  

Portal 2

Update: A Valve representative has confirmed via email that Portal 2 co-writer Jay Pinkerton has returned to the company. Read the original story below for more details.

Original story: 

Portal 2 co-writer Jay Pinkerton appears to have returned to Valve, a year after he left the company.

2017 saw an exodus of Valve writers: Erik Wolpaw and Chet Faliszek, who wrote Portal 2 alongside Pinkerton, left in February and May respectively, and Pinkerton followed suit in June. 

However, as spotted by Reddit user OWLverlord, Pinkerton is now listed on Valve's staff page, alongside a short bio, suggesting he has returned to the company for good.

As well as Portal 2, Pinkerton wrote parts of Left 4 Dead and Left 4 Dead 2, as well as a lot of the ancillary stuff surrounding Valve's games, such as the TF2 comics.

As much as I'd love to see him pen the TF2 comic #7—something he is open to—I presume he'll be put to work on some of the new games Valve is working on.

Dota 2

Team Liquid at the 2017 International 

Earlier this month, pro Dota 2 player Peter “PPD” Dager announced a surprising new venture: he’s forming a Dota league. Dubbed North American Dota Challengers League, the organization shifts the focus away from the upcoming International Dota 2 Championships, if only for a moment. And while third-party leagues already exist in the Dota scene, the NADCL hones in on an aspect that most others don’t.

The NADCL is a semi-professional league for North American players. It’s been created by Dager, his family, and fellow players who aim to showcase up-and-coming unsponsored players and teams. This type of semi-pro league is filling a huge hole in the current Dota landscape. Nothing like it exists in North America, aside from community efforts for amateur players. Why, when creating a path to the pros seems like an important piece of a healthy esports scene? The answer lies in the format of the Dota Pro Circuit.

With the NADCL s creation, Dager aims to provide the stage and financial stability to let rising players pursue professional Dota careers.

The Dota Pro Circuit (DPC) is the main, Valve-sponsored professional league for Dota 2. It consists of Major and Minor Championships, each of which are classified by their prize pool size. As of 2017, these pools also define the number of “Pro Circuit points” teams earn for their final tournament placements. Points determine overall team standings throughout the season, with the top 8 teams immediately qualifying for the International.

Points and prize money alike are heavily skewed towards winners. This makes sense—those who win should be rewarded. But this also removes the focus on smaller teams, creating a sort of survivorship bias. Big-name teams have their practice time subsidized by their sponsors. This gives them an edge over smaller, unsponsored teams, who can’t afford to drop their day job and practice Dota. They’ll likely place lower, meaning less prize money and a slimmer shot at the International. Thus, the easiest way to highlight young, new talent is to hold an event that’s not connected to Valve’s circuit. 

That’s exactly why Dager is starting the NADCL. It’s clear he knows the game well: he’s the current captain of OpTic Gaming’s Dota 2 team, and has just qualified for The International himself. He was also the captain for Evil Geniuses when they won the International in 2015, and was later their CEO for about a year. He often pokes fun at the DPC’s current format, so he clearly has thoughts on what a tournament should look like. With the swift announcement of the NADCL and the subsequent Reddit discussion, he’s created his chance to show off that knowledge. 

Peter "PPD" Dager, via Gamehubs.com

How the Challengers League will work

Currently, the Challengers League is set to include an open number of qualifying rounds filled with aspiring semi-pro teams. These will be whittled down to eight teams who will compete in a group stage opening round. Afterward, the top four will commence in a best-of-three, single-elimination tourney.

“I’m hoping we will create and sustain a healthy league for Dota players, which will give them opportunities to progress towards a professional Dota career,” Dager says. “The tournament’s planning has just begun, but [when it comes to structure and format] I have spoken to all of the professional North American Dota teams, as well as many aspiring Dota professionals in both the NA and EU regions.”

With the NADCL’s creation, Dager aims to provide the stage and financial stability to let rising players pursue professional Dota careers. The hope is that players can afford to practice more and find potential sponsors, helping them graduate to the pro circuit later on.

It helps that the NADCL’s rewards won’t be as starkly divided between winners as losers as they are in the pros. “The NADCL will have a flatter prize pool structure [than the DPC],” Dager explains. “[The flattened pool] will encourage participation, [while still rewarding] players for winning each and every game to incentivize an ethical competition.”

Some third-party professional Dota tournaments exist separate from the DPC, almost as side event scrimmages with prize pools. It makes sense that if Valve won’t create a semi-professional league, those same third-parties could branch into this territory. In fact, semi-pro organizations like the NADCL have already cropped up in other regional scenes. China currently runs the Dota 2 Professional League, while the EU has endeavors like the ProDota Cup.

“The DPL that runs in China was a huge inspiration for this project,” Dager says. “I saw the success teams were having there and thought, ‘Why is that just not a thing here?’ We will be starting with far less teams, but I think they had a nice format, and will emulate it to some degree.”

How Overwatch and LoL do it

The truth is that being sponsored helps enable [Dota teams] to win. They cannot do it on their own.

Peter Dager

The DPC and its disconnected relationship with third-party leagues may sound foreign to fans of other esports. League of Legends and Overwatch, for example, have semi-pro leagues founded by their developers, and both tie naturally into their respective circuits. League’s main professional venue is the League Championship Series, while its semi-pro circuit is the League of Legends Challenger Series. 

At the start of each season, a tournament is held where the top 3 teams from last season’s Challenger Series face off against bottom 3 teams in the Championship Series. The losers of these matches go to the Challengers Series, no matter how they entered into the tourney. Winners go to the Championship Series bracket. By switching the highest Challenger teams with the lowest Championship teams, this acts as a path for hopeful League players to transition into professional play. Here, success can guarantee advancement.

Meanwhile, Overwatch has Open Divisions—an entry-level professional climate available to all Overwatch players ranked Master or higher in regular competitive play. From there, players can join a team and compete in the semi-professional Overwatch Contenders program.

Contenders don’t switch spots with current teams, like those in League’s Challenger Series. Instead, the program is meant to get players before eyes of established franchises. It’s a way to entice pro teams to pick up rising stars.

Dager's Dota Challengers League takes Overwatch’s approach to up-and-coming talent: put them in front of sponsors, and let them strut their stuff. But Overwatch’s teams are pre-existing, franchised entities based in cities, similar to a traditional sports team. This means that the teams themselves pay to compete in Overwatch’s pro scene, as a sort of closed circuit controlled by Blizzard. Even League of Legends is experimenting with team franchising. Teams in the DPC are owned and sponsored, but they’re not franchised. They don’t pay large sums into a closed circuit to help fund DPC tournaments. 

Searching for sponsorship

Valve sponsors its own matches, using third-party tournament organizers to produce the event. Teams can be either directly invited by the organizer, or they can play qualifying rounds to place into the event. This open atmosphere reaches into The International, whose prize pool is community-funded, while its roster is also determined through invitations and qualifying rounds. In theory, any team can win the International. They don’t need a franchise to pay their way in.

But teams do seek sponsors, in hopes that their practice time will be paid for. With enough experience, they can gain event invites or qualifier wins. “I’m not sure any unsponsored team has ever won a Major or Minor, let alone [the International],” Dager said. “The truth is that being sponsored helps enable them to win. They cannot do it on their own.”

Unless Valve makes some major changes to the DPC, these semi-pro leagues will continue to shine spotlights on teams from afar, letting them practice and find sponsors. The NADCL may not be a first for esports, or even a first for the Dota scene, but it’s a first for aspiring Dota players in North America, and a step towards solidarity across the globe. 

“We are hoping that we can set a benchmark for others to become more involved in their sport to make it successful,” Dager explains. “Dota, on one hand, is completely funded by the generosity of the community, which is very unusual. It delivers the world’s richest esports prize pool. [That] is a unique connection in sports, and the professional scene is the Dota showcase for the rest of the world. I think that needs to continue, and I think we as a community have to step up to the plate. NADCL hopes to be a part of [that future.]”

Stay on the lookout for the North American Dota Challengers League in October, after the first Minor Championship of the DPC 2018-2019 season.

Dota 2

Dota 2 players in the Netherlands will enjoy a little leg up on their counterparts in other nations, thanks to a newly-added ability to see what's inside loot boxes before they purchase them. A Dota 2 Treasury screenshot posted by a redditor named Larhf contains a notation stating, "Treasures in your region show their contents before opening them." 

The change presumably comes in response to the country's crackdown on loot boxes, which recently left Dutch CS:GO players unable to open loot cases at all. But the power to see into the future is not without some downsides. 

Players can no longer buy multiple boxes simultaneously, for one thing, and the loot inside is tied to your account, not the individual box, so selling them (which you can't do anyway, because the market remains disabled), trading them, or resetting your game won't have an impact: What you see inside is what you'll get the next time you open that type of chest, no matter when you do it. And the underlying randomized system hasn't been changed, so your odds of getting a high-rarity item are still not great—meaning that you'll still almost certainly have to spring for multiple boxes to get something you actually want. 

The benefit, as Larhf explained, is that instead of buying a truckload of boxes and busting them open in a frenzied orgy of microtransactional horror, players will (hopefully) only purchase as much as they need to get something cool. That's not going to put the brakes on compulsive box-buyers, because the gambling element is still present: You know what's in the current chest but not what's in the next, and it'll cost you $2 (or whatever) to find out. 

But it is apparently enough to satisfy Dutch gambling regulations. And yes, you could VPN yourself to a different country to take advantage of an unregulated market, but that's against Steam's terms of service, and again, that apparently satisfies the legal requirements. 

Assuming the new system doesn't run into some unforeseen speedbump, it could prove viable for other games as well, particularly CS:GO, which is an obvious candidate for this kind of compromise solution. I've emailed Valve for more information about the change, and will update when it's available. 

Half-Life 2

Last year Marc Laidlaw published a Half-Life 2: Episode 3 synopsis. Named 'Epistle 3', it contained similarly-named, gender-swapped characters from HL2 and explored the ex-Valve writer's vision of what might have been. Speaking to our sister site GamesRadar, Half-Life 2 writer Chet Faliszek says he was "surprised" by his one-time colleague's decision to publish his ideas.   

"I'll let Marc speak for that," Faliszek tells GR. "I… I was surprised by it coming out. I'll let Marc speak for that."

Faliszek joined Worlds Adrift developer Bossa Studios last September, and wrote on Portal and Left 4 Dead way back when. Despite also writing for Half-Life 2, he tells GamesRadar he's never felt inclined to speculate about the game's elusive third episode—and even if he did, videogames are the work of entire teams, not individuals.  

"I think one of the things when you’re working in a company [like Valve] is the realisation that there’s a whole bunch of people working on things," says Faliszek, "and sometimes people would falsely equate me [as a spokesman] since I was out doing press or something and that’s BS. 

"There’s a whole bunch of people working on it, and it’s their group ownership of it that keeps it going. A million people with names you don’t know, that are more instrumental on that game that made it better, funnier, more interesting. At this point, I’m a fan, and waiting to see what's going to come out of it."

Read Laidlaw's Episode 3 fanfic here, and know that while we might never see Half-Life 2: Episode 3/Half-Life 3, this Half-Life mod will let you replace Gordon Freeman with Spyro the Dragon

As reported by Chris, this mod from Blendo Games lets you play Marc Laidlaw's Half-Life 2: Episode 3 synopsis, kind of

Half-Life

Year of the Dragon is a mod for the original Half-Life currently being created by modder Magic Nipples. When complete, it will let you play Valve's classic shooter not as a nerdy physicist who is somehow able to demolish SWAT teams, but as lovable purple dragon Spyro.

Year of the Dragon has been in the works since November of last year and has made plenty of progress. In the video below you can see how a third-person camera works with Half-Life, as well as check out the gliding mechanics in action. The gib test for Spyro's death animation is a bit off-putting, to be honest.

Thanks, Kotaku.

Half-Life 2

This weekend, we've asked the PC Gamer writers about the upcoming games that have made them the most excited over the years, sometimes from reading ancient issues of our own magazine. You'll find a mix of old and new games in here, and we'd love to hear your choices in the comments below too. 

We've also thrown in some answers from subscribers to the PC Gamer Club membership program via our exclusive Discord channel. Find out more about the PC Gamer Club here.

Tyler Wilde: Max Payne

I remember reading a preview in PC Gamer which stated that you could go from an indoor environment to an outdoor environment seamlessly—and in New York City! That was really all it took to get me hyped. I was a Quake 2 map maker, and the best you could really do there is have an outdoor area with a skybox surrounded by architecture. The idea that I could walk around inside an NYC apartment building, and then walk right outside into the street was huge to me (and with physics!). I was getting tired of sci-fi settings at the time, too. In the late-90s and early 2000s, even most historical war shooters were mods (this is before MoHAA and Call of Duty) and there wasn't a lot of modern day stuff (there was Rainbow Six, but that wasn't really up my alley). So I was playing a lot of Action Quake 2 (a mod that attempted to turn Q2 into a modern day action movie) and watching movies like Enemy of the State and Rush Hour and wondering why games weren't reflecting that stuff. And of course I'd seen The Matrix. So Max Payne became my obsession after I read that preview—the only game I wanted. I don't recall feeling let down at all when it came out.

 

Evan Lahti: Starsiege: Tribes

Image source: MobyGames

I owned Starsiege: Tribes for a full year before I had internet. I had the instruction manual, which featured generous descriptions of the Diamond Sword, Blood Angels, and other factions. I had the CD-ROM, but all I could access were a handful of dull tutorials and some demo files (replays, basically) of the developers playing real matches—just another way that Tribes was years ahead of its time, now that I think about it. I bided my time, writing fan fiction of imaginary battles. I don't know if a game has ever built up in my mind so much... and then actually delivered on the fantasy I'd cultivated in my mind. Tribes was the first shooter I'd played with bases—the whole concept of bases with tunnels, generators, turrets, and infrastructure that could be attacked and defended was so cool to me in '98-'99. It paved the way for addictions to stuff like Unreal Tournament's Assault mode in '99, which, thankfully, featured bots. 

Tim Clark: Operation Wolf

The one which springs immediately to mind is Operation Wolf on Amstrad CPC 6128,  a conversion of the arcade game which had a big metal Uzi strapped to the cabinet. I first played it on Eastbourne Pier (sadly RIP), during a visit to my grandparents (even more sadly RIP). As this would have been around the time of Arnie's Imperial Phase—ie Commando and The Terminator—the chance for a young boy to go hog wild on 8-Bit sprites with a bucking SMG left a sizable impression. Once I learned it was coming to computers I was basically beside myself. I would spend literally hours staring at the paltry couple of screenshots in my copy of Amstrad Action which contained the preview. And when the game finally landed months later? It was okay I guess. Turns out the fun really was in the Uzi. 

Philippa Warr: Skyrim

I pre-ordered Skyrim based on my love of Oblivion. (Don't pre-order, kids). I actually booked a week off my non-games journalism job to luxuriate in it. It was okay, but I realised after booting it up that what I'd really wanted was more Oblivion. Skyrim felt too different—it wasn't cosy or weird in the ways I liked it being weird. I mean, there was no speechcraft minigame—how do you have conversations with people if you can't manipulate a pie? And why was it so big? And why wasn't I massively overpowered through hundreds of hours of wandering about? Actually, thinking about it, these are pretty much the same complaints I have about Destiny 2. It's not Destiny 1 but I'd really like it to be. Anyway, that week off work ended up involving very little Skyrim and a lot of finding things to do in London in the middle of November. 

Chris Livingston: Half-Life 2

It's probably boring to say Half-Life 2 which feels like my answer to most "What game did you X or Y or Z" questions, but it's definitely Half-Life 2. And that was a hell of a long wait, plenty of time to get excited and disappointed and excited again. Remember the early gameplay footage of the strider (see above)? It's probably the video I've watched the most in my lifetime apart from maybe Bob's New Boots. I studied it the way investigators studied the Zapruder film. As a follow-up to Half-Life it seemed impossible that HL2 could actually be better but there was also the possibility that it somehow could be better. I pre-loaded it and stayed up late to unlock it and of course Steam went down for a while and I couldn't play it, and by 3 am (with work at 7 am) I had managed to play like 20 minutes of it. I guess I should have taken a week off like Pip did. 

Andy Kelly: GTA 5

Of the many trailers released in the run-up to V's launch, it was this one that really sent my excitement spinning into overdrive. Moody synth music and atmospheric shots of Los Santos give way to a detailed, narrated breakdown of (almost) everything you can do in the game. It's a great format for a trailer, and I'm surprised more developers haven't stolen it.

Compared to the cinematic trailers it actually gives you a sense of how the game will play, and I watched it so many times, dreaming of finally getting my hands on it. I've been writing about videogames for my entire adult life, and while some people in this line of work get gradually more jaded over time, I'm glad I can still get excited about a new Grand Theft Auto. I hope GTA VI, whatever that turns out to be and whenever it gets announced, gives me the same feeling.

Andy Chalk: Wing Commander

A friend of mine, who had previously shown no interest in PCs or videogames, decided one day to jump into it with both feet, buying himself a hot setup with a massive 19" monitor and a super-sweet Gravis joystick. I went over one night and he was playing this amazing deep space combat sim with all these different types of ships and weapons, wingman interactions, and incredible between-mission interludes where he was talking to people and climbing a kill board and socializing and doing stuff, and WOW! It was called Wing Commander, and I had to have it. And I did! Took a while—no Steam back in those days, kids—and I recall that my own rig didn't run it nearly as well as his. But damn, it was good—totally lived up to the self-induced hype. Shame about the rest of the series.  

Jarred Walton: Baldur's Gate 2

I've sort of fallen out of love with D&D games, but for most of my early years and into my twenties, I devoured anything and everything D&D. I played the tabletop version as well, but that took more time and often involved a lot of arguing about rules and other stuff. With the computer games, going back to the SSI Gold Box and Pool of Radiance, I didn't have to roll dice, track stats, etc. Anyway, Baldur's Gate was one of my favorite games, and when the sequel was announced I pre-ordered as soon as I was able. Thankfully it didn't disappoint.

Baldur's Gate 2: Shadows of Amn arrived on a Thursday. I skipped the remainder of my classes at uni and waited for the mail to arrive, as I had paid extra for express shipping. As soon as the box arrived I commenced the install process. I also had the foresight to stock up on Mt. Dew, Dr. Pepper, and Totino's pizzas, and I barely left my room much for the next five days. I definitely didn't bother showering. I ripped through the entire game, including most side quests, by Sunday. My roommates all laughed at my insanity, but two of them were secretly just jealous. The only real casualty was my grades.

Samuel Roberts: GTA 5

Like Andy, it was GTA 5 for me. It promised GTA 4's detail crossed with the openness of San Andreas. I kept thinking about that idea for months after watching the above trailer, which when the Lazer jet flies over Los Santos for one brief moment near the end, made me do a little somersault inside my brain. 

I was so hyped, in fact, that I audaciously booked a meeting room for two whole days at my old workplace while I reviewed it. More important people with folders and computers would walk past, looking for a place to meet, and see me in there with my legs practically up on the table while I shot down police helicopters on a giant TV. That's what meeting rooms are for. 

Some choices from the PC Gamer Club

Thanks to those who contributed this week via the PC Gamer Club Discord. User Imbaer says, "Vermintide 2 for me. I played Vermintide 1 for close to 1700 hours so when they announced Vermintide 2 I pre-ordered it as soon as it was possible pretty much (one of the rare cases where I pre-ordered a game). I was right to be excited because Vermintide 2 ended up being my main game now instead and I still play it regularly to this day."

User Marko goes for Mount & Blade 2: Bannerlord. "I'd say Bannerlord is the game I've been the most excited about ever since its announcement because I spent more than two thousand hours playing the multiplayer of its predecessor (Warband), and the prospect of a game like Warband but bigger, better looking, more advanced, moddable etc. seems like potentially the greatest game ever to me." Topperfalkon adds this: "Also Bannerlord for me. I love Warband and the general idea behind it, but stuff like sieges were janky as shit in Warband, hoping when Bannerlord finally does come we'll be able to see the improvements."

Here's a neat one from Logicbomb82: "In response to your question, It was Pirates of the Burning Sea in 2005. Sid Meier's Pirates in MMO form with more features! I was beyond excited. The Flying Labs teams was at Gencon and I met with them and got some sweet swag. They took my email address down and said they'd send me a beta key, which they did. Still got the mug! :)" A picture was included of the mug, which we've cropped here to fit our website:

User Truzen opts for playing Minecraft in the year 2018. "Yeah, I know it's been out for quite some time, but because it's not on any of the storefronts (Steam, Origin, etc), I would always forget about it. Just picked it up today and installing it as we speak, but I'm excited to play the game that arguably mainstreamed survival crafting. Plus it'll be interesting to experience something that has become part of the Maker/Computer Science community."

Finally, here's a cool story from user WinD about The Witcher 2. "The most excited I have been for a game release has to be when I received an email from the office of Adam Badowski, Head of CD Projekt RED studio on the 17th of September 2009. Inside was included full press access with an FTP username and password. Below that information was a message that read, 'We deeply value your continued support of our game The Witcher. You posted one of the first North American video reviews for The Witcher and continued with numerous playthrough videos on YouTube. You have been selected as a CD Projekt Red 'Community Influencer'. With this title comes great responsibility to report the rewards within the FTP directories to the world.  Duettaeánn aef cirrán Cáerme Gláeddyv. Yn á esseáth. vatt'ghern twe. a'taeghane aen'drean aép 'FTP' glosse evn'gesaen y Temeria.'

"This is in the Elder Tongue / Elvish language used in The Witcher, no translation had been given although I was able to figure it out from a Polish website dedicated to the book series and game. 'The Sword of Destiny has two edges. You are one of them. The Witcher 2 today enter in to (the) 'FTP' to look and watch. Ambassador of Temeria.' We really want to hear what you and your friends think about our game, that is why we have given you hi-quality assets intended for editors from gaming media. On the FTP server you will find a brand new video, screenshots and documents you might use in your work. We would appreciate it if you would spread the word using your own social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube etc.).  

va faill (farewell) 

Adam Badowski, Head of CD Projekt RED studio.'

Inside the FTP was the debut trailer for The Witcher 2 alongside screenshots and documentation regarding the REDengine. I was so excited I could not wait to spread the word and to eventually get the play the game. Although I had to wait quite a while (May 17th, 2011), the wait was worth it. The Witcher 2 became my all time favorite role-playing game. I have played The Witcher 2 nine times twice using Nvidia 3D Vision which in my opinion is the best example of Nvidia 3D Vision. I built a brand new PC for the release of the game and it was not until 2012 that I upgraded SLI GPUs and could play the game on the very demanding UberSampling option. While The Witcher 3 had me more excited and surpassed The Witcher 2 as my favorite RPG, this was a special and personal reveal of the game for me. I've never had a feeling that could quite emulate that experience."

Dota 2

Last month, we wrote about how OpenAI's Dota 2 bots are totally on some I, Robot shit as they aim to "beat a team of top professionals" at The International. Back then, the collective known as the OpenAI Five were working to set of tight restrictions. Now, a host of the "most significant" conditions have been removed. And it's getting exciting. 

It's worth noting here that I know next to nothing about Dota 2. I'm now going to unashamedly pass off PCG dep ed/MOBA expert Pip's thoughts and advice on the following as my own.  

So, it appears OpenAI has now reintroduced Roshan—the river-dwelling NPC monster which bisects the map—as fair game. Killing him grants victors significant bonuses, therefore an important part of any match is knowing when your enemy is trying to kill him—or judging when best to attempt it yourself. OpenAI now reckons the OpenAI Five are smart enough to handle these considerations on the fly. 

Likewise, wards have been reinstated. Wards expand players' ground vision—which would have previously given human players a leg-up over their AI counterparts—and are therefore tied to Roshan, as knowing when your enemies are targeting the river baddie is crucial mid-battle.   

"Because our training system Rapid is very general, we were able to teach OpenAI Five many complex skills since June simply by integrating new features and randomizations," explains OpenAI in a blog post. "Many people pointed out that wards and Roshan were particularly important to include—and now we’ve done so. We’ve also increased the hero pool to 18 heroes. Many commenters thought these improvements would take another year. We’ll see how well these new game mechanics work on August 5th."

OpenAI says that while the bots' strength comes more from teamwork and coordination than reflexes, it has managed to up the reaction time of the Five from 80ms to 200ms—a reaction time closer to human level. 

As OpenAI notes above, this next match—the 'OpenAI Five Benchmark match'—takes place on August 5, ahead of the Five's final showdown at The International 2018. 

"The OpenAI Five Benchmark match will be held 12:30pm Pacific Time on August 5th in San Francisco," adds OpenAI. "The human team will include Blitz, Cap, Fogged, and Merlini, some of whom are former professionals." 

NB—Thanks, Pip!

...

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