Arma 3

Bohemia Interactive's long-runnning Arma series stands out from the modern military shooter crowd through its dedication to authenticity. In fact, in 2013 we named Arma 3 our Simulation of the Year, quite a feat for an FPS. If that sounds like your bag, the Humble Arma Bundle offers one of the best prices ever for Arma 3 ($15), nevermind the fact that you're getting much more at that price.

For $1, you get Arma: Cold War Assault, a re-release of the 2001 shooter Operation Flashpoint, plus Arma Gold Edition and the turn-based strategy spinoff Arma Tactics. Beating the average price adds Arma 2, the British Armed Forces, Private Military Company, and Army of the Czech Republic add-ons, and the standalone expansion Arma 2: Operation Arrowhead.

Break the magic $15 mark and you'll also get the most recent additions to the series, Arma 3 and Arma 3 Karts, which was originally an April Fools' joke but was so well-received by fans that Bohemia went ahead and made it into real DLC.

The bundle also includes a link to the free prototype for Project Argo, a 5v5 competitive tactical FPS that was announced last year. You don't actually have to buy the bundle to get access, though, you can just click here and have at it.  

Arma 3 is still $40/£30/€35 on Steam (plus another two bucks if you want Karts, and why wouldn't you?), and the earlier games in the series aren't freebies either, so this is a pretty solid deal if you're at all interested in giving the series a go. The Humble Arma Bundle is live now and runs until March 14.

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The Witcher® 3: Wild Hunt

I haven't played The Witcher 3 since mid-2016, but I still think about it at least once a week. Some sidequest or character or bit of storytelling comes to mind, or I play another game, and I think, yeah, that was pretty cool, but it was no Witcher 3. That's mostly thanks to CD Projekt's incredible animation and cinematics teams, who shaped dozens of hours of cutscenes and dialogue and elevated already great writing with the best digital acting in gaming. At a GDC talk on Monday, CD Projekt animation director Sebastian Kalemba put some impressive numbers to those scenes: over three years of development, the animation team had to create 16,000 unique animation assets for The Witcher 3. Adding up every sidequest and cutscene, all the monsters and bosses and NPCs, that was to cover more than 200 hours of gameplay.

For the two DLC expansions, you'd think all that existing animation would've put them on easy street. But that's not how CD Projekt Red works, apparently. Instead, the animation team had only a year of development time, but ended up doing even more work in the same timeframe. For the 50 hours of DLC Kalemba estimated, they created almost 7,000 new animations.

Kalemba's talk was mostly about the obstacles his animation team faced in tackling so much work for the DLC in less time, and how they improved their workflow to make it all happen. Some of that best practices talk is more interesting for developers than us, but other parts felt like glimpsing a tiny piece of the formula that made The Witcher 3's cinematics a cut above.

Having even better back-and-forth communication with the story department was vital for the fast-paced development of the expansions, as it helped them zero-in on how characters and monsters would look and move more quickly. Kalemba also noted that while they had very mature, stable tools, they didn't have a lot of programmer support to draw on—the programmers are mostly busy on Cyberpunk, apparently.

Kalemba under the spotlight.

Spoiler warning: I'm about to talk about some characters and bosses from Hearts of Stone and Blood & Wine. 

Kalemba gave a great behind-the-scenes look at some major Witcher 3 DLC characters evolving throughout the animation process. "This guy was a nightmare," he said about Dettlaff, a vampire from Blood & Wine, who took a group of animators six months—double the time spent on most boss fights—which he said really wasn't enough. Nine months would've been ideal. But this was a great example of how the animators needed to work with the story team.

At first Dettlaff looked more or less humanoid with nasty claws. But that wouldn't cut it. Dettlaff was an old, high vampire, and as the final boss of The Witcher 3, they had to go above and beyond to deliver an amazing fight. They worked with story to figure out how Detlaff would change forms, determined how he would spawn wings and how he should move in his monstrous form. 

And then they took it a step further. "We were iterating, and talking to story, and they said, 'let's fight with the construct of his blood in an illusion of his heart.' Like, yeah. How to do that?"

No pressure, but I'd say they pulled it off.

Kalemba also talked about creating Olgierd von Everc, a major boss in Hearts of Stone. Geralt usually fights monsters, he explained, but Olgierd was an immortal man. How do you make him as interesting to fight?

They decided to make Olgierd's immortality show in his animation. He's cocky, always standing wide open waiting for you to attack him. They needed an aggressive fighting style to match, and after a lot of research found a 17th century Polish fencing style called cross sabre that fit perfectly. Olgierd attacks with lots of wide-open overhead slashes—all sourced from a stuntman's motion capture.

Check out some of the animations I mentioned, and others, in this five minute reel Kalemba put together.

Stardew Valley

Update: A Chucklefish representative tells me that multiplayer won't ship with the Switch version of Stardew Valley that's releasing this summer. "PC users will still get to check out Stardew Valley multiplayer first," says Chucklefish's Molly Carroll, but that update won't be ready in time for summer, either. "It'll take some more time to get multiplayer where we want it to be!" 

Sorry to dash any hopes—it's my fault for misunderstanding the Nintendo announcement to mean that the Switch launch this summer would include multiplayer. The original, now out of date, story is below.

---------

Eric Barone released Stardew Valley as a singleplayer game, but only because multiplayer support wasn't finished yet. So we've known for a while that multiplayer is coming to Stardew Valley—officially, that is—and today it's been revealed that the big patch may be coming this summer. But we're not completely sure yet.

Nintendo announced today that the Switch will be the "first console" to have Stardew Valley multiplayer when it releases for the system this summer. As "first" is qualified with "console," the multiplayer update could come to PC at the same time, or even earlier—though nothing about it has been announced explicitly. 

The last we heard about multiplayer was on February 7, when Barone wrote: "All we can say is that we’re working on [multiplayer] and making progress. It’s not ready yet, though, and we can’t give you an idea of when it will be. We’ll let you know more as soon as we can. Sorry for making you wait!"

I've reached out to clarify whether or not PC multiplayer will come along at the same time as the Switch release, and will update this article if I hear back.

Yooka-Laylee

If you could stick a second joystick onto the Nintendo 64 controller and cram an Nvidia GTX 1060 into that old console, you'd more or less be able to play Yooka-Laylee on it. Playtonic's new 3D platformer is a pretty enough game to live in 2017, with a fun pair of heroes who jump with aplomb and have a lot of goodwill propelling them because, really, they don't make 'em like they used to. But Playtonic wasn't kidding when it pitched a game like Banjo Kazooie, which many of the creative leads worked on at Rare in the early 2000s. The jokes, the talking heads, the minigames, the user interface, the world all feel rooted in that era of gaming. That's as good and bad as it sounds.

Unlike an N64 game, Yooka-Laylee runs at smooth 60 frames per second, and kept up that performance even when I ran video capture on a GTX 980M laptop. Playtonic has found a nice colorful art style: characters look vaguely like plastic toys or claymation figures, and the world feels like what I'd imagine an N64 game would look like a decade and then some later. 

Much like the 3D platformers they used to make, Yooka-Laylee is filled with all types of collectibles. Pagies are googly-eyed scraps of magic books that let you unlock and enter different game worlds. Quills are feathers that are scattered around each world, to the tune of 200 per. There are sometimes scraps of pagies that you have to scavenger hunt for, putting them together to form a full pagie.

Googly eyes are actually an enemy. They possess inanimate objects and bring them to life.

There's a story, but it's so barely-there there's no reason to pay attention to it. Characters make constant grunts and warbles as their dialogue s l o w l y rolls across the screen, and it's so annoying that I soon wanted to mash my way through dialogue as quickly as possible. This is the real story: you control a chameleon, and a bat, and you're going to collect a bunch of shit.

While you're collecting things, little monsters charge at you with toothy grins. They're cute but not interesting to fight, and easily ignored. Combat is as simple as pressing a button to do a Mario-style spin attack into enemies. One bit I love, though: after you've killed a few, the survivors will sometimes throw their hands in the air and run away.

I definitely haven't seen this many puns or googly eyes in a game since Banjo Kazooie, and they're very nice and very silly but never quite have the freshness to be genuinely funny. Trowzer is a snake who sells you new skills. Trouser snake, get it? Ha!

Great character design in service of a silly pun. Classic.

Yooka-Laylee settles into this playful silliness, never really making me laugh, but at least making me grin a little bit as I run into new characters, like Sir Scofffsalot and the Knights of Hamalot. "I bet you have a weight-related name," jokes Laylee. Does admitting you're about to tell an obvious joke make it funnier? Rare's trademark meta jokes are still here, too, with one early line about how they blew the Kickstarter money on boss fights. 

The more nostalgic you are for old Rare games, the more you'll enjoy these jokes and the general atmosphere of Yooka-Laylee. I'm happier about the big picture than the specifics: Mascot platformers are good for the heart, and Yooka-Laylee does well with its fundamentals. Jumping and moving feel good off the bat, and you're quickly given the ability to smack enemies with a Mario-style spin attack and to curl into a ball for a high-speed roll that can get you up hills.

Navigating the world feels nice enough because the basic character movement is responsive and expressively animated and the camera (controlled with the right stick on a gamepad) stays out of your way. 

But the world also feels a bit, well, basic, at least in the first two worlds I dipped into. There are fun characters to run into (there's a race-an-NPC minigame, Rare fans will be happy to know), a few scatterings of basic enemies. Light platforming challenges dotted around the world. Simple puzzles. But when I think back to playing Mario Galaxy, I remember a sublime joy in getting from one place to another with Mario's acrobatic moveset. Long jumping across dangerous gaps. Triple jumping just to feel the satisfaction of that press-press-press button rhythm. Wall jumping instead of riding an easier platform. I miss that stuff here.

Mario's moves gave emptier spaces reason to exist, because I could make my own fun in them. Without that acrobatic moveset—at least at the start—bouncing around in Yooka-Laylee is a milder pleasure. It doesn't excel.

They see me rollin'.

After buying a few abilities from Trowzer, I started to get a taste for how a more complex moveset could make Yooka-Laylee's environments more interesting. I picked up an ability that let Laylee emit a sonic screech, which reveals some invisible platforms and momentarily stuns enemies. In the second world, Glitterglaze Glacier, I grabbed a skill that let Yooka absorb the properties of certain objects in the environment, which changes her body. Honey makes you sticky and able to climb slippery slopes. Bowling balls make you heavy and let you barrel through enemies while rolling along. 

I hope later worlds throw more platforming challenges at you that require a combination of these skills, along with jumping and rolling, to get from place to place. In Glitterglaze Glacier and Tribalstack Tropics, I only used them in brief bursts to grab Pagies. Hopefully later worlds also diverge from the basic jungle/ice/lava template we've seen in so many platformers. And maybe Yooka's full arsenal of chameleon powers and abilities purchased from Trowzer make for a huge, exciting moveset that need to be combined in interesting ways. It's certainly a possibility—in addition to unlocking new worlds, pagies also expand worlds, adding new areas and things to find within them. That could make all the difference.

I hope all that's the case, because Yooka-Laylee's first two hours are just a bit too familiar: mildly fun, like visiting your old stomping ground, and the new decor is a nice touch. You'll have a fine time, but you'll mostly spend that time reminiscing about all those past visits. 

Cities: Skylines

I promise the rhyming in the following Cities: Skylines Mass Transit announcement trailer is better than my poor attempt in the strapline above. Due at some point later this year, the city builder's next expansion promises to deliver new forms of transportation to its bounds—by land, sea and air—as well as new transit service buildings, new mass transit hubs, new scenarios, new landmarks, and new road types. 

Let's have a gander at that trailer: 

Besides promising a range of new transit options—including ferries, blimps, cable cars, and monorails—Mass Transit gives mayor-players the chance to generate extra income by way of fares and journey ticketing. 

The aforementioned transit hubs serve to tie your services together, "letting citizens change rail lines in one building, or hop from the bus onto the ferry, or even find their way through a sprawling monorail-train-metro station." Likewise, new scenarios will centre around solving traffic problems and adding new transit systems—something the game is already being used to help design in real life. 

"New road types, bridges and canals adds  variety to your city, and new ways to solve its challenges," says publisher Paradox. "Become an expert in traffic flow, and then use that knowledge to improve your city." 

As is often the case with Cities: Skylines' premium expansions, the base game will receive a coinciding free update—the latest of which introduces "mod-inspired features" to traffic management, and the oft-requested ability to name roads. Furthermore, the update will bring with it new unique buildings, policies, achievements, and, crucially hats.

Cities: Skylines' Mass Transit expansion is "coming soon."

Torment: Tides of Numenera

Torment occupies a special place in the history of PC roleplaying games. It sticks  in the memory: Baldur's Gate's stranger, sexier, smarter sibling, interested in headier stuff than swords and sorcery. The original Torment was highly regarded and its influence is felt throughout the RPG genre, from Pillars of Eternity's soul-reading to the warped denizens of Fallen London. Yet it's never, until now, had a proper follow-up. Other designers have borrowed pieces of Torment, but never the whole.

Torment: Tides of Numenera is that successor. Following in the footsteps of Obsidian's Pillars of Eternity as Planescape Torment: once followed Baldur's Gate—and based on the same engine—inXile have recaptured much of what made the original game special. This is a free-roaming, dialogue-heavy isometric RPG that places thought resolutely before action. Although combat features, the entire campaign can be played without acting violently.

There's magic, but it's really science and the science is strange

The Planescape setting is gone, swapped for the Ninth World—the far-future background to Monte Cook's Numenera pen and paper roleplaying game. This is an unrecognisable take on Earth one billion years in the future, with the accreted technological detritus of innumerable vanished civilizations underpinning a medieval society that brings Clarke's third law to life.

There's magic, but it's really science—and the science is strange, spanning time travel, the transference of consciousness, parallel universes, and nanomachinery. Michael Moorcock and Jack Vance are other prominent influences, from Torment's writing to its look: this is science fantasy done in the psychedelic pastel shades of a 70s paperback.

You enter this world as the Last Castoff, coming to terms with your new identity as you plummet to your death like the doomed whale in Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy. You're an immortal creation of The Changing God, a futuristic sorcerer who transfers his consciousness into new bodies to unnaturally prolong his life.

His discarded former selves—the castoffs—spontaneously form their own consciousnesses when they're abandoned. After death you enter the Castoff's Labyrinth, a dimension within your own mind where your character's class and key traits are determined by a memory-probing personality test. And after that you awaken, miraculously healed, in the city of Sagus Cliffs.

Tides of Numenera is cleverly designed to thread a diverse array of different plotlines together

Castoffs like you are being hunted by a mysterious killer called the Sorrow, and finding a way to escape this seemingly-inevitable fate motivates your first steps into the Ninth World. Quickly however Tides of Numenera becomes more about discovering this new world and the people who inhabit it, with your own story intertwining closely with what would be considered sidequests in any other game.

The term fits less well here, because Tides of Numenera is cleverly designed to thread a diverse array of different plotlines together. Sagus Cliffs is relatively compact by RPG city standards, but the game gets a lot of use out of each character and location.

There are multiple ways to encounter each storyline, with the way you happen to discover a quest often proving as important as the decisions you make at its conclusion. Your choices really do matter, too: an early roleplaying decision that I expected to result in a 'game over' screen meaningfully changed the way my adventure began. If you pick a trait like mind reading for your Last Castoff, you can trust that this'll be incorporated thoughtfully throughout the entirety of the campaign.

Your actions also influence the titular Tides, an abstract expression of different aspects of the human psyche as colours. The red tide represents passion, for example, while selflessness is gold. The tides you align yourself with change how characters respond to you, and they form a crucial part of the Last Castoff's journey.

This isn't your RPG if you want to spend a lot of time thinking about item stats and party strategy

The pace of the game does struggle a little during its initial hours, however, particularly if the setting is new to you. I had an advantage—I've got a big pile of Numenera corebooks next to my desk and I've run multiple campaigns. Tides of Numenera has the unenviable task of introducing the Ninth World alongside its own complex interpretation of it, and this means a lot of picking through unfamiliar terminology for a new player. Things improve with both fluency and progress: by the time the plot really kicks into gear, you'll have all the knowledge you need.

This isn't your RPG if you want to spend a lot of time thinking about item stats and party strategy: that's Pillars of Eternity's domain, not Torment's. Instead, a relatively simple skill system dictates how you use might, speed and intellect points to achieve your character's goals—from climbing a wall to convincing someone to see things your way.

What's impressive about this system is the way it is adapted to suit different circumstances. Succeeding at a task works the same way whether you're having a conversation in the open world, working through a Mere—a fragment of a memory that takes the form of an illustrated choose-your-own adventure—or fighting a battle. During dangerous encounters, the game becomes turn-based and combat-specific abilities can be used: but your regular skillset is still there, and if you want to solve a 'fight' by talking or hiding or rewiring an ancient device then you have that option.

Although the Ninth World is weird it's arguably more grounded than Planescape: your companions are an unusual bunch, but they're people too. This new Torment misses out on the levity provided by having a flying skull for a best friend, but it also feels more mature. Its designers have decided that busty rogues in bondage gear are best left to the late nineties.

Instead you'll meet, for example, an academic accompanied by the ghostly shades of herself split across infinite alternate timelines, a girl with a god in her pocket, and a glowing young man possessed—perhaps literally—by a manic need to turn every situation into an adventure.

A little bit more humour would help disarm some of the game's more self-serious moments, but I found the quality of the writing and the genuine philosophical complexity of Tides of Numenera's questions compelling in a way that games rarely achieve. To say this is an RPG written of shades of grey is an understatement: in fact, given the multi-hued Tides of the title, you could say that it's written in shades of everything.

Where the writing is consistently evocative, however, Torment's art direction is mixed. There are moments when it really comes together: particularly the Bloom, a city built into the bowels of a vast extradimensional creature. Yet a few areas feel like they could have done with a second pass—the Valley of Dead Heroes, supposedly a vast collection of memorials to all the world's dead, is a little drab and underwhelming. It's here that Torment falls on the wrong side of 'show don't tell'—a challenge for any story like this, and one that Tides of Numenera doesn't always successfully negotiate.

Your imagination is always there to pick up the slack, however, and if this game wants to give any of your muscles a workout, it's that one. The people who get the most out of Tides of Numenera will be those who want to do the reading, to infer their own connections between people and ideas, to roleplay as 'their' Last Castoff. When you've come to terms with the parameters of the Ninth World and internalised the type of RPG this is, the imaginative investment it requires becomes much lighter.

After Torment sheds its initial inertia, however, a few problems persist. Companions sometimes move erratically and get stuck on scenery, although this never really hinders your progress—it just looks strange. Animations can be stiff, particularly when viewed up close, and particle effects aren't as dazzling as the phenomena they're supposedly representing.

This is also the sort of RPG that might frustrate serial completitionists: if you're the type of person who wants to rinse out every area and ace every quest, recalibrate your expectations before jumping in. Trying to min-max Torment misses the point, which is to live out your character's decisions. This is an RPG that you roleplay, not an RPG that you game.

I'm confident that if you've got a part of your brain dedicated to clever sci-fi story prompts you'll find a lot to love here

I also found myself wishing that they hadn't recorded a voice for the Last Castoff. There's very little voice acting in the game as it is—only a handful of characters, chiefly companions, and even then only during key conversations—and the protagonist's own lines are limited to 'I'm on my way' and 'I just leveled up'-type barks. Yet the voice they chose feels completely at odds with the person expressed through the writing. In fact, you have so much freedom to determine the Last Castoff's personality that I suspect no one performance would be a good fit. It's far from a dealbreaking issue, but it was persistently distracting.

Despite these issues, I'm impressed by Tides of Numenera both as a follow-up to a beloved RPG and as the digital debut of a fascinating setting. I've deliberately avoided specifics in this review, but I'm confident that if you've got a part of your brain dedicated to clever sci-fi story prompts you'll find a lot to love here. There's no escaping that Torment is a strange beast—it's a game for readers, an adventure for people who don't necessarily want to fight—but it's great to have it back.

Northgard

Northgard, even in its current Early Access state, is one of the better Viking games I’ve played in recent years. And I say that as someone who has an actual Viking raven banner flying above his desk. It plays similarly to old school Age of Empires while cutting back on micromanagement in the spirit of modern RTS design, and its understated art style captures the contrast between bleakness and wonder at the foundation of Norse mythology.In the current Skirmish vs AI mode (the only one available, though competitive multiplayer and a campaign are planned), your empire starts with a handful food-producing villagers who forage your home region automatically to add to your stockpile. Once your labor force is larger than what is needed to feed itself, they can begin constructing buildings that will increase your population cap and train villagers into advanced jobs like woodcutters, scouts, and warriors.

The main deviation from the Age of Empires formula is that each map is split up into regions with defined borders. Once explored by a scout, they can be colonized for a lump sum of food (or conquered from a rival warlord if already claimed). Each has a fixed number of buildings it can support, and many also contain special resources like iron, stone, dense forests that increase your woodcutting output, or shorelines that allow you to launch Viking raids to seize off-map loot. Workers and military units are assigned to a region, where they will go about their business automatically, rather than having to constantly be given new orders. This let me focus more on high-level strategy and less on whether I needed to constantly reassign my wayward lumberjacks, which was refreshing.

The decision about when to go to war is never straightforward.

Northgard also models the reality that the passing of the seasons was a central factor in Viking life. The wheel of the year is always turning as you build, expand, and fight for glory. When it reaches winter, farms stop producing and your consumption of food and firewood goes up drastically. Military units operating outside your home territory also suffer combat penalties—despite what romantic portrayals might show, Vikings knew better than to go to war during the Scandinavian winter. This makes it necessary to maintain a stockpile of resources throughout the other months and time attacks carefully, leading to some interesting strategic decisions. You might discover an unspoiled region with rich iron deposits in October, and be forced to ask yourself if it’s worth spending the food to colonize it if it means half your population might get sick or die of starvation during the winter. Some years, you will be warned of an oncoming blizzard, making the winter even harsher and requiring even more drastic preparations.

Similarly, the decision about when to go to war is never straightforward. If I chose to attack on the first day of spring after a harsh snowstorm, I could expect my targets’ forces to be depleted, but my own were likely to be as well. The height of summer is prime war-making season, but everyone is at the height of their power and anyone I went after saw me coming a mile away. Fall raids tended to put me in a high risk, high reward situation. Getting bogged down in fighting right before the snows come could be disastrous, leading to my hapless retinue fighting in hostile land with significant debuffs and almost certainly perishing. But such a bold undertaking was sometimes able to catch my foes off-guard. On the other hand, playing defensive and building up a stockpile one year might allow you to weather winter in comfort and catch a more aggressive rival on the back foot the next year. It’s a simple and transparent mechanic, but one that brought a lot of new dimensions to my strategic thinking.

Just as the Vikings did much more than the pillaging they’re infamous for, Northgard offers several paths to victory. Some of them don’t even require you to bury axes in your enemies’ skulls. You can win a Trade victory by making a certain amount of money selling resources you have a surplus of to the other chieftains on the map. You can win a Prestige victory by performing great deeds to gain the title of King and building an associated wonder. A Lore victory requires you to seek out ruins and ancient standing stones to complete the modest tech tree and earn the blessings of the Norse gods. Or, you know, you can just kill everybody. I tried each path at least once. They all feel fleshed out and interesting, with their own unique concerns, which bodes well for replayability.

The current Early Access build features three playable clans with unique bonuses (my favorite being the martial-focused Wolf clan). But the devs plan to expand that roster in addition to adding new modes. I’m anxious to see Northgard grow and evolve, as it’s already engaging and easy to recommend as-is. It plays a little looser with the mythology stuff than I’d prefer; one of the non-player creep enemies is a “corrupted valkyrie,” which is kind of a stretch. But its overall portrayal of the goals and challenges of a Viking chieftain are fairly grounded and accurate, avoiding Hollywood stereotypes in favor of a feeling of historicity. If Odin played Early Access strategy games, I imagine he’d be pleased.

Stardew Valley

To mark the one-year anniversary of his life-in-the-countryside hit Stardew Valley, creator Eric Barone posted some "really old screenshots" of the game that he's kept lying around on his PC, and reflected on life before and after its release. "In some ways, it’s hard to believe that an entire year has already gone by since launch," he wrote. "Yet, at the same time, it’s been the longest year of my life." 

The reason, he explained, is that finally finishing and releasing Stardew Valley did not afford him the opportunity to slow down. If anything, it sounds like it was entirely the opposite. In the year since it came out, he has:

  • Released many patches to fix bugs and tweak gameplay
  • Done dozens of interviews
  • Answered thousands of messages/emails
  • Provided personal troubleshooting and technical support
  • Made many Business/Merchandise deals
  • Developed and released the 1.1 update
  • Exhibited at PAX and met many fans
  • Met Mr. Yasuhiro Wada, the creator of Harvest Moon
  • Flew to the UK to visit Chucklefish and collect an industry award
  • Built a decent computer and got a nice big desk (No more HP Pavilion propped on a Wii U box)
  • Worked with Chucklefish to make the console ports and localizations happen

"Considering that I had spent the previous 4-5 years in my own little bubble, working alone, doing essentially the same thing every day… and now suddenly to be thrust into the limelight… it was quite the change!" Barone wrote. "I’m happy about it, of course. I mean… it is a weird feeling, at first, to have something that once seemed so distant, so impossible… some pipe-dream that you fantasized about in the dead of night… actually come true. It takes some getting used to, and that’s part of what this last year has been for me."

The screens he posted date from 2012, when Stardew Valley was still called Sprout Valley and set in a smaller and less well-rounded countryside locale. But the "bones" of the game, as he put it, "were pretty much there" even all those years ago. So what took so long to get it finished? "Polishing" is the short explanation, although Barone's definition of the term is a little different than mine.

"I ended up re-doing nearly all the art several times. I redid the vast majority of the soundtrack. I expanded the NPCs way beyond anything you’d see in the 2012 version. I made the map way bigger and more detailed. I added JojaMart and the Community Center. I added tons of items. I totally changed the crafting system and the mines," he wrote. "I drew every single NPC with 4 different expressions, scanned them in, colored them… and then scrapped all of it. Then I went through probably 6 or 7 iterations of pixel art portraits before landing on the final ones."

It's a ridiculous amount of work, especially for just one guy, but you can't argue with the results, and it's great that he's been able to build Stardew Valley into such a success. (And build himself a decent PC, too.) Feast your eyes on a few more early-days Stardew (Sprout) Valley screens below.

Planetoid Pioneers

I'm a simple man with simple dreams. To live forever. To dive into my own money pit like Scrooge McDuck. To pull off a sick burnout on the surface of the moon. I'm still working on the first two, but I've had some luck with the last one thanks to Planetoid Pioneers, a physics-based 2D sandbox game currently in Early Access on Steam.

In its current state, Planetoid Pioneers is less of a game and more of a suite of creation tools, encouraging you to build all sorts of wacky contraptions using in-game assets or even your own custom sprites. Bingo. Here was my chance to take my dinky little Mazda 323 and turn it into the Mako from Mass Effect—except with better handling. 

First things first: I need to Tron my one-tonne sedan into the Matrix. Or in layman's terms: take some photos of my Mazda and drop them into the game.

Thankfully, the process is a lot easier to do than it is to rhapsodize, even for someone like me with zero artistic skill. I grab a couple of happy snaps with my phone's camera and throw them into GIMP, a free alternative to Photoshop. A half-hour of amateur cropping work later, and I have a PNG of my crummy green Mazda ready to go. I simply drag and drop the image into Planetoid Pioneers' editor, and I'm good to go. Well, almost.

I guess I should probably add some wheels to this thing. Another trip back to GIMP produces two totally-not-misshapen wheels I paste into place beneath the chassis. Perfect! Who'd have thought making art was this easy?

Nobody with half a brain, clearly. The second I spawn my creation in the game, it all falls apart. The wheels roll away off screen, while the chassis breaks into little chunks of green metal. It seems I should probably have attached the wheels to the chassis somehow first. A minor oversight. Back to the editor!

Deciding that a quick scan of the Help section couldn't hurt, I run my eye over a couple of tutorials discussing everything from joints to motors to particle systems. It's dense stuff, but I think I get the gist of it. Connect objects with joints, and use motors to make them move. How hard can it be?

Well, at least the wheels didn't fall off this time—they just won't stay where they're supposed to.

A second plunge into the tutorials reveals that joints can be fixed in place by checking the box marked 'pin position.' I follow the advice and presto! My car no longer sags like a depressed balloon. The only thing is, the wheels don't turn anymore either, which seems like it might be a problem. I can't find a solution in the tutorials, so I load up one of the game's pre-built vehicles and try to reverse-engineer how it was put together. After blundering my way through settings for material composition and breakage thresholds and other systems I don't really understand, I finally find what I'm looking for: angular spring.

Ratcheting this setting up adds tension to my wheel joints, meaning I can uncheck 'pin position' so the wheels spin freely in place while remaining bound beneath the wheel arches. Success! My car can move! Well, so long as it's on an incline. And the ground isn't too bumpy. And my spaceman doesn't stand in its path. It's still a pretty poor excuse for a car.

My next task is to figure out how to actually drive the car, rather than headbutting it from behind and making engine sounds with my mouth. Joints to the rescue again! I slap a mount joint onto the driver's seat, which lets me climb in and at least look like I'm driving. That is, until I press forward and immediately start spinning around and around on the spot, re-enacting Homer Simpson's iconic whoop-whoop-whoop scene. Apparently I'd forgotten to add tension to the joint. I pop back to the editor and up the angular spring value, and boom! I'm a regular space trucker—er, space car-er? Space sedan-er?

Just one last hurdle remains: the engine. It can't be that hard; after all, there's a nice, friendly checkbox labelled 'motor enabled.' All I have to do is check that, and I'll be good to go.

Let's look at this optimistically: technically the wheels were spinning and I was moving, so you could kind of call that driving. I'm not quite so confident anyone could actually survive such a ride, though. Also, I can't stop. If this is any indication of what planetoid pioneering's like, I'm pretty sure the human race is doomed.

Returning to the editor, I try to nut out where I've gone wrong. All my settings look the same as the ones for the built-in vehicles, yet none of them turn into a human blender when I hit the accelerator. Randomly sliding sliders and messing with values gets me nowhere—though I do manage to crash the game at one point—and eventually I realise there's only one option left: I must enter the world of code.

Lucky for me, I'm a programmer, so the Lua script is pretty familiar. Still, I have to hit up the game's GitHub repository and download a few code samples before I fully understand what's going on. It seems I'd forgotten to add friction to my wheels, which was causing them to spin uncontrollably instead of gripping to the ground. That, coupled with the fact I had set my motor to exert a constant force instead of accelerating gradually, meant my wheels were revolving so fast they counteracted gravity itself, creating the nauseating torture device I had shoved my poor planetary pioneer into. A little bit of shameless code-stealing solved that problem, and then it was time to take my tricked-up Mazda for what I hoped would be its ultimate spin.

Mission accomplished! I can now confidently say that I'm the first—and likely last—person to drive a Mazda 323 on a planet other than Earth, even if it's a digital one. There's only one celebration worthy of this achievement.

The Planetoid Pioneers 'Contributor Edition' is currently available for $40. However, the developer advises against buying it unless you want to get your hands dirty with its development. Those who wait for the full release can look forward to "a complete yet expanding action-exploration adventure" built in collaboration with the current community, but for now it's for tinkerers. 

PC Gamer

The story trailer for Bulletstorm: Full Clip Edition is an unexpected thing. It looks great, as you'd expect from a remastered release, but somewhat strangely, it also teases a hard-hitting tale of intrigue, betrayal, and—maybe, just maybe—redemption at the end of a long, hard road. There's even the subtle touch of the Inception sound.   

That Gears of War-flavored descent into melodrama contrasts rather markedly with the original Bulletstorm promotional campaign, which was packed with colorful linguistic tidbits like "Son of a dick," "You scared the dick off me," and of course, the classic, "Hey, dicktits!" No matter what you think of that sort of humor, the point is that it clearly wasn't positioned as a serious game. The story came off as almost aggressively disposable, as demonstrated by the "Whip, Kick, Boom" trailer, which really does tell you all you need to know about the game's narrative basis: "In the ass end of space, stranded mercenaries are perfecting the art of killing." 

On the other hand, Bulletstorm wasn't a huge hit by any measure, so it's not entirely surprising then that Gearbox would want to take a different approach. But setting it up as a "serious story" kind of game? I'm not sure we're far enough away from the original release for that to work, but it's an interesting approach to take. 

The Bulletstorm: Full Clip Edition is available for preorder on Steam for 15 percent off the regular $50/£30/€45 price, and will be out on April 7. And just for fun, you can get an eyeful of that original "Whip, Kick, Boom" trailer below.

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